5 educators share their ISTE experiences

ISTE18 for all students: The mindset & top 5 tools for inclusive best practice

One size fits none when it comes to learning! The keynotes, presenters, vendors, and attendees of #ISTE18 dialed in hard with a connected line of perspective, practical strategies, and game-changing edtech tools to push all students full STEAM ahead into the new school year.

All means all
As teachers, our number-one mission and passion is to reach all the students we teach in a way that is equitable, meaningful, and impactful. That said, we also know that how each student learns is unique to each individual student. We also know that the way they show what they know is equally unique. In order to capture the outcomes we seek, we must embrace an inclusive and flexible mindset where student voice and student choice are driving the bus forward in their journey of learning.

At #ISTE18, keynote speaker Dr. David Eagleman spoke about the need for emotional engagement (some may think of this as “buy in”) and teaching “best skills” to help kids be cognitively flexible and develop a toolbox for innovation. What better way to do that than through modeling what flexibility is, looks like, and feels like?

Christopher Bugaj, Kendra Grant, and Luis Perez echoed exactly this perspective on Wednesday morning as they “walked the walk” in their session on the many ways to frontload multi-modality voice and choice to all students. The panel of presenters challenged everyone to ask themselves two important questions whenever designing instruction and learning opportunities for all students: “Is it Accessible?” and “Is it Awesome?”

With these two burning questions as our guiding force and the wide array of innovative edtech tools available to use, we should rarely, if ever, miss the mark.

Filling the toolbox
Here are five must-try tools to check out as you reflect on #ISTE18 and how you will use what you learned, claim your flexible mindset, and gear up for inclusive best practices that fit your classroom, school, or district.

1. G Suite For Education: A free suite of tools to help students and teachers communicate and collaborate in a seamless, secure manner across devices. In addition, specialized apps and extensions are available through the Chrome store, including Read&Write for Google Chrome, Screencastify, Move It, Vysor, and Grammarly, to name a few. Definitely worth checking out!

2. Microsoft Learning Tools: Free tools to improve reading and writing skills for all ages and abilities. Specific learning tools include enhanced dictation, focus mode, immersive reading, reading speed, and syllabification. Learning tools are available for use across platforms and devices.

3. Flipgrid: A video discussion platform where student voice is amplified and heard like never before. The Flipgrid experience helps grow social learning skills as students record, watch, discuss, react, and respond to their experiences and perspectives with each other. Free to all educators and accessible to students, parents, or audience of choice with link and password.

4. PlayPosit: An online learning platform used to develop and share interactive video lessons. PlayPosit supports a number of video sources and allows teachers to pause videos, insert questions, and promote differentiated delivery of content as well as deeper critical thinking and reflection opportunities. Free to all educators and students.

5. Kahoot: A game-based learning platform used to administer study review, quizzes, discussions, or surveys. A whole class can play at once in real time. Multiple-choice questions are shared on a screen. Students respond to the questions via computer, smartphone, or tablet. Free to all educators and students.

One to watch: ClassAlexa

Kimberly Zajac MA CCC-SLP/A; C/NDT


How to start a virtual coding boot camp in five easy steps

It never ceases to amaze me when I see a middle school student excelling at virtual robot simulations, a seventh grader using computer code to solve a STEM problem, or an eighth-grade robotics team brainstorming ideas and then developing a full-blown operating robot. Even these tiniest victories go a long way, with students getting hands-on with advanced technologies and then taking that experience to college and/or out into the workforce.

Challenged by budgetary constraints, time limitations, and the wide selection of new classroom technology that’s being thrown at them, K-12 districts aren’t in the best position to set up onsite robotics and coding classes for their students. To overcome these challenges, several West Virginia schools are leveraging a technology platform that’s completely online, and that’s helped them bring the fascinating world of robots to a wider band of students.

Here’s how you can do it too.

1. Find an internal champion to lead the cause. To think beyond basic K-12 curriculum and truly prepare students for today’s work world, you need a champion to get behind the cause. We found ours in Donna Burge-Tetrick, superintendent of Nicholas County (WV) Schools. She secured a grant from the West Virginia Department of Education to provide a robotics instructor to support teachers in robotics implementation. She has also continued to fund and support all aspects of our program, which is now growing steadily.

2. Pick products that complements your school’s current resources. We’re using CoderZ by Intelitek, a platform that is completely online with virtual robot simulations, thus reducing the need for robotics kits and pieces. This has helped us cut equipment expenses to a minimum and, even better, our teachers need no specialized training to teach robotics classes, which cuts the costs even more. This is particularly beneficial for districts that have been unable to establish or expand their own robotics programs.


This strategy could help younger at-risk students master math

Low-income minority kindergartners learn math better when taught in small groups, according to a new report from University of Michigan (U-M) researchers.

