How we turned around literacy instruction and student outreach

Demographics

Located in Bunnell, Fla., Flagler Schools serves nearly 13,000 students across the district’s 10 schools—five elementary schools, two middle schools, two high schools and one virtual school—and our 2,500 teachers, administrators and other staff comprise the largest workforce in Flagler County.

Biggest challenge

A few years ago, leaders from Flagler Schools realized that students from across our district were struggling. Literacy scores were below target for elementary and middle school students, and high school graduation rates were not meeting expectations. We took a whole-district approach and developed four key initiatives to better align K-8 assessment and instruction and improve high school graduation rates.

Related content: Turning around your district’s literacy scores

Solutions

Recognizing that literacy is tied to our students’ overall success across all educational subjects and grade levels, we took a two-step approach to remediation, aimed primarily at elementary and middle school students. In addition to our focus on literacy, we also narrowed our student outreach efforts at the high school level to focus on acceleration and graduation.

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6 cool programmable robots for K-12

Introducing a robot into the classroom is a surefire way to grab students’ attention–but robots do more than excite. When educators use programmable robots for K-12 learning, they’re helping students develop important skills such as critical thinking and teamwork.

Robots are accessible for students of all ages–even younger students who don’t yet have strong coding and programming skills. Research says students are more likely to maintain their interest in coding if they’re exposed to it at an early age. One engaging solution: robots for K-12 classes.

Related content: 3 ways to tell stories with robots

Maybe you know that robots are a fantastic way to teach students programming skills while making sure they’re engaged. Or maybe bringing coding to your classroom was one of your New Year’s resolutions.

Whatever your reason, you’re here and you’re checking out these programmable robots for K-12. This list can get you started as you explore different kits and decide which robot is the right fit for your students and classroom.

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Are teachers prepared to tackle tough topics?

A new survey finds that teachers aren’t necessarily prepared to teach complex topics such as LBGTQ issues, national politics, and race.

The survey from Education Week Research Center (EWRC) and instructional content platform Newsela is based on the results of a survey of 1,123 educators nationwide, including 452 teachers of grades 4-12, 483 principals, and 188 district leaders.

Related content: 5 strategies for becoming an effective, present teacher

The goal of the report is to better understand educator needs around 9 non-traditional topics: social-emotional learning (SEL), school safety, race/ethnicity, national politics, media literacy/fake news, LGBTQ issues, immigration, climate change, and reproductive rights.

The survey finds several justifications for discussing complex topics in schools, ranging from improving critical thinking skills to necessity from new state mandates.

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3 ways educational data improved outcomes in this district

In the Wilson County School District, using educational data to inform our decisions has reinvented the way students learn, and it has given educators a newfound confidence in their teaching practices.

In August, we were recognized by the state as an exemplary district, and we’ve achieved level five status, meaning our students are growing at a rate that’s two years beyond what’s expected.

We’ve achieved these results through the hard work of our faculty—and by using educational data to support how we instruct and evaluate our students. Other district leaders hoping to achieve similar results can follow three essential steps to creating a data-centric culture.

Related content: How we make data usable for our teachers

1. Get teachers on board

The first thing to consider when incorporating educational data into student evaluation seems simple, and it’s critical: how are you going to use it and who is going to be using it? One year ago, I presented to our district’s teachers that we want to grow our students, and data is going to support that mission.

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Fostering independence in students with visual impairments

Technological innovation provides students with visual impairments new tools to support independent living. The significant rise in the sophistication and popularity of smartphones and tablets creates opportunities to enhance learning and increase access.

It is important for educators working with students with visual impairments to explore how new developments in software and devices can support the acquisition of critical skills.

Related content: 3 digital developments for students with visual impairments

The Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) for students with visual impairments is designed to support the development of skills that a student might not be able to learn by visually observing others. Encompassing nine areas–assistive technology, career education, compensatory skills, independent living skills, orientation & mobility, recreation and leisure, self-determination, sensory efficiency, and social interaction skills–this curriculum is a critical part of the education of any student with a visual impairment.

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3 ways robots can help students tell stories

Though coding and robotics is new to almost all of the students coming into my workshops and classes, storytelling is something they’re familiar with. As the manager of educational programs for KID Museum in Maryland, I use narrative to help teach young students how to code and program robots. Introducing programming concepts using storylines and characters flips the mindset around robotics and technology from consuming to creating.

My programs are aligned with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and I’ve found that learning through storytelling improves student engagement, boosts retention and memorization, and makes learning fun. I use robots as a physical representation of a narrative, which adds a rich layer of understanding to otherwise challenging concepts for my young students.

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Storytelling with robots helps create accessible entry points for all types of learners, especially those who may not be initially drawn to robots or technology. Here are three different ways educators can make that powerful connection among kids, robots, and narrative.

1. Start with a book that grounds the concepts of the lesson.

Absorbing concepts using narrative and symbolism allows students to talk about what they’re learning and express their understanding using characters and plot. During my KinderCoders program, my K–1 students bring stories to life using introductory programming tools like KIBO or ScratchJr.

