App of the Week: Anti-Defamation League


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 turn to ADL to both get training on, and resources for teaching about, sensitive issues around bias, prejudice, and diversity, such as anti-Muslim bigotry, athletes and activism, or ableism. The site’s search tool will bring up diversity-related resources on many trending topics. A quick search on “sports” yields an impressive library of sports-related diversity issues. Even something more current (as of this review) like “#metoo” already returns several resources. If lessons are flexible, ask students a few days in advance for topics they are hearing about in the news. Do a quick search, and plug in the resource or lesson according to class time available.

Price: Free

Grades: PreK-12

Rating: 4/5

Pros: You can use this in class tomorrow. Legwork is done and it’s ready to run.

Cons: Some resources take potentially divisive stands on political issues like BDS.

Bottom line: This site fuses meaningful curricular connections between challenging current events and class content, and is a helpful go-to for teaching tough issues.


6 reasons why district-wide tech implementations are the right choice

In any given K-12 district, you’ll find at least some teachers choosing their own edtech products. Why? If their district hasn’t shown tech leadership, there are no shortage of tempting free apps to choose from. Why not fly solo, so to speak?

But that’s contrary to what districts have come to learn over time: that students and their parents benefit most when all teachers in a district are assessing and reporting on students using a common, approved set of tools and schemes.

In some instances, teachers independently using their own technology can work out well. But teachers run multiple risks when finding solutions to use on their own that aren’t integrated into the district’s systems or procedures. Without centralized budgetary or student-privacy management, teacher-sourced software in classrooms is getting some teachers and their districts into trouble.

From our company’s own experience implementing technology at the district level, here are six reasons districts should move towards district-wide technology initiatives.

1. District-wide implementations let teachers focus on teaching
When teachers choose their own solutions, they often face the headache of entering student and parent data, keeping it up to date, and answering student and parent questions about technology.

When districts deploy new software to all teachers, a leadership team and training is put in place to ensure the technology works as it should. Teachers can focus on integrating the new software into their everyday activities and learning from each other as they all work with the same tools. Additionally, vendors rolling out to the district often provide virtual or onsite support. Free software does not.

2. Every student gets the same resources
Educators opting in to pockets of tech solutions that aren’t being used elsewhere in the district can lead to inequity issues. While some students might benefit from whiz-bang software their teacher has found, others could miss out.


What role does personalization play in college and career readiness?

College and career readiness has grown to be a hot topic that is on the mind of every educational leader in the nation. But being college and career ready takes more than just career counseling or use of software in the classroom—it takes personalized, differentiated instruction that starts at an early age. Students must understand their unique strengths and interests, and teachers must see themselves as part of the global working world. Innovators in education shared their expertise on preparing students to be ready for the working world in a recent edWebinar.

As students are getting ready to graduate high school, they are usually faced with two questions: “Where are you going to go to school?” and “What do you want to major in?” They often face these questions without having exposure to career pathways and therefore may choose a career pathway they think they or their parents may like. How do we start this conversation earlier so that students are prepared by the time they graduate? Devin Vodicka, Ed.D., chief impact officer at AltSchool, says that if we want students to be successful, we need to find a way to make the learning relevant for every child by building on what’s unique for them and embracing personalized learning.

Both Vodicka and Ed Hidalgo, chief of innovation & engagement officer at Cajon Valley Union School District (USD) in California, agree that individual goals are important for students and for personalized learning. More specifically, Hidalgo says, students should understand their “mission of me” which starts with students understanding their own strengths, interests, and values. Next, they should have exposure to the world of work so they understand the different paths possible for them. Last, they should be able to share their story and respond to the statement: Tell me about yourself. This foundational framework should start in kindergarten so every child can graduate with a mission of me.


8 ways to help students grow their grit

For a relatively new buzzword, grit certainly has a lot of supporters. It is grit, and not necessarily IQ or talent, that can predict students’ academic success. And as educators seek to understand students from a motivational and psychological point of view, grit pays an important role.

“Grit is passion, perseverance for very long-term goals, stamina,” says Angela Duckworth in her now-famous 2013 TED Talk.

In that talk, viewed more than 13.5 million times, she describes her study of different predictors of success and how grit emerged as a significant predictor for long-term goals.

“How [do we] build grit in kids? The honest answer is, we don’t know. What we do know is that talent doesn’t make you gritty. So far, the best idea has been the growth mindset—the belief that ability to learn isn’t fixed, that it can change with your effort,” Duckworth says during her talk.

In the years since then, educators and psychologists have taken a longer look at grit, how teachers can foster it in classrooms, and how students can leverage it for long-term success.

“Grit is stick-to-it-ness, it’s backbone, it’s perseverance,” says Dr. Laura Barbanel, former program director of the Graduate Program in School Psychology, where she trained school psychologists. Barbanel works primarily in private practice now. “Someone with grit has a certain amount of optimism, a sense of the possible, a sense of self-efficacy.” 


Digital footprint? Try digital tattoo, experts say

In digital citizenship education, the idea of a digital footprint—the “tracks” students leave behind online as they interact on social media and put information online—is nothing new.

But lately, the digital footprint is being replaced by the digital tattoo, to emphasize to students the idea that any information they put online is permanent, just like a tattoo. Even if they think they’ve deleted it, it could have been saved or screen-shotted by others, or saved by the app or platform they use to post it.

