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Next-gen_pulse

Finding the Right Next-Gen Assessment

What to look for in your online program.
By Todd Beach

As educators, we’re all familiar with the problems associated with traditional print-based assessment: It’s time-consuming. It has limited flexibility to assess student knowledge. And it’s slow, which makes it hard to get meaningful, actionable data in a timely fashion. Methods to help in one area—such as using bubble sheets to reduce scoring time—give rise to other problems, such as limiting question types and ways of assessing students’ subject knowledge.

Online assessment is one way to improve these areas, but it also has some drawbacks. Many online assessments digitize traditional print assessments to save time on scoring, but they lack significant improvement in key areas, such as immediate actionable data for differentiated instruction in the classroom. Plus, these systems don’t necessarily support new methods that enhance student learning.

A better answer: a next-generation assessment solution.

What does it take for an assessment tool to qualify as next generation? In my opinion, a “next-gen” assessment tool should be intuitive, adaptive, and flexible enough to continuously be a generation ahead of a school’s or district’s needs and goals. It should go well beyond simply digitizing the traditional assessment approach. It should include features that enrich both the teaching and learning processes.

At Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan Public Schools (ISD 196), in Minnesota, we’re providing a truly next-generation assessment solution for our teachers. We started our search for a solution several years ago, and today we are reaping the rewards. We began in 2010 with a group of early adopters, and since then the platform’s use has spread, initially from teacher-to-teacher; last year it went district-wide. We have found that our next-gen assessment platform provides teachers with actionable data for differentiated instruction andhelps both impact and transform student learning through more meaningful student-teacher discussions, personalized feedback, and student reflection.

Richer Data for the Personalization of Learning

The most beneficial feature of a next-gen online assessment platform is the resulting in-depth, actionable, individualized, and immediate data for each student. The data provided by these platforms makes it easier to identify where students’ learning gaps are and where they have been. Having multiple years of data at my fingertips has allowed me to reflect on my teaching practices and better meet my students’ needs. At the district level, teachers across all of our schools are now having the same experience.  

Next-generation assessments also allow our teachers to generate assessments with their colleagues, and to share results with students instantly, without waiting for a printed version. This allows students to immediately reflect on their results, and to use the platform to communicate with their teacher about what they understood and what they may need additional help with. Our teachers can better understand how each student learns and thinks, and they can encourage students to take more ownership of their learning.

These rich nuggets of data are also extremely beneficial to parents. Although most grade books are now available online, looking at a current or final grade provides only superficial information about a child’s progress; it doesn’t offer insight into how a student learns. Next-generation assessments show student performance based on benchmark standards, informing parents where their child’s learning challenges and successes lie.

Richer Discussions

Next-gen assessments lead to more engaging, informative, and collaborative discussions between teachers, providing deeper inquiry into student understanding as well as potential instructional gaps. Our teachers collaborate within teacher teams online, sharing item development and assessment creation and instructional resources, and tying them together through shared curriculum maps. We use the results of common assessments to compare classroom performance by learning target as well as individual questions. This provides meaningful quantitative data to aid our professional learning community (PLC) discussions.

Richer Feedback and Reflection

Not all online assessment solutions are next generation. A next-gen assessment should provide the ability to gain deeper insights into students’ understanding and engage the student in learning. We use processes such as confidence-based assessment, student justification/journaling, and student self-assessment and reflection to facilitate student-teacher conversations during the assessment process. We believe that, in conjunction with a variety of question item types, these processes help our teachers reach a deeper understanding of their students and facilitate teacher-student feedback more successfully than traditional methods. Perhaps more important, these features facilitate student self-assessment and help students gain a deeper understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, encouraging more ownership of their own work.

Intuitive and Adaptive

At ISD 196, we’ve been using Naiku as our next-gen assessment solution since 2010. It fits the intuitive, adaptive, and flexible criteria I believe next-generation assessment solutions should have. From the outset I noticed features within the platform—the rich student performance data and metacognitive processes—that I immediately identified as long-term benefits for myself, my peers, and the entire student body. This next-gen assessment platform fit my needs wonderfully at the time. And as I expanded my use of Naiku, the developers responded to feedback to ensure it would meet my future needs, which has been incredibly valuable. Five years later, the program continues to adapt to our district’s needs.

This school year, Naiku added “Curriculum Maps” and “Adaptive Learning Resources” to its platform. These features further extend our teachers’ capability to collaborate on standards-based learning and help personalize learning for students. With Adaptive Learning Resources, in particular, our teachers can automatically provide instructional resources to students based on performance, immediately after test submission. For example, those students who do poorly on a particular standard can immediately receive remediation resources—perhaps an instructional video—while students who do well can be sent enrichment resources.

Your Next-Gen Solution

So what does next generation mean to you? What procedure have you implemented in recent years that remains useful and relevant to you and your educators?

As you search for an online assessment platform, I encourage you to evaluate whether the assessment solution you’re considering does what you need it to do rather than what it says you need. Consider the following questions as part of your checklist:

  • Is it intuitive for your teachers’ use?
  • Does it provide richer data that’s easily shared?
  • Does it facilitate teacher collaboration?
  • Does it help increase student-teacher feedback?
  • Does it engage students beyond the traditional assessment experience to accelerate learning?
  • Does it aid personalization of learning?
  • Will the platform adapt and grow with your needs?
  • Will its developers welcome feedback from users and make every effort to stay ahead of users’ needs and challenges?

If you can answer “Yes” to these questions, then you may have found your next-gen assessment. If you mostly answered “No,” then keep looking. The right solution is out there for you.

Todd Beach is the district curriculum lead at Independent School District 196 in Rosemount, Minnesota. He taught social studies for various grade levels throughout ISD 196 for nearly 25 years. In 2010, the Minnesota Council for the Social Studies named him the Minnesota Social Studies Teacher of the Year. Beach is also a consultant for the College Board.

Image:  Ian Lishman / MediaBakery

Skype_pulse

Demystifying Computer Science

Skype’s program connects students with industry experts to explain different computing jobs.

By Wayne D’Orio

Two facts: In just five years, one of every two STEM jobs will be in the computing field. About 9 out of 10 schools don’t teach any computer science. With Computer Science Education Week and the Hour of Code movement starting today, many schools and companies are beginning efforts to shed light on the first fact, and change the second.

One of those companies is Skype, which is taking the simple step of connecting students with computer science experts to show kids what the experts do, how they prepared for their job, and why they like the work.

“Skype enables students to engage with real people, putting a human face in front of the ones and zeros, taking the nerd out of it, and hopefully engaging students in the excitement of a career in technology,” says Ross Smith, the director of test for Skype and an Hour of Code participant. “These kids have grown up with technology, but they don’t make the connection” to computer science, he adds.

While most of the Skype calls are with middle school students, Smith says a colleague of his had a chat recently with kindergartners.

“It opens up a whole new world for these kids,” says Sandy Gady, a middle school design and engineering teacher in Des Moines, Washington. The class regularly uses Skype, and it’s become second nature for her students to set up a call. “Anything they can think up, they can automatically find a resource and set it up,” she explains. “They like the fact that they are in control of their learning.”

Skype in the Classroom, a Microsoft YouthSpark program, allows any teacher to sign up in less than a minute, and then explain who their students are and who they want to connect with. When a match is made, both sides are contacted to work out details. Microsoft YouthSpark and Skype’s program, while ongoing, supports Hour of Code.

Smith says that he constantly reminds today’s students to “dream bigger than you can” because it’s likely the future will outpace their expectations. “I work with people in India and Europe every day, and I walk around with all of human knowledge in my pocket,” he says.

Gady says her students even use Skype to set up ad hoc tutoring with classmates. She wonders if the connections will naturally cut down on bullying. “It’s hard to bully someone who is helping you,” she adds.

Schools can get involved with Skype in the Classroom at education.skype.com, or set up an Hour of Code event by registering at hourofcode.com.

Watch the video to learn more about Skype in the Classroom and Code.org's collaboration:

 

 Image: Courtesy of Skype

Salt-lake-city-pulse

Innovations Bold Gamble

Salt Lake school puts students in charge of their learning—and their curricula, and their schedules.
By Wayne D’Orio

Kenneth Grover had a big problem without an easy answer. As the director of secondary schools in Salt Lake City, he saw firsthand the struggles of the city’s high schools. Graduation rates were slowly increasing but they weren’t budging beyond 80 percent.

Not satisfied with adding a percentage point of progress every year, Grover knew a different model was needed. “Nothing changes with outcomes if you don’t change the inputs,” he says.

He did his homework, absorbing Clayton Christensen’s seminal book Disrupting Class, poring through Daniel Pink’s writings on motivation and success, and even gleaning insights from Steve Jobs’s best-selling biography. He visited schools, hopping from San Diego to San Francisco to Florida, searching for models he could emulate. While none of that work resulted in an “aha” moment, he did slowly zero in on what he thought would work best. Simply put, he aspired to create a school where students were in charge of their learning, directing the time, path, and pace of their education.

All of this work led to the hardest part of his journey: getting the Salt Lake City Board of Education to turn his concept from an idea into a living, breathing school.

“We wanted to take personalized education to its fullest,” he says. “We wanted to teach kids how to structure their own day.”

Grover presented his idea to the board. After the proposal was tentatively approved, he gave the school a name, Innovations Early College High School, and started recruiting students. Board members reacted immediately. “They brought me in front of the board for a three-hour Q&A and none of the questions were positive,” he remembers.

Once they saw he was serious, it was more than some board members were ready for, Grover says. “Board members said, ‘That’s the craziest idea we’ve ever heard of. You can’t do it.’ They added, ‘Show us a model that works, and we’ll support it.’” When Grover told them no schools existed at this level and depth of student-directed learning, the board said it couldn’t approve the school.

That’s when the meeting got even more contentious. Grover told the board, “If the premise is to find something that’s successful, are we closing our traditional high schools?” He explained that with a graduation rate of below 80 percent, he didn’t consider any of the city’s existing schools a success. “That really shook them up,” he says. “You said you wanted leaders,” I told them. “This is what leadership looks like. I’m not a manager.”

From Drawing Board to Reality

Fast-forward three years: Grover is holding court in the gorgeous lobby of his new high school. Students check themselves in and out of the school by smartphone, set their pace in classes that they choose, and in some cases even pick which books they will read. However, in many ways, the school looks like a “regular” school. Students sit in classrooms, sometimes being taught by teachers but more often working alone with headphones on. They consult with peers or teachers when necessary.

So is Innovations successful? Has it reached the goals set by Grover? Yes, and no. Last year’s senior class of 55 students had a graduation rate of 89 percent, and Grover hopes this year’s group of 89 students hits 95 percent. But for a high school principal who tells parents, “A high school diploma is meaningless,” he’s aiming much higher. This year, one student is expected to graduate with an associate’s degree already completed, thanks to Salt Lake Community College, which shares the building with Innovations. “In five years, it would be nice if half of our students graduated with an associate’s degree,” Grover says. “That’s ambitious.”

During a recent visit, a group of nine students sat in a semi-circle, answering questions from visitors with nary a school official in sight. While they all spoke enthusiastically about Innovations, I noticed none of their answers was the same. One student came to Innovations because a medical condition caused him to fall behind in his studies and he needed time to catch up. (“Although I’m smart,” he added.) Another mentioned how the small environment allows people to get to know you personally. One student spoke of the freedom to take one class at a time, concentrating solely on a single topic for weeks, while another mentioned that a typical day for her ping-pongs between working on U.S. government studies, completing a creative writing assignment, and then, after lunch, taking part in student government.

In a way, the answers backed up Grover’s initial concept: Students are a collection of individuals and treating them that way will improve their engagement and allow them to learn at their own pace.

When I told Grover his students all seemed bright, and asked if the first-come, first-served public school catered to a somewhat elite group, he quickly mentioned that “a good 10 percent were reading two levels below grade” when they started at Innovations. But with the school’s blended concept, they were given the materials and the time to backfill their knowledge and bring themselves up to, and usually beyond, grade level. Another student got pregnant, and Grover said teachers told her she would have to frontload her work to stay on target. She did, took time off for childbirth, and remains on track to graduate, he adds.

Creating a New School Model

Setting up a school without too many rules is, in some ways, like building a house without a blueprint. Each decision has to be considered, agreed upon, and carried out, all without the benefit of following more than a vague outline.

“The first year was a rough transition,” Grover says. For instance, English teacher Heather Bauer notes she excelled at classroom management. But when she enthusiastically switched to Innovations, she realized her skills didn’t quite apply anymore. Since she’s not often at the front of the room, the dynamic is different; now, when a student acts out, she can talk to them one-on-one immediately.“It took me some adjustment,” she admits.

“I don’t lecture all day, but I do have classes,” says Bauer. “We do have lessons. They last as long as they have to. Some students leave early, others stay.” The best part of Bauer’s day, however, is the one-on-one time she has with students. “I get to reach each kid where they are and I get to help them move forward. Ten minutes of dedicated time with one student can mean more than hours of lecturing. This is the best job I’ve ever had.”

The school’s curriculum is online. Some of it is purchased, some created by staff. Teachers are responsible for being in school eight hours a day (students attend six and half hours, anytime between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m.). Salt Lake’s union contract calls for eight-hour teacher days, but about six and half hours of that is spent in school, while the rest is taken up by grading papers, creating lesson plans, and other work done after school. Innovations’ teachers do all of their work in school, with the expectation that they shouldn’t have to keep working when they leave the building. The fledgling school of 320 students has seven full-time teachers and one half-time teacher, all of whom chose to work at Innovations because of the model. No teachers have left, reports Grover.

Each teacher mentors just over 40 students, meeting them weekly either in person or via e-mail to assess their progress. Mentors send out a progress transcript to parents once a month. Math teacher Chris Walter says he regularly sends notes to fellow teachers detailing which students are behind in their class work; his colleagues then find their mentees on his list and address any issues in their next weekly meeting.

Language arts teacher Dana Savage talks about how something seemingly as simple as meeting students weekly took a while to sort out. Because students progress at their own pace, the conferences are helpful checkpoints during which to set goals. What Savage quickly learned was that many students preferred to connect on Mondays. With some weekly meetings taking up to 30 minutes, Savage realized she needed to formalize her process, mandating that students sign up for slots so she can balance her work. Savage spends her time divided among four tasks: mentor meetings, class meetings, grading, and helping students individually.

Grover, when asked what aspects of the school he’s nailed, and what he is still working on, grows animated. “We’ve nailed the culture, we’ve nailed the rigor,” he says proudly. “We’re working on cross-collaboration among teachers.” Teacher evaluation is also still being defined. With so many kids working on their own, Grover and the staff are puzzling over how to create an evaluation model that best fits the school’s workflow.

Acclimating Students

Giving students this much freedom, when most come from Salt Lake’s traditional schools, took some adjustments, too. “One of our teachers said it best today,” Grover says. “We hold their hand a little more until they can fly. Some figure it out in a few weeks; some take three to four months. We build in structure as needed.”

Freshmen start out with a rough schedule, making sure they understand the school’s ethos before being cast out on their own. Some students can earn a credit in one week’s time, while others accomplish nearly nothing, says Grover. “It’s fascinating to see the lights turn on.” Conversely, he notes that some students do have problems adjusting back to regular classes when they go to college, although “none are hampered by the rigor.”

Students are expected to earn eight credits per school year, though the pace is theirs to determine. It didn’t take long to realize, however, that most students would avoid math as much as possible. To block this, Innovations requires that students stay current and on level with their math and language arts studies.

Classrooms have a collection of students working on their own laptops; they can check out computers from the school, if needed. Students who want courses not offered at Innovations can travel to nearby high schools for these classes. (Innovations is co-located with the district’s Career and Technical Education Center, so classes in hairdressing and automotives are offered on-site.) The school has just a couple of clubs, but no sports or music classes; students can participate in those extracurricular activities at the school in their zone. The district of 25,000 students operates four other high schools.

Innovations offers AP classes, but with the community college located just across the hall, most students are choosing to simply take college courses for extra challenge. After paying a $40 registration fee, students can take as many college classes as their schedule allows.

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

When asked if the Innovations model would spread to the city’s K-8 schools soon, Grover shakes his head. “Give me a break,” he says, with mock indignation. “This is hard. I don’t want to get fired.” However, the blended learning idea is already spreading to the city’s four other high schools, and a three-year plan exists to push student choice into middle schools.

Similar experiments are sprouting up in other parts of the country. Partly because Innovations’ model doesn’t call for any radical restructuring of a school’s physical space, other districts have started to create their own student-driven schools. Twenty-two school districts in Kentucky are implementing personalized learning after visiting Innovations. An extremely rural district in Indiana is implementing the idea, while other districts around Utah are piggybacking on the model.

“We’re starting to build a little network,” Grover says proudly.

 Image: Courtesy of School Improvement Network. 

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.

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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.