7 easy apps to get students coding

Introducing regular coding activities to students isn't as challenging as you might think--here are some apps to get started

Inspired by the Hour of Code, many educators have pledged to go well beyond 60 minutes and teach their students coding and programming skills on a regular basis.

The beauty of learning to code is that its benefits stay with students even if students do not pursue programming degrees or careers. Computational thinking, problem solving, and perseverance serve students well no matter what their future holds.

Getting started can seem daunting, for sure–even though there are thousands of learn-to-code resources out there for educators, vetting those resources and wading through endless tools and websites is a bit exhausting. But it is absolutely possible to find easy resources (even if you’re coding at home).

In addition to the resources from Code.org and Computer Science Education Week, apps are a great place to start.

Here are some of Apple’s recommended coding apps for all ages. Most of these target younger learners, but some are more advanced and can challenge older students.

(Note: App descriptions are taken directly from the App Store; some apps require in-app purchases or monthly fees.)

1. codeSpark Academy: Kids Coding
codeSpark Academy uses a patent pending “no words” interface to teach the basics of computer programming and essential coding skills through a variety of interactive learning activities including puzzles, games, step-by-step creative projects, game design and offline printables–all of which can be monitored by parents.


8 steps to digital equity after the pandemic

Superintendents share their experiences with digital equity and offer insight into what their own districts will focus on next

With the COVID-19 pandemic has come a reckoning on how cavernous the digital equity gap is in the United States.

During an edWebinar sponsored by ClassLink and co-hosted by CoSN and AASA, three superintendents discussed their observations about digital equity and what their districts need to do next.

Dr. A. Katrise Perera, superintendent of Oregon’s Gresham-Barlow School District, Glenn Robbins, superintendent of Brigantine Public Schools in New Jersey, and Dr. Aaron Spence, superintendent of Virginia Beach City Public Schools, shared their insight:

1. All conversations start with “why”: Get all constituents involved from the beginning—including students and teachers—as to how the schools might adopt digital learning. Get them all to agree to the why before moving on to the what.

2. Familiarity does not equal experience or understanding: Just because staff have some knowledge about technology does not mean they understand how to scale it for effective digital learning. Embedded professional development is needed at all levels to take advantage of the benefits of tech for all students.


5 ways to be an innovative online instructor

Online learning isn't easy for every student or teacher--here's how you can work to become an innovative online instructor who engages students

In a landscape where online instruction has become more commonplace due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some educators face challenges associated with operating as an online instructor in a virtual environment.

Even to those remote instruction veterans, there is certainly an element of frustration that can exist when it comes to finding unique ways to engage students as an online instructor.

The following 5 tips can help you to be an innovative online instructor who engages students:

1. Assess the level of student engagement

This can be done individually or collectively by observing the types of interactions you are having with your students. Consider if your current students tend to want to have discussions or are your discussions like pulling teeth? Are you struggling to get the students to interact with each other or with you?

Classes tend to have a mix of students who have clear preferences for interacting in different ways. Some students consistently turn their cameras on, while others prefer not to ever show their faces. There are students who participate, but you will never hear their voices. These are the students who interact by using the chat feature in the live classroom. Then there are students who prefer to communicate with you, but do not like to interact with their peers.


Top tips for great cross-curricular coding

Coding offers myriad benefits for students, including increased critical thinking and problem-solving skills

How and where our students learn has radically changed over the last 10 months. Students are in a multitude of educational environments that have challenged the entire school community. As educators, we cannot predict what the future holds, but we understand the importance of developing core skills such as collaboration, effective communication, and problem solving in our students today.

In a recent edWebinar sponsored by Unruly Splats, Lauren Watkins, Marketing Director, and Christine Danhoff, Technology Integration Specialist at Genoa Area Local Schools in Ohio, advocate integrating coding and computer science into core subjects such as math, music, art, world language, English, and physical education.

When working in tandem with core curriculum standards, computational strategies inherent in coding build meaningful, essential critical-thinking and problem-solving skills in students.

