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Data-security_pulse

Busting the Student Data Privacy Myth

It is possible to balance security with data-driven instruction. Here are five ways to achieve a balance that works for administrators, parents, and technology companies.

By Jack Macleod

Tracking student data gives educators the power to make more informed decisions in their instruction for better student outcomes. But with great power comes great responsibility.

That’s why schools and ed tech companies alike are increasingly making student privacy a top priority. Still, many remain wary about data privacy issues—often due to confusion or lack of information on how the issue has progressed.

Let’s set the record straight on how education-technology companies and schools can find the right balance between the benefits of data-driven instruction and maintaining student privacy.  

Myth #1: The privacy-concern drawbacks of tracking student data outweigh the benefits.

Fact: Student data is an invaluable resource, not only to school leaders and educators, but also to parents and students. School leaders use student data to direct decision-making. With enough data, they are able to synthesize information about student performance school-wide and identify whether additional education resources need to be allocated. It also helps teachers drive their instructional choices because they can see where students are excelling and in what subjects they might need more support. Student data gives parents and guardians a window into the classroom so they can better support their child, and students have access to more comprehensive feedback so they can make better choices about their education.

The proof is in the research, too—data-driven instruction leads to better student performance. According to a 2012 report from the Data Quality Campaign, in a study of Oregon schools, those who provided embedded data training for teachers saw a significant boost in test scores and decreased the achievement gap in reading and math at a faster rate than schools without access to data training.

Myth #2: Digitally stored student data will follow a student for the rest of his or her life.

Fact: Best practices set by leading education organizations call for the safe and responsible deletion of student data. School leaders know that student data is not a new concept—schools have stored analog data in files for years. Not only is it easier to safely purge digital data records, but influential education organizations provide guidelines for schools on how to handle student data and make sure vendors are disposing of this data responsibly.

CoSN released the toolkit Protecting Privacy in Connected Learning earlier this year. Schools are advised to contractually require vendors to 1) only keep data as long as it is necessary to perform the services to the school; 2) return all records and delete all copies in possession upon termination of a contract; and 3) dispose of collected data by reasonable means to protect against unauthorized access.

Myth #3: Vendors will sell student data to marketers.

Fact: Under FERPA, a vendor cannot use education records in any way that is not authorized by the school district it serves. By penalty of law, vendors are required to protect student data and forbidden to sell the information. However, there is a valid concern that some companies will use the data themselves for marketing efforts. It is important for school leaders to make sure contracts with vendors specify that the school or district owns the data and clearly defines how the vendor will use the data. Many vendors committed to education are voluntarily making changes to contracts to address these concerns, as well as taking extra precautions with data security.

Myth #4: Student data can be hacked easily.

Fact: Many ed-tech companies are taking steps to protect student data. In an effort to be a trusted resource to the schools they serve, more and more companies are putting industry security standards and best practices into place to make sure student data is as secure as possible, including utilizing SSL encryption and performing regular penetration testing, vulnerability management, and intrusion prevention. At my company, Alma, one of the driving factors of creating an all-in-one secure platform is that data can flow seamlessly between tools with lower security risk. Schools are getting smarter about which companies they decide to work with, too. CoSN compiled a list of question that school districts should ask when looking into a potential vendor.

Myth #5: Parents don’t need to have an active role in setting privacy norms and policies.

Fact: Parents are key stakeholders in the issue of student data privacy. Schools have a responsibility to make sure parents and guardians understand what measures are being taken to protect their children’s information. The Department of Education released a list of best practices for such conversations. There are also a number of resources available from organizations such as Common Sense Media and the Data Quality Campaign that school leaders can suggest to parents so they can become more informed about privacy issues.

Ultimately, it comes down to finding that balance—a solution that offers mission-critical information to schools, teachers, parents, and students while ensuring that information is accessed safely and securely. Once the fear of “big, bad student data” is relieved, schools can receive the full benefits of the information and the insight that student data can provide.

Jack Macleod is president of Alma, an education technology company that offers a holistic student engagement platform for K-12 schools and districts. Alma has offices in Portland, Oregon, and Washington, D.C.

 Image: MediaBakery

Digital_pulse

Making the Digital Leap, Safely

Successfully adopting tablets in one small suburban district.
By Philip Ehrhardt 

In the fall of 2013, stakeholders from the district and I began to envision what 21st-century learning was going to look like at Benjamin School District 25. Because we are a small suburban district outside Chicago, we knew we faced challenges that larger districts do not encounter. We also knew we wanted to focus on creating an environment where students could learn whatever they wanted to learn, whenever they wanted to learn it.

