5 Keys to Making Algebra Work + 20 Resources Designed to Help

In our newly released Smart Bundle: Blending Middle School Math, we dive into just how important the middle grades are to future success in mathematics. Algebra can be a turning point for many in their math education. As a gatekeeper subject, it indicates future success and acts as a gateway into advanced math. We continue to see more and more resources developed to better teach and prepare for Algebra. Even companies, such as DreamBox Learning and MIND Research Institute, who have traditionally worked in the elementary space are now putting energy into middle grade expansion and Algebra. With only 30% of the US student population proficient in Algebra, we know that there is work to be done.
So how do we make sure that Algebra attracts students to advanced mathematics courses rather than repells them away? Here are 5 things worth thinking about when it comes to finding the best solutions for learning and practicing algebra.

  1. Focus on relationships. At the heart of Algebra is not just “letters,” or as we prefer to call them variables, but RELATIONSHIPS. The variables are really only around to support the expression of these relationships and turn situations into written equations that can easily be manipulated and solved. The bonus here is that students tend to have built more of a schema around relationships than they have variables, so go with it. Start with the relationships and then lead into how and why variables can be used to simplify the process.
  2. Think situations, NOT word problems. There is a reason that kids hate word problems…they mean NOTHING to them. Do you dread the question: when will I ever use this in the real world? You shouldn’t! There are TONS of great answers to that question, just don’t answer with word problems – The key is putting kids in situations where using algebra simplifies the problem solving process. Situations that matter to your students. Think financing, construction, cooking…the list goes on. Need some inspiration, check out Get the Math or Discovery Education for ideas.
  3. Provide opportunities for productive failure and think growth mindset. I recently read an article that pointed that the solution to creating a better learning environment for Algebra was to make it an elective…in other words, make it optional. I am going to DISAGREE. Algebra is important and when presented in the right way (with the right amount of patience), it is something that ALL students can be successful in. We need to help our students understand that hard work and dedication lead to improved results. As Sal Kahn recently wrote about in his blog post The Learning Myth: Why I’ll Never Tell My Son He’s Smart, “our intelligence is not fixed: and the best way that we can grow our intelligence is to embrace tasks where we might struggle and fail.” What better class to struggle and fail in than Algebra!
  4. Start Early. As we discussed with Tim Hudson from DreamBox Learning in our Middle School Math Chat: Connections are Key, Algebraic Reasoning doesn’t have to wait until middle/high school, it should actually start much earlier. Why not have your older students help develop ideas for how to teach important concepts early on? Even better bring them into elementary classrooms and let them take the lead, there is no better way to prove genuine understanding than to teach it to someone else. What makes this task even more difficult is that they have to make strong connections to elementary level math so that the younger students will be able to understand it.
  5. Present Difficult problems. Don’t shy away from the tough stuff. Motivation can come from a variety of places, but when students learn what it feels like to solve really tough problems, they develop an intrinsic motivation that helps create persistence and grit.

Resources for the Blended Algebra Classroom:

Digital Courses

  • AgileMind – Online curriculum that is designed for next-gen standards and 21st century skills and puts the teachers at the heart of instructional leadership. An example of content that started as supplemental, but is now being greatly imcorporated into core instruction.
  • ALEKS – Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces from McGraw Hill is a popular web-based option for High Schools looking for a full course. The program uses adaptive questioning to identify student knowledge and provide suggested courses of action to assure students progress on the pathway that works best for them.
  • ApexLearning.com: For the last decade, ApexLearning has been a leader in the blended learning solution space. Includes Algebra 1 and 2 courses.
  • Carnegie Learning – Carnegie Learning offers both traditional and Integrated Pathways for HS math students. Research-based and designed for the CCSS as well as the Standards for Mathematical Practice. Spanish and customizable RTI modules also available.
  • CompassLearning.com – Credit recovery and course options are designed to create personalized experience for students by providing rigor and accountability.

Supplemental Resources (incorporated into or combined with core instruction):

  • CK12 – CK 12 supports personalized learning environments by providing free access to open source content and tech tools that allow for teachers to create a customizable and multi-modal educational experience for their students. Check out FlexMath for algebra resources.
  • Khan Academy – Teachers can align the Khan lessons to the class scope & sequence, or simply allow students to progress at their own level.
  • Gooru – Gooru is an open source and free, personalized learning solution that helps teachers organize content and connect with peers. Teachers can choose from millions of online learning content(including video and test questions)
  • LearnBop – This automated system for grades 5–9 mathematics simulates a one-to-one tutoring experience by guiding students through problems step-by-step so they can learn fundamental math concepts at their own pace. Recently partnered with Fuel Education to support a focus to help kids be successful with algebra.
  • LearnZillion – LearnZillion is a constantly evolving library of digital resources that designed by expert teachers that allign to the CCSS.
  • NROCmath.org – The NROC project is focused on college and career readiness and has created a series of online courses to support the online learning needs of today’s students.
  • TenMarks – Preloaded curriculum with content for grades 1 – Algebra 2 & Geometry, provides built in instruction with instructional videos and hints, accessible through mobile browsers, and ability to track student progress. Teachers are able to use program to reinforce their own instruction and personalize the learning experience for kids.
  • Think Through Math – TMT is a supplemental, web-based program that focuses on algebra progressions and building persistence. Designed for grades 3 – Algebra 1.