A common misconception about coding is that teachers need a degree or certificate in computer science to incorporate coding into their curriculum. The presenters debunk this myth by conveying that teachers who have an open mindset and learn along with students can generate excitement, energy, and motivation for the entire class.


3 tips to cultivate meaningful parent engagement

Parent engagement and two-way communication are critical for a successful school experience in the middle of COVID-19

With the onset of COVID-19, parents have stepped-up and continued to play an active role in their children’s daily education activities. Teachers, schools, and districts have put their best foot forward to ensure students are learning but still struggle with meaningful parent engagement, which has proven critical to a child’s ongoing success in the classroom.

The best school communities know the importance of giving parents a voice and a seat at the table. Here are three simple ways you can get parents more involved and start cultivating meaningful parent engagement.

1. Shift towards two-way communication

Robo-calls, flyers, and social media announcements have been the go-to for parent communication and parent engagement this year. Districts and schools need to reach many parents quickly and have opted for one-way communication streams. This type of communication has its place and is truly a necessary part of a school’s communication strategy, but this will not help build a sense of school community or connectedness.

A better approach is to shift to two-way communication, which allows parents to engage with the school and have a voice in their child’s education.

Research shows that in a district or school where parents are truly engaged, you are more like to see parents:
● volunteering at their child’s school and school events
● encouraging their child in their academics
● setting educational goals for their child
● asking questions and expressing concerns
● communicating effectively with their child’s teachers
● attending parent/teacher conferences as well as district events
● using their voice to be a partner in their child’s education


3 reasons data on student moods can help with mental health interventions

The pandemic has certainly put more pressure on teachers and students—and often, a student’s moods may give clues to important mental health needs

There are many pressures that come with being a student, from doing well in school to being accepted by peers. This can be a lot to deal with while growing up in such a fast-paced world–and it can cause mental health deficits that leave lasting effects.

Prior to COVID-19, about 15-20 percent of students already needed mental health support, and following all the uncertainty and change the pandemic has brought into the learning space, that number is only set to increase. Teachers and other school staff often step in to help a student when they realize something is wrong, but, with so many students, shifting responsibilities, and potentially virtual classrooms during the pandemic, staff can easily overlook a student who needs help.

However, when staff members are equipped with the right tools, they can track their observations alongside other data to help monitor students’ moods to catch mental health issues early.

Tapping into everyday data to reveal student mental health trends

Teachers already record plenty of student data, such as attendance and grades, but each piece of information is typically kept in separate databases or logged physically and not stored in a database at all. This limits the data’s ability to be aggregated to reveal trends over time, in turn limiting its ability to inform staff of students’ mental health. However, if this information is recorded on a communication portal, it can all be stored on one platform and be aggregated to reveal any irregularities.


VHS Learning Once Again Earns High Satisfaction Rates from Schools Around the Globe

Newest survey shows expansion and strong school retention as well as high educator and student satisfaction with VHS Learning experience

Students from schools in 66 countries (up from 44) and 46 U.S. states (up from 45) have enrolled in VHS Learning courses in the past academic year. While its geographical scope increased, VHS Learning’s retention rate has remained steady; 92% of schools that partnered with VHS Learning in the 2018-19 school year continued to do so in the 2019-20 school year. In fact, VHS Learning’s school retention rate has been over 90% for the last ten years, indicating strong satisfaction in the program.

“Our high retention rate and increased participation is a testament to how dedicated VHS Learning is to providing excellent service and support to the educators and students who utilize our program,” said Carol DeFuria, President & CEO of VHS Learning. “According to our latest participant surveys, the vast majority of administrators (98%), site coordinators (91%) and teachers (85%) reported satisfaction with their VHS Learning experience.”

Christopher Savio, a teacher at Glen Ridge High School in New Jersey said, “I think the thing I love the most is meeting students from around the world. I have also been able to meet students, from China in particular, and learn much more about their culture and their ways of life.”

