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Education reform

14 Education Advancements in a Year

When I went to school, it was all about the 3Rs, desks in rows, and a teacher lecturing from the front of the room. The past decade saw significant improvements in the application of technology to learning and 2017 became a tipping point where embedding technology into education finally moved from fringe to mainstream, remaking classrooms in the image of the future. Following is a list of fourteen such changes that have set 2018 up to be the most student-centered, transformative year ever.

1. More Chromebooks than iPads

Chromebooks and iPads have become the two most popular digital devices in classrooms (with laptops, 2-in-1 devices like Surface Pro, and Macs next). Because they serve significantly different student needs, it seemed they were destined to share the education market. What changed in 2017 is that 1) Chromebooks improved considerably from when they first entered the education market. They are now more durable, easier to use and access, and continue to be a low-cost serviceable option. 2) Cloud storage became common and affordable (or free). Classrooms now are more likely to store student files in the cloud (OneDrive or Google Drive for example) than on school servers allowing students to access their work from school and home. This is the Chromebook’s sweet spot–it predominantly works in the Cloud. What was a disadvantage five years ago is now an advantage.

For a comparison of iPads vs. Chromebooks, here’s a comprehensive look from Lifewire and here’s Forbes’ experience after 30 days with a Chromebook.

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Why Flipped and Blended Learning are Making Waves in education

Vivek Singh and his colleague, Ilya Mishra,  are new contributors to Ask a Tech Teacher who specialize in online learning and educational technology (more on Ilya’s bio below).

I know you’ll enjoy their thoughts:

flipped classroomTo be an integral part of this relatively young digital age, it is imperative for educators to keep up with the technological advances in every sector. A Columbia University research found that, on average, students taught through online learning techniques performed modestly better than those learning through classical classroom approach. In lieu of several such factual findings, educators have begun implementing a novel methodology, such as using blended learning software, that has transformed the rather archaic and mundane ‘classroom teaching’ into a revolutionary educational experience; enter the world of Blended learning.

The predominant limiting factor related to the classical ‘classroom teaching’ approach has been, at times, boring monologues by the educator that not only lead to a monotonous atmosphere, but also restrict a much-needed quality student-teacher interaction that solidifies learned concepts. Blended learning overcomes this limitation by reducing the need for homework, and provides course content to students via the internet. The educators get more time for discussing queries and doubts and the students can be better engaged in activities related to the topic being taught online. Think of this as a flip between what was considered as ‘homework’ and ‘classwork’ in the classical teaching approach.

An article published in the Journal of Social and Behavioral Sciences indicates an increasing tendency to implement blended learning as a favored pedagogical approach due to the evident benefits it holds. There are innumerable advantages of such an advanced teaching approach.

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6 Worthwhile Websites for High School Classes

Finding webtools for high school classes requires a different set of metrics than those that apply to lower and middle school searches. Teachers who specialize in preparing students for college and career instinctively want tools that extend learning, support lesson plans, and simplify concepts taught in the curriculum. Of course they do! By high school, the pressure to prepare students for their future is immense. This is the final chance to provide students with the knowledge they require to succeed in the game called life.

Let me put that in pedagogic terms. If you’re familiar with the SAMR Model, you know it refers to the way technology tools can be used to enrich classrooms. This starts at a basic level of replacing traditional tools (like an atlas) and ends where technology provides experiences students couldn’t get without technology. Here’s how it works:

S (Substitution) — use technology in place of a traditional tool. For example, take notes digitally rather than with paper and pencil

A (Augmentation) — technology functionally improves the traditional learning approach. For example, notetaking may include audio and images as well as text

M (Modification) — use technology to enhance learning in ways that weren’t possible before. For example, students can share their notes and comments with each other creating a collaborative and energized learning environment

R (redefinition) — students use tech tools to accomplish learning that wasn’t possible with the traditional approach. For example, students use interactive maps to explore a geographic environment as though they were there.

