Districts across the U.S. know the familiar pressure of state assessments. This pressure only intensifies when punitive measures result from assessment scores. I’ve found that digital tools are incredibly helpful in ensuring that we’re meeting state standards while also serving our main stakeholders: students. Educators at Oxford Community Schools use Illuminate Education to manage and track student data and assessments, gain a view into student progress, and, most importantly, support the whole child. We’ve paired a data-driven approach with a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) to ensure every student is receiving what they need to be successful inside and outside of the classroom. Without the help of digital learning technology, this simply wouldn’t be possible.
By Ken Weaver, Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction, Oxford Community Schools

Being able to help staff and students learn the latest skills and pedagogies related to technology in education is a passion of mine. In my professional role, I’m deeply aware of the benefits that digital learning brings to the classroom. Nipissing-Parry Sound Catholic District School Board uses Edsby, a comprehensive K-12 learning and data system, to keep our thousands of teachers, students and parents in-the-loop about progress and updates. And I’ve seen the benefit on the parent side as well – my own son just started school, and I can’t tell you how great it is to get a notification about what he’s been working on in class. Edtech is a game changer, especially when it’s such a comprehensive single platform, and so user-friendly.
By Peter Anello, Technology-Enabled Learning and Teaching (TELT) Contact, Nipissing-Parry Sound Catholic District School Board

When the district I work in announced our transition to a phonics-based literacy approach using a new reading program two years ago, I was a little skeptical. Gradually moving toward a blended learning environment for teaching reading meant we had to trust a program to deliver effective lessons that meshed well with teacher support. We all went into training with some concerns. Some of my students with reading disabilities came to my class reading 35 words a minute. Without adequate progress, they’re liable to feel defeated and believe that their inability to read is just part of their school experience. During the first year using the new program, Reading Horizons Discovery, the students and I were actively learning it together. In that time, I grew confident with the program and saw student progress I’d never seen before. To see them smile and get to 90 words a minute made my year. We usually start with a whole-group lesson. I like to get my students standing up and working around the room before they log in to their computers for a lesson. During this time, I use my assessment data to pull students aside for individual lessons based on who didn’t pass the last lesson or who needs more support. The computer component allows me to identify what my students understand and what they don’t so that I can provide help where they need it. While the computer components of my class are beneficial for both myself and my students, walking through activities face-to-face with students is still crucial.
By Melissa Cassada, Special Education Teacher at Lewison Elementary School, Evans, GA

Digital learning through edtech has helped our district improve student outcomes by giving teachers a way to both monitor and chart student growth and make data-driven instructional decisions throughout the year. One program that helps us with this is i-Ready Diagnostic, which students take three times a year. Based on students’ results on the diagnostic, teachers are able to personalize their instruction to best address the specific areas in need of improvement. This personalized instruction, in part, is delivered via lessons from i-Ready. Students do online lessons and participate in digital learning during intervention blocks as well as during small group instruction. This engages them in the learning process while strengthening their skills and preparing them for end-of-year state assessments. At a school level, the use of digital learning has contributed to having 17 of our district’s 20 public schools either meet or exceed growth goals during last school year. One of our elementary schools even moved from a ‘D’ to ‘B’ rating – a tremendous gain!
By Dr. Jeff James, Superintendent of Stanly County Schools in Albemarle, NC

Digital learning programs can really elevate STEM learning in the classroom. WhiteBox Learning by Flinn Scientific, for example, allows my students to learn about the engineering design process in a fun and engaging way while reinforcing standards-based science concepts. In the KidWind module, students develop a simulated wind turbine in the program before making actual turbine blades for a working model. Students test the energy output for their various turbine blades using a Vernier sensor as they learn about renewable energy, an important 7th grade standard. In another WhiteBox Learning virtual modeling module, students design a CO2 dragster that must address certain guidelines. Once they meet those specifications, they can participate in simulated races with other students throughout the district. They also print out blueprints created within the program as a basis to build their own real-life CO2 dragster that they race head-to-head with other students in our school. From online conceptualization to creation to competition, this real-world STEM application teaches students about the iteration process and key engineering practices.
By Theresa Luciano, M.Ed., Engineering and STEM Instructor and Technology Student Association (TSA) Adviser at Oglethorpe Charter School in Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools in Savannah, GA