“VHS Learning is a great program,” said Karen McGrath, a site coordinator at Sandwich High School in Massachusetts. “It helps us offer courses our students want to take that we cannot provide at our school at this time.”

VHS Learning has gained a reputation for its high standard of educational quality, including rigorous professional development for teachers. All VHS Learning teachers must complete VHS Learning’s graduate-level Online Teaching Methodologies (OTM) training course to learn best practices for online teaching and learning. Teachers who provide instruction for VHS Learning courses are certified in their subject areas and have strong backgrounds in education, with 81 percent possessing a master’s degree or higher.

VHS Learning design and delivery standards were the model used by the National Education Association when they created the first standards for online learning. In 2019, in collaboration with the international nonprofit Quality Matters, VHS Learning contributed to the National Standards for Quality (NSQ) in three areas: Online Courses, Online Teaching, and Online Programs.

There were more than 18,600 student enrollments in VHS Learning courses in the 2019-20 academic year. Courses are open to students through their local school’s participation in the VHS Learning program and are also available to homeschool and other students who choose to enroll in VHS Learning courses directly. With more than 250 unique online courses, including 24 Advanced Placement (AP) options, the program is typically used as a supplement to give students additional course and scheduling choices.

In the 2019-20 academic year, students’ overall pass rate (defined as completing a course with a final grade of 60 or higher) was 91%. And for the last three years, 91% of students taking a VHS Learning course have succeeded in achieving a final grade of 60 or higher.

“Positive feedback from our partner schools is always gratifying, but it’s especially meaningful now given the challenges we’re facing due to the pandemic,” said DeFuria. “Our 25 years in online education has prepared us for this moment, and we’ll be doing everything we can to help our partner schools continue to provide students with the rigorous instruction necessary to prepare them for college, careers, and beyond.”

About VHS Learning

VHS Learning is a nonprofit organization with 25 years of experience providing world-class online programs to students and schools everywhere. Offering more than 250 unique online courses, including 24 AP® courses, credit recovery and enrichment courses, and a selection of dual-credit options, VHS Learning is accredited by Middle States Association Commission on Elementary and Secondary Schools (MSA-CESS), Accrediting Commission for Schools, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACS WASC), and Cognia. Courses are approved for initial eligibility by NCAA. For more information about VHS Learning please visit https://www.vhslearning.org/  and follow on Twitter at @VHSLearning.



Flinn Scientific Partners with the Virginia Technology Student Association to Support Virtual STEM Competitions

Students can use WhiteBox Learning to work through the engineering design process during regional, state, and national intra-curricular competitions

Flinn Scientific, a flagship provider of science lab materials and safety and STEM solutions for the K-16 education market, has partnered with the Virginia Technology Student Association (Virginia TSA) to support and expand participation in virtual, intra-curricular student STEM competitions. Through the partnership, new Virginia TSA school chapters can purchase Flinn Scientific’s WhiteBox Learning program at an exclusive rate to be used by students as they compete in regional, state, and national competitions that test their engineering skills. Additionally, new Virginia TSA school chapters will receive incentives from Virginia TSA for engaging and exposing STEM students to learning, leadership, and career opportunities.

“In today’s virtual and in-person environments, WhiteBox Learning allows students to work like real-world scientists as they experience the engineering design process,” said Michael Lavelle, CEO of Flinn Scientific. “Our partnership with Virginia TSA will help us support and grow virtual competitions throughout the state, as well as expand Virginia schools’ use of our virtual engineering curriculum to support CTE and STEM education.”

Virginia TSA is the state affiliate of the national Technology Student Association (TSA) which is a national, non-profit career and technical student organization (CTSO) of middle school and high school students who are engaged in STEM. Since TSA was chartered in 1978, more than 5 million student members have participated in the organization’s competitions, intra-curricular activities, leadership opportunities, community service, and more.

All TSA competi­tions are aligned with STEM standards, 21st century leadership skills, and the U.S. Department of Education’s National Career Clusters Framework®. TSA competi­tions are categorized by a number of career pathways and provide TSA members the opportunity to apply technology and engineering skills in challenging and innovative ways as they work either individually or in a team.