Apps + Practice Tools:

  • Algebra Nation –  This study tool developed by the University of Florida takes best practices from teachers around the state to provide one resources to students, available online and on mobile devices through apps.
  • ASSISTments – A system designed to give students immediate feedback and provide teachers with instant reporting that can drive instruction.
  • DragonBox – DragonBox has two apps one for ages 5+ and one for 12+, allowing young students to dive into an introduction to algebra concepts and encouraging older students to further develop basic algebra skills. Voted world’s best serious game at the International Mobile Gaming Awards(IMGA).
  • Front Row – Front Row is a differentiated math app for the iPad. It includes a teacher dashboard to help educators make the most of the individualized practice and content covers K – 8 Common Core State Standards.
  • IXL Learning – IXL believes that “practice makes perfect” and the program is designed to motivate students through interactive games and exercises while making sure that resources are available to assure that teachers and parents stay informed and involved. Also available from IXL is Quia Web, tools to create, customize, and share their curricula online and Quia Books, Web-based versions of workbooks and textbooks and are produced with a variety of partner publishers.
  • Solving the Unknown with Algebra: Developed by The Actuarial Foundation with Scholastic, this program provides skill-building activities that use mathematics for real purposes, while motivating students to achieve success in the classroom and in real-world situations outside of school.

Do you have additional ideas for what works for teaching Algebra? Share in the comment section below, or respond via Twitter using #SmartMath #Algebra
DreamBox, Fuel Education, MIND Research Institute and Scholastic are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners and LearnZillion is a Learn Capital portfolio company where Tom Vander Ark is a partner.

Is it a Teaching Problem or a Design Problem?

It just wouldn’t fit and there was no forcing it. I was building a cable fence and I couldn’t string the cable around through a corner post. I tried for an hour and finally realized it wasn’t an execution problem, it was a design problem.
Teachers face the same problem every day.  They strive to help all students with similar birthdays prepare to pass tests of grade level proficiency–the premise of No Child Left Behind. It was a well intentioned effort to optimize the batch processing model of schooling we inherited from the Prussians.
When you’re working hard and the results aren’t as good as you hoped, you have to ask yourself, “Is this a teaching problem or a design problem?”
If you have a classroom of 10 years olds and some are ready for algebra and some are struggling with multiplication, does it make sense to dive into a group lesson on adding and subtracting fractions with unlike denominators?  The lesson will inevitably work for some, will be way to advanced for some, and will bore others. The best lesson will fail for something like half of the students. This is a design problem.
In schools where some kids are ahead and some are way behind, rather than focusing on getting age cohorts to grade level proficiency, the focus should be on helping every student make more than a year of academic progress every year–perhaps two years of progress for students that are way behind.
Sometimes you have to admit that you’re working on the wrong problem, take things apart and put them back together again.  It’s time we do that with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Most states have received an ESEA waiver that adds a focus on growth and makes it possible for schools to embrace a competency-based approach where students progress based on demonstrated mastery.
When principals are evaluating teachers this year and when they don’t see the percentage of grade level proficiency they had hoped for, they should ask, “Is this a teaching problem or a design problem?”
For more, see From Cohorts to Competency and visit CompetencyWorks 

EdTech 10: Better #SchoolInfo

Hello parents, teachers & friends, we’re thinking about school report cards and other forms of school information–what it’s for, who uses it, and how it could be better. Here’s a quick quiz:

  • Did you know your state is required to produce a report card for each school in the state?
  • Do you know where to find the report card? Is it useful?
  • What should people be able to learn from a school report card?
  • What could make report cards and school information more useful?

Email confidential responses to [email protected], send us a tweet @getting_smart or leave a comment on this post.

Mastery Matters

1. Competency-Based Progress. Competency Works (@CompetencyWorks) had a great week. Leaders from school districts in New Hampshire met to discuss changes the transformation of public education through inclusion of additional performance assessments that help show a whole host of skills associated college and career readiness. And, Competency Works also is working with a core group of New York City Public Schools (@NYCSchools) to encourage mastery-based approaches to learning, and they have a great video showcasing the mastery-based approach which includes interviews with teachers and students.
2. De-mystifying grades. A news story and video features a story about deeper understanding of proficiency-based learning in Maine. The Great Schools Partnership supports schools in New England that are moving towards proficiency-based learning, demystifying what’s behind a grade. Instead of earning a credit, transcripts will showcase what students can do and have mastered and will include real world learning experiences such as internships. Check out Tom’s feature on Great Schools Partnership.

