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Three Lessons in Three Hours


Three Lessons in Three Hours

A look inside Massachusetts’ Revere High School, where a flood of new initiatives are helping to revitalize this urban school.

By Wayne D’Orio

REVERE, MASSACHUSETTS—One of the most intractable problems in education today is how to reverse the fortunes of troubled urban schools. In 2009, Revere High School, just outside of Boston, wasn’t exactly a failure factory, but with its demographics changing quickly, its achievement gap was widening.

Seventy-three percent of its students graduated in 2009, but fewer than two in three Hispanic students got diplomas. White students exceeded the state ELA performance target, but low-income and Hispanic students did not. In math, the results were reversed; low-income and Hispanics showed small increases, but white students had slipped.

Yet today, the 1,800-student school has racked up numerous awards and seen its five-year cohort graduation rate spike to 93 percent. Hispanics still graduate at a lower rate, 76.5 percent, but that number has risen 11.6 percent. The school got the highest rating in Massachusetts for reducing the achievement gap, and its suspension rate is less than two percent while the number of students taking AP classes outpaces the state average.

So what’s different? Just about everything. The school’s principal, Lourenco Garcia, who took over in 2010, has changed the culture through a series of bold initiatives. He’s shifted to student-centered learning, created a culture where enthusiastic teachers support one another, and fostered an atmosphere where students are actually asking to add time to the school day.

The school has garnered an impressive list of awards. It won the 2014 High School Gold Award from the National Center for Urban School Transformation, it ranked silver on the U.S. News and World Report’s list of best high schools in 2014, and it was one of 18 schools chosen to present at this year’s National Association of Secondary School Principals conference. Garcia, a native of Africa’s Cape Verde, was chosen as the Revere Journal’s 2014 Man of the Year. The school has attracted visitors from 10 different school districts this year, as well as four separate visits from doctoral students at Harvard. And last year, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation awarded the school a three-year grant worth $1 million a year. “With modesty, we’re a model for the nation,” Garcia says.

I toured Revere High School during the Education Writers Association conference last month. During my short visit, the positive momentum seemed to gather around the following three areas.

  • One decision can be a domino for many other (even bigger) changes.

One of the first things Garcia did after coming to Revere was to adopt block scheduling. This shift to four 80-minute periods a day isn’t novel; about one-third of U.S. high schools follow this schedule. But it was what the change allowed that really enabled Garcia and his staff to turn around the school’s performance.

Administration wanted to shift the emphasis from whole-class instruction to student-directed learning, and going to longer periods forced teachers to realize they couldn’t lecture for the entire block. This dovetailed with the high school’s move to flipped learning, where students take in the bulk of the lesson outside of school and complete the sometimes messy homework and practice while in the classroom. (Students were given iPads to help them access all their needed work outside of school.)

The last big change that was helped by the new schedule was the administration’s decision to realign its discipline policy. Before the switch to block scheduling, students were routinely sent to the office (or worse) for acting out. But now, says assistant principal Stephen Pechinsky, “with 80-minute classes there was too much information to miss to kick a kid out.” The school began a restorative justice program. While earlier data on out-of-school suspensions wasn’t available, just 35 of the school’s 1,800 students were suspended in 2014–15, a 1.9 percent rate that is significantly lower than the state average of 4.7 percent.

  • Let students drive learning, no matter what the impediments.

“The real change has been around the culture of who owns the learning,” says Superintendent Dianne Kelly. Flipping the classroom puts students more in charge. “Our teachers now understand what we need help on and what we understand,” says junior Samantha Karl. “We get to go at our own pace.”

In addition to the testing gains, Garcia notes that students are getting accepted at more competitive colleges and are prouder of their work. “It’s all part of the growth mindset,” he says.

Another change involves better integrating new students. Because the school has become a magnet for students and families entering the United States, the principal started a newcomers academy as an afterschool program. When the students lobbied him to move the program to school hours, allowing these students to better mix with their classmates, Garcia agreed. Students’ attitude and behavior have improved this year, he says. “That tells you that as adults, we don’t have all the answers.”

Garcia adds that although school gets out at 2:20 p.m., many students are still in the school two hours beyond that because it’s a safe place to be. Indeed when the student Samantha Karl suggested adding a fifth period to the school day, Superintendent Kelly was listening. “We’ve talked about that,” the superintendent said, making no promises.

  • There’s no substitute for teacher enthusiasm.

It was the kind of comment that’s made in high school classes everyday. For weeks Nancy Barile had been trying unsuccessfully to get one of her English students, a sophomore named Jordan, to read outside of class. He steadfastly refused, and despite his obvious intelligence, his grades started to plummet.

He told her he was a visual student who preferred watching The Walking Dead to reading. While she told him she wasn’t keen on zombies and violence, he patiently explained the show had the type of themes and character studies she referenced in the books they discussed in class. Then it came out. “Maybe if you watched The Walking Dead I would start reading,” he told her.

Barile accepted the challenge. She started watching and discussing the show with Jordan as she binge-watched through all six seasons. Jordan honored his promise and his grades started to climb. If the story ended there, it would be nice. But Barile saw the greater good in this example and decided to create an entire course around the popular cable TV show. When more than 60 students signed up, officials greenlighted her to teach two sections this fall of the new class, Digesting The Walking Dead.

