It’s not your grandfather’s SAT prep

From a rise in test-optional schools to redesigns that move away from being a test of “how well you can learn how to take the tests,” the last few years have seen significant shifts in both the approach to—and importance of—the SAT and ACT.

When students sit for their tests, they’ll look just like students from generations past: nervous, fidgeting with their calculators, and a little tired from an earlier-than-usual wake-up call. But the ways they’ve prepared for the test today look very different, and in the near future, will look even more distant than the traditional dry methods students have used to cram. Here are a few of the study trends I’ve seen in my role leading Quizlet, a learning platform used by 30 million students each month.

Test-prep anywhere
Think back to the test prep book you studied with. It most likely weighed down your backpack as you carried it around all day before you had a chance to crack it open during study hall. There simply wasn’t another good way to prepare outside of textbooks.


App smackdown: 20 apps from ISTE 2018

Mobile devices are a key component in many classrooms, and apps go hand-in-hand with those mobile devices. When those apps are free and device-agnostic, it’s even easier to integrate them into the classroom.

Some districts implement programs where students use tablets, and others allow students to bring and use their own devices. Some districts do both, letting students use their own devices while offering classroom devices for those students who need to borrow one.

During an ISTE 2018 session, five educators each presented their four favorite apps in a “smackdown” format that gave each educator two minutes to highlight the coolest features of each app.

Here, we’ve gathered each app under the educator who recommended it. Read on to learn about 20 new apps that might be new to you–and we’ll also reveal the winner of the app smackdown. [Editor’s note: These apps are available on multiple platforms/devices. We’ve linked to one version of each app below, but a comprehensive chart with all platforms is available at the end of this story.]

Richard Colosi, Instructional Technology Specialist, Monroe #2 BOCES
1. Padlet (Catscan) lets users scan Post-It Notes and project them directly on screen or turn them into digital cards. Users can organize cards, change the order, and sort in different ways.
2. Gimkit was created by two high school students and offers quizzes that let students earn money and super skills. The more questions they answer correctly, the money money they earn and the more superpowers they can purchase to advance in the game.
3. We Video is a cloud-based app helping multiple users work on a video project across multiple devices. Users can record and sync, and changes go directly to the We Video cloud. Features include adding titles, animated backgrounds, and voiceover.
4. Metaverse gives users the ability to create a website featuring augmented reality experiences. Users create their own content and games on a web-based platform.

Monica Burns, Educator/Speaker and Creator of
1. Adobe Spark Video lets users create compelling video in just a few minutes. Once completed, they can share the file as a link or download it.
2. Storyline Online offers actors and actresses reading stories aloud to students. Animations are brought to life and an activity guide lets teachers open up extra resources for students. The site also features standards alignment and classroom activities.
3. New York Times VR: The Daily 360 connects videos and content to current events or big ideas and topics. It could be used as a classroom resource to help students relate better to ideas within lessons.
4. Adobe Spark Post replaces index cards with social sharing graphics. It gives students the ability to turn designs into animations or add photos and text to create collages.

Julie Garcia, Program Manager, San Diego Unified School District
1. Flipgrid gives teachers a look into students’ thought processes. Students record themselves in Flipgrid and teachers can “see” their step-by-step thinking and pinpoint where students might get confused or stuck on challenging concepts.
2. Tweet Generator lets students create “fake” Twitter handles and tweets that can be used for almost any class. Students can build Twitter handles for historical figures, famous authors, mathematicians, or philosophers, and from there, they can build a body of tweets to display their knowledge of the historical figure, who that person might be friends with, or what their reactions might be to events.
3. Classroom Screen is a tool to help teachers change languages or backgrounds, draw, add symbols or text, generate QR codes, and randomize students’ names.
4. Recap organizes recorded material into the flow of learning and lets users ask and answer questions with video responses.

Ann Kozma, Tech TOSA, Fullerton School District
1. Book Creator lets users create one book for free, but book creation is unlimited with the paid version. Students are more engaged when they can tell stories and personalize their own content. The tool features easy navigation with images, photos, audio, and drawing/notation.
2. Seesaw is a student-driven app that lets students create portfolios that are accessible in different ways.
3. Nearpod is a web-based tool with interactive lessons that educators can filter by subject, price, or state standards. Educators also can create their own lessons. Presentations are able to be shared via a code the educator sends.
4. Scratch Junior, an introductory programming language for younger students, includes preset activities offering step-by-step guides for teachers who aren’t sure how to teach coding.

Chris Penny, Professor, West Chester University
1. Tynker lets educators create a free teacher account that gives them access to the coding app, courses, PD, and more than 30 different activities.
2. Tayasui Sketches gives students a way to unlock creativity as they use realistic drawing tools for sketches, paintings, and illustrations.
3. Tinkercad, a free web-based tool, offers access to online 3D design and 3D printing. Students can learn how to design in 3D with small projects that offer step-by-step video tutorials. Teachers can give students challenges and then 3D print the results of students’ projects.
4. Galactic Explorer/Merge Cube literally lets students hold the galaxy in their hands. The app uses a Merge Cube–a small cube with QR codes, which educators can locate online–to project images and details of planets in the solar system. Students can turn and manipulate the cube as they analyze the images.

