App of the Week: LearnToMod

Ed. noteApp of the Week picks are now being curated by the editors of Common Sense Education, which helps educators find the best ed-tech tools, learn best practices for teaching with tech, and equip students with the skills they need to use technology safely and responsibly. Click here to read the full app review.

What’s It Like? 

Teachers can leverage their students’ passionate interest in Minecraft to begin teaching programming with LearnToMod. By introducing students to LearnToMod’s badges and learning quests, teachers can give students the tools needed to learn key elements of coding using Blockly (and, when they’re ready, Javascript).

Price: Free, Paid

Grades: 5-12

Rating: 4/5

Pros: Turns Minecraft into a tool for learning coding, has good scaffolding of skills, is great for independent learning.

Cons: Not suited for students who aren’t Minecraft fans, may require a lot of classroom time to get started.

Bottom line: For students who already know and love Minecraft, this is a valuable way to hook students into coding.


Video of the Week: Backchanneling with TodaysMeet

Ed. note: Video of the Week picks are supplied by the editors of Common Sense Education, which helps educators find the best ed-tech tools, learn best practices for teaching with tech, and equip students with the skills they need to use technology safely and responsibly. Click here to watch the video at Common Sense Education.

Video Description: Showing videos or films in your classroom? Use TodaysMeet as a backchannel for real-time chat. With the help of a backchannel, students and teachers can discuss screenings, silently, as they watch. For more tips on using video in the classroom, visit this collection of resources.



This E-rate trick can help schools combat net neutrality repeal

With concerns about school internet access buzzing in the wake of the FCC’s vote to repeal net neutrality, anxiety over school internet access might transfer to the federal E-rate program–but there’s no need to worry, according to E-rate experts.

When the FCC voted to repeal net neutrality, education stakeholders worried the move would be a step backwards for digital equity inside classrooms. Some worried that even in classrooms with digital equity, net neutrality’s repeal would leave students in low-income neighborhoods at a disadvantage and widen the homework gap.

While net neutrality’s impact on the marketplace and internet access has yet to be determined, there are things schools can do to protect themselves if they’re worried about throttling or blocking–concerns brought up during the net neutrality debate, said John Harrington, CEO of E-rate consulting firm Funds For Learning.

Schools should build that concern directly into their E-rate requests for proposals.

Next page: Language in E-rate RFPs can help combat net neutrality’s impact


10 steps to developing a powerful professional-learning culture

“Be the leader you wish you had.” —Simon Sinek

Professional learning in many districts must undergo radical reform, from a model that’s outdated and ineffective to one that’s personal, empowering, and owned by the learner. How can we create such a culture of ownership and empowerment?

1. Clearly define and articulate the vision.
Do all stakeholders understand the district’s direction? How should instruction improve with the time that’s invested? How will students benefit? Can all staff members articulate the vision? Do staff members help formulate that vision? Is the vision only one year or more long term?

2. Model: Practice what you preach.
How school leaders run faculty meetings and in-service time should be a direct reflection of the type of instruction they seek in the classroom. Anything else is hypocritical. Learn alongside your staff members and model expectations for them. Invest time in professional learning—not managerial tasks. Model and share your learning throughout the process.

3. Learning should be anytime, anywhere.
Today’s Netflix generation of students expects content to be available on demand: anytime, anywhere. As such, and to mirror today’s instructional expectations, today’s school leaders must work to provide and empower anytime, anywhere learning opportunities for teachers. From professional-learning modules to social media, opportunities for learning through high-quality digital content must be available for both kids and teachers.

(Next page: More steps to creating a professional-learning community)


3 ways to help students think and act as scientists

I enjoy challenging students to engage in hands-on scientific inquiry. In fact, I’m always telling my students and colleagues that I don’t want our students to think and act like scientists. I want them to think and act as scientists.

Here are three things we can do to make that happen.

1. Create an environment that helps students take ownership of their learning.
To effectively teach science, it’s vital to create an environment where students can ask questions and make discoveries, rather than simply being told what they need to know to do well on a test. Creating this environment requires teachers giving up some control, which can be scary. The rewards, however, are worth the risk.

I begin each activity with a driving question. I model how the equipment will be used; we discuss how to collect meaningful, replicable data; and then they get to work (usually in pairs or teams of three).

When we are in lab mode, which is at least half of the time, I am there to coach students but not to do the lab for them. If they get frustrated because an experiment isn’t working, we talk about why that might be happening but I don’t solve the issue. Instead, I give them space so they have room to stumble and figure out what they need to do to move forward. This helps them learn to identify and address problems on their own.

(Next page: More ways to get students excited about science)


3 smart ways to fix your PD

The benefit of professional development (PD) for teachers is well known: improving teaching practices means greater student achievement. What’s less frequently acknowledged is that PD programs are often so wracked with issues that they’re rendered ineffective, if not downright detrimental.

Impractical, infrequent, identical—teachers’ complaints about PD programs run the gamut. Unless school administrators address these problems, they risk wasting not only time, energy, funding, and other scarce resources, but squandering the unique opportunity for teacher growth and student advancement.