The high school teachers I know want tools that contribute significantly to a student-centered learning ecosystem and that enrich learning with experiences they couldn’t have without the technology (modification and redefinition). They aren’t interested in replacing the usual tools or facilitating rote drills. Time is too short and the consequences too significant. To that end, here are six worthy websites and digital tools that will make high school classes more engaging, more effective, and more student-centered than ever:

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Categories: Education reform, Science, Web Tools | Tags: | Leave a comment

Tech That Won’t Survive 2018

Here’s an interesting article on what tech may go away by 2019. This is from Steven Wesley, guest blogger for Ask a Tech Teacher and ESL teacher, with intimate knowledge of tech used in the classroom. I think you’ll enjoy his thoughts:

Technology has permeated every pore of our lives today, and education has been no exception. There are so many useful educational tools and apps out there which can help teachers connect with their students in a much better way. With all the techs available, there has been a debate whether schools as we know them, as well as the role of a teacher, will become obsolete. While the latter is not going to take place, some shifts in education are bound to happen with old technologies giving way to new. Let’s see which ones won’t make it in 2018.

  1. Desktop Computers

Today, smartphones and tablets are cheaper than ever; moreover, their prices are going to decrease which means that desktop computers, as well as computer labs, are about to become extinct in schools. As a teacher, it will save me plenty of time, because I won’t have to deal with lots of login information due to many students using the same computer. With each student having their own smartphone or tablet and Wi-Fi present in every school, they can log in and receive a more customized learning experience. The same thing will happen to laptops.

  1. On-Premise Software

According to James Hutton, an IT specialist for Essay On Time,  on-premise software will be on its way out after 2018:

“On-premises software requires teachers to install the same software on each computer inside the computer room, which is incredibly time-consuming. Another downside of this is that students can’t use the software while they are at home in case they need more time with it. It will be replaced by software that is installed inside the cloud and all students will have to do is log in and use the application at any given moment.”

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The Wild and Amazing World of Augmented Reality

augmented realityThe poster child for a cutting-edge classroom over the years has included computers (back in your mom’s schooldays), iPads (a surprisingly long time ago), 3D printing, Maker Space, and G Suite. By now, those have all been mainstreamed, with savvy parents asking, “What else do you offer?” Now, the most popular ending to the sentence that starts, “My school actually has…” is Augmented Reality. Augmented Reality (AR) is exactly what it sounds like — students learn more about what they see. Using reality inspired by their lesson plan, teachers expand it — supersize it — with motion, color, websites, audio and other pieces that enrich the experience. When students unpack learning via augmented reality, they want more, don’t want to leave, and are willing to solve complex math problems and understand deep concepts just so they can see what else comes with augmented reality.

As an affordable boost to educational engagement, AR in theory takes students into Harry Potter’s world where school hallways are lined with interactive paintings. Using an Android or iOS AR app, students aim it at an image (called a “trigger”) and reveal deeper content layered on top of the physical world be it a student’s discussion of a book they read or the inspiration behind their artwork. What makes AR different from QR codes or other embedded link technologies is that the AR content is superimposed onto existing materials in their own real-time environment.

How’s it different from Virtual Reality

If you ask any group of people about AR, most will conflate it with Virtual Reality (VR). While VR is a wonderful education tool in its own right, there are important distinctions between the two. Kathy Schrock, Adobe Education Leader, Google Certified Teacher, Sony Education Ambassador, Discovery Education STAR and a DEN Guru, and columnist for Discovery Education (just to name a few of Kathy’s accolades) said it best:

Augmented reality layers computer-generated enhancements on top of an existing reality to make it more meaningful through the ability to interact with it.

Virtual reality is a computer-generated simulation of real life…It immerses users by making them feel they are experiencing the simulated reality firsthand.