Garcia has cultivated a staff that works together by valuing their input on items from big to small in the school. While research showed block scheduling was a good change to make, he still had teachers vote on its acceptance. (It passed narrowly, but now the whole staff loves the schedule, he adds.) “My job is to build teacher leadership,” he says. “If I don’t have buy-in or communicate effectively, it’s a message falling on deaf ears. When you give [teachers] a voice, they’re more eager to jump on the ship and help you. . . . People can only produce when they are happy. We are constantly celebrating the work they do. This place is positive.”

Teachers meet twice a week in professional learning groups, going over pedagogical strategies and looking at student work. “They examine each other’s approaches in the classroom,” Garcia says. Sitting on a panel with five teachers, Barile adds, “I’ve gone to every single teacher here for something.”

Garcia notes that two grants from Nellie Mae allowed the school to undertake many of these changes, paying for professional development and clearing more time for teachers to meet. He also realizes that the breakneck pace of change can’t be sustained, so he admits his next goal is to slow down. “We need to let the structures take hold before we do too much more. If we want teachers to maximize, every element has to become self-sustainable.”

Photo: Emily Richmond/EWA

Modernize Your Back Office

Modernize Your Back Office

Still doing student registration manually? It’s time to switch to online.

By Forum Desai

As many administrators know, a traditional, paper-based student registration process can be unnecessarily complicated, inefficient in meeting a district’s operational needs, and costly. Costs add up due to paper consumption, postage, and employing staff to manually enter and reenter data that they collect from families and input into student information systems. Moreover, a paper-based process does not enable real-time access to accurate data that districts need to communicate with families and to make timely enrollment and school staffing decisions.

Making the shift to a technology-enabled, online registration process provides a viable and effective solution for districts looking to streamline operations, increase data accuracy, improve communications with parents, and save time and money. An online system enables districts to monitor the student registration process with insight and ease, access registration information from anywhere, sync student registration data with their student information system, complete fee transactions, and communicate with parents electronically. District leaders should also look for systems with mobile accessibility that allow parents to fill out their child’s application, stay in touch with the school, and monitor their child's status from anywhere.

After parents submit all registration forms, an online system enables these forms to be routed to the appropriate school or district staff—transportation, student services, and so on—so they can manage students’ data, complete the registration and enrollment processes, assign students to classes and transportation routes, generate reports, and communicate with parents.

School districts nationwide—including Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Vancouver (WA) Public Schools, and Camden City School District—have benefited from taking the registration process online. Cleveland, for example, uses an online system to manage its school choice program. Previously, the district’s school choice program had been complex and clunky for parents and its administrative team because technology was not being used to its fullest extent to manage the choice, selection, matching, waitlist, and registration processes. School choices, as a result, were often being made in inconsistent ways.

By implementing an integrated end-to-end system, the district is now able to effectively and efficiently manage its school choice program. This has informed administrators’ system-level thinking, allowed them to better manage the high volume of application data, and provided the tools needed to send timely communications to parents. And, because of its successes to date, the district plans to expand its usage of the online system when the school choice program for its charter schools is rolled out in the future.

For districts looking to implement an online registration system, it is important to engage in some prudent planning to ensure success for all stakeholders. Administrators spearheading the process should see to the following:

  • Ensure the online system meets the district’s unique needs by creating a comprehensive list of requirements, including whether or not the system needs to support the school choice process.
  • Confirm the system offers mobile accessibility. The vast majority of families own smartphones, and in the case of lower-income families, phones may be their only link to Internet access.
  • Designate a project manager to oversee the district’s implementation plan.
  • Communicate early and often to parents, letting them know that the district is switching to an online system and what they can expect.
  • Make time for staff training so the administrative team can become proficient in the new online registration system.

Overall, an online enrollment and registration process is faster, cheaper, more reliable, and much easier to use, making it a needed choice for districts today. When districts implement a comprehensive online enrollment system, they save significant time and resources, and have the year-over-year data needed to make informed decisions for their students.

Forum Desai is the Cofounder and COO of SchoolMint, the leading provider of mobile and online enrollment and school choice systems for PreK–12 public, charter, and private schools.

Photo: GettyImages

Truly Individualizing Instruction With Educational Enterprise Management


Truly Individualizing Instruction With Educational Enterprise Management

For one district, consolidating multiple data streams into one system facilitates personalization and saves money that can be reallocated to instruction.

By Steve Boynton

As the superintendent of Lincoln County Schools in Oregon, I needed to find a way to truly and holistically individualize instruction, to keep our kids interested and focused on learning. We needed a way to assign standards on an individual basis to each and every kid, regardless of their grade level or state test scores. We also needed a system that could consolidate all of our teaching and learning data and resources in one place so teachers, students, parents, and our administrators had access to everything we needed to surround our students with a system of support, allowing every stakeholder to focus on student success. My leadership team and I are strong believers in using Bloom’s Taxonomy to vary the way we ask students to think and learn. We also needed a configurable system that allowed us to customize our curriculum and analyze all data to help kids. The more I looked, the more it seemed I was searching for something that just didn’t exist.