Below are three common issues that teachers have with PD, as well as suggestions for how administrators can tackle them. Consider it a starting point for optimizing your school’s approach to PD.

Issue # 1: PD programs are impractical

Educators, administrators, researchers, and reformers agree that most PD opportunities are “of little use when it comes to improving teaching,” according to a paper from the Center for American Progress, an independent, nonpartisan think tank.

One reason for this is that PD programs fail to focus on practice. While imparting new knowledge about novel teaching techniques is a worthwhile objective of PD, that knowledge will never be put to use if it’s not contextualized in the classroom setting. Furthermore, a single-minded preoccupation with the latest educational research will overshadow the importance of refining traditional teaching methods, which continue to be used each and every day in classrooms across the country.

(Next page: How to fix your PD)


How to talk with your students about social media

Who hasn’t sent a text or email to the wrong person? Who hasn’t posted something online they later regretted or seen something in their feed that made them uncomfortable? These are difficult moments for people, no matter their age, and it’s natural to be unsure what to do. But the most common advice young people get about social media is usually limited to “Think before you send” and “Once you post something, it’s always there.” These clichés may be true, but they don’t help young people address the situation they’re in.

If you work with young people in any capacity, you are also teaching social media norms and expectations. But what do norms mean in the context of social media? Norms are a standard or pattern of social behavior that is typical or expected of a group. Our social media use is still so new that we are all trying to figure out what our social media norms are and should be. From when we use it to how and where, we are all trying to figure it out as we go.

When it comes to issues that impact their lives, young people are equal to us in subject-matter expertise, if not more so. But this is easy to forget. When we do, we miss the larger context and therefore the opportunity to actually accomplish our goals: teaching them how to apply critical thinking to the information they receive, recognizing when it is being used to manipulate their opinions and perceptions, defining what responsible social interactions online look like, and developing awareness about how its use can impact their sense of self and understanding of the world.

(Next page: Practical advice for talking to your students)


Why I love my job

Every February 14, millions of couples gush about why they love each other. Since this is the season for proclaiming passions, we asked six educators a simple question: “What do you love about teaching?” Here’s what they said.

Sonja Parks: Watching learning in action

The best teachers are also great listeners. I love being an educator because I have been able to not only watch students in my district learn, but also help my teachers improve their skills and become facilitators—not lecturers. This year we implemented Lightspeed’s Activate System, which has strengthened the connection between teachers and students and has empowered students to take ownership of their own learning. Thanks to our Rockin’ Classrooms of the Future, teachers have been able to streamline communication and students are learning to listen to each other and work in groups, which is an essential 21st-century skill. I love to watch learning in action and encourage everyone in our district to learn something new every day.

Camille Cavazos: Getting to know students (and their families)

I love getting to know my students throughout the year. Every year, there’s a new batch of students with shiny, bright eyes, eager to learn something new and fun. If I improve the life of just one student, I’ve made a difference. It’s so easy to come back every year because you have another chance to be a molder of dreams. It’s amazing to see how students grow academically from start to finish.

I also like getting to know my students’ families through my parent-teacher communication app, Bloomz. Not only can I send daily messages about homework, attendance, and behavior, but I am able to do real-time assignments that get parents involved in the fun of learning. For example, I did a treasure hunt competition with the help of parents. The first 10 students to submit pictures of the three types of angles found at home or in public would receive free homework passes. It was a race to the finish, and since I required the pictures to be submitted through the app, it required parents to engage with their children’s learning at home. I also did a similar assignment where students had to find and post pictures of the different types of precipitation. The kids loved these, and so did the parents. Some even posted videos!

(Next page: More educators share why they love their jobs)


Want to host a hackathon and teach real-life STEM skills? Here’s how

On Saturday, January 27th, Warren Township High School in Illinois celebrated our 2nd annual hackathon, Devil Hack 1.01. This two-day event featured teams of high schoolers hacking out a real-world solution to a real-world challenge. Devil Hack began at 9 am on Saturday and ended on Sunday at noon.

If you hear the word “hack” and you start to panic, please don’t! A hackathon is not an excuse to illegally access government or corporate databases. A hackathon is an invention marathon in which programmers, designers, and builders, come together to learn, build, and share their creations. Today, hacking means to quickly and intelligently create an application or solution that others can use.

Inside Devil Hack 1.01

More than 150 students competed and collaborated for 26 hours on projects focused on energy efficiency, health/biopharma, and societal/human services. These areas have huge potential for growth, need real-world solutions during this time of expansion, and are primed for disruption, particularly by tomorrow’s leaders.

(Next page: More advice for hosting a hackathon)


Reach New Heights with FuelEd’s Summit Curriculum

The FuelEd Summit curriculum is flexible, mobile, and continuously evolving and adapting to each student’s strengths and weaknesses delivering individualized instruction paths that provide the support students need, when they need it. View this video to learn how Fuel Education’s courses re-imagine the online learning experience.