Most teachers say tech tools improve teaching and learning

Eighty-two percent of teachers in a recent survey say they believe tech tools have enhanced teaching and learning, and most say they have access to the tools they want.

The survey from MidAmerica Nazarene University queried 1,000 teachers with a minimum of 5 years in the classroom to gauge the impact tech tools have had on instructional methods and student learning.

On average, teachers say 56 percent of their tools have become tech based, and 80 percent of teachers say they have access to most of the tech tools they want in their classrooms. Those tech tools include interactive whiteboards, student portals, laptops, tablets, learning software, and learning apps.

Private school teachers are 13 percent more likely to have access to tech tools, and teachers in the southwest appear to have the most access to technology.

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How can we make personalized learning work?

Educators around the country are excited about the potential of personalized learning, but before we can make it an everyday reality, we first need to agree on what exactly “personalized learning” means. There are a number of definitions out there. After a thorough review of the literature, I’ve settled on the U.S. Department of Education’s (DOE) definition of personalized learning, which asks educators to do three things in order to optimize education for each learner:

  1. Be willing to change the instructional approach
  2. Be willing to change the pace of learning
  3. Work to involve students in the process

This definition serves as a strong foundation for a discussion of the past, present, and future of personalized learning.

Where we were
The first initiative that contains at least an element of the DOE’s definition of personalized learning was in 1898, when the schools in Pueblo, Colorado attempted to allow kids to move ahead at their own pace. Then, in the early 20th century, John Dewey’s Democracy in Education program worked to shift the focus from the “system-first” perspectives of the “factory model” to more child-centered learning.

So we’ve been asking the question, “How do we make learning more personalized?” for 120 years. If you look at those early efforts, they were often abandoned because they were so labor-intensive. Districts couldn’t figure out how to sustain them. With today’s technology, educators have a chance to build and maintain personalized learning initiatives that not only improve the educational experience for students but that are actually sustainable.

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App of the Week: Mentimeter

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? 

Mentimeter helps to solve the problem of always calling on the same students by getting feedback from the entire class. Start your day with a class poll to gauge mood, warm up, or ask an essential question. Use an Action Priority Matrix to determine which skills to teach first (involving students in instructional planning) and perform quick assessments using the quiz feature to anonymously check for concept mastery. Host a March Madness-style tournament, letting students vote weekly on their favorite books, scientists, characters, or historical figures. Crowdsource a word cloud to brainstorm character traits of famous leaders throughout history, innovative inventions, or solutions to real-world problems. Group discussions with questions related to themes or scientific discoveries are easily implemented.

Price: Visit website

Grades: K-12

Rating: 4/5

Pros: With the ability to generate questions, assign polls, get image feedback, create matrices, and more, there’s no shortage of options to engage your audience.

Cons: Without import options, teachers will have to spend some time creating presentations, and the free version’s two-question limit can hamper interactivity.

Bottom line: This flexible tool supports the creation of dynamic presentations and can help teachers strike a balance between information and interaction.

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Beware: Your SIS might not be protecting student data

Obligatory CYA note: This article is presented as an “insider’s look” at how SIS security works and the common pitfalls associated with the “convenience vs. compliance” dilemma. The author is not a lawyer and the piece should not be misconstrued as legal advice.

When FERPA was signed into law by President Gerald Ford in 1974, “accessibility” meant “the key to the filing cabinet,” and an “information request” was either an in-person conversation or a bundle of paperwork.

Now, nearly 50 years later, the entire context of the law has changed. Educational records have found a new (digital) home. Efficiency and accessibility are basic expectations, and the amount of red tape required to perform basic duties is shrinking all the time.

But how do you balance the need for speed with legal privacy obligations? Student information systems (SISs) have replaced paper as the default location for most educational records, rendering traditional safeguards irrelevant. A recurring security audit is one of the best ways to determine whether “legitimate educational interest” is being skirted in favor of convenience. Here’s what to look for:

The technical background
To adequately understand the challenges faced by school district IT staff, you need to have at least a little background on SIS security settings. Long story short, the way it works is this:

  • The district assigns employees to certain “security groups” within the system, often role-based by default; i.e., principals, teachers, coaches, counselors, various student services roles, etc.
  • Each group is assigned granular view/edit access to the modules, screens, and fields they need to do their jobs.
  • Non-role groups are often needed based on function; i.e., locker assignments, graduation requirements, or discipline. These groups will cover scenarios in which some, but not all, people in different roles may need permissions.
  • Each entity (usually a school campus) will have its own groups, while other groups will have access to the whole district (think district administrators or district-wide student services).