“The partnership with Flinn Scientific will help support our mission of providing students throughout the state with high-quality learning opportunities that develop their college and career readiness, leadership, and overall STEM skills,” said Virginia TSA State Advisor B.J. Scott. “We anticipate the partnership with Flinn Scientific for WhiteBox Learning will entice more students and advisors to join our organization and encourage students to pursue STEM careers.”

WhiteBox Learning, which will be used by middle and high school students and Virginia TSA advisors during the virtual competitions and throughout the school year, is a web-based STEM learning system for middle and high school that brings real-world design to the classroom. Using the system, students can access, analyze, and save their designs anytime, anywhere, as well as collaborate with their peers on their design choices. WhiteBox Learning addresses various learning styles and provides all students with an engaging way to gain exposure to engineering design and the STEM career cluster for Career and Technical Education.

All of WhiteBox Learning’s standards-aligned applications provide students the opportunity to design and analyze a 3-D model, learn through simulations, and conduct countless design iterations before building the physical model to complete the learning experience. WhiteBox Learning‘s unique ability to allow for unlimited design iterations is a critical process in giving students a real-world experience. WhiteBox Learning also aligns with ITEEA’s new Standards for Technological Engineering Literacy (STEL) and Engineering by Design courses.

To learn more about WhiteBox Learning and the Virginia TSA partnership, visit www.flinnsci.com/Virginia-TSA-Whiteboxlearning. Additional information on the partnership was presented at a recent breakout session at the 2021 Virginia Association for Career and Technical Education Professional Development and Leadership Seminar.


About Flinn Scientific

Flinn Scientific supports STEM/STEAM educators in opening young minds to the challenges and joys of scientific discovery and the design thinking process. The leader in science education and lab supplies and safety, Flinn Scientific also provides learning systems and professional development that incorporate differentiated digital experiences with hands-on learning grounded in the real-world to help all students think critically, explore like scientists and engineers, and solve problems creatively so they are ready for college and careers in an increasingly technology-driven world.


About Technology Student Association

The Technology Student Association (TSA) is a national association of students engaged in STEM and the arts. Its membership is over 250,000 students strong spanning 48 U.S. states and includes high school and middle school students. The organization is actively supported by educators, parents, business leaders, and alumni. Since the organization’s charter, student members have been granted opportunities to participate in challenging competitions, leadership training, community service, and more. The diversity of TSA’s activities and membership makes it a positive, rewarding experience for each and every member. All alumni credit TSA with a positive influence on their lives.


Pandemic Leads to a Significant Increase in Streaming Video Usage That is Expected to Continue, Study Shows

Kanopy Announces Results of Streaming Video Trends in Public Libraries Survey

As more people stayed at home during 2020 due to the pandemic, they were streaming a lot more videos for reasons beyond just entertainment. This trend is expected to continue over the next three years, prompting many public libraries to transition their budgets from DVDs to streaming and prepare for changes and challenges.

This finding, along with others, was revealed in a recent survey conducted by Kanopy, a company committed to streaming high-quality films that inspire, educate and entertain to libraries around the globe. More than 730 librarians, primarily in the U.S., participated, and a full report is freely available to anyone who registers here.

“Kanopy is extremely grateful to the hundreds of librarians who took the time and effort to participate in our survey,” said Kanopy CEO Kevin Sayar. “Their invaluable input will help inform our product development and allow us to better serve the public library community and the patrons they serve.”

