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Back to High School

Inaugural Lenovo In The Classroom Day Photo

Back to High School

Our author imparts her knowledge—and her lessons learned along the way—to today’s teenagers.  By Ashly Lytle


Recently, I skipped my high school reunion. Why? I have a distaste for small talk, and remembering my GPA, it was the last place I wanted to revisit. For many reasons, my high school was the last place I wanted to revisit. Yet when the volunteer opportunity arose at Lenovo, where I work, to visit high school students on “Lenovo in the Classroom Day”—through our partnership with NAF—I decided to do it. Still, the idea of entering a business class filled with 30 sophomore students felt exceedingly ironic: How would someone who regularly skipped class and spent more time in the principal’s office than doing schoolwork provide a positive foundation for students on the topic of career readiness? What credibility would I have to encourage these kids to attend college, let alone graduate?

Let’s face it: the majority of us didn’t wake up one morning at the age of 16 knowing exactly what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives. Students are told to abide by Common Core practices, do their homework, take tests, study and pass the SATs, and so on. But once they’re out of high school, most of them find themselves asking, “What do I want to do for the next 50 years of my life?”

Prior to my visit to Milpitas High School, NAF helped facilitate a conference call with the business teacher whose class I’d be visiting. After learning there were a number of students in the class who were underachieving, I switched my approach from a safe, cookie-cutter “Lenovo workforce introduction” and decided instead to focus on what it takes to be successful at an innovative company like Lenovo: life goals. If the students could relate to my experience of overcoming adversity, or better yet, learn from my mistakes, perhaps they could take away something valuable as they discovered more about themselves.

What I’ve found is that the only way to create an open and honest environment with strangers is to expose my own flaws. Coincidentally, my high school yearbook is titled “Exposed,” so I brought it with me as physical evidence. I asked the student sitting to my left to read aloud the first couple of peer entries.

Entry 1: “Ashly, it was great meeting you this year. I am glad we had science together even though you were barely here.. .”

Entry 2: “Hey girl, it was fun having 1st period together even though you were never there . . .”

The room filled with laughter, followed immediately by a wave of questions. Even the quietest students put away their cell phones and sat up in their chairs. I had their attention. That feeling of engagement and raw interest is one I’ll never forget.

Once we covered how to get out of hypothetical, self-induced holes (and how not to dig those holes any deeper), we talked about what I like to call “The Readiness Factor.” My own lack of college or career readiness led me to attend a local community college prior to transferring to University of California, Riverside.

Here’s what I told the students: “If you don’t know what you want to do for the rest of your life at 16 years old, challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone and do what scares you (for example, me . . . right now . . . presenting to all of you). Really explore who you are and try new things. Continue to try, and never stop trying. Commit to something and finish it. Create a network of personal and professional resources. Before you know it they’ll be lifelong advocates, your support system when you need it most. Never be afraid to ask questions. The hunger to learn will propel you toward success. And though you may never feel ready, you will be.”

Some students were encouraged when learning how “green” I was when I entered the technology industry. I was fresh out of college, and literally had no idea what CPU stood for. They needed to understand that it’s okay to be a novice! It’s okay not to know! But if they’re willing to put forth the effort, their dream job will no longer be just that: a dream. It will, in fact, become a tangible reality that is wholly within their grasp.

It was utterly rewarding to nurture their self-confidence and hope. Students shouted out their dream jobs: “Network engineer!” “Police officer!” and my favorite, “The lady on my favorite show ‘How to Get Away with Murder’ [Mrs. Keating, District Attorney]!” Of course, they were also concerned with the essential question, “How much money will I make?”

I’m confident that our discussion about internship opportunities and the importance of optimistic exploration will help these students identify the knowledge and skills they’ll need to pursue a successful career.

Before I knew it, there was no time left for the career networking activity I’d planned, and kids were rushing up to take a picture with me before scurrying off to their third-period class. I’m elated to have been a part of these kids’ lives, even for just an hour. They now know that they will constantly face decisions and have to choose between the easy way and the right way—and if they choose the right way, success can be theirs. Though I chose to take the long road to get to where I am today, I’m thankful for what I learned along the way and hopeful that they can learn from my experience. I’m grateful to have had this opportunity and thank all the people who were involved. Special thanks to @NAFCareerAcads and @LenovoEducation!

