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The Making of Making @ SIGGRAPH 2015


The Making of Making @ SIGGRAPH 2015

Why this movement is gaining ground in schools across the country.
By Jean Kaneko

Making—a movement that embodies creativity, innovative thinking, and learning by doing—is changing the way educators teach and students learn. Making is a culture where learning happens through trial and error using new technologies, design, traditional materials like textiles, paper crafts, woodworking, cooking, and much more. It can emphasize interest-based, peer-led, and shared learning that is motivated by fun and encouraging novel applications of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) subjects.

Instant access to information via the Internet has changed how students learn. But more than ever, students are expected to sit, passively absorb, and accumulate knowledge. In the high-stakes world of public education, children quickly learn that finding the wrong answer means failure and judgment. When given the opportunity to be creative and innovative, children may become frustrated and uncomfortable because they are afraid of the consequences of finding a different answer. Through Making, the process of learning shifts to a healthier mindset that’s focused not only on accumulating knowledge but on using new knowledge to find multiple answers and create solutions that have meaning and impact.

Making’s popularity is growing in classrooms all over the country because it allows students and educators to “think with their hands,” “fail forward,” and establish new growth mindsets through all developmental stages. The concept of a growth mindsetwas developed by psychologist Carol Dweck. “In a growth mindset, people believe their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point,” she says. Embedded in the growth mindset is the concept of “failing forward,” where each setback is greeted with clearer purpose and new directions in thinking.

Programs that incorporate Making provide a safe environment for students so they can develop these mindsets by embracing new ways of thinking and failure as a necessary part of learning.

In formal learning experiences, Making empowers students to become agents of their own learning as they embrace a sense of confidence and ownership. Learning with purpose that goes beyond compliance allows students to design and come up with relevant solutions to real-world problems. It generates opportunities to engage in innovative learning, design thinking, systems thinking, and project-based learning that builds confidence and develops skills.

At the same time, students are incorporating accumulated and newfound learning in subjects like science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM), wrapped in the context of real-world humanities-based needs. Low-cost rapid prototyping tools such as 3D printers, laser cutters, robotics, and electronics enable students of all ages to design and fabricate tangible evidence of their learning. When these topics are framed in a process that honors open discovery and exploration, students are inspired to show their learning, creativity, imagination, and individual personalities.

As a curriculum and program developer and an early adopter of Making as an engagement strategy, I have been fortunate to nurture transformations in students from preschool to high school. My organization SIGGRAPH 2015 has created a process called “Tinker.Make.Innovate.” that allows participants to engage in the exploration and construction of their own perspectives, learn STEAM subjects and skills, and then use design thinking to invent and make solutions to real-world problems.

Teaching Making means engaging in a growth mindset with students as Making technologies change at a fast rate. Training becomes more about learning to embrace and adopt a rapidly evolving landscape of tools and skills rather than sticking to the tool of the moment. Teachers need to seek opportunities to open avenues where they can be inspired, but also be able to engage with scientists, engineers, developers, and artists to fully experience the program and be able to motivate and interact successfully with their students.

This year, the SIGGRAPH 2015 conference is offering a Making program. Making @ SIGGRAPH provides educators with the types of ways that will inspire their lesson plans. They’ll meet other teachers, and step into the mindset of an innovator. Educators will walk away from this conference with specific strategies for integrating Making into introductory and existing lesson plans

In addition, Making @ SIGGRAPH 2015 will include a talk featuring four teachers who will share how they have integrated Making into their classrooms. The Birds of a Feather talk includes teachers sharing how they use play and game design in their classrooms to teach coding and STEAM subjects.

Jean Kaneko is the SIGGRAPH 2015 Program Chair. She is a sought-after program/curriculum developer and speaker in the world of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) education and Making.  You can reach her at jean@theexploratory.com, or on www.theexploratory.com.