The use of edtech helps elevate professional learning in our district. All of our elementary literacy specialists, who are responsible for providing professional development to approximately 200 elementary school teachers, participate in video coaching using the Edthena online platform. During the process, literacy specialists videotape themselves while providing in-person coaching and then receive timely and targeted feedback through the platform to hone their coaching skills. This feedback helps our literacy specialists improve their own instructional practices so they, in turn, can better support our teachers. Looking ahead, our district also plans to use the Edthena platform to create a district-wide library of model videos with a group of teacher-leaders. This will enable educators across the district to see instructional best practices in action.
By Amber Westmoreland, Professional Development Manager of Lyon County School District in Yerington, NV

We implemented a 1:1 initiative last year to help improve digital equity among our students and to help facilitate online testing and dual credit classes. One tool that has really helped us with this rollout — which includes take-home Chromebooks for all high school students — has been the adoption of classroom management and mobile device management software. It’s been a game-changer in helping our teachers and students get the most out of this initiative. Our teachers use Impero Education Pro for classroom management. This is software to monitor what students are doing on their devices in the classroom. Teachers can view thumbnail images of students’ screens, so they can tell, for example, if a student is playing online games rather than doing their English assignment. This has really helped keep students on track. We can also filter and block content that we don’t want students to access. We also watch out for issues like cyberbullying including social media behavior amongst students. Impero’s EdLink tool for mobile device management allows us to continue to manage the Chromebooks once the students take them home. It’s a very versatile tool for us and parents alike. Parents do not have to hover over their children knowing that we have filtering on the devices at home as well. Implementing 1:1 has been huge for us in terms of academics and improving tech equity for students who didn’t have access to devices at home. It’s also opened up new instructional options such as online textbooks and dual credit classes. It’s important, though, to have the right tools in place to make sure the 1:1 program is successful. Having good classroom management software is a must.
By Dennis Gonzales, Technology Director for the Ulysses Unified School District 214 in Ulysses, KS

The use of technology has helped us bring our community’s love for aviation, and our region’s major employers, into the classroom. There is a clear interest in aviation in Ashland because we have a local airport and Air National Guard base in the neighboring town. It was important for me to incorporate this enthusiasm into my classroom. In my physics class, I use airplanes to help teach different equations and concepts. For example, with the POWERUP 3.0 smartphone controlled paper airplane, students create their own aeronautic designs and connect their planes to the POWERUP motor and app to fly their planes and propel their vehicles using their phone. It is an opportunity for students to be creative and innovative all while learning the basics of physics. I also teach an RC Aeronautics STEAM class. Students have the opportunity to design their own RC airplanes and learn how to program and understand various flight characteristics. Students collaborate and work together on plane designs that are strategic, creative, and unimaginable. It’s great to have these resources in a classroom full of students that are interested in careers related to aviation.
By Dwight Souder, Science Teacher at Crestview High School in Crestview Local School District in Ashland, OH

13 educators share their digital learning strategies

As a social worker for Catholic Charities, I work almost daily in schools to provide classroom, small-group and one-on-one instruction to students. One of my big focuses is helping them strengthen their social and emotional skills and training the teachers on social-emotional learning (SEL) instruction. One of the best tools I’ve found to support me in this work is an online tool from Aperture Education called the DESSA Comprehensive SEL System, which is used to easily screen and assess students, as well as strengthen their social-emotional competence. Assessment results show me each student’s SEL strengths and the areas in which they might be struggling. If a student is showing as struggling, we can administer the full DESSA to pinpoint areas in need of strengthening. The DESSA System includes Growth Strategies for each of the eight SEL competencies that I can download and use with the students. This assessment data is invaluable because it allows me to identify which specific strategies to use to meet each student’s individual needs. I can also train teachers how to use these strategies. This is great because if, for example, a large number of students are struggling with a particular skill such as self-management, or self-awareness, the teacher can incorporate those specific Growth Strategies into their classroom lessons. One of the PreK-8th grade schools I’m working with in Western New York just began using the DESSA System this school year and we are already seeing an impact. I’ve seen a vast improvement in the social-emotional skills of the students I work with directly and teachers say students are getting along better and there are fewer conflicts on the playground as a result of the social-emotional work they’ve been doing.
By Katherine Jodush, Social Worker at Catholic Charities of Buffalo in Buffalo, NY

In order to keep our district current and aligned with state standards, and to support our teachers with our tech rollout, our district recently adopted a technology initiative called iCouncil. iCouncil ensures that our teachers can easily integrate technology in their instruction which is focused on current education research, high-yield strategies, and how to effectively meet the needs of every student, every day. The initiative established a well-articulated instructional vision that would streamline district initiatives and focus on effective instruction for all. As part of this initiative, our technology and curriculum departments worked together to embed technology into every lesson. This included using Epson BrightLink interactive displays in the classrooms to promote student engagement and collaboration. Our district also uses document cameras, FrontRow Speakers, desktop computers, Chromebooks, and tablets. Teachers are now much more confident in using technology every day to support student learning.
By Mark Hess, Executive Manager of Instruction, Technology and Data Analysis at Walled Lake Consolidated Schools in Walled Lake, MI

Character development is a big focus for my first grade class, and digital learning technology has helped me bring some great new lessons to my students. I signed up this year for The Character Tree, an online video-based character development curriculum from Apperson Inc. The videos feature adorable puppets asking and answering questions, as well as discussions with the teacher, “Miss Sara,” about prominent figures such as Rosa Parks and Jane Goodall. There are printable supplemental files to expand on the topics addressed in the videos. My students love The Character Tree! We watch the videos twice every day, once to get to know the character of the day and the trait, and again to pick up more of the “funny” stuff and cement the facts. The students like to talk about the new things they saw or learned when they watched the video again.
By Ramara Merry, First Grade Teacher at Soos Creek Elementary School in the Kent School District in Kent, WA

As a first- and second-grade teacher in West Oakland, one of my biggest challenges is engaging parents. Because of extenuating circumstances with their home life, they’re not able to show up to school much. About half my parents speak Spanish, and due to language and communication tool barriers, there just wasn’t two-way communication. Two years ago, I started using FASTalk to communicate with parents as well as send literacy tips that they could do at home. It’s connected to our attendance system, so it came loaded with all the parents’ cell phone numbers. I use the online interface to send messages via text to all my parents and families. Messages are automatically translated into the language the parent speaks. The parents I’ve talked to like getting messages about how they can help at home because it’s always a struggle. Either they don’t have time, or they’re not sure exactly what their kids are learning in school. The literacy activities we assign only take a few minutes, and parents feel like they’re an accessible way to communicate with their kids and continue their education at home.
By Jacqueline Duong, First- and Second-Grade Teacher at Hoover Elementary in West Oakland, CA 

Our district has put student data at the forefront of many decisions we make, especially when considering our choices for curriculum or the need for. Last year, we implemented Schoolzilla by Renaissance, which allows educators to disaggregate student data and review multiple pieces of data side-by-side. The software breaks down our strengths and weaknesses in relation to our goals and gives us strategic direction on how to go about helping our students improve in specific areas. Using Schoolzilla and Star Assessments, an assessment suite that provides universal screening, we can strategize how to ensure students remain on a progressive track that leads to credit attainment as they go to ninth grade, which is ultimately a strong indicator of whether a student will graduate high school on time or not. These two tools allow us to understand how non-academic factors are impacting achievement and growth. More importantly, we can also see our student achievement through an equity lens.
By Leigh Anne Scherer, Assessment and Accountability Coordinator for North Clackamas School District, OR

In Leyden High School District 212, we’ve never mandated that our students graduate with a certain number of community service hours. We do know that community service hours are a strong indicator of a well-rounded student. We’ve made it a category that’s factored into which students earn our Excellence Award—along with good attendance, low disciplinary numbers, a benchmark GPA, and other factors. These are all strong indicators that a student will graduate high school college- and career-ready. We also believe in the impact global service can have on students and on the world. Now, if students complete certain levels of community service, they’re eligible to go on a global service trip that’s substantially funded by our local School Board. When we started that program years ago, we managed hours on a Google Sheet with an employee at each school managing it, which proved to be labor intensive. Now, we use Transeo, a digital tool that helps us track and report students’ community service achievements. This method gives students and coaches more ownership over their community service opportunities, which is fantastic since the state of Illinois is designating community service as a qualifier for being college- and career-ready.
By Nick Polyak, Superintendent, Leyden High School District 212, IL

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura http://twitter.com/eSN_Laura


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