Today’s students are accustomed to having information at their fingertips. They are tech-savvy and equipped to learn in a way that my generation never thought possible. Recognizing this new level of online engagement, we began our digital transformation to a 1:1 blended learning environment in the fall of 2014. Students in grades PreK-2 use clusters of iPads, while students in grades 3-8 receive Dell Venue 11 tablets.

The technology committee spent a year creating a strategic vision for the transformation. We developed a series of action steps to guide our shift, which was informed by visiting schools that had successfully integrated technology into their instruction. The Benjamin leadership team also drafted goals for curricular content, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving and creativity and innovation, which were affirmed by district stakeholders, including principals, teachers, and board members. And we specified strategies, responsibilities, and a timeline for implementation.

Choosing a Digital Solution

Selecting the right digital content and instructional tools is not an easy task. To find a solution that best fit our needs, a team of Benjamin staff members, parents, and students participated in the selection process for software and digital content. The team was looking for a tool that provided high-quality learning resources to support differentiated instruction, develop a formative learning environment, and ultimately engage students to perform at higher levels. During this search, the team followed strategies defined in the implementation plan to select a solution that fulfilled Benjamin’s instructional goals.

As a school district, we value resources that are curated and aligned to state and Common Core State Standards to save our teachers time, support assessment preparation, and provide measurement tools for personalized learning. We also wanted a solution that could be implemented before fully shifting to a 1:1 environment, giving educators enough time to familiarize themselves with the new tool and its support features. Based on our needs for curated, standards-aligned resources that support personalized learning, we chose icurio, an online content provider that also offers professional learning.

Developing a transformation plan and outlining district goals was key in helping us identify the solution that worked best for our schools. As districts begin their digital transformation, it is important to include a variety of people in the selection process, such as students, teachers, and school staff members. Their voices provide invaluable insight and support when making such a monumental decision.

Confronting Challenges

Digital transformations require professional development for teachers of all skill levels and experience. Smaller districts like Benjamin have fewer professional learning resources to support educators in such wide-scale transformations. Therefore, it was crucial for us to find a digital solution with quality implementation support.

To make the implementation process easier for the district, the selection team prepared a comprehensive overview of icurio for Benjamin’s board of education. The presentation explained how each grade level would use the digital resource and how students in all grade levels would benefit from the company’s more than 360,000 standards-aligned digital resources. 

Implementing these new resources prior to our full digital transformation also eased the process for our educators, as it gave them a chance to explore the application and request more content they needed for specific lessons and units. Choosing materials that can grow with our district was a major factor in creating a lasting and successful digital transformation.

Experiencing Success

Ultimately, we have been successful with our digital transformation because we focused on the instructional shifts rather than the devices used and we found a solution that supported our goals. As we did walk-throughs of classrooms, we saw an increase in student engagement and motivation. And students and teachers have told us that the resources from icurio are relevant and correlate closely with our district’s curricula.

Our short-term goal is to continue to provide customized professional development to enhance the integration of technology. Our long-term goals are to have students master curricular content and apply their knowledge at higher levels, including creating, evaluating, and analyzing. Also, the district is striving for students to more effectively use 21st-century skills like communication and collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving, and creativity and innovation.

The digital transformation journey is a unique process for each school district, regardless of its size, and you must find a tool that works best for your district, teachers, and students. Embarking on this journey means that students will be more engaged in everyday lessons and will be learning valuable technology skills that will assist them throughout their lives.

Philip Ehrhardt is the superintendent of Benjamin School District 25 in West Chicago, Illinois. He has served students as a teacher and administrator for 39 years in Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois. He embraces technology as an energizing, engaging, and relevant tool for advancing learning and teaching.

Image: Cultura/ MediaBakery

 Mobile Device Classroom Management Made Easy

Free Webinar: Thursday, November 13th, 2014 3 p.m. EST

More students are using technology in class, from bringing in their own devices to carrying school issued laptops or tablets. These tools can be a boon to creating personalized education that engages each student. But if misused, they have the power to interrupt the flow of good classroom management. Learn from two experts how to best harness your students and their devices in class—and how to empower them to create amazing work on these machines in class and at home.

Click here to register for the webinar

Speakers:

Dave Saltmarsh - Educational Evangelist for JAMF Software

Dave Saltmarsh is a former classroom teacher turned IT & Library Director in Arizona and Maine. In addition to managing all facets of information technology, he has led implementations in 1:1 computers for students, as well as iPad & iPod Touch programs, and has focused on personalized learning, Over the last four years, he has traveled globally and gained a worldwide perspective on the use of technology in schools and business. Dave has a Master's degree in Instructional Technology and has earned CoSN's Certified Educational Technology Leader distinction.