Ashly Lytle, @Lenovo_Lytle, is a higher-education account executive at Lenovo. She is based in Northern California.


Image: Courtesy of Lenovo

Employee Disaster Recovery


Employee Disaster Recovery

How to implement a new ed tech training philosophy.

By Tom King

In the NFL, it’s the year of the backup. The NFL football season has been marred by significant injuries to star players. The missed games have been piling up at such a rapid rate that few people even batted an eye at the irony when Luke McCown (from the Verizon backup commercial) was called on to step into a real-life starting role after an injury to the Saints’ starter, Drew Brees.

Many school districts lean heavily on an “all-star team” of people to run their technology devices, student management systems, and all-around IT infrastructure. But what happens when one of these experts leaves? In a school district, as in the NFL, depth matters. It’s time for districts to reimagine the way they leverage the powerful tools at their disposal.

The term “disaster recovery” is used in technology circles to describe the business continuity processes that organizations have in place for critical IT infrastructure and programs. But what about the people who keep the district running—the ones who know how best to use that technology? Isn’t it time we started talking about a disaster recovery plan for them, too?

A New Way to Train

Enterprise technology, by its very nature, is massive. Complexity is a relative term, but with so many different pieces touching so many areas of districts’ operations, there’s a lot to take in. In the traditional training and development model, vendors train “power users” and IT staff, who in turn train and serve as a resource for the rest of the employees. These same internal experts attend vendor conferences and/or webinar trainings to stay on top of all the tips, tricks, and enhancements. Many of the end users, such as teachers, office staff, and accountants, take advantage of only a small fraction of what is available to them. Over time, districts are left with few—if any—of the employees who were involved in the implementation process. The result is faltering confidence and underutilization of new enhancements and updates.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Imagine a world where vendors provide direct training to key staff during implementation, and where end users have access to a self-service training portal and power users can access mastery-level courses. All employees would have access to just-in-time training resources when they’re ready to learn a new process, and vendors would invest in the customer experience with transparent updates, ongoing professional development, and knowledge-tracking options for management teams. This cross-training and certification process would make it easy for backup staff to step in when experienced employees go on vacation or leave the organization, resulting in higher confidence in day-to-day operations. This approach gives employees the opportunity to explore new features and efficiencies.

A Change in Philosophy

As technology continues to shrink our world, it’s more important than ever for school districts to field a deeper lineup while empowering more employees to leverage the powerful tools at their disposal. To get to that point, some fundamental aspects of the purchasing process have to change.

Traditionally, districts have evaluated proposals based on the amount—and cost—of initial training. This approach can cause significant problems. As vendors try to compete for the lowest bid, there’s no way of knowing until after a contract is signed whether districts have been subjected to a lowball training estimate.

The practice of tacking on additional training sessions during implementation is bad enough, but the long-term cost ramifications are even worse when you consider the hidden expense of recurring training for employees who weren’t set up for success at the beginning. Instead of asking how much training will be provided and requiring a specific number of on-site hours in an RFP or contract negotiation, organizations need to be looking at the delivery medium and ongoing professional development that’s included in a vendor’s offering.

Whether you’re evaluating a new student information system or an ERP solution for your finance and HR office, the purchase of enterprise technology is about more than just the software; it’s about finding out which firms are only interested in winning your business and which are serious about building a successful partnership so your team can flourish.

The next time you’re watching a football game and you see a Pro Bowl player limping to the sideline, ask yourself how prepared you would be if one of your stars was suddenly out of action. How much confidence do you have in your employee disaster-recovery plan?

Tom King is a regional sales manager at Skyward, a strategic partner in the world of K–12 SIS and ERP solutions. With more than 10 years of experience working with school district leaders, Tom has developed a keen understanding of the challenges administrators face.

Photo courtesy of MediaBakery


How Teaching with Technology Helps in the Special Ed Classroom


How Teaching with Technology Helps in the
Special Ed Classroom

New software offers a way for instructors to teach students important literacy skills. by Marleah Herman-Umpleby

Teachers struggle day to day to meet the wide variety of student needs in their classrooms. In the special education classroom, these discrepancies can be even more profound. For example, students using Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) almost always lag behind in literacy development due to a limited number of tools designed to meet their needs. This presents a challenge for the classroom as a whole—for the students who are struggling, the teacher who has to balance the needs of all her students, and the rest of the students who may have other learning differences.