SIGGRAPH is the world's largest conference on computer graphics. SIGGRAPH 2015 will be held from August 913 at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles, California.For more information about SIGGRAPH 2015, go to http://s2015.siggraph.org/.


 Photo: Eric Raptosh Photography/Media Bakery

Bringing NASA Know-How Into Classrooms

Geovanni Arellano Photo 1

Bringing NASA Know-How Into Classrooms

How one teacher plans to incorporate teamwork lessons learned at space camp.  By Geovanni Arellano

Five . . . 4 . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1. . . liftoff! I feel a sense of relief. I realize that my aeronautics training and effective team communication have paid off. After traveling nearly 238,000 miles in our space shuttle, we reach the moon and are ready to continue our operation. While attempting to complete our lunar mission, however, we suddenly experience a major setback. Our plans to return to Earth are dangerously compromised. We need to be able to withstand reentry temperatures up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. My team is faced with the daunting task of replacing damaged heat tiles in our shuttle through an extravehicular activity (EVA) and proceeding with atmospheric reentry.

While most days in my classroom are far less fraught than this challenging scenario, I realize after a week of this year’s Honeywell Educators at Space Academy (HESA), that this program has provided me with an invaluable opportunity to return to my classroom with a renewed sense of purpose and discovery. This was inspired most notably by the teamwork we cultivated at HESA.

In June, I was fortunate enough to join more than 200 teachers from around the world at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where we experienced astronaut simulation and survival training, and took part in many hands-on activities. After this week I feel prepared to share teamwork experiences with my high school math students, many of whom find the challenges of math class daunting—and I look forward to implementing the multi-dimensional learning I experienced to create equally engaged learning for my students.

Learning to Love Math

As a kid, growing up in a single-parent household in a predominantly low-income community was my challenge; that experience gave me an understanding of the value of ambition and hard work. I am the first in my family to go to college, and as a result, I have felt the responsibility that comes with being a role model for my family and community. My parents came to the United States when I was a child, and like most new immigrants, my understanding of English was very limited. In elementary school, I avoided conversations with other kids because I was embarrassed by the way I spoke. Instead of words, which to me had such arbitrary meanings, I found numbers to be much more accessible. Eventually, I began communicating with other students by helping them with their math. In return, they would help me with my English, and it was in this manner that I was able to learn.

As a first-generation college graduate, I want to change the perception that people have about Hispanics and their potential to be successful. My passion for math, a field in which Hispanics are severely under-represented, has helped me to break many negative stereotypes. I have experienced success in math, and now my desire is to pass on my knowledge to my students andhelp them experience success as well. I want them to understand that math is a gatekeeper to higher education.

Not enough young minds are being educated or inspired in STEM-related fields, so it should come as no surprise that our population has not been keeping pace with our international peers. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, eight of the top ten most in demand employees are the ones with a degree in STEM fields. Further, according to the Pew Research Center, the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment results from 2012 placed the U.S. at an unimpressive 35th out of 64 countries in math, and 27th in science. Students in my classroom understand that I support them in whatever dreams and career goals they have. However, they are also aware that I want them to keep their options open, and in my classroom they will be exposed to STEM-related careers.

With district-wide summative assessments in place, it can be hard to involve STEM activities that aren’t specifically related to the standards. Here are a few ways I will incorporate my experiences at Space Camp into my classroom this fall.