Points to Ponder

3. Kids these days are expensive. Check out our post on the cost of raising and educating Kids, which is more than $25k per year. Add a college savings account and the total of about $33k is two thirds of the median family income. Implications will include more students and families and students seeking and building new pathways to family-wage employment including career and tech prep. Look for a new #GenDIY series exploring nontraditional routes to careers launching September.
4. Mom, I want to sleep in. The American Academy of Pediatrics (@AmerAcadPeds) announced this week that they are in support of later start times for adolescents in schools. For those of us who are or have ever been teachers, we know the profound effects that lack of sleep can have on learning. America’s doctors are concerned. This makes for a good conversation starter as you talk with parents, friends, and students- what do you think about later start times? AAP says 8:30 AM onward sounds good to them. With blended and online learning, kids can pick the times that work best for them.

Digital Developments

5. Adaptive tool for success. Pearson (@Pearson) announced a next gen update to their personalized and adaptive tool, Success Maker, and highlights a story out of Texas where a district reached significant gains using the personalized math and reading curriculum for K-8.
6. Fast growing companies.PresenceLearning (@presencelearn) is featured as one of Inc Magazines’s (@Inc) top 500 list of America’s fastest growing companies. The online leader in special education is ranked 146th and is 3rd in the field of education. They offer online special education in speech and occupational therapy and partner with districts to build capacity for services offered. Way to go, PresenceLearning!

For The Core

7. Feedback welcome. With a goal of focusing energy on the merits of new college and career ready standards, Kentucky Commissioner Terry Holliday (@KYCommissioner) announced that state of Kentucky (the first state to adopt Common Core State Standards) has created a new portal to obtain feedback on the standards. Called the Kentucky Core Academic Standards Challenge, the goal is to increase awareness on what the standards are in English/LA and math and solicit actionable feedback from all stakeholders.

Teacher Topics

8. The pros of teacher evals. The Bellwether Ed(@BellwetherEd) team collected data from 17 states and Washington DC for information on teacher evaluation. The report, titled “Teacher Evaluations in an Era of Rapid Change: From ‘Unsatisfactory’ to ‘Needs Improvement’” launched this week. In it, the authors note that teachers can improve practice through effective evaluation, and that evaluation can lead to improve recruitment and retention. We think Summit Public Schools has the coolest school model and best teacher development system.
9. Teacher-centered #profdev is here to stay. NGLC (@NextGenLC) just published an article about the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan and their work to provide a personalized learning approach to PD. We give an enthusiastic “thumbs up” to this idea, and talk more about in this Preparing Teachers for Deeper Learning and the infographic featuring competency-based, personalized PD best practices.

Policy Problem

10. NCAA decides what constitutes good instruction? Tom wrote an article this week titled NCAA Way Out of Bounds for Outlawing Online. Tom writes, “It is outrageous that the NCAA is deciding what constitutes good instruction– specifically effective student-teacher interaction– and becoming a de facto national regulator of online learning. Thousands of student athletes are ineligible to compete in college because the NCAA took on a job where they had no business, they applied anachronistic measures, and–worst of all– they acted capriciously with a disappointing lack of transparency.”
Current NCAA criteria would not look kindly on a truly competency-based course in which one student might demonstrate mastery in 6 weeks while another student takes 6 months. It’s time for the NCAA to update their criteria to incorporate competency-based learning…or leave that to states who should be supervising statewide online schools. 
Pearson and PresenceLearning are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners.

5 Big EdTech Trends: What They Mean for EdLeaders & Edupreneurs

Reflecting on east coast meetings this week with teachers and education providers it’s clear that they’re both trying to figure out the emerging blended learning landscape. Here are 5 trends we discussed in both settings and next steps for EdLeaders and Edupreneurs.
1. Better access. Students are gaining better Internet access with devices provided by schools and parents. Chromebooks surged to 30% of second quarter shipments while tablets dropped off (and Android web traffic just passed iOS). Most families have a smartphone. Most districts have stopped banning phones and started embracing BYOD.

  • EdLeaders should plan for and lead the shift to high access learning environments with a commitment to equity and an openness to BYOD.
  • Edupreneurs can stop planning on lowest common denominator (i.e., limited access, limited broadband) but need to run on multiple platforms.

2. Next gen learning. As NGLC’s Andy Calkins explained in a recent post, next gen learning is blended, personalized, and competency-based. Most schools will go digital (Andy’s quadrant 1), then adopt blended strategies, and finally incorporate competency-based gateways. As observed this week in back to school staff meetings, the pathway to next gen learning appears daunting, occurs in phases, and disrupts prior purchasing practices. There is a lot of interest in promising models and a lot of experimentation underway but the long and uneven shift to digital makes investment treacherous for vendors and slows the delivery of comprehensive solutions to schools.

