How Edtech Tools Evolve Introduction: We’ve Heard This Before

Introduction: We’ve Heard This Before

Great inventors have proclaimed technology’s potential to transform education before. In 1913, Thomas Edison asserted that “books will soon be obsolete in the public schools,” replaced by motion pictures. Nearly a century later, Steve Jobs, according to his biographer Walter Isaacson, believed print textbooks were “ripe for digital destruction.”

Not so fast. Over the decades, a parade of technologies—television, “teaching machines,” interactive whiteboards and desktop computers—seemed to have a far more muted impact on learning than futurists and entrepreneurs predicted. Even the trusty wood-pulp book still soldiers on: Roughly half of district IT leaders surveyed by the Consortium for School Networking believe that print materials will still be used regularlyby 2018.

“The pattern of hype leading to disappointment, leading to another cycle of overpromising with the next technology, has a long history to it,” notes Larry Cuban, an education professor at Stanford University who began his career as a high school history teacher in the 1950s.

And yet, puncturing this bleak scenario are shining examples of times when technology has made a difference. In North Carolina, educators at Mooresville Graded School District (hailed by The New York Times as the “de facto model of the digital school” in 2012) attribute a boost in test scores, attendance and graduation rates to the smart use of laptops and online software (earning itself the title). In rural Central California, Lindsay Unified School District’s ongoing efforts to refine its competency-based learning model has led to small bumps in test scores—but a dramatic drop in truancy, suspension and gang membership rates.

So what’s the difference? When can technology have a galvanizing effect, rather than amplify existing educational practices?

Kentaro Toyama, a professor at University of Michigan’s School of Information, has often observed the latter. How can new practices extend beyond just a single class or a hero teacher, but for a community, and on a sustained basis? What portion of the answer lies with technology—and what portion with how it’s used?

The pattern of hype leading to disappointment, leading to another cycle of overpromising with the next technology, has a long history to it.

—Larry Cuban, emeritus professor at Stanford University

This chapter of our year-long survey of the role of technology in education dives into technology’s contribution to that fragile equation. And arguably one of the most thoughtful perspectives on technology’s role in education comes from Ruben Puentedura, a former teacher and university media center director. His investigation into the role of technology in education in the late 1980s led to an observation that was simultaneously clear-eyed yet profound: Not every device or app can or should transform how teachers teach.

To wield technology well, Puentedura asserts, teachers must ask and answer: “What opportunities does new technology bring to the table that weren’t available before?” Puentedura codified his observations in a framework nicknamed “SAMR,” which offers an invaluable window into understanding the different ways that technology can support changes in instructional practices and learning outcomes.

Yet there is a non-negotiable requirement for technology to make a difference. It has to work without requiring herculean workarounds.

Sometimes the lynchpin requirements are technical. Electric cars were infeasible without lithium batteries and lightweight composites. Sometimes the requirements also involve structural issues. Digital readers and e-books first came to market in 1998, but it took nearly a decade to resolve problems around limited memory and storage, title selections, copyright, conflicting file formats and other technical issues before e-books captured significant consumer market share.

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Rocket e-book, launched in 1998. Credit: Mark Richards Computer History Museum

For educators to be able to count on technology, it has to work with the reliably of a lightswitch. And for decades, it has not. Justeight percent of all computers in U.S. public schools had internet access in 1995. A decade later, that figure jumped to 97 percent—yet only 15 percent of all public schools enjoyed wireless connection. Software incompatibility and technical problems, such as creating and managing accounts, proved problematic for educators. Nearly half of the educators surveyed in 2008 by the National Education Association reported feeling adequately prepared to integrate technology into instruction. Fewer than one-third used computers to plan lessons or teach.

In economics, things take longer to happen than you think they will.

—Rudiger Dornbusch, MIT economics professor

Today, more than 77 percent of U.S. school districts offer bandwidth speeds of 100 kbps per student for accessing online resources. This, coupled with cloud computing services that allow apps, services and data to be accessed and shared on the web, have made technology much more feasible for use. The marketplace for online educational tools has also grown; Apple’s store now boasts more than 80,000 such apps. Interoperability standards are beginning to ease how data from different schools systems and instructional tools are stored and shared. From 2013 to 2015, U.S. K-12 schools purchased more than 23 million devices, according to Futuresource Consulting.

“In economics, things take longer to happen than you think they will,” Rudiger Dornbusch, the late MIT economics professor, once said, “and then they happen faster than you thought they could.”

Today’s education technology has matured after decades of fits and starts. Improved bandwidth, cloud computing power and distribution channels such as app stores, among other infrastructural improvements, have helped developers make technologies more accessible, affordable and, most importantly, reliable for students and teachers to use.

Yet the question remains: What will technology do once it is in the hands of teachers and students? To better understand the interplay of new technologies and instructional practices, we’ll explore how edtech tools in three popular categories—math, English Language Arts and assessment—have evolved over time, how they reflect the pedagogical trends and then what this means in the context of Puentedura’s framework.

How are these products changing?

To better understand how instructional practices have transformed, we’ll explore how the capabilities of tools

Product Profiles: What Today’s Tools Offer

SAMR: Is Technology Making the Difference?

Case Studies: From Technology to Practice

Transforming Education through Technology

by AT&T

Mobile technology, applications, and services are empowering students to achieve, removing barriers to graduation, enabling teachers, and preparing today’s learners for the jobs of tomorrow. Through the AT&T Aspire Accelerator, AT&T invests in startups that share the company’s goal of transforming education through technology. The six month program is designed to accelerate the startup organizations–both for- and non-profit–that have the potential to improve student success and career readiness. Participants receive a financial investment, access to expertise, services and relationships tailored to their organization and expert mentors from the education and technology ecosystems.

Product Profiles: What Today’s Tools Offer

How have today’s technologies evolved to help children develop math and reading abilities—the two core competencies that typically reflect how well they’re learning in school? And how do new tools allow them to demonstrate what they know, aside from traditional paper-and-pencil tests?

Math

In Search of the Middle Ground

“Who gets to learn mathematics, and the nature of the mathematics that is learned, are matters of consequence.”

Alan Schoenfeld, UC Berkeley Math Professor

Is it more important for kids to memorize math formulas and compute—or understand concepts and create their own approaches to solving problems? Whether students use pencils or iPads, the question has long stirred impassioned discussion among parents, teachers, mathematicians and policymakers. In 2004 University of California, Berkeley math professor, Alan Schoenfeld, described this debate as “Math Wars” that have persisted throughout the 20th century.

Disagreements persist today between “traditionalists” who believe math instruction should focus on calculations and processes, versus “reformers” who want students to develop the logical and conceptual understanding behind math. The “New Math” movement of the 1950s, championed by professional mathematicians, attempted to introduce conceptual thinking, such as the ability to calculate in bases other than 10. (Below is a satirical song by pianist and mathematician Tom Lehrer.) The effort floundered, derided by parents, teachers and mathematicians who lampooned the instruction as overly abstract and conceptual.

A 2007 report from the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, assembled by the U.S. Department of Education, summed up these battles as a struggle over:

“How explicitly children must be taught skills based on formulas or algorithms (fixed, 2 step-by-step procedures for solving math problems) versus a more inquiry-based approach in which students are exposed to real-world problems that help them develop fluency in number sense, reasoning, and problem-solving skills. In this latter approach, computational skills and correct answers are not the primary goals of instruction.”

This polarization is “nonsensical,” Schoenfeld noted. The two approaches are not mutually exclusive. Why can’t math instruction embrace both procedural and conceptual knowledge?

The Common Core math standards, released in June 2010, is the latest attempt to find a middle ground. Originally adopted by 46 states, the standards aim to pursue “conceptual understanding, procedural skills and fluency, and application with equal intensity.” Yet some students, parents and teachers have heckled the standards for befuddling homework problems and tests. It seemed not even curriculum developers knew how to translate Common Core math principles into instructional materials. See one example of a math problem gone “viral.” Concerns about “fuzzy math” resurfaced, amplified through social media channels and YouTube.

