7 digital citizenship resources for educators and parents

More children than ever have easy access to mobile devices at home and in school, making it critical to impart strong digital citizenship lessons to students.

Children have access at younger ages–42 percent of children up to age 8 have their own tablet, 95 percent of families with children in that age range have a smartphone available for that child’s use, and 78 percent have a tablet.

Teenagers’ social media use has doubled in recent years, from 34 percent who reported using social media multiple times a day in 2012 to 70 percent reporting the same today. Sixteen percent of surveyed teenagers say they use social media almost constantly, and 38 percent say they use it multiple times an hour.

Technology is a powerful tool for teaching and learning, but today’s students must learn that their online behavior stays with them forever and has the power to positively and negatively impact peers.


Designing classrooms from a young child’s perspective

When adults visit a preK classroom, they see all of the wonderful learning opportunities for the children: the reading nook in the far back corner, the rug for meeting and circle time near the display board, the shelves full of toys and manipulatives, and the tables and chairs that greet the children as they enter the room. The students see the chair and table legs, possibly their cubby, and not much else. According to early childhood expert Dr. Sandra Duncan, when creating an inviting classroom environment for young children, educators need to look at it from the kids’ perspective. In her edWebinar “Through a Child’s Eyes: How Classroom Design Inspires Children’s Learning and Wonder,” Dr. Duncan explained how designing the space with a young child’s physical and emotional viewpoint in mind can ease anxiety about and create excitement for learning.

In addition to their limited height, Dr. Duncan explained why young children have a unique point of view. First, they are egocentric; they are worried about their own needs. So, when they enter the classroom, they want to immediately see the toy, tool, etc., that is meaningful to them. Second, they can’t extrapolate meaning and have limited capacity to make logical leaps. For example, they won’t necessarily associate the fall leaves hanging from the ceiling with the fall season. Finally, young children have myopic vision. They see only what’s right in front of them or at their feet.

When designing rooms for young children, Dr. Duncan advised attendees to think of three key moments during the school day.

1. A moment of invitation: Think of the view from the doorway. Do kids just see their cubbies and chairs, or do they see materials that will get them excited about being in school that day? For example, Dr. Duncan suggests having a curiosity table near the door that will inspire children to explore.


Teachers say modern learning spaces are critical for student achievement

It’s been said for years: We can’t help our students become citizens in an evolving and global workplace if we’re teaching them in last century’s classrooms. And now, teachers are clamoring for modern learning spaces instead of rows of desks facing the front of the classroom, according to new research.

More than 1,600 teachers participated in a survey on learning spaces, conducted as part of research firm MDR’s State of the K-12 Market 2018 series, and the majority of those teachers believe classrooms and learning spaces impact student outcomes.

“Teachers across the country overwhelmingly agree that creative learning spaces play an important role in student engagement,” says Melissa Pelletier, MDR education research editor and an author of the study. “Companies who work with schools will gain valuable insights into what teachers believe creates learning environments that encourage all students to collaborate, develop critical thinking skills, and achieve their highest potential.”


Using video effectively in the classroom

When we show videos in class, we want our students to watch actively rather than passively: to comprehend, not just consume. We want our students to be active viewers.

But why stop at comprehension? Active viewing is great, but it isn’t enough.

When it comes to video, students shouldn’t just get it; they should also have something to say about it. Students need to be active and reactive viewers—comprehending and critiquing, reading and reacting, getting and giving knowledge. Below you’ll find great tools, tips, and strategies for helping to foster both of these essential media-literacy skills.

3 key teaching strategies for video
So how do you get your students to tune in instead of just kicking back? It all starts with setting up an essential question before you hit play. This is key to helping students watch the video with purpose and context.

From there, try any or all of these strategies to help kids think critically about what they watch.

Using your essential question as a guide, have students take notes and react together, in real time, with a backchannelling tool. You can even join in on the action, and as an added bonus the backchannel creates a running record to review afterward.

Pro tip: This works great for feature films or documentaries, because it combines the film screening and discussion, maximizing class time.


Immersive technology: Asset to the classroom or another tech fad?

Augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), mixed reality—can immersive technology really benefit students and their learning, or are these just tech fads? In their recent edWebinar, Jaime Donally, author, speaker, and edtech consultant, and Michelle Luhtala, library department chair at New Canaan High School in Connecticut, explained that although these technologies aren’t the answer to everything, they are transforming learning and will continue to do so going forward. In addition, while the thought of using these tools can be exciting, schools need to first plan for successful integration into the classroom and curriculum.