  • EdLeaders should encourage colleagues to study profiles of NGLC breakthrough models and watch the #BlendedLearning videos on Blend My Learning (@BlndMyLearning). They should remember that these changes, for some staff members, are quite profound–a shift in personal identity, a loss of professional competence, and a steep learning curve. Most districts could use outside help planning and making the shift to next gen learning.
  • Edupreneurs can work on an old problem or a new opportunity, but either way they usually have a small window to build a solution, demonstrate some traction, and create something that delights a community of users. High impact innovation requires a longer runway requiring an impact funder comfortable with a longer than typical VC timeframe.

3. Next gen PD. Educators deserve the same as students–blended, personalized, competency-based development.

  • EdLeaders should read Preparing Teachers for Deeper Learning and should join Digital Promise to join competency-based development pilots. Edleaders should checkout the individual development plans and online resources on Bloomboard.
  • Edupreneurs should consider developing sequences of learning experiences targeting specific skill clusters (reading, algebra, special education, blended learning).

4. Core politics. With defections and modifications, we’re heading back to unique state standards and tests (and a lack of comparability). States leaving the consortia have the opportunity to contract for innovative combinations of lightweight competency-based assessments and NAEP to verify school quality. Particularly with the lack of test comparability, it will be important to develop better growth measures and improve teacher’s ability to track subskills.

5. Toward a platform world. While there are no robust learning platform ecosystems, there are 10 vectors heading toward a vision of engaged and personalized learning, suggesting it’s only a matter of time until there are a couple next gen platforms with lots of related apps and services making it easier to make the transition to blended. As noted in #4, some common technical standards would help accelerate progress and make it easier for teachers consider automagically combined data from many sources.
Content poses the edu version of the innovator’s dilemma. Instructional materials are increasingly free if they’re not engaging and smart (adaptive learning and content with embedded assessment). Hardware/content tablet bundles seemed like a cool idea but they took a big step backward this week. What are EdLeaders and startups to do?

  • EdLeaders should stop buying textbooks, should boost access to technology, and consider open and smart content. EdLeader should avoid locking into long term platform contracts and should never ever do custom platform development–be patient, the market is playing catch up.
  • Edupreneurs will need to play on several platforms (mobile platforms and learning platform) because it’s too late to compete with the big dogs (e.g., D2L raised $165M, Canvas is growing like crazy in higher ed, Agilix is doing all the cool white label work, and Edmodo has 38M users). Freemium is a viable path to scale and a few startups have actually figured out the pivot to premium (e.g., MasteryConnect). Bringing translational innovation (like distributed workforce) to niche categories like speech therapy has yielded scalable impact.

Yes, the shift to blended, personalized, and competency-based learning is confusing and uneven, but the opportunity set to create schools and tools that make students and teachers more productive gets better every month. Bubble? No, we’re in the early innings of a learning revolution, a fundamental change in how human beings learn and development–this is not a fad, it won’t go away, but it will keep getting better.

Infographic: Higher Ed’s New Normal

A lot has changed in higher education over the past 30 years. Increasingly, tablets and smartphones are replacing textbooks and notepads, while large, face-to-face classrooms are becoming virtualized, personalized, and mobile.
Flat World, a Washington D.C.-based technology company, has produced an infographic demonstrating just how much has changed in higher ed since the days of Thriller, big hair, and mix tapes.
higher eds New normal
More and more students and professors are embracing technology, and innovation in the tech sector will only improve education across the board. Companies, like Flat World, that are using technology to reduce the cost of textbooks and create more affordable degree options are the catalyst to reinventing the way institutions approach learning. For more information on Flat World, visit www.flatworld.com.

A Gold Mine of #EdTech Resources: Part I

As I am sure it is for any educator, my student teaching experience was definitely memorable for many reasons. Some good. Some bad. One particular moment, however, has stayed with me all these years. My department chair at the time, Mrs. Kelly, recognized my ceaseless and struggling search for anything that could augment my classroom practices. Since it was 1996, valid internet resources were not that common, and my ability to locate such files was close to nil. Enter Mrs. Kelly with arms full of educational gold. That’s right. Educational gold disguised as manilla folders. This very generous veteran of teaching delivered a stack of transparencies, worksheets, handwritten notes, lesson plans, and project exemplars. Basically, her life’s work introduced itself to me with a loud and resounding thud on my desk. Her generosity can be likened to the opening of Fort Knox’s vaulted doors while someone yells, “Take aaaaaaall the gold you can use!” And that…well…that just about sums me up these past 18 years. But I’m not talking about the taking; I’m referring to the sharing.
So, in the spirit of Mrs. Kelly, and to kick-off the new school year, I embark on a two-part series of sharing all the edtech resources I have stored in my mental Rolodex. Or, at least, all that I still use and care to remember. Thanks in no small part to all the amazing colleagues who have shared with me throughout my career, I embrace these technology gadgets as an endless treasure of educational tools.

