Data vs. COVID-19: How one district runs the numbers

Through mapping software, this district tech leader is finding the most appropriate blended learning solutions for this fall

When Mark Finstrom, Chief Technology Officer for Highline Public Schools (WA), first integrated data analytic mapping software into his district’s digital toolbox a few years ago, it was to better visualize his district’s data to consider things like potential new school construction or bus routes for approximately 20,000 students. Little did he know he would end up using it for disaster logistics.

In this conversation with eSchool News, Mark demos the GuideK12 Analytics Suite (watch the video below) and suggests ways districts can make better decisions faster.

Related content: Now the hard work starts for schools

eSchool News: Give us an example how you would use mapping software pre-pandemic.

MF: We have a group called the Capital Facilities Advisory Committee, which is made up of community residents and we have been meeting for two years, before the pandemic, to talk about boundaries, to select data, to get information. And we would use this to draw these maps. I can go in and actually redraw a map in real time saying, “Well, I want the boundary to be here instead of here. And I’m going to put a middle school right here.” And then the software will tell me how many students are in there, what schools they go to currently, what programs are in their grade levels. And then I can see how many I can actually transfer out of that area and go to another school.


How to effectively support struggling readers during distance learning

Education specialists dive into how educators and parents can support struggling readers, ELL students, and students with dyslexia in an at-home learning environment

Parents who might be uncomfortable with continuing their role of teacher this fall can find solace in this fact: authentic teachable moments happen outside the classroom all the time. If your student or child had to rapidly transition to an at-home learning environment as a struggling reader, an English language learner, or one with dyslexia, there are many ways that the support they were receiving in school can transfer to their home.

Creating authentic learning experiences such as having your child help prepare meals, shop, and participate in outings to parks or museums can improve literacy. Simply engaging in conversation in the language spoken at home around shared experiences, explaining your thinking, and asking open-ended questions so your child can share their thoughts, facilitates a deeper level of communication. This builds metacognition, which is key for comprehension and reading success.

Related content: How we reinvented our district’s reading program

As an implementation coach and educational specialist for a reading program, we would like to share two simple tips no matter what area of reading your student struggles with: finding effective resources and strategies, and building background knowledge. Students who struggle with reading need repetition, practice, and familiarity to keep momentum going. Providing your student with authentic experiences and background knowledge on the topics they are reading gives them a head start on reading comprehension. There are many ways parents and educators can further support their readers, whatever their need. We broke down specific strategies you can use to make learning at home as effective as possible.

For your struggling readers

Set specific goals: A helpful way to begin is to identify some simple goals for reading. For example, have your student use their finger to ensure they stop and look at every word rather than guess or skip words. Another goal may be to pause whenever they see a period, since many struggling readers miss punctuation. Discussing the content with your student is vital for building reading comprehension and retention. For younger children, that may involve them retelling the story. Older students may identify the key points in the text.


July 2020 Guide: Esports

We are excited to bring you the very first in a series of eSchool News Guides, which are full of resources, tips, trends, and insight from industry experts on a variety of topics that are essential to the classroom, school, and district.

The eSchool News Esports Guide offers expert insight on why esports are quickly becoming part of classroom instruction.


Planning the safe reopening of our schools

Reopening schools will require creativity and attention to safe health practices--here's how some schools are getting started

The extent of the challenges and unknowns involved in safely reopening our schools may seem daunting, but educational organizations and schools now involved in the process are developing helpful frameworks and innovative solutions that show what can be accomplished and how.

Representatives of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), accompanied by a team working on the plan for a Brooklyn, NY charter school, explained during a recent edWebinar how they are proceeding and what has already resulted. High-stakes decisions and a lot of work still remain, but the progress made so far can help other educators and stakeholders proceed while also helping everyone continue to learn from each other.

Related content: The blended learning model that can help schools reopen

The last point is one of the key takeaways from the edWebinar. Teachers, parents, and other members of the community not only need and deserve to be heard during the planning process, they can actually contribute crucial insights and expertise that will facilitate and accelerate the safe reopening of schools.

Combining public health with high-quality instruction

As explained by Marla Ucelli-Kashyap, Senior Director for Education Issues at the AFT, the reopening framework developed by the AFT is considered a road map rather than a blueprint, because they don’t have all the answers yet, and many of the decisions should be based on local facilities and circumstances. A top-down, one-size-fits-all template simply cannot be effective due to the diversity of America’s communities, schools, and students.


When the digital divide is made worse by a pandemic

As it turns out, the digital divide proves tougher for students with fewer electronic devices at home--and the COVID-19 crisis makes the divide even wider

The digital divide is proving one of the most pervasive and stubborn challenges in U.S. education, and its effects can follow students from kindergarten through college. As if that’s not bad enough, the COVID-19 crisis, which forced students across the globe to learn at home while schools closed physical operations, made inequities even more apparent.

Students in schools all over the U.S. struggled to find existing or reliable internet connections, many didn’t have access to appropriate devices to complete online assignments, others waited for weeks until schools managed to organize device-lending programs, while still others had to share devices with siblings and, sometimes, parents who also had to work from home.

Related content: Family tech nights can narrow the digital divide

But these inequities existed long before a global health pandemic shed light on the connectivity and access struggle occurring in the nation’s schools and homes.

