6 things to prepare teachers for Digital Learning Day

Digital learning plays an integral part in helping students build the skills they need for academic and personal success. In fact, it’s so important that it has its own day, and this year, Digital Learning Day is on February 28.

Digital Learning Day celebrates educators who create and implement strong instructional practices that use technology and tech tools to connect students with meaningful learning experiences.

The focus isn’t on edtech for edtech’s sake, but instead looks at all the tools used to support and empower teachers and students, such as online courses, blended learning, and digital content and resources.

Each year, states, districts, schools, and classrooms across the United States and around the world hold thousands of events to celebrate Digital Learning Day. Anyone planning to participate in Digital Learning Day 2019 should add their event to the Digital Learning Day map.

We’ve gathered some digital learning data, resources, and fun facts below to help you get ready for Digital Learning Day 2019.

1. K-12 classroom teachers say their top two digital learning challenges are juggling multiple digital tools for teaching and learning and student access to technology. Teachers’ top priorities are integrating new edtech tools into the classroom, along with improving assessments, reporting, and data-driven decision making.

2. The Pickens County, S.C. school district laid out a careful plan to be “digital from day one of learning.” That plan included beginning with a vision, researching digital platforms that would work for schools, and making sure chosen tools will actually benefit teaching and learning.

3. It might seem overwhelming to go digital on day one, but it’s possible. Sometimes, a tiered approach can help districts of all sizes improve the way their digital applications work together. It all starts with making a district-wide commitment, and it evolves into advanced strategies to ensure digital learning systems are learner-ready on day one.

4. Once educators embrace digital learning, it’s often tough to ask them to give up the tools that are essential in making teaching and learning seamless and impactful. Here are 11 tools educators say they can’t live without.

5. Administrators’ top digital learning challenges are providing relevant and effective professional development, dealing with technological infrastruture such as wi-fi and security, and device management. Top digital learning priorities are providing ongoing professional development, encouraging instructor collaboration, and rolling out new devices or device strategies.

6. Digital Learning Day isn’t limited to students and classroom teachers. Librarians play an integral role in digital learning, and they have excellent advice to guide fellow librarians as they help teachers and students learn to use edtech.


5 strategies for becoming an effective, present teacher

Homework, assessments, projects. Grades, lesson plans, conferences. Teachers can get caught up in the day-to-day parts of the classroom and forget to take time to consider whether or not they’re teaching effectively. In her edWebinar, “Make Learning Visible in Your Classroom,” Cari Wilson, innovation and technology lead teacher at West Vancouver School District, BC, explained how she continually evaluates her instruction to improve her impact on students’ learning.

Wilson bases her strategies on Professor John Hattie’s theories on Visible Learning and Teaching. Hattie’s research focuses on enhancing effectiveness by having teachers evaluate their own practice as well as helping “teachers see learning through the eyes of students and help[ing] them become their own teachers.” From this, Wilson identified five key actions she’s adopted that she thinks can have an immediate impact.

1. Make the classroom a safe place

This means that the teacher works on building a relationship with the students and developing a classroom environment where the they trust each other and feel comfortable taking risks. For the room itself, Wilson advocates creating displays that focus on student work over what the teacher wants to share. Give the students visual evidence that their work is valued. Regarding teacher-student relationships, Wilson works to have at least one meaningful interaction with each student every day. For example, when students leave at the end of the day, she says goodbye to each one, asking them a question and acknowledging their presence for that day.

2. Evaluate your impact

Wilson shared stories of teachers who set up their academic calendar a year in advance and who teach the same unit on the same day every year—whether or not the students have mastered the previous lessons. Instead, she says teachers need to take a step back and ask what mastery actually looks like for each unit. Then, they need to adjust lessons accordingly based on student progress. One class may be right on schedule; another might need more time on the first task.

3. Collaborate with colleagues

While teachers do work together on one-off projects, Wilson believes collaboration should be built into their professional schedules. It doesn’t have to be about their students working across subjects on projects, although that can happen. Some of the best collaboration can be teachers working together to explore and improve their teaching strategies. Administrative support is essential, such as building time into school hours for teachers to meet.

Related: How I gave my students voice and increased collaboration


Spotty internet access for rural students limits achievement

Technology and internet access for rural students in some parts of the U.S. is unreliable at best, and this limited access could adversely affect their learning.

Rural students are less likely than non-rural students to claim that their home internet access is “great” (36 percent versus 46 percent).

Home internet access for rural students is vital for learning, as report after report consistently identify the growing homework gap as detrimental to student achievement.

Related: Learn how districts are trying to close the homework gap

The report, based on a survey of students who took the national ACT test, also reveals that internet access for rural students is temperamental–they are nearly twice as likely as non-rural students to say their internet access is “unpredictable” (16 percent versus 9 percent).

Rural and non-rural students also have differing access to devices at school and at home. Rural students report somewhat less access to a laptop or desktop computer at home compared to non-rural students (82 percent versus 87 percent).

Given that rural students lack access to rigorous coursework, this lack of technological access may impede their academic success. If internet access for rural students isn’t reliable, they can’t take advantage of advanced-level courses that may only be available online.

Access to a computer with a dedicated keyboard also varies between rural and non-rural students. Lack of this type of access may make schoolwork-related tasks like conducting research or writing more difficult–even if internet access for rural students is in place, lacking the proper tools impedes academic progress if homework takes twice as long on a device without a dedicated keyboard.


How to change your school culture on the cheap

If you’ve ever been to a special event, a professional or collegiate game, or even a fundraiser, you likely observed a promoter, DJ, or other variation of a court jester launching promotional t-shirts into the crowd. Everyone goes crazy and, as the t-shirts are tossed or shot out of a cannon, people jump up to grab the items with energy and excitement. Why? Is this t-shirt a first edition made exclusive by Ralph Lauren? Made out of diamonds? Certainly not. In fact, if you walked by this shirt in a Walmart, you probably would not even notice it. But that’s not why people want the shirt. There’s something so much more powerful going on here. The same logic works with children in your classroom or school.

A quick backstory

Years ago, when I was a new teacher, in order to make the kids like me and respond to me positively I felt compelled to offer the best incentives I could find. Little did I know what a big mistake that was. Aside from being a just-out-of-college, loan-ridden newbie who could barely afford ramen noodles—let alone lofty awards for my new classroom-management system—I realized over time that the best incentives were low-cost or free because they actually worked more effectively.

On one occasion, I convinced my class that if they accomplished their goals each week, on Friday afternoons they would have a full period to have a party, watch a movie, or have 45 minutes of free time. There were several significant mistakes to this approach. First, a 45-minute celebration became the norm, and at what cost? We lost considerable instructional time. Even worse, the kids quickly expected more: “Mr. Gaskell, why not two periods next time?” Finally, if you’ve ever observed 25 adolescents with 45 minutes of unstructured time, you can appreciate the challenges of begging the clock to move a little faster!

Resorting to gift incentives was also not viable. Even if I had been the wealthiest first-year teacher in history (and I was not), this approach was not sustainable. A better way to motivate would be to transition from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation.

Related: Resources for creating a school culture of empathy, inclusion, and kindness

Years later, my school adopted a positive behavior support (PBSIS) model. A group of teachers, school counselors, and I spent a year strategically gaining favor with our faculty and whole school population. We learned that the psychological power of incentives is far greater than coming up with the most costly resource-heavy prize.

How to motivate students & change culture the right way

This is a simple technique that will have your students motivated for the little things and also allow them to focus on the winning instead of the value of the prize. As our training through PBSIS taught us, small incentives are more desirable than big rewards.

The same psychology works with teachers because… well… they are just older human beings. When teachers win incentives alongside students, there is a strong bond built in a quick experience. What do teachers like? In my school, we offer a premier parking spot or a duty period coverage. They love it.

Another advantage of low- or no-cost prizes like two minutes of free time for students or a premier parking spot is that you can offer them more frequently than some end-of-year grand prize. This is an invaluable injection into your school’s culture during critical phases of the school year, often when it’s most needed. Has anyone ever experienced behavior issues the week before the winter holiday? How about in June? I thought so.

Going beyond the classroom

One way we turned bus behavior around was through a bus challenge during which drivers handed out good-behavior tickets to students. These went into a special drawing, precisely during one of those high-energy times when bus discipline referrals spike. The result? Bus discipline plummeted and drivers and students were on the same team. Students got dollar- store prizes and drivers got a free coffee. (Drivers love free coffee!). Everyone wins, and a positive school culture permeates.

Undoing costly resource-heavy rewards and incentives takes some time but the payoff is well worth it. If you have been giving out big incentives in your classroom or school—or none at all—this method is easy to switch to; it’s replicable, and it works.

You can start at any time, but be patient: Transferring from extrinsic resource-heavy rewards to low- or no-cost incentives takes time, but it pays off huge dividends in your school community. Students and staff buy in, there’s a positive energy and competitive spirit, and it certainly feels better than bargaining with kids over 90 minutes of unstructured free time.


10 classroom apps for coding, philosophy, fractions, and more

Apps are often a great way for educators to leverage classroom mobile devices and engage students in different concepts.

And by now, “there’s an app for that” certainly rings true in most situations. But educators don’t necessarily have time to sift through lists of apps and vet their functionality and content to ensure the apps will actually benefit students.

The editors of Common Sense Education review and rate apps for students of all ages. Common Sense Education helps educators find the best edtech tools, learn best practices for teaching with tech, and equip students with the skills they need to use technology safely and responsibly.

10 great apps for coding, VR chemistry, social studies, and more

1. Grasshopper: Learn to Code
Grasshopper is designed for individual learning rather than classroom implementation, so there’s no dashboard or central place to monitor student progress. This makes it better suited for students to learn and practice at their own pace with teacher support. Teachers with some coding experience can advise and coach students as they encounter complex problems, while teachers without much coding experience can encourage students to work collaboratively and/or use the available help in the app. 


4 ways to add up a love for math

Mathematicians aren’t born—they’re made. That’s why one of my favorite phrases is “I hate math.” Nearly every student shares this sentiment with me at some point during the school year, and when they do, I simply smile. Because I know that by the end of my class, those same students will find their inner mathematician.

For me, this is what teaching is all about—helping students discover parts of themselves they never realized they had. Over the years, I’ve helped dozens of students overcome their math anxiety.

4 ways to help students learn to love math

1. Commit to inspired teaching

To me, inspired teaching means I can’t just be my students’ teacher—I need to be their supporter and a champion of their growth. That’s why I work so hard to help them see the creativity, the beauty, and the fun in math. For example, if we’re studying fractions, I encourage them to think about the measurements of specific ingredients for their favorite recipes. If we’re examining slopes in algebra, I ask them to make a connection between what they see on their computer screen and famous roads across the country. And if we’re discussing transformations in geometry, I urge them to consider the movements of their favorite football players across the field. These are all examples of ways I help all students get a practical grasp of what math truly is.

Related: How our district is making math relevant

2. Preach the value of mistakes

My goal is to build an environment in which wrong answers are just as valuable as right ones. I know that mistakes get us one step closer to the solution, and as I tell my students, that’s what life is about, too. As each of us eventually learns, life isn’t as simple as right or wrong, failure or success. So much of life happens in the grey. It’s the same way with math. Sometimes it takes a while to get to the right answer. And that’s ok! Whether I’m teaching equations, inequalities, or basic algebra, I remind my students that getting the wrong answer more than once means they’re even less likely to make those mistakes again.

3. Advocate for growth mindsets

I work so hard to dispel the myth that only a gifted few are good at math. When we treat math like it’s all about formulas and algorithms, we do our students a great disservice. Unfortunately, that’s been the goal for so long—just getting students to the right answer as quickly as possible. But that’s not all math is about. Math is about recognizing patterns in the world around us. It’s about cultivating curiosity. These are the things we need to share with our students. Like so many other things in life, math is something that takes practice. Our students need to know that just because math isn’t their strong suit today, doesn’t mean it can’t be tomorrow.

Related: The 4 simple misconceptions that can derail early math education

4. Strengthen your own professional skills

I take my responsibility as a teacher very seriously. And I don’t take the opportunity to change lives for granted. From my school’s book study club to participating in free workshops and webinars offered by edWeb.net to joining my school’s mentorship program, I’m constantly honing my own skills and thinking of new ways to give my students the high-quality, personalized education they deserve. I want them to know that just because they may not have been the best math student in the past, they have the potential to become one now. If I can convince my students that it’s worth the effort to keep trying, then I know I’ve done my job.


How we increased our graduation rate and student achievement

[Editor’s note: Welcome to our newest feature, Turnaround Tuesdays. Each week, we will share a story about how a district used technology in schools to improve something. Come back each week for insight on transforming everything from reading scores to wireless network performance.]


Miami-Dade County (FL) Public Schools (MDCPS) is the fourth-largest school district in the United States, comprised of 392 schools, 345,000 students, and over 40,000 employees. Located at the southern end of the Florida peninsula, the school district stretches over 2,000 square miles of diverse and vibrant communities ranging from rural and suburban to urban cities and municipalities. A truly global community, district students speak 56 different languages and represent 160 countries. Currently, the graduation rate of MDCPS is 89 percent.

Biggest challenge:

MDCPS’ challenge was to increase graduation rates so that at least 90 percent of students will graduate with a standard high school diploma by 2020. Additionally, that when they graduate, they are college and career ready to face the world in the 21st century.

To meet this challenge, we needed to address the fact that digital deserts exist within neighboring communities, and students in schools across the county may not have equitable access to modern technology at home or at school. The world is changing at a very rapid pace; the skills students will need to be successful required us to rethink how education should be delivered and what tools would be used to prepare them. Students in any school or district, regardless of zip code or economic situation, deserve the opportunity to have access to the tools and resources that will prepare them for the future as 21st-century citizens.


One of the district’s strategies to address student achievement through the use of technology was the implementation of the Digital Convergence initiative. The initiative involved three projects:

  1. wireless networks at schools
  2. the installation of interactive whiteboards in all classrooms that lacked this technology
  3. the deployment of mobile devices.

The wireless upgrade ensured that all schools had school-wide internet access; the interactive whiteboards provided teachers with a tool to enhance lessons with interactive components that would improve student engagement; and the deployment of mobile devices would place technology in students’ hands for school and home use, so they could access the collection of district-licensed online resources and digital content available to all students.

In deploying the devices, the district targeted grade levels and courses such as 7th-grade civics, 9th- and 10th-grade English, and middle school math. Students in those courses and grade levels—at all schools—were given access to the technology. Additionally, mobile devices were provided to additional subject areas, including laptops to all elementary schools.

Teachers in all the targeted subject areas and grade levels were provided with professional development, not only on the functionality of the new devices but on strategies for effective technology integration into classroom instruction.

From 2014 to 2018, the subject areas and grade levels in which the district deployed mobile devices have shown consistent increase in student achievement on state assessments and end-of-course assessments. While the introduction of these technologies cannot be credited solely for the increase in student performance in the targeted subject areas, it is evident that the introduction of new technologies into the instructional process did not negatively impact student performance or classroom instruction.

To date, the district has installed over 30,000 access points and completed the wireless networks at schools, deployed over 154,000 mobile devices, installed 13,949 interactive boards in classrooms, and trained over 19,929 teachers. For the 2018-19 school year, the district has recently ordered an additional 18,000 mobile devices and will be installing roughly 500 new interactive boards.

Lessons learned:

  • Persistence. Persistence in painstakingly planning and staying the course when we encountered barriers or roadblocks. Persistence in our vision for any technology deployment and making sure that the technology innovation under consideration supports our ultimate academic goals.
  • Plan extensively. We were planning for over two years before one device was purchased and deployed to schools.
  • Start slow. Establish realistic and scalable goals. Let these goals drive the plan for your transformation. Assess your needs and the skill sets of employees. Understand that your employee’s technology skills will play a factor in the logistics of any technology deployment and professional development plan.

Next steps:

The district will continue to expand on the success of the Digital Convergence initiative. Additional mobile devices and interactive boards will be deployed to schools that may still have a need and digital content is continuously acquired to provide students with a greater collection of online content. After all, our ultimate goal is 100-percent graduation rate where all students have the opportunity to acquire a high-quality education that will lead them to become productive citizens in our society.

Next week:

Come back and see how a district turned around its lowest-performing schools


12 apps to help students improve their self-control

Building social and emotional learning (SEL) skills such as self-control requires face-to-face interaction, meaningful discussion, and reflection. Edtech is no complete substitute for that, but there are tools that can supplement the development of character in the classroom and at home. According to the Character Lab, self-control is controlling one’s own responses so they align with short- and long-term goals.

While some tools focus specifically on self-control, the websites and apps that you use daily (in all subjects) can be used to promote mindfulness, too. You don’t have to stop using the tools you love or toss out your lesson or curricular plans to start developing SEL. Below we have included some tips, tools, and actionable ideas for seamlessly integrating self-control and life-skills-building into your content classroom.

Why self-control?

Having self-control (some prefer the term “self-regulation”) is about appropriately managing your thoughts, feelings, and impulses. It starts with being consistently mindful of yourself and others and working toward a high emotional intelligence. So much of the way we use technology today challenges the idea of restraint, from tweeting in anger to posting for “likes.” There has been a large body of research suggesting that self-control is a key factor in determining success as an adult, so many schools are creating programs that address it, including this school that is embracing glitter jars and breathing balls. Whether or not we get caught up in what self-control is, most teachers would agree there is value when students are able to regulate themselves, leading to increased focus and accountability for their actions.

Related: How to address executive function skills in the classroom—and why you should

Take action

  • Teach a lesson that helps students think about possible outcomes before posting on social media.
  • Host a discussion around our digital impulses (clicking on junk articles, scrolling on social media, or posting for likes).
  • Praise students for effort and action, rather than for general traits such as intelligence.
  • Make sure the technology you use doesn’t take the place of, but instead supplements, face-to-face interaction.
  • Using our Digital Citizenship curriculum? Both our student interactives and lessons already foster key SEL skills.
  • Visit some other excellent SEL resources, including CASEL, Character Lab, and Ashoka.
  • Think about the digital tools you’re already using in the classroom. Can you find a creative way to use them to model self-control? Check out our suggestions below.

Directly target self-control

See our list Top Tools for Building Mindfulness in the Classroom for more resources focused on self-control.

1. Pause & Think Online
Our online video uses music and characters based on familiar body parts to teach students to stop and think before acting and to make the connection that behaving responsibly online is a lot like behaving responsibly offline.

2. Smiling Mind
Find a comfy spot, plug in your earphones, and just press play. Smiling Mind is an app that helps students practice meditation through breathing exercises and visualizations. Kids will learn lifelong skills to cope with stress and stay calm.

Build self-control in all subjects

For ELA classrooms

3. Write About This
Building self-control involves first paying attention to one’s emotions. Use the tons of prompts and images here to get kids writing and thinking about how they feel. Keep a daily journal or have them practice listening to stories they narrate in-app.


3 classroom trends real teachers are spearheading

Social and emotional learning and coding are among the top classroom trends that teachers needed help funding last year, according to an analysis of 2018 project requests from the DonorsChoose platform.

Teachers dip into their own pockets to fund classroom projects and buy supplies, and as it turns out, others are happy to donate, too–to the tune of more than $170 million last year. Since its creation in 2000, more than 3.5 million people and partners have donated an astounding $780 million through DonorsChoose.org to help teachers pay for the projects and experiences they want to give their students.

In 2018 alone, 52,000 schools–more than half of all U.S. public schools–received classroom project donations through the giving platform. Seventy-three percent of project requests on the site are from schools where more than half of students receive free or reduced lunch. Overall, in 2018, more than 600,000 donors gave $171 million to fund 274,000 classroom projects.

DonorsChoose analyzed its 2018 teacher requests and needs and identified trends in an effort to shed light on ways education spending could be smarter and more efficient.

Books were the most commonly-requested resource, followed by computers and tablets, educational kits and games, reading nooks/desks and storage, instructional technology, and flexible seating.


Are educators using SEL to empower or to manipulate?

Our 30 years of experience researching, teaching, and implementing social-emotional learning (SEL) has established that the purpose of SEL is to produce mental health and well-being outcomes for children. However, the current level of thinking about SEL in education is primarily focused on producing academic outcomes.

An example of this level of thinking is The Aspen Institute-sponsored National Commission on Social Emotional & Academic Development report, From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope, published in January.

While we agree that the time has come to fully integrate SEL into our schools, the report calls for using SEL as a tool to make students achieve more academically. We see that as a form of child manipulation. The report falls short of what is needed to address mental health and well-being needs.

What SEL in schools needs to be about

Educators need a framework with a set of methods to be able to impact the emotional well-being of children in their classrooms and schools. In that regard, the authors take a step in the right direction by recommending that schools change instruction to intentionally teach students social, emotional, and cognitive skills, and infuse them in academic content and all aspects of the school setting, not just in stand-alone programs or lessons. Unfortunately, children’s emotional and psychological well-being is not the fundamental purpose for the report’s recommendations.

Related: Student wellbeing & SEL are more important than you think

In addition, the report says, “The promotion of social, emotional, and academic learning is not a shifting educational fad; it is the substance of education itself,” and continues, “It is this vision of possibilities that is motivating students, parents, educators, and business leaders to demand more and to reject the false choice between academic excellence and broader student outcomes.”

Notice that the report is actually putting “academic excellence” and “broader student outcomes” literally on par with each other. In this context, the emphasis shifts away from emotions and emotional awareness—the inner life of children—toward using SEL to produce academic achievement and other external goals.

Manipulating students

The report includes a multitude of data and quotes about how school attendance rates increase and how employers want these skills. The focus is on what schools and employers want—not what children and their families want and need. This unfortunately conveys to children that their most important task is to meet external outcomes such as passing tests, meeting new ESSA assessments, and pleasing future employers.

This has serious consequences:

  • The emphasis remains on producing academic outcomes as the ultimate goal, above and beyond developing well-being outcomes.
  • The focus is on extrinsic agendas, rather than helping children develop intrinsic psycho-dynamics, personal mindset, self-understanding, and a sense of purpose.
  • Children understand that educators are using SEL methods and best practices to manipulate them into learning academic content. In parenting, this is called showing “conditional love” rather than “unconditional love.”