4 tips for making your coaching experience impactful

Professional development is changing. There are numerous new models: blended learning, personalized learning, culturally responsive teaching, and more. There is new technology: learning management systems, apps, websites, and more.

As we ask teachers to adopt these new models and tools it is essential that we provide ongoing and continuous support through instructional coaching. For teachers who are working with an instructional coach, here are four tips to ensure that your experience has a positive impact on you and your students.

1. Work with a master teacher
Coaching works best when the coach and teacher view their relationship as a thought partnership and see themselves as accountability partners. Amazing things can happen when you pair two thoughtful educators who are willing to do hard work and are energized by their goals. Working with a coach who has extensive experience in the classroom will ensure that you learn new strategies that you might not have been exposed to before. Your challenges, worries, and fears are likely something that your coach will have also experienced. While your coach is not meant to be an expert, working with an educator who has been there and done that will ensure that you learn something new and feel supported as you make shifts in your practice.


Virtual reality could help students remember better, new research says

Virtual reality (VR) is exciting and engaging for students, but for the most part, schools have struggled to find ways to incorporate it into the curriculum. Now, new research reveals one possible impetus for more classroom inclusion.

University of Maryland researchers conducted an in-depth analysis on whether people learn better through virtual and immersive environments versus more traditional platforms such as a two-dimensional desktop computer or handheld tablet.

The researchers found that people remember information better if it is presented to them in a virtual environment. The results of the study were recently published in the journal Virtual Reality.

The findings offer encouraging news for educators who want to explore how VR fits into learning. Although recent survey data shows few teachers are using VR in classrooms, 43 percent of district leaders in small districts want it in their schools, and 20 percent of district leaders say VR is a priority this year.

“This data is exciting in that it suggests that immersive environments could offer new pathways for improved outcomes in education and high-proficiency training,” says Amitabh Varshney, professor of computer science and dean of the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences at UMD. Varshney leads several major research efforts on the UMD campus involving virtual and augmented reality (AR), including close collaboration with health care professionals interested in developing AR-based diagnostic tools for emergency medicine and virtual reality training for surgical residents.


5 steps to guarantee your PD for PBL is on point

What kind of professional development (PD) is needed in order for project-based learning (PBL) to be done well, spread throughout a school, and stick?

Short answer: a lot.

Long answer: participant-driven, interactive, ongoing, job-embedded, and… a lot.

And by PD I don’t just mean traditional training workshops, and I don’t mean only for teachers. Here are 5 points I’d offer about PD for PBL, based on what the Buck Institute for Education has learned by working with more than 80,000 teachers and school leaders:

1. Make sure teachers and school leaders understand what it means to shift to PBL.
PBL is not just another tool that can be dropped in a teacher’s toolbox. It represents a profound change in thinking about how students should learn. It is based in John Dewey’s concept of experiential education and the more recent theory of constructivism, which holds that learners construct knowledge and understanding and build skills through an active process. This contrasts with traditional teaching, which is based on the idea of transmitting knowledge to students, as if it were being poured into an empty head.

PBL also means rethinking what students should learn. It does not mean “covering” a long list of content standards—which is not the same as “teaching” anyway. Students still need some basic knowledge, even in this age of information at our fingertips, but more importantly they need to know how to apply it. PBL emphasizes depth over breadth, depth over superficiality, and the ability to think, solve problems, and tackle real-life issues. (Note: Of course, this point bumps into the issue of what’s being tested in our assessment system, but that’s for another post.)


How Wearables, AR, and VR Help Students Develop SEL Skills (Part 1)

In her post, “Now is the Time to Redefine Readiness,” my colleague Katherine Prince detailed how the world of work is changing, creating an urgent need to redefine what it means to be ready, and proposed a new foundation for readiness that prioritizes:

  • Deep self-knowledge will help people develop visions for our lives and continue to discover their own personal and professional strengths, weaknesses, passions, and emotional patterns.
  • Individual awareness will help people recognize and regulate our emotions; understand the triggers that spark them; and shift to more desired, productive emotional states when needed.
  • Social awareness will help people recognize others’ emotions and perspectives, enabling us to build relationships in support of learning, collaboration, and innovation and foster inclusive work environments.