Ben Johnson - Administrator, Author, and Educator

Ben Johnson is a career educator with recent experience on the campus and district office level. As an advocate of student-directed learning in all its forms, he is an arduous supporter of the use of technology as “tools to think with.” He is the author of “Teaching Students to Dig Deeper,” a college readiness book for students, parents, and teachers.

Andy Hopkins – 4th Grade Teacher, Harper Woods Public Schools, Michigan

Andy began his career in Harper Woods Public Schools, and has worked in both the Middle School and Elementary level for over 20 years. During this time, Andy was a member of the district’s technology committee, and has earned an Ed. Specialist in Instructional Technology. In the spring of 2012, Andy became an Apple Foundations Trainer. This led to his new role in Harper Woods as the District’s Instructional Technology Specialist, and lead Casper Administrator. He works with students and staff to incorporate technology district wide. Harper Woods is the first school in Wayne County Michigan to go 1:1 with technology, K-12.

Moderator: Wayne D'Orio

Wayne D’Orio is the award-winning Editor-In-Chief of Scholastic Administr@tor properties. During his 10+ years of field coverage, he has won numerous awards, including Neal Awards from the American Business Media and Ozzie awards from Folio: Magazine. He’s also interviewed many notable leaders in the field of education including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, former NYC Chancellor Rudy Crew, and best-selling author Michael Horn. He frequently visits school districts, including recent visits to Forsyth County Schools in Georgia, Randle Highlands Elementary School in D.C., and the Big Picture High School in Nashville.

Ind.learn-pulse
Unlocking the Promise of Digital Curriculum

How to offer customized learning for each student.
By Cheryl Vedoe
 

Every day classroom teachers face the daunting task of accommodating students’ individual learning needs. The expectation of achievement for every student falls squarely on teachers’ shoulders.

With up to six class periods a day and students at different proficiency levels and with varied learning styles, it’s a challenge for even the most experienced educators to ensure that each student stays on track.

Digital curriculum makes it possible for classroom teachers to offer differentiated instruction based on individual student needs. The result is higher achievement for all students.

Individualized Instruction for Every Student

The amount of time and effort required for a teacher to customize a daily learning plan for every student is significant. How can we support teachers to meet the unique learning needs of each student? How can we enable teachers to provide individualized instruction tailored to each student based on his or her level of academic readiness? In many cases, digital curriculum can be the answer.

For more than a decade, we have seen schools integrate digital curriculum into their credit recovery programs and alternative schools to provide a different approach for students who have not been successful in the traditional model. Today, we are seeing more teachers integrate digital curriculum into their classroom instruction in a blended-learning model to customize the experience for each student.

Through a balance of scaffolded direct instruction, meaningful practice, and formative assessment, digital curriculum supports all students in mastering complex concepts and developing critical-thinking skills. With access to opt-in supports as well as opportunities for acceleration, digital curriculum meets each student—from those not prepared for grade-level academic challenges to those capable of accelerating their learning—where he or she is.

Active learning engages and motivates students while multiple representations address different learning styles and preferences. Students are able to progress at their own pace, spending as much time as needed to learn the material, or moving quickly through content with which they are familiar. 

Incorporating digital curriculum into classroom instruction in no way diminishes the important role of the teacher, though it does have the potential to change how teachers spend their time. Rather than focusing a majority of each class period on whole-class instruction, teachers are free to spend more time one-on-one with individual students or in small-group instruction.

With student progress and performance data readily available, a teacher can see where a student is struggling and provide the right support at that critical moment. If anything, the teacher as a facilitator of learning is even more important when digital curriculum is introduced into the classroom. 

Successfully Implementing Digital Learning

Planning is key to implementing a successful digital learning program to individualize instruction. The first step is to clearly define the educational goals, the desired student outcomes. The program design should incorporate best practices to achieve those outcomes and the implementation plan should ensure that teachers have adequate professional development and ongoing support. Periodic review and tailoring of the program based on results will ensure continued program success.

While there are many examples of the positive impact digital learning is having on student outcomes, there remains a tremendous opportunity to further support every student in reaching his or her potential. Through the integration of digital curriculum into classroom instruction teachers will be able to meet the challenge of individualizing instruction to meet the needs of each student and increase academic performance.

Cheryl Vedoe, CEO of Apex Learning, has spent her entire career in the technology industry and more than 20 years partnering with schools to improve educational outcomes. She is currently a trustee of Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, and is chairman of the Washington Technology Alliance.

Image: Frederic Cirou/Media Bakery

Cloud2-pulse

Six guidelines to follow when deciding how to store sensitive student info.
By Ray Ackerlund

More than 90 percent of school districts have electronically stored data on student demographics, attendance, student grades, student test scores, and much more, according to this Fordham Law national study. These school districts generally store data in one of two ways: on-premise or in the cloud.

