3 steps for bridging the equity divide in classrooms

When Robert Runcie became superintendent of Broward County (FL) Public School District (BCPS) in 2011, he faced more than academic challenges. As the sixth-largest school district in the country, serving over 275,000 public and public charter school students, BCPS boasts an extremely diverse student population representing over 200 countries and over 190 languages.

The diversity of our student population was not reflective of our teaching staff, which created challenges for students and educators. In addition to developing strategic approaches to improving graduation rates and academic outcomes, Superintendent Runcie saw an opportunity to address racial disparities and outcomes for students of color and take on the challenge of improving equity and conversations around race.

Bridging the equity divide and addressing cultural responsiveness

Seven years later, our Department of Equity and Diversity has graduated our first cohort of equity liaisons, 300 educators across the district who volunteered to champion their professional learning experiences among their individual schools. Their work has resulted in widespread impact for the teachers as well as the students and the community. The success of this initiative was built on three core pillars.

1. Success must be driven by a district-wide initiative

Realizing that a focus on equity is paramount to improving outcomes for BCPS students, eight years ago the district committed to formalizing an initiative to change how educators engage with students to reflect a more culturally responsive school system.

The work we had been conducting was decentralized, based on individual school requests for equity training, but there had been no systematic delivery process until last year when we partnered with PCG Education (PCG), a leader in research-backed online professional development programs.

Using PCG’s Courageous Conversations about Race online course, developed in partnership with renowned equity expert Glenn Singleton of Courageous Conversations, we were able to rigorously train 300 equity liaisons through an asynchronous online platform that allowed educators to learn at their convenience. The three-month training included digital tools, resources, coaches, and a collaborative online community to share, reflect, and implement best practices.

The outcomes were significant. Ninety-four percent of participants successfully completed the program, and these equity liaisons have developed equity plans that are currently being rolled out to the teachers in their school. Plus, the district-wide initiative resulted in additional grant funding that allowed us to create and implement a plan to extend equity and social-emotional professional development to additional educators and administrators across all BCPS schools.

Related: Stop! Why the mis-definition of student equity needs to end

But most important, by initially defining our mission to address the educational and opportunity gaps facing students based on their socioeconomic standing, race, gender, ethnicity, language, or disability, we were able to codify the measures needed to develop the district’s strategic plan, which ensures that our executive leadership has a common vocabulary about equity, aligned on guiding principles. All stakeholders need to be onboard with goals for systemic professional development to effect change.


5 strategies to improve the learning experience for K12 students

From retailers to restaurants, advances in user experience (UX) are transforming nearly every facet of our lives. Customer satisfaction is shaped by more than just the content, products, and transactions that take place. It is influenced by the way customers feel and experience those interactions.

It’s a natural outgrowth of what some economists have called a burgeoning “experience economy,” and it’s happening in education, too.

In the education context, there is a similar shift happening as we focus less on content alone or on how instruction is delivered (i.e., instructional design) and embrace the importance of the learner’s experience (i.e., learner experience design).

The learner’s experience can transform teaching and learning

We know that students are more than capable of exerting free will to decide what experiences they buy into in the classroom. While higher ed has incorporated learner experience design into curriculum development, we’re now beginning to see a shift in K-12 education moving away from content that is simply digitized and moving toward digitalized learning, where digital technologies can create interactive, or even adaptive, learning experiences that can transform teaching and learning in the classroom.

Related: So you think you understand UDL?

This shift draws upon principles from learning science and practices borrowed from UX in other fields to create educational journeys that are not only effective, relevant, and informative—but enjoyable too.

Of course, learning experiences don’t start and stop with a student’s interaction with content. Teachers can now design experiences in the classroom that augment digital tools in much the same way that they create learning experiences around texts or other traditional classroom activities.

Using tech to improve the learning experience

Finding the right technology and designing your classroom UX is about bridging the divide between analog and digital learning. It’s about bringing lesson plans to life and transforming instructional practice that may give rise to new pedagogies, while never forgetting that how students experience learning is just as important as the content itself.

Here are five strategies that I use in my classroom, rooted in an Instructional Design Framework, that other teachers can use to bring powerful learner experiences to their classrooms.

1. Customize content

Personalization for students begins with personalization for teachers. Great learning software provides teachers with agency in their classroom to be creative and make the classroom their own, often through authoring tools.

I enjoy using software that incorporates authoring tools because it allows me to embed my own content into lessons and provide intentionally stylized curriculum that my students recognize as mine, which creates a more personal connection between me, my students, and the material.

