3 ways to prepare students for online assessments

Online assessments are becoming more common, and students who have strong digital literacy skills often score higher on them. Students who lack these skills may not be able to effectively demonstrate mastery of key concepts in math, reading, or writing on online assessments. Technology and digital literacy specialists at Flagstaff Unified School District (USD) in Arizona reviewed the importance of teaching digital literacy skills and how their district is doing so in “Improving Student Performance on Online Assessments.”

Although digital literacy had been a conversation within Flagstaff USD for some time, there were varying degrees with which teachers at different schools addressed the skills. Still, the application of the skills to demonstrate knowledge was a clear need with the use of online assessments. The district came to a consensus on the definition of digital literacy skills, what kinds of common core standards included them, and how they were already being taught. School and district leadership involvement was a critical factor in developing an effective district-wide approach moving forward.

Online assessments offer advantages over paper-and-pencil tests, such as faster student feedback, improved accessibility features, and the ability to better assess student knowledge. The tasks students are asked to perform help teachers better understand where they need to shift their instructional practice. Some key skills for online-assessment success include word processing and keyboarding, highlighting, graph understanding, research skills, and using subject-specific tools.

(Next page: 3 ways to prepare students for online assessments)

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How to use social media in the classroom

Today’s educators have a love-hate relationship with social media. They recognize that five-year-olds know how to use tablets better than their parents and that many kids have smartphones by the time they are 12. Digital natives live and breathe on social media platforms, sending messages and posting pictures and videos almost constantly. In fact, a recent CNN study on social media and teens found that among the 8th-graders surveyed, the heaviest social media users check their feeds up to 100 times a day.

A new generation of education apps is gaining traction in the classroom by combining the powerful features of social media with a focus on helping teachers. Some of the most successful ones include Seesaw, ClassDojo, and Flipgrid. By analyzing what they do well and how they improve the learning experience, we can get a better sense of what it takes to harness the power of social in education.

3 social media platforms for teachers to try
1. Seesaw uses a social media-like platform to record and organize students’ work; at its center is the concept of a digital portfolio. Students record their work in blog-like posts, and the app organizes their portfolio of work by subject area, project, or class. Students can create posts by adding videos, recording audio notes, and using drawing or caption tools to comment on what they are showing. By encouraging students to comment on the work in their Seesaw portfolio, teachers gain insight into their learning process in a way they could not by simply viewing the finished product.

(Next page: More social media platforms that teachers recommend)

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A student’s perspective on the promise of technology

To be a young adult in 2018 means to have gone through school during a very revolutionary time, technologically speaking. Throughout the 2000s, classrooms in America saw everything from basic overhead projectors and boomboxes to state-of-the-art computer labs and virtual reality headsets. The implementation of technology in schools alters the fundamental teaching structure in ways that can render significant improvements in productivity. We should be careful to not allow these new methods to overpower traditional teaching techniques, but rather find ways to use technology to enhance the world of education, given its ability to stimulate the developing brain in ways that traditional education cannot.

Only a few decades ago, education consisted solely of a flock of diverse students being taught one singular way, by one teacher, in one room, on one platform. Until lately, there was not much opportunity to customize learning for different types of students, who possess different learning styles. The use of technology in classrooms over the years has increasingly provided more and more opportunities for each type of student to learn at the pace they require to reach their fullest potential. For example, many schools now offer curriculums entirely online to be completed in the students’ own time, allowing each of them to progress at their own pace. This can help them achieve a more well-rounded understanding of the material by being able to spend more time on subjects they struggle with, and less time on topics they may already know enough about.

With current cell phones possessing more computing power than NASA in 1969, it’s no surprise that technology has made access to learning much easier. The internet alone yields vast amounts of information—although one must still be able to sift through fact from fiction. Sites like JSTOR.org and other digital libraries full of academic journals, books, and primary sources make hunting down valuable content a breeze. In addition, finding ways to incorporate social media into the classroom can help bring a “real world” feel to teaching lessons. Whether it be forming a class Facebook group, using Pinterest to brainstorm ideas, requiring students to blog, or creating a class hashtag on Twitter, students will thrive off of this familiarity and if anything, it will help convert social media into a tool rather than a distraction.

(Next page: How technology has changed the education landscape)

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Video of the Week: How to Assign Group Work in Google Classroom

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: It’s gotten a whole lot easier to assign group work in Google Classroom. Learn how to use Google Classroom’s assignments feature to create and manage group projects for students. Simply create a new assignment, de-select “all students,” select the student in the appropriate group, and title the assignment to clearly identify the responsible group. For more resources on managing group work, visit this collection of resources for group work with Google.

Video:

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App of the Week: OER Commons

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? 

OER Commons makes it easy for teachers to connect with other educators and find relevant materials. Teachers can search by subject area, standard, or keyword to find resources, or use the advanced search option. Those resources can then be saved within OER Commons or shared through Google Classroom or Schoology. Teachers can also use the lesson builder or module builder to compile resources into lesson plans or unit plans that can be shared publicly on the site or more privately within a hub or group.

Price: Free

Grades: K-12

Rating: 4/5

Pros: Offers tons of lessons and integrates with other tools teachers may be using.

Cons: Site offers so many options that it can be overwhelming.

Bottom line: Impressive resource opens access to quality materials for all educators.

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AI helps younger students better understand math concepts

To truly become proficient in math, students need a solid foundation built on conceptual understanding. However, the benchmark assessments students take at the end of the year—designed to measure procedural fluency—often look very different from their coursework and cause more anxiety than anything else.

With the introduction of Common Core Standards, building a solid foundation that promotes conceptual understanding and differentiation for young math students is more important than ever. Administrators and educators are increasingly looking for supplemental technologies to help them deliver more personalized learning that can result in higher-order thinking and true learning.

How artificial intelligence can help
Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) are essentially serving as a personal assistant for each student in the class and helping teachers with small-group instruction, a best pedagogical practice. When students are working independently, these intelligent tools can adapt pacing based on the student’s ability (the way a teacher would) and provide targeted, corrective feedback in case the student makes mistakes, so that the student can learn from them (the way a teacher would). These tools also gather actionable insights and information about a student’s progress and report the data back to the teacher. Thus, teachers can use the analytics to create an individual action plan for each student.

(Next page: AI helps younger students develop math skills)

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3 ways to support creative problem-solving in schools

The vast majority of educators and policymakers believe students should develop creative problem-solving skills in school–but the problem, they say, is that not enough schools teach this concept.

Ninety-seven percent of educators and 96 percent of policymakers in a global research study from Adobe said creative problem-solving is important for today’s students, and they said they believe students who excel at creative problem-solving will have higher-earning jobs in the future. In fact, creative problem-solving skills are in high demand today for senior-level and higher-paying careers.

But despite the evident need for such skills, schools are not committed to teaching them. Sixty-nine percent of educators and 61 percent of policymakers said they agree that today’s curricula do not emphasize creative problem-solving enough.

(Next page: Three approaches to teaching creative problem-solving in schools)

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6 TED Talks about failing forward

As the movement to improve education grows stronger, so has talk of positive failure, failing forward, and encouraging teachers and students to see the benefits of their own failures.

In simple terms, failing forward is just that–progressing even if a project or idea “fails.”

Educators haven’t always felt safe failing, but more and more administrators have created safe school environments where they encourage classroom teachers to try new things. And if those new things don’t work out as anticipated, they still yield lessons.

Do you want to share a failing-forward experience you’ve had? Enter CoSN’s Failfest by submitting a video describing your great failure! Failfest celebrates how we learn from our mistakes and build a better initiative going forward. Learn more here!

Students, too, are encouraged to be optimistic about failures and to use those failures as starting points for new ideas and explorations.

(Next page: Six TED Talks on failing forward)

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3 key levers for school improvement

District and school leaders today are being asked to do more with less. Shrinking budgets and changes to federal and state policies have made their jobs harder. In addition, to help increase student achievement, leaders are trying all kind of new initiatives—curricula and assessment systems, school-improvement-planning processes, learning methods—that have promised to deliver greater student achievement results. However, as the recent findings from the USDOE School Improvement Grants show, most school-improvement initiatives—especially in high-needs, disadvantaged schools—are continuing to fail or create little improvement.

The strategies and techniques that used to work, even a couple years ago, just aren’t working anymore. We all acknowledge that change takes time, but it is important to put systems in place that allow for the examination of signals along the change horizon that help ensure that leaders’ decisions lead to improvement, result in some early wins, and ultimately ensure a good use of human and fiscal resources.

3 levers for improvement
While many factors go into successful school improvement, research and on-the-ground experience have helped us identify three levers that create systems for investing in teachers and school leaders—and increasing student achievement.

(Next page: ILTs, PLCs, and more)

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