The best tips for getting your school ready for Common Core assessments
An elearning pro shares how to prioritize to make the transition to online assessments smoother As with anything in life, certain tradeoffs must happen in order for schools to spread already-thin resources across all critical projects. Schools already face this challenge on a daily basis, and now they must become Common Core assessment-ready at a [ Read More ]
Schools try remote instruction through immersive technology
Parker senior Elizabeth Kruse wasn't sure what to expect when she decided to take AP music theory this fall.
She wasn't afraid the class would be difficult, but it was the inaugural offering of the class through the Janesville School District's new Cisco Telepresence system.
The technology allows a class to be taught in up to 10 places at once with high-definition, real-time, interactive video.
"It's honestly not as bad as I thought it was going to be," Kruse said. "I thought it was going to be a big difference without the in-person interaction, but it's honestly, with the screens, an immediate reaction. It works."
In each room, students face large screens with cameras facing outwardly, so students from each class see each other. Microphones transmit what students in each class are saying.
Robert Smiley, chief information officer for the district, said the new technology allows the district to offer courses that might not otherwise be available.
"The classes are so small that we are combining, that if we didn't do it this way, some students can't take the class," Smiley said. "We don't want to say to Craig students, 'You get to take AP music theory and sorry, Parker students, you just don't.' That's not what we want to offer.
"We want to offer a rich set of courses that appeals to the interest of students that really prepares them to be college and career ready. We need this kind of technology to make sure we have equal opportunities on both sides of town," Smiley said.
The move to telepresence wasn't for convenience but to offer courses that have small sections of students.
"If we don't have a minimum number of students, we can't offer the class because it’s not something that we can afford," Smiley said. "So this technology creates that opportunity to have that class that we wouldn't normally have."
Blocking access to YouTube creates dilemmas for schools
In Pennsylvania, some Mars High School teachers and administrators are pressing for YouTube to be unblocked from student computers, but others are hesitant to give students unfettered access because of concerns over content.
“Teachers are beyond frustrated,” said Assistant Superintendent Matthew Friedman.
The current setup blocks the popular video-streaming website from the laptop computers that the district provides each student to take home. A building administrator must approve and allow access to any video on an individual basis.
The issue, of course, isn't unique to Mars. Sarah McCluan, a spokeswoman with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, said the decision on what--and what not--to allow is generally up to individual districts.
“It's typically a policy, and not just on what websites are acceptable, but how students are allowed to use school property--including computers and the internet,” she said.
A 2010 Project Tomorrow survey of more than 300,000 students nationwide found one of their chief complaints was blocked access to websites. About 71 percent of high school students and 62 percent of middle school students said that greater access to the Internet was the top thing their school could do to make it easier to use technology.
Friedman said YouTube is not blocked for teachers in Mars, so they are unaware of what is blocked or not blocked. Having individual videos approved for use in teaching curriculums can be a time-consuming process.
“I don't think anyone has enough hours in the day to approve or disapprove every video,” he said. “And I don't think anyone wants that responsibility.”
But unblocking YouTube would allow students access to all videos, an all-or-nothing situation with no way to monitor what students view, including those containing sexual or violent content.
“We can monitor up to when the students are getting onto YouTube,” he said. “But once they're on the site, we don't have the monitoring software.”
A tool in hand is worth… nothing without proper PD
Imagine what would happen if hospital leaders announced to surgeons late on a Friday afternoon that when they came to work on Monday they would no longer be doing surgery using the tools they have always used—such as scalpels, scissors and clamps—and all procedures would be done using new high-tech laser tools, with which they may or may not have familiarity.
How do you think the medical team – the doctors, the nurses and other supporting professionals–would respond? What do you think the patients would say about this abrupt change in standard practice?
Yes, hospital leaders who are mandating this change could argue that technology provides a more accurate way to do surgical procedures, lowering the risk of infection, and potentially decreasing medical expenses. Yet, would this really be the case when the new technologies are being handled by professionals who have not been properly trained in this new way of doing surgery?
Of course, a change of this magnitude would never be implemented in such a haphazard way in medicine–lives are at stake!
I would argue that lives are also at stake in education, and the scenario described above is analogous to the transition to mobile learning in schools. Oftentimes, school leaders announce that the school community is making the switch to mobile learning, pass out devices to everyone, and expect not only that will things continue as they have been, but that the learning environment will be transformed and student achievement will soar.
5 top tech tools of 2014
Some of the year's top ed-tech tools include a free slideshow creator, a reading tool with embedded assessments, and an adaptive math practice game. How many of 2014's top tools have you used?
During an edWeb webinar, Ruth Okoye, a Common Sense Graphite Certified Educator, offered insight on five of the top ed-tech tools from Graphite, a free service from Common Sense Education that helps educators choose tools and resources for students.
Okoye also is the Communications Chair for the ISTE Ed Tech Coaches Professional Learning Network and is a technology resource teacher for Portsmouth Public Schools in Virginia.
"The idea of finding apps is sometimes like finding a needle in a haystack--there are lots and lots of them," Okoye said.
1. Shadow Puppet is a free video slideshow creator for elementary school students. It's available for iPad, iPhone, and iPad Touch.
"Digital storytelling is something a lot of people are doing," Okoye said.
The app uses photos from a user's camera roll to tell a story.
"The EDU version comes with a host of ideas and ways in which educators might be able to use the app," she said. Students are able to search the Library of Congress, museums, and landmarks, which lets them use those pictures in a personal story or in a history project.
It's also ideal for appsmashing--combining two apps in a project or lesson.
(Next page: Four more top apps and tools)
2. Prodigy is an adaptive math practice game and role-playing adventure for elementary school students, available for Linux, Mac, and Windows.
"Prodigy is a great math tool," Okoye said. "It's got a little bit of everything, so you'll be able to use it no matter what kind of device you have in your classroom."
The role-playing game injects fantasy aspects with adaptive math challenges. Practice levels go up as students are successful, and the math tools are similar to those used in standardized assessments.
The game also can be used for differentiated instruction. Teachers can create assignments for individual students or for smaller groups of students during instructional time.
3. Newsela connects middle and high school students to engaging news targeted to their reading levels.
"It is really an awesome tool," she said. "The idea here is that you can add your students as a classroom and then assign them different pieces to read, depending upon chosen topics and Lexile levels."
Students also can analyze photos and compare them to news articles to build media literacy skills.