What we finally found was a concept called education enterprise management (EEM). EEM is the idea that teachers, administrators, parents, and other stakeholders who need information can securely get what they need to see, when they need to see it, and in the way they want to access it. EEM is a solution to an ongoing ed tech problem: Few systems “talk” to each other, and teachers are often asked to use multiple systems with different user interfaces and multiple log-ins. As a result, teachers actually use only the one or two systems that are required for compliance.

We needed a system that was customizable enough to meet our needs and still give us the necessary data dashboards and analytics to see how all of our resources were being used and to what effect. We also wanted to look at other varying factors like attendance, teacher professional development, behavior measures, and item analysis of assessments to get a clear picture of what was working for which kids. Without thinking of this on an enterprise level, we could not do everything we needed to help our students.

That’s the idea behind EEM. For a few decades now, education technology has been primarily focused on compliance and on what some would call “ornamental” technology: hardware or software that looks cool and seems trendy but fundamentally has not changed the way we teach. Better devices don’t always translate to better education, but EEM puts and keeps the focus on instruction and student learning.

Ed tech companies and school districts have been working on integrating systems for a long time, with varying degrees of success. Part of the issue has been that technology companies usually do not think like teachers. Some of the best companies have been able to bridge the chasm between education and technology, but many others haven’t. They tend to think like programmers, designing systems to perform a certain function in a certain way. This is not always conducive to good teaching practices.

After searching for a single system to do everything my district needed, I finally found MIDAS Education. The MIDAS system is built on a single Amazon Web Services data structure and is permission- and role-based, so only those with permission can get access to the parts they need, while others are not granted access. MIDAS’s simple user interface includes an SIS, LMS, CMS, assessment, and content generator. MIDAS also allows us to configure our roll-out to meet our needs over time.

As we evolve in our use of MIDAS Education’s software, the company is evolving with us to help us look at instruction in all its aspects. We are able to see how different variables influence student learning: How does attendance relate to student performance? In what ways? And to what measurable effect? Which professional development programs have the most positive impact on student performance? Which curricular resources have the greatest positive effect on student learning? Without coordinating the data, we cannot know just how wide-ranging the impact is; we can only guess.

Not only does this type of analysis facilitate individualized instruction, it can also save a tremendous amount of money that can be reallocated to instruction. When we move fully to EEM software from MIDAS, we will be able to eliminate, and stop paying for, seven separate software systems. We are transitioning over a three-year period to full enterprise level for all of our instructional practices. When the transition is complete, we will pay roughly 40 percent of what we used to spend on software licenses for one system that does it all.

As budgets get tighter and communities ask more and more of their districts, EEM is a path to the future. It only makes sense that our Web pages, our learning management system, our student information system, and most other instructional support software is in one consolidated database. That way, we can access it through a single user interface to do what we need to do to help kids and measure whether or not it’s working the way we need it to.

Steve Boynton is the superintendent of Lincoln County Schools in Oregon.

Photo: GettyImages

ISTE 2016: Virtual Reality, Big Ideas, and a Freak Hailstorm


ISTE 2016: Virtual Reality, Big Ideas, and a Freak Hailstorm

Here’s what caught my eye during a typically busy ed-tech show.

By Wayne D’Orio

DENVER—The beauty of going to a conference like ISTE is that actual experiences can replace preconceived notions. More than once, I found myself changing my mind as I came face-to-face with products I’d only heard about. While I certainly wasn’t able to cover the whole floor, never mind hit the sessions, here’s my short list of interesting developments at the three-day show.

Virtual Reality

The star category of last year was back, and despite my big dose of skepticism, I was impressed with the variety of experiences that falls under this heading. The category ranges from Samsung’s Gear VR headsets to Google’s inexpensive Cardboard experience. I visited two companies new to me, Lifeliqe and zSpace. Lifeliqe puts out a large headset that was so realistic it caused me to stumble a bit; I was impressed by the depth of STEM-related topics, from engines to a human heart, available with the set. zSpace uses a special computer monitor and a much lighter pair of glasses. It even allows for the experience to be shared with classmates who don a pair of glasses that look like they came straight from the local multiplex. zSpace also targets STEM topics, and school officials who already use the product raved about how much their students loved the experience.

Amazon’s Belated Unveiling

When Amazon officials told me on June 27 that they were “introducing” Amazon Inspire, I had to check a calendar. The service, a way for schoolteachers and administrators to locate open educational resources, or OERs, has been openly discussed for months, so its official launch seemed a little anticlimactic. The good news? The service works just like I (and probably you) imagined it would: Users can sift through a wide variety of materials using various filters, from student grades to authors to subjects. As the site ramps up, the number of items posted will exponentially increase, as will the number of practitioner grades and playlists that will help users better find the exact materials they want. I do have to note that the company faced some immediate copyright claims as several people claimed materials were posted without permission. This could be a key problem if Amazon can't solve the discrepancies quickly. In a flip, Apple executives were at the show to talk about something that had a quiet launch just prior to ISTE—Swift. This new open language is meant to help students learn to code and build apps for everything Apple, from iOS to the Apple Watch.

Vernier’s Latest

Maybe the single best device I saw at the show was the small Vernier FLIR ONE thermal camera. This device docks into an iPad’s lightning port and, using a free app, allows students to take thermal images and instantly compare the temperatures from a single video, whether it’s the air you exhale out of your nostrils or the glass of ice water you’re holding next to your face. The $250 device allows young scientists to export their data to create charts.

