3 lessons on innovating in PBL

After 28 years as a classroom teacher, administrator, and superintendent in rural, southwestern Pennsylvania school districts, I left the traditional school setting and began working for Pennsylvania’s alternative education system, serving at-risk and special needs students.

Many students struggle to learn and master concepts in traditional classroom settings. Without a hands-on connection, lessons can be easily lost and remain unhelpfully abstract. I firmly believe that project-based learning (PBL) is one of the best ways to solve this disconnect, so I applied to build a Fab Lab for students in Pennsylvania’s Intermediate Unit 1 (IU1) region. We were chosen, and three years ago, in partnership with Chevron and the Fab Foundation, we launched a campus lab—accompanied by a mobile counterpart—to serve as a hands-on STEM learning center for students to experience and master high-tech tools and concepts. None of us predicted the success we’ve seen.

Students with long disciplinary records and attendance issues started coming to class because they enjoyed it. Those who were frustrated by typical lesson plans and lectures have found the Fab Lab to be a place where their unique learning styles are engaged. Academic progress in a safe, collaborative setting is encouraging students and helping to solve behavior challenges.…Read More

Can today’s new technologies totally revamp learning?

As wearable technology, augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR) become more mainstream and more available to educators, many innovators are looking at how combining such technologies can impact classrooms in the future.

What if a piece of wearable technology could sense a student’s stress and offer access to mentors and coaches with just a click of a button? Or imagine a group of students curious and eager to learn more about another culture. What if they could use AR to interact with groups of students from different countries to work on a shared project without ever having to leave the classroom?

A new publication from KnowledgeWorks, Leveraging Digital Depth for Responsive Learning Environments, explores the potential future impacts of using wearables, AR, and VR in the classroom and other learning environments. The report also encourages educators to develop a critical filter to sift through the hype and determine the value and use of these new technologies.…Read More

Are K-12 data systems ready for AI?

As educators who love technology, we can barely contain our enthusiasm for the potential applications of artificial intelligence (AI). But AI requires massive amounts of data, so before jumping on the AI bandwagon we need to:

  • reflect on the kinds of data that would make teaching more effective and improve learning outcomes;
  • consider the systems that will allow us to collect and manage the data; and
  • create processes to share and analyze the data.

Most districts do not yet have the foundation to make the leap to AI (other than what is already embedded in the apps and programs they’re currently using). Schools still exhibit a lack of maturity around data collection that should make us cautious about AI. There are also algorithmic bias and equity issues that need to be resolved before we move to wide-scale AI adoption. For most districts, spending money on AI over the next three to five years would be money down the drain. The ecosystems to support AI implementation are simply not yet in place in most schools and districts.

5 essential questions to test your district’s AI readiness…Read More

What it really means to be a data-driven district–and how to make it happen

A simple internet search for “data-driven instruction” yields nearly four million hits. Clearly, the concept is neither new nor novel.

Yet still, research continues to show that educators’ ability to actually use data to guide instructional decisions is lacking. How can that be?

While sifting through those search results, I realized something: Just about every article focuses on why data-based instruction is important, but not a single one I’ve found has addressed what that really means and how to make it happen in real classrooms with real students.…Read More

Do you use video to hire teachers? If not, you should!

Savvy school districts are starting to harness the cost and time-efficiency benefits that video interviewing platforms provide to make faster, cheaper, and smarter hiring decisions. The key feature of any video interviewing platform is what is referred to as the one-way, on-demand, or asynchronous, video interview.

Here’s how it works:

• First, the district invites candidates to complete a video interview within a given amount of time, usually three to five days.
• Using their smartphone or any webcam-equipped device, candidates will view a welcome message about what it’s like to work for that particular school district. (Many school districts already have recruiting or promotional videos that serve as great welcome messages.)
• Next, the candidate is asked some interview questions by an administrator or—at my district—a student, and then has time to record a video response for each question. We’ve found that candidates are more at ease when they see and hear students asking them the interview questions.
• The interview ends with a goodbye message, which could be a video or text with next steps and an estimate of the timeline for completion of the selection process.…Read More

Want to host a hackathon and teach real-life STEM skills? Here’s how

On Saturday, January 27th, Warren Township High School in Illinois celebrated our 2nd annual hackathon, Devil Hack 1.01. This two-day event featured teams of high schoolers hacking out a real-world solution to a real-world challenge. Devil Hack began at 9 am on Saturday and ended on Sunday at noon.

If you hear the word “hack” and you start to panic, please don’t! A hackathon is not an excuse to illegally access government or corporate databases. A hackathon is an invention marathon in which programmers, designers, and builders, come together to learn, build, and share their creations. Today, hacking means to quickly and intelligently create an application or solution that others can use.

Inside Devil Hack 1.01…Read More

Brace yourselves: AI is set to explode in the next 4 years

A new report predicts that artificial intelligence (AI) in the U.S. education sector will grow 47.5 percent through 2021.

The report, Artificial Intelligence Market in the U.S. Education Sector 2017-2021, is based on in-depth market analysis with inputs from industry experts.

One of the major trends surrounding AI and education is AI-powered educational games. Because games have the potential to engage students while teaching them challenging education concepts in an engaging manner, vendors are incorporating AI features into games to enhance their interactivity.…Read More

The 5 components of a future-proofed technology initiative

As students move through different phases of their education, the shape of their learning spaces changes. Young students see brightly-colored bookshelves and reading areas, where middle school students have lab tablets and desktop computers. Just as the atmosphere in the classroom changes to suit the students’ age and learning requirements, the technology in the classroom also has to accommodate the learning requirements of that age group.

According to a survey from Front Row Education, elementary school students mainly use iPads whereas middle school students are using Chromebooks. But what happens when students bring iPads into a room designed to work with Chromebooks? How does a school future-proof its classroom technology?

The Power of Interoperability: Use and Budget…Read More

6 tips for a successful one-to-one rollout

Nowadays, one-to-one initiatives aren’t anything new. Even I, a journalist with no experience as an educator, have successfully deployed and maintained a one-to-one iPad Mini initiative for my two children.

But rolling out a school- or district-wide one-to-one program takes a lot more than choosing a device. It’s a fairly massive undertaking if done correctly, because before school leaders and educators even choose a device, they have to outline teaching and learning goals and find the right digital content to support those goals.

One of the first steps is to figure out what you want teaching and learning in your district to look like. Logical next steps are to determine the tools and actions to get you to that place, as well as involving all stakeholder groups along the way.…Read More