A study confirms that, despite efforts to close the space, the gap between students who have access to devices and the internet and those who lack it compounds equity problems within U.S. schools.


Move from digital citizenship to digital leadership

An award-winning media specialist empowers students to take control of their own learning and online behavior

My motto and philosophy for my school library is “expect the miraculous.” Inspired by my favorite author, Kate DiCamillo, I encourage students and educators to keep their eyes open to the world around them to find the miraculous things that happen all the time. But this can be especially hard for educators faced with embracing new technology every year.

Instead of focusing on the negative connotations around technology, I want to shine a light on how it can empower students and schools to be digital leaders. By expecting the miraculous, I believe we can begin to appreciate the little miracles that happen when we teach our students not just digital-citizenship but digital-leadership skills.

Related content: 5 ways to develop a school leadership program

Taking digital citizenship one step further

As a media specialist, I begin the year with the idea that students hold the key to unlocking technology’s potential. I use past examples of student work where extraordinary things have happened and projects have reached beyond the walls of the school to inspire others. It’s stories like those that help students see the impact they can have.


Are students’ information literacy skills up to par?

An international study gauges students' computer and information literacy skills, along with computational thinking

U.S. eighth-graders scored above the international average for computer and information literacy, but they also struggle with some key 21st-century employability skills, according to an international study.

The International Computer and Information Literacy Study (ICILS) measures eighth-graders’ ability to use computers to investigate, create, participate, and communicate at home, at school, in their future workplace, and in their communities. The 2018 study’s results were released in the United States by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), marking the first time that U.S. ICILS data are available.

Related content: 5 strategies to help students build digital literacy

“The study shows that the idea of the ‘digital native’ is more myth than reality,” says Peggy G. Carr, associate commissioner for assessment at NCES. “Today’s eighth-graders were raised in a world in which computers and smartphones are commonplace, but the majority of them were unable to execute basic tasks independently. Clearly, we have work to do to ensure that our students are prepared to use digital devices to successfully navigate all aspects of life.”

While 90 percent of U.S. students demonstrated a functional working knowledge of computers as tools and were able to complete simple tasks, such as opening a link in a new browser tab, an alarmingly smaller group–25 percent of U.S. eighth-graders–was able to independently use computers as tools (such as for gathering information or managing work) and successfully distinguish the reliability of web-based information. The assessment found that girls in the U.S. and internationally scored higher than boys in computer information literacy.


Google —Teach from Home

School closures affect teachers, students, and parents everywhere. In these extraordinary times, technology can help make distance learning easier and more accessible.

Teach from Home is a Google-led initiative that gives you everything you need to get started. Their free, secure tools are designed to enable collaborative teaching and learning – anywhere, at any time, on any device. So education can continue, no matter what.

Teaching from home is clearly going to require a different approach to teaching at school. Google has created a temporary hub of information and tools to help teachers during the coronavirus crisis.

For more information or to sign up go to Google Teach from Home



Teachers need emotional support, too

It’s not just students who are feeling stressed out during the pandemic--K-12 leaders should consider how to meet the social and emotional needs of their staff as well

At Hicks Canyon Elementary School in Orange County, Calif., students have been learning with digital devices since the Tustin Unified School District went 1:1 six years ago — so the shift to remote learning amid the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t as jarring as it could have been.

Yet, it was still a profound change.

“Teachers didn’t sign up for online learning,” says Assistant Principal Kristy Andre. “They signed up for in-person teaching.”

Transitioning to all-online instruction has been physically exhausting for teachers. But it has taken a huge social and emotional toll as well.

Related content: 5 strategies for independent learning

“The shift happened very abruptly. We went into spring break and then never returned to school,” Andre says. Not only were teachers forced to give up their spring break to create online assignments, but they didn’t have a chance to talk through the shift to online learning and its implications with students beforehand.

Even though Hicks Canyon was a 1:1 school, teachers were at very different levels of proficiency in teaching with technology. “We had some teachers who didn’t know how to screencast or record a video of themselves,” Andre explains. “We were supporting them at the very basic level, showing them how to record video of themselves saying hi to their students or reading a story. And then we had teachers who were creating lessons on SeeSaw and Google Classroom that were rigorous and fun for students to complete. It spanned the entire gamut.”


5 ways to help students develop digital literacy

Student engagement and critical thinking will be key in developing digital literacy skills to take students from school to the workforce

It’s commonplace to be impressed when we hear of excellent test scores and educational backgrounds from top institutes, no matter the type of degree or accolades. However, preparing our kids with test-taking strategies and admission into the best universities is not enough–and will be an extinct ideology with the changing demands of society and global economy.

We need to begin preparing the next generation of learners with appropriate tools and digital literacy to thrive in the Digital Age–and this can be done even if schools are physically closed during a pandemic. So, what should we do to ensure our kids are not operating at a disadvantage?

Related content: 8 qualities of a digital literacy curriculum

1. Stress the importance of coding and basic technology application skills. In today’s world, the “mother tongue”—or, better said, the “lingua franca”–is found in coding and basic tech skills needed to communicate with the devices in the Internet of Things. Any child not equipped to speak this new language of coding will be lost, as if they were in a foreign culture with no cultural language skills.