Back Channels and Mobile Interactive Learning

InfuseLearning– I am still waiting for this cool site to take off. Surprisingly, I find many people at educators’ conferences who haven’t tried or heard of it yet. I always make it a point to tell them how valuable this tool can be. I especially like the ability of students to draw from any device and send to the teacher’s dashboard. I also like that InfuseLearning is device agnostic. Click here to read my review and to watch video tutorials.
Kahoot– Turn a lesson into a game by leveraging the possibilities with any internet-connected device. Check it out in-action here.
Socrative– Now owned by MasteryConnect, this always awesome site just keeps getting better. Need a ticket out the door? Need a spreadsheet of students’ performances on a recent quiz? Need students to use their smartphones to interact with a lesson because there are no more laptops to check out from the media center? Socrative has you covered.
PollEveryWhere– Love it. Love it. Love it. Ever since it was introduced and way back when many teachers were so terrified by the induction of cell phones into the classroom, my ELA colleagues and I embraced this polling website as a backchannel for class discussions. Whether our students use it to submit free-responses or to offer feedback via the polling chart, this website is a must for all teachers seeking valid uses for cell/smartphones and other internet-ready gadgets. Don’t forget to save a transcript of your students’ feedback.
TodaysMeet– Picture this: students get extremely interested in a class topic and hands are raised all over the classroom. Very cool, huh? The only problem is not enough time to have everyone’s voice heard. Wrong! In just ten seconds, you can create a backchannel to allow all students, through any internet-connected gadget, to express their thoughts. Just like Polleverywhere and other backchanneling sites, a transcript of all comments is available in just a few simple steps.

Blended Learning Video Editor

EduCanon– Have you ever found a video and thought, “Hmmm, I only need a section of it, and I want to customize the video”? If so, EduCanon offers solutions.
EdPuzzle– What’s better than having one option? How about multiple options? EdPuzzle is an awesome and easy-to-use site that will help you customize nearly any video into a format suitable for your students’ needs. Click here for a thorough review with video tutorials.
TubeChop– Nothing like the two resources mentioned above, but TubeChop may be the tool you need for capturing snippets of videos in an efficient and simple manner.

Comics and Avatars

Bitstrips– Ever wonder how you would look as a comic or avatar? Let Bitstrips reveal your cartoonish side.
JibJab– Okay. Not exactly comics and avatars here, but I felt like the laughter-inducing potential of this hilarious resource belonged in this category. Whether your students use JibJab in their presentations or you simply decide to cast your colleagues in the latest music video, one thing is for sure: fun will follow.
ToonDoo– This site is definitely one of my students’ favorites. They love the ease of use and the polished look at the end.
Voki– Students have a blast customizing their avatars on this site. They can add a voice over, change hair styles, and even accessorize by adding some bling-bling. Check out my musical avatar embedded on my teacher page by clicking here.

Miscellaneous Gadgets

Fake Concert Ticket Generator– Expecting any really cool students’ presentations soon? Jazz things up just a bit by creating tickets to the special occasion. Students will feel like celebrities on a red carpet (also a recommended touch to spice up presentations).
Online Stopwatch– Ever need a timer…quickly? This one works just fine.
OmWriter– Great writing often demands silence and an environment conducive of conjuring the best from within students. This relaxing website may just be the perfect resource to calm your students just enough so they may hear the most important words of all…their own. See it in action here.
WheelDecide– A quick, easy, and customizable wheel of options for any class activities that require random selections.
Twister– This tool from ClassTools.net quickly creates a fake tweet from a fictional character. The creative possibilities are endless here.
FruitMachine– Simple but effective…a random picker.
Doodle– This site works miracles. If you have been charged with planning a meeting date that involves multiple people and their busy schedules, then Doodle is your go-to gadget. Simply pick the date range and invite others to crowd-source and determine the most appropriate time to convene. Way too simple.

Photo Editing and/or Creative Production

Big Huge Labs-Check out this site to turn your photos into creative products like magazine covers, badges, mosaics, CD covers, trading cards, and more. Our students in Studio 113 have been using this site to create movie posters to accompany our original videos since 2008.
Blabberize– Make a still photo talk with this quick and easy site.
Fotor– This site works well for photo editing, but I use it mainly when students desire to create picture collages.


Jux– Share your photos, videos, articles, quotations, and more in a visually appealing and fresh way. Jux’s website claims, “Simply the best showcase for you.” They may be right. Click here to see how cool Jux can be.
Capzles– Another stunning way to present your knowledge in a multimedia showcase.
Prezi– Yeah, I know. Everyone has heard of Prezi. Although it did become a bit overused the last few years, I simply couldn’t leave it off the list.
Glogster– It is hard to find someone who hasn’t used Glogster yet. However, it is still a go-to site when creating interactive, digital posters. In all the years since Glogster has been around, I have heard no disappointments. Be sure to check out the new Glogster iPad app, too.