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Categories: Education reform | 1 Comment

What is the VARK model of Student Learning?

varkIf you use the VARK model of Student Learning, you know why I’m excited about it. VARK started as a questionnaire to help students and teachers understand their best approach to learning but has since become more of a guideline for teaching and learning. The questionnaire is deliberately short (thirteen-sixteen questions, depending upon which version you take) in order to prevent student survey fatigue.

The acronym VARK refers to four learning modalities — Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing, and Kinesthetic. Though often classroom lessons focus on the Visual, with a bit of preparation, they can be taught using all four modalities thus accommodating students who learn best in a different way. Why go through this extra effort? VARK’s creator, Neil Fleming, explains it this way:

  • Students’ preferred learning modes have a significant influence on their behavior and learning.
  • Information that is accessed through students’ use of their modality preferences shows an increase in their levels of comprehension, motivation, and metacognition.

For me, that extra time and effort is a no-brainer. Let me back up a moment and explain how I got to that point. I realized after a few years of teaching that something was wrong with the methodology I had been taught. Lots of clever, smart kids weren’t getting what I was putting out. I taught in a way that addressed how the majority learned (because that covered most kids, didn’t it?) but that turned out to be more like a plurality. Or less. In fact, where that plurality of kids might be the biggest group in the class, those that weren’t learning in this prescriptive manner was an even bigger group. To say it another way:

What the Bell Curve considers the “typical student” was always far outnumbered by those who weren’t.

Interestingly enough, Dr. Fleming reports that Kinesthetics (the K in VARK) is the most common learning style though not the most common teaching style.

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Categories: Education reform, Teaching Strategies | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Innovative Ways to Encourage Writing

Knowledge is meant to be shared. That’s what writing is about–taking what you know and putting it out there for all to see. When students hear the word “writing”, most think paper-and-pencil, maybe word processing, but that’s the vehicle, not the goal. According to state and national standards (even international), writing is expected to “provide evidence in support of opinions”, “examine complex ideas and information clearly and accurately”, and/or “communicate in a way that is appropriate to task, audience, and purpose”. Nowhere do standards dictate a specific tool be used to accomplish the goals.

In fact, the tool students select to share knowledge will depend upon their specific learning style. Imagine if you–the artist who never got beyond stick figures–had to draw a picture that explained the nobility inherent in the Civil War. Would you feel stifled? Would you give up? Now put yourself in the shoes of the student who is dyslexic or challenged by prose as they try to share their knowledge.

When you first bring this up in your class, don’t be surprised if kids have no idea what you’re talking about. Many students think learning starts with the teacher talking and ends with a quiz. Have them take the following surveys:

Both are based on the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Harold Gardner’s iconic model for mapping out learning modalities such as linguistic, hands-on, kinesthetic, math, verbal, and art. Understanding how they learn explains why they remember more when they write something down or read their notes rather than listening to a lecture. If they learn logically (math), a spreadsheet is a good idea. If they are spatial (art) learners, a drawing program is a better choice.

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Categories: Critical thinking, Education reform, Web Tools, Writing | Tags: | 3 Comments

What is a Growth Mindset?

growth mindsetIt’s no secret many parents are frustrated with public schools. Are kids learning to think or just to pass tests? Are they spending classroom time wisely or just doing what’s always been done? Are we developing lifelong learners or simply kids who can’t wait to graduate?

If this describes you, you’re not alone in your concerns, but there’s hope. Consider a pedagogy that transcends rote memorization and the stock drills often found in today’s classrooms, expects critical thinking that teaches how to learn anything — not just school subjects. It’s called a “Growth Mindset”. In an Edsurge article by Rupa Gupta, former Redesign Administrator at Burnett Middle School in San Jose, Calif., she summarized the issue like this:

“In a recent national survey, 97 percent of teachers agreed that all students can and should have a growth mindset, and that same number said fostering a growth mindset is an important part of a teacher’s job. Yet only 50 percent said they have adequate solutions and strategies to shift mindset.”

So nearly everyone agrees this type of cerebral approach is important to real learning but few know how to make it happen.

What is Growth Mindset?