Which one is better for your district? How can you keep this data safe? And what are the guidelines to follow when choosing a vendor? I’ll answer all of these questions to help you make the best decision for your district.

On-premise storage is installed and run on computers in a district building rather than a remote facility. Advantages of on-premise storage include complete control over all systems and data, and internal storage and handling of district data. The district needs to have dedicated staff for maintenance and support. Only a short time ago, on-premise storage was the most common approach; however, that has been surpassed by cloud-based solutions in the past five years. For districts that choose an on-premise approach, I recommend they include backup storage in a cloud environment. Skyward’s disaster recovery service for on-premise storage includes a rapid start-up service that can restore a district’s information within 24 hours if the on-premise solution is compromised.

Unlike on-premise storage, cloud computing is a model of data storage where the stored information spans multiple servers (and often locations) and the physical environment is typically owned and managed by a third-party company. Advantages of cloud computing include cost-effective services, limited software licensing costs, no new infrastructure requirements, and the storage company does most of the work, eliminating the need for extra IT staff.

As a student information system provider, Skyward recommends the cloud environment because it is a more effective use of resources. There is no right or wrong choice for school districts to store education data although they should assess their needs and resources before making the decision.

With the recent attention around education data privacy, the protection of student privacy within cloud computing has become a popular topic, although many educators are unfamiliar with the complexities of protecting student data. Because the protection of student privacy within cloud computing is generally unknown to the public and policymakers, districts should complete the following steps in order to ensure their student data is safe.

  •  Maintain physical measures to secure building locations of network equipment, including multistep processes to access network centers such as server rooms and a storage area network.

  • Establish separate network access points within buildings that segregate network access of administrative and classroom from students or guests.

  • Limit database administrator rights to a minimum number of staff—typically primary and secondary individuals such as SIS data administrators or district database managers.

  • Conduct routine security audits and network penetrator testing to ensure security measures meet current standards.

  • Establish a disaster recovery policy that protects data secured off-premise with the same level of protection as data stored on-premise.

  • Monitor network traffic to detect and block any unusual activity.

 As districts rapidly shift to cloud-based storage, many important processes are easily forgotten, as cloud services can be poorly understood, nontransparent, and weakly governed. Based on the Fordham Law study, only 25 percent of districts inform parents of their use of cloud services and nearly 20 percent fail to have policies governing the use of online services. Meanwhile, a sizable amount of districts have widespread gaps in their contract documentation, including missing privacy policies.

Districts frequently surrender control of student information when using cloud services. For example, fewer than 25 percent of third-party agreements specify the purpose for disclosure of student information and fewer than seven percent of the contracts restrict the sale or marketing of student information by vendors. Many agreements also allow vendors to change the terms without notice.

Given the limited control in some third-party agreements, districts considering a cloud-based data storage approach should follow these guidelines when selecting an SIS and cloud-computing provider.

  • Require a single contract that includes all parties and defines security requirements to ensure protection of student data.

  • Ensure the cloud provider meets recommended standards, with an SSAE 16 standard as a minimum.

  • Provide database management and monitoring services.

  • Provide database updating and application updating.

  • Maintain multiple data centers with redundant failover.

  • Continually monitor industry standards to ensure latest protection and security recommendations are being followed.

An increased awareness for district staff, parents, and local politicians about data storage are paramount for increases in security and privacy. The emergence of these discussions regarding proper privacy measures to protect student data will help districts strengthen their internal procedures, data management, and storage of student information.

Ray Ackerlund (@RayAckerlund) is vice president of marketing and product management for Skyward Inc. A 20-year industry veteran, Ackerlund guides the strategic execution of marketing and product vision for Skyward’s administrative software exclusively designed for K–12 school districts. Skyward serves more than 5 million students and 1,700 school districts worldwide.

Image: 4X-image/iStockphoto

Edjourney-pulse

On the Road, Seeking Out Innovation

Author Grant Lichtman on why America’s best schools are adaptable and creative.
by Kim Greene

Grant Lichtman packed his bags, climbed into his 1997 Prius, and embarked on an epic cross-country road trip, at least by an educator’s standards. Over the course of three months in the fall of 2012, he visited 64 schools, from California to New York, public and private, suburban and urban. His goal: to learn what the word innovation means to schools, what obstacles educators encounter, and what successes they have found. His findings form the basis for his new book, #EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education. We caught up with Lichtman at his home in California to delve deeper into what the senior fellow with the Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence learned while on the road.

Q: Early on in the book, you say change in schools isn’t hard—it’s uncomfortable. How does an administrator create a school culture that embraces change necessary for innovation?