Yet one fundamental difference between the math wars today and those of a half century ago is that today’s technology—in the form of Google or software such as Wolfram Alpha—can solve nearly any math problem with clicks and swipes. This ability will influence what teachers teach and how those subjects are taught.

“Math has been liberated from calculating,” proclaimes Conrad Wolfram, strategic director of Wolfram Research. Computers, he states, can allow students to “experience harder problems [and be] able to play with the math, interact with it, feel it. We want people who can feel the math instinctively.”

How Math Tools Evolved

From Drilling to Adapting

The earliest instructional math software didn’t offer much in the form of instruction. In 1965, Stanford University professor Patrick Suppes led one of the first studies on how a text-based computer program could help fourth-grade students achieve basic arithmetic fluency. The program displayed a problem and asked students to input an answer. Correct responses would lead to the next problem, while incorrect ones would prompt a “wrong” message and give students another chance to get the correct answer. If this second attempt was still incorrect, the program would show the correct answer, and repeat the problem to help reinforce the facts.

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Credit: Number Munchers (left) and Math Blaster (right)

Decades later, many instructional math software would retain the same “drill-and-kill” approach. This trend was best reflected in the popularity of games such as Number Munchers and Math Blaster in late ’80s and throughout the ’90s, which also incorporated gaming elements such as points and rewards into their drill exercises.

Even so, during the 1960s, when enthusiasm for artificial intelligence was on the rise, university researchers began work on “intelligent tutoring systems” aimed at identifying a student’s knowledge gaps and surfacing relevant hints and practice problems. There were limitations, to be sure; researchers lacked enough fine-grain data for their algorithms to make useful inferences. Yet after decades of research, Carnegie Mellon University researchers released one of the first commercially available K-12 educational software programs, Cognitive Tutor. That was followed a year later with ALEKS, based on the work at researchers at University of California, Irvine. The products use different cognitive architecture models to attempt to deduce what a student knows and doesn’t. (To learn more about what happens inside these engines, check out our EdSurge report on adaptive learning edtech products.)

More recently other “adaptive” math tools use frequent assessments to try to pair appropriate content with learners. When a student answers a question incorrectly, such programs attempt to identify knowledge gaps and surface relevant instructional materials. Some tools, like KnowRe, will provide instructions on how to solve a problem. Others tools reinforce procedural concepts in videos that offer instruction ranging from step-by-step explanations (Khan Academy), to animations (BrainPOP), to real-world scenarios (Mathalicious).

Despite the ability of technology to deduce what students need and provide instruction, developers also recognize that educators must still retain their instructional role. DreamBox, which sells adaptive math software, recently added features to allow teachers more control over content assignment. “While we are still really focused on building student agency, we also want to ensure that we build teacher agency,” says Dreambox Chief Executive Officer and President Jessie Woolley-Wilson.

‘Seeing’ Math Beyond Symbols

Everyone uses visual pathways when we work on mathematics and we all need to develop the visual areas of our brains.

—Jo Boaler, education professor at Stanford University

Math is often represented by symbols (+ − x ÷), but technology today allows developers to eschew traditional notations to allow students to explore math in more visual and creative ways. There is supporting evidence: Researchers have observed Brazilian children street vendors performing complex arithmetic calculations through transactions (“street mathematics”) but struggling when presented with the same problems on a formal written test.

“We can make every mathematical idea as visual as it is numeric,” says Stanford education professor and YouCubed co-founder Jo Boaler. Boaler has studied neurobiological research on how solving math problems stimulates areas of the brain associated with visual processing.

“Everyone uses visual pathways when we work on mathematics and we all need to develop the visual areas of our brains,” she wrote in a recent report.

In the 1980s, tools including Geometer’s Sketchpad offered learners ways to explore math visually through interactive graphs. Today’s tools allow teachers to create their own activities and for students to share their work. Desmos, a browser-based HTML5 graphing calculator, invites them to explore and share art made with math equations. “There’s enormous value in allowing students to create, estimate, visualize and generalize,” says Dan Meyer, chief academic officer at Desmos, “but a lot of math software today just allows them to calculate.”

Educational game developers have also found ways to introduce mathematical concepts without using symbols. ST Math (the two letters stand for spatial-temporal), uses puzzles to introduce Pre-K-12 math concepts without explicit language instruction or symbolic notations. Another popular game, DragonBox, lets students practice algebra without any notations. BrainQuake aims to teach number sense through puzzles involving spinning wheels.

Although games can make math more engaging, students may need support from teachers to apply skills learned from the game to schoolwork and tests. “One of the ways video games can be extremely powerful,” says Keith Devlin, a Stanford professor, co-founder and chief scientist of Brainquake and NPR’s “Math Guy,” “is that when a kid has beat a game, he or she may have greater confidence to master symbolic math. I think a two—step approach—video game and teacher—can be key in helping students who hate math get up to speed.”

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Source: EdSurge

ELA

Teaching Reading in America

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Dr. Seuss

Like math, literacy has had its own “Reading Wars” (or “Great Debate”) throughout the 20th century. Proponents of a phonics-based approach believed students should learn to decode the meaning of a word by sounding out letters. But in English, not all words sound the way they are spelled, and different words may sound alike. Alternatively, other researchers and educators advocate a “whole language” approach that incorporates reading and writing, along with speaking and listening.

The back-and-forth debate eventually reached policymakers, who were alarmed by the 1983 report, “A Nation at Risk,” that charged that American students were woefully underprepared compared to their international peers. In California, poor results on the 1992 and 1994 National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test—more than half of fourth-grade students were reading below grade level—fueled critiques of the state’s whole-language approach.

In 1997, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development convened a national panel of literacy researchers and educators to evaluate and recommend guidelines. Published in 2000, the report recommended a mix of two approaches, stating that “systematic phonics instruction should be integrated with other reading instruction to create a balanced reading program.” The authors added:

… literacy acquisition is a complex process for which there is no single key to success. Teaching phonemic awareness does not ensure that children will learn to read and write. Many competencies must be acquired for this to happen.

The findings allayed some of the debate over how to teach reading. But the Common Core reading standards raised new questions around what reading materials should be taught, including nonfiction and informational texts that “highlight the growing complexity of the texts students must read to be ready for the demands of college, career, and life.” The standards also aimed to set a higher bar for literacy beyond reading. Students were expected to be able to cite text-specific evidence in argumentative and informational writing.

Yet for all the focus on facts and evidence, the standard writers did not specify what should be read at each grade level. While they offer examples of books appropriate for each grade, states and districts are expected to determine the most appropriate content. In setting high expectations for what students should be able to read, but refraining from offering specific steps to get there, educators wound up left to look for their own resources. This ambiguity has given license to publishers, researchers and entrepreneurs to shape that path.

How ELA Tools Evolved

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Source: EdSurge

Tracking Readers

Digital book collections have long promised to expand the availability of fiction and nonfiction books. But now such tools also offer teachers a more convenient way to track reading than reviewing students’ self-recorded logs. Today’s products offer data dashboards that chronicle how many books were read, how long students spent reading and which vocabulary words students looked up. Often digital texts come embedded with questions written by content experts or, in some cases, created by teachers themselves.

Given the capability of tools to capture information about students’ reading habits, it’s “important for teachers to have frameworks and dashboards to make that data actionable,” says Jim O’Neill, chief product officer at Achieve3000. “By having a sense of whether students are comprehending the text, or how much they’ve read, teachers can provide the appropriate follow-up [support].”

Let’s Lexile

The broad scope of available online reading materials makes a traditional challenge even more front and center: How can teachers identify what texts are most appropriate for students? Figuring out the right level of complexity for every student—including subject matter, text complexity, or other factors—is subjective and, at best, an inexact science. Both educators and developers have turned to reading frameworks that attempt to quantify text difficulty by measures such as word length, word count and average sentence length.