  • Area 51 Leadership Reaction Course: Two of the many goals I have for my students are the ability to persevere through challenging tasks and the ability to effectively work in teams, both of which I got to practice at Space Camp. My team completed several challenging activities that required us to take on the role of the student and be able to effectively communicate and persevere through our struggles. I push the idea of perseverance with my students a lot, and yet when I was in the role of the student, I was reminded exactly what perseverance entails. There was one activity that stumped the entire team. I have to admit I felt frustrated, since I was extremely close to solving the challenge. I will be implementing this activity with my own students, and I can’t wait to guide them productively in their struggles. This leadership activity also promotes a culture of teamwork in the classroom.
  • Mars Mission Team Competition: The objective of this lesson is for teams to build the tallest freestanding tower out of limited salvaged materials. In order to get buy-in from students and to promote STEM, students are told to imagine a hypothetical situation in which they find themselves stranded on Mars and are faced with the task of building the tallest structure in order to reestablish communication with Earth.
  • Water Rocket Project: During my time at Space Camp, we had access to an extensive library of NASA’s educational materials. One resource I’ve already decided I’ll use in my classroom is the Rockets: An Educator’s Guide with Activities in Science, Mathematics, and Technology. My plan is to use this educators’ guide and my hands-on experience with building model rockets to facilitate a water rocket project in my math classroom. The project will help my students see how the topics of quadratic functions and projectile motion are applied in a real-life situation.

As a product of the kind of urban neighborhoods and schools where I now teach, I feel a special connection with these communities and the kids in them. I want to serve as a living model for my students so they’ll see that they too can succeed regardless of their background or struggles. It is my desire and mission to make a positive difference in these communities and “high need” schools. Students often fear math, but my knowledge, patience, and understanding can help alleviate this fear and help them succeed. HESA took me “out of this world” so that I can go back and inspire the kids in my classroom every day. My new team will be my students and we are ready for takeoff.

Geovanni Arellano is a math and AVID teacher at Mendez High School in Los Angeles.

Image: Courtesy of Honeywell Educators at Space Academy

Learning Real-Life Lessons at Space Camp

Laurie Drake 1

Learning Real-Life Lessons at Space Camp

How experiencing weightlessness will help me inspire my students in STEM.

By Laurie Drake

As teachers, how can we bring new ideas into the classroom and keep students engaged and having fun? This challenge can be especially tough with STEM-based concepts. In my classes, I encourage students to be creative and to consider how what they’re learning or creating can have an impact on other areas of their lives. In the past, my students have designed technology to encourage recycling and environmental protection and created structures that can withstand various amounts of mass. I think our teaching is most engaging when we infuse it with a spirit of adventure—and sometimes that means having adventures of our own outside the classroom.

Just last month, I embarked on a true adventure that I knew would change my teaching life and the lives of my students. I attended Honeywell’s Educators @ Space Academy program where I participated in real-life experiences and experiments that I will soon share with my students.

My time at the Space Academy in Huntsville, Alabama, was truly amazing. I was part of a group of more than 200 math and science teachers from 24 countries. That alone made for a wonderful adventure.

 At the start of the week we were grouped in teams. I was on Team Unity—named for a section of the International Space Station. Our team consisted of 13 teachers and a crew leader, and we were indeed an international bunch, with people from South Africa, Mexico, Great Britain, and the United States. Over the course of the week we completed astronaut mission simulations and experiments, attended lectures by NASA astronauts and engineers, lived in a dormitory, and ate all of our meals together. The feeling of camaraderie was really special and enhanced the experience.

 Each day was packed with challenges and learning activities. We completed two different space mission simulations. One was on the Shuttle Discovery, and the other took us on a futuristic mission to the moon. These missions allowed us to develop a sense of teamwork—crucial for astronauts—and gave us a taste of the rigors of space flight. Later in the week, we worked together to build model rockets. We created a shuttle tile shield, a lunar lander, and a rover to protect our “egg-stronaut”, a raw egg acting as the ‘astronaut’ for each of these homemade devices. It gave the experiments a more realistic feel – if our math or engineering was off, our “egg-stronaut” might crack, become scrambled or hard boiled. Our crew leader, who was also a teacher, was our personal NASA historian. He was a vital part of my experience as he revitalized my love for science, NASA, and our space program.