Erickson and Clendon (2005) describe the failure of literacy development for the students who use AAC as “a tragedy.” Even if these students clearly have the cognitive capability, estimates are that “90 percent of AAC users reach adulthood without functional literacy skills” (Koppenhaver & Yoder, 1992). To help address this problem, educators often incorporate existing tools and technology into their classrooms.

Technology can help teachers meet their needs in several different ways. In the case study below, an educator shows how she uses technology to change her daily role in the classroom, keep better track of student progress, and personalize learning for each student.

Teaching With Technology

At Bradford Woods Elementary outside Pittsburgh, Jennifer Tracy is the school’s learning support teacher. She has five students in her classroom for most of the day—all with various disabilities including Down syndrome, autism, and intellectual disability—although each child leaves for small portions of the day to participate in regular educational opportunities (lunch, recess, etc.). Jennifer uses reading instruction software—Tobii Dynavox ALL Software Reading Program—on her iPad or a speech-generating device with all of her students. During reading instruction, she begins a session with one of her students by selecting that student’s picture on her iPad. She’s able to quickly review the results of the child’s previous sessions and what she planned to address in the current one.

By implementing software instruction, which provides prompts for each task, Jennifer can devote her energies to supporting and encouraging her students throughout the lessons. Because she’s able to focus on her students instead of spending time keeping track of prompts for instruction, she sees if her students become distracted or if the session needs to change direction. If the session does need to change direction, she’s able to focus on the students because the software takes charge of the instruction by giving recorded prompts, telling the students what to do. The automated instruction allows her to feel confident that her students are receiving the right tasks and integrating well with other curriculum and activities. At the end of the day, she reviews the data collected for each of her students to track and report progress.

In addition to activities in the program, Jennifer also has access to a library of 25 books she can use to help increase her students’ interest in reading and decoding. With the particular program she’s using, she can decide to edit a book, create new books, or use the books as they’re provided in the system. Jennifer often presents books to several students at once, and then asks classroom assistants to work with students individually to create their own versions of the book with custom images and photos.

Jennifer says using the software program helps her provide sound literacy instruction to a wide range of students with complex communication needs. Freed from the demands of data collection and student organization, she feels more engaged with her students. Integrating personalized photos and customized target words in books has become fast and easy to do, and her students find it motivating and exciting. Technology also allows parents to be involved in their child’s learning at home.

Literacy skills are the basis for all other learning. Technology is not a silver bullet to help students gain literacy and succeed in school and life, but deploying modern tools can help everyone in the education community work efficiently and effectively toward the same goals.

Marleah Herman-Umpleby is a clinical content developer for Tobii Dynavox. She has worked as a speech language pathologist (CCC-SLP) both in early intervention and in several school programs for students with autism and with multiple severe disabilities. In addition to providing service with AAC to a variety of users with autism, she has collaborated with classroom teachers, therapeutic support staff, administrators, special educators, and parents on effective interventions and carryover to school and home environments.

Photo: Media Bakery

Microsoft Bets Big on Minecraft

1_Educator in Ireland

Microsoft Bets Big on Minecraft

Company buys education component of the game, also unveils new OneNote tools.

By Wayne D’Orio

Microsoft doubled down on one of the hottest education trends when it purchased MinecraftEdu less than two years after buying Mojang, the company that created Minecraft itself.

Microsoft says it will create a new, expanded version of the game called Minecraft: Education Edition. It will be available as a free trial this summer, but the company will charge schools $5 per student starting in the fall. Volume discounts will be available and current customers will be able to use the new version free for one year.

The company clearly hopes to spin the game’s popularity into expanded use of its tools, tablets, computers, and operating system. A new study by Futuresource Consulting shows that while Microsoft has about 47 percent of the worldwide education share, sales of Windows-based computers and tablets continue to trail Apple and market leader Chromebooks.

More than 7,000 classrooms in 40 countries already use Minecraft, says Anthony Salcito, Microsoft’s vice president for worldwide education. Through the game, students can learn digital citizenship, empathy, and social skills, and even improve their literacy, he explains.