And the winner is…

Congratulations to Ann Kozma, voted winner of the App Smackdown by session attendees!

A list of every app and where to locate it is available here.


5 resources to help students with information literacy

Information literacy skills top many lists of must-have abilities, especially in the age of fake news. Not all results in a Google search are legitimate–but how many of today’s students know this?

Children have access to devices at younger ages, which underscores the importance of teaching them how to look at news with a critical eye and to evaluate the information’s origin. Because today’s students are growing up in an age where information is easily accessed, they need to know how to apply critical evaluation skills when met with information purporting to be truthful.

A 2017 Stanford University study determined that students from middle school through college were not able to distinguish between reliable news sources and sponsored content or advertising.

“In every case and at every level, we were taken aback by students’ lack of preparation,” the study’s authors write. “Never have we had so much information at our fingertips. Whether this bounty will make us smarter and better informed or more ignorant and narrow-minded will depend on our awareness of this problem and our educational response to it.”

During the 2016 presidential election, fake news stories were more popular than legitimate media reports.


10 tools for blended schools

With many schools now practicing blended learning, it can be helpful for educators interested in blended-learning programs to know which edtech tools are being used. For over five years, we at the Christensen Institute have been collecting data on blended-learning schools from around the world. In 2016, we launched our redesigned Blended Learning Universe (BLU)—a hub for resources and research, including a directory of schools practicing blended learning. To date, the directory features nearly 600 school and district profiles that capture both quantitative and qualitative data. In their profiles, schools can share the ins-and-outs of their approach to blended learning including their instructional model, the grades and subjects in which they are rolling out blended approaches, and the software powering those models.

What are some of the most popular tools across our directory? Let’s take a look at 10 top edtech tools in blended schools.

1. Khan Academy
Khan Academy is one of the most well-known content providers on the web today. With hundreds of instructional videos and thousands of practice exercises integrated into a personalized-learning dashboard, Khan Academy helps teachers of almost any subject bring online learning into their classroom. Many of our BLU teachers often use Khan videos to supplement their instruction, as well as use the Khan dashboard to track individual student data to support differentiated instruction. Resources have been translated into more than 36 different languages, including Spanish, French, and Brazilian Portuguese.

To see Khan Academy in action, check out the BLU profile for Khan Lab School in Mountain View, California.

2. PowerSchool
Although not all schools using PowerSchool are blended, it’s the most common student information system (SIS) we’ve come across in the BLU. Schools use PowerSchool for a range of daily school operations: from scheduling, attendance, state compliance reporting, health management, and more. Additionally, the SIS integrates with PowerTeacher Pro, an online gradebook that allows teachers to share student data with parents.

To see PowerSchool in action, check out the BLU profile for Aiken Virtual Program in Alexandria, Louisiana.


Survey: Boys have waning interest in STEM careers

Boys’ interest in STEM careers has dropped over the past year, while girls’ interest remains the same, according to an annual survey from Junior Achievement and Ernst & Young LLP.

Last year, 36 percent of surveyed male high school students said they wanted a STEM career, but this year, only 24 percent reported the same. For two years straight, just 11 percent of female high school students say they want to pursue a STEM profession.

Girls’ low interest in STEM education and careers isn’t exactly new–by middle school, many girls lose interest in and enthusiasm for STEM subjects for a variety of reasons, including the false perception that science, math, and technology classes aren’t “cool,” as well as a lack of female representation in STEM professions. Still, many initiatives and schools are working to combat this trend.

Project-based learning (PBL) might be one way to increase students’ interest in STEM, according to Texas educator George Hademenos. PBL’s student-centered investigation helps students develop creativity and problem-solving and is ideally suited for STEM-centered challenges.


Why design thinking isn’t just for techies

I was really intimidated when I first heard about design thinking. I also had a lot of questions: What is design thinking? Isn’t it just for techies? How is this relevant to my elementary school-level classroom?

The epicenter of design thinking is the d.School at Stanford. According to the d.School, “… design thinking is a methodology for creative problem solving. You can use it to inform your own teaching practice, or you can teach it to your students as a framework for real-world projects.” Founded in 2004 by a few Stanford professors including faculty director David Kelley, the d.School offers courses to all students at Stanford, no matter their major. They also have made their approach available to a variety of industries, including education.

Schools often assume that design thinking is a “techie thing” and send their edtech coordinators and directors to design-thinking workshops. Although design thinking has been adopted widely by the tech industry, its approach can be applied by any organization that wants to adopt a way to solve problems empathetically and collaboratively. In schools, design thinking complements inquiry- and project-based approaches to teaching and learning.