When I look back on my week at the Space Academy, I think about how I can share my experience with my students. What should I tell them first? How I was a part of Mission Control on the Shuttle Discovery mission? How I zip-lined off a tower to simulate parachuting out of a helicopter? Or, should I tell them how NASA astronaut Don Thomas explained how astronauts bathe and use the bathroom on the International Space Station? I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to hear about it all.

I always love performing experiments and demonstrations with my students. The classes and lectures I participated in at the Space Academy will help me do even more of that. My students and I will now be able to filter “urine” to purify it so it can be drunk, make rockets out of straws, and have contests to see whose can fly the farthest. And of course we will each have our very own “egg-stonaut” that we will work to protect. All of these activities require planning, math skills, cooperation, and teamwork—important skills to have in life. And for teachers who can’t make it to Space Camp, the NASA.gov website makes a wide range of lessons and activity ideas available to educators; this is a site I’m definitely going to explore more thoroughly.

Aside from the new lessons learned, I will tell my students about my fantastic experience, although the huge smile on my face will probably say it all. I hope to deepen their love for science and all it encompasses by allowing them to explore the many opportunities that STEM education can offer. My opportunity will turn into their opportunities--opportunities to inquire, experiment, make conclusions, and find success.

Laurie Drake is a science teacher at the Sussex County Charter School for Technology in Sparta Township, New Jersey.

Applications for the 2016 Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program will be available in September. All interested middle school math and science teachers can visit this webpage

Making BYOD Work



Making BYOD Work 

Insights from a 200,000-user district’s successful rollout.

By Dr. Anna Brown and Sharon Zulli

Implementing a BYOD program for an entire school district raises questions of resources: Does the district have the funds, the technology, the trained staff, and the digitally literate students to successfully deploy a 21st century program like BYOD? As we asked these questions, we recognized that the imperative of creating technology-savvy classrooms was greater than those concerns. BYOD is a necessity.

It wasn’t always so. Just five years ago, the use of personal devices in the classroom was non-existent, and often outright banned. But the educational landscape is changing. School districts are seeing a paradigm shift toward the use of personal devices, and schools that have taken that digital leap are already recognizing the immense benefits for everyone.

 District officials across the country are embracing devices that are easily accessible—those that live right in a student’s pocket—rather than having to allocate funds to purchase additional resources. It can be challenging for school districts to come up with money for technology, or to require students to use school resources that limit where and when they can access what they need.

As Hillsborough County Public Schools—a district of roughly 200,000 students—began to establish a wireless network in each of our schools, we saw a spike in requests from students and parents to develop a BYOD program. Students were already using their personal devices on campus, and their parents were in favor of device use in the classroom. All Hillsborough schools have now submitted their plans to incorporate BYOD as part of the district-wide policy.

Handling Concerns

From the start, many teachers were excited about the inclusion of personal devices in their instruction, and many asked how they could further support the program. They wanted to find new ways to incorporate mobile phones and tablets to enhance their instruction and augment student learning. Despite this enthusiasm, some were hesitant and wondered about the challenges that would come with the territory: cameras, distracting apps, and the risk of theft.

But we’re working the learning curve by offering training opportunities for our teaching staff, providing professional development opportunities through the teachers’ own networks. This will help guide our teachers as they make decisions about the delivery of instruction to facilitate their students’ mastery of learning. As the district moves toward greater technology use for more integrated learning approaches, we want to present all teachers with the resources they need to incorporate BYOD.

 Implementing any new strategy or program presents many risks and challenges, and BYOD was no different. It brought up questions from teachers about the practicality of device use and whether there would be an uneven playing field if not all students had access to a tablet or smartphone.

Still, we have found the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. Students using their own devices can check their work, grades, and class updates wherever they are and at any time of day. The district has further supported BYOD by implementing digital resources and platforms for student and teacher use, such as our district-wide online grade book, Edsby. Usage data shows that 47 percent of logins into Edsby are from mobile devices, which tells us that students frequently access school materials from their personal devices. It’s evidence of the success of BYOD.