First, Donally and Luhtala started by distinguishing the three types of immersive technology. AR takes a view of the real world and enhances it with something digital, while VR is a completely digital experience with no views of the real world. Donally added that having a viewer isn’t always necessary to experience virtual reality; a device on its own can be used too. Last, mixed reality combines augmented and virtual reality, having digital objects interact with objects in a view of the real world. When it comes down to it, Donally noted, it’s not as important to know which experience equals which kind of immersive technology, just that immersive technology is taking strides to be more functional for learning.

Students are using immersive technology to collaborate with each other in ways that are no longer limited by geographic areas or language barriers. In addition to improved collaboration, these tools can help build empathy. Students can experience anything from being in the position of an individual with autism or right in the middle of a hurricane. Schools can even use immersive technology for enhanced safety training and emergency preparedness. And looking toward the future, immersive technology is paving the way for learning in completely virtual classrooms. “360 environments are our future,” said Donally. “The way that we want to interact with people should be the way we interact normally without that technology. We’re seeing a transition into something that feels more realistic in that way.”


We used technology to increase attendance at PTA meetings

When I became principal of a middle school in New Jersey, I heard how supportive our parents were. Behind the veil, there’s always something to work on and I wanted to explore that. My first PTA meetings reassured me that we needed to find a way to improve the drastically low attendance. At the meetings, we typically see about 12 to 15 attendees, usually the executive board and a handful of parents. Since we have 1,250 students, that meant only one to 1.3 percent of parents were attending our five PTA meetings each year! That was not a percentage to be proud of.

The only time in recent history attendance jumped was when I presented on the PARCC online standardized assessment. More than 250 people came, many of them to challenge the cause. The meeting went fine, but I wished I could recapture the volume that was there that night for the many professional development learning opportunities at our PTA meetings.

We view faculty meetings as professional learning opportunities. I felt that the same needed to be brought to PTA meetings. What a wonderful venue to teach parents about and collaborate with them on ways to help their child achieve in school. The PTA meetings could be highly engaging opportunities to get parents interacting on dealing with anxiety in school, bullying, attendance, preparing for secondary school, and lots more. But what would the point be if only a fraction attended?

I always knew in my heart that more parents wanted to be involved. How to get them to a meeting? We tried Ask the Principal Night, Pick Your Topic, and more, but nothing came close to that PARCC night.

And then it hit me: If they can’t come, why not bring it to them? Technology offers this accessibility. I brought in a livestream and used our community-wide call system to ask families to watch the meeting live at the link sent in the message.

There were 14 parents at the PTA meeting, but when I checked the live broadcast, there had been 176 viewers. I thought it was a typo. I went back and checked and—sure enough—176 viewers! Quick math tells me that we jumped from 1.1 percent to 14 percent, a 12-fold increase. Wow! The next day I sent out a blast with the good news and another promotion: If you didn’t get to watch live, you could still see us offline by clicking on the link. An additional 52 viewers watched offline, for a total of 228 or 18 percent of our parents.

You could argue that 18 percent attendance is still low. However, I would challenge that the only time we ever got that close was PARCC night and that was hostile. These are purposeful professional development opportunities for parents and faculty. I’d rather have 18 percent than 1.1 percent attendance.

This year, our first PTA meeting had 15 parents in attendance and 276 viewers (23 percent)!


5 ways technology can help students develop a strong moral compass

This past July, educators from the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County arrived in the impoverished Mbekweni community in Paarl, South Africa to help open a first-ever library for the 1,500 students of the Langabuya School. They also delivered a stock of solar-powered reading lights designed and built by Schechter’s sixth graders.

Having learned about the compelling needs of this resource-challenged community, Schechter’s students helped purchase 1,000 English-language books, printed 500 in the students’ native language of Xhosa, and supplied simple solar-powered devices for Langabuya students—many of whom do not have electricity at home—to check out books and read them at night.

The natural extension to Schechter’s values-based global framework is the fall 2018 opening of the hands-on Popkin Innovation Lab, named after its generous alumni donor. The lab is equipped with cutting-edge technology that will empower students to solve real-world problems. They will learn to design, build, prototype and test potential solutions using a range of tools, including a sand blaster, a laser cutter, and a 3D printer, just to name a few.

The lab is meant to spark students’ creativity with the goal of tikkun olam, the concept in Judaism of helping repair our world. Even more so, it is meant to help develop students’ ability to question, dream, and test the ways in which they can benefit the world around them through design thinking, a hands-on method that challenges conventional thinking and pushes students to redefine problems so they can come up alternative strategies and solutions. At the same time, design thinking provides a solution-based approach with real people in mind.