MinecraftEdu is a version of the game built specifically for educators. But Minecraft: Education Edition will be better integrated into schools’ computer systems, allowing multiple students to log in with their student IDs and play together, something currently possible only on a separate server. Also, the school version will now be updated at the same time as the consumer version.

“One of the reasons Minecraft fits so well in the classroom is because it’s a common, creative playground,” says Vu Bui, the COO of Mojang. “It’s an open space where people can come together and build a lesson around nearly anything.”

Salcito tells of seeing students in New Zealand, Scotland, and the United States.S. use the game to learn history, re-engineer a city, or simply to learn computer science. For more information on Minecraft for education, visit education.minecraft.net.

In addition to the gaming news, Microsoft announced Learning Tools for OneNote, its free note-taking tool. The team that won the company’s annual hackathon effort created the new tools. OneNote’s new features will help students of all abilities better read text by offering them ample ways to customize how they see the printed word, from increasing the space between letters to breaking each word into syllables. Other tools can highlight all the repeated words or adjectives in a document, helping fledging writers improve their prose. 

Photo courtesy of Microsoft

Four Ways to Make Good Use of the Cloud


Four Ways to Make Good Use of the Cloud

How to enable new ways of teaching and learning with this technology.

By Tim Murphy and Chad Stevens

A teacher begins the day’s lesson with a virtual field trip. A student logs onto the school network via her tablet. The principal distributes an announcement to contacts stored in the school’s database. Technology in schools is ubiquitous. And while the influx of technology brings a unique set of challenges, cloud computing can help open the door to more engaging classroom experiences and greater student achievement.

Cloud computing can enable schools to use remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage, and process data, rather than maintaining the data on the premises. Districts today deliver 42 percent of K–12 IT services totally or partially via the cloud. School technology leaders know that moving applications and infrastructure to the cloud can lead to reduced IT complexity, decreased burden on the IT department, cost savings, energy efficiencies, and more. But the promise of cloud has the potential to extend far beyond technology and operational gains. It can have a real, measurable effect on classroom innovation, redefining students’ experience with solutions as simple as identity management and as complex as predictive analytics.

Let Students Be Students

During instructional time, a student’s only responsibility should be learning, and a teacher’s only role should be teaching. However, when a student forgets the password to his or her device, both the student and teacher must use class time to remedy the problem. By leveraging cloud solutions for identity management and authentication, students can quickly reset their own passwords and teachers can stay out of the technology process—reducing technology disruptions and consequently increasing instructional time.

Eliminate Snow Days

As a record amount of snowfall hit the Northeast in 2015, some schools in Boston had as many as 11 snow days—an unprecedented number. Students recognize snow days as excused absences from school, and across the nation and varying climates, “snow days”—also attributed to storms, power outages, and extreme weather—result in lost class time. Tacking hours on to the end of a school year or immediately preceding a holiday to recoup that time often results in lower attendance and/or student attention. However, as schools embrace technology in the classroom, teachers and administrators can turn cloud-based business continuity and disaster recovery solutions into true learning continuity—enabling schools to eliminate, or at least minimize, the disruption of snow days. Using public cloud services enables teachers to access resources at home and provide students with materials they need to continue with an alternative day of learning. Similarly, when larger weather-related storms strike, these cloud-based resources enable schools to quickly recover data, process payroll, and ensure students have the materials they need to support their classwork.

Connect with Students in a New Way

Many schools are data rich, but information poor. Cloud-based solutions can enable districts to analyze its data—such as students’ performances on tests, homework, and reports—to make more informed educational decisions, put the right curriculum into students’ hands, and permit controlled data access to the right educators at the right times. With “infrastructure as a service” offerings, educators can sort through vast amounts of student data and generate detailed analyses of each student’s aptitude and personalized goals so they can chart an effective path forward to meet their unique academic needs. Sifting through data to pinpoint where a student is struggling, while also identifying the most effective learning methods for that particular student, can help educators apply the right instruction mix to help the student better grasp lessons and meet learning objectives. Cloud-based solutions also enable educators to provide different lessons, resources, and materials to individual students and likewise, help the district share materials based on grade level and teacher.