BYOD Leads to 1:1

These platforms aren’t dependent on implementing a BYOD policy, and every district will have its own prerogatives and customizations. It’s important to note that when it comes to BYOD, one size doesn’t fit all. What’s important is the simple allowance of device usage that supplements and supports the resources and programs already being used by students and staff.

In our district, BYOD is serving as a steppingstone to a district-wide 1:1 program, and it has given us a clear way to think about sustainability and how technology is being used throughout the district. This fall, we are rolling out 1:1 in eight schools, and we plan to expand the program the following year throughout the district. The initial rollout will provide us with a unique opportunity to evaluate how we can ensure every student has a device to use. As the digital environment expands, Hillsborough is committed to providing equitable access to technology. We’re encouraging schools to have a pool of devices on hand for use in classrooms by students who do not have their own personal devices. In the meantime, we’re seeing more teachers continue to embrace digital instruction as they allow their students to use their devices when appropriate.

District-wide deployment of BYOD or similar technology programs is quickly becoming a staple in school and classroom curricula. At Hillsborough, we see the use of technology as a supplemental resource that helps our teachers and students reach a higher level of learning. We’re addressing the needs of our district and the changing landscape of education, ensuring that all of our schools reap the benefits of this growing trend.

Dr. Anna Brown is the chief information and technology officer and Sharon Zulli is the manager of instructional technology at the Hillsborough County Public Schools in Florida. 

The Future of School Libraries


The Future of School Libraries

Where do libraries stand in the ESEA rewrite?  By Kim Greene

School libraries. They’re no longer simply places that children visit once a week to pull dusty books from shelves. In some schools across the country, libraries have become valuable assets that act as technology centers, makerspaces, and vibrant hubs for literacy instruction.

But in cash-strapped districts, many school libraries are shortchanged. They operate without a certified librarian on staff—if they exist at all.

“We recognize the importance of the school librarian in the learning community,” says Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the American Library Association’s Washington, D.C., office. “We want to get away from having a school librarian only one day a week or parent volunteers who can [only] hand out books. You need a professional who can teach.”

As Congress works on a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), we’re left to wonder: How will school libraries fare?

The House narrowly passed its update of ESEA—coined the Student Success Act—on July 8. The bill contains no references to libraries. “It’s not that they’re against school libraries, but there’s no mention of it one way or the other,” says Sheketoff. 

The Senate’s bill, called the Every Child Achieves Act, is a different story. The first amendment, co-authored by senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Thad Cochran (R-MS), focuses squarely on modernizing school libraries.

“It says that state and local education agencies can use ESEA [funds] to ensure an effective school library program, which means [one] led by a state-certified school librarian with up-to-date materials and technology,” explains Sheketoff.

The amendment also adds teacher librarians to the list of educators that should be included in professional development. “We’ve seen in the past that although school librarians qualified [for professional development opportunities], if they weren’t specifically listed, principals and superintendents did not include them, and that was problematic,” adds Sheketoff.

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, wanted the first amendment up for a vote to have strong, bipartisan support, which he believed the library amendment would receive. He was right. It passed unanimously 98-0 last Wednesday.

But the fight for school libraries is far from over. The Senate still has to vote on its amended bill, which is expected to happen on Thursday. Then, the House and Senate have until December 2016 to pass a conferenced bill and have it signed by the president. None of these are givens, but Sheketoff is hopeful that libraries will have their place in the newest version of ESEA. “The fact that this was 98-0 says there is very strong support in the Senate and that it should be part of the conferenced bill.”

Image: Media Bakery

The Summer School Blend


The Summer School Blend

How mixing online learning with class time caused one district to boost its students’ summer-school scores. By Christopher Miller

In New Jersey’s Morris School District, summer school is a priority. The district’s program has been successful and engaging for many years, but in 2014 Morris schools tweaked the model to further boost results. Our summer school now features blended learning as another way to engage and motivate students during these months. Because of our careful planning and execution, the summer of 2014 was an overwhelming success.