Key findings include the following:

  • More than 47% of participants say streaming video budgets will increase in 2021 and over 71% expect an increase over the next three years. Comparatively, just over 9% of participants say their DVD budgets will increase in 2021 and approximately 15% expect an increase in the next three years.
  • 54.5% of public libraries currently offer more than one streaming video service, and many indicated training patrons to use multiple platforms is a challenge.
  • 58.2% say that in addition to entertainment, patrons use streaming videos for other purposes such as personal enrichment and class assignments.
  • Pay-per-view and subscription were nearly tied as the most preferred models for streaming video acquisition, at 23.6% and 23.4% respectively.
  • 49.6% of librarians believe it is their responsibility to support the curricula of K-12 schools with streaming films, and 32.0% say they are collaborating with schools or plan to in the near future. Comparatively, 31.0% say it is their responsibility to support local community colleges and 9.8% say they are collaborating with them or plan to in the near future.
  • 88.4% say collection diversity in their video selection is “important” to “very important” yet just 33% say they are meeting patron needs for such content.

“During the pandemic we experienced a sharp spike in streaming video usage, and this increase has continued even though we reopened for in-person service over the summer,” explained Kay Cahill, Director, Collections & Technology, Vancouver Public Library. “We saw a strong appetite for educational streaming video content in 2020 and a significant increase in recreational and educational use.”

“Our FY20 streaming budget saw a significant increase due to closure from the pandemic,” explained Marco Daniels, a library associate with Oak Bluffs Public Library in Oak Bluffs, MA.  “We expect to continue this trend in FY21, but it is important to note the increase in our streaming budget comes from the decrease in our DVD budget.”

In addition to the complimentary report, a pre-recorded session exploring the findings will be available at the ALA Midwinter Annual Event on January 22.


About Kanopy

Kanopy partners with libraries and filmmakers around the globe to give patrons, students and faculty free access to high-quality films that stimulate imagination, promote learning, and spark meaningful conversations. Many films on Kanopy, including from iconic film companies such as A24, Criterion Collection, Paramount, PBS and Kino Lorber, are unavailable elsewhere. The Kanopy app is available on iOS and Android along with all major streaming devices, including Roku, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Samsung Smart TV. For more information, please visit www.kanopy.com.


Funding Year 2021 E-rate Application Window is Now Open

Funds For Learning invites E-rate applicants to submit funding requests beginning January 15, 2021

Funds For Learning announces that the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) opened the E-rate  filing window on January 15, 2021, and will accept applications until March 25, 2021. The 24th year of the E-rate program enters a new phase of regulations intended to increase equity and streamline the application process.

“Applicants from across the United States will begin submitting forms to ensure the  95 percent of K-12 students who are supported by the E-rate program stay connected,” said John Harrington, CEO at Funds For Learning. “With funding requests increasing over the past three years, it’s clear that the E-rate program plays a crucial role in helping schools and libraries secure much needed funds for essential broadband services.”

Funding Year (FY) 2021 marks the first year that  Category 2 rules finalized by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will take effect, including:

  • Applicant budgets will be reset. School district Category Two budgets will be calculated at $167 per student, and library applicants at $4.50 per square foot. In addition, the per-site funding “floor” will increase from $9,200 to $25,000.
  • The program adopts ‘fixed’ five-year budget cycles. The first cycle will run from FY 2021 through FY 2025, and Applicants can submit applications in any or all Funding Years during this five-year cycle.
  • Category 2 budgets will be calculated on a school district or library system basis. School districts and libraries have a single budget to administer.
  • Equipment transfer rules will be relaxed. Equipment purchased in FY 2021 and forward may be transferred between eligible sites at any time, providing increased flexibility to applicants while decreasing program complexity.

With the application window closing on March 25, the latest date that applicants will be able to file an FCC Form 470 while still allowing the required 28 days for competitive bidding will be February 25, 2021.

For updates regarding this year’s E-rate filing window, please visit  https://www.fundsforlearning.com/news/.

About Funds For Learning
Funds For Learning, LLC, is a compliance firm specializing in the federal E-rate funding program for schools and libraries. Funds For Learning supports E-rate stakeholders in all 50 states, helping them navigate the application process to receive support for internet access and Wi-Fi connectivity. To deliver applicant feedback to the Federal Communications Commission and Congress, Funds For Learning coordinates the annual E-Rate Trends Report. For more information, please visit  http://www.fundsforlearning.com.