This type of instructional approach not only has a positive impact on achievement, but can help bridge the gap with higher-income peers, the researchers say in a report.

Robin Jacob, co-director of the U-M Youth Policy Lab, and Brian Jacob, professor of education and public policy, evaluated 655 kindergarten students in the one-year math enrichment High 5s program in 24 low-income elementary schools in New York City.

The High 5s program aims to provide a consistent instructional approach and alignment of content from the pre-K math curriculum to kindergarten, and it is designed as a hands-on program to engage young students.

They discovered that students who participated in the program received 30 percent more time on math instruction with more individualized attention, and were exposed to a wider range of advanced math topics and more interactive activities.


16 tools to promote inventiveness in the classroom

Inventiveness–the bridge between inventions and innovations–gives students license to use their creative imagination. And today’s classrooms need more of it.

During ISTE 2018, educational technologist Kathy Schrock presented a variety of tools and strategies to help boost inventiveness in the classroom.

Invention is the creation of a product or the introduction of a process for the first time, while innovation occurs if someone improves on an existing product or process. The link between those two, Schrock said, is inventiveness–the ability to brainstorm, to be flexible, to elaborate, and to see original ideas come to fruition.

A few questions can pinpoint whether a classroom is conducive to creativity and inventiveness:
1. The classroom’s physical environment offers flexible resources
2. The classroom’s learning climate has students actively participating in discussions, allows for collaboration, and values different points of view
3. Students are engaged, seek different viewpoints, take risks, reflect on learning, and have time to think creatively and develop ideas


App of the Week: Sworkit Kids

What’s It Like? 

Both physical education (PE) and classroom teachers can use Sworkit Kids to get kids exercising. It’s a perfect short activity to get students moving after a long lesson or first thing in the morning, or as a longer activity during gym class. Sworkit Kids can be used anywhere that the app can be shown to students: in PE class, in a regular classroom, at home, outside, inside, while watching television, while doing homework, or with friends or family.

No sign-up is needed to use Sworkit Kids, and there are no ads. Because the exercises are demonstrated visually, it’s useful for English language learners (ELLs) as well as students with hearing impairments. Very little space is needed for each student, but the exercises will still get them moving enough to get a good workout. Students can share their favorite workouts with friends and family, and students can also do these workouts at home.

Price: Free

Grades: 2-8

Rating: 4/5

Pros: Customizable workouts and settings, exercises are easy to learn.

Cons: There isn’t much there to extend the learning, and there’s minimal support for teachers.

Bottom line: This app will get kids moving, jumping, and bending to increase their overall fitness through exercise.


Ed. noteApp of the Week picks are 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.


4 ways to make high-impact teaching a reality

I’ve been very fortunate to travel the world and work in classrooms in the United States, Australia, Asia, and the U.K., and have seen phenomenal teaching everywhere I go. However, administrators tell me the challenge is how to effectively take that practice and scale it for every teacher in the district. How do we apply that brilliance across year levels, subject areas, and student demographics? And how do we measure the impact of different teaching methods in terms of how they’re improving student outcomes? Put simply, to shift the quality of learning in schools, we need to better support teachers with evidence of learning so they can focus their effort on doing the things that work really well for every learner in the room.

Teachers report that when they look at professional learning, they ask three questions:

  1. What am I learning?
  2. How will I apply it in class?
  3. What impact will it have on every student in the room?

If we can give teachers visibility on those three things, they’ll start to own their professional learning activities and how they practice their craft. Here are four ways that districts can replace traditional sit-and-get professional development (PD) with on-demand and personalized delivery of high-impact teaching strategies (HITS).

1. Better teaching, five minutes at a time
HITS are not necessarily new ways to teach. Rather, they’re well-researched pedagogical methods that have been proven to work. Teachers ask us: “What can I do within an existing lesson that might take five minutes that will get every student engaged in the learning?” Verso offers teachers easy-to-implement learning structures that support these evidence-based, high-impact teaching strategies. Teachers can add these into a lesson to foster student collaboration, effectively demand participation, and inspire a level of thinking that’s far deeper than they would have otherwise reached.


One way to manage stress: Focus on self-care

[Editor’s note: This is the 11th installment in Jennifer Abrams’ ‘Personal Development’ column for eSchool News. In her columns, Abrams focuses on leadership skills for anyone working in a school or district. Read more about the column here.]  

In 1995, Robert Kegan, now emeritus professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, wrote a book entitled In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life. He asked—given all the complexity surrounding us—if we had what it takes to live healthy and successful lives. Since then we have seen a plethora of books trying to help us work through the personal and global challenges we face on a day-to-day basis. Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston wrote Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders, Elena Aguilar just published Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience for Educators, and Laura van Dernoot Lipsky is coming out with The Age of Overwhelm: Strategies for the Long Haul.