I had the privilege of attending a couple of deep dives into design thinking at Stanford’s d.School. When I attend workshops, I’m always thinking of ways to bring back what I’ve learned and make it relevant to my colleagues and students. My aha moment came when I realized that, like the scientific method, design thinking is just another inquiry cycle that guides students by giving them steps to conduct research. Design thinking is a social-scientific approach to solving human-centered problems. Its main driver is empathy, a skill you can build and foster in your classroom.

The inquiry cycle
If you’re like me, the steps of the scientific method have been thoroughly imprinted on your brain since middle school. Like the scientific method, design thinking has discrete steps that guide students through the inquiry cycle.

Empathize: Choose one topic and ask lots of questions. What’s your least favorite chore? What don’t you like about it? How does it make you feel? Dig deeper with why questions: Why does it matter to you? Why do you do it?

Define: Now that you’ve empathized deeply, what information stands out? What is the person struggling most with, and how can they accomplish their goal?


App of the Week: Human Resource Machine EDU

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? 

Human Resource Machine EDU can be used with a wide variety of learners–from beginners to experts. However, most teachers using the game will need some understanding of coding to make this a truly useful learning tool. There’s very little support for students who have difficulty with different levels of the game, and very little support material for teachers on how to teach the concepts that are inherent parts of each challenge. Teachers will have to compensate for the lack of hints, examples, and actual instructions. The teacher dashboard is an effective tool for pinpointing students’ strengths/weaknesses and designing targeted instructional support. As some of the levels can be quite challenging, most students will eventually run into roadblocks. Teachers without some experience with coding concepts may find it difficult to help these students (undermining the potential of this well-designed game).

Price: Paid

Grades: 4-10

Rating: 4/5

Pros: Game design puts conceptual understanding of coding to work; challenges are interesting and fun.

Cons: Support for teachers and students is weak; doesn’t use coding terminology.

Bottom line: For teachers with some coding background, this is a great game-based tool for learning to code.


Got STEM funding? Here’s how to use it

Schools lack the resources they need to properly offer coding education to students. So it’s not surprising that U.S. employers have only been able to fill 10 percent of available computer science jobs with qualified applicants. Progress was made this year when the U.S. Department of Education (DoE) was tasked to devote at least $200 million of its grant funds annually to STEM education, and this initiative was followed by an additional $300 million from tech giants and the private sector for K-12 computer science programs.

While many believe that these funds are a beacon of hope for schools in the future, there is some concern that schools won’t know how to best use the money to drive change in coding education. A solution that I have seen work is to increase the focus on STEAM in the classroom so that we don’t inadvertently squander the progress made this past year. We can do this by collectively committing to teacher training programs, investing in long-lasting edtech classroom products, and enhancing curriculums to emphasize coding in every subject.

First, invest in teachers
Even though some tech-forward students may know a thing or two about coding, most of their teachers haven’t been given a clear directive on how, or when, to incorporate technology into their classrooms. To properly integrate coding and computer science into our education system, it is critical to provide teachers with access to training programs that support their personal development and better prep them with technology they may not even be familiar with, themselves. Give teachers time and support to get trained. Make a commitment.

Schools need to invest in supporting teachers through lesson plans and help sessions that will give them the confidence to teach concepts they may not be proficient in. Teachers are the first line of communication for students. If they aren’t prepared to instruct on the coding or STEAM-related principles their schools are asking them to push forward, any funds afforded to increasing student understanding of these concepts are already being used erroneously.

Investing first in teachers is the best way to create a solid foundation upon which all students can learn coding and computer science, sending a clear message that STEAM learning is a classroom priority, and one we must rely on teachers to convey year after year. If this vital confidence deficit isn’t tackled head on, the remaining solutions won’t really matter.


ISTE 2018 emphasizes AI in classrooms

A new partnership between ISTE and General Motors, announced during ISTE 2018 and explored during an ISTE panel session, examines how students are being prepared to work with artificial intelligence (AI) in classrooms and in the workforce.

The multi-year initiative includes professional learning for teachers and hands-on school-based pilots supporting student-driven classroom explorations. More than 25 districts have benefited since work began in September 2017, and educators from some of those districts participated in an ISTE 2018 panel to share their experiences.

ISTE recruited schools with STEM initiatives serving underrepresented students in order to ensure those populations had exposure to and awareness of AI and STEM career opportunities.

“We started the program with ISTE asking two key questions: How do we bring machine learning and AI into classrooms to prepare the next generation for the AI-driven present and the future of work? And, how can it enable innovative ways of teaching and learning in the classroom? As the program enters its second year and as we scale our efforts and continue to try to answer these questions, we’ve been impressed by the level of enthusiasm and the high quality of project output by teachers and students,” said Hina Baloch, manager of Global Social Impact and STEM Education for GM.