Discovery’s Big Hire

While not technically a part of ISTE, Discovery Education announced that decorated Mooresville superintendent Mark Edwards will join its team as senior vice president of digital learning. Edwards, whom we’ve written about several times in the past, is known for transitioning his small, poorly funded North Carolina school district to one of the top educational models in the country. Among many accolades, President Obama chose Mooresville as the location to announce the White House’s Digitial Promise program.


Denver Weather

While walking to an event on June 28, I found myself caught in some weather I didn’t think possible. When the summer skies opened up, superball-size hail pelted me as I sought cover under a courthouse’s overhang. Forty-five minutes later, after some torrential rain and heavy winds, the streets were so flooded that cars were stalling out. I was able to finally able to leave my refuge, and I dragged my wet self back to my hotel. A 15-minute walk had turned into a Gilligan’s Island experience. Lessons learned: It can hail during the summer, and a cab isn’t always a bad idea.

Five Reasons Gaming Should Be Used in Schools


Five Reasons Gaming Should Be Used in Schools

Collaboration, motivation, and normalizing failure are just some of the benefits gaming could bring to your students.

By Ping (Benson) Cheng Yeh

Earlier this year, I was interviewed for an article on classroom cheating, and I talked about how gamification solved this problem for me at the University of Michigan, Ann-Arbor. Indeed, gamification solves an array of problems in the classroom: Games boost student engagement, empower students with the responsibility for learning, encourage success while taking failure lightly, promote collaboration, and make teaching easier for instructors. I believe that gamification is not only a nice-to-have but a must-have in any classroom because it’s based on what we all do: strive to win!

  1. Games motivate and therefore empower students.

Children innately love games. In fact, according to a recent NBC news article, 97% of kids under 18 play video games in the United States. During their free time, children play with their peers, with inanimate objects, or on their devices. In fact, play is essential to child development. Because children naturally love play, mixing it with classroom learning makes learning more fun and motivates students to actively participate. A recent Stanford study shows that mixing traditional learning techniques with games is more effective than just implementing traditional classroom techniques or just playing educational games.

I recently met Rene, a math teacher in Mexico who used my social-learning game, PaGamO, to turn his classroom around. PaGamO is a virtual world in which students must answer questions assigned by their teachers in order to expand their space and develop their land. “My D students are now receiving A’s and B’s,” he told me. His struggling students were uninterested in the subject, until he entered his math question bank into PaGamO and assigned it as a mission to his students. When his students played the game and answered the math questions correctly, they would level up in the game and gain tokens and land to cultivate. Suddenly he discovered that his struggling students were so motivated to play the game that they have now started to learn his math material in order to do well in the game. Students who had previously labeled themselves as “bad at math” were now catching up to their peers. This is not only true for James’s class. Gaming has proven to be effective with struggling students; 47% of teachers have seen that low-performing students do the best in gaming classrooms, 30% have seen that all students benefit equally, and only 1% believe that their students do not benefit at all from gaming in classrooms.

  1. Games enable students to take charge of their own learning.

Once students are motivated, the games enable them to take responsibility for their learning and and practice self-empowerment. Games provide self-accountability for problems and a way of checking progress, and they help students learn at their own pace, all of which improve a students’ learning experience and empower them to take charge of their learning.

For example, students’ personal profiles on PaGamO keep track of their correct, incorrect, and corrected questions, enabling study outside of school without teacher guidance or instruction. Students can monitor their progress based on their game statistics; they can even see how long they have practiced a specific subject on a particular day, giving them more control over and insights into their learning progress and development.

  1. Games encourage normalization of failure.

Best-selling self-help books such as Originals and The Confidence Gap stress the importance of the normalization of failure in order to achieve success. When failure is labeled as a “big deal,” students become immobilized from fear of failure and are unable to move forward in their studies. Instead of providing students with so many tests, stressing them out from the process and making it a huge deal, we should instead be educating students that it’s okay to fail, and that failing multiple times will lead to success. Games are disconnected from reality, enabling students to practice concepts in a low-pressure setting.

Moreover, games provide students with immediate feedback. When the answer is incorrect, students know right away. They don’t have to wait weeks for a test to be graded to know that their concepts were wrong. Because of the immediate feedback, students can get in the habit of correcting their mistakes as soon as they arise.

  1. Games foster collaboration.

   Games allow for peer-to-peer collaboration. This year my start-up company, BoniO, hosted the worldwide Calculus World Cup. Students were invited to collaborate in teams of three and asked calculus-related questions. I’ve realized that students love to work collaboratively and also to watch other students work collaboratively.

Games also foster teacher-student collaboration. In a game that I’ve created to boost student engagement in Taiwanese MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), students design their own questions, share them with the teacher, and have other students solve their problems to earn badges and points. In this way, students are empowered because they can contribute to the curriculum design.

  1. Games revolutionize teaching.

Games can provide better one-on-one instruction—personalized content, real-time assessment, adaptive learning and the ability to teach mixed-proficiency groups. On PaGamO, teachers are able to upload their own personalized content. This is important because it helps teachers connect with students. Instead of automating learning, we’re customizing learning. Teachers can see in real time how students are doing in their classes, group high-performing and low-performing students, and send them questions that best cater to their abilities. Because of this feature, teachers can instruct mixed-proficiency groups and achieve a one-on-one atmosphere even in a large classroom. Games affect classrooms in unexpected ways; I’ve seen games end up motivating teachers and parents just as much as students. Teachers often ask if they can play PaGamO with their students—that’s a yes—and parents who play with their kids even sign themselves up for PaGamO competitions!