The exponential advances of digital technologies are one of the main drivers of change reshaping work and creating the need to redefine readiness, but they may also help educators support young people’s development of key future readiness skills. Three digital technologies in particular–wearables, augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR)–show great promise in helping to cultivate social-emotional skills such as those in the new foundation for readiness:


4 terrific teacher communities for summer PD

Keeping up on skills over the summer isn’t just for students. The summer break is a great time for teachers to take advantage of those professional development (PD) opportunities that are hard to fit in during the school year.

Teacher communities are a nice blend of social interaction and knowledge-sharing among peers. We put together a list of our favorite online professional learning networks (PLNs) for you to check out over the break. And yes, we included our own. See you there!

Common Sense Educators
Common Sense Educators is our Facebook group for educators committed to creating a positive, collaborative culture of digital learning and digital citizenship in their classrooms, schools, or districts. Whether you’re a classroom teacher, administrator, tech coach, or homeschool teacher—you name it—you can connect with inspiring colleagues here. Topics of discussion include tech integration, media literacy, internet safety, and much more. Members share articles, ask for advice from peers, give virtual high-fives, and relate to each other’s challenges. And if you’re looking to complete our recognition program to become a Common Sense Educator, membership in the Facebook group is the first step toward that goal! It’s a “closed” group, so you’ll need to request to join.

The Current
Formerly Digital Is, The Current is an open-publishing media-literacy website created and curated by a community of educators. It was created under the direction of the National Writing Project and champions a strong sense of community. The site content is organized into three sections: Blog, Resources, and Collections. This content not only focuses on writing but also extends to general teaching practices. Educators can get support and feedback from peers while staying current in the digital landscape.


10 big findings about ed-tech privacy

Student information privacy is a hot-button topic, and a new Common Sense Education survey shows a widespread lack of transparency and inconsistent privacy and security practices among ed-tech applications and services.

Over a three-year period, researchers evaluated 100 popular ed-tech products and services and found that just 10 percent of those applications or services met minimum criteria for transparency and quality.

While the findings don’t necessarily indicate that vendors are doing anything unethical, they could mean that the application or service is violating federal or state laws, depending on how it is used.

The overall lack of transparency is troubling, according to the authors, because in their analysis, transparency is “a reliable indicator of quality.” In fact, the applications and services in the evaluation that tended to be more transparent also tended to engage in qualitatively better privacy and security practices.


Beware of ransomware: Here’s how to protect your district

A new, disturbing pattern has cropped back up that is reminiscent of some nasty behavior from the early days of Internet nefarious exploits: targeting schools and students and the innocent. Ransomware attacks have been making headlines in recent months—particularly as a threat to K-12. Both Roseburg (OR )Public Schools and Leominster (MA) Public Schools were two of the latest victims of cyber-abuse.

A history of hacking
21 years ago, I got a call at my first internet security startup company (Signal 9 Solutions, later acquired by McAfee) asking for help; a woman’s son had cognitive challenges and disabilities, and she thought he was the victim of hacking. She had seen a news piece about cyberhacking, and she thought this might be a case.

At the time, we focused on enterprise sales and cryptographic solutions, but we had accidentally invented the personal firewall for telecommuting, put a beta version of this new standalone personal firewall on our website, and started a forum talking about it.

I decided to look into it, and I’m glad I did. Not only did I find some great people and ultimately help a lot of them, but I also found a nasty training ground for hackers cutting their teeth. In those days, there was a tacit credo among those of us who knew how to hack: We didn’t go after bystanders or those who didn’t know what they were doing. Even in those days, nation states and criminals were doing bad things online, but amongst most of us the creed was important. Harry Potter wasn’t a thing then, but the message today would translate as “Don’t use magic to harm muggles.”

And sure enough, that’s what we found: silent victims who couldn’t speak for themselves or understand why a computer was behaving so unpredictably. Script kiddies and wannabe hackers were plying their trade in the least risky and most vile of places.

And this continues today.

The current state of hacking
Recently, there has been a rash of attacks on K-12. The reasons are simple and straightforward. These are not attacks for big dollars, generally, because most students and most schools don’t have much money. Sometimes, it’s attempted identity theft, pedophiles, or trolling. Sometimes it’s even accidental (a school or student group is targeted as an afterthought).

