The 7 coolest edtech products I saw at FETC

I saw many interesting products at FETC 2019 in Orlando last week, but here are the ones that resonated most strongly because of their uniqueness and immediate classroom application.

1. Lucid for Education

Lucid is one of those companies that you may not have heard of, but you definitely should! They have a visual learning toolkit that helps students learn to collaborate using 21st-century skills while making deeper connections to prior knowledge. By creating digital resources and presentations with other students and educators, this tool makes the classroom appear more like today’s workplace of today than anything else I’ve seen.

2. Juice Mobile Power from Bretford

Say goodbye to dead devices. Juice Mobile Power charges all your devices on demand by turning one wall outlet into a smart power hub for the entire room. Connection points are magnetic, so they are strong enough to keep devices charged but safe enough for schools. The starter kit includes a 12- or 6-foot track, base and power cord, four device cords, and two pods.    

3. Really Good Stuff Digital Learning Collection

Are your elementary teachers exhausted from trying to find the best app for each student? This new K-2 learning solution includes more than 170 standards-aligned, pre-vetted apps in math, language arts, social studies, science & STEM, SEL, critical thinking, and creativity. Sign up for a free 30-day trial online.


8 great ways to STEAM up your class with Sphero (and other edtech)

Jobs in the computer science field are the top source of new wages in America, and a quarter of all jobs are now “highly digitalized.” Twice as many Americans use computing in their jobs, with half of these positions in non-STEM fields.

Yet, only 25 percent of schools across the country offer a computer science class with coding or programming as part of the curriculum. It’s more important than ever to incorporate STEM and STEAM principles into the classroom to prepare our students for the workforce. Kids are already immersed in the world of technology, but it’s important to incorporate STEM principles into the classroom to arm students with the skills they need to succeed in the job landscape of the future.

In our classrooms, we use a variety of tools to teach the values of STEAM education, including Sphero, the technology company utilizing play as a powerful teacher with its product line of robotic balls and other app-enabled gadgets that inspire STEAM learning.

Now, with the evolution of art in STEAM, educators have the opportunity to structure their coursework in non-traditional ways that create excitement and fun around learning.

There is an art form to teaching STEAM principles in creative ways outside of writing out math equations that make kids excited to go to school and learn. Taking something students have designed and encouraging them to use their artistic skills to create can help them learn and grow in new ways.

It’s much easier than most educators think to incorporate STEAM into their lesson plans. My best advice is to just give it a try. Learning STEAM principles alongside students is a great way to lead through example, and it helps teachers develop better relationships with their students. Finding a great network of other educators, like my own personal network of other Sphero Heroes, allows me to connect and share ideas on how to best teach STEAM to our students.

However, it’s important to incorporate STEAM into the classroom with a healthy amount of skepticism. Jumping into new opportunities like STEAM is exciting, but educators should be mindful of the purpose behind what they teach and how they teach it. It usually helps to have a process in place, but with STEAM, don’t model lessons. Rather, give students guidelines on activities that allow them to think outside the box and learn to problem solve on their own.

The activities we use in my classroom with Sphero all enforce the knowledge that play is a powerful teacher of STEAM principles. Here is a list of some of my favorite ways to use Sphero in the classroom to get your students on board with STEAM.

1. Playground days

On playground days, we bring ramps and other obstacles out just to get kids used to driving the Sphero and engaging with the Sphero EDU app; plus it’s fun for the kids. They come up with their own ideas for races and other games, like tag.

2. Battlebots

Battlebots is a crowd favorite in which kids design battle armor for their Spheros and test them out in our Battlebot Arena. The goal is for kids to knock their opponent out of the arena.


10 findings about K-12 digital learning

Digital learning itself is expanding in schools, but access to classroom and home technology still remains a major obstacle, according to a new study from Schoology.

The State of Digital Learning report is based on responses from more than 9,200 education professionals and covers challenges, priorities, and student achievement as they relate to digital learning and edtech tools.

The study yields significant findings regarding challenges and priorities, the role and impact of technology, digital citizenship and emerging edtech trends, and professional development and learning communities.

Nearly 42 percent of study participants say lack of student access at home is their biggest obstacle to student learning. More than 50 percent also say their school or district is one-to-one, and more than half of them let students take those devices home.

The study breaks down obstacles to student learning by rural, suburban, and urban. Lack of student access at home is the biggest obstacle for both rural (51 percent) and urban schools (close to 45 percent), while insufficient time to teach individual students who need it most is the top obstacle in suburban schools (42 percent).

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.


10 K12 education trends to look for this year

We may technically be in the middle of a school year, but starting a new calendar year has us looking at and forecasting the new K12 education trends we expect to see in 2019.

In the first half of this school year, we’ve seen some of these ideas start to emerge, and we suspect that as we close out the academic calendar, they will become more prominent. In fact, we’re excited to see what role these trends will play going forward and into the 2019-2020 school year.

K12 trends in education

1. Increased use of immersive technologies

Virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) have been creating new opportunities in teaching and learning. As the technologies become more affordable and available, we expect to see their usage increase dramatically in K-12 education. It gives teachers the ability to show their students aspects of history, travel, and STEM subjects in an immersive experience. Students will be able to take “field trips” across the world and gain hands-on vocational training through VR simulations without ever leaving the classroom. See how a district in Pennsylvania is investing in VR and AR.

2. Rising prominence of assistive devices

Assistive devices (e.g., Google Home, Amazon’s Alexa, and Apple’s Siri) have carved out their space in many people’s homes, but 2019 will see them gain prominence in classrooms. While there are still some privacy issues to address, assistive devices can update information published in outdated textbooks and give students a space to dive deeper into their own learning by asking questions and following up on their own curiosities.

3. Growth of integrated learning

We’ve been seeing more schools across the board adopting integrated learning solutions that combine print materials and textbooks with digital aids. It’s impractical for schools to wait for a complete computerized transformation; integrated learning helps bridge the gap and bring them into a digital world. We predict that more textbook publishers will release digital assets that are easy to use and connect to their products.

4. Expansion of blended learning

Blended learning takes integrated learning up a notch, by moving a portion of instruction fully online. Some districts have already been relying on blended learning for students to make up missed classes due to temporary school closures. This method of education also prepares K-12 students for higher education, where online learning is more common.


How we turned around our district’s literacy scores

[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.]


Rowan-Salisbury (NC) School System serves 18,382 students across 35 schools.

Biggest challenge:

Our school district was considered a low-performing district by the state of North Carolina. Low-performing is given to a district when more than half of the schools are falling in the ‘D’ or ‘F’ range on an A-F scale. The classrooms within each school were driven by a traditional approach to education, leaving little room for innovation and the implementation of best practices. Literacy levels in particular were struggling, with low Lexile reading levels across grades and a lack of access to reading materials and devices for students.


I came to Rowan-Salisbury with the goal of serving and supporting the district in an effort to erase the low-performing label and to help the district thrive. The first step in increasing student performance and satisfaction was to overhaul our district literacy program.

Our district implemented a robust strategy that included personalized literacy instruction as a core element. We chose Achieve3000 to partner with us around facilitating that strategy because of their focus on personalized learning at an accelerated pace. The platform helps students to achieve literacy goals through a unique method that tailors instruction to each child’s individual Lexile reading level.

We implemented the platform at every grade level, giving teachers access to a pool of resources and activities that assist with literacy learning across all subject areas and students’ interests. We encouraged students to work through these activities both during the school day and at home as a supplemental resource.

After implementation, we saw immediate gains in students who completed just two Achieve3000 activities per week and, within the first year, 30 percent of students were exceeding expected growth in reading. In addition, we’ve seen students more invested in completing activities outside of school, with 69 percent of students logging in to complete activities on weekends, after school and during breaks.

Lessons learned:

  • A solid implementation plan is key to putting a new initiative in place.
  • Teacher understanding and support was crucial to our success.
  • When students have the correct resources, they can make impressive gains.
  • For our district, it was necessary to find a district-wide solution to our problem, which meant that a flexible and customizable tool was needed.

Next steps:

  • Continuing to integrate literacy throughout all curriculum.
  • Due to the passing of a recent bill, our district qualifies as a renewal district, allowing for more flexibility with curriculum, budgeting, and staffing. We plan to use this opportunity to continue our journey of becoming an innovative school district.

Next week:

Come back and see how a district turned around its wireless network performance.


5 ways we develop SEL in our students

These days, words like bullying, isolation, suicide, peer pressure, and anxiety are more and more commonly used among students, parents, and educators. As educators, we hear these words and experience the reality of each. I’m reminded of a time when the expression, “Can’t we all just get along?” was first spoken during the height of gang wars in Los Angeles, when I was a new speech language pathologist in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

More than 30 years later, I now work at a 700-student elementary school in Washington state and I have a caseload of 50 students consisting of varying disabilities. Here, the topic of social-emotional learning (SEL) and those super-charged words are at the forefront of my caseload. As we forge ahead in 2019 and beyond with the goal of helping each student learn to his or her full potential, it’s more important than ever to address SEL.

Here are five ways our school has developed better SEL skills in our students and how you, too, can build positive social-emotional learning into everything you do in small group settings with all students. I keep these on my desk as a reminder and repeatedly go over them in my head as I start each new day.

1. Address ALL students you encounter with eye contact in conjunction with saying their name.
Eye contact and knowing names are two of the most important steps in building relationships. Adding a smile throughout the week when you see students on campus lets them know you see them and you care.

2. Ask relevant questions that are specific to their interests.
Take time to ask questions about activities, events, or people and things you have in common. This fosters relationship building, trust, and tells them you’re available and care about what matters to them.


How to think like a leader

Schools are experiencing a dramatic shift from how they’ve been run and structured for over a century. Leaders must establish direction, influence others, and initiate sustainable change as they navigate the ever-evolving landscape of education. Such leadership requires a dynamic combination of positive mindset, influential behaviors, and effective skills. Stepping into a leader role requires a change in thinking from “How can I be the best for me?” to “How can I be the best to help my people do their jobs more effectively?”

School leadership, which is the process of enlisting and guiding the talents and energies of teachers, students, and families toward achieving common educational goals, is about thinking differently, not just acting differently. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.

All too often, we focus on what we’re comfortable with—the strategies and methods we’ve used for years. But as education evolves, we must be willing to modify or update our approach. As hard and uncomfortable as this may be, we must think about our approach to think like a leader.

To think like a leader is to design a blueprint for success that is cyclical, dynamic, and able to change in time with the reality of the school environment. A blueprint for success is not a strategic plan that sits in a binder on the shelf. Rather, it is a process whereby a leader thinks though all the steps and plans an effective implementation strategy.

Blueprint for success
I believe a blueprint for success consists of five stages: a vision, goal, action plan, action, and reflection.

Effective leaders vividly describe their vision for the future and paint a clear picture of that destination to others. A vision inspires people to work towards a common goal. They build teams and define the steps to get there. A clear vision helps get the team back on track if along the way you go astray with your action steps or attitude.

You hear a lot of people say: “I will believe it when I see it.” Think of vision as the reverse of that statement. If you believe in your vision and model it every day, others will see the vision and have clarity on your direction. True vision provides a roadmap for the school and its stakeholders by providing a picture of success. Effective leaders clearly communicate this vision to the school as a means of inspiring, motivating, and engaging people.


What are this year’s top trends at SXSW EDU?

Connecting leaders across the learning lifecycle and around the world, SXSW EDU serves as a melting pot for the latest approaches to education. From more than 1,500 proposals received in PanelPicker to applicants for our startup and design competitions, we review a diverse array of content aligned to some of the biggest trends today. What follows is a curated list of the top 10 trends impacting teaching and learning as exhibited in the programming at SXSW EDU 2019. At a high level, this year’s trends represent a human-centered approach to empowering both the educator and student to define their own learning pathway.

AI, XR, & Blockchain: A New Era in EdTech
The advancement of emerging technology is laying the foundation for a new age of learning. With virtual worlds being built to extend the classroom and embedded AI to better track student development, experiential technology provides a new level of immersion. Though still in the early days of direct application in education, blockchain promises to establish a new digital infrastructure to authenticate knowledge acquisition and track a lifetime of learner competencies. Collectively these new applications of tech are shifting its role in the classroom.

Related sessions:
AI Enabling Personalized Learning at Scale
Blockchain: Hype or Enabler for K-12 Data Privacy
Education Meets Blockchain and the Sharing Economy

Culturally Responsive Curriculum
The most effective educators have the ability to build inclusive learning environments that act as safe spaces for students, from all backgrounds, to learn and develop. Culturally relevant pedagogy is grounded in a mindset that empowers both educators and learners to navigate the uncomfortable, foster confidence, and develop deeper thinking through open and authentic interactions.

Related sessions:
Belonging, Culture, & School: Student Perspectives
Culturally Responsive Educators
Race, Social Media & the Role of Schools

Future of Assessment & Accountability
From Common Core to the SAT, the call for accountability is moving away from the drivers of the past two decades as we look to reflect the more holistic attributes of student development and grapple with the adverse impact of high-stakes testing. With data collection on the rise and the push for interoperability to better align reporting, there is an opportunity to capture competency through new and unique methods.

Related sessions:
Analyze Act Reflect: A Refreshed Approach to Data
Beyond Rubrics: Embedded Assessment in Making
Playful Assessment: Don’t Stop the Fun

Inclusive Practice & Universal Design
Intentional and accessible practices that are designed for individual learners are being widely adopted by schools and educators. While inclusive learning practices have been present for some time, the educational framework and learning science research behind them continues to advance our progress towards effectively supporting students with a wide range of backgrounds and needs.

Related sessions:
Inclusive Coding for Kids With Special Needs
Moving the Needle on K-12 Accessibility
UDL: Designing for Learner Variability

Learning Science in Action
Translating research into actionable, evidence-based practice is essential as educators and institutions implement new learning models. Just as the drive for efficacy research has illuminated the power and pitfalls of technology, so too has learning science research supported best practices for learning. The applications of new research from fields like neuroscience and psychology, paired with the growth of learning analytics, provides a new opportunity to create better-aligned learning pathways for students.

Related sessions:
Active Learning for Engagement and Effectiveness
Learning Sciences and Edtech: Uncovering the Facts
Leveraging Technology to Make Expert Teachers


5 Cool STEM Grants for 2019

Although we’re still in the middle of our current school year, it’s never too early to get a jump on grants for the 2019-2020 year–especially where STEM funding is concerned.

Grants of all sizes can support research to learn more about STEM instruction, or can help pique students’ interest in STEM.

Check out the following 5 STEM grants–some are research-based, others are for teachers, and a couple are focused around student involvement

1. STEM + C

The STEM+C program supports research on how students learn to think computationally to solve interdisciplinary problems in science and mathematics. The program supports research and development that builds on evidence-based teacher preparation or professional development activities that enable teachers to provide excellent instruction on the integration of computation and STEM disciplines. Proposals should describe projects that are grounded in prior evidence and theory, are innovative or potentially transformative, and that will generate and build knowledge about the integration of computing and one or more STEM disciplines at the preK-12 level.
Deadline: May 1, 2019


6 apps for parent-teacher communication

Communication between parents and teachers is an essential ingredient that fuels the learning process for students. When parents and teachers keep each other in the loop, they can notify each other of achievements, behavioral problems, health issues, and more.

Unfortunately, even the most well-intentioned students forget to pass on information to their parents. Or they might have difficulty remembering the correct details, meaning that parents ultimately get inaccurate messages. Sometimes, poor communication also means that kids miss out on opportunities. For example, parents may need to pay class trip fees by designated dates to reserve a student’s spot. Or a football coach may require that parents submit documentation of their kids receiving recent physical exams that confirm they’re eligible for the sport.

The bottom line is that this element of the educational process is crucial. Parent-teacher communication apps help in all these situations and many others. Here are are a few you might want to consider.

Free apps

1. Talking Points
Talking Points is a communications app that attempts to break down language barriers between parents and teachers. These barriers can hinder efforts to give updates and ask questions. Teachers can input messages in English and have the app translate them into dozens of languages. Then, recipients who don’t speak English can reply in their native languages.

The app offers text-message-like functionality. It works in a more streamlined way than making teachers resort to Google Translate or other methods. Although this app is free, it also has paid tiers available. (Offered for iOS and Android.)

2. Bloomz
Bloomz is a multi-functional messaging app that lets teachers do things like give parents classroom-related updates or send them reminders about things they need to do. There’s also a behavior-tracking section and ways for educators to show examples of the kinds of work students are doing during the school day. Also, when teachers send messages to parents, there’s no need for them to reveal personal details like email addresses.

This app provides basic functionality for free, but there are in-app purchases available. (Offered for iOS and Android.)

3. Remind
Like the Talking Points app, Remind allows teachers to translate messages into dozens of languages. However, it can also go further by sending PDFs, photos, and even voice clips. With this app, you can send messages to individuals or groups. The latter option could be handy for class-specific updates. One shortcoming associated with Remind is that it offers only one-way communications—parents cannot respond to the messages. (Offered for iOS and Android.)

Paid Apps

4. ParentSquare
ParentSquare provides a secure way for parents and teachers to talk to each other about school happenings. Teachers can share calendar events or files, plus engage in private messages with their students’ parents. There’s also a parent directory that allows people to have their details either visible or hidden. It could help adults connect with each other and collectively propel the learning process at a school.

A free trial and cost options for the platform are available after interested persons who sign up for product demos. The apps are free to download. (Offered for iOS and Android.)

5. Additio EdVoice
This app is not exclusively for parents and teachers, but many of its features target those groups. Messages go to phones that have the app installed, which could be a student’s phone or one used by an authorized caregiver.

EdVoice promotes real-time messaging and lets users avoid the hassles of other methods, such as WhatsApp groups. It’s possible to send messages related to an entire district or school or one focused on single classes. Pricing information is given when people request app demos. (Offered for iOS and Android, under the Additio name.)

6. SchoolMessenger
SchoolMessenger is more than a direct communication app to facilitate information sharing between parents and teachers. It also has option add-ons, such as features that notify authorized parties that a child arrived at school safely. Plus, the app stores various kinds of student information, giving parents a centralized place to access it. (Offered for iOS and Android.)

Technology makes parent-teacher communication smoother than before
These apps signal the end of lost notes written on paper and allow more clarification between a child’s educator and parents. As a result, there’s more time to focus on enrichment due to fewer communication challenges.

[Editor’s Note: This article was first published on technotes, the TCEA blog.]