“Almost every major edtech literacy company will report on text complexity in some form,” adds O’Neill. A popular framework used by his company and other adaptive literacy products is the Lexile, which measures readers’ comprehension ability and text difficulty on a scale from below 0L (for beginning readers) to over 2000L (advanced) based on two factors: sentence length and the frequency of “rare” words. Many products today will assign students a Lexile score (based on how they perform on assessments after reading a text) and recommend reading content at the appropriate level. Some companies, such asNewsela and LightSail, present the same content rewritten at different Lexile levels so that students can read and discuss the same story.

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Despite the popularity of Lexile levels, some researchers such as Elfrieda Hiebert, a literacy educator and chief executive officer ofText Project, preach caution against relying exclusively on Lexile numbers to find grade-appropriate texts. She has pointed out, for instance, that The Grapes of Wrath, a dense book for most high schoolers, has a lower Lexile score (680L) than the early reader book, Where Do Polar Bears Live? (690L). The former has shorter sentences (with plenty of dialogue) while the latter has longer ones.

The Lexile is just one of seven different computer formulas that Common Core standards writers have found to be “reliably and often highly correlated with grade level and student performance-based measures of text difficulty across a variety of text sets and reference measures.” Established companies, including Pearson and Renaissance Learning, have developed alternatives to Lexile. Another effort, the Text Genome Project, which Hiebert is advising, uses machine learning technology to identify and help students learn the 2,500 related word families (such as, help, helpful, helper) that make up the majority of texts they will encounter through high school.

Nod to Nonfiction

The Common Core is not the first effort to emphasize nonfiction and informational texts. In 2009, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) called for a 50-50 split between fiction and nonfiction reading materials for fourth-grade students, and a 30-70 ratio by twelfth grade. Common Core reinforced that message: A 2015 NAEP survey found that the percentage of fourth-grade teachers who used fiction texts “to a great extent” declined from 63 percent to 53 percent between 2011 and 2015, while the nonfiction rose from 36 to 45 percent over the same period.

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Source: National Assessment of Educational Progress

Companies have noted this shift and many offer nonfiction content as a selling point. Achieve3000, LightSail Education andNewsela employ both writers who will produce their own nonfiction articles and syndicated stories from news publishers that they rewrite at different Lexile levels. Such content also comes embedded with formative assessments to gauge students’ reading comprehension. Other startups, such as Listenwise, offer audio clips from public radio stations, along with comprehension and discussion questions, to help students build literacy through online listening activities.

Writing to Read

“Writing about a text should enhance comprehension because it provides students with a tool for visibly and permanently recording, connecting, analyzing, personalizing, and manipulating key ideas in text.”

So state the authors of “Writing to Read,” a meta-analysis published in 2010 of 50 years’ worth of studies on the effectiveness of writing practices on students’ reading grades. The need for this skill only grows in the internet era, as students need to be able to comprehend, assess, organize and communicate information from a variety of sources.

According to the Common Core writing standards, students are expected to start writing online by fourth grade, and by seventh grade should be able to “link to and cite sources as well as to interact and collaborate with others.”

Online writing tools—most notably Google Docs, which the company boasts has more than 50 million education users—allow teachers and students to comment and collaborate in the cloud. The industry standard remains MYAccess with patented technology to automatically score papers and provide customized feedback. NoRedInk and Quill offer interactive writing exercises that let students sharpen their technical writing skills and grammar. Other startups, such as Citelighter and scrible scaffold the research and writing process to help students organize their notes and thoughts. Their progress—words written, sources cited, annotations—are captured on a dashboard that teachers can monitor.

Other tools are more ambitious. CiteSmart, Turnitin and WriteLab use natural language processing to provide automatic feedback beyond the typical spelling and grammar checks and attempts to point out errors in logic and clarity. (Our test run with these tools, however, found questionable feedback, suggesting they still need fine-tuning. There are still some core instructional tasks, it turns out, that technology has yet to perfect.)

Assessment

In Search of the Middle Ground

Through embedded assessments, educators can see evidence of students’ thinking during the learning process and provide near real-time feedback through learning dashboards so they can take action in the moment.

2016 National Education Technology Plan

Students find tests stressful for good reason. Results not only evaluate what they have learned, but can be used to determine whether they graduate or get into college. Such assessments are “summative” in that they aim to evaluate what a student has learned at the conclusion of a class. In 2002 when the U.S. government tied school funding to student outcomes through the No Child Left Behind law, tests became stressful for educators as well.

With so much at stake, testing became a top priority in many classrooms. A 2015 survey of 66 districts by the Council of Great City Schools found that U.S. students on average took eight standardized tests every year—which means by the time they graduated high school, they would have taken roughly 112 such tests. Testing fever was followed by fatigue; nearly two-thirds of parents in a Gallup poll released that year said there was too much emphasis on testing.

But tests need not be so punitive. For decades, education researchers have argued that tests can be used during—not after—the learning process. In 1968, educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom argued that “formative” assessments could diagnose what a student knew, enabling teachers to adjust their instruction or provide remediation. Students could also use these results to better understand and reflect on what they know.

There’s no emotional stress associated with formative assessments. They help teachers engage with students during the learning process.

—Cory Reid, chief executive officer of MasteryConnect

To check for understanding, teachers can use formative assessments in the form of short quizzes delivered at the beginning or end of class, journal writing and group presentations. (Here are 56 examples.)

“There’s no emotional stress associated with formative assessments,” said Cory Reid, chief executive officer ofMasteryConnect. “They help teachers engage with students during the learning process.”

“In moderation, smart strategic tests can help us measure our kids’ progress in schools [and] can help them learn,” President Obama said in a video address.

“Tests should enhance teaching and learning,” Obama continued. In December 2015, he signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, allowing states more flexibility in determining how and what they could use to assess students. By doing so, the government opened the door to let states decide what works best for their schools.

Summative tests still remain, but the industry has shifted its focus to embedding tests to make them an integral part of the teaching and learning process. In addition academic achievement is no longer the primary focus; technologists are attempting to quantify non-cognitive factors, including student behavior and school culture, all of which impacts how students learn.

How Assessment Tools Evolved

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Credit: Vixit/Shutterstock

The Many Forms of Formative Tests

In the 1970s, Scantron Corporation offered one of the most popular and commercially successful technologies for doing formative and summative tests: bubble sheets that students would fill out with #2 pencils that could be automatically graded. A couple decades later, “clickers”—devices with buttons that transmit responses to a computer—offered an even quicker way for teachers and students to get feedback on multiple-choice questions.

Today, web-based and mobile apps can deliver formative assessments and results cheaper and more efficiently. Smartphones and web browsers have become the new clicker to deliver instantaneous feedback. In classrooms where not every student has a computer or a phone, some teachers use apps to snap photos of a printed answer sheet and immediately record grades. And as teachers use more online materials, there are also tools that allow them to overlay questions on text, audio or video resources available on the internet.

Student responses from formative assessment tools can be tied to a teacher’s lesson plans or a school’s academic standards. This information can help teachers pinpoint specific areas where students are struggling and provide targeted support.

Faster feedback also means that assessments can be given even as lessons are going on. “If you know what a student knows when they know it, that informs your instruction as a teacher,” says Reid. That data can “enrich your teaching and help change a student’s path or trajectory.”

Beyond Multiple Choice

The Common Core tests, which many students take on computers, introduced “technology-enhanced items” (TEIs). These allow students to drag-and-drop content, reorder their answers and highlight or select a hotspot to answer questions. Such interactive questions, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s 2016 National Education Technology Plan, “allow students to demonstrate more complex thinking and share their understanding of material in a way that was previously difficult to assess using traditional means,” namely through multiple choice exams.

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Source: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology, Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education, Washington, D.C., 2016.