During the 2013-14 school year, our curriculum team dedicated time and resources to identify better ways technology could enrich students’ summer school experience, and we chose a blended learning curriculum that included CCSS-based concepts and resources such as songs, games, and video to reach even the most reluctant students. In addition to finding the right resources, it was incredibly important for us to collect individual student data to further inform our instruction, track concept mastery, and reward individual learning gains. Summer can be an important learning time for students, and we saw this approach as a way to build on the previous year’s success. Our vision for taking a blended approach to summer school was to reach students in ways they enjoy, that keep their attention, and that build their confidence.

As Morris schools’ K-12 coordinator for the extended school year, I know the key to success in our long-standing summer school program has been the detailed collection of actionable data. Prior to beginning summer school, our teachers are provided with individual data on each student. At Morris, we use a variety of metrics to admit students into our Basic Skills Instruction program (BSI). We measure the number of times a student needs to be taught something before he or she achieves mastery, and we note any signs of regression. It is equally important that our summer school teachers receive anecdotal feedback on each student; to do this, we ask our regular-session teachers to keep notes on students: how they like to learn, what excites them, and where they may need additional help to ensure our summer school instructors have as much information as possible. 

At Morris, BSI is designed for specially selected students in grades 3-5 and focuses specifically on building capacity in language arts and math. The goal of the BSI program is to ensure students master Common Core State Standards skills by reinforcing what was learned in the grade they just finished. These students have been identified by predetermined benchmarks as kids who would benefit from additional support over the summer.

The Blended Program

During previous years, we frontloaded a lot of the work a successful summer school program requires. Lessons were prepared in advance that improved reading, writing, and math scores. In class, writing units were chosen to address the following year’s prerequisite CCSS skills at the students’ level. Math lessons focused on basic skills, math-fact fluency, and foundational concepts for the next grade. Direct, individual instruction is the goal, but even with the most conscientious preparation, achieving that isn’t easy. We’ve experimented with different programs for years and found that a blended model keeps kids engaged in developmentally appropriate and beneficial projects.

One method we have used successfully is individual or small-group workstations that allow students to explore the material independently. Because a teacher can only be at one station at a time, one of our challenges has been creating an atmosphere of constant engagement for those students whose attention tends to wander.

Our district has always placed an emphasis on good data, and a blended learning program with the ability to track students’ progress has made that much more of a difference. Starting in the summer of 2014, our teachers combined station-rotation learning and technology so students could work individually or in small groups to review old skills or gain exposure to new ones, including the lessons that include music, games, and videos. This blended approach led to continuous instruction throughout the school day for each child.

Most of our summer-school teachers agreed that the blended learning approach improved the session. By blending personalized online instruction with in-class teaching, students engaged in targeted material. The teacher rotated ability-based groups to target students at their level. As we continue our program, we will keep class size low (8-10 students) and use a platform that will allow teachers to flag students who may be struggling with a certain concept and provide them with one-on-one or small-group instruction.

Results Are In

Here is how we know last summer’s “experiment” is working: A majority of students made major gains in math proficiency, logging more than 560 hours on Learning Upgrade’s online courses last year. Each student benefited from the new approach, overall student engagement was extremely high, and parent feedback was outstanding.

The key to students’ approval has been the extra emphasis on engagement through motivation. While the goal is to get kids excited about learning itself, extrinsic motivators can be a big help. Morris School District uses a reading log program and an attendance incentive—if the weekly objectives are met, students take home a prize on the last school day of the week. We hold morning meetings to start the day to get kids pumped up about what they’ll be doing for the next few hours, which is really important, as they know their peers are outside and having fun. We also make sure that summer school is not a repetition of what students have been doing during the regular school year.