Ping-Cheng (Benson) Yeh is the co-founder of PaGamO, BoniO inc., and holds many offices at National Taiwan University including director of the MOOC Program, associate director of the Center for Teaching and Learning Development, and professor in Electrical Engineering.

Photo: Gettyimages

How Blended Learning Is Closing Achievement Gaps at Our Elementary School

John Albert

How Blended Learning Is Closing Achievement Gaps at Our Elementary School

California school uses online reading program to gain success.

By Dr. John Albert

At California Elementary School in Orange, California, 95 percent of our students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and as many as 90 percent are English language learners. When I became principal during the 2014–15 school year, 40 percent of our students were reading far below a basic reading level. We knew we had to find an effective solution that would quickly address the academic gap and help students reach their full potential.

After careful planning, we determined that incorporating a blended learning approach to instruction could address multiple needs for our staff and students. Our results have been remarkable: We’ve seen dramatic gains in the reading abilities of our students—as well as better student and parent engagement and higher satisfaction among teachers.

Blended Learning Improves Learning—and Attitudes

The Christensen Institute defines blended learning as an education model in which students learn partly through face-to-face interaction with their teacher and partly through online or digital instruction, “with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace.” This approach appealed to us because it would help teachers to personalize learning in a more flexible manner for every student.

To incorporate a self-paced online element to our instruction, we have set up station rotations in which students in grades K–5 work independently for up to 80 minutes per week on a reading program called Lexia Reading Core5.

The program provides personalized, systematic instruction in the six core areas of reading: phonological awareness, phonics, structural analysis, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Each student follows a personalized learning path that delivers highly targeted instruction that is specific to that child’s needs, and teachers receive norm-referenced performance data without having to interrupt the flow of instruction to administer a test.

In a blended learning model, students can learn at their own pace—in school or at home—as they develop core reading skills. Teachers can individualize instruction using the data provided by the software, which helps identify students who are struggling in specific areas. The program groups the students appropriately for small-group instruction so that teachers can provide more individual, one-on-one support.

Since we began using an online reading program with our students, we’ve seen a 53-percent increase in the number of students who are reading at grade level. These academic gains have resulted in an improvement in student attitudes toward learning as well.

When students see their own academic success, it contributes to a positive campus culture. Once students see they can master a skill or a subject, they become excited to learn every day. Since we began taking a blended-learning approach in the classroom, attendance has risen to 97 percent and suspensions have been on the decline.

Technology Empowers Great Teachers—It Doesn’t Replace Them

At our school, we emphasize that technology can never replace the role of teachers in the classroom. It is caring adults who build supportive relationships with students, not software. We believe that technology can help improve learning and elevate teacher effectiveness by harnessing the data to support one-on-one teaching moments with students.

To ensure teachers are benefiting from our blended learning initiative, we maintain a very keen focus on the continuous tracking of data. For example, our school has a “Mind the Gap” progress-monitoring team that meets weekly to review data and usage of the blended learning program. Setting aside this time is crucial to identifying academic concerns and supporting teachers in this process.

Not only has student satisfaction improved since we’ve moved to a blended learning model, but our teachers are more satisfied as well. They’ve found that blended learning has helped make their lives easier by identifying the students needing help and the lesson materials to support them. Teachers are seeing dramatic increases in their students’ ability to read, and they’ve said this is the best year of teaching they’ve ever had.

We have also benefited from the ability to blend learning to engage and motivate parents as well. When parents have access to the online software from home, they can keep track of their child’s progress and provide additional support. Our school hosts monthly parent technology trainings to ensure that parents know how to access these resources from home. As a result, our parental engagement has increased, and we’re seeing more parents asking for student data reports so that they can help support their children at home.

Keys to Blended Learning Success

When beginning a new initiative like this, start by finding a program that supports great instruction, and leverage the program data to empower teacher effectiveness. Invest the time and resources in a thorough professional development and implementation plan to make the transition smooth and build internal capacity. Finally, engage some early adopters to demonstrate success and share their enthusiasm for the gains they’re achieving—they will help promote the initiative to the rest of your staff.

Now that we have found an effective blended solution for reading, we are in the process of looking for a similar solution for math. I believe this kind of innovation will have a meaningful impact on the success of our students and teachers for years to come.

Dr. John Albert is the principal of California Elementary School in the Orange Unified School District.

Photo: Courtesy of California Elementary School

Meet the Real Faces of Online and Blended Learning


Meet the Real Faces of Online and Blended Learning

Five students share their stories.

By Mickey Revenaugh

The number of students taking online courses or enrolled in full-time online learning is rapidly increasing. In 2015, about 2.2 million students participated in some type of online or blended learning. Their activity ranged from taking a supplemental digital course or two to participating in a fully online virtual school.

Five students recently shared their thoughts about how they are blazing their own new routes to college and career readiness.

Anthony Johnson, grade 10, Impact Academy, McDonough, Georgia, is producing his own weekly radio show about education. “Personalized learning is the future of education. In the future I see myself using these skills to make a difference in education reform. I believe this is the type of learning environment that gets students college and career ready.”