A well-designed TEI should let educators “get as much information from how students answer the question in order to learn whether they have grasped the concept or have certain misconceptions,” according to Madhu Narasa, CEO of Edulastic. His company offers a platform that allows educators to create TEIs for formative assessments and helps students prepare for Common Core testing. Another startup, Learnosity, licenses authoring tools to publishers and testing organizations to create question items. (Here are more than 60 different types of TEIs.)

Yet teachers and students need training to use TEIs. And the latest TEIs may not always work on older web browsers and devices. One early version of the Common Core math test developed by Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium featured TEIs that even adults found difficult to use. And, while TEIs offer more interactivity, their effectiveness in measuring student learning remains unproven. A 2015 report from Measured Progress, another developer of Common Core tests, suggested “there is not broad evidence of the validity of inference made by TEIs and the ability of TEIs to provide improved measurement. Without such research, there is no way to ensure that TEIs can effectively inform, guide, and improve the educational process.”

Show Me Your Work

Tests are not the only way for students to demonstrate understanding. Through hands-on projects, students can demonstrate both cognitive and noncognitive skills along with interdisciplinary knowledge. A science fair project, for example, can offer insights into students’ command of science and writing, along with their communication, creativity and collaboration skills.

The internet brought powerful media creation tools—along with cloud-based storage—into classrooms, allowing students to create online. Companies such as FreshGrade offer digital portfolio tools that aim to help students document and showcase their skills and knowledge through projects and multimedia creations in addition to homework and quizzes. Through digital collections of essays, photos, audio clips and videos, students can demonstrate their learning through different mediums.

Games as Test

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Credit: SimCity

What can games like SimCity, Plants vs. Zombies and World of Warcraft tell us about problem-solving skills? A growing community of researchers, including Arizona State University professor James Paul Gee, argue that well-designed games can integrate assessment, learning and feedback in a way that engages learners to complete challenges. “Finishing a well-designed and challenging game is the test itself,” he wrote in 2013.

GlassLab, a nonprofit that studies and designs educational games, has developed tools to infer mastery of learning objectives from gameplay data. These tests are sometimes called “stealth assessments,” as the questions are directly embedded into the game. The group has described at length how psychometrics, the science of measuring mental processes, can help game designers “create probability models that connect students’ performance in particular game situations to their skills, knowledge, identities, and values, both at a moment in time and as they change over time.”

A 2014 review of 69 research studies on the effectiveness of games by research group, SRI International, offers supporting evidence that digital game interventions are more effective than non-game interventions in improving student performance. But other studies offer a mixed picture. A study led by Carnegie Mellon University researchers on a popular algebra game, Dragonbox, found that “the learning that happens in the game does not transfer out of the game, at least not to the standard equation solving format.” Similar to the Brazilian “street math” kids (see math profile), these students are capable of solving math problems—just not on a traditional paper exam.

Noncognitive Skills

Educators and researchers also believe that non-cognitive skills—including self-control, perseverance and growth mindset—can deeply influence students’ academic outcomes. In 2016, eight states announced plans to work with the nonprofit CASEL(Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) to create and implement standards around how social and emotional skills can be introduced into classroom instruction.

Today, developers are seeking ways to quantify factors such as student behavior and school climate. Tools such as Kickboard andLiveSchool record, track and measure student behavior. Panorama Education lets educators run surveys to learn how students, families and staff feel about topics such as school safety, family engagement and staff leadership. Tools like these expand the use of assessments beyond simply measuring student performance on specific subjects and cognitive tasks.

SAMR: How Will We Know If Technology Will Make a Difference?

Will shiny gadgets help educators do the same thing—or enable new modes of teaching and learning? Here’s a popular framework to help us understand how technology can change practice.

No matter what features are built into an edtech product, the technology is unlikely to impact learning if it’s misapplied. “Putting technology on top of traditional teaching will not improve traditional teaching,” said Andreas Schleicher, director for the Directorate of Education and Skills at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, in aninterview with EdSurge earlier this year.

A 2015 report by the OECD found “no appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, mathematics, or science in the countries that had invested heavily in ICT for education.” Noted Schleicher:

“The reality is that technology is very poorly used. Students sit in a class, copy and paste material from Google. This is not going to help them to learn better.”

But there are several corollaries. First, not every traditional teaching practice needs to be reinvented—some are working well. Second, not every technology can “revolutionize” learning. And third, to get powerful results, the kind that drive student learning, technology must be aligned with practice in purposeful ways.

But first, educators need to know which is which.

As a teaching fellow at Harvard University in the late 1980s, Ruben Puentedura started paying attention to how educators used tools in the classroom. Later, as the director of Bennington College’s New Media Center, he further explored how faculty and students integrated technology and instruction to reach the best learning outcomes. His efforts led him to start a consulting firm, Hippasus, that works with schools and districts to adopt technology.

In 2002, he published the SAMR framework to help educators think about how to integrate instructional practice and technology to reach the best outcomes for students. SAMR defines how technology impacts the teaching and learning process in four stages:

S

Substitution

Tech acts as a direct tool substitute, with no functional change in instruction

A

Augmentation

Tech acts as a direct tool substitute, with functional improvement

M

Modification

Tech allows for a significant task design

R

Redefinition

Tech allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable

The SAMR framework is centered around the premise that technology, when used strategically and appropriately, has the potential to transform learning and improve student outcomes. Puentedura has also applied this framework to existing education research to suggest that greater student outcomes can occur when edtech tools are used at the later stages of the framework (modification and redefinition).

Preparing to use SAMR

To start, Puentedura says teachers must be clear about what outcome they want for their students. “The purpose, the goals of teachers, schools and students, are the key drivers in how technology is used,” he says.

“What is it that you see your students not doing that you’d like them to do? What type of knowledge would you like them to explore that they’re not exploring? What type of opportunities for new visions, new ideas, new developments would you like to pick up on?”

Additionally, it is important for teachers to identify how technology is currently used in the classroom, as a reference point for moving through the stages of SAMR. This requires an understanding of available resources—not just the technology that students can access, but also time and support required to use the tools well.

Changes in the tools themselves matter less than how you’re thinking about the learning objectives.

—Jim Beeler, Chief Learning Officer at Digital Promise*

New technologies are often first used at the substitution level, especially when teachers and students are unfamiliar with the tools. This level of usage has its merits, even if it may not radically change instructional practices. Reading digital textbooks may, in the long run, be cheaper for schools than ordering new print versions every time the content is updated. Having students compose essays using a cloud-based word processor makes it easier for teachers to track and grade assignments.

The SAMR framework is not just about technology in and of itself, but rather what educators and students can use the tech to accomplish. “Changes in the tools themselves matter less than how you’re thinking about the learning objectives,” explains Jim Beeler, Chief Learning Officer at Digital Promise, who has helped schools rollout programs where every student has a digital device (called 1:1 programs). After all, the same tool can be used in different stages. A digital textbook, for example, can used as a substitute for print if all students do is read, highlight and annotate. But if the textbook includes speech synthesis or audio features, the students’ reading experience is augmented through the addition of the auditory mode of learning.

A Primer on SAMR

Here are some guiding questions and a familiar type of assignment as an example—sharing reflections on a reading assignment—to better illustrate the SAMR framework in practice.

Samr ruben

Ruben Puentedura

Are you going to get more impact upon student outcomes from using technology at the R level than at the S level?

I’m using a technology but I don’t know where I am within the SAMR Framework

Answer the following questions to figure out where you are within the framework

SAMR Misconceptions

Although Puentedura’s studies suggest that greater student outcomes can be achieved at the redefinition level, he warns against the notion that every teacher should aspire to use technology to redefine their practice. “Are you going to get more impact upon student outcomes from using technology at the R level than at the S level? Sure,” he says, “but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t many, in fact, probably a large majority of technology uses that work just fine at the S and A level.”

  1. SAMR is just about using technology

    SAMR is designed to analyze the intersection of technology and instructional practices. The framework is designed to focus on the changes that technology enables—not the technology itself. Make no mistake—educators and students are the ones that make learning happen, not the technology.