Jing– A trust-worthy, and free, option for screencasting your computer and creating video tutorials. One side note: Jing records videos as .swf files.
Screencastomatic– Another reliable option for creating video tutorials simply by capturing your computer’s screen and possibly even your voice. Once you’re done recording, simply download the video and upload to your YouTube account. Before taking on the endless possibilities with Camtasia, ScreenCastoMatic was my go-to screencasting software due to its price (free), its ability to record directly from the website, and its ability to download as an MP4 file.
Reflector– Don’t forget the power of demonstrating how to use certain apps from a tablet or smartphone by allowing your computer to “mirror” your mobile device’s screen. If you’re looking to add smartphone know-how to your professional video tutorials, or if you simply want students to share their mobile devices’ screens with the entire class, this cool and relatively cheap software from Air Squirrels is a must. Click here to see a video tutorial using Reflector.


Dipity– Use this site to create vivid timelines rich with embedded videos, pictures, and hyperlinks.
TimeToast– Need a simpler, scaled-down method of creating timelines? TimeToast is your answer.

Video Creation

Animoto– Most educators are already aware of the possibilities with this popular site. Turning your photos and media clips into polished videos is way too easy with Animoto. All is free as long as the final videos are 30 seconds or fewer. Want to create longer videos, add more licensed music, and choose from up to 81 video styles? No problem. Take a look here at the pricing.
WeVideo– What do you get when you cross a Google Document with a video editor? An edtech resource that allows multiple users to collaborate simultaneously or asynchronously to create one video. And remember that WeVideo is just one of the many add-ons in Google Drive.
Xtranormal– Recently acquired by Nawmal, look for this resource to make a comeback.
GoAnimate– Video creation with a twist…animation. Although this website has shifted away from the educational realm to the business sector, GoAnimate could be worthy of asking your principal for an account…and another creative option for your classroom. Take a look at the pricing here.
PowToon– Another animated video creator. But free. You’ll definitely like.
Check back later for “A Gold Mine of #EdTech Resources: Part II.” In the meantime, keep sharing and discovering all the educational bling-bling your PLN has to offer.

New in Texas Edu in 2014

In addition to being recognized as the best urban district in the country, Houston ISD puts out a great weekly newsletter.  It inspired this recap of a few of the exciting initiatives launching this year in Texas schools.
Houston Superintendent Terry Grier notes that the “PowerUp digital transformation is expanding, with the addition of 21 high schools where students will receive their own laptops to use in the classroom and at home starting in January, and partial launch of the PowerUp HUB, our digital teaching and learning platform that will become fully operational next school year.”
Eight high schools are kicking off our new Linked Learning approach, bringing their 32 feeder campuses with them to expose youngsters to both college and careers from the youngest age. Houston added two new Middle College High Schools to re-engage disconnected youth (see feature), put two Futures Academy programs at Jones HS for college and career prep, and turnedWestbury HS into an AP-focused school. They expanded from  14 to 28 dual-language schools. HISD Is piloting yoga as physical education in 13 of our schools this year.
There’s a new cyber safety website and a parent notification system. HISD launched new transportation and food services apps.  All students in 166 HISD schools receive free breakfast and lunch without filling out applications.
Grier notes, “Our biggest focus — our “main thing” — is literacy, literacy, literacy. Our Literacy By 3 program aims to have every HISD student reading on level by Grade 3.”  They  installed specialized libraries in every elementary school and classroom, and we have excited teachers who have trained over the summer.  Eighty kindergarten and first grade teachers from throughout the district are undergoing training on a program called TeacherMate, which uses technology to support and help teachers provide differentiated literacy instruction.
El Paso ISD has a new leadership team and a new direction.  After a decade of test prep, El Paso schools are focused on active learning—personalized and engaging experiences for every student. Superintendent Juan Cabrera said, “A large part of my excitement about active learning as a change at EPISD also stems from the fact that moving towards active and engaged learning will begin the process of teachers feeling safe to take more  risks in the classroom–we hope to release all the creativity and ingenuity that exist within our teachers!”
Other district priorities also include community partnerships, honesty & integrity, and a renewed commitment to great schools in every neighborhood. Watch for an exciting Open Education Resources initiative.
Uplift Education operates 14 college prep schools in metro Dallas including a new school in
Grand Prairie- Uplift Grand Preparatory initially serving students in grades K-2 and 6-7th.
Each student must be accepted into a two- or four-year college institution in order to receive their diploma from an Uplift high school.
CEO Yasmin Bhatia said, “Two big instructional initiatives to support our students in being 100% college ready include 1) increasing student voice/ inquiry in our classrooms and strengthening our student’s math problem-solving skills, and 2)differentiating our Adult Learning Environment through the roll-out of Blackboard for our teachers.
KIPP Houston Public Schools has 22 schools serving serving11,500 students including two new schools, KIPP Connect Primary and MS, which are our first Purpose Built Community schools as outlined in the Houston Chronicle
Mike Feinberg said, “We have several other blended learning and character ed pilots going on, as well as a new teacher residency effort to add another talent pipeline, but mostly we’re trying to ensure we execute well on the stuff that’s not new!”
IDEA Public Schools is a growing network of 30 schools throughout the Rio Grande Valley, Austin and San Antonio, including a new third campus in Brownsville. IDEA is committed to “College For All Children” and has sent 100% of its graduates to college for six consecutive years.
All campuses K-12 are now implementing some type of blended learning during the school day and 18,000 IDEA students are benefiting from this approach. They have a growing cadre of blended/individualized learning staff at the campus of over 85 teachers and growing daily as our core teachers become more immersed in blended learning.
Catalyst is a re-imagined intervention and acceleration initiative launched this year at 14 college prep campuses impacting over 10,000 students. The intervention block features online classes, project based learning, and a variety of adaptive software during this time to allow students to individualize their instructions and for teachers to have small intervention groups to meet the needs of our students most in need.
IDEA has a 2:1 laptop to student ratio at each of the college prep campuses providing better access to all students including access to teachers in a small group setting and peer-guided project-based learning.
The Hub is an internal system for collaboration and resource sharing–it’s a precursor to our data dashboard system that will include integration of teacher data and blended learning data as well as some really interesting predictive analytics.