Ashley Johnson, grade 11, Career Path High School, Kaysville, Utah, is pursuing a pathway toward a career in art and design: “This gave me the flexibility I wanted. My traditional school didn’t have too many outlets for art. Now I’m in a digital media program and working toward a certificate in design, which I can transfer to a local university. I would love to become an art director in movies or animation.”

Kaitlyn Favale, grade 8, Horry County Virtual School, Conway, South Carolina, is a performer in a traveling anti-bullying production that brings its message to high schools. “The only reason I can do all this is because I’m a student at Horry County Virtual School. The teachers keep in contact with you, and we do live lessons so it actually feels like a real classroom. It gives me the opportunity to see what I love, which is singing and acting.”

Lola Harris, grade 9, College Park Academy, Baltimore, Maryland, loves her blended learning school because it has allowed her to explore her creativity with online art courses and more. “I get a lot of support. I can ask the teachers anything, and they’ve given me a lot of advice and helped me create goals. In seventh grade, they helped me enter some contests. In eighth grade, they encouraged me to pursue poetry and helped me find events like open mics where I could perform.”

Justin Myrick, grade 12, South Carolina Connections Academy, Columbia, South Carolina, is a professional TV and film actor. “When I was just getting into acting, I needed to travel, so I enrolled in an online school in sixth grade. I’ve been able to be in commercials and films that shoot on weekdays without missing school. I like that I don’t have to deal with things like bullying. I’ve made some really good friends here, and I’m really looking forward to going to prom.”

All of the students agreed that it takes discipline to be an online learner, especially because you are in charge of your own scheduling. However, it’s also a skill they think will take them a long way in college and beyond.

They also wanted to remove the stigma of online learning being a second choice, or something that was pursued because students couldn’t handle a “regular” school.

“A lot of kids are coming up to me and asking me how I’m doing this,” said one student. “It’s about taking charge of your own learning.”

These five students exemplify the millions of students around the world who are leveraging the power of online and blended learning to create their own individual bright futures. They are each creating a personalized journey that meets their needs and supports their goals.

Mickey Revenaugh is the director of new school models at Pearson.

Photo: Gettyimages

Four Elements to Successful Bullying Recognition and Prevention


Four Elements to Successful Bullying Recognition and Prevention

Follow this comprehensive guide to make your schools safer places for all students.

JoLynn Carney, PhD, and Richard Hazler, PhD

Recognizing and preventing bullying in schools is primarily a matter of organized implementation of a few critical themes. Effectively addressing the complex dynamics between a target, a bully, and bystanders involves strategies that include reducing isolation, empathic investment in those who are seen as different, creating the sense of a team effort within the community, and supporting ongoing investment efforts.

There are numerous approaches to bullying prevention. Some are single-focus programs such as Olweus Bully/Victim Prevention. Others such as Positive Behavior Supports, and Project TEAM incorporate bullying prevention as one part of a comprehensive program to create an overall positive and productive school environment. SafeSchools Training from Scenario Learning provides practical training and the insights needed to manage bullying behaviors in schools and can be incorporated into a school-wide comprehensive prevention model.

Programs differ in specifics and focus, but their success is built on making sure everyone feels personally invested and is committed to taking action.

  1. Isolation Reduction

A common sign that a person or group is being bullied or is highly vulnerable to bullying is isolation. Students who frequently sit alone at lunch, make poor eye contact, and avoid speaking to others may be targets or particularly vulnerable to bullying. Interpersonal abuse can’t continue when bystanders break the isolation by taking actions that support people who may be vulnerable. Helping targets to make connections with others is the key.

Children can befriend their peers, and adults can create circumstances in which children are comfortable and supported by others. The more peers and adults demonstrate support to all students, especially those who might be vulnerable as targets, the more quickly bullying can be curbed before it begins.

  1. Empathic Knowledge and Investment

Individuals and groups viewed as “other” (i.e., “not like me”) are highly vulnerable to bullying. We tend to feel greater emotional connections to individuals we sense commonalities with, and less emotional connection with those we see as different. Bullying stops when targets are viewed as significant people just like us, when we are sensitive to their joy and pain, and when we feel the need to keep them from harm. Creating empathic investment in all parties, including bystanders as well as bullies and targets, is therefore essential for success.

Empathy can be fostered during regular classroom discussions—around stories, books, and videos that tap the emotions; abuse in the news; and examples of prejudice and discrimination that occur locally and in the wider world. These discussions should include how these events relate to hurting others in our own lives, why people do hurt others, and how we can help change or prevent those situations. Discussions also need to emphasize the positive aspects of people and groups who seem different, so that people are more likely to support them for positive reasons and share concern for their problems. Bringing people emotionally closer by increasing these positive connections reduces bullying.

  1. Community as a Team

The more people are invested in empathy and the reduction of isolation, the more their support and caring concern prevents and stops bullying. Everyone recognizes how successful teams, clubs, and organizations have a shared vision and work together for common goals, and feel connected in the process. This is a team approach that gets individuals working in common directions and feeling their own worth and appreciation within the group.