Check out this digital citizenship infographic, and other digital citizenship information, from ISTE. These resources from last year’s Digital Citizenship Week may help, too.

In Florida’s Gilchrist County School District, introduction to computers and proper use begins in prekindergarten classes. The district is 1:1 from 3rd grade, using laptop carts in grades 3-8 and assigning students take-home laptops beginning in 9th grade, says director of technology Aaron Wiley.


3 lessons on innovating in PBL

After 28 years as a classroom teacher, administrator, and superintendent in rural, southwestern Pennsylvania school districts, I left the traditional school setting and began working for Pennsylvania’s alternative education system, serving at-risk and special needs students.

Many students struggle to learn and master concepts in traditional classroom settings. Without a hands-on connection, lessons can be easily lost and remain unhelpfully abstract. I firmly believe that project-based learning (PBL) is one of the best ways to solve this disconnect, so I applied to build a Fab Lab for students in Pennsylvania’s Intermediate Unit 1 (IU1) region. We were chosen, and three years ago, in partnership with Chevron and the Fab Foundation, we launched a campus lab—accompanied by a mobile counterpart—to serve as a hands-on STEM learning center for students to experience and master high-tech tools and concepts. None of us predicted the success we’ve seen.

Students with long disciplinary records and attendance issues started coming to class because they enjoyed it. Those who were frustrated by typical lesson plans and lectures have found the Fab Lab to be a place where their unique learning styles are engaged. Academic progress in a safe, collaborative setting is encouraging students and helping to solve behavior challenges.

Developing this Lab has been a rewarding journey, and I’d like to share some of my biggest takeaways for implementing this PBL approach.

1. There are no shortcuts

If you’re thinking about initiating a shift toward PBL, you’ll need to build the proper relationships and invest time in the initial development. Start small. When I first identified PBL as something I wanted to bring to IU1, it required patience, research, and a leadership team to think through the options that would work best for our students. Our first success was a very small grant for an arts center where students could complete hands-on projects.


Why DIY videos are easier than you think

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for my students to learn from video.”
—Me (until a month ago)

I’ve been afraid to have my class learn from video for most of my career. I’ve told myself, “You can’t replace good whole group instruction.” I’ve advocated vehemently for teaching in front of the class for years.

Here were my reasons:

1. I always felt like my strength as a teacher was my ability to explain things clearly and relate to students who may not have been successful in the past. I’ve always prided myself on my ability to scaffold understanding and identify misconceptions. Video can’t replace that.

2. I have searched the internet high and low for videos that I feel are good enough for my students. Most of the videos I find online don’t teach concepts the way I want them to be taught.

3. Creating my own videos seemed like a lot of work up front that I didn’t have time to do.

4. I fancy myself a pretty engaging and funny guy. Why wouldn’t my students want to be subjected to my dad jokes?

Here is why I was wrong:

1. Using video in class will never replace me; in fact, it will enhance the work I am doing. Videos free me up from the front of the room and allow me to do more of the good work of identifying misconceptions and helping students individually.

2. If I create my own videos, I don’t have to worry about the intricacies of how someone else is explaining my lessons. In the time it takes to find a good video, I could have already made one myself.

3. After making my first set of videos, I was surprised that it really didn’t take that long. I would much rather spend half an hour after school making videos than repeating the same notes multiple times in a row during the school day.


What is your school doing to teach financial literacy?

I believe personal finance should be part of every American’s lifelong learning plan, from elementary school through and into adulthood. It’s that important.

In December, our center issued its third state-by-state report card on high school personal finance education. Report cards also were issued in 2013 and 2015.

Our report cards are among several advocacy efforts. We believe strongly that financial literacy among Americans is linked to positive outcomes like wealth accumulation, stock market participation, retirement planning, and avoiding high-cost alternative financial services like payday lending and auto title loans.

There are still have too many states with D and F grades, but we are moving in the right direction. In recent months, Wisconsin and Kentucky passed laws to improve personal finance education, Vermont and Delaware have implemented regulatory changes, and Massachusetts, Louisiana, and Florida may pass legislation.


One-to-one: Overcoming financial and other obstacles

Today the Lake Park Audubon School District in Minnesota is known for its technology, but it didn’t earn this reputation overnight. Six years ago, the 700-student district carefully planned an ambitious one-to-one initiative and worked through significant challenges along the way.

Lake Park Audubon launched a one-to-one program in 2012 to provide equity for students. A significant number of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch programs and many don’t have computers at home. The district believed that providing devices for every student—and allowing the high school students to take the devices home—would level the playing field by giving all students equal access to technology.

I served as Lake Park Audubon’s technology director from 2008 to 2017 and shepherded it through the one-to-one planning, development, and implementation. Along the way, we encountered several roadblocks: How do we pay for the devices? How do we get buy-in from the school board? Those issues have to be addressed before you can even begin to address a third question: We’ve got these devices; now what?

Here’s how we implemented our technology initiative and some advice for other districts in this position.

Find the right partner

It is critically important to find a tech partner that can provide you with equipment as well as school-focused warranties, support, and service, all within your budget. For us, CDI Computer Dealers was a one-stop shop. It offered a leasing program, high-quality recertified devices, servers and networking equipment, and planning and implementation support.