I began a recent Kinder Coders class by reading them Night Animals by Gianna Moreno. This silly story about nocturnal animals was my introduction to how the light sensor on the KIBO robot can sense light and dark using programmed “if/then” statements. We decorated our robots as nocturnal animals and programmed them to behave differently, depending on whether the light sensor detected light or dark. One of my students decorated his robot to be a bat, and he programmed the light sensor to let his bat “sleep” when it was light out. To represent flying in the nighttime, he programmed his bat to move around when the light sensor detected darkness.

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Screening kindergarten readiness

Starting kindergarten can be a challenging time for children as many are leaving home and learning to interact with others for the first time. As such, it is important for kindergartners to receive proper support from their teachers.

Now, University of Missouri College of Education researchers have found that a readiness test can predict kindergarteners’ success in school after 18 months.

Melissa Stormont, a professor of special education, says identifying students early in the academic year who may need additional support can allow teachers and parents more time to build essential academic and social-behavioral skills.

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“Kindergarteners come to school from varying backgrounds and have different abilities,” Stormont said. “This is a critical time to assess student academic and social readiness, so that teachers can provide support as early as possible before issues worsen and become harder to change. This screening tool is a simple first step that can help children in the long run.”

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20 top edtech tools for the classroom

At Common Sense Education, the edtech reviewers have seen it all. To help teachers navigate the plethora of materials for the digital classroom, Tanner Higgin, director of Education Editorial Strategy at Common Sense Education, presented “50 Top Edtech Tools for the Classroom.”

Following are some of Higgin’s favorite classroom edtech tools.

Free favorites

Adobe Spark: This flexible design tool lets teachers and students design everything from a web page to a social media post. It includes templates and color palates to make sure that student projects are looking good. Higgin said creative educators have found a million different use cases across all subjects and grade levels.
Google CS First: A computer science curriculum with themed coding projects, this program makes coding less intimidating and more accessible to people from all different backgrounds. In addition, the themes and activities motivate students from different backgrounds and knowledge levels.

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Extraordinary ELA

ThinkCERCA: Focused on argumentative writing, this research-based tool teaches critical thinking and has well-structured lessons that encourage thoughtful writing.
InsertLearning: With this program, teachers can take any website and add instructional content. By adding layers to a web page, they can make online research more engaging and encourage students to interact with content beyond just reading the text.

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5 real examples of coding and robotics in the classroom

Coding and robotics go hand-in-hand, and they’re becoming a more integral part of classrooms across the country.

Aside from the excitement students muster when they see a robotics kit morph into a controllable arm or a tiny programmable vehicle, coding and robotics offer a little bit more than a fun classroom experience.

When students participate in coding and robotics activities, they’re learning employability skills such as teamwork and collaboration, problem solving, the ability to fail and persevere, and more.

Different schools teach coding and robotics in different ways, depending on the availability of funding, knowledgeable teachers or classroom volunteers, and time.

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Here’s a look at how five schools and districts are teaching coding and robotics. Use these examples as inspiration to integrate coding and robotics into your own classroom, or share them with colleagues to demonstrate how easy it is to start incorporating robotics in the classroom.

1. At The Village School in Houston, TX, instructional technology specialist Ruth O’Brien and middle school teacher Marc Abrate help students develop skills that help not only in coding, but in areas such as problem solving, critical thinking, and collaboration.

Coding has been a required part of the middle school and elementary school curriculum since 2014. Teachers attend coding workshops and receive training at school. Students in fourth grade are trained to use devices to code, and they also have to train their peers and students in other grades.

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What does it really mean to be competency-based?

The education field is regularly plagued by the need for common definitions as new practices emerge. As we’ve seen with personalized learning, ambiguous terms for ambitious ideas can create widespread confusion and even skepticism. By contrast, a common definition can pinpoint a “north star” that helps practitioners and policymakers focus efforts to implement a new approach. In the case of competency-based education, researchers and educators have worked for years to define the term and document its component parts in detail.

However, even when a general term has a common definition with relatively wide acceptance, it remains persistently difficult to use that term to describe what implementation actually looks like because not all components of a broad definition are always in practice at once. Last year, as we began working towards better collective knowledge on school innovation through the Canopy project, this challenge came into focus as we heard that people’s expectations for a visit to a so-called “competency-based” school often turned out differently from what they witnessed in person. These interviews gave us a hunch that simply labeling schools “competency-based” didn’t go far enough to indicate what’s actually happening in the school.

Related content: 5 things to help us move closer to competency-based education

The Canopy dataset (downloadable from the project website along with a report of our primary findings), compiled from a diverse group of 235 schools across the country, offered a way to test that hunch. To build Canopy data, nominators and schools used “tags,” or keywords and phrases representing elements of school design, to describe each school’s model. The tagging system includes the more general term competency education, as well as an expanded set of “specific practice” tags that describe more granular parts of a competency-based system.

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