Setting goals that excite all members of the community, whether school-wide or even within a classroom create a sense of greater good that also supports individuals. Recognizing those who help individual students and the larger group move toward goals is essential to maintaining motivation and caring among students. Celebrating the joy that comes with being a part of the team is critical and can come in many forms, including team-building activities and events, team songs, banners, and as many daily reminders as possible that highlight the support for the group, its goals, and its individual members.

  1. Ongoing and Organized Investment

Creating a supportive environment for all students must be a consistent priority. Teams that experience great victories only to then stop practicing and evolving with changing times lose their potential for greater accomplishments. Prevention of bullying is an ongoing task that must be regularly evaluated and revised based on evolving circumstances. We must continually find ways to seek new growth and successes.

For additional information and details see: Hazler, R.J. & Carney, J.V. (2012). Critical characteristics of effective bullying prevention programs. In S.R. Jimerson, A.B. Nickerson, M.J. Mayer, & M.J. Furlong (Eds.), Handbook of school violence and school safety: From research to practice 2nd Edition (pp 357–368). New York: Routledge.

Dr. Richard Hazler is a Professor of Counselor Education at Penn State University. He is well known for his work in areas of bullying, peer-on-peer abuse, and youth violence. He is the co-author of “Bullying: Recognition & Response” for SafeSchools from Scenario Learning.

Dr. JoLynn Carney is a faculty member in the Department of Counseling at Penn State University and a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor. Her research and publications focus on areas of youth violence, peer-on-peer abuse, and adolescent suicide. She is the co-author of “Bullying: Recognition & Response” for SafeSchools from Scenario Learning.

Photo: GettyImages

Digital Path to Success


Digital Path to Success

Nine key steps to creating a modern digital learning environment.

By Susan K. Allen, Christine Johns, and Dwight Jones

Creating modern digital learning environments can be exciting. As a school administrator, it’s exciting to imagine students learning at their own pace on tablets loaded with interactive, customized lesson plans. You may envision teachers as facilitators in classrooms where students are empowered to lead their own learning, thinking critically and creatively as they access original source materials and collaborate to create blogs and videos.

However, the transition to a modern digital learning environment can also be daunting. It requires much more than simply providing devices to students. A digital transition is a multi-faceted, multi-year process that must be carefully thought-out, planned, and communicated.

We are three superintendents with 16 years of school leadership and 20 years of K-12 teaching experience among us. As the heads of school districts—one small, one medium, and one large—we have created modern digital learning environments for our students. We know firsthand what works and what doesn't. We’ve experienced setbacks and successes. Sometimes we moved too fast, other times we wished we had been bolder. We’ve learned a lot along the way, and we want to share our insights with you.

These nine key steps focus on the common elements of a digital transition that are essential for success. It is our hope that these steps will help other school leaders create the modern classrooms today’s students demand and deserve.

  1. Start with the “why.”

In our experience, this first step is the foundation for a successful digital transition.

Consider how digital learning will align with standards, add value for teachers, and enhance the student learning experience. Then, make sure you broadcast this message to stakeholders clearly and frequently.

Begin by involving all stakeholders—principals, teachers, parents, students, the board of education, local businesses, and community residents. Is the goal of digital learning to provide education for all levels of learners? Is it to prepare students for the workplaces they will encounter? Is it to engage and challenge students with inquiry-based lessons? Your answers will be tailored to the needs of your school district and community.

  1. Assess your district’s readiness for a transition to digital learning environments.

Don’t rush. Build broad-based understanding and support of upcoming changes through meetings with the board of education, principals, teachers, your PTA, and other stakeholders. Develop and communicate a rollout plan that takes into account which schools in your district are most ready to make the digital transition as well as which schools are most in need of digital investment. Some school districts will start with a particular grade or subject, while others will begin with the teachers who are most eager to learn about and use digital learning tools.

  1. Make sure the digital content aligns to standards.

Just like print materials, digital materials must deliver on the standards that students are expected to know and be able to meet. There are many great resources—both print and digital—that generate engaging classroom experiences but have nothing to do with the curriculum. Invest in digital resources that enhance your teachers’ abilities to deliver the learning objectives they’re expected to teach.

  1. Clearly communicate your vision.

As you embark on a digital transition, use the communication tools you already have to provide a framework, and make answers to questions easily available to all stakeholders. There is no such thing as overcommunication. Your district must be relentless in its effort to explain the importance of the digital transition you are planning. Do not expect anyone in the district, not even teachers or principals, to automatically know the value of digital tools.

In addition to proactive communications describing the goals and benefits of the initiative, it is important to keep lines of communication open throughout the process. Be transparent about challenges, setbacks, and promises with all stakeholders. Listen to concerns, and address them as they arise.

  1. Empower navigators.

Dedicate knowledgeable staff to guide the purchasing process for both hardware and digital curriculum materials, and to steer professional development. Navigators should be the point people in your district moving this project forward and providing answers throughout the process. Before they begin their work, it could be helpful for them to reach out to colleagues in other school systems to benchmark and learn about their experiences.

  1. Start your digital transition slowly.

Tap teachers who are enthusiastic about the transition, and allow them to pilot the service before rolling it out on a large scale. Those teachers can then serve as resources and share their insights and experiences with other teachers preparing for the transition to digital learning. Celebrate teacher leaders who are risk takers, leading every day by example.