  2. It is better to be further “up” the framework

    Not every instructional practice needs to be redefined; as Puentedura points out, often “substitution” can be the right form of change. It can be exhausting and inappropriate for teachers and students to constantly teach and learn at the modification and redefinition levels. Educators need to find the right mix of activities that are appropriate for their learning objectives and employ technology in the way that best fits those goals.

  3. Change is always necessary

    Don’t change just for the sake of change. SAMR—or any other framework—may offer a way to describe changes in technology usage. But that does not mean that teachers should continually strive to change their practices. Teachers must have a clear vision of their instructional goals and desired student outcomes before devising ways to implement new tools in a classroom.

Samr ruben

Ruben Puentedura

Can SAMR help schools make smarter purchasing decisions?

Case Studies: From Technology to Practice

Technology can make a difference. Here are a dozen profiles of how educators from across the country have used tools to support instructional needs and transform teaching practices.

S

A

M

R

Math

A Free Tool to Keep a Pulse on Student Learning

SUBSTITUTION + MATH

Addressing the Gaps of All Learners

AUGMENTATION + MATH

Learning Linear Equations in One Week, Not One Year

MODIFICATION + MATH

Playlists That Put Students in Control

REDEFINITION + MATH

ELA

Read All You Want

SUBSTITUTION + ELA

Ditch the Paper. Let’s Make a Podcast!

AUGMENTATION + ELA

90 Second Videos That Inspire Discussion

MODIFICATION + ELA

Taking Reading Assignments To The Next Level

REDEFINITION + ELA

Assessment

Forms for Formative Assessments

SUBSTITUTION + ASSESSMENT

Custom-Built Quizzes For Real-Time Intervention

AUGMENTATION + ASSESSMENT

Formative Assessments Enriched With Data

MODIFICATION + ASSESSMENT

From Paper and Pencil to Real World Assessment

REDEFINITION + ASSESSMENT

SUBSTITUTION + MATH

Conclusion

Technology is often conflated with innovation. Yet tools are just part of the equation. Innovation entails humans changing behavior.

In education, technological improvements—in the form of faster broadband, devices or smarter data analytics—must be commensurate with the desire to refine and transform existing practices. What these changes look like is unsettled, but technology allows teachers and students to explore different paths.

Well-designed tools can help educators realize the educational “best practices” put forth decades ago by researchers like Benjamin Bloom. Data from formative assessments can give teachers better insights into what each learner needs and change strategies. Games and online collaborative projects allow educators teach in ways that researchers believe can better engage students.

The most useful educational tools are also flexible. Teachers are also adapting media and productivity software for purposes beyond what they were designed for.

After all, what a math class needs may not be online adaptive curriculum, but rather creative tools that allow students to engage and express knowledge in new ways.

Changing ingrained habits and codified practices requires patience. Not all lectures, lesson plans, group projects or homework demand to be uprooted. As our case studies above show, some teachers use technology to do the same tasks more efficiently. Others are creating entirely new activities that transform learning from a solo to social experience.

Whether teachers reinforce or redefine instructional practices with technology partly depends on their environment. Do they have the training to implement new tools? How can schools support teachers in not just experimenting with new methods of teaching and learning—but scale these practices across the campus and district? How can these changes make education opportunities more equitable? These questions will help frame the focus of the next chapter. As classrooms change, so do schools.

The Tragedy of Student Loans

 

One of the big scams going around right now is student loans for individuals attending for-profit universities. It goes something like this: Heavy advertising for pain free, at-your leisure online or on-site degrees—encouraging students to take on a large debt load to pay for their studies—and then frequently little (if any) support for students, inadequate classes, and difficulty transferring credits to other institutions. The dropout rate is typically substantial. Personal student debt is growing at a staggering rate.

Here’s the thing though—students at for-profit institutions represent only 9% of all college students, but receive roughly 25% of all federal Pell Grants and loans, and are responsible for 44% of all student loan defaults.

study by The National Bureau of Economic Research, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, suggested that students who attend for-profit education institutions are more likely to be unemployed, earn less, have higher debt levels, and are more likely to default on their student loans than similar students at non-profit educational institutions. Although for-profits typically serve students who are poorer or more likely to be minorities, these differences do not explain the differences in employment, income, debt levels, and student loan defaults. The Government Accountability Office has also found that graduates of for-profits are less likely to pass licensing exams, and that poor student performance cannot be explained by different student demographics.

For-profits have higher completion rates for one- and two-year associate’s degree programs, but higher dropout rates for four-year bachelor’s degrees. However, studies have suggested that one- and two-year programs typically do not provide much economic benefit to students because the boost to wages is more than offset by increased debt. By contrast, four-year programs provide a large economic benefit.

An investigation by the New York Times suggested that for-profit higher education institutions typically have much higher student loan default rates than non-profits. Two documentaries by Frontline have focused on alleged abuses in for profit higher education.

The following infographic from Collegestats.org will give you a good visual of what’s going on with student debt. Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve always thought that the fundamental purpose of an educational institution should be to educate, not to turn a profit.

 

The Tragedy of Student Loans

What Did 2013 Hold for Educational Technology in Schools

Looking back at the article I was astounded to find that basically none of the information in the first chart was relevant and the proposal that “Apps” would be the prevalent part of the year actually was/is true. 
via Smartblogs/Katharine Haber

To connect with those working on the front lines of education technology, SmartBrief on EdTech editor Katharine Haber asked readers about their thoughts on what 2013 will bring for technology in schools.

According to our results, about one-third of respondents see classroom technology as the most significant issue on the horizon, while a slightly smaller group is concerned about online education, followed by computer-based testing and digital citizenship.

When asked how their schools and districts are using technology to enhance student learning, a majority of respondents reported that some teachers are employing tech tools in the classroom, while a significantly smaller proportion said technology is playing a broader role throughout the curriculum or being integrated through blended-learning programs or “bring your own technology” programs.

Readers reported that online applications and games are the most effective tools for engaging students, while digital textbooks and resources, along with mobile devices, are not far behind.

Interestingly, few respondents see social media as an effective tool. Given the ongoing buzz about Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, this response begs the question of whether many schools simply are not using social media as part of classroom instruction.

There are arguably numerous factors to consider when using social media with students, and many schools and districts might be blocking or otherwise prohibiting use of such websites on campus. However, given their popularity, is it possible there is an untapped resource here? What do you think?

What do you see as the most significant issue in education technology for 2013?

Technology in the classroom

33.88%

Online education

25.62%

Computer-based testing

21.49%

Digital citizenship

19.01%

Which statement best describes how your school or district is integrating technology into student learning?

Some teachers use tech tools as part of classroom lessons

63.78%

Technology is integrated throughout the curriculum

19.69%

Our school/district has a bring-your-own-device policy

8.66%

Our school/district employs blended learning

7.87%

Which tech tools most effectively engage students in your classroom, school or district?

Online apps and games

40%

Digital textbooks and resources

28.89%

Mobile devices

27.78%

Social media

3.33%

Katharine Haber is an associate editor for SmartBrief, writing and editing content about a variety of topics in education.

Great Post by David Warlick

via 2¢ Worth

Today’s infographic is simple and to the point. A big part of grade school and even college and onward, is writing papers. Some professions write more papers than others, but it is still an important skill in order to get your point across. This infographic uses venn diagrams to convey the importance of different parts of papers, and to show how they interact with one another. It also shows how much of your paper should include each part.

Of course every paper should begin with an introduction and end with a conclusion. It should also include several point in the middle, that are introduced and concluded in the introduction and conclusion. But how should the middle be laid out? That is up to the author, but it should there is a bit of a formula.

This infographic does a great job of showing that there should be pros and cons. You should always share how your paper may be argued against, and go ahead and prove some of these points wrong. In addition, a good paper should show why the information is important. Why should someone read your paper?