In addition to supporting ourselves, we as educators also learn more to support students. We are more trauma informed with Debbie Zacarian’s Teaching to Strengths: Supporting Students Living with Trauma, Violence, and Chronic Stress, and gritty with Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. These two texts are the start of the booklist that one can access to help students with their social and emotional development. With all the challenges we face in today’s world, we need to prioritize our own emotional and psychological well-being too.

In my next book, tentatively titled Swimming in the Deep End: Four Key Leadership Skills for Aspiring and Emerging Leaders, I talk about the essentialness of cultivating habits of self-care. We need to consider our self-care to be a part of the change work we do in schools, to be more physically capable and to be both emotionally strong and psychologically sound. This work isn’t an “add-on.” It’s an essential element to school reform.


It’s time to become the storyteller-in-chief for your school

When polled about public perception of K-12 schools in the United States, attendees of the recent edWebinar, “Transform Your School’s Brand by Becoming a Storyteller-In-Chief,” offered mixed results. While there are some positive stories, many seemed to think that there isn’t much faith in public education. Trish Rubin, founder of Trish Rubin Ltd., and co-author with Eric Sheninger of BrandED: Tell Your Story, Build Relationships, and Empower Learning, explained that much of the issue stems from how school leaders tell their story and communicate their brand.

First, Rubin challenged the attendees to think about why brand matters to education. She wasn’t talking about logos or typically generic mission statements, though. What she meant by brand is the emotion, the gut feeling that someone has when they think about your district. Classrooms are no longer ivory towers where students are educated in isolation, she said; they are places where children live and learn for the majority of their lives. Teachers are trying to build a community, and the perception of that community is vital to getting support from the school members and beyond.

Emphasizing the rise of social media, Rubin next talked about how community members are sharing these perceptions and their stories about school. Educators need to be tuned into the “camera culture” and the value of pictures in presenting their brand. If your district’s educators and administrators aren’t doing this, other constituents will without any influence from school or district leadership. Even if the school leadership is putting out news stories, the pictures from the constituents will be the controlling message.


How schools can address mental health to reduce school violence

With another school shooting just down the road from me last month, it was sobering to see parents and community members leaving positive Post-it notes and sidewalk chalk messages to encourage children to walk into schools. We have been told school violence is caused by loss of civility in society, video games, pornography, and guns themselves. Without arguing the pros and cons of the Second Amendment, it is clear to me that people shooting into schools have mental health issues. Adding additional law enforcement presence tends to provide a better reaction in the case of crisis, but educators would generally avoid the crisis by proactively addressing the needs of the children.

Mental health and childhood trauma
Addressing the socio-emotional or mental health issues of children continues to be the one thing many agree can help curb violence in schools. We believe it is essential to address the needs of the entire family. More children are entering the schoolhouse as survivors of some level of trauma due to everything from substance abuse in the household to being the child of a veteran still coping with the aftereffects of deployment.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network provides an excellent overview of the populations most at risk as well as resources for educators to address the impact of trauma among their students. The concept of trauma-informed teaching is expanding in a range of academic circles.

Addressing the whole family
Recognizing the need to address mental health issues in our community, Muncie (IN) Community Schools (MCS) worked with Meridian Health to develop a Behavior Family Navigator (BFN) program where mental health professionals would be embedded into the MCS schools to work with school staff and families to support student success. About 75 percent of MCS students are in a single-parent home. The goal was for the BFNs to provide in-school and in-home services for children and their families to create a more stable and supportive home environment. If a parent had a substance-abuse issue, the BFN addressed it through the need to remove that as a barrier for student success. As has been mentioned in many forums, all parents want the best for their children, but many don’t know how to help them be successful.


Best practices for developing proficient writers

Too often when teachers say they are teaching writing, they mean that they are assigning writing work to their students, but they aren’t actually helping students master the fundamentals. From grammar and spelling basics to writing thesis statements and revising drafts, every step of the process is essential for developing confident writers who can effectively communicate their ideas. Based on several research reports, Jenny Hamilton, M.Ed., an independent literacy consultant, has identified best practices for writing education, which she shared in the recent edWebinar, “Strategies for Building Proficient K–12 Writers.” Overall, the goal is to break down writing into its essential elements, giving students the opportunity to master them before drafting essays and reports.

First, students should have a strong background in the structures of writing, such as spelling, punctuation, and basic grammar. In addition, teachers should spend time looking at individual sentence and paragraph construction. For example, what makes a good topic sentence? How do you connect the sentences in a paragraph to each other? Which adjectives and adverbs convey which emotions to the reader? Thus, students are able to pay more attention to the content of their writing because they understand the foundations.

Then, students can move on to prewriting. As part of prewriting students need to be able to interpret a writing prompt. They should be able to say in their own words what the teacher is asking them to do. Teachers need to work with their classes to identify the key asks in a prompt and how that narrows the scope of the assignment.