Empower the IT Department to Impact Education

In many district IT departments, a large portion of their responsibilities have traditionally focused on managing the data center and school-based e-mail. By migrating systems from on-premises to the cloud, IT managers can greatly reduce the amount of time spent checking on the server room or troubleshooting e-mail issues. By sourcing some aspects of technology management and maintenance, the IT department can shift its focus to addressing problems directly related to teaching and learning, ultimately benefiting students. Schools are moving beyond the basics and rolling out 1:1 initiatives, introducing “Internet of Things” devices, and helping educators employ predictive analytics to inform their teaching methods. These new resources are often made possible because the IT department has time to redirect its focus.

For districts, the cloud means more than reducing equipment in the server room. It means using data to create unique lesson plans that help students excel and grasp complex material. It means eliminating lost class time because of password resets. It means taking learning home and embracing snow days as an opportunity for remote learning. And it means using the cloud to transcend technology, enabling innovative ways of teaching and learning.

Tim Murphy is a cloud client executive with CDW-G and Chad Stevens, Ph.D., is the company’s chief education strategist.

STEM School Focuses on Students With ASD


STEM School Focuses on Students With ASD

New California high school aims to build science, technology, engineering and math skills of students on the autism spectrum.
By Krystal Ndoni

At STEM3 Academy in Valley Glen, California, it’s not unusual to see kids building robots, making fantastical 3D objects, and learning CAD. The difference here is that all of the students at this STEM-focused school are on the autism spectrum or have other learning or emotional difficulties. And they’re getting a head start on their careers.

“There seems to be a bias which presumes that because they have a special need, that somehow or another, they are less capable and we should demand less of them academically,” says Ellis Crasnow, head of school. “In fact, there are those particularly at the higher end of the autism spectrum who are extraordinarily capable.”

Ninety percent of adults with autism are either underemployed or unemployed—the highest percentage of any group with a disability—according to the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Yet young adults with autism choose STEM degrees in college at a higher rate than the national average—34 percent compared to 23 percent. Despite the interest, few actually go to college; students with autism have the third-lowest enrollment rate compared with all other groups with disabilities.

STEM3 Academy, which is located in a community of about 65,000 just outside of Los Angeles, aims to bridge the gap—leveraging the talents of autistic learners in STEM education. Founded by nonprofit The Help Group, the five-month-old school has 33 students in grades 9-12 from outlying Los Angeles districts. But word is getting out and interest in this specialized school is growing, both locally and nationally.

Preparing Students for College And Career Success

The demand for STEM jobs is high—with projected growth higher than the average of all other occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Crasnow explains that while educators provided the emotional and social supports at school, it was industry that created the first programs to integrate autistic students into the workforce. Leaders like Microsoft, SAP (a German software company), and Freddie Mac have special programs to hire and train youth on the spectrum in specific fields.

Crasnow also cites Specialisterne, a Danish company where the majority of employees are on the spectrum. The founder—a computer engineer and father of an autistic son—realized that the hard skills he needed to debug code and do quality assurance on software were characteristic of his son.

At STEM3, students receive a well-rounded education that will be relevant to them in the marketplace; and the administration is working to build partnerships with colleges and industries to give students exposure—maybe even a foot in the door. The school is continually shaping existing partnerships with UCLA and local colleges to form various programs.

As for ties with industry, STEM3’s administration is aiming to create partnerships with both local and national companies that offer certification programs. The academy recognizes that students may want to build a career path not only via college but also to get work experience and certification—an increasing trend in the tech field.

A National Trend

The first of its kind in the nation, STEM3 Academy is an NPS, or non-public school, with costs covered by the district under FAPE (the Free Appropriate Public Education law). It contracts with more than 50 school districts in the Los Angeles area to place students with autism. Students can enroll in a dual program that allows them to take classes at both their home public high school and at the academy.

This January, STEM3 will open its door to its first middle schoolers, as it attracts more interest, even nationally, says Diane Flannery, senior director of design and strategy at The Help Group. The school is also considering adding elementary grades.

“We want to make sure there is a lot of interest from parents. And make sure that it is running as best as it can,” says Flannery. At only four months old, administrators don’t yet have the data to show the program’s effectiveness.

Still, that doesn’t stop callers from around the nation looking to set up a similar model.

Does Crasnow believe this can this become a national trend? “It is my fervent hope that it can,” he says. “I think it meets special needs head on.”

Photo: Courtesy of STEM3 Academy 

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