A: The biggest obstacles to innovation and change in all organizations are fear and inertia. These are very much present at schools. Leaders need to have the courage to take risks, primarily to overcome the fear and inertia. Schools have always had a unique and difficult relationship with the idea of risk both as learners and as adults. Yet we know that organizations are not capable of changing unless we do take risks. In a time of rapid change, we have to engage strategies where risk is not a bad word. It’s not dangerous. Actually, the risk to an organization of not changing frequently is greater than the risk of making some changes. The book is full of examples of how school leaders are changing their approach and mind-set to the idea of risk—how they are changing the management structure to create more distributive, creative processes and allowing those processes to happen within their organizations. The real hallmark of innovation is the ability to move quickly, which does not happen when we have rigid, highly vertical, hierologic reporting structures.

Leaders are recognizing they need to value employees with different strengths than they’ve had in the past, rather than just valuing teachers because they’re experts in a particular subject or because they’ve had longevity in the system or because they’ve demonstrated ability to manage a classroom. We place a high value on people who have a willingness and capacity to create something—to collaborate as members of a team—as much as we do knowledge of subject. Those are some of the similarities of schools that seem to be developing a capacity for change.

Q: You spend a chunk of the book outlining the characteristics of an innovative classroom. If we walked into one today, what words would you use to describe it: adaptable, creative, dynamic?

A: I think it starts with those words. Those words are ones that I synthesized from so many schools and so many interviews with so many educators. They tend to be messy, noisy, and slightly chaotic.

I use the word permeable a lot. This follows on the thinking of my colleague Bo Adams, whom I cite in the book. We have to break this boundary between the concept of school and the rest of the world. This means breaching the physical boundary by getting off campus more, even if it’s only a few steps, to use the world as a learning space.

Certainly, teachers are becoming much more nimble and adaptive. They’re changing their curriculum each year, allowing students to help negotiate and change that curriculum, doing that as co-learners rather than as a teacher and a student at opposite poles.

Q: You make the point that innovation and technology are not terms to be used synonymously. Why do some educators think that putting a tech device in the hands of students is instant innovation?

A: We have to look at the history of it. We don’t have to go back more than 15 years—or, for some schools, the last 10 years—to when computers really started percolating into the classroom and school space in a meaningful way. A number of people felt that placing this technology in the classroom would be disruptive innovation that would fundamentally change learning. This included Clayton Christensen, who built a lot of the disruptive innovation idea around the example of computers in the classroom. What we found is that it does in some cases and it dramatically doesn’t in other cases.

I wrote an article for ISTE a year ago (“Take Aim at Innovation,” Learning & Leading With Technology, September/October 2013,) and its punch line was, technology is the bows and arrows in our quiver. Our goal as educators is not about bows and arrows; it’s about training the archer. I think that we’ve seen in the last few years a shift, importantly in the minds of educational technologists. Eight or 10 years ago, they felt what they were bringing to the table was the innovation. Now when I meet with them, many of them understand the shift is in the pedagogy and the learning space, the practice of relationships between teachers and students and knowledge.

Q: It’s difficult to imagine the types of innovations you talk about happening in schools that have so many requirements and regulations. Private and charter schools have more flexibility and, as a result, seem riper for innovation. What changes are necessary to help foster innovation in traditional public schools?

A: You’re right. Charter and private schools are a legacy of the old laboratory schools of the progressive era. This is exactly what they were meant to do—try new things and hopefully some of those will percolate, and of course did percolate, into the public system.

Public school leaders have to recognize a few things. If public schools do not change to better prepare for the future rather than the past, they’re going to continue to lose students to other learning opportunities. The range of opportunities families have to choose from today is vastly greater than five, 10, and certainly 15 years ago. Because of that choice, families who understand that the traditional method of learning is not preparing students for the world they’re going to inherit will make other choices.

Also, we are trapped in this existential discourse between the role and importance of standards-based learning versus what we could call a more progressive learning style. I do not believe the Common Core de facto is an inhibitor of deeper learning. In fact, I think if people view Common Core as a foundation upon which to build, much of what it outlines allows for these sorts of innovative learning conditions. I think regions, states, and areas that view the Common Core or any set of standards as so vital and so important that they require teachers to take on an ever more rigid, test-focused set of activities in the classroom, are on the wrong side of history.

Finding Excellence

Lichtman says he’s frequently asked to name the most innovative schools he visited. On his list of exemplary schools are these two public institutions:

  • Science Leadership Academy (SLA), Philadelphia: SLA is a public magnet school that faces the same challenges as other schools in Philadelphia’s system, including poverty and funding. Yet the school, which follows a project-based philosophy, boasts that 90 percent of its graduates go on to four-year colleges.