Let me back up a moment and define “Growth Mindset” more clearly. Most people believe basic human qualities like intelligence and talent are fixed traits: nature supersedes nurture. Kids are born with the characteristics that will mold their future. They are good at math or they aren’t. They can throw a football well or not. As kids grow, they figure out what they can and can’t do and adjust learning and life as needed to these truths. They come to believe that understanding and adapting to this process equates to success.

In a Growth Mindset, people believe ability can be developed through dedication and hard work. The cerebral and physical traits they were born with are just the starting point. Students are responsible for setting the patterns and strategies that allow them to succeed, by evaluating what they can do at any given point and making a plan for learning everything else.

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Categories: Classroom management, Critical thinking, Education reform | Tags: , | 3 Comments

Virtual Reality in the Classroom: It’s Easy to Get Started

virtual realityEvery teacher I know has virtual reality on their radar. It’s one of those short-listed disruptive technologies that kids want to be involved in and will change teaching for the better. I was thrilled when Amanda Ronan over at Teach.com suggested that she write a how-to for teachers on getting virtual reality started in their classrooms.  I think you’ll enjoy her thoughts:

Suddenly, virtual reality is everywhere. The technology lets you experience worlds you’ve never dreamed of visiting. You’ve seen people drop their phones into what look like small cardboard boxes and suddenly they’re transported back in time or to the moon.

As an educator, you probably look at those devices and wonder if you need a degree in computer science to figure out how to use them, let alone how to incorporate the tech into your classroom. But, we’re excited to let you in on the secret: VR is super easy to get started with.

Get Started with VR

Just follow these simple steps and you’ll be the hippest teacher around. Not to mention, your students will be totally engaged in the world, both real and virtual, around them. Set an example, and you might even get the whole school on board. Talk about leadership material.

1. Pick Your Equipment.

To use virtual reality in the classroom, all you need is a smartphone capable of downloading the VR apps or videos (more on those in a second) and a headset. The VR headset provides different screens, and therefore different images, for each eye. They also include sound and motion-sensors, so when you move your head, the image moves, too.

If your school has a BYOD (bring your own device) policy, you can ask for student volunteers willing to download the apps or videos onto their phones. You’ll only need enough phones with the apps as you have headsets. Teachers just getting started with VR usually start out by having groups share a headset.

One of the best ways to start out is with the Google Cardboard headset. There are a bunch of different options, but they start are $7.00 each. This keeps the tech affordable. If you order a few for your classroom and find yourself using VR more than you thought you would, order a few more. Or, if your students love the experience, you can possibly convince your district to invest in an account with Nearpod, an educational company that offers everything you need to do VR right, from the headsets, to standards-aligned lesson plans, to the opportunity to make and produce VR lessons yourself. Being a tech ambassador is a great way to influence change in your school on an organizational level so get excited and let your enthusiasm be contagious!

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Categories: Education reform, Guest post, Tech tips | Tags: | 4 Comments

What is Standards-based Grading?

How many times have you experienced teachers who based report card grades on how well students complete classwork, homework, and quizzes? They mistakenly conflate these exemplars with learning. For example, a book report may require a certain number of written (or typed) pages or paragraphs rather than evidence that the student drew conclusions and summarized knowledge.

That’s changing. Today, many educators want to not only evaluate progress at a point in time but optimize that against the ongoing standards their school mission is built on such as Common Core, International Baccalaureate, NGSE, or TEKS.

What is Standards-based Grading

To accomplish this, many schools and Districts have turned to Standards-based Grading. According to Tomlinson and McTighe, standards-based grading (SBG) “measures student proficiency on well-defined course objectives.”  This means students have clear guidelines for how to define success over time, making it easy for all stakeholders in a student’s learning to determine if they are accomplishing what must be done for college and career. It de-emphasizes subjectivity by providing an objective delineation of requirements.

Here’s a good four-minute video overview of SBG:

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Categories: Education reform, Reviews | Tags: , , | 3 Comments