It’s not sexy, but it gets the job done. The point is this: Despite all the worries about centralizing information in one database, the security is granular enough to meet letter-of-the-law FERPA requirements on the technical side. So, we’re all good here, right? Not quite.

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Teacher stress could cost your schools more than you think

Teachers need the right support to deliver high-quality instruction, and a new study finds that teachers who do not have access to the proper resources have higher job-related stress that negatively impacts student achievement.

High levels of job-related stress affect 93 percent of teachers, and classrooms with highly stressed teachers usually have the poorest student outcomes, including lower grades and frequent behavior problems.

The findings come from team of University of Missouri researchers. “It’s no secret that teaching is a stressful profession,” says Keith Herman, a professor in the university’s College of Education.

“However, when stress interferes with personal and emotional well-being at such a severe level, the relationships teachers have with students are likely to suffer, much like any relationship would in a high stress environment.”

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How I found more satisfaction in teaching

Early in my career, I got upset and disappointed when students made mistakes in class. I couldn’t understand why they weren’t understanding when I was teaching everything so clearly and putting so much time into scaffolding my lessons. As a new teacher, I worked hard to deliver concise lessons at the front of the room, and I became resentful when students asked questions or did not understand.

My attitude was exacerbated by the fact that there are some students who process information easily and master new ideas quickly, while other students struggle to grasp the same material. I assumed many children were not listening, not taking good notes, or not studying. My attitude made me annoyed when helping students one on one, because I was continually repeating what I had just taught at the front of the room.

This attitude created a very negative atmosphere in my classroom. In my first few years as a math teacher, students cried often in my class. I chalked this up to my being strict and having high expectations. Eventually, my poor attitude toward the learning process became pervasive and manifested itself into anger. I often considered leaving the profession.

As teachers and adults, it is easy to suffer from the “curse of knowledge,” or the incorrect assumption that everyone has the same background knowledge when teaching a new topic. This includes the inability to remember what it was like to learn something for the first time. The older we get, it becomes even more difficult to understand the perspective of a student who is learning something new for the first time and truly struggling.

It wasn’t until the last few years that I started to question my attitude about mistakes in the classroom. In reading Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler I realized the power of making mistakes as a positive aspect of the learning process for my students. According to the book, mistakes help grow the brain. Every time we make mistakes, our brain makes new connections. Additionally, a student’s belief in their own ability changes their brain and its ability to process new information. By adopting a growth mindset—the view that learning is akin to getting stronger—students soon make a connection between hard work and higher achievement.

My students weren’t the only ones that needed to embrace a growth mindset; I did as well. My own attitude toward mistakes had to change, or my interactions with students when they needed help were going to continue to be negative. Additionally, my own view of mistakes was contributing to student anxiety when my job should be to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable failing. Here are some tips for adopting a growth mindset in your own classroom.

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Are you an AR innovator?

My library is not quiet. As much as I can, I strive to have my students engaged and excited about learning and exploring new things. One of those new things is augmented reality (AR).

Recently, an AR company gave interactive lessons for my class of 25 sixth-graders. The company was here for three hours and my students were engaged and excited the entire time. It was amazing to watch, and I thought, “This is a medium that we definitely have to explore.”

The challenge with this technology is that it looks fun, but many of us don’t have a concrete plan to incorporate it into learning or an idea of how (or if) it will impact student learning. Here are four tips that will help.

1. Connect AR to project-based learning
As the school library specialist, I’m also the head of project-based learning at Oregon Middle School in Medford, N.Y. One of our English teachers was also intrigued by AR so we put our heads together. She was starting The Diary of Anne Frank with her 8th-grade honors classes, so we had her students conduct background research into what the rooms in Anne Frank’s attic looked like. They found everything from the dimensions of the rooms, to the pieces of furniture, to how many people had to hide in the attic.

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How I found more satisfaction in teaching

Early in my career, I got upset and disappointed when students made mistakes in class. I couldn’t understand why they weren’t understanding when I was teaching everything so clearly and putting so much time into scaffolding my lessons. As a new teacher, I worked hard to deliver concise lessons at the front of the room, and I became resentful when students asked questions or did not understand.