At Schechter, the combination of a values-based education; hands-on, inquiry-based learning; and the integration of technology has proven to be a powerful tool in helping students develop a strong moral compass, one of four core pillars of the school.

1. Technology requires students to understand real-world consequences
Technology is an audience-widener. User-focused projects, coupled with purpose-driven use of technology, challenge students to engage with a broader audience and consider special circumstances or needs. For example, as students began designing solar-powered lights for students in South Africa, they realized that they could not provide even the simplest of assembly instructions in English to a largely non-English-speaking student body. They would have to design a product that could be quickly assembled with instructional images, including ways to repair a faulty light.


5 steps to a successful technology overhaul

On a mission to develop more critical thinkers who can collaborate with one another, openly share ideas, and function successfully in tomorrow’s work environment, our district recently kicked off a technology overhaul. We started with our classroom furniture and worked our way right up to Boxlight table displays and projectors that allow students to collaboratively dissect roller coasters in a small-group setting or work together in a whole-class setting to go through tough math problems.

We started from the ground up to create environments where students feel welcomed, comfortable, and engaged. We want them to walk in and immediately feel like they want to be a part of the learning environment. Here’s how we did it.

1. Pick a technology partner that lets you test-drive the goods.
I’d never buy a car without test-driving it first, so it’s nice when you can test out an app or a piece of technology—and turn your students and teachers loose on it—before making a purchase decision. In selecting the right technology partner and products, we looked for a company that would allow us to get hands-on with the technology before making an investment. We found what we were looking for in Boxlight and OnPoint.

2. Cater to your digital natives.
It’s really important that we create partnerships with companies that aren’t just there to hand out the next shiny piece of technology, but to design technology that’s interactive and easy to use. Because students will either accept or reject new technology within 10 to 15 minutes (tops), usability is a big consideration for our district. Our digital natives have fewer tech inhibitions that we do as adults—and no real fear of “breaking” it or using it improperly. They just keep looping around to identify the problem, attempt different solutions, and come up with the answers.


5 things helping schools implement high-speed internet

More and more students have access to high-speed internet in schools, but there are still students left without the connectivity they need to grow and learn, according to the annual State of the States report from the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway (ESH).

Today, 98 percent of public schools have next-generation fiber infrastructure, and 96 percent have enough internet connectivity to make digital learning possible in classrooms, says ESH CEO Evan Marwell in the report’s introduction.

Since 2013, 40.7 million more students have high-speed internet access–in 2013, just 4 million students were connected to the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) 100kbps/student goal, and today, 44.7 million students have reached that access speed.


How to retain great teachers: Start with leadership opportunities

Finding and retaining effective teachers is one of the surest ways to improve student outcomes, according to research published in the Elementary School Journal and the Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education. But tight budgets take obvious solutions, like increased compensation packages and aggressive recruitment campaigns, off the table. So what options remain that won’t break the district budget?

At Colonial (DE) School District, we’ve focused on offering our most effective teachers clear, cost-effective opportunities for various leadership roles and paths for advancement.

We recognize that not all great teachers want to become administrators. They may, however, make great leaders in other roles. Providing leadership opportunities and options for these educators allows us to build a leadership pipeline to meet a variety of needs.

Continuous recruiting
For Colonial as for other districts, teacher turnover is a continual challenge. Whether we lose them to other districts, other professions, or personal reasons, teachers are going to depart for reasons outside the best administrator’s control. Our solution is simple: Always be recruiting.

But recruiting and hiring new teachers is only part of the solution. Retention is a key element. The more teachers we can retain year over year, the fewer we need to recruit.

3 forms of retention through leadership opportunities
Research suggests that one low-cost strategy for retaining the most effective teachers is putting teachers in charge of something they’re passionate about and that holds a level of importance. Here are three ways we do this in Colonial:

1. Create instructional coach positions at the school and district level.
We have coaches at both the district level and school level who play an important role in staff development. Some incredible instructional coaches have moved into administrative roles. Others have told me, “I have no desire to be an administrator. I love my work as an instructional coach because I get to connect with teachers and help grow and support the staff.”

This dual-track approach allows teachers who are interested in developing their capacity to take on a leadership role without becoming an administrator. It also lets us offer a teacher who wants to take an administrative position an immediate leadership role, even if the administrative position they are seeking isn’t available. Together we set to work developing those skills and preparing the teacher for the position, rather than losing them to another district that has an immediate opening.