12 key components of today’s digital classroom

Most teachers today view edtech as an essential part of an increasingly digital classroom, and a new report from Common Sense sheds light on the role these edtech tools play in teaching and learning.

Today, edtech tools are ubiquitous, and the rise of personal devices and anytime, anywhere access have changed how we consume and create. The Common Sense Census: Inside the 21st-Century Classroom looks at how K-12 educators have adapted to these critical shifts in schools and society.

From the benefits of teaching lifelong digital citizenship skills to the challenges of preparing students to critically evaluate online information, Educators surveyed in the report share their perspectives on what it’s like to teach in a digital classroom and in the fast-changing digital world beyond.

Twelve observations about today’s digital classroom

1. Digital citizenship is being taught in a majority of schools. Roughly 60 percent of K-12 teachers use some kind of digital citizenship curriculum or resource with students, and about 70 percent teach at least one type of digital citizenship competency. The most common topics are digital drama, cyberbullying, hate speech, and privacy and safety.

Related: 5 doable digital citizenship goals for teachers

2. Teachers believe digital citizenship is effective in helping students make smart, safe, and ethical decisions online. Most teachers (91 percent) who have used digital citizenship curriculum say it is at least moderately effective.


Why should schools change?

The transformation of our schools–from the outdated model that focuses on rote learning of content and short-term preparation for tests, to one of deeper learning that prepares students for success in a rapidly evolving future–is, finally, inevitable.

At a 30,000-foot level, our broad community of education stakeholders—learners, parents, practitioners, administrators, and community builders—is faced with three big questions: “Why” should schools change? “What” does that change look like? And, “how” do we make those changes?

Why should schools change?

During this new millennium of radically increased dynamism in the world around us, our basic system of education has stayed remarkably static.

In just the last five years, we have seen a growing consensus amongst professional educators, students, parents, and community stakeholders—like employers and colleges—that we simply must update how our schools operate and how our students learn.


6 ways to connect with ELL parents

There’s no secret formula for parent engagement. And when English isn’t their first language, the obstacles seem more daunting. Connecting with ELL parents can help educators better support students—and there are some strategies to help.

According to Rick Castaneda, a training specialist at Rosetta Stone, the key is to develop a multi-step approach that gives parents several different opportunities to connect with the school and their children’s teachers while also making sure that the parent, no matter their language, feels like a key part of the decision-making process.

In his edWebinar, “Involve Parents for Greater English Learner Success,” Castaneda discussed six key areas of parental involvement, based on the work of Johns Hopkins professor Joyce L. Epstein, PhD, and how each one helps build a stronger relationship.

1. Parenting: Don’t call them parenting classes—this is not about trying to teach families to be better parents. Instead, these strategies are about finding opportunities to get parents involved with the school by reaching out to them rather than waiting for them to come to the school. Examples include parent workshops, regular parent support meetings, and mentoring programs with other ELL parents and families. Most of the time, the goal is to get the parents into the school building and make them feel welcome in the school community.


8 questions to ask before creating a makerspace

You wouldn’t just randomly choose a tool from your toolbox and feel confident it was the right one to cut a board or attach a hinge. Same goes for a school makerspace.

Like everything in ed tech, it’s not enough to have a bunch of shiny gadgets in your makerspace. You need to have the right materials to meet your goals.

Vinnie Vrotny, director of technology at The Kinkaid School in Houston, Texas, understands how tempting it is to fill a space with the latest devices. But before you do, here are eight questions you should ask to determine if you’re choosing wisely.

Important questions for your makerspace creation

1. What is the experience you’re trying to create?
In other words, what is the purpose of the makerspace? If you’re unclear about what you want students to be able to do when they leave the space, you’re starting off on the wrong foot. Maker magic lies in the disposition rather than a specific task or skill. Do you want students to be creative and take risks? The options are many, but they need to be part of the planning.


CTO headaches: Five complex district challenges

CTOs juggle countless district challenges—they have many high-profile systems, implementations, and changes they manage each year. At times, some of the biggest headaches are the low-priority projects that are complex by nature and time-consuming, but that also have a large reach in our districts.

Technology leaders from across the nation shared and discussed some of these district challenges at CoSN’s 2019 conference. While the group shared a number of different solutions, the collective conversation for the session focused on the idea that CTOs have not identified solutions to these district challenges and.