Learning for the Future: Beyond the Textbook

By Jessie Woolley-Wilson
Summer is good for many things: spending time with family, traveling, and for kids, taking a break from classes. But while students may take time off, their teachers are preparing for the upcoming school year—because learning never stops. And it never should. That brings us to my topic: learning beyond the current school system and the importance of developing skills for the future.
Margaret Spellings, a former Secretary of Education, recently published an article discussing the future of education, suggesting that 20 years from now, schools will have evolved into a “student-driven system with no grade levels.” Calling it “consumer-driven education,” Spellings envisions a time when instead of the current “fixed-price” menu, students and parents will be able to choose an education that best suits them.
The future of learning will be age and grade agnostic.
This new paradigm of learning will be so personalized that every child will have an individualized learning pathway that is dynamic, informed by each of her learning interactions, and be competency-based, not age-based or grade-based. As a child achieves a deep understanding of subject matter, and can confidently demonstrate her competency (to both herself and others), she will be advanced to the next level. Assisted by the effective use of technology, she will get what she needs when she needs it.
As we know, blended learning is constantly evolving. Many recent ed-tech innovations, such as Intelligent Adaptive Learning™, have been developed to support student-centered learning. That means integrating technology into learning activities, both in and out of the classroom. Implementing blended learning environments in classrooms will give students access to the content they are ready for, and progression will be based on demonstrated mastery, not grade content. This is the foundation of Intelligent Adaptive Learning—recognizing that every student is at a different level of learning readiness, and that it can change from moment to moment. The important implication of this rapidly developing trend is that our roles as educators and responsible learning guardians are to cultivate the most suitable learning experience for each student. Many things in life can’t be rushed or forced, and learning is one of them. After all, learning should be active and not passive, competency-driven rather than pace-driven, and most importantly, enjoyable—all to help prepare students for the future.
A look into the future of work
Louis Pasteur said, “Fortune favors the prepared mind,” and this wisdom certainly still applies. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that students who are now in high school will have up to 14 different jobs by the time they are in their late 30s, and that 65 percent of children currently in elementary school will be working in occupations that haven’t yet been invented. There is also the strong possibility that work won’t be done in a traditional workplace at all; by 2020, over half of the workforce may be independent workers—consultants, freelancers, and independent contractors—creating their own work and careers.
Who will thrive in this type of environment? Individuals who think creatively, reason through problems, and are able to respond to fast-changing circumstances. In other words, the future is about being adaptive. Right now, enabled by combining advanced technologies such as Intelligent Adaptive Learning with the skills of learning guardians, we can help all learners to think deeply, exhibit curiosity as they tackle problems, develop fluency, and apply their knowledge to different situations. They will become confident learners as they build competence, and they will learn how to continually deepen and expand their skills so that they will be ready for whatever future awaits them.
Let’s work together to help prepare students’ minds and spirits so they can move with assurance into their lives—primed to meet their potential and achieve success.
Jessie Woolley-Wilson is President, CEO, & Chairman of the Board of DreamBox Learning®. Follow her on Twitter @JessieWW
DreamBox Learning is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner.

