Here’s how to make your digital strategy seamless

When a district goes digital, it is doing everything necessary so that students can seamlessly access and use all of the digital learning tools available and teachers can easily manage the administrative functions associated with these tools, such as rostering students into apps and connecting learning applications, tools, and content into the learning system.

When a district wants to “go digital on day one of learning,” it is faced with a greater set of challenges because day one of learning doesn’t always mean the first day of the school year. Day one of learning means the very first day that a student has the opportunity to learn; that might be the first day of the school year or it might be the day a student transfers into a new class or school. The value of digital on day one is that learning starts immediately versus waiting for the IT department for days or even weeks to roster certain systems. This is especially important to transfer students who are in catch-up mode to begin with, so giving them access to all materials on day one is critical to them getting up to speed with other students.

Recently, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) produced a report on the educational impact of access to digital learning resources at home. The report, which is required as a part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), focuses on access to the internet and the types of devices that are available for accessing these resources, but it does not address several other factors that have a tremendous impact on students’ ability to complete assigned tasks in or out of the classroom. Consideration must be given to whether students face issues accessing resources as a result of the same challenges that exist in the classroom, including login issues, lack of user provisioning for a resource, and the challenge of updating rosters, sections, and courses as students transfer in and out of schools and districts. It is for these types of issues that an effective digital on day one strategy can be a practical solution for school districts of any size.

The number of digital learning resources used in education today is continually increasing. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology National Educational Technology Plan indicates that interoperability is a key consideration for the infrastructure needed for digital learning: “A teacher teaching six classes of students a day with multiple apps and tools needs a way to manage learning content, attendance, student progress, and grades. Students and teachers having to keep track of a different username and password to log in to each system wastes time and creates frustration.”

Tech to the rescue

It’s easy to understand why digital on day one could seem like an insurmountable goal. But the good news is, while technology may be the cause of the problem, technology can also be the solution. By reducing the ways in which rostering is done from infinite possibilities down to a single strategy, the time and effort needed to complete the rostering process can be greatly reduced.

Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia went digital on day one via a digital curriculum ecosystem called eClass. eClass encompasses many different functions including digital content, learning, and assessment systems as well as professional development resources, student information, and gradebook functions. The district rosters most of the tools connected to eClass via the IMS Global OneRoster® standard. Steve Flynt, the district’s associate superintendent of school improvement and operations, is committed to the revolutionary learning opportunities the district is providing. “We want to continually find ways to increase the effectiveness of teaching and learning through employing improved learning technologies,” he says.

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3 great tips for experiential learning

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

Benjamin Franklin is often credited with this quote that resonates with teachers as a reminder to make learning experiential. When students have a personal stake in the subject matter, they better connect to what you’re teaching, and are more likely to engage with challenging subjects.

Here are three tips for inviting experiential learning into your classroom:

1. Let students choose
An abundance of research is available about the benefits of giving students choices in their education, especially when it comes to producing high-quality outcomes. A student who isn’t overly interested in science but loves history may have little interest in looking for dominant and recessive genes, until she examines more closely the links between her grandmother’s brown eyes and her own blue eyes. By inviting students to apply what you’re teaching to what they find meaningful, you increase the odds of robust student engagement.

For example, at Wisconsin Virtual Academy (WIVA), our middle school students recently participated in a Virtual Science Fair. Students chose an experiment to take on and were asked to present on their findings and use of the scientific method. They researched various ways to grow flowers, whether or not animals have a dominant foot, and how fingerprints are unique, among other topics. Students were given the freedom to choose what they studied. At the end of the assignment, many indicated they planned to dig deeper into their research.

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Top 5 TED-Ed Lessons on creativity

“Do schools kill creativity?” asks Sir Ken Robinson in the most-viewed TED Talk of all time (more than 51 million!). In the video, Robinson challenges schools to promote and inspire creativity, but it’s difficult to know where to start, and some teachers aren’t sure if it’s possible.

“I don’t think creativity can be taught,” says Rayna Freedman, a fifth-grade teacher at Jordan/Jackson Elementary School in Mansfield, Massachusetts. “It’s an experience that inspires students to think beyond their potential and see things differently. It’s about giving them tools and choice to complete tasks and let them fly.”

Other educators disagree.

“Everyone is creative in their own way,” says Nicholas Provenzano, makerspace director at University Liggett School in Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan and blogger at The Nerdy Teacher. “Too many people view creativity as a connection to the arts. The idea that creative students are the ones that can draw or effectively use glitter glue is nuts. Some students are super creative when it comes to solving problems or creating games during recess. Some are amazing storytellers.”

Doug Johnson, a former classroom teacher who now serves as technology director for Burnsville-Eagan-Savage Schools in Minnesota, agrees: “One of the biggest myths is that creativity only belongs in the arts. We may think of creativity as a nice extra, but a lot of us have to be creative on a daily basis.”

Johnson asks: “Do I want a creative dentist? I’d rather have someone who follows best practices and isn’t experimenting on my mouth, but I do want a creative problem solver who will use nontraditional methods when the traditional ones don’t work.”

How to inspire creativity

Johnson recommends several things teachers can do to encourage creativity, such as asking for multiple possible answers to questions or giving points for “design” on assignments, in his blog post “Myths of creativity” and in his book Teaching Outside the Lines: Developing Creativity in Every Learner.

For Provenzano, creativity is about giving students a time and place to be creative. “I am always an advocate of teachers modeling what they want to see from their students,” he says. “Teachers cannot give students multiple-choice tests and worksheets all year and then wonder why their students are not more creative.”

If you’re looking for more ideas and resources, here are the 5 most popular TED-Ed Lessons on teaching and assessing creativity.

1. The power of creative constraints
Imagine you were asked to invent something new. It could be whatever you want, made from anything you choose, in any shape or size. That kind of creative freedom sounds so liberating, doesn’t it? Or … does it? if you’re like most people you’d probably be paralyzed by this task. Why? Brandon Rodriguez explains how creative constraints actually help drive discovery and innovation.

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App of the Week: Bandimal

 

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? 

Classroom teachers can use Bandimal in an iPad station or with one-to-one iPad devices as a way to introduce electronic music creation to kids age 5 and younger. Music teachers can use it with classes as an electronic ear training tool for teaching steady beat, high and low sounds, rhythm clapping, and movement to music. Mirror it onto an interactive whiteboard to get the whole class involved with the visuals and dancing along with the animals. For a fun group activity, try working with small groups of three and let each kid select an animal and its notes to create a collaborative composition.

Price: $3.99

Grades: PreK-K

Rating: 4/5

Pros: Minimalist design helps young musicians quickly create their own music.

Cons: No export function for saving music in other formats.

Bottom line: For iOS-infused preschool and kindergarten classrooms, this could be an excellent intro to electronic music.

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Here’s how we made data usable for our teachers

In today’s digital classroom, teachers have access to more data than ever. With a few clicks, we can view detailed reports on student test scores, formative assessments, progress reports from self-paced software, attendance, and so much more. At times, the amount of data can feel overwhelming, especially when each data point only exists as an isolated channel, unrelated to the next.

I am not saying that multiple data measures are a bad thing; in fact, they can help us to differentiate instruction, personalize learning, and really meet each of our students where they are academically. As administrators, it is critical that we help our teachers collect the most meaningful data points by giving them the tools they need to quickly interpret figures to make informed decisions in their classroom.

In my district, Moreno Valley Unified School District (MVUSD) in California, our data showed that our students were really struggling in math. Our state test scores were low and, with the changing rigor of Common Core, parents were coming to me concerned that they were not able to help their child with assignments. I knew we had to do something outside the box—and quickly—to catch our struggling students and prevent them from falling further behind.

Step 1: Finding the right data
We knew that MVUSD’s math scores were low on the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP). For our students that were not meeting proficiency, the score alone did not show a clear picture of the specific skills they needed to master to catch back up to grade level. Our teachers needed a tool to pinpoint skill gaps for individual students so we could be more targeted in our interventions.

After much research, it was clear that we would benefit from administering benchmark assessments. Unlike traditional summative assessments like the CAASPP that simply determine content mastery, a good interim assessment allows educators to get a snapshot of what an individual student knows, is able to do, and is ready to learn next.

While there are many assessment options, we chose NWEA MAP Growth because it had the most research behind it. Our students take a computer-adaptive assessment a few times each year that adjusts to each student’s responses. Teachers get detailed reports that identify individual student needs and show projected proficiency through the school year and over multiple years. Administrators get higher-level reports that make it simple to do a temper-check several times throughout the year (instead of just at the end of the school year) and measure longitudinal growth.

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8 classroom grants for STEM and literacy

School leaders consistently identify high costs and shrinking budgets as a top barrier to implementing new technology tools and programs.

Budget challenges won’t improve right away, but school districts can boost their available funds with grants that are targeted to different areas of need.

Want to support innovative educactors and focus on STEM development? Do you need to target reading and literacy for younger students? Or maybe you want to extend opportunities for conservation.

Look no further. We’ve got grant opportunities to meet different levels of funding needs.

1. The 2018 Innovative Educator Prize: The Foundation for Blended and Online Learning has opened the application window for the 2018 Innovative Educator Prize. The program identifies and supports school and classroom leaders developing practices or programs to overcome achievement gaps, drive engagement, and personalize learning for their students. One-time grants of up to $10,000 will be awarded to winning proposals. Awarded projects will be documented and their results and experience will be shared with education leaders working to scale new opportunities for schools and students. Deadline: May 31, 2018

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Putting the SEL into PBL

In project-based learning (PBL), teachers present students with a real-world problem and challenge them to solve the problem through research and inquiry, often collaborating with each another and producing a final product that encompasses everything they have learned. The project relates back to the standards and learning objectives teachers are covering, but in a more tangible way. Often, PBL will naturally integrate objectives from a variety of subjects within the same project.

The Buck Institute for Education outlines seven essential components for project-based learning:

  1. a strong student activator
  2. a driving question
  3. opportunities for student voice and choice
  4. 21st-century skills
  5. time for inquiry and innovation
  6. feedback and revision
  7. a publicly presented final product.

Learn more about these seven essentials here.

The benefits of PBL

PBL not only makes instruction more meaningful for students; it helps them develop the skills they will need to be successful in their post-secondary lives and careers. Here are four benefits of PBL:

1. Opportunities for differentiation
One of the seven essential elements is student voice and choice, which naturally leads to more differentiation. Students can choose the topic they want to focus on within the main driving questions, which resources they want to use, and which type of product/output they’d like to develop. Additionally, they will spend much of their time doing independent research or group inquiry. This setup gives the teacher the time and space to meet with individual students and small groups to provide more specialized instruction.

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It’s time to develop an anti-cyberbullying policy; here’s how

As technology continues to permeate our lives inside and outside the classroom, educators, administrators, and students should work together to prevent the development of a cyberbullying culture. Research indicates that cyberbullying is detrimental to students and, in some cases, has been proven to be the cause of self-harm and suicide. Educators and parents need to find ways to actively engage our students and make sure they feel safe in their school community.

The current cyberbullying research indicates that cyberbullying is a huge concern for schools—even more so than traditional bullying. Anti-cyberbullying strategies must be consistent and implemented in a school-wide policy that is clearly and efficiently communicated to all stakeholders (parents, students, teachers, administrators, etc.).

The research also shows that strategies are more effective when students play an active role in determining policy. Students should be engaged in leadership training to help them articulate their feelings about this issue and learn how to engage key stakeholders on the importance of student-related challenges.

Much like the evolution of the online and social media worlds, the world of anti-cyberbullying legislation has evolved very quickly in the past few years. Since the mid-2000s, many school districts and states have moved forward with legislation to protect students from harmful online activities. Ultimately, the courts have stipulated that legal emphasis must be placed on not only where the cyberbullying incident takes place but also on “the technology used to carry out the cyberbullying—that is, school-owned equipment or personal resources.” Because of these stipulations, legal ramifications of cyberbullying can be difficult to ascertain and not necessarily helpful in solving the problems that appear in our classrooms.

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Do you make these common classroom-management mistakes?

The dunce cap, a ruler on the knuckles, kneeling on rice: Modern teachers wouldn’t think of using these methods to correct students’ behavior. But for all the progress that schools have made in understanding and implementing effective discipline, teachers can still fall into bad habits that sabotage their own efforts to stay in command. In his recent edWebinar “Classroom Management Mistakes That Undermine Your Authority,” Shannon Holden, assistant principal at Republic Middle School in Missouri, explained the importance of establishing the teacher’s control from the first day of school and the common mistakes educators make when trying to maintain a productive educational environment.

1. Not having a seating chart on day one: This is the teacher’s opportunity to exercise authority from the beginning while also learning students’ names and the dynamics of the room.

2. Not having a discipline plan on day one: Similarly, teachers need to immediately show students that misbehavior won’t be tolerated and how poor choices will be treated. Except for severe cases that require a heightened response, all cases should follow the same hierarchy. For instance, a first offense might be a verbal warning, while a second offense would be a student-teacher conference. Every discipline plan should have a severe behavior clause for extenuating circumstances.

3. Listing unacceptable consequences: Discipline should be commensurate with the behavior and should not belittle or ridicule the student.

4. Getting creative with consequences: When teachers stray outside of typical discipline, one parent can easily protest and discredit the teacher. Teachers need to have the parents on their side, so the measures need to be something parents can understand and support.

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7 tips to better define personalized learning

Personalized learning is a pretty well-known term, but educators have different definitions for personalized learning, making for a sometimes-confusing approach to its implementation.

Now, a new report seeks to apply a common definition to personalized learning and outline best practices for educators to advocate for the practice in their districts.

The report comes from Education Elements and the Foundation for Excellence in Education, and it defines personalized learning as “tailoring learning for each student’s strengths, needs, and interests—including enabling student voice and choice in what, how, when, and where they learn—to provide flexibility and supports to ensure mastery of the highest standards possible.”

According to the report, the four core elements of personalized learning include:

  • Flexible content and tools: Instructional materials allow for differentiated path, pace, and performance tasks
  • Targeted instruction: Instruction aligns to specific student needs and learning goals
  • Student reflection and ownership: Ongoing student reflection promotes ownership of learning
  • Data driven decisions: Frequent data collection informs instructional decisions and groupings
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