The summer session culminates in rewards for the top five readers and those with perfect attendance. The awards give students a sense of pride as well. I received a message from one of last year’s top five readers, thanking me for summer school—she told me she was very proud of what she was able to accomplish. For an educator, it doesn’t get much better than that.

At Morris, our planning paid off. We implemented a strong, data-centered blended learning model and it worked for staff and students alike. Teachers had a leg up by receiving individualized data on each student, and the ability-based groupings in small classrooms and rotation-station model helped to increase one-on-one time and an engaging curriculum. We’ve found that when summer school is less like “real school,” with games, songs, a new format, and a motivating atmosphere, kids stay engaged longer. 

Christopher Miller (Christopher.miller@msdk12.net) is K-12 extended school year coordinator for the Morris School District, in Morristown, New Jersey.

The Print-Digital Transition


The Print-Digital Transition

The new truths and obstacles of digital learning. By Keith Oelrich

There’s a revolution afoot in our nation’s schools: the departure of print resources and the arrival of digital content. For more than 10 years, the digital wave has gained strength and momentum—fueled by 1:1 initiatives, improvements to bandwidth and infrastructure, and the technological modernization of society. The traditional textbook isn’t dead, but its shelf life—so to speak—is dwindling.

Making the Case for Digital

According to Moving to Digital Content, an e-book by Judy Salpeter, districts’ digital migration is motivated by several factors, including the ability to update quickly, cost savings, varied content, virtual access, digital literacy and test preparation, student engagement, and convenience. Whereas textbooks quickly become outdated, schools can regularly update their digital resources with timely, relevant information. These benefits have administrators and teachers eager to experience the full potential of digital content.

 When it comes to content, there’s no shortage of options. From open educational resources to commercially available content to resources created by districts themselves, the choices can be overwhelming. The upshot? Districts must access, select, organize, and share resources that match their unique needs. They can even create their own resources and build custom digital curricula using content from a variety of sources.

Identifying Early Hurdles

The benefits of digital resources are numerous. So, too, are the initial obstacles associated with districts’ print-digital transition.

Two of the biggest challenges districts face when it comes to digital content are selection and delivery. Administrators need to select vetted, standards-aligned content and then deliver that content quickly and consistently across a district. If the digital content needs to be integrated into existing legacy systems, the complexity increases. It’s a daunting but worthwhile endeavor.

It takes considerable time and energy to find useful digital content. Districts often use digital content from a variety of sources, making it difficult to organize and use.. For example, a Google search on algebraic expressions returns 1.6 million hits. How do you sort through and identify quality, standards-aligned content? Some teachers might be great at finding and using digital content, but others need support and direction to access quality resources. Ease of access is another common hurdle. Asking students and teachers to use resources from a variety of platforms typically means they have to remember myriad usernames and passwords. A single-sign-on solution takes the hassle out of accessing content.

Beyond technical challenges, moving to digital learning resources requires buy-in from everyone involved in teaching and learning: teachers, staff, students, and parents. Changing hearts and minds takes time, and the districts that are transitioning to digital most effectively have established a deliberate, transparent plan and have communicated it effectively across their district.

Practical Tips for a Smooth Digital Transition

As with any meaningful change, transitioning to digital content isn’t easy. But by considering these three tips, administrators can get their initiatives moving in the right direction.

1. Start with professional development. PD is key, and it gets back to the point about achieving buy-in from the people most responsible for making the transition work: teachers. Give teachers the opportunity to explore the usefulness of digital content, and give them a framework for incorporating new resources into their everyday instruction.

2. Focus on finding quality resources. Vetted, standards-aligned content is imperative to the success of a digital transition. Without quality resources, districts won’t get far. Districts that are successfully navigating the transition have established a rigorous vetting process that examines content quality and technical specifications, which are important when students access the material from a variety of platforms.

3. Leverage your existing resources. When possible, find solutions that you can use with your existing digital content, learning systems, and hardware. With so much attention paid to the resources themselves, it’s easy to forget about the back-end systems that are required to support digital activity.

