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).


10 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Trying New Technology

An article posted recently looked at the implementation of a blended learning program. It talked about how to set yourself up for success when implementing blended learning, what some attributes of a great blended learning program are, and drivers of blended learning.

The drivers of blended learning was sort of buried towards the bottom of the infographic, and we thought it could use a little spotlight of its own, so we’ve taken that part of the original infographic and are showcasing it on its own below.

Why? Because there are really good reasons to give it a shot. If you look at the ten reasons listed below, we’re pretty sure you’ll find at least a couple that you’ll benefit from, or are already trying to do in another way. If you read each item as a sort of question to yourself, they can also serