4 tips for incorporating safe, engaging, tech-rich material into early elementary ed

Here’s how to find appropriate resources for the youngest students

I love incorporating technology into my curriculum and introducing it to my students in meaningful ways. The good news is that teaching them to use technology isn’t difficult. My kindergartners can navigate iPads better than I can. The challenge is incorporating tech-rich material in a way that’s meaningful and relevant to what we’re learning and that doesn’t take away from their learning experiences. Here are a few ways I successfully introduce technology and resources that are safe, engaging, and developmentally appropriate.

Finding safe, tech-rich material for the youngest students

1. Use video to warm up, engage, and transport students.

Every tool I use needs to reinforce whatever concept we’re learning or otherwise be tied into the lesson. It must meet the standards we’re working on, and it needs to be engaging.

One tool I’ve found incredibly useful this school year is Boclips for Teachers, which provides educational videos. I can find video resources for anything, including animation and songs that my students love. It’s such a timesaver because I know I’ll find an appropriate video for whatever lesson I’m teaching, and once we sit down to watch it, we don’t have to sit through all the ads—or worse, see inappropriate images that can sometimes come up with an on-the-spot YouTube search.

We use videos as a whole group in a variety of ways. In math, we work on number sense with videos to practice rote counting, number recognition, decomposing, and shapes. In our literacy blocks, we use videos to work on recognizing letter names and sounds, sight words, vowels, or just to sing about the alphabet. (We do a lot of dancing to these songs as well!) I also think of videos as a way to reinforce a concept and make sure my students are exposed to multiple approaches to understanding it.

Sometimes we just use videos as brain breaks. Our students have one recess, so brain breaks allow us to get some energy out during the day and maintain effective instructional time.

We also use videos for Skype Virtual Field Trips, which are a great way to bring the outside world in. We’re about two-and-a-half hours south of Atlanta, and I have kids who have not been able to visit. Virtual field trips to California or the Statue of Liberty are a fun way to expand the walls of our classroom.

2. Discover new tools in teacher communities and on social media.

Online communities are such a valuable channel. I found Boclips, for example, through the Georgia Science Teachers Association Facebook page.

I rely on various teacher communities on Instagram for ideas and best practices. There are so many new things coming out for classroom use all the time, and I’m not always sure how I can incorporate them into my kindergarten class—or if I even should. But teachers are incredibly active in those Instagram communities, and there’s usually someone who has tried it out and is ready to give opinions and suggestions. Seeing how other teachers use a tool challenges me to think of different ways to incorporate technology.


How we built an immersive learning environment

See how a large Texas district decided on the right collaborative infrastructure for its teachers and students


The Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District (ISD) is the third-largest district in Texas, covering 186 square miles and serving more than 115,000 students. The Houston district currently includes 11 high schools, 18 middle schools, 54 elementary schools, and five special campuses.

Biggest challenge:

Our district is large and continues to grow by nearly 1,000 students each year, creating a continuous pressure to provide all students with equally impactful educational experiences. The teachers and district administration realized we lacked a collaborative technology infrastructure that engaged students in their learning environments. In short, we weren’t where we needed to be to prepare students for today’s higher education and workforce.


To realize this immersive learning environment, we needed the necessary funding to take on a project of this size. Thankfully, our community also saw the importance of modernizing technology in our schools and in 2014 voted overwhelmingly in favor of a $1.2 billion bond to help update the district’s classrooms. Once we secured the funding, we needed to answer the biggest question: Which technology could create the most impact in preparing our students and improving student outcomes?

Related: 10 steps for bringing connectivity home

A committee of teachers, curriculum staff, and technical staff collaborated to assess available solutions that would increase student interaction in all age groups, drive unique classroom engagement, and provide professional development for educators throughout implementation.

After diligent research, our committee landed on the Promethean interactive displays. During a four-week evaluation, we conducted an extensive hands-on review with each panel and corresponding software. This review process provided our committee members with the opportunity to experience the different panels as students and teachers will—in the context of their subject areas and classroom needs.

In the end, Cypress Fairbanks ISD selected the ActivPanel hardware and ClassFlow software solutions, which have successfully enhanced student engagement in the classroom.

Our students love being able to go up and touch the board and are excited that more than one student can interact with the board simultaneously. Overall, students have embraced the new technology, and the interactive panel and software combination has had a clear, positive impact on teaching and learning. Our team sees the huge strides we are making in the district by using an immersive, 21st-century learning environment that will prepare students for their next steps in their lives.

Lessons learned:

  • Not all classroom technologies are created equal. It was extremely important to us that our new infrastructure allow for simultaneous use from several students at a time. Both at the panel and on the cloud-based software, the real-time collaboration aspect has been huge for our classrooms and opened a whole new range of possibilities for our teachers.
  • Professional development is paramount. Integrating a brand-new system into a district of our size is a huge undertaking at minimum. Our team is proudly made up of educators from all walks of life, which is an amazing thing but also provides the challenge of figuring out a way to get everyone up to speed. From demonstration to our continued rollout district-wide, looking for a provider that has expertise in leading professional development demonstrations and workshops is something that I would recommend to any interested district.

Next week:

See how a district turned around teacher retention.


3 unexpected ways tech can humanize learning

If you want to make students know how important they are, use tech to personalize learning

[Editor’s noteThis article appeared on the ISTE blog on Jan. 23, 2019. Find more posts like this one at iste.org/explore.]

My biggest goal as a teacher is to make every one of my students know how important they are and how invested I am in their learning and well-being. I want students to enjoy learning and to walk out of my classroom with a new level of confidence.

Technology allows me to do this because it lets me bring a whole new level of compassion to my teaching. Here are three ways I use technology to personalize learning for all of my students.

1. Shifting from content delivery to identifying and addressing student needs

One of the first ways I used technology for learning was to flip my classroom. That is, instead of delivering content during class and giving exercises as homework, I had students learn the content at home by watching videos with embedded quizzes. Using Edpuzzle, I was able to turn a passive video into an active learning experience for my students.

The embedded quizzes enabled me to view student’s responses. I could instantly see the number of times students watched each portion of the video as well as when each student watched and completed the assignment. The detailed information I received about how students were processing the material — before they even walked into my classroom—was transformative.

Related: 10 things I do to boost my students’ self-esteem

Armed with this data, I could shift my focus in the classroom from delivering the content to addressing the questions that students were actually struggling with. Not only were these analytics powerful indicators for me, the instant feedback also helped students gauge their understanding as they took in the information. This is when I first realized I could empower students to take ownership of their learning. I now use Edpuzzle to engage my students in all video content I ask them to view.

2. Creating a safe environment for all students to participate in class discussions

All teachers know that some students are vocal and shine when they are called on to share their work, while other students wilt with embarrassment. As an introvert myself, I am well aware of how the traditional classroom dynamic can be painfully uncomfortable. I remember the almost paralyzing fear I often felt when I had to respond to questions on the spot. I am an analyzer and like to take my time thinking things through.

To address this situation, I again turned to technology. The first time I saw what Pear Deck could do, I knew it would be just the tool to allow all students to contribute their work without feeling put on the spot. Pear Deck is an interactive presentation tool that allows students to engage with a lesson from their own devices.


Why we love our math software

Here are five great math programs that teachers and administrators recommend

Math gets a bad reputation for no good reason. After all, it’s a universal language and it applies to so many areas of life. Learning math can be challenging, and teaching it can be equally challenging. But tools like math software can help educators make the topic more palatable and relatable for students.

We asked five educators to share their favorite math software with you. If you’re looking for something to change up your math instruction, check out what these educators have to say.

Math software picks

“My students absolutely love working with DreamBox. There is complete silence when they are on the program! It is amazing how it adapts to the exact level each of my students need. Students can work on DreamBox individually at their own pace and level while I am working with small groups on our current content. It is truly filling in the missing gaps for some students and stretching others beyond what I can do in the classroom! It’s almost as if there is another teacher providing individualized instruction! It’s a fantastic program.”
—Dani Kremer, 4th-grade teacher, Center Point Urbana Primary School (IA)

“One of the biggest benefits of Illustrative Mathematics 6–8 Math is that our students now see math differently. They see that it is problem-based, that mistakes can be valuable in their learning, and that it’s about the process, not just the result. This is not only important for their success in math but in life. Our teachers are changing their mindsets, too. Before, when teachers were planning lessons, they didn’t necessarily step back and look at the big picture of how the lessons they taught in September would connect to lessons they taught in December or March. Thanks to the coherence of the 6–8 Math curriculum, they now have a better understanding of these connections and about how mathematics is about building mastery over time, rather than simply mastering one skill or concept and then moving to the next one.”
—Dennis A. Regus, director of assessment and accountability, Menifee (CA) Union School District

Related: 4 ways to add up a love for math

i-Ready provides a comprehensive profile of individualized data for each of our students, as well as personalized instructional pathways, matching instruction to skill level and addressing learning gaps caused by lagging skills, and extension opportunities for learners who are ready for more challenge. It also gives our teachers access to a depth of individualized student data that we have never before had in the area of mathematics. The easy-to-use reports offer quick, real-time data our teachers use to plan and fine-tune their instruction to meet the specific mathematics needs of our students in both whole-group and small-group learning. Teachers also use the reports to engage students and parents as active partners in supporting strong math growth.”
—Linda Seeberg, executive director of academic programs, Redmond (OR) School District

“I like the fact that the Carnegie Learning products make my students think and process information rather than just spoon-feed them the information. As well, I absolutely love that MATHia does not allow my students to pass on to something else if they have not yet mastered a certain process in the operation. It is humanly impossible for me to do this with every assignment every day for 150+ students, but this program does.”
—Connie Cardona, teacher, South Miami Middle School, Miami-Dade County (FL) Public Schools

ST Math has given my students an active approach to become involved in discovery while using tools never before afforded them. It has helped them progress with a confidence we’ve never witnessed in the past.”
—Jackie Tetreault, sixth-grade teacher, Union Hill School (MA)



2 actions school leaders can take to impact student wellbeing

The authors challenge education leaders to address student wellbeing

The evidence is omnipresent and overwhelming that children are not well.

Consider the results of a recent survey by The School Superintendents Association (AASA), which found that the two most important issues are student mental health and student apathy. In addition, a recent New York Times article stated. “Most American teenagers—across demographic groups—see depression and anxiety as major problems among their peers,” based on a new survey by the Pew Research Center. The survey found that 70 percent of teenagers saw mental health as a big issue.

Clearly, we can agree that there are wellbeing problems for our children and that we are all struggling with how to impact them. Further, education leaders—including superintendents, principals, and curriculum leaders—are required to demonstrate their ability to implement the National Policy Board for Education Administration professional standards.

Related: 3 no-cost ways to support mental health in schools

So why are school leaders not taking bold action to impact the dire wellbeing statistics, even when required by their own professional standards? Perhaps it is not about understanding “how” to impact, but rather it is more a matter of leadership courage. We challenge school leaders to take two actions to address student wellbeing today!

Action Number 1 – Assess the wellbeing of all children

Education leaders need a clear picture of the social-emotional wellbeing of the children in their care. What should educators look for to determine their students’ wellbeing?

Emotionally and psychologically healthy children possess the following qualities or attributes, which can be measured by the Ryff Psychological Wellbeing Scale:

  • Autonomy – self-determining and independent, able to resist social pressures to think and act in certain ways, regulates behavior from within, and evaluates one’s self by personal standards
  • Environmental mastery – a sense of mastery and competence in managing the environment, controls a complex array of external activities, makes effective use of surrounding opportunities, and is able to choose or create contexts suitable to personal needs and values
  • Personal growth – a feeling of continued development, sees the self as growing and expanding, is open to new experiences, has a sense of realizing his or her potential, sees improvement in self and behavior over time, and is changing in ways that reflect more self-knowledge and effectiveness
  • Positive relations with others – is able to have warm, satisfying, trusting relationships with others; is concerned about the welfare of others; is capable of strong empathy, affection, and intimacy; and understands the give and take of human relationships
  • Purpose in life – has goals and dreams in life and a sense of directedness, feels there is meaning to present and past life experiences, holds beliefs that give life purpose, and has aims and objectives for living
  • Self-acceptance – possesses a positive attitude toward the self, acknowledges and accepts multiple aspects of self, including good and bad qualities, and feels positive about previous life experiences

Got humor? It might be the key to STEM engagement

High school students' STEM engagement often wanes, but relevance and humor could help liven up learning

Real-world relevance and a little dash of humor are two ingredients that might increase STEM engagement and make learning fun for high school students, according to a new survey.

The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) surveyed 1,100 high school students from across the U.S. on how to increase student interest, understanding, and performance in math and STEM subjects. The study shows that almost 60 percent of responding students want teachers to be more creative in the classroom.

Related: How to get students interested in STEM

Those students say out-of-the-box teaching methods and fun science projects and competitions are two ways to increase STEM engagement and interest. Forty-nine percent of students say STEM learning should be more relevant to real life, and 35 percent think more technology in the classroom would help STEM seem more exciting.

About 32 percent say adding humor to STEM courses–through channels such as videos and projects–will do the trick.

The students queried for the survey are participants in this year’s MathWorks Math Modeling (M3) Challenge, a national internet-based contest organized by SIAM. Now in its 14th year, the competition involves thousands of high school juniors and seniors committing 14 consecutive hours on a designated weekend in March to come up with a solution to a real-world problem using mathematical modeling.

“If we consider standard tests as a benchmark, and national ACT math scores hitting a 20-year low in 2018, these findings provide useful insight about delivering STEM-related information to a generation of tech and social media-savvy students in a way that may not only increase their interest, but their skills and perseverance as well,” says Michelle Montgomery, M3 Challenge project director at SIAM.

Boosting STEM engagement in classrooms

The challenge isn’t unique to high school students. Nationwide, getting kids interested in STEM–and helping them retain that interest as they get older and as STEM subjects become more challenging or are deemed “uncool” by peers–is a struggle.

Searching for STEM grants is one way to find additional funding and resources to bring real-world relevance into the STEM classroom. These grants often involve competitions and projects that engage students and get them excited about STEM concepts.

Related: 10 major insights on teaching, learning, and STEM

Another way to inject relevance into STEM topics? Show students how vast STEM career possibilities actually are, and let them meet or video conference with STEM professionals in some of those exciting roles. This is especially important for girls and underrepresented groups, whose STEM engagement often wanes as they progress through school. If students don’t see themselves represented in STEM careers, they won’t pursue the academic paths leading to those careers.

Exposing students to STEM in early grades can help them retain their interest in and love of learning these topics. More than half of today’s adult workers (62 percent) say they were never exposed to STEM-related studies and career possibilities in elementary school, despite research indicating that early exposure to STEM courses helps students stick with these studies even as the material becomes more challenging in high school and college.


3 no-cost ways to support mental health in schools

70% of teens identified mental health as a major issue among their peers; here are some ways districts can help

Mental illness is on the rise in schools. As mental-health advocates fight to remove the stigma associated with mental illness, more clinical diagnoses are made. Twenty-five years ago, anxiety and depression were two illnesses barely discussed and rarely diagnosed. Now, they are flooding public school classrooms.

A survey conducted in February by the Pew Research Center found that 70 percent of teenagers identified mental health as a major issue among their peers—a number higher than bullying, drug addiction, or gangs. So with numbers that high, it should be assumed that public school funding would be prioritizing student mental health, but that’s not the case. In fact, too often, it’s our support staff who bears the weight of the financial crises facing public education.

I’ve spent 16 years as a teacher and educational leader. In that time, I’ve seen teaching go from a profession tasked with guiding children and young adults through academic curriculum to one of social and emotional teaching and learning. Twenty years ago, students were concerned with time management and quadratic equations; today they are overwhelmed by social media and stories of school violence.

Last month, the ALCU published an article called “Why School Psychologists Are Worried About the Mental Health of America’s Students.” In it, Angela Mann talks about school psychologists’ exhaustion and burnout due to high caseloads and understaffed schools. Data analysis from the U.S. Department of Education found a majority of public schools to be understaffed and unable to address the mental-health issues of its students.

The underfunding of mental health in schools

The underfunding of mental health in public schools is of concern. According to Mann, on average, school psychologists across the country have caseloads over 1,500 students on average; nearly half of schools report not even employing a school psychologist. Sadly too, Mann continues, the documented benefits of having mental-health personnel on staff is indisputable. School climate improves, discipline rates decrease, attendance increases, and graduation rates get much better too.

Unfortunately, the funding crisis shows no sign of letting up. In an August 2018 neaToday article, the authors identify funding as the first of 10 challenges faced by public education. In the decade since the Great Recession, many states are providing less funding to public education than they did before the crash. Schools are losing staff in droves. Districts, on average, spend approximately $11,000 per student every year, with the most economically disadvantaged school districts spending $1,200 less than that and districts with the highest number of students of color spending $2,000 less.

Related: How can educators support the parents of students with anxiety?

If public education cannot rely on the fiscal backing of state or federal government to prioritize student social and emotional learning, what are school districts expected to do?

3 cost-free ways districts can support mental health

1. Allow private counselors to meet with students during the school day.

When funding decreases, districts often cut support staff to meet the newly established budgetary constraints. Such cuts lead to the untenable caseloads of school psychologists described above. For many students, academic success will continue to be unattainable as long as their mental health is neglected.

Private counselors could be an easy solution to this problem if school districts would be willing to acknowledge the numerous benefits of making use of their services. Many private therapists cannot fill their schedules during the day. Clients with full-time jobs cannot meet during work hours and parents of student patients are unwilling to pull students from school.


3 things I learned by accident at CoSN 2019

Here are some new, or not-talked-about, things that stuck in my mind after CoSN 2019

A few themes stood out at CoSN 2019–artificial intelligence, coding, and preparing students for 2030 are three that immediately come to mind. But as I attended more sessions, smaller–yet equally cool–bits of information jumped out at me.

I love attending conference sessions because I get to listen to educators and edtech leaders talk about what’s most important when it comes to helping students succeed and feel proud of their accomplishments.

Here are just a few of the new things I learned, or things that aren’t often talked about, at CoSN 2019:

1. Equity doesn’t only apply to disparities in income. Socioeconomic status and income levels seem to be the most references aspects of equity, but during the conference I realized equity is a much bigger umbrella, and its other aspects aren’t always discussed as widely as income disparities. Special education students and English language learners are often left on the other side of equity gaps.

Read more: 10 conversations about digital equity

In Vancouver (WA) Public Schools (VPS), administrators and tech leaders are focusing on equity across the board. For instance, when students in special education classes are issued iPads, putting those iPads in different cases signifies that those students are somehow “different,” so the district hands out iPads in the same cases whenever possible.  


Empower students to be future ready with these top 5 tools

An educator shares her favorite resources for sparking curiosity and developing future-ready skills

Educators are constantly looking for resources and tools to get students engaged and excited about the content they are teaching. Take it a step further by empowering your students with designing and creating, and that engagement will automatically happen.

Empowerment means you are providing your students with the future-ready skills and experiences they can take with them into the future. They can take what they have learned and apply it to other experiences such as their own passions, interests, and share them with an authentic audience. Empowered students can change the world!

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

Here are five tools that you can use tomorrow that will not only empower your students, but will also spark their curiosity and interests to be future ready.

My favorite 5 tools to develop future-ready skills

1. Merge VR

Merge takes augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to the next level by providing students exploration experiences as well as the ability to create AR and VR with the CoSpaces add-on. By integrating Merge apps that use the Cube and/or VR goggles, students can learn about the solar system, anatomy, cells, museum artifacts, and so much more! Get ready! Merge will soon be releasing the Merge EDU Platform which will include content-specific modules. Check out some already-created EDU Resources to get started today.

a student using a Merge cube to view AR images


How this district is preparing students for 2030–and beyond

Preparing students for 2030 doesn't have to be daunting--but it has to be taken seriously

Whether we like it or not, the fourth industrial revolution is fundamentally changing the way the world works–and educators have to rise to the task of preparing students for 2030 and beyond.

“We don’t have as much time as I thought we did to redesign education and prepare our students for the future,” said Dr. David Gundlach, the deputy superintendent of Wisconsin’s Oshkosh Area School District (OASD), during CoSN 2019. “It’s very common for districts to create based on their past instead of students’ future.”

While many people believe the world still in the third industrial revolution, which consisted of digital evolutions and modernizations,  the fourth industrial revolution has already started: robotization, nanotech, and artificial intelligence (AI), Gundlach said.

Read more: How to prepare students for the unknowable

And when it comes to preparing students for 2030, AI and its quickly-evolving state should be topmost in educators’ minds.

“The interesting thing about this is that the speed of these breakthroughs has no historical precedent. This is going to disrupt all sectors at one time at an increasingly rapid pace. AI is everywhere. China is redesigning its entire education system, aiming kids toward careers in AI,” Gundlach said.

By 2020, the top 10 skills needed for academic and professional success will have changed, with complex problem-solving, critical thinking, and creativity taking top spots. And a new skill will appear on must-have lists, as predicted by the World Economic Forum’s Future Jobs Report: cognitive flexibility.

Cognitive flexibility will require people to forget the old way of doing things and learn new–and evolving–approaches.

“We need students and adults who can learn, unlearn, and relearn at an increasing pace. That cognitive flexibility has been taken out of curriculum, and we’re trying to put it back in,” Gundlach said. “Are we preparing our students for a career that will exist in 2030, or not?”