  1. Provide ongoing professional development.

Professional development should be embedded in various stages of the project and ongoing. Teachers and other staff should gain a real facility with using technology in order to integrate digital content into instruction in a way that creates self-directed student learners.

Be prepared to provide professional development that meets teachers on all levels. Some teachers are going to be skilled and eager digital instructors, while others will be wary of change to their established lesson plans. Full-scale professional learning should be based on the content that will be taught, not on grade levels or familiarity with the intricacies of the devices. Teachers want to know how to teach content effectively and with ease.

  1. Focus on learning, not technology.

Show teachers how technology can be used to support a variety of teaching styles, including small-group collaboration, rotating through technology stations, student presentations, and teacher-led instruction. The goal is to create classroom environments where students are directing their own learning and teachers are guides, not dispensers of information.

  1. Promote digital citizenship.

Make sure students learn digital citizenship and sourcing skills. Devote classroom instruction time to teaching students how to be good digital citizens. That includes knowing how to interact online without bullying, how to advocate responsibly, and how to evaluate the trustworthiness of sources. Students also need to learn how to resist the siren call of a device. One student said a digital learning environment helped him learn how to resist distraction. “I had a choice to make,” he said. “I could remain distracted and my grades could go down, or I could use this tool to get better grades.”

Transitioning to modern digital learning environments is a large, complex task. Yet we feel that if these nine elements are kept top of mind by school leaders as their districts undertake a digital transition, the groundwork for creating the dynamic classrooms that will prepare students for success beyond graduation will be truly and successfully laid.

Dr. Christine Johns has been superintendent since 2006 of Utica Community Schools in Michigan, with 28,600 students over 66 square miles. She pioneered a digital transition that coincided with a shift in state standards and a change from half-day to full-day kindergarten.

Susan K. Allen, New York State's 2016 Superintendent of the Year, has been superintendent of the 3,000-student East Irondequoit Central School District since 2005. She pioneered a digital conversion that included giving each student in grades K-12 an iPad.

Dwight Jones, currently the superintendent in residence for Discovery Education, has served as commissioner of education for the Department of Education in Colorado and superintendent for the Clark County School District in Las Vegas, Nevada, the nation's fifth-largest school district, with 315,000 students.

Photo: MediaBakery

Eight Things You Need to Know About Lead Exposure in Water

Eight Things You Need to Know About Lead Exposure in Water

How schools can protect their students and communicate with their parents.

By Donna Mazyck

Recent news reports about lead in water supplies in many U.S. cities raise serious concerns, especially about the wellbeing of young children. Lead exposure causes significantly greater harm to children than adults. Exposure can lead to developmental delays and health problems. Here are eight things school officials can do to help keep their students safe and communicate the dangers of lead poisoning to parents.

  1. Know the sources of lead in the environment. Exposure to lead can come from paint or gasoline. Other major sources include water, dust, and dirt. Lead in homes or schools can come from lead paint in buildings that were built before 1978 or in water. 
  2. Test buildings for lead. Check with the health department about testing paint dust and paint chips from school. Let your community know that they should test for lead in homes built before 1978 and tell them to contact the health department if they have questions about finding a licensed lead inspector.
  3. Clean up lead dust that may come from old paint as it cracks and peels. Cleaning tips include using wet paper towels; cleaning around windows, play areas, and floors; using duct tape to cover peeling paint; washing hands and toys with soap and water; and washing hands before eating and sleeping.
  4. Test water. Have the water in your school tested and let the community know the results. Also, encourage children’s families to have their home water tested. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set 15 parts per billion as the level at which corrective action must be taken. Lead may be found in drinking water in some faucets and not others in a building.

If lead is found, precautions for using the water should be followed. Water shouldn’t be drunk or used from a faucet that has been off for more than six hours, and that includes use in cooking. In order to make sure the water is safe, the cold tap must be run for at least five minutes. Note that cold tap water only is safe to use, because hot or warm running water can have higher levels of lead. Pregnant women and children under six years old should avoid water from lead-tainted faucets entirely, even when these precautions are taken. They should drink only bottled water. Boiling water does not reduce its lead content, but NSF-certified water filters and replacements are effective at doing so.

In addition, encourage child-care centers to test their drinking water for lead.

  1. 5. If children are at risk, encourage parents to have them tested. If a blood test detects lead exposure, health care providers will develop a comprehensive plan for treatment.
  2. Encourage families to eat foods that reduce lead in the body. These include foods high in calcium, such as milk, leafy green vegetables, and fortified orange juice; foods containing iron, such as red meat, fish, chicken, dried fruit, and beans; and foods high in vitamin C, such as fruits and peppers.
  3. Track affected students’ educational progress. Follow the progress of students with lead exposure, and be sure to update parents. A developmental assessment can determine the amount of support children may need to ensure academic success.
  4. Work for prevention. Preventing lead exposure in children is the best solution.Work for prevention by advocating for the following:
  • Environments safe from lead
  • Tracking and identifying lead sources
  • Control or safe removal of lead

School nurses work with educators, families, and health care providers to keep students health, safe and ready to learn. For additional information on lead prevention and exposure in children, visit the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the EPA.

Donna Mazyck is the executive director of the National Association of School Nurses and a former school nurse.

Photo: © Ryan Garza/Detroit Free Press/zReportage.com via ZUMA Wire

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