Show this to your students whenever a paper is assigned. Make sure your students are ready to write a good paper, and know what is involved in writing such a paper.

 

write-your-paper-right

http://visual.ly/write-your-paper-right

How to Support Teachers for 21st Century Learning

via eClassroom News

Experts weigh in on how administrators can support teachers in implementing collaboration and creativity

Implementing broad concepts like critical thinking and communication may seem like natural next steps to educators, but unless teachers receive support from school policy and infrastructure, providing students with a true 21st century education may not be so easy.

This was a key topic of discussion during a recent Connected Educator Month webinar, hosted by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) and EdLeader21—a national network of school and district leaders focused on integrating the 4Cs into education.

The 4Cs–communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity–are part of P21’s mission to help educators teach students 21st century skills. Webinar panelists said this task can’t be accomplished without support from school administrators in the way of space design, instructional practices, and school policy.

Dana Strother, chief academic officer at Douglas County School District in Colorado, said her district “looked at Bloom’s Taxonomy and vetted our state’s standards through the taxonomy” during an evaluation of instructional practice.

“Areas that were lacking we improved through what we call ‘World Class Outcomes,’ and instructional design that allows for the 4Cs. We also provided CIA curriculum and instruction alignment and wove authentic learning experiences into the curriculum for support,” she said.

The district also made it a priority to provide supporting infrastructure through district policy on risk-opportunities.

“It’s important to let teachers know, in various ways, but also through policy, that we support risk-taking opportunities, or new strategies, projects, or professional development opportunities that may be new or unique,” she said.

For example, Douglas County lets teachers experience inquiry-based professional development opportunities in order for teachers to learn through the same practices they’re expected to teach students.

“We’re asking teachers to incorporate new kinds of teaching that include the 4Cs, so why should teachers in turn be taught in a different manner? Sometimes by thinking outside of the box and going against traditional methods, especially from an administrator standpoint, the results are better,” Strother said.

Randy Fielding, chairman and founding partner of educational facilities planning and architectural design firm Fielding Nair International, said he believes school design also factors heavily into incorporating the 4Cs into a student’s daily life.

Fielding’s design firm tries to incorporate 20 “learning modalities” into school design, which include concepts, such as Independent Study, Peer Tutoring, Team Collaboration, and One-on-One Learning, to support the 4Cs of instruction.

“To have a truly 21st-century school, you have to inspire organic collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and communication, and focusing on design can help.”

“To have a truly 21st-century school, you have to inspire organic collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and communication, and focusing on design can help. For example, you could have a ‘watering hole’ space off hallways where students could casually converse; you could have a ‘cave space’ where students could reflect for independent thinking; and you could have a ‘campfire space’ where everyone gathers to collaborate,” Fielding said.

Panelists emphasized that it’s also important for administrators and teachers to understand that instruction focused on the 4Cs doesn’t just work for certain kinds of subjects, students, or teachers.

“The 4Cs work for every kind of student and teacher in classrooms across the country,” said Donna Harris-Aikens, director of Education Policy and Practice at the National Education Association (NEA). “It’s less a series of requirements and more just authentic learning. For example, a math class could use its English and design skills to help draft a proposal to help senior citizens in their community make their homes more accessible. For this kind of project, you need the 4Cs in STEM, English, and community service.”

Fielding said it’s important that school and district leaders support teachers in working together to develop collaborative projects for their students.

One of the schools his firm works with has a student-run lunch program through which students negotiate with local farmers. They serve the week’s menu selections on carts around the school so students can taste-test their creations. Students in the program generate quarterly reports on profit and loss, and send those reports off to the school board.

“Students get credit for working in this program, which essentially teaches them collaboration skills, analytical skills, and even creative skills, thanks to cooking,” he said.

However, panelists said that there are still barriers for teachers who want to pursue the 4Cs, including getting first-world experience on how to actually teach broad concepts like creativity.

“That’s why we introduced the Creative Innovator Network in our district, which allows teachers to collaborate with not only their peers on different projects, but also local businesses to brainstorm ideas on how students can better serve the community,” said Strother. “We also bring students into the teacher professional development sessions to hear their voice and how they enjoy learning, so that teachers can adapt their instruction.”

“The biggest barrier for teachers is time,” said Harris-Aikens. “Finding time to make everything work effectively and collaborate is hard, especially because planning, or collaborating, time needs to be on a consistent and continual basis. Students also need a large amount of time to work on these projects, and to have time flexibility in case they make mistakes, as well. Administrators need to make sure teachers and students can have that time in their day.”

For more on this topic, watch the full webinar.

Minecraft for Moms – What You Need to Know

Minecraft for Moms

 

It seems like everywhere you look these days, a hot technology topic when it comes to kids is MINECRAFT.  Considering all the gaming apps that are out there, it can be hard for parents to navigate the good from the bad and even harder to understand how best to monitor and manage their kids usage of them.

Okay, so here are the main points you want to know:

What is it:

Minecraft is a gaming app, available for all types of mobile phones and tablets as well as gaming systems like the Xbox and playstation and even for your PC. The most common version of the game for younger children to play is the Pocket Edition, which is available for android and iPhone as well as the iPad.  The majority of this post will be specific to this version of Minecraft.

The easiest way to describe the game is virtual legos, but that is definitely an oversimplification. The graphics and even some of the basic functions of the game will at first appear poorly made or terribly outdated, like some kind of strange old school video game.  However, once you watch your kids in action on the game and see all  the ways they use their creativity to construct buildings and interact with their environment, you’re likely to recognize the genius of this game’s simplicity. In many ways, it’s almost a blank canvas without the typical rules and boundaries of a highly designed game. This sense of freedom seems to be a big part of the game’s appeal to kids.

How is it Played: 

There are two modes of the game available: Creative and Survival

Creative: This is where all children should start to get a feel for the game and is probably the better option for younger children, end of story. In this mode, players all become the generic character “Steve”(they can add their own name if they prefer, but everyone looks the same) and they are deposited into a minecraft world that basically looks like a typical landscape, with grass, hills, trees,sky,  and some lakes or ponds. There is also the occasional farm animal such as a sheep.  Players are able to select from a large variety of materials to build any structure they can dream up.  They can make houses of stone or glass that can be on the ground or in the air with gardens and trap doors. Again, it sounds pretty straightforward, but I was amazed when I saw how elaborate and unique my kids projects were.

Survival: Alright, so for those who have at least a little familiarity with Minecraft, you’re probably wondering about the zombies and the creepers you’ve heard about.  Those appear in this version of the game.  Again, due to the rudimentary graphics, these are not super scary and there is no real blood or gore.  Survivor mode is just like it sounds. In this version of the game you don’t have unlimited access to all the building materials and other resources that are available like you do in the creative version. You actually have to go out and find them. You start the game during “daytime” and have a limited amount of time to find what you need to stay alive and build some kind of dwelling to keep you safe. Once night falls, all the more sinister elements of the game come out and you have to fight to survive. Again, I know this sounds a little bit scary, but we’ve allowed our five year old to play this version of the game and she loves it. No nightmares, no fear, nothing! Why, because it’s too much fun, and its challenging. Players in survivor mode have to be clever and strategize to survive. Also, while you can “die” you basically are just recycled right back into the game again.

In either mode, there is no “winning” and no end goal. It is open ended and just an endless invitation to think bigger and better and create more.

Multi-Player:

The aspect of the game that most kids really enjoy is the fact that they can “connect” with others and play together.   Now, by “connect” I don’t mean to the internet where any crazy can hop in their Minecraft world with them.  The primary way to “connect” is on a shared network, most commonly your home network. If you have your network set up properly, it will be password protected, so no outsiders can access it (if you don’t ….that post is coming). For older and more advanced players, there are ways to connect to other outside Minecraft servers, but this is not something built into the game.  Unlike many other gaming apps, Minecraft does not automatically connect to the internet or require the internet to run.