With that said, following are the five main issues CTOs discussed:

Onboarding/existing staff

One of the most complex challenges in any organization is the one that touches the most departments: HR, Technology, Business, Facilities, Curriculum/Instruction, School Leaders, etc. It is the first impression of our district and schools for new employees and a huge risk footprint for existing employees if not managed well. Technology department challenges include ensuring awareness of staffing changes before the start or end date, the timing for system access, transition plans for providing access/files from the outgoing staff member to the new employee, managing family name changes and timing, managing multiple building access levels, first day procedures, etc. Even with a system in place, making sure all departments adhere to the defined processes can be challenging.


Redesigning how we educate our educators

Imagine walking into a classroom with an average amount of chaos that begins each school day. Students start to gradually settle down and take their seats and an argument escalates toward the back of the classroom. A boy named Jordan is screaming and shoving his neighbor. You notice his tattered shirt and the stress in his eyes; however, your priority is to break up the fight and restore a positive learning environment, so you send Jordan to the principal’s office to restore order and begin today’s lesson.

What you don’t know is that Jordan and his mother have been living out of their car, and he hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep in over a month. Jordan is in survival mode–a persistent state of fight or flight that is controlled by the primal brain stem function. Because learning takes place in the cerebral cortex, he is unable to learn when in this mindset.

As educators, we are called to this profession. We want to make a difference in children’s lives. However, most traditional training doesn’t adequately prepare us for teaching students like Jordan–students in trauma.

Through a holistic, hands-on approach to educator training and capacity building, school districts can better prepare educators to work with students facing personal challenges and promote a safe, caring learning environment that re-engages and empowers students regardless of their history.


5 ways to improve instructional coaching today

Instructional coaching can be a powerful framework for teacher professional development, but not all coaching is created equally. As a beneficiary of a Teacher and School Leader Incentive Program (TSL) Grant, the Marion County School District has been working to improve instructional coaching practices, with great success. Here are the changes we’ve made that have had the most impact.

 1) Focus your PLC meetings.

In the past, our professional learning community (PLC) meetings were fairly unstructured. Teachers would show up, and the meeting would sometimes turn into a staff meeting, or a department meeting, or a grade-level team meeting.

This year, we’ve implemented the Supporting Teacher Effectiveness Project (STEP) model, which is highly teacher-driven, but provides more focus and structure. It’s important to involve teachers in their own PD, to make them active decision-makers in the process, because they know what the bright spots and challenges are in their own classrooms.

Our new process preserves that autonomy, but has given those meetings a structure. Striking a balance between maintaining a framework and empowering teachers creates an environment in which collaboration can flourish.

2) Encourage reflection rather than compliance.

It can be tempting for instructional coaches to slide into becoming compliance coaches. They are experienced and talented teachers, familiar with best practices and any number of things to avoid. It’s easy for them to slip into telling mentees, “This is what you didn’t do. This is what you need to do.”

But we’re not looking to turn teachers into automatons who respond to this behavior or that challenge, in the same way, every day and in every classroom. We want our teachers to be themselves, to become the best teachers they can be as the individuals they are. And that requires self-reflection, not preprogrammed responses.

Our coaches encourage our teachers to reflect by asking them questions to encourage it and by helping them learn to ask reflective questions of themselves. We also have teachers watch their peers teach and watch videos of their own teaching so they become more mindful of their own practices.


The whys and hows of SEL implementation

CASEL, The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, defines social and emotional learning (SEL) as the “process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions.”

SEL implementation can be the underpinning of every action a principal or classroom teacher makes about their campus, classroom, or environment for students.

According to Jeff Goelitz, Director of Education at HeartMath Institute, during a recent edWebinar, SEL affects everything from systems and structure to climate, culture, and academics. “Everyone” is interested in SEL and buying into the theory and the models but the how can be a daunting challenge as school districts try to make it a priority. Rachelle H. Finck, Coordinator Social and Emotional Learning for Round Rock ISD, TX, remarks that when SEL programs are planned with intention, they become more of a philosophy than a black binder program.


The ‘why’ of SEL implementation

The January 2011 issue of Child Development magazine published a meta-analysis of 213 studies of school-based SEL programs highlighting that students involved in SEL programs showed statistically significant improvements in academic performance, attitudes, and behaviors. The NEA calls anxiety an epidemic amongst students where 1 out of 4 students struggle with anxiety and 1 out of 5 students struggle with depression.

This epidemic is so prevalent that as teachers and leaders, districts need to educate the whole child with SEL skills such as self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness. The most effective method for teaching students these skills is by embedding an SEL curriculum into academic content using best practices and proven teaching strategies.


The ‘how’ of SEL implementation

District administrators and school student health professionals are having concurrent conversations around SEL. It is vital for these two groups to work together to understand both the academic and mental health sides of SEL programming to determine how best to support how students learn, absorb information and increase performance. When districts make SEL a priority, they focus on what social-emotional looks like and incorporate it in the district vision, mission and core values.

As every campus or school building operates differently and has needs specific to their school community, Finck highly recommends creating a common language, establishing a team of stakeholders and developing a set of core SEL values and beliefs. No matter what curriculum campuses are using there is value in having principals talk to other principals, and teachers talk to other teachers. The next step, creating an SEL road map, warns Finck, should not be a mandated or top-down approach. It should be inclusive and very grassroots, building on existing strengths at the same time gathering needs and pain points.

In Round Rock ISD, when the SEL team rewrote their student climate survey, they received valuable data as to why students were anxious about missing school. The team then used this data point to develop actions items for their SEL road map.


Why I use student-driven ideas in my curriculum

You might think that teaching a high school programming course in which students are asked to code simple games and interactive websites would be motivating and exciting, but there are unforeseen elements of dealing with the teenage brain and the influences on their lives that seem to creep into the most well-designed plans. Students come to class with various types of anxiety, fears, and coping issues from daily stresses. They are also distracted with social media and the availability of instant information at their fingertips. As teachers, how do we keep them engaged and focused on their learning with the overwhelming amount of social and emotional distractions in their lives?

Student-driven ideas: the key to keeping students engaged

Keeping students on task is a constant challenge, so when I observed some students playing an online game when they were supposed to be working on an assignment, my first reaction was to ask them to close the program. Then I began to wonder why they were so fixated on playing this particular game. I wasn’t dealing with the typical Fortnite addiction; this was an escape-room game. (If you are not familiar with an escape-room game, Wikipedia defines it as a “physical adventure game in which players solve a series of puzzles and riddles using clues, hints, and strategies to complete the objectives at hand.” I asked these students why they liked this game and they eagerly gave me their reasons, which revolved around conquering a personal challenge.

I realized that students didn’t seem thrilled about the work I asked them to do. Instead, they decided to switch to something different that caught their attention and motivated them to challenge themselves. My lesson had some important elements of coding included so I didn’t want to toss it out completely, but I wondered if I could use the “escape room” idea to spark a new level of interest in my plans. Should I let my student’s interest and/or distraction drive my curriculum?

Why this lesson worked

I created a new project in Google Classroom that included escape-room concepts asked students to work collaboratively to design and code their own game using HTML and JavaScript. Initially, students seemed enthused and shared ideas, but I sensed that there was still little effort by some to actually begin. The majority of students were working on the task, creating flowcharts and following the rubric, while others couldn’t seem to get past the idea stage.


Creating a mindful classroom with 6 helpful apps

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

Mindfulness, meaning mental presence and reflection, is a popular practice across the U.S., incorporating tools to help people think clearly and critically, calm their minds, and be more productive.

Many teachers also believe mindfulness can help students feel more relaxed and focused, not to mention make them less likely to engage in disruptive behavior than those who don’t meditate or undertake other mindfulness practices. Research shows that mindfulness practices can have a generally positive effect on students, though it’s not yet clear whether those outcomes are caused by specific practices or simply giving students the chance to take a breath during a busy school day.

In one study, students said they spent one-third of their study time feeling worried, stressed, or stuck. A variety of factors could cause those feelings, but the decision to make your classroom a more mindful one could help students learn valuable stress management skills. Here are six mindfulness apps that might help your students be more present, relaxed, and productive.

6 mindfulness apps to try in your classroom

Stop, Breathe & Think

One of the advantages of Stop, Breathe & Think is that it gives customized meditations based on how you’re feeling at that moment. First, users go through a brief survey about their current state, then receive meditations to match the results. Students can take part in the activity even if they only have about five minutes.

Depending on the age of your students, there is a kids’ version of the app intended for young people from 5-10 years old. Also, the app creators offer educators a free lifetime membership that provides access to hundreds of activities, plus both the kids and all-ages version of the app.


Hundreds of schools use the Headspace app to introduce kids to mindfulness practices. Users get the Basics course for free, allowing them to determine if meditation is something they want to continue. If it is, subscriptions provide access to mindfulness exercises of various lengths and topics. Moreover, the content gets delivered in an extremely accessible manner. So, if you’re not yet familiar with mindfulness, but want to learn along with the students, check out Headspace.