Among the many assets that make SLA successful, Lichtman points to the agility and speed with which the school makes decisions. SLA founder and principal Chris Lehmann told Lichtman, “We iterate fast and we are not afraid of ideas. But we also ‘problematize’ well. We consider the worst and negative consequences of our best ideas, and we do all of this quickly.”

Lehmann does not rely solely on senior administrators to make decisions about innovation. “When we have someone new to the school, we often have to coach them up to this level of decisional empowerment so they will just go and make things happen,” he said.

  • Denver Green School (DGS): DGS is a choice school operated under Denver’s Board of Education.Lichtman says the school has “the most intentional system of distributed authority” of any school he visited. Seven partners (master teachers, of sorts) founded the school and act as the leadership team. They’ll continue to add partners as teachers become interested and committed. With a growing mass of partners, they hope these leaders can then start their own schools with this same management structure.

Lichtman says this innovative management style works because it alleviates the problem of placing a single individual at the top. If that one weak link fails, Lichtman notes, the whole organization is at risk. But with distributed authority, the school has a better shot at long-term success.

Photo Credit: Julie Lichtman

Games-pulse
Getting Serious About Games

How to ensure the games your students play pay off academically. 
By Dan Norton

Who doesn’t like a good game? From chess to bowling to flapping (possibly even angry) birds, games have permeated our culture. With social and mobile technology infusing every aspect of our life, even Grandma has been known to cultivate a virtual farm or crush some candy from time to time.

For people who love games, this is great news. But now that games are accepted as a mainstream medium, it’s time to see if they can be moved past the point of mere entertainment.

The field of learning games itself has been around for decades, with venerable titles such as Carmen Sandiego and The Oregon Trail blazing the path. But there is new research and products that seek to unleash the power of gaming in your district’s classrooms.

So while mixing games and education is no longer frowned upon, the rules for evaluating whether a game deserves to be part of your district’s classrooms are certainly different from those you use to judge a game you play for diversion. Here are five tips to help you determine whether what you use your classrooms will offer students quality learning as well as fun.

1. Games Are More Than Fun

Yes, games are fun, but that’s just a tiny piece of what they have to offer. When evaluating games for your classroom, look past the amusing story or the pretty graphics and think about what players are actually going to do in the game. The gold standard to ask is, “Does mastering this game mean students will have mastered the targeted learning objectives?”

Great learning games use the natural gameplay cycles of challenge and feedback to ensure players excel, and the progress connects to the learning objectives in an obvious and measurable way.

2. Games Create Context for Content

Games, of course, can hold educational content, but the unique power of quality games is that they create a context to surround the content. This context creates authentic ways of interacting with the content. The gameplay in each game is actually a set of “verbs.” That is, players interact with the content in a way that closely mirrors actual mastery of the objectives.
The context that games create is so powerful that you can use it in classroom activities and materials after the game is done. Drawing on the gameplay experience, classroom activities can also connect related learning objectives back into the game’s story. For example: ”Remember how we grew those plants in Reach for the Sun? How do you think the plants actually turn that sunlight into energy?”

3. Games Create Practice With Purpose

Games don’t just create verbs, they create identities that give purpose. Quality learning games make explicit why the objectives matter. Games make heroes out of writers, scientists, thinkers, and problem solvers. Students want to know why learning material matters—and games help paint that picture!

4. Games Explore Systems

Games are, at their heart, simply a set of rules that players inhabit. These rules create a system that players experiment with and try to understand in order to get better at the game. Think of these rules as a simulation, and players as “researchers” testing the boundaries of the simulation through play. This makes games well suited to express complicated, systems-driven concepts that are so often found in science and math.

5. Games Are an Opportunity

When evaluating games, think of them as an opportunity to connect, create context, and inspire your students, not just to entertain or distract. When you evaluate the games you want to put into your classrooms, think of them not as a temporary diversion, but as a powerful new tool you can use to enhance your entire curriculum.

Dan Norton is the chief creative officer and founder of Filament Games. He has designed games about a broad range of topics, ranging from marine turtle ecology to legal argumentation. His games have won numerous industry awards and have been played millions of times in classrooms across the country.

Twitter-pulseWhy Your Teachers Should Use Twitter

Powerful PD—one tweet at a time.
By Kim Greene

There comes a point when we have to acknowledge that one-size-fits-all professional development isn’t cutting it. Just as students need to be treated as individual learners, so do the teachers in your schools. And while your district may offer workshops and webinars, there’s another PD resource right at your teachers’ fingertips. It’s open 24-7, connects educators from around the globe, and covers countless topics across grade levels and subject areas.

It’s Twitter.

We know what you might be thinking. There aren’t enough hours in the day to check another social media site. Well, we have good news for you. You and your teachers can spend as much or as little time as you want exploring ideas—wherever and whenever you want. Twitter is a giant professional learning network (PLN) that helps educators step outside of their classrooms and schools. Together they problem-solve, share, and refine their craft.

We’ve assembled a guide for you to share with your teachers so they can make the most of Twitter as a PD tool.

To get the scoop on Twitter as PD, we spoke with two tweeting teachers, Lyssa Sahadevan (@lyssareads), a first-grade teacher at East Side Elementary in Marietta, Georgia, and Allison Hogan (@AllisonHoganEDU), a transitional kindergarten/first-grade teacher at the Episcopal School of Dallas.

For teachers who have never been on Twitter before and have just created an account, where should they start?
Allison: My first piece of advice is to take the time to create your profile. When someone follows me, I look at their profile to see if they’re a teacher, principal, etc. Also, follow people in your school community to see how they use it.
Lyssa: A friend of mine took an online Twitter how-to. She was so overwhelmed! I suggested she just go for it, and that route worked for her.

When it’s time to start tweeting, what’s your best advice?
Allison: Start with a chat in your comfort zone, like your grade level or content area. Move to larger groups once you get the format down.
Lyssa: I started simple with #1stchat (first-grade chat) and just sat on the sidelines!

How do you start to form a PLN out of a sea of strangers?
Lyssa: It all starts with hitting reply. If something speaks to you (and you might not always be in agreement), you reply. A conversation ensues. You retweet them, they retweet you, you ask questions and share resources. You might meet them in person one day at a conference. It’s awkward, but it’s also exciting! You already know you have something in common.

How do you maximize your Twitter time without it taking over life?
Allison:
I investigate topics and lean toward what I will need and what I have to offer. Think strengths and weaknesses.
Lyssa: I often miss my favorite chats because the times do not work, so I devote a little Saturday-morning coffee time to going through the archives. I pick and choose. If I’m working on an improving math workshop, I make time to attend the chat. If there is a conference going on, I try to check in on Twitter or make a note of the hashtag so I can follow.

In terms of social media, do you think Twitter has something unique to offer teachers that Facebook and other platforms don’t?
Allison:
Twitter is way better than Facebook just because of the access—meaning a hashtag can unite hundreds of educators at one time and for a purpose. I can also ask a question using the same hashtag, and it will reach those who follow the hashtag, so more ideas will flow.
Lyssa: The openness of Twitter is unbelievable. The year I co-taught, I posted a tweet asking for tips. At least 10 or 15 teachers reached out to me with advice, special education resources, and blog posts. It was so encouraging! These teachers were strangers who just wanted to help. I had expert advice immediately.
Allison: Once teachers see the effects of Twitter, it will be easy to transition to a class account to share their work and wonderings with the world. I feel Twitter and Skype have torn down the walls of my classroom.

#HASHTAGS

Hashtags are keywords that categorize what you’re tweeting about. For instance, you might use “#edtech” at the end of a tweet about how your students use tablets. You can also search Twitter for a hashtag that you’re interested in. This will bring up tweets from other users who have tweeted about that topic. Here’s a look at some (but definitely not all) of the most popular education hashtags.

General education: #teaching, #teachers, #learning, #k12, #PLN, #edreform, #commoncore, #ccss, #teacherproblems, #edcamp, #globaled

Educational technology: #edtech, #elearning, #edapp (or #edapps), #byod, #blendinglearning, #ipaded, #1to1

Content or grade-level specific:

Literacy: #kidlit, #literacy, #readaloud

Math: #math, #mathed

Science: #scied, #STEM, #NGSS, #scienceteacher

Social studies: #socialstudies, #historyteacher

Arts: #artsed, #musiced

Early childhood: #earlyed, #preschool, #ece

ESL: #esl, #ell (or #ells)

Special education: #sped, #specialneeds, #autism, #dyslexia

Physical education: #PEgeeks

Speech and language: #SLpeeps, #speech

Other hashtags to note:

#tlap: Inspired by Dave Burgess’s (@burgessdave) Teach Like a Pirate

#comments4kids: Denotes when teachers want others to comment on students’ blog posts.

#flipclass: The latest and greatest ideas about flipped learning

CHATS

Educators join up for Twitter chats every day of the week. Moderators pose questions to keep the discussion on topic. Everyone uses the same hashtag in his or her tweets so it’s easy to follow the conversation. (You’ll also find that people use these hashtags throughout the week.) You can search for the hashtag manually on the Twitter page or try programs like Hootsuite and TweetDeck to follow along. Ready to give it a try? Pop in on some of these popular chats.

WHO TO FOLLOW

Companies and Organizations:

@ScholasticTeach: Scholastic’s official account for teachers

@IRAToday: Literacy ideas for all educators

@NCTE: Teaching tips for English teachers

@NCTM: All things math education

@NSTA: Ideas and opportunities in science education

@ASCD: Professional development and educational leadership resources

@NAEYC: News and tweets about early childhood education

@educationweek and @EdWeekTeacher: The latest education news

@edutopia: Inspiration for K–12 educators

@TeachingChannel: Online community of K–12 teachers

@Edudemic: Education and technology

@MindShiftKQED: Trends in education

Educators:

@KleinErin: Erin Klein, teacher and ed-tech blogger

@cybraryman1: Jerry Blumengarten, co-moderator of #edchat

@MrSchuReads: John Schumacher, teacher-librarian and cohost of #SharpSchu monthly book club with Colby Sharp (@colbysharp)

@donalynbooks: Donalyn Miller, a.k.a. The Book Whisperer, and a facilitator of #nerdybookclub

@bradmcurrie: Brad Currie, school leader and #satchat cofounder

@pernilleripp: Pernille Ripp, middle school teacher and creator of Global Read Aloud

@kylepace: Kyle Pace, instructional technology specialist

@Larryferlazzo: Larry Ferlazzo, urban teacher and ELL specialist

@coolcatteacher: Vicki Davis, blogger, teacher, and IT director

@web20classroom: Steven W. Anderson, instructional technology expert and #edchat cocreator

@mssackstein: Starr Sackstein, teacher, blogger, and co-moderator of #sunchat

@pamallyn: Pam Allyn, literacy expert and founding director of LitWorld and LitLife

 

Illustration: Jing Jing Tsong/theispot.com

 

Mooc_pulse
Learning by the Thousands

Can high school students learn in MOOCs?
By Wayne D’Orio

In less than four years, massive open online courses have been hailed as the next big thing to hit education—and disparaged as an empty promise where very few of the students complete the courses they sign up for.

You’re probably aware of the basics about MOOCs: After more than 150,000 students signed up for Stanford University’s first course in 2011, companies such as Coursera and Udacity, which pair with universities or other companies to offer content, seemed to sprout up overnight. MIT and Harvard, later joined by other universities, then created the nonprofit edX to offer classes for free. Today, more than nine million people take MOOCS, choosing from more than 1,200 courses.

Most K-12 administrators have been able to ponder the merit of MOOCs from the sidelines, as these classes have mostly involved college or post-secondary students. But with edX’s recent announcement that it will offer 27 courses next fall specifically for high school students, the question has landed right on administrators’ doorsteps. They have to wonder, will this work for my students, and if it does, how will it change how we educate our kids?  

Students are ready for it, says Anant Agarwal, edX’s CEO. The group surveyed high schoolers and found that 95 percent of them asked for advanced courses. Indeed, 150,000 of edX’s current 3 million students are in high school, he explains.

But that isn’t the only reason edX is expanding. Agarwal knows that many high school graduates aren’t ready for college, having to wade through remedial classes at university prices before they start earning credit. “We want to fix that,” and the courses offered should help, he says. edX will start by offering 15 AP classes among its 27 courses for high schoolers. It hopes to add 100 more high school courses in the next few years.

Another reason for the expansion is that a disproportionate number of edX students are teachers themselves. “It turns out that teachers want to know other ways of teaching a course,” Agarwal says. If a high school chemistry teacher can watch a Georgetown University professor teach chemistry, why wouldn’t they, he asks.  

The courses are all free, but for a varying fee, students can earn a certificate, Agarwal says. Of course, students in AP classes can sign up to take the AP test in the spring.

The certificate is also an answer of sorts to the conundrum posed at the start of this story. If course completion rates hover around 4 percent, as a study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education showed, are MOOCs worth it? Yes, Agarwal argues, because when students are asked to pay between $25 and $100 for a verified certificate, the completion rate jumps to 60 percent. (edX’s general completion rates are 7 percent, Agarwal says.)

Students are using certificates to help them get accepted to college, while teachers use them to get continuing ed credits, he adds.

In the end, though, “you can’t judge a MOOC by the same metrics” as a regular college class, says Agarwal. “If you pay $50,000 to attend college, you’d better pass. MOOCs are free. A lot of people take classes just to learn something new.”

Image: Spanic/iStockphoto

Top Stories for Wednesday 10/1

US College Enrollment Down

Second year in a row, student enrollment is decreasing. EdNews

Apps Created for Ed. Data Mining

Apps being developed to explore electronic ed. data. HechReport

UMUC Wins Intl Cybersecurity Competition

The UMUC Cyber Padawans hack their way to a win. WashPost

“Deeper Learning” Schools Excel

A study shows students have better test scores and people skills. EdWeek

DOE Creating Level Playing Field for Students

New education guidelines work to end racial inequalities. NYT

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