And sometimes it’s the old specter of cowardly script kiddies and wannabes looking to test out their infrastructure, malware, or scheme somewhere that can’t defend itself or even draw much attention.

How to protect yourself
There are some critical things all institutions should do, even with limited resources. Naturally budget and talent are questions, and there are some cool new initiatives and companies like Sightline Security, an organization missioned to help non-profit organizations identify, measure, prioritize, and improve their current state of information security, but it doesn’t take a security department to start building resilience and hardening systems and services.


5 ways Quizlet helped increase test scores and morale in my classroom

With growing classroom sizes, it can be tricky to ensure that every student is motivated and challenged with activities tailored to their specific needs. While textbook readings and worksheets are certainly an important part of the educational landscape, I’ve found that some of the most effective learning in my classroom occurs when we meet students where they already are: on their screens.

A few years back I had two special education students that were struggling in school; despite trying hands-on tools, paper worksheets, and other review materials, they were still unable to pass their assessments. I heard good things about Quizlet from another teacher and decided to give it a chance, creating study sets that allowed my students to study different concepts through a combination of games and activities, both in the classroom and at home. After a few weeks of using Quizlet, my students’ test scores started to improve from failing (20s to 50s) to 70s, and they finished the year achieving 80s on their tests. We finally found something that worked!

Since then, I’ve found that integrating Quizlet’s multiple tools both in and out of the classroom have helped all my students, regardless of level, continuously improve to the point where they now exceed expectations.

I’ve implemented Quizlet across all my classes and have seen remarkable returns. Students using these tools saw scores that were about 20- to 30-percent better than our district average for sixth through eighth grade. We did so well that our district thought we cheated on the tests and confronted us about how we taught and what we did to improve our scores so substantially. We had found a way to inspire students to want to learn—not just teach them to succeed on tests. However, it’s not just about having the Quizlet sets available, it’s about constantly reminding students to log on, both in and out of the classroom, and integrate it into their routines.

We’re now making plans for what we can do differently this August. Here are a few quick tips and tricks to getting the most out of using Quizlet in your classroom so your students can build the same excitement for learning as I’ve seen in my students.


3 ways I instill a growth mindset in my students

For my math students, having a growth mindset—the belief that intelligence can be developed through application—removes the idea that some students are good at math and some students never will be. This is crucial in math classrooms, especially as students progress through their academic careers. When their mindset shifts, their approach to math changes. They see a challenge or a new learning experience as an opportunity. Rather than simply giving up, students will plan out their approach and use their background knowledge to find a way to solve the problem.

It’s no secret that math can be challenging for everyone, so mistakes should be celebrated. This way, students can embrace and overcome math challenges rather than fixate on their inabilities. Just because a student is in a low-skilled small-group lesson doesn’t mean that student can’t persevere.

If educators instill a growth mindset in students at an early age, they’ll use this approach for the rest of their lives. The good news is that you can start teaching a growth mindset at any point in a student’s academic career. Here are three ways I make sure my students are developing a growth mindset.

1. Establish a common language and understanding

At the beginning of each school year, I fuel a discussion with my students about the differences between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. We talk about these differences before we even discuss a growth mindset in terms of math education. This pushes them to ask themselves which path of learning they’d rather go down: a path of growth or a path of fixating on challenges.


The state of K-12 makerspaces—and how to create one in your library

More than half of today’s students will hold jobs that don’t yet exist today, which is why it is critically important for students to develop 21st-century skills such as creativity and problem solving.

STEAM learning can help schools ensure students are combining creativity with critical thinking and other key skills, and librarians are uniquely positioned to take an active role in designing STEAM programs and maker spaces.

Makerspaces, as outlined in a whitepaper from littleBits, can help expose students to STEAM as they develop essential skills for success after high school and college.

Maker education “often involves an interdisciplinary approach to instruction and learning: maker educators integrate visual arts, music, language arts, humanities, and social sciences into STEAM projects, giving students a chance to have a holistic experience with technology,” according to the paper.

What do maker spaces look like? Of schools that offer maker activities, most libraries (67 percent) have a dedicated space for maker-related activities—59 percent of those are in the school library. Roughly 32 percent of maker activities are tied directly to the curriculum. Schools looking to fit maker and STEAM education are typically offered during whole-class instruction (63 percent), and 48 percent of schools also offer these activities during students’ free periods.