We encourage parents to take advantage of the multi-player part of the game and actually play WITH their children so they understand how the basics of the game work. This will also enable you to try out the “survivor” mode and decide if or when your child might be ready for this next step. My husband and I have both played with our kids. My husband is Minecraft rockstar and he enjoys it so much I often have more trouble getting him off the game than the kids.  I confess, I’ve struggled with it a bit, but even I’ve managed to pull together a fairly impressive glass house in the sky decorated with artwork and boasting it’s very own sunflower garden. I even have had various pet sheep. My kids LOVE when I play with them, even if its only for ten minutes and they also really enjoy playing together. (yes, my kids enjoy playing together, this is a shocking side effect of this game).

Minecraft Pros:

Minecraft is not just some mindless activity, nor is it like any other gaming app. Whether in creative or survivor mode, players are required to think and create and strategize. There is a need for spatial understanding (geometry) and design. Plus, as mentioned, many children find the fun of the game enhanced by playing with multiple people. Doing this requires collaboration and communication.

Minecraft can also be expanded with “secret” elements or the introduction of “mods” (modifications) that enable new features.  Kids can find much of this on YouTube, but again you want to make sure you have the parental controls enabled (you can watch a video about it HERE)  The other major source of this type of Minecraft info is the Official Minecraft Wiki.  Researching and discovering the game enhancements, presents another new and engaging level of the game for kids and presents another opportunity for teamwork as they will often share and teach each other what they’ve learned.

Minecraft has been so successful in teaching kids some fundamental learning concepts that it is even being used in schools as  an educational tool. It has also spawned a number of options that introduce kids to the basics of computer programming. These include online courses  as well as something called “LearntoMod”, which will be introduced in October 2014.  These are add-ons to the game, which allow players to use code to design their own customization for the game (new tools, animals, or even creepers).  For more info Click HERE.

If you want to know even more about the benefits of Minecraft, check out this great article, “Hey, Parents. What Minecraft is Doing to Your Kids is Kind of Surprising.”

Minecraft Cons:

Minecraft is a teensy weensy bit additctive, especially since there is no “official” end.  However, as long as you set time limits and clearly communicate those limits to your children, then you shouldn’t have problems when it comes time to leave “Steve” behind until next time. However, like most activities that kids get absorbed it, a smooth transition is best facilitated with a five minute warning before it’s time to wrap things up.

If you truly find that it becomes a struggle to get your kids off the game (or any technology for that matter), it may be time for a technology break. You can simply tell them, “It seems that you are having a hard time using technology in a healthy way right now. Technology is fun, but it can’t be something we do all the time. Let’s take a break and in a week (or whatever time frame you set), we can try again.”

How Much Does it Cost:

Pocket Edition for Android and iOS $6.99
(This is the only cost, there are NO in-app purchases)

Xbox 360 $19.99

Playstation $19.99

You can even play it on your desktop PC – $26.95

You can find links to purchase any of these versions HERE.

7 Chrome Apps for Science (STEM) Education

1- 3D Solar System

This is a 3D solar system simulation application, which gives you the approximate location of the planets in the solar system at different time, and some information about each one of them.

2- Anatomy 3d

Anatomy 3D provides you with a bunch of interactive tools to use to dissect, explore and learn about the human body in 3D. The tool is also available for Android and iOS users.

3- Anatomy Games

This extension offers users a variety of anatomy games and atlases to help them learn about human anatomy

4- Planetarium

Planetarium is a beautiful interactive sky map that students can use to explore the stars and learn about planets. The tool shows over 1500 stars with a magnitude of up to “+5”.

5- Useful Periodic Table

This is a periodic table of the elements that has all the elements and most of their respective properties collected and stored in one easy to use and simple to find location.  Contained within this periodic table is a unit converter that will convert some of the scientific dimensions.  Also, containing links to wikipedia for further literature on that element that you wish to know.  Great for students because of the elements quiz contained within.

6- BioDigital Human

The BioDigital Human is a 3D platform that simplifies the understanding of anatomy, disease and treatments. Explore the body in 3D!

7- Anatomy Skills : Bones

Learn all of the major bones in the human body using three different modes: Learn, Game and Quiz. The app covers all of the major bones in the body from the phalanges to the femurs. Carefully selected graphics make the features easy to identify.

Obama, free community college may not work

Graduates from a community college.

In his SOTU, President Obama proposed making community college tuition free for two years

Michael Horn: We need a better strategy for skills training before going down the track of subsidizing students

“Michael B. Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation and executive director of its education program. He is author of “Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools” and “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.”

(CNN)In his State of the Union address, President Obama proposed making community college tuition free for two years to boost college graduation rates and lift more people into the middle class.

Unfortunately, his plan doesn’t make the grade. The proposal would not only pile up more debt by further subsidizing runaway college costs, it would also perilously undercut the emergence of more innovative educational programs designed to help students succeed in the workforce.

Offering only a lukewarm pathway to the job market, community colleges are incapable of fulfilling the President’s lofty ambitions. Although there are some high-performing community colleges and stellar stories of success for certain students, the overall picture of success at two-year community colleges is dismal.

According to the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, only 22% of students graduate within three years, and 28% graduate within four. More telling, 80% of students say they want a bachelor’s degree or higher, and yet only 20% of these students transfer to a four-year institution within five years.

Even for those who earn a community college degree, it often isn’t as useful as other options. Thanks to credential inflation, pursuing a professional certification — which more clearly indicates a person’s skills than a degree — often pays off better than an associate’s degree, according to Census Bureau data.

The conversation around making community college free also masks a larger problem, which is that community colleges are already heavily subsidized and far less affordable than commonly believed.

At $3,300, community college tuition is well under the $5,730 currently available in Pell Grant aid to low-income students. But the expenditure per student at a community college — the true cost of the education — is far higher, about four times more at $13,000 per student. That means that more than 60% of the cost of community college isn’t paid for through tuition, but through various forms of government aid at the federal, state and local levels.

As a result, even if the President’s plan passed, it wouldn’t help the large number of already-overcrowded community colleges that have waiting lists numbering in the thousands. Tuition is only a small part of the funding needed to educate additional students.

What’s more, because of the limited productivity gains possible in the community college model, those costs will continue to rise, which means that tuition will, too. The proposal’s $60 billion price over 10 years is likely to grow with only a questionable return on the investment.

Opinion: Two years of free community college makes sense

The larger question the proposal misses is not how to allow students to afford college, but how to make college affordable. There’s a huge distinction. The focus should be to make postsecondary education less costly and of better quality, such that the question of how to afford it becomes manageable. The President’s proposal merely charges education, in the form of debt for future generations of taxpayers, rather than changes it.

Instead we need to encourage students to seek innovative offerings that are lower cost and improve the quality and accessibility of higher education.

Such options are emerging. Patten University offers a new online, competency-based program that charges undergraduate tuition of $350 per month, or $1,316 per term. Tuition includes access to as many courses as one can complete and all the ebooks and course materials needed, and Patten receives no government funding. Another online, competency-based program, Southern New Hampshire’s College for America, charges annual tuition of $2,500.

Rather than supporting innovative options like Patten and Southern New Hampshire, the President’s plan would nudge students toward a community college sector that is incapable of repositioning its model around student success and fuel rising college costs.

5 ways community colleges are fixing higher education

If enacted, the President’s proposal would be unlikely to achieve its ultimate aims and would exacerbate a larger problem lurking behind college financing. Although the plan amounts to little more than political posturing given the current congressional makeup, it will negatively influence the political conversation around higher education in the years ahead.

By supporting free community college, President Obama is merely kicking the can down the road for future generations to confront. We need a better strategy for skills training overall before we go further down the track of subsidizing students to attend community college only to emerge with little to show for it.

 

Taking Control of Technology Before Technology Takes Over Your Family

Taking Control of Technology Before Technology Takes Over Your Family

  

Now that we’ve posted our first few articles in our Technology 101 for Parents Series, I’ve been noticing many of the comments from parents frustrated by the constant struggle technology seems to present in their families.   Here are some of the most common things I’ve heard parents say over the last few weeks:

 “I can’t get my kids to stop playing on their DS/Wii/Playstation/iPad/Phone”

“Anytime I tell them to turn it off, it turns into a major battle”

“It feels like technology is taking over our lives”  

While I absolutely sympathize and I understand how managing technology and our kids can feel overwhelming for parents, we really do have the ability to take control of technology before technology takes over our families.

Step 1
Well, I think there is an obvious starting place for this conversation – it’s us parents.  Before we can even begin to help our children to make wise choices when it comes to technology use, we have to ask ourselves exactly what behaviors are we modeling? If we aren’t exercising discipline and we’re constantly on our devices, we can’t expect anything different from our children.

“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Step 2

We need some basic rules and boundaries that we’ve actually discussed with our kids and that we are sure they understand.  So, here are some “house tech rules” that should help tame the technology monster that has taken over your household. (there’s a super cute printable at the end of the post. Hang it over your family computer or on the fridge to serve as reminder for your kids and for you)

1. Technology is a Privilege Not a Right

As parents we ARE obligated to provide some basics to our children. These are their rights as our children and include things like food, shelter, clothes, a K-12 education and our love.  Nowhere in the parent agreement does it state we MUST provide them with a TV, an  iPhone, an iPad, a Computer, two different gaming systems with games for each and endless hours utilizing these various technologies. Those are NOT rights.

I have told my children for several years now, “your expectation for technology time should be zero, anything you get above that should be considered a privilege.” Then I make a cute little “zero” with my hands together kind of like the little hand hearts young people like to make these days. This helps them to understand that having technology available and being given the opportunity to use it is not an automatic, they have to hold up their end of being part of our family or else technology is the first thing to go. It also helps them to be appreciative of technology time when they have it.

2. All Technology Must Be Parent Approved

Whether it’s watching a certain television show, downloading a new app, using our family computer (which sits in our open living room by the way so we can always monitor them on it) or purchasing a new video game, they MUST ask our permission.  If they do not, and this includes at other people’s houses, and we find out then it results in a TOTAL loss of all technology. Each family has to determine for themselves the length of the time-out from tech based on the offense, but this is a zero tolerance policy and we as parents should NEVER make an exception.

If you are unsure about whether or not something is appropriate for your child – A simple visit to Common Sense Media should provide you with all the info you need.

3. We Value People More Than Technology

How often has your child completely ignored a request you’ve made b/c they are zombified by the TV or else maybe you’ve heard your children using unkind words when they are playing a video game with a friend or sibling.  Our children need to be taught to value their relationships and that those relationships should always be put first.

If my child fails to respond to me, because they are too absorbed in technology,  then the technology gets turned off for the rest of the day and sometimes the rest of the week.

When it comes to how we treat people when technology is involved, whether it’s smack talk gone too far when playing video games or for older kids it could be using texting or social media to be cruel to another child, I once again will remove the technology at that moment.  However, we will talk about why they made the choices they did and how to be better next time. If the behavior becomes repetitive, then we “take a break” for a determined amount of time until they can prove they are deserving of another opportunity.

4. Devices Don’t Come to the Dinner Table

Period. End of Story. The End. This is the best chance we have as parents to connect with our children and find out what is going on in their lives. If everyone is too busy with tech, then we lose out on this important family time.

5. There is No Tech Behind Closed Doors

There is plenty of evidence to support  that when children have TV’s, computers and other technology in their bedrooms it is not a great idea. However, this is really a family by family choice.  Whatever you choose though, there is NEVER a reason that a child (toddler to teen) needs to have technology of any kind behind a closed door. It simply invites trouble and while most of us want to trust our kids, why provide temptation that isn’t absolutely necessary.

6. Chores and Homework Come Before TV and Video Games

This goes back to technology being a privilege and not a right.  Our kids need to be able to put their responsibilities to their family first and also to adopt the work before play principle. This is also a step in teaching our children about priorities and how to put first things first.

7. Turn it Off is NOT a Negotiation

I do not demand my children turn off the TV or quit a game they are playing on our iPad without some warning, this is only fair. I will give at least a five minute notice before I am expecting them to turn it off.  However, after the grace period is up, I’ve made it clear that they should not beg for more time, whine and complain, or even worse, have some sort of tantrum.   In the event this occurs, no more technology privileges for a set period of time.  When they get tech time back, I remind them why they lost it and that they will have the same consequence doubled if it happens again.

8. We Break It We Help Pay to Replace It

Let’s face it, most technology is expensive. It is okay to talk with our kids about the investment  made in a purchase and the importance of caring for our possessions properly.  For our littles, we need to show them the right and wrong way to handle these different devices and for all our kids there should be an established safe place to put things when they are done using them.  If our kids are careless, then they absolutely need to, at a minimum, share the burden of paying for a replacement. For older kids this money can come out of an allowance or savings or they can do extra chores to earn the money to help replace the broken item.  Younger children may not be able to monetarily help, but it may mean an item just isn’t replaced or else if it is, they no longer can use it.

9. We Use Technology Appropriately or We Lose It

Using tech in a way that could potentially harm any human being, including oneself is inappropriate. This means you’re going to need to have age appropriate conversations with your child about the dangers that exist online. There needs to be a clear understanding about the language & photos that are acceptable vs. unacceptable to be placed online. Do not assume your child “knows better”, be blunt & state the obvious. We also need to coach them on appropriate social etiquette and how to be respectful online.  Children, and many adults,  feel a false sense of anonymity when they are interacting with others online and may act in ways or say things that they never would in other situations.

We can have good kids, but that doesn’t mean they will ALWAYS make good decisions.   Children do not have fully developed decision making capabilities or the ability to think through their decisions to the long-term consequences even in their teens.  That is why they are ours until they are at least 18.  If they do not demonstrate the maturity necessary to handle different aspects of technology appropriately, then they don’t deserve to have the technology. Both for their safety and the safety of others. Don’t be afraid to be the bad guy, you know your child better than anyone and it is your job to be their parent, not their friends.

“If we do not teach our children, society will.
And they-and we-will live with the results.”

– Stephen Covey

Below you will find a link for this Family Technology Rules Printable.  We will also be publishing another post in the Technology 101 for Parents Series soon geared towards older children and establishing a family technology contract. You won’t want to miss it, so be sure to sign up for our weekly email newsletter: http://eepurl.com/WXOv5

Taking Control of Technology Before Technology Takes Over Your Family

Links

5 Ways to Stay Safe (Relatively) on the Internet for Parents and Students

 

Click on any title to learn more about each tip.

1- Enable SafeSearch

By enabling SafeSearch, you can filter out most of the mature content that you or your family may prefer to avoid. If an inappropriate result does sneak through, you can report it to Google.

2- Filter YouTube Content by Enabling Safety Mode

If you’d prefer to not to see mature or age-restricted content as you browse YouTube, scroll to the bottom of any YouTube page and enable Safety Mode. Safety Mode helps filter out potentially objectionable content from search, related videos, playlists, shows, and films.

3- Control what your family Sees on The Web

If you want to control which sites your family can visit on the Internet you can use Supervised Users in Google Chrome. With Supervised Users you can see the pages your user has visited and block the sites you don’t want your user to see.

4- Limit access to just approved apps and games

Want to share your tablet without sharing all your stuff? On Android tablets running 4.3 and higher, you can create restricted profiles that limit the access that other users have to features and content on your tablet. Learn more about this feature from this page.

5- Use app ratings to choose age-appropriate apps

Just like at the movies, you can decide which Google Play apps are appropriate for your family by looking at the ratings: everyone, low maturity, medium maturity, or high maturity. You can filter apps by level, and also lock the filtering level with a simple PIN code (keeping other users from accidentally disabling the filter).