5 tips to avoid the summer slide

Research shows that reading at least 20 minutes a day, every day, all year long, can make a world of difference for students at all levels. We know that daily reading practice helps students avoid the dreaded summer slide that can rob them of gains they’ve made during the school year.

The challenge is how to get and keep students engaged in reading over the summer months, without regular contact with teachers, school librarians, and others who provide that reading message during the school year. The solution is a summer literacy initiative that motivates students with the support of both families and community partners.

A successful summer initiative should mirror the school culture and serve as a connector between the prior school year and the upcoming school year. Well-executed summer initiatives that become part of the fabric of a school community result in an expectation that “Of course our students will continue reading over the summer months. Why wouldn’t they?”

Creating a just-right summer initiative

Planning is key. Some schools and districts begin planning for the following summer as soon as their current summer initiatives have wrapped up. Others tackle it early in the calendar year. Still others may wait until Spring. Regardless of when planning begins, an important first step is to identify a summer literacy coordinator who can lead the planning and implementation processes.


5 Digital Learning Day activities you can’t miss

Digital learning is key to helping students build the skills they’ll need to succeed in college and the workforce. This year, Digital Learning Day is on February 27, and we’ve gathered some tools and resources to help you celebrate.

By digital learning, most educators agree with the definition on the Digital Learning Day site: “Digital learning is any instructional practice that effectively uses technology to strengthen a student’s learning experience.”

Related content: 12 awesome digital learning resources

Digital tools and resources will never replace teachers–in fact, teachers are key in the process that makes a tool or resource beneficial to students. When teachers know how to effectively use digital learning tools in the classroom, students are proven to demonstrate more engagement with learning materials and more achievement.


To improve cybersecurity, start at the endpoints

Getting better grades in cybersecurity must be a top priority for K-12 schools this year. Schools need to prioritize thwarting industrious hackers who are intent on getting to the treasure trove of information and personally identifiable information (PII) schools manage.

Just ask the staff of the Olympia School District in Washington, whose addresses, social security numbers, and salaries were exposed by a large-scale data breach.

Related content: Why cybersecurity training programs are critical

Yet despite the immense target schools present, it’s been difficult for educational institutions to make the cybersecurity grade. A 2018 SecurityScorecard report found that, out of 17 major industries, the education sector ranked last in terms of cybersecurity performance. It performed poorly in several areas, including patching cadence, application security, and endpoint security.

The latter has proven particularly difficult to manage, in large part due to the sheer number of devices being used cyberon school networks. A survey by educational software company Kajeet found an overwhelming majority of students and teachers use an array of devices—including Chromebooks and iPads—every day in the classroom. Some of these schools operate under a BYOD mandate, and some of the devices may not have top-notch security controls in place (or any security).


Using SEL to inspire data-driven instruction

Beaumont ISD is a district of more than 18,000 students, with 80 percent of our students qualifying for free and reduced lunch. Our diverse student population has a high mobility rate based on family financial and employment situations, so a number of our students move from school to school during the year. This presents a variety of challenges to the fidelity and cohesiveness of instruction.

Like all districts in Texas, our accountability ratings are based on how our students perform on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tests. We align our assessments with the rigor of that state test, but as I always tell my teachers in training, if you just have one piece of data, you only have one corner of a picture.

Related content: 5 benefits of SEL in classrooms

To get the complete picture, we must look at—and act on—multiple valid, reliable sources of data. Our solution is a combination of strong data-driven instruction and social-emotional learning (SEL) to build strong relationships between teachers and students.

Gathering, discussing, and acting on data

To gather the data to support this approach, we began using Renaissance Star Assessments districtwide in the 2015–2016 school year. We screen all K–8 grade students in reading, math, or early literacy at the beginning, middle, and end of the school year. We also progress-monitor Tier III students at checkpoints throughout the year to track growth.


Expediting curriculum mapping in an under-resourced district

In our small, rural district in Huntington County, Pennsylvania, we face a number of challenges including a high rate of poverty, a rather pronounced teacher shortage, and a limited budget. Given these challenges, education technology is a resource we can’t afford to go without.

For instance, just 18 months ago, we had no central place where our curriculum was housed, revised, or accessible to students or to the public. We had no effective way to track what we were teaching, whether our courses were aligned to state standards, and if teachers were adequately addressing those standards. Then we heard about Chalk, an edtech tool that helps districts map curriculum from grades K-12 and eliminates gaps in instruction.

Related content: Why I use student-driven ideas in my curriculum

Starting in January of 2018, we formed building-level teams that met to learn about this tool and start the curriculum writing process. Using a “train the trainer” approach, these teams received professional development via webinars. They then began sharing what they had learned with others in their individual buildings, involving a wider pool of teachers in the process, and providing support, as needed.


Broadband expands equitable access to education, workforce prep

Digital learning not only plays a crucial role in preparing today’s students for the jobs of tomorrow, it also has an important role in providing equity and access to education–especially in smaller and remote school districts. This makes access to adequate and reliable broadband even more important as the development of new technologies continues.

The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) is now preparing to accommodate next-generation technologies such as 5G, virtual reality, robotics, and esports.

Related content: 7 things supporting broadband best practices

During a recent edWebinar, Christine Fox, SETDA’s deputy executive director, provided an overview of the opportunities and challenges schools and districts now face. Marc Johnson, executive director of East Central Minnesota Educational Cable Cooperative (ECMECC), then provided perspective from a regional and local level on the expanding use of broadband.