Over my nine years in the classroom, I’ve created more than 1,000 lessons using the authoring tool in Odysseyware. It allows me to make allusions to ideas that are relevant to my students’ lives, and sometimes my students give me suggestions about what they want to see so I can incorporate that into the next lesson.

2. Backwards design

Although it may seem counterintuitive, I design learning experiences for my students by thinking backwards. Using backwards mapping, I set specific goals around the big concepts my students need to learn, and then decide which evidence will show that students have mastered those concepts.

With backwards design, I am also able to craft what kinds of data a lesson will give me at the inception of a lesson rather than the end so that it is more actionable; therefore, when I need better data, I can design a better lesson to ensure me and my students are making productive use of our time together.


9 top YouTube channels to boost classroom lessons

Video can be a powerful tool for classroom learning, and it’s safe to say that teachers have never had more videos at their fingertips than they do today.

But with so many videos on YouTube, how do you find the good stuff? You know, those perfect, one-of-a-kind, just-right-for-your-lesson videos—the ones that make you think, “Oh, my students have to see this!”

The best YouTube videos for the classroom are the ones that teach or—better yet—show something you can’t otherwise do in your classroom. Videos that are more than flashy attempts to spice up a chapter from a textbook. Videos that go beyond zany talking heads doling out CliffsNotes for the digital age. Classroom-worthy videos on YouTube shouldn’t be replacements for your lessons; they should be additions to the awesome lessons you already teach.

Whether they’re an intriguing hook or the spark for a thought-provoking reflection, the best videos for school bring the world and all of its wonder into our classrooms. See below for a few of our favorite YouTube channels with useful videos for your lessons.

Above the Noise

From PBS Digital Studios and KQED Education, Above the Noise offers an investigative dive—albeit a brief one—into the research behind a variety of popular and newsworthy topics, ranging from technology and climate science to free speech, economics, and beyond. Each video dives into a specific, thought-provoking topic, and the channel’s sensibilities are right in line with what high school to college-age students are talking about.

Standout videos:
Is Video Game Addiction Real? — A discussion of some of the science behind all the reporting on so-called “Video Game Addiction” and “Gaming Disorder.”
Can Procrastination Be a Good Thing? — Explore some academic research behind the question: Why do people procrastinate?
Why Do Our Brains Love Fake News? — A brief primer on confirmation bias, and whether or not it’s something people can actually avoid.

The Art Assignment

An engaging look at contemporary art, as well as art history through a contemporary lens. While not specifically for K-12 students, plenty of the videos here can nonetheless work in school. The best of them are shot on location and bring art from around the world into your classroom.

Standout playlists:
Art Trip — Video field trips to various art locales, from London to Tijuana to Columbus, Indiana.
Assignment Episodes — 60 (and counting) episodes highlight various artists and works of art, each involving a related “assignment” for viewers.

The Brain Scoop

As “chief curiosity correspondent” at Chicago’s Field Museum, YouTube star Emily Graslie offers dispatches on a variety of natural science topics. Topics cover a range of (mostly natural) science content, and some videos have a certain gross-out factor. But Graslie gives the videos a decidedly friendly and personable tone that may resonate with some younger kids.

Standout playlists:
In the Lab — A behind-the-scenes look at what goes down in the Field Museum’s lab as the crew preps various exhibits.
Amazon Adventures — Ride along on a trip to the Peruvian Amazon to view life in the wild.


10 things teachers can do today to prepare students for the future

In 2008, I read Clayton Christensen’s Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. It inspired me to think about changes in education that would benefit students by transforming teaching and learning and I was excited about the possibilities. Technology advancements promised to make a great impact to initiate change in the classroom, but now we are faced with a newer set of obstacles.

Eleven years later, as I walk through the halls in a middle school/high school setting, I see students sitting on a tile floor crowded around a device trying to type, communicate, take videos, and record their voices with background noise and distractions often interrupting their progress. This happens all over the country in traditional educational buildings today. Students are assigned a tech-integrated project and are faced with limited resources and inadequate workspaces to use the latest tools. So how are we supporting change?

Obstacles for teachers who are trying to engage learners during change

The environment

Teachers are diligently meeting state standards while covering course content and using technology to address collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity. They are hoping to teach their subject area while enhancing lessons, developing assessments, and engaging students in a more personalized manner. They are trying to contribute to change, disrupt their classes, reach all learning types, and prepare learners for the latest careers. But is the existing standard school building an effective environment for teaching and learning today? It’s no surprise that many teachers are hesitant to assign project-based and technology-integrated lessons knowing that the physical state of the building doesn’t support their efforts.

To keep current, teachers are required to participate in professional development and are faithfully adapting their curricula to include STE(A)M and social skills that are a necessity in the workforce. Yet, in a majority of areas, the infrastructure doesn’t cooperate. A teacher could have an outstanding lesson using technology, but if the wi-fi is slow, the hardware and/or software unavailable, or there’s a lack of space to communicate and collaborate, then teaching and learning becomes a difficult and frustrating practice.

The pedagogy

Throughout history there has always been the suggestion that students should take “college prep” courses to gain acceptance to college. The promise was that this path would result in entry to a specific career. Yet we now find that students are lacking in some of the softer skills that are needed in an age of technology innovation. The resources and tools once used in the classroom have changed and the environment in which students gathered to learn is transforming into a more personalized, high-tech and collaborative space. Education is moving beyond the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic and is surpassing skills assessment through standardized testing. Sitting in rows and facing front is no longer the best option for students to participate in the classroom. The venue now requires students to focus on content with available resources to integrate lifelong skills and share their voices in a global community.

So how do educators deal with the pressure of giving students the appropriate background and skills for the future while our system relies heavily on the concept of grades and test scores to gain access to college? Should we be preparing our students for college coursework or future careers?

How can we prepare students for the future?

It begins with supporting the “change.” When I mention change, I am not suggesting that we change the content that students are learning. I am referring to changing the way in which that content is absorbed by the learners and providing all the necessary resources to accommodate teachers and students.


How to transform a library into a makerspace

In a recent edWebinar, hosted by edWeb.net, Michelle Luhtala, library department chair, and Donna Burns, technology integrator, both from New Canaan High School (NCHS) in Connecticut, showcased the transformation of the NCHS library from a collection of used reference and biography books into a living, breathing makerspace. Using mostly recyclable materials, equipment, and furniture, these educators are providing learning opportunities for students and teachers that have changed the school climate and culture. “Making learning more real for students allows them to learn better in a much more energized school,” said Luhtala.

A multi-year redesign

Through a five-year radical book-weeding process from 2011- 2016, the NCHS library had eliminated all of the library’s free-standing bookshelves. This process created both an opportunity and a challenge for Luhtala and Burns to convert this newly created space into a makerspace. With minimal funding in the early stages of the makerspace, the duo salvaged discarded lab tables and art stools and recycled material from all areas of the school.

Although this space was optimal for student making, organization and storage issues became the prime concern in the second year of the makerspace. Luhtala and Burns rescued much-needed shelving from the elementary school and clamped the refurbished shelves together to create an 80-bin storage system that provided teachers and students easy access to the makerspace materials.

The third year was the most significant when the makerspace moved into a new area in the library. Windows and doors were removed to open up the entire space, teacher offices converted into soundproof video booths/virtual reality rooms, and the lower library furnished with flexible caster seating for double classrooms.

Collaboration is key to a better makerspace design

However, the most significant changes happened when the school district began to allocate funding previously earmarked for library books to the NCHS makerspace. Luhtala and Burns collaborated with the NCHS CTE interior design class on a design challenge project that focused on the makerspace overall area, materials, signage, and work stations while keeping spatial planning and traffic flow in mind. The students’ simple design became the inspiration for profound changes in the makerspace including rolling carts, foldable tables, whiteboard walls, and the reorganization of materials and supplies.

During the first year, the makerspace was stocked with basic craft and recycled materials such as butcher-block paper, markers, and Legos. By the second year, when the types of makerspace materials increased to 80, Luhtala and Burns painstakingly organized, labeled, and categorized these materials into alphabetized bins. However, they began to think about not only the organizational part of these materials but how to get students to plan their projects before they come to the makerspace. By creating a worksheet template, students spend less time deciding on materials and more time on making. They also wanted to encourage students to take ownership of the space and put elements back in an organized manner. Larger labels were put on material bins, supply carts got wheels, and installed pegboards were hung with frequently used materials such as pencils, erasers, scissors, and paper. By organizing the materials by workflow, such as coding, circuitry, and electronics; needlecraft; and 2D and 3D elements, Luhtala and Burns discovered that the materials used the least amount of time were the most expensive materials.


How we turned around our wireless network performance and security

[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.]


Elk Grove Unified School District (EGUSD), with 67 schools, 6210 employees, and 63,061 students is the largest school district in northern California and fifth-largest in the state.

Biggest challenge:

Like most school districts, EGUSD is part of an increasingly mobile world. Students use smartphones and tablets in and out of the classroom, teachers put lessons and assignments online, staff use VoIP phones, and maintenance and operations need to connect their alarms and HVAC systems. It’s difficult to think of a department that doesn’t depend on wireless. Because of this, the pressure on the district’s wireless network is tremendous. In recent years, the district also added 50,000 Chromebooks to improve equity and support objectives for curriculum, digital citizenship, media literacy and state online testing.

We were seeing performance issues with our older access points, which convinced us that we needed to upgrade our network. We also needed the tools to ensure we remained on top of performance and security and to support faster wireless based on 802.11ac APs.


We turned to Aruba not only for its wireless access points (APs) but also for its ClearPass and AirWave products for greater visibility, security, and troubleshooting. We deployed more than 3,000 new APs in two months, a process we expected to take a year or more. The accelerated schedule not only let us ease our spring testing season, but we also saw a surprising number of laptops connecting at 802.11ac speeds.

With ClearPass, we can set policies for usage, and access control is easier for IT and getting end-users online. We can segment guest traffic from school traffic, enabling secure and automatic access for any device on the network without IT intervention.

AirWave lets IT know immediately when APs go down, monitor signal quality, and see who’s logged on. The solution also can be used to manage Aruba switches.

With the improved wireless, students can now go on virtual field trips, videoconference with Skype, and more easily create, collaborate, and share.

Lessons learned:

  • As mobile use grows, control and high availability are crucial in wireless networks.
  • Speed of deployment can result in significant operational benefits.
  • Visibility into the network improves performance and troubleshooting.
  • A high-performance wireless network can unleash curriculum innovation and improve student performance.

Next steps:

  • Use the improved wireless network performance, control, and security to get more technology into the hands of students and teachers.
  • Improve the performance of Chromebooks when using web-based applications.
  • With ClearPass intelligent network segmentation, increase the number of VLANs per site.
  • Grow the use of ClearPass for BYOD and full wired authentication as well.

Next week:

Come back and see how a district turned around graduation rates and student achievement.


7 time-saving strategies to streamline your life

Are you busy?

Is time on your side, or are you always in competition with each other? In order to balance the demands of a 21st-century life, you might need the assistance of some 21st-century tools. Here’s a list of eight ideas to help with organization so you can love your job again and carve out more time for the things that matter most….

1. Color your world

Using colors to organize your digital life may help when you searching for important resources. Did you know you can color code your desktop folders, Google Drive folders, email folders, and more? I have found the more I color-code my life, the easier it is to find things quickly when I need them. I use the same colors across devices, apps, and tools: red for family, purple for school, green for money (ha!), etc. The more vigilant I am about filing items using specific colors, the less time I waste looking for them later.

2. New wallpaper

A great idea I learned from my friend Charity Preston at the Organized Classroom Blog, is to create wallpaper for your desktop to help organize your folders. Get creative! You might want to take her idea one step further and create wallpaper for your mobile devices to help organize your rows of phone icons and folders.


Explore student agency, storytelling, and more at SXSW EDU 2019

Student agency is a form of personalized learning that encourages students to take initiative when it comes to their own learning experiences in the classroom. Therefore, students get to decide what and how they learn.

Students are presented with choices, making them more inclined to be engaged and invested in learning. Schools fostering student agency are preparing students to be successful, innovative, and independent thinkers of tomorrow. Student-centered learning empowers student voice and gives students a platform.

Understanding the importance of student voice is necessary for creating a culture of eager learners. As a result, there is a change in the students’ attitude toward learning that is both positive and receptive. We need to take a look at the impact of student agency and its effectiveness of providing students with skills and growth.

Student agency is an emerging, relevant topic in education and the sociopolitical climate, based on entries and selections via PanelPicker. This upcoming SXSW EDU will feature various sessions about student agency with focuses on inclusion, sexual harassment, social justice, and student voice.

Sessions include:
Youth Voice: Sparking Synergy for Inclusive Change
#StudentVoice: Why InventEd is a 21stC Essential
Classrooms & Beyond: Empowering Student Voices
Check out the 2019 SXSW EDU schedule to see the full list of sessions in this track.

Making the classroom work for each student

Every individual learner is unique and learns differently. Learning environments are working to improve to meet individual student’s needs and in the way they learn best. SXSW EDU 2019 programming will explore some of the ways education is evolving to personalize how students learn.

The Universal Design Learning (UDL) framework is one of the approaches using scientific insights to help classrooms adapt to meet different learning styles. The workshop UDL: Designing for Learner Variability aims to help participants learn the basics and enrich their lesson designs to help all students. Further explore the UDL framework in action in the hands on session Build a Better Book: Engineering with Empathy where you’ll learn how youth makers design accessible interactive books for children who are visually impaired or blind.


Data access is easier than ever, but is that a good thing?

Tactical student data privacy questions like “What can I do right now?” should be asked by all CIOs, teachers, administrators, and policymakers in this changing landscape of data access, student privacy, and interoperability. In a recent edWebinar, Dr. Larry Fruth, executive director and CEO of the Access 4 Learning (A4L) Community, and Jena Draper, founder and general manager at CatchOn, discussed the challenges school districts face with data access and student privacy. Dr. Fruth suggests that school districts hit the ground running by adding privacy components and security before it becomes a “What should I do right now?” situation. Draper says that school districts need to look at data access from all angles, from the outer layer of the infrastructure to the rogue apps used in classrooms, to create sound data access and student data privacy plans.

The data balancing act

Open access to data has the potential to violate student data privacy regulations, but closed access to data has the potential to lock everything down. The “sweet spot” of data access is critical in the environment where data is no longer used in a silo but used in data conversations around graduation rates, college readiness, and career pathways.

The challenge, as highlighted by Fruth, is how much data should be accessible to the stakeholders. If they have access to too much data, it will feel overwhelming, and if they don’t have enough access, they don’t feel empowered to do what they need to do. For student interoperability frameworks, Fruth explains that the goal is to create a simple data exchange across all the different applications in a digital ecosystem. The reality of interoperability is that data exchange can seem to be simple but is complex. However, no matter how involved and complicated the data management issues are, it needs to be managed, moved, and secured as school districts go through daily operations.

Student data privacy: It’s what you don’t know

“The tools school districts should be most concerned about are the ones they don’t even know are being used,” said Draper. She pointed out that there are 3,500 edtech apps available for classroom use, but there are many more tools and apps that teachers and students are finding on their own. These “rogue” apps are collecting student data and have the potential to be harmful to students and schools.

School leaders should monitor data access in their district by communicating with teachers about the list of district-approved apps and educating them on the district’s, state’s, or region’s privacy policies and regulation. By understanding which tools and apps have access to student data, districts can build a safe student data privacy practice that is in line with their technology strategy.

According to Draper, since 2013, there have been over 500 student data privacy bills proposed in the United States, and this number is expected to double in 2019. States are increasing their legislation and organizations such as CoSN and SETDA are doing work around helping districts “get their teeth around” creating sound student data policies. Access to student data is a hot topic in New York, Florida, and Louisiana, where legislators have created laws that specifically identify what school districts need to understand about what information is going out and what apps have access to their data.


A 3-step plan for smart edtech maintenance

In the past several years, school districts have invested time and money to upgrade and integrate new technology into schools. While K-12 leaders have made inroads in closing the connectivity gap and creating meaningful digital learning experiences, this new technology requires continuous IT support that is challenging to complete while school is in session.

According to the 2018 National K-12 IT Leadership Survey Report from the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), the majority of IT department time is spent reacting to technical problems. This results in less time to focus efforts on leveraging technology for learning, implementing, or planning for new technology, or evaluating the impact of implemented systems and applications on learning outcomes. As staffing levels are unlikely to change, new strategies are needed to find pockets of time for these important activities.

The good news is that school calendars introduce three natural periods for proactive planning and maintenance: winter break, spring break, and summer. During these times, schools have cleared out, reducing support requests and minimizing the impact that any maintenance may have on students, staff, and teachers.

Spring break is an ideal time for school districts to perform proactive device maintenance and roll out new initiatives.

Your 3-step edtech maintenance plan

1. Choose your device policy

It used to be that these break periods offered IT a physical touch point for maintenance tasks, but now there are tools that make physical location irrelevant for updates and patches. Some districts with tools that allow continuous device support are considering the potential learning benefit of year-round 1:1 device policies that also reduce time-consuming device check-in/check-out processes.

Whatever your choice, communicate with parents to ensure you have a process in place to support device returns (as needed), a way to manage zero-touch maintenance, self-healing of critical applications, and a clear user agreement with students. Before any break period, it’s a good idea to remind parents and students about the risk of device theft in restaurants, airports, and cars.