My attitude was exacerbated by the fact that there are some students who process information easily and master new ideas quickly, while other students struggle to grasp the same material. I assumed many children were not listening, not taking good notes, or not studying. My attitude made me annoyed when helping students one on one, because I was continually repeating what I had just taught at the front of the room.

This attitude created a very negative atmosphere in my classroom. In my first few years as a math teacher, students cried often in my class. I chalked this up to my being strict and having high expectations. Eventually, my poor attitude toward the learning process became pervasive and manifested itself into anger. I often considered leaving the profession.

As teachers and adults, it is easy to suffer from the “curse of knowledge,” or the incorrect assumption that everyone has the same background knowledge when teaching a new topic. This includes the inability to remember what it was like to learn something for the first time. The older we get, it becomes even more difficult to understand the perspective of a student who is learning something new for the first time and truly struggling.

It wasn’t until the last few years that I started to question my attitude about mistakes in the classroom. In reading Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler I realized the power of making mistakes as a positive aspect of the learning process for my students. According to the book, mistakes help grow the brain. Every time we make mistakes, our brain makes new connections. Additionally, a student’s belief in their own ability changes their brain and its ability to process new information. By adopting a growth mindset—the view that learning is akin to getting stronger—students soon make a connection between hard work and higher achievement.

My students weren’t the only ones that needed to embrace a growth mindset; I did as well. My own attitude toward mistakes had to change, or my interactions with students when they needed help were going to continue to be negative. Additionally, my own view of mistakes was contributing to student anxiety when my job should be to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable failing. Here are some tips for adopting a growth mindset in your own classroom.

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Are you a Future Ready Librarian?

For 20 years, I was a teacher librarian and worked in elementary, middle, and high school libraries. In 2012, I was selected as Washington State Teacher of the Year. And for the last five years, I’ve been a district administrator, including almost two years as chief digital officer overseeing IT and educational technology operations for a district of nearly 24,000 students. To some, I represent the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse—a librarian in charge of IT.

In 2013, I was asked to be part of Project Connect, a Follett School Solutions initiative exploring the role of school libraries and librarians in 21st-century schools. That pioneering work led to Future Ready Librarians, an extension of the national Future Ready Schools initiative at the Alliance for Excellent Education. In my 2016 TEDx talk, I explore both the past and future of school librarianship, challenging educators to see librarians as innovative leaders in 21st-century schools.

Despite seeing glasses as half-full, I will acknowledge that not all school librarians are Future Ready. And yet Future Ready Librarians are essential leaders and educators in 21st-century schools. They offer students, teachers, and administrators an inimitable combination of skills and abilities. In Vancouver (WA) Public Schools (VPS), we enable and empower Future Ready Librarians. Speaking both as a librarian and a district leader, here are a few lessons learned along the way.

Lead beyond the library
This is the most essential and fundamental role of the Future Ready Librarian. Librarians must see themselves as leaders, conceive their work as connected to systemic initiatives, and then act collaboratively with fellow colleagues, principals, and district leaders to effect change. It’s simply no longer enough for librarians to run a great library program. A true Future Ready Librarian leads, teaches, and supports work beyond the physical walls and conceptual boundaries of the school library.

In the last year, the teacher librarians here at VPS have served on state committees revising educational technology standards, led making/coding explorations in their schools, and taught classes alongside teachers in their classrooms.

Embrace change, navigate transition
Author and organizational consultant William Bridges argues that change occurs outside of our personal control; transition is how we perceive and navigate the changes that occur around us. Future Ready Librarians both recognize and accept change as historical and inevitable. Then they roll up their sleeves and figure out how to navigate the transitions impacting students, teachers, and school leaders. Future Ready Librarians recognize that technological and cultural forces are changing the way we read and access information. And they recognize that they are perfectly positioned to help their patrons make sense of the changes and effectively navigate the transitions which learners must make.

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Study: Teacher expertise increases students’ college success

Teacher expertise in subject matter has a big influence on students’ postsecondary success, according to a new report.

A University of Missouri researcher found that high school students who are taught by teachers who majored or minored in a specific teaching subject, instead of a general teaching degree, are more likely to graduate from college.

Researcher Se Woong Lee, an assistant professor in the university’s College of Education, says schools can use this research on teacher expertise to build a pipeline of highly-qualified teachers and focus on student success.

Through an analysis of a longitudinal data set collected from more than 6,000 students and their teachers nationwide, Lee found that students who were taught by a succession of teachers who majored or minored in mathematics had better success in short-term math achievement. In the long term, the students also were more likely to graduate from college.

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