The Cost of Raising & Educating Kids

The average cost of raising a child from birth through age 18 is about $250,000 (excluding the cost of birth, college, and lost wages in between) or $13,900 per year. That Department of Agriculture estimate includes an extra bedroom and some transportation cost which, for some families, may not be a marginal cost. But it is still breathtakingly high–about a quarter of annual median income of $54,000.
Bloomberg’s Megan McArdle remarks that the “last 50 years have seen a massive shift away from the basic expenses of keeping your kid alive and toward competitive expenses” including childcare and education. McArdle suggests we have “a collective-action problem that is steadily ratcheting up the amount we spend on our kids.”
Not surprisingly, affluent families spend twice as much as low income families. Spending of high-income families reaches $25,000 for teenagers compared to $15,000 in the middle range and around $10,000 at the bottom. That difference clearly feeds the opportunity gap–made more pronounced by more productive uses of technology in high income homes.
The study also makes clear that child rearing and housing are disproportionately high expenses for low income families–especially those in the urban Northeast.
Innovation consultant Dave Lash noted that the average child rearing expenditure is more than average school expenditure of about $12,600 per year. Lash noted that the combined parent and school cost is well over $26,000 per year to raise and educate children–about half the median income.
And we haven’t even considered the cost of college which, in some states has jumped by more than 70% over the last five year. State colleges are becoming increasingly selective and expensive–frequently topping $25k per year. To save more than $100,000 for college, a family would need to put away almost $6,000 per year–pushing average costs of child rearing to about $20,000 per year.  Add the cost of K-12 education to that and you get $32,600 per year–about 60% of the median income.
Implications. While more than 90% of parents take advantage of free public education, they and other citizens pay for it through income and property tax (and, for college, lots of student loan debt). The grand total of $32,600 to raise a kid raises questions about economic sustainability. The disproportionality that falls on low income families raises questions about equity.
These cost pressures suggest that we need to develop better and cheaper learning options.  The good news is that next generation learning models that are blended and competency based appear to be more productive. Instead of flat results and rising costs, the shift to next gen models could result in flat costs and rising academic results.
Breakthrough post secondary models and better career and technical education suggest the potential for more varied and affordable pathways to employment. Next month we’ll launch #GenDIY, a new series focused on young people creating their own pathways to employability.
In the long run, great learning opportunities are the key to economic development and civic participation. An opportunity platform with efficient pathways to family wage employment is the most important element in an equitable society.

Beyond Traditional Silos: Connecting Humanities to Real World, Deeper Learning, & STEM

Excellent reading and writing skills form the foundation of content work in the humanities. And the humanities’ breadth—the arts, theater, philosophy, religion, ethics, world languages—makes it easy to see how the humanities cross over into so many other content areas. Here in particular we can think about the impact strong reading skills can have in a math course, or the impact that strong writing skills can have in a science class. The humanities and STEM really do go hand in hand (hence the increased emphasis on STEAM). We also see this content integration throughout schools that incorporate Deeper Learning and Project-Based Learning as foundational approaches to learning.
As we continue to create technological solutions to problems we seek to solve—for social justice, for increased opportunity for all, for commerce—we certainly need a strong background not just in STEM fields but also in the humanities. For example, Apps For Good allows students to create apps that help make a difference. Specifically the program calls for teaching coding “to empower students from all backgrounds to seize the opportunities of our digital age and create solutions to the problems they care about, using technology.” This is a great example of the connection between the humanities and the work happening in the IT world.
We know this connection happens in many areas of the real world, and there are excellent blended approaches featured in this collection that allow students to make these sorts of connections across content areas. In other words, there are no silos or containers for knowledge. As one middle school teacher said of using Big History Project in class, “The students learn that all knowledge is truly connected.”
This means looking beyond the traditional silos in our standard American school system to integrate concepts of Deeper Learning, Project-Based Learning, real-world learning, and to ensure a high degree of personalization. We embed competency-based learning in our schools and assess students on depth more than breadth. We allow students to pursue their interests and their passions, not just as an aside, but in real and meaningful ways connected to a deeper sense of who they are and their own learning.
If a student is interested in the theater, world languages, philosophy, world religions, graphic design, dance, painting, playing a musical instrument, creative writing, poetry, filmmaking, digital storytelling, culinary arts or other creative endeavors, then we allow for those to be front and center in the classroom. We validate those experiences as legitimate interests. We find ways to incorporate them and we allow students to explore. We allow for the integration that adults experience in the real world.
Next week, we will be publishing a Smart Bundle titled Blending Humanities in the Middle Grades. The “bundled” collection will discuss the basics, which include blended and engaging approaches to reading and writing. The collection will also go beyond the basics to create a rationale for student-centered learning across the humanities at a critical age: the middle grades.

This blog is brought to you by The Nellie Mae Education Foundation as part of a series on blended humanities. For more see the other posts in this series: