At #ISTE2014, Process Over Product Prevails

If you listen closely to the conversations taking place at ISTE2014, you will hear educators talking about BYOD, 1:1 initiatives, maker education, and more. But whether in a formal session or a chance meeting in a corridor at the Georgia World Congress Center, one common theme seems to connect what everyone is talking about. And that theme is an emphasis on process.
“This is not about technology; it’s about relationships and learning” said George Couros, Divisional Principal in Edmonton, Canada. Though Couros made this claim to attendees in his session, Conquering the Myths of Technology, the atmosphere at this year’s ISTE conference seems to reflect this idea generally.
From successful implementation of technology in the classroom to navigating this year’s conference itself, process before product prevails.
“The biggest shift for educators using technology is not skill set; it’s mindset,” added Couros.
Apparent by the interactions of conference-goers is a focus on continuing to develop the correct mindset to support blended learning in their respective positions as stakeholders in education, whether that be as a teacher, administrator, or policymaker.
“The beginning might be about the tools,” said EDcamp Founder and author of Professional Learning in the Digital Age, Kristen Swanson; “But the end that we have in mind must always be about the learning. We really need to focus on pedagogy, because it is pedagogy that is really going to move learning forward.”
Inevitably, in the process of marrying pedagogy with technology, talk of the SAMR (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition) model of technology integration must come up. And as it does, educators need to ask themselves, how is what you are doing with technology related to what you were doing before?
Ruben Puentedura, designer of the SAMR model, answered this question by encouraging teachers to leverage SAMR along with the Technological and Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) framework. Puentedura said, “TPACK helps transition [technology use] from the lower levels (Substitution and Augmentation) of SAMR to its upper levels (Modification and Redefinition). It’s here that technology allows for the creation of new task previously inconceived in the classroom.”
When asked how he helps his staff to initiate the process of sustainable technology integration at New Milford High School in New Jersey, principal Eric Sheninger said, “We focus on pedagogy first, technology second. The tools are just means to an end, so we really need to focus on those learning outcomes.” Sheninger continued, “Once you frame your learning outcome and you have a sound pedagogical lesson, then finding a tool to allow students to demonstrate mastery is a seamless fit.”
Denver kindergarten teacher Michelle Baldwin summarized this quite well when she said, “The process becomes the learning piece when less emphasis is placed on the end result and a grade.”
So, what do teachers at ISTE2014 need to help them embark on the process of learning how to leverage technology in their own blended learning practices?
Robert Tellgren Tweeted, “Time. The message that I keep hearing is that teachers need time to try things out in their classrooms.”
Regardless of how powerful of lessons educators may learn this at ISTE2014, without time, there’s no process. But then again, when process is framed by relationships and learning like it has been this year at the conference in Atlanta, educators at ISTE aren’t wasting one minute.


Leading Learning Platform, Edmodo, Adds Formative Assessment

Edmodo, a free K-12 social learning network, announced at the ISTE conference its new product Snapshot, a frequent, formative assessment tool designed to provide real-time insight into student proficiency in educational standards, such as the Common Core. Built directly into the Edmodo platform, Snapshot is customized for both teachers and administrators with distinct functionality aimed at improving student learning outcomes.
Serving more than 35 million teachers, students administrators and parents, Edmodo is the most widely used learning platform. The intuitive platform makes it easy for teachers to create private groups and manage assignments. Teachers can create and share libraries of content. A unit of instruction can be easily differentiated for several groups. Edmodo is widely used to support professional development and professional learning communities. The Edmodo app store features hundreds of free and premium apps including content and tools.
Snapshot for Teachers features standards-aligned quizzes based on a teacher’s classroom curriculum for grades 3-12 Math and ELA. Teachers can assign the quiz to their students, pre- or post-lesson, or any time that works with their classroom schedule. Upon quiz completion, teachers have instant insight into progress of the individual student or student and overall class with auto-generated visuals, giving teachers the opportunity to identify gaps at the class, group and individual level. To quickly address any gaps, the tool features a content recommendation engine, which surfaces helpful resources teachers can easily assign students, helping to resolve challenges and personalize learning.
Snapshot Report Page
Similarly, Snapshot for Schools enables district administrators to gauge concept mastery of educational standards at the classroom and school-level in real-time. With these insights, administrators have unprecedented visibility into what is happening in their schools as it is happening, including recognizing school sites that may need support in improving student comprehension. Administrators can then act on this information to foster relevant and supportive professional learning communities for teachers, all within the Edmodo platform.
“Teachers are faced everyday with the question of whether their students learned the material from the day before,” said Nic Borg, co-founder and chief product officer of Edmodo. “Snapshot puts a powerful and easy-to-use tool in their hands to answer that question. By mapping student learning trends and surfacing content that can be immediately assigned to help address any learning gaps, teachers can ensure every lesson is tailored to each student’s individual needs.”
“Edmodo is designed to empower teachers to connect their classrooms and steer them toward success,” said Crystal Hutter, chief executive officer of Edmodo. “The debut of Snapshot for Schools brings this to the school and district level and enhances Edmodo’s core mission of supporting meaningful peer-to-peer connections, nurturing best practices, and encouraging collaborative communities for educators worldwide. Over the past year, our district conversations have centered on ways that Edmodo has fostered deeper involvement in the learning experience, and moving towards actionable learning insights was a highly requested next step.”
A premium offering built on top of existing administrative functionality, Snapshot for Schools is available for purchase on an individual school or district-wide basis. Early adopters will also receive early access to Edmodo Practice, an engine that delivers standards-aligned content recommendations through an engaging interface where students select an interactive learning style. For additional information, please visit snapshot.edmodo.com.
Edmodo is a Learn Capital portfolio company where Tom Vander Ark is a partner.
 


The Bond Between Charter Schools and Digital Learning

By: Nate Davis
The Bond Between Charter Schools and Digital Learning first appeared on ThinkTank¹²
In 1992, the first charter school was introduced and the concept of public school choice in American education was born. Today, over 2.5 million students attend more than 6,400 charter schools in 42 states and the District of Columbia.
In the late 90’s, just as charter schools were about to experience a period of tremendous growth, a new educational innovation began to take root: digital learning.
Over the last decade, a strong nexus emerged between digital learning and charter schools. In charter schools, digital learning found environments that nurtured creativity and innovation.  Through digital learning, charter schools were able to provide families from every demographic more options, access, and choice in public education.
Charter schools became the primary vehicle for the advancement of digital learning, and naturally so. One of the cornerstones of charter schools was to invite education advancements by giving educators greater flexibility and autonomy to pioneer new educational programs. The goal was to allow charter schools to test and develop new models that could be replicated by other public schools and districts – a kind of education “skunkworks.”
The first online charter schools – totally digital learning environments – emerged in the early 2000’s when Pennsylvania became the first state to allow online charter schools. Soon after, many other states began to follow. Charters offering blended learning (combining digital and face-to-face instruction) quickly followed, providing a wide range of exciting and differentiated instructional models. These online and blended charter schools scaled quickly to meet demand from parents, and ran head on into the status quo. Conventional educational norms were challenged. Debate shifted from simply trying to find ways to tinker with the traditional model to wholly re-thinking how technology could disrupt the way education is delivered and consumed for the better.
Traditional charter schools – demonstrating their relentless desire to progress – adopted best practices from online and blended charters and began offering digital learning to expand programs and increase capacity. School districts quickly took notice. They saw the heightened interest from students and parents in online and blended charter schools, and began to replicate similar programs. In other words, the concept of empowering charter schools to be models of innovation and catalysts of education reform worked. Today, there are an estimated 2 million course enrollments in K-12 school districts across the U.S.
The other primary goal of charter schools was to expand parent choice in education. Most of the early charter schools in the U.S. were centered in low-income, urban areas to serve students trapped in chronically failing schools. These alternative public schools became life-savers for many families. Yet, these traditional, brick-and-mortar charter schools were still limited. For families in non-urban areas where charter schools were not located, accessing public school options was impossible. Public school choice simply did not exist. And where traditional charters were present, they were limited in the number of students they could serve. Demand often exceeded supply, which led to enrollment caps, lotteries, and waiting lists – a side effect that anguishes all charter school operators and supporters.
Those constraints began to break down with the introduction of statewide online charter schools.  Online charter schools serve families anywhere throughout a state. They are able to scale to meet demand, free from the barriers of a traditional classroom model. They bring school to the student, connecting teachers and educators to children and parents through technology. Today, tens of thousands of students are enrolled in full-time online charter schools in more than half of the states in America. In many cases online schools are the largest charters in the state.
The introduction of online charter schools meant that for the first time, every family in a state, whether they lived in an urban, suburban, or rural community – and regardless of their socioeconomic status – had access to public schools of choice.
This was no small change. Talk to parents with children enrolled in public schools of choice. They will tell you just how much having the freedom to choose matters to them. If expanding education choice to as many American families as possible is the game changer, then charter schools and digital learning are the co-MVPs.
They laid the groundwork for new education reforms. Policymakers and educators began looking for ways to increase digital learning experiences for students. Some states began advocating that all students participate in online courses as a requirement prior to graduating.  Still other states rolled out new “course choice” programs (e.g. Utah and Louisiana) designed to increase opportunities by granting students the freedom to choose digital courses offered through other schools and providers. National efforts, such as Digital Learning Now, were launched to find bipartisan solutions to foster high-quality, customized education opportunities for all students through technology-based learning. Last year, over 450 pieces of legislation related to digital learning were introduced in state capitols across the country.
All of this energy was a direct response to the growing recognition that all students must be prepared to learn, train, and work in a digital world where technology touches, and revolutionizes, everything. Today, it is commonplace for employers to use online learning for training and employee development. Higher education continues to rapidly embrace and expand digital learning programs.
Educators know providing digital learning experiences to children at the elementary and high school levels gives them a leg up and tremendous confidence and ability to succeed in the future. This has profound and positive economic implications, particularly as America’s diverse student populations enter a highly competitive and global workforce.
The bond between charter schools and digital learning is one of the great stories in American education reform. The partnership of these two powerful forces has already benefited countless numbers of students, parents, teachers, and the entire U.S. education system. And it’s only getting started.
Nate Davis, CEO and Chairman of the Board of K¹², is a seasoned leader of transformational telecommunications, media and software development companies, with a record of improving operations, launching innovative new products and strengthening relationships with legislative and regulatory authorities. 
K¹² Inc is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner.
 


Writing Across the Curriculum

By: Ian Faley
Writing connects us. Through the formal articulation of thought, we collaborate ideas, defend viewpoints, and refine our understanding. This is the impetus behind many attempts to “write across the curriculum.” Intended to present a unified front with regard to student writing—and to stress the singular importance of the verbal tools in all areas of life & study, the “writing across the curriculum” programs are being employed in schools across the country, and around the world as the latest attempt to improve student achievement. These great programs, if rightly engaged, have much to offer. Five key things to take away from the programs:

  1. “Just write!” This mantra is a great rallying call for those just starting out. Turning every question, every thought, every observation into a phrase, or sentence—paragraph, even. And this is where the power of writing begins. In seeing the words, noting their use, and realizing that their ideas can be refined & improved with practice, students buy into the process. Not just a “busy-work” assignment, writing becomes a skill that gives power to the students—and ultimately, allows them to control & show mastery of their knowledge.
  1. Write to learn. After the first step has been taken—bringing writing into the classroom, it’s crucial to maintain the energy and momentum. Writing to learn is more of a pedagogical approach, and stresses the role of student writing as a means for engagement, and participation in the “discussion” of a class or study. Like giving pause to consider a question, or waiting for student feedback to a claim, “writing to learn” places a premium on students immediately relaying their reactions & responses to the ideas presented in class. Instead of immediately asking whether students have questions about the material just taught, to make sure everyone understands—the proverbial “Are there any questions?” to which all students sit quietly, giving a few minutes for students to write a brief summary of what was learned, or jotting down a few follow-up questions has tremendous benefits for students & teachers. The time to reflect & personally respond puts a premium on the student wrestling with their knowledge and potential confusion, rather than leaving the teacher to wonder how effective they have been.
  1. Write in the disciplines. More than just a tool for writing & humanities teachers to laud the merits of language & rhetorical flourish, an emphasis placed on writing in all subjects is the best way to show students that writing is valued broadly. Working within each discipline to develop a common style, a common format, and a list of accepted conventions will help students see that while writing a textual analysis essay may be different from writing a geometrical proof, there is little variation within their English or Math-specific assignments. This helps dissolve any student frustration between grades, and the age-old complaint, “but I learned it different last year!”
  1. Develop a common language. If a common style, format, and conventional practice is important within the disciplines, how much more so across the school! Developing a common language has the highest practical import in easing any potential misunderstanding of students or teachers. One of the greatest impediments to a school-wide writing program is the variety of terminology, and the breadth of definitions employed in each subject. This is rarely due to subject-specific, differences, though, and more often due to lack of communication across the disciplines. Developing a common language of writing, then, has an even greater accomplishment than diminishing student frustration—as glorious, and singular an achievement, as it is. Developing a common language can develop cohesion between the subjects & faculty; antipathies are put to end.
  1. Develop a culture of writing excellence. The final step is coordinating a “writing across the curriculum” program is to highlight the mastery & achievement of students. John Henry Newman claimed that the best way to defuse and dissolve prejudice was to “make them see you; make them know you.” This sentiment can be rightly applied to the success or failure of any writing program, as well. Do the students see the value of their writing, and the corresponding accomplishment? They should. Acknowledge, then, the excellent writing—within each subject, as well as across the school. In placing an observable value on the writing, students will feel the accomplishment, and seek to replicate it. While this does place a burden on the teachers & staff to demonstrate a reciprocal mastery of language & writing, the culture that stems from such a community is of the highest value.

For further information about “Writing Across the Curriculum,” and successful programs, see below.

Ian Faley is a writing and development consultant, working with the National Writing Project and with individual schools. He enjoys teaching the art & craft of writing.


Ignite Sessions: The New Faculty Meetings?

Hey, educational administrators, were you present at ISTE’s 1st round of the Ignite sessions? If so, you may have walked away with a revolutionary way to conduct future faculty meetings. No, I’m not insinuating the donning of Google Glasses, the viewing of television shows with your colleagues, the production of original puppets, or the throwing of a raucous HTML coding party. I’m referring more to the way these presenters delivered their educational wisdom: a five-minute, 20-slide, bullet-fast, and highly energetic mini-presentation known as…the Ignite session.
This fast and furious method of broadcasting is sure to not only add revolutionary pedagogical ideas but also to spark a professional learning flame that feeds on courage, connections, creativity, energy, vision, and humor. According to comments from the ISTE 2014 Conference attendees, sounds to me like six characteristics needed in many faculty meetings.

Courage

Let’s get this straight. Every presenter at an Ignite session exhibits courage. Wouldn’t you be nervous speaking in front of this crowd in such a manner that is reminiscent of Fed Ex’s talented speed-talker, John Moschitta? Well, Stacy Hawthorne not only demonstrated courage by sharing immeasurable wisdom in 300 seconds, she spoke of it, too. In sharing her three keys for success, Stacy reminded teachers and students that the questions asked, not the answers spoken, are most important, “that all walls and boundaries have ways around them”, and that the true magic happens outside people’s comfort zones.  Right on, Stacy.
Wouldn’t it be cool if all teachers were asked at some point to display five minutes of unimaginable courage while sharing their teaching expertise at faculty meetings? Sure, educators will be apprehensive, insecure, and reluctant. But a fire will be ignited, no doubt, and that flame will light the way for the entire learning community.

Connections

Seriously. Isn’t that what faculty meetings are about? Connections? Connections with colleagues. Connections with students. Connections with communities. Connections with best practices. Connections with the reasons why educators entered the profession. Using the best tools and best practices to connect. Yep. Connections.
In her riveting message about rebranding digital citizenship through the educational use of technology tools, Tanya Avrith proved that the secret lies in connections. Her powerful view, “It’s not digital citizenship…it’s citizenship,” emphasizes an underlying and necessary reason why an Ignite session as a faculty meeting would rock: teachers will not be fragmented by can and can’t do labels but merely connected by passionate and empowered educators seeking improvement.

Creativity

“When you learn, create, and share, you give passion a chance to go viral.” This quotation from Rafranz Davis speaks volumes. In one of the most compelling examples of creativity I have witnessed in quite a while, Rafranz Davis validated her claim by sharing her nephew’s creative, educational journey.
Faculty meetings under the guise of Ignite sessions would be no different. The results would be an awakening of educators’ passions for learning and teaching while catapulting them into a previously unachieved realm of creativity. “Learn, create, and share?” Yep. Rafranz knows exactly how to breathe oxygen into a glowing ember of possibilities.

Energy

Just imagine the energy generated by tapping the shoulders of ten teachers and saying, “Hey, I believe you got something special to offer our faculty. How about condensing that pedagogical power into a five-minute stick of educational dynamite?” Think about it. 10 teachers X roughly five minutes per presentation = nearly sixty minutes of awesomeness. That’s plenty of time to annihilate the zombie-like atmosphere of many faculty meetings. Sounds like an hour of power to me.
In fact, this newfound energy would be palpable, and if you witnessed Jennie Magiera’s passionate and hilariously gut-busting appeal to educators to create their own professional learning experiences, you know exactly what I mean. Heck, after five minutes of Jennie’s edu-bomb jokes and on-point advice to reverse the discontent with professional learning, I was ready to call all of my colleagues from East Hall High School and request an impromptu Ignite session that very moment.

Vision

I am not sure who was more amazing, the Google Glasses-wearing Matthew Newton or the tech-savvy English teaching Jen Roberts, but both amazing educators made one thing clear: the ability to envision the potential in all students and in all educational resources is paramount. Matthew Newton distinctly articulated this element of teaching and learning by illustrating a collection of uses for wearable gadgets as assistive technology. His message was clear. Google Glasses are a vital, educational tool. Jen Roberts would definitely agree. In fact, she said, “Teachers need to be futurists; that is the nature of our business.”
However, educational administrators need not wear Google Glasses or seek reassurance from fortune tellers, all that is needed to predict the success of an Ignite session as a faculty meeting is a timer.

Humor

Perhaps one of the most overlooked components of a cohesive and efficient staff is humor. Maybe Winston Churchill had it right when he said, “A joke is a very serious thing.” To be honest, I can’t tell you how many times I laughed during round one of the Ignite sessions. I lost count.
An Ignite session as a faculty meeting would be no different. According to William Arthur Ward, “A well-developed sense of humor is the pole that adds balance to your steps as you walk the tightrope of life.” Let’s agree to substitute “education” for “life” and call it even.
So, educational administrators, were you present for round one of the Ignite session to witness a valuable structure that could change faculty meetings forever? If not, no worries. I’m sure you heard the sparks no matter where you were.
After all, inspiration can be loud.
 
 
 


Lessons from Horry County

We have been following the innovative leaders that make up the Horry County School District and are consistently impressed by their willingness and drive to make change for their students. This public district located in South Carolina is working to turn around Whittemore Park MS, a low performing high poverty school through prioritizing a highly student-centered experience for their kids.
Below, Beth Havens, who works with innovation projects in the district, shares a few of the lessons they have learned in the process of creating a more personalized environment for their students – lessons that leaders are using throughout the district.
The Power of Experts as Activators– Some key lessons learned for us have been around the teacher as learner and the power of experts as activators. The term activators is used as defined and discussed in Fullan and Donnelly’s Alive in the Swamp in their reflections about Hattie’s meta-analysis of learning practices on student achievement. The term includes the notions of “reciprocal teaching – where student and teachers are both ‘teachers’ learning from each other; regular, tailored feedback; teacher–student verbal interaction; meta cognition – making explicit the thinking process; challenging goals – setting ambitious and achievable learning goals.”
Transformation is not a DIY project – You have to go beyond just reading articles, discussing the latest research, and visiting exemplar schools. Partnerships with current experts in the field are key. Our ability to build a network of support has been possible by the NGLC grant and by affiliation with the NGLC learning community. We are incredibly fortunate to be working with three teams of “master teachers” in our partnerships with Education Elements, the Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations, and the Educational Policy Improvement Center. While the focus of each partner is, in a sense, on a different element of transformation – blended learning, student voice and aspirations, and college and career readiness – their teams who work side-by-side with teachers are effecting rapid and deep change because for teachers they model as well as “teach” around the notion of teacher as activator.
Deeper Learning through Professional Development – Find support from master teachers and experts-in-the-field, who probe, engage and challenge – who have a genuine understanding of the complexities of working in real public school buildings with real public school children. Deep learning does not take place through canned slide decks delivered in a monotone, nor does it occur in isolated after-school hours labeled “weekly staff development session” or in “stand and deliver” messages about the urgency of change. Deep learning occurs when teachers (and building leaders and district leaders) have opportunities to work with experts-in-the-field who are themselves master teachers, who understand that transformation is an ever-unfinished journey, and who are capable of personalizing and individualizing for the adult learners who are as different and unique in their skills and perspectives as the students with whom these adult learners work.
The Power of the Whole Village – Though certainly a cliché, we have found that it really does take the whole village, and there is no shortcutting this foundation for thinking about transformation. As hard as teachers may work, their time with students is, in a sense, limited to the seven or so hours per day in which they are in the classroom. To shift the culture of the building takes Herculean efforts on the part of all of the villagers, and we are seeing both the emergence and the effects possible when all of the villagers have agency in and ownership of the village. We could give so many examples, but listed below are a few of these:

  • A school custodian who has undertaken leadership of the 100 Point Club, a club that recognizes achievement and improvement of male students in the school by providing activities such as camp-outs and fishing trips.
  • An aide who sponsors the Queen’s Club, a club that helps female students learn about everything from etiquette to positive leadership skills.
  • An attendance clerk who, when she realized that the district’s new online registration process was overwhelming for parents and guardians who had neither computers nor internet in their homes, sets up a computer area in the office and sits side-by-side with parents/guardians and patiently, for days and days, shows them the district web site and teaches them how to register their children.
  • A cafeteria manager and cafeteria staff who, knowing that nearly 90% of the students in the school have free/reduced lunch, come in early on days of student field trips to local colleges and area industries to pack lunches for all of the students who are going on the trips and to load these lunches on the buses.
  • A local pastor who not only volunteers to co-lead an advocates program being established but who also calls on his entire congregation to step up and invest time in the school.
  • Students who volunteer to serve as representatives for their peers on a leadership team focused around student voice and who were willing to confront difficult issues, including student behavior and bullying, and work with teachers and staff in thinking about and implementing more effective practices and strategies.
  • Community members who graduated from the school when it was the only African American high school in the area and who come to every school event to support the students and who help students understand and celebrate the rich and diverse history of the community and the school.
  • Teachers, along with community members, who volunteer their time before and after school to ensure that students have opportunities to participate in learning experiences such as robotics competitions and technology fairs.
  • A local radio station that features school events, activities, and news.
  • Parents who come into the building every day to ask, “What do you need?” or “What can I do to help?”
  • Invested and present superintendent and district staff members who call and email every day to ensure that we have the support, infrastructure, and resources we need to pilot 1:1 devices, a blended learning model, and a learning management system. They were enthusiastic learners with us and were able to tolerate the temporary “controlled chaos” that transformation brings.

Results at Whittemore Park MS In a little over a year, “regular” teachers in a “regular” public school not only are developing and demonstrating new pedagogies, but they are also developing renewed confidence in themselves as learners, a confidence which leads to open and reflective sharing of lessons learned and promising practices both internally among themselves as they analyze results and determine next steps and externally with educators and education leaders who come to the school from across the district, the state, and the nation. The same results are true for our students who are more and more consistently demonstrating agency and self-advocacy, who are comfortable and articulate in sharing with any visitors to the building exactly what they are learning as well as where they are along the learning continuum, and who are daily learning and demonstrating enhanced skills in collaboration, communication, and creative problem solving.
What’s Next for the district? With Board of Education support, the superintendent and district staff members supported and scaled the 1:1 blended learning pilot at Whittemore Park Middle to all middle schools and 10,000+ students in the district during the winter and spring of 2014. This scaling is continuing with our high schools, and in the fall of 2014, all secondary students in the district will have 1:1 devices. We anticipate scaling this work to all of our elementary schools in 2014-2015. At the end of the planned roll out of professional development and 1:1 devices, over 40,000 students and their teachers in the 54 schools and programs in the district will have personal learning devices and an instructional model which incorporates promising practices from a variety of blended learning models.


Preparing Students and Teachers for Next-Gen Assessments

Currently, states across the country and D.C. are members of consortia developing Next Generation Assessments tied to the new College & Career Readiness standards. Preparing all learners for these high-stakes assessments is top of mind for district leaders. To support school leaders and teachers, EdTech companies are supporting the development of resources that help prepare both students and teachers to meet the rigors of the new standards and assessments head-on AND succeed. As part of this effort, Scholastic’s READ 180 (@READ180) has developed rSkills College & Career and Stretch Text Instruction and Assessment Practice as resources to prepare students for these new rigorous assessments.
These resources allow teachers to:

  1. Measure students’ reading progress and mastery of key comprehension concepts; and
  2. Provide teachers and students with authentic Next Generation assessment practice in advance of the new assessments.

So what is different about rSkills College & Career? First, the questions asked reflect the new item types found on the PARCCSBAC, and state developed next-gen assessments. Students will have the opportunity to have both instruction and assessment practice prior to the new assessments being released in 2015. Practice makes perfect, and giving students experience with new instructional and assessment models will support their overall success and increase confidence.
Second, rSkills College & Career has enhanced technology features that mirror what students will be asked to do on the new assessments. These new technology features include highlighting, chart completion, and matching activities. Providing hands-on practice and experience in the classroom give both teachers and students adequate preparation with the new assessment item types. This is key to ensuring each student builds mastery of these new item types and increases their likelihood for success.

The complementary tool rSkills College & Career is Stretch Text Instruction and Assessment Practice Stretch Texts provide teachers with the opportunity to challenge students to read grade-level, complex texts by engaging them with higher order, critical reading skills such as synthesis and analysis. Building an evidence-based competency is critical with these new standards. This will require students to go back into the text and find the evidence they need to successfully answer assessment questions. Practice questions also reflect the item types found in the next-gen assessments providing further opportunities for students to become familiar with the new format. Additionally, teachers have all of the instructional tools they need to build their knowledge base and comfort with the new assessments.
Stretch Tools
Preparing our students and teachers for the new College & Career readiness standards and next-gen assessments is incredibly important to the success of our education system. Preparing our students for a successful college and career experience is critical for the future of our nation. rSkills College & Career and Stretch Text Instruction and Assessment Practice provide teachers with the tools needed to successfully prepare their students to succeed on the new assessments and tackle the expectations of college and career head on.
Scholastic is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner.


New White Paper Outlines What’s Now and Next with School Software

As educational technology implementation continues to spread across classrooms, use has become increasingly diverse and sophisticated. From blending learning to supporting data-driven practices, digital tools and software are changing the ways that teachers and students both operate. In light of this, most of what is seen in the market reflects the needs of the largest urban districts with the largest technology budgets and the greatest potential for impacting edtech’s bottom line. But where does that leave the needs of small- to medium-sized school systems, which happen to account for half of the nation’s 48 million public schools?
A recent white paper by the Clayton Christensen Institute addresses just that. 30 small- to medium-sized public school systems (serving 2,500 to 25,000 students) with proven track records of successful blended learning programs were surveyed to determine what they perceive to be developing trends in technology usage and demand among small- to medium-sized school systems for the paper Schools and software: What’s now and what’s next. Among the major requests mentioned, four stood out as worthy of mainstream attention.

Academic Software

Teachers surveyed communicated a strong desire for software vendors to begin cooperating in order for school systems to overcome the challenge of “creating compelling and integrated student experiences from a patchwork of programs that don’t talk to one another.” Additionally, requests were made for software programs that allow teachers to create individualized work plans for students within the software while also being able to “extract meaningful data” about student achievement and performance. As a result, there are opportunities for technology companies to delight both students and teachers while building trust with educators in the process.

Business and Operations Software

Naturally, school systems place a greater emphasis on school-related software than software for business operations. Nevertheless, small- to medium-sized school systems run into the same issue when it comes to business operations software to meet their needs as they do with education-related offerings. With business operations software, smaller school systems “face a tradeoff between comprehensive, legacy enterprise solutions that can be difficult to use, disparate point solutions that do not talk to one another, or large enterprise applications that are designed and priced for much larger entities.” In an attempt to solve their own problem, some charter management organizations have begun developing their own business operations software in house and in partnership with existing vendors. Though with how complex public school systems’ human resources and finance systems are, “such vendors may shy away from the K-12 space.”

Software and Data Integration

Referring again to cooperation, school systems and investors need to demand cooperation at the outset from K-12 software vendors. Where “hub” platforms such as those responsible for student information systems (SIS), human resources information systems (HRIS) and domain management or identity management systems collect critical data, they often require that a “highly centralized architecture around nearly all other programs be created” whether automatically or manually. Fortunately, newer hubs such as Google Apps for Education are serving to “upset the current balance in software architectures.” Similarly, school-friendly edtech companies that help school systems to analyze and manage data are “drawing significant interest from both customers and investors” which alludes to a promising trajectory of growth for this segment of the market.

IT Management and Hardware

With a pronounced move toward blended learning, the IT department has been brought out of its traditionally siloed role to more actively support teaching and learnings. In conjunction with a new pedagogy, the emergence of cloud-based software in the classroom, IT management and workflow are becoming more efficient even while they are presented with new challenges to overcome relating to data privacy. In this context, schools have been actively moving towards 1:1 computing models by adopting “affordable, manageable, and reliable devices to support their instructional models and online assessments.” While solutions such as Chromebooks have been gaining traction, “school systems will be more likely to move toward device agnostic and bring your own device (BYOD) environments” in the future as infrastructure is put in place to support the needs of such initiatives. As a result of this white paper, it is hoped that investors and vendors will begin leveraging the anecdotal research findings outlined above to target otherwise underserved pockets in the market through cooperation and targeted design while small- to medium-sized school systems continue to demand products be tailored to meet the needs of their students.
For more information about EdTech purchasing and procurement, check out the Smart Series Guide to EdTech Procurement and infographic Smart EdTech Requires Buying Smart. The Learning Accelerator’s Blended Learning Snapshot on EdTech Procurement in Houston shares additional practical advice on purchasing. For more information about how new tools and new schools are forming, read the summary for Getting Smart’s forthcoming Smart Cities book.


The #ISTE2014 Conference Survival Guide

First, let’s agree on this well-known fact: the ISTE Conference is awesome. There truly are not enough adjectives to encompass the possibilities one engenders while attending this mega-conference of passionate educators seeking to use technology as learning tools. Secondly, along with this awesomeness comes the potential to be overwhelmed to the extent of mental and physical exhaustion. Especially for first-time attendees, the result can be a lack of clarity and an inability to apply the amazing ideas, technology tools, and “Aha!” moments that were so apparent and simple in real time. However, there is no need to fear. The ISTE Conference Survival Guide is here.

Less Is More

As a first-time attendee in Philadelphia in 2011, I was gung-ho, to say the least. No matter how far I had to travel to make it to a self-appointed, must-see gathering, I found myself in a workshop or session nearly every hour. The problem I encountered was information overload. Everything was so awe-inspiring and seemed to happen so fast. I took in too much, too quickly. Fast-forward to my attendance at the following two ISTE Conferences in San Diego and in San Antonio… I learned my lesson. Through careful planning each previous night, I allowed myself only two consecutive workshops and/or sessions before taking a mandatory break to reflect. The outcome? Balance and a multitude of creative ideas and applications for the knowledge I had just acquired.

Eat and Hydrate

One definite requirement for participating in such a galactic assembly of forward-thinking educators is ENERGY. Sounds simple, I know. As a former ISTE greenhorn in 2011 who ate breakfast at 6:30 every morning and did not slow down again until a 7:00 dinner, please believe me when I say, “Sustained fuel is vital to your overall success at the ISTE Conference.”

Divide and Conquer

If you are attending with other colleagues, devise a plan to crowd-source the workshops and sessions. Instead of attending a particular workshop or session with three of your colleagues, divvy up your common interests and assign one person per workshop or session. Since you cannot be in several places at the same time, this teamwork eliminates the culling of potentially beneficial meetings. Furthermore, sharing a Google Form and its accompanying responses spreadsheet is a highly efficient and organized approach to crowd-sourcing all valuable links, resources, and comments.

Be Organized

Whether you are attending solo or with a team of colleagues, a plan for taking and curating notes is crucial. Evernote, Twitter, Google Drive apps, and an abundance of other technology tools can easily accomplish this important task. Personally, I hammer out comments and links on Twitter, store pictures as notes in Evernote, and use a shared Google Form that is bookmarked to my laptop browser and to my iPad and iPhone screens. Although I love the personal connection between my thoughts and my handwriting, a pen or pencil is seldom used simply because I type much quicker than I write. Since most presenters share all of their notes and ideas via a slideshow or other technology tool, one key thing to remember, however, is that personal note-taking is often redundant and unnecessary. All that is left to do then is copy the given link of resources and soak up the knowledge.

Use the Mobile App

To cover the “Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How” of sessions, workshops, and meetings you will attend, the ISTE mobile app is a must-have. Never make a wrong turn and miss a session with the multitude of cool features to keep you in the right place at the right time for the right reason.

Have Fun

Never miss an opportunity to have some fun and hangout with your colleagues. One such example of a conglomeration of educators having a blast and rocking it out is the EdTech Karaoke. If showing your talent or lack thereof is not your tune, look around. There will be plenty more impromptu and planned gatherings.

Take in the Culture

Don’t forget to take in a bit of the local culture. Click here to see a list of attractions in downtown Atlanta.

Ignite Sessions

Need a spark of creativity? Check out the Ignite sessions. Here is the ISTE 2014 Conference website’s definition of an Ignite session: “Twelve presenters will have just five minutes and 20 slides each to share their passions and ignite yours in one continuous rapid-fire presentation!” These fast and furious outpourings of ideas are a perfect start to the conference.

Bloggers’ Café

If you need to kick back and take a load off or find a hopping place to chat with other writing educators, take a look at the Bloggers’ Café. Click here for a full description and more details.

Eat Lunch with Strangers

Perhaps some of my best educational conversations the past few years have taken place directly outside of the conference rooms and in the hallways. One such conversation occurred two years ago in San Diego while I was seated in a hallway waiting for my iPhone to charge. Fifteen minutes later found me much smarter and more connected due to an impromptu and informal meeting with three colleagues from three different states. I now make sure I am aware of any possible “anywhere” #edchat discussions. As my good friend and colleague, Dave Guymon, says, the next minute may find you “eating lunch with strangers,” but who knows what you would miss if you passed up these chances.

The Poster Sessions

Inquiring about students’ and teachers’ adventures and projects in education is an absolute must. To do so, take a slow stroll through the poster sessions.

The Expo Hall

A casual stroll through the Expo Hall will open your eyes to the current trends and futuristic potential of educational technology. And you may walk away with a few freebies, too.

Keynote Speakers

The keynote speakers always set, maintain, and wrap-up the theme and tone of the ISTE Conference. This year’s line-up appears to be stellar. Beginning with Ashley Judd, pausing at the midpoint with Kevin Carroll, and ending with the National Teacher-of-the-Year, Jeff Charbonneau, the keynote speakers will keep all attendees fully anchored to the awesomeness of ISTE.

Twitter, Tweetdeck, and the Official Hashtag

Be sure to use the power of Twitter, Tweetdeck, and the official ISTE hashtag (#ISTE2014) to share and follow all #edchat and #edtech conversations at ISTE. Heck, you can even be at home and follow the constant stream of progressive thinking directly from your Tweetdeck. Don’t forget to find Dave Guymon and me at ISTE ’14 in Atlanta. Stop by and say, “Hey.” We may even have time to grab a lunch and speak about the awesomeness that is the ISTE Conference.   Got any other ideas to share for the ISTE Survival Guide? If so, please share.


EdTech 10: World Cup Style

As the soccer world is facing the elimination rounds, we thought we’d offer our advice on which EdTech stories made the cut this week. Much like Costa Rica, some of these stories we didn’t see coming but are strong contenders for top story of the week.
Speaking of World Cup, our team is headed to the “world cup” of Science and Technology conferences as we pack our bags for ISTE Conference (@ISTEConnects). After we share our winning stories from ISTE we’ll pack up and head to the heat that rivals Brazil right now for National Charter Schools Conference (@CharterAlliance) in Vegas.  Keep an eye out for our updates on the blog and by following us on Twitter (@Getting_Smart), #ISTE2014, and #NCSC14.

Smart Cities

1. Expanding the “Breakthrough” School Community. Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) (@NextGenLC) announced partnership with six community-based education organizations to help apply $25 million in grants to expand and innovate personalized learning opportunities for students. Each community partner will invest over $1.8M in local design teams, helping to create smarter cities across the country. For more great work happening in cities across the US, check out these recent posts in our Smart Cities series:

– Moving Towards Next Generation Learning by Andy Calkins (@andrewcalkins)
– An Educators Lean Startup Mindset by Matt Candler (@mcandler)

Blended Schools & Tools

2. SETDA Releases a “Coaches Playbook”. The State Educational Technology Directors Association (@SETDA) launched the The Guide to Technology Requirements website. The new website seeks to help school leaders access information about technology requirements for common core assessments. The site allows users to input their information and access district-specific resources.
3. FCC Goes for the Goal with Wi-Fi. The Federal Communications Commission (@FCC) plans to spend $2 billion in the next two years to ensure American students have access to fast Wi-Fi networks at schools and libraries. Schools have complained for years that their Internet connections are too slow to take advantage of new educational tools.
4. Survey Shows Reasons for Full-Time Online Schools. Connections Academy (@ConnectionsAcad) released their 12th annual Parent Satisfaction Survey showing insight into why parents and students use online schools full-time. The survey showed, overall, families want more options for their students and greater flexibility when it comes to seat-time and learning styles. When asked, parents indicated their top three reasons for considering online schooling were a change from their child’s current school setting, a need or desire for a flexible schedule, and the desire for a safe learning environment.

Digital Developments

5. Giving Learning a Performance Boost. Last week, Digital Learning Now (@DigLearningNow), released the paper “Using Prizes & Pull Mechanisms to Boost Learning,” and the complementary infographic, “Using Prizes to Boost Learning.” 12th in the DLN Smart Series, the paper and infographic highlight the potential of boosting learning through incentives such as prizes.

Dollars & Deals

6. Big Time Scores. In this week’s deals…

– MasteryConnect (@MasteryConnect) acquired Socrative (@Socrative), a student-response system that increases classroom engagement, for $5M in cash and stock. The deal will add Socrative’s real-time classroom assessment functionality to MasteryConnect’s existing suite of cloud-based software and apps for mastery-based learning in K-12 settings.
– Schoology (@Schoology), a learning management system, secured $15 million in funding led by Intel Capital (@IntelCapital) along with new investors Great Oaks Venture Capital (@GreatOaksVC) and Great Road Holdings. Existing investors participating in this round are FirstMark Capital (@FirstMarkCap) and Meakem Becker Venture Capital. The round brings Schoology’s total capital raised to $25 million, which will support continued expansion in K-12 and higher education markets.
– Kaplan Inc. (@KaplanNews) announced Wednesday it is buying Dev Bootcamp (@DevBootCamp), a two-year-old school that offers nine-week crash courses to aspiring software developers. The deal brings a pioneer of the emerging code-school movement under the umbrella of Kaplan, which offers vocational training as well as bachelor’s and master’s degrees through campus and online classes.

Leading Next-Gen Schools

7. Reporting on Leadership: Two new reports have us staying up to date on the latest in education leadership:

– Model Standards Getting An Update. Updated model standards for educational leaders are coming this fall. The two national groups behind the updates—the Council of Chief State School Officers (@CCSSO) and the National Policy Board for Educational Administration—said Tuesday that they hope the model standards, which were last updated in 2008, will be completed in October. The standards that will be revised include the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) standards, which are used by districts and school leaders; the National Educational Leadership Preparation standards (NELP), used as national standards for aspiring school and district leaders; and new guides for principal supervisors, a group that provides coaching, evaluation, and other support to principals and whose importance has grown as a result of federal and state education policy changes over the last decade
– School Leaders Matter Enormously. But are districts doing enough to ensure that the best possible candidates end up in these positions? That’s what Fordham Institute (@EducationGadFly) examined in Lacking Leaders: The Challenges of Principal Recruitment, Selection, and Placement. Their primary finding: the practices by which school principals are selected—even in pioneering districts—continue to fall short, causing needy schools to lose out on leaders with the potential to be great. Yet better hiring practices are only part of the solution. Districts must also re-imagine the principal’s role so that it is a job that talented leaders want, are equipped and empowered to execute successfully, and are suitably compensated.

Let’s Get Personalized

8. Policy Playlists. Soccer stars aren’t the only ones listening to playlists. In fact, Bellwether Education Partners (@bellwetherEd) released their Policy Playbook for Personalized Learning this week that targets state and local policymakers to help them identify the policy changes needed in order to expand high quality personalized learning in their communities. Consisting of 15 policy ideas (plays), the playlist arms policymakers with the tools needed, challenges that will be faced, and implementation examples. to make change
9. Personalized Special Report.Education Week Teacher (@EdWeekTeacher) has released a special report that explores the growing interest in personalized learning. The report looks at how related instructional initiatives are being used and implemented in the classroom and what solutions and challenges they pose for teachers and schools.
10. When K-12 and Higher Ed Intersect. Competency Works (@CompetencyWorks) takes a deep dive into what students need to know and be able to do across the K-12 and Higher Ed path as well as how we can develop a deeper understanding of lifelong learning competencies by expanding the way we talk about pathways for learners. For more on how robust guidance systems can play a critical role in tracking progress, boosting college and career readiness, and empowering better choices, check out Core and More: Guiding and Personalizing College and Career Readiness.
Connections Academy and Digital Learning Now are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners. MasteryConnect is a Learn Capital portfolio company where Tom Vander Ark is a partner.