There are bound to be speed bumps along they way, but thoughtful planning and proactive communication will help administrators navigate uncharted waters. For more tips and insights, download Salpeter’s e-book.

Keith Oelrich has been a pioneer in the K-12 online education market for the past 15 years. As CEO of Learning.com, he’s a leader in helping educators ensure that all students have digital literacy skills and access to quality digital content. Learning.com has provided digital curricula to thousands of districts, tens of thousands of schools, and millions of students and their families.

Image: Media Bakery

ISTE 2015: Five Takeaways


ISTE 2015: Five Takeaways

What I saw, and what I liked, during three days in Philly.

By Wayne D'Orio

The dust has settled, my bags are unpacked, and now I’m starting to make sense of the panoply of ideas and sights I took in at this year’s ISTE conference. There’s no question I missed much more than I saw, but here are my top five takeaways. (To see Tech Tools’ editor Brian Nadel’s more extensive report, visit his blog.

1) People Want More From Computers

At a session that read more like a Gary Stager dinner-guest list (Will Richardson, David Thornburg, the astounding Audrey Watters, and Martin Levins), everyone gave their own take on how computers are being misused in schools. There were complaints about unimaginative uses, but more important, sound advice about the best way to forge ahead without being a Luddite, not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. Stager, a devotee of Seymour Papert, conducted the funny and thoughtful hour-plus session, but Watters stole the show with her 10-minute monologue that might have fit into a poetry slam.

 2) All Eyes on Google Cardboard

Sure, we’ve all heard about virtual reality, but its use in the classroom has seemed much more gimmick than actual learning tool. Google is attempting to change the conversation by eliminating two of the biggest roadblocks: cost and lack of practical uses. The cardboard glasses (yes, they really are cardboard) can be made at school with kits you purchase and personalize or ordered for about $30 a pair. Each set must be paired with a smartphone; right now Google’s apps only work with Android phones. But the real win is the content Google has created. More than 100 apps let students swim through a coral reef and play Ping-Pong, and Expeditions offers a wide variety of student field trips. In addition to breathtaking locales, the videos tackle more mundane, but useful, topics, such as examining a day in the life of a veterinarian. Samsung is also debuting some nifty VR goggles, so maybe this trend is truly getting closer to the classroom.

 3) Lexia’s Apple Watch App

Again, the big question with this new app is whether it’s a gimmick or a true tool. While you can debate how many underpaid teachers will own one of these expensive “timepieces,” there’s no denying that the ability to chart your students’ progress right from your wrist is cool. At a glance, teachers can see who is succeeding, who needs more time on task, and which students aren’t doing well. The first education app for the Apple iPhone also lets teachers dive into the specifics, seeing exactly how each student is doing on different tasks.

4) Boxlight’s New Mini Lab

Everyone knows that science class begs for hands-on learning, and there is a dizzying array of tools available for all levels of scientists. But keeping track of probes, wires, and other tools can be a major challenge. Along comes this new product called Labdisc that offers students 14 built-in sensors in one disc-shaped device. Using Bluetooth and eliminating wires, students can use the device to chart graphs, take air samples, and check humidity, sound levels, and turbidity. To see if this might work in your schools, watch this video

5) The Continued Progress of Education Software

Google added LMS-like features to its Classroom tool, and Apple has rolled out a new version of iTunes U, incorporating several ways to simplify the staggering array of education apps available on iOS. Classroom API allows administrators to manage classes while allowing third-party developers to create new apps. Google announced a few early partners at the show, including the learning management platform Alma, but expect more partners soon. Apple’s new version allows for more back-and-forth between teacher and students. Students can finally turn in work electronically. Even more exciting, perhaps, teachers can grade the work right on their iPad. More progress remains to be made by both companies, but these updates were a solid step forward and further proof that each company is paying attention to what educators need. 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in edu Pulse are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.