Broadband’s big picture

Fox started with an overview of the diverse approaches to providing educational broadband access across the U.S., with 28 states currently using statewide K-12 broadband networks, 9 states using regional networks, and 16 states using alternative methods such as purchasing consortia. What all these types of organizations share is a commitment to developing a modern, agile workforce comprised of lifelong learners who can grow along with evolving technologies.


Transforming your library into a makerspace

In a recent edWebinar, hosted by edWeb.net, Michelle Luhtala, library department chair, and Donna Burns, technology integrator, both from New Canaan High School (NCHS) in Connecticut, showcased the transformation of the NCHS library from a collection of used reference and biography books into a living, breathing makerspace. Using mostly recyclable materials, equipment, and furniture, these educators are providing learning opportunities for students and teachers that have changed the school climate and culture. “Making learning more real for students allows them to learn better in a much more energized school,” said Luhtala.

A multi-year redesign

Through a five-year radical book-weeding process from 2011- 2016, the NCHS library had eliminated all of the library’s free-standing bookshelves. This process created both an opportunity and a challenge for Luhtala and Burns to convert this newly created space into a makerspace. With minimal funding in the early stages of the makerspace, the duo salvaged discarded lab tables and art stools and recycled material from all areas of the school.

Related content: 5 ways STEAM is used in storytelling

Although this space was optimal for student making, organization and storage issues became the prime concern in the second year of the makerspace. Luhtala and Burns rescued much-needed shelving from the elementary school and clamped the refurbished shelves together to create an 80-bin storage system that provided teachers and students easy access to the makerspace materials.

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eSchool News STEM, STEAM, & Makerspaces Guide

The eSchool News STEM, STEAM, & Makerspaces Guide is here! It features strategies to help you integrate STEM, STEAM, and makerspace education into classrooms, and it offers a look at how these tools engage students and give them valuable skills. A new eSchool News Guide will launch each month–don’t miss a single one!


8 tips to launch an esports program in your district

It may lack sweat equity, but it’s up there with even the most physically demanding of sports. Esports, the competitive side of video gaming, is exploding. And K-12 schools are buying in, because esports is not only fun, but also a viable educational tool!

A recent edWebinar, “Ready Player One: Esports in K-12,” highlights why esports has taken hold in schools. Research-based evidence affirms its highly positive impact on students’ academic achievement, soft skills, and social-emotional well-being.

Dr. Dennis Large, the director of educational technology for the Riverside County Office of Education, among the first county offices in California to facilitate an esports league, knows first-hand the power of gaming in schools.

Related content: 5 benefits this district got from esports

The county jumped on the esports train to heighten student engagement. Schools with gaming clubs boast substantial benefits, chief among them bringing disenfranchised students—often not participating in school athletics—into the community to be accepted and celebrated.

“Those esports members and players,” said Large, “carry just as much swagger, just as much social credibility as do any track stars or football or water polo stars,” he emphasized.

County esports clubs keep growing. Those that started with six or seven players are now at 150 members. Recently, the county sponsored its first league tournament, where 50 school teams competed. Students who once couldn’t wait for the school day to end now rush to after-school esports clubs, where they have friends, socialize, and build community while strengthening gaming skills. Truancy and tardiness have declined.


Science gets a boost from Challenge-Based Learning

A Challenge-Based Learning model pioneered by Apple is now helping teachers engage middle school students in deep learning through projects that combine developing questions, investigating scientific phenomena, and solving problems in their classrooms, schools, and communities.

In a recent edWebinar, Anthony Baker, project director for Digital Promise, which has further developed and researched the Challenge-Based Learning model, explains that this approach enables students to make meaningful connections to their science curriculum while also answering the age-old student question: “Why do I need to learn this?”

Related content: How we built an immersive learning environment

Recent projects implemented successfully at the Middletown Middle School in Ohio include the engineering/design challenge of creating throwing devices to help students with disabilities participate in the Special Olympics, and then working with those students to explain and test the devices.

Related Content:

eSchool News STEM, STEAM, & Makerspaces Guide

The eSchool News STEM, STEAM, & Makerspaces Guide is here! It features strategies to help you integrate STEM, STEAM, and makerspace education into classrooms, and it offers a look at how these tools engage students and give them valuable skills. A new eSchool News Guide will launch each month–don’t miss a single one!


Getting buy-in for productive struggle

As educators, we hear a lot about productive struggle, especially when it comes to math. But letting students struggle is difficult for parents and family members, and even for teachers who understand that it’s an important part of learning.

Recently, at Heritage Elementary School, we’ve had the opportunity to focus a bit more tightly on productive struggle.

Let them be frustrated!

In my 5th-grade classroom we use ST Math, a visual math program that asks students to use spatial-temporal reasoning to solve puzzles and move a penguin named JiJi from one side of the screen to the other. By design, there are no instructions, so sometimes my students get frustrated.

Related content: How a productive struggle motivates students in math

They see what’s happening on the screen, but that doesn’t mean they understand what they’re supposed to do. Nevertheless, we ask them to try to figure it out and then try again. We ask them to try nine times, in fact, before they ask us for help. Every time they fail a dot appears on the screen. Once they’ve accrued nine dots, we ask them, “What did you try? What happened when you tried that?” They can replay it on their screen as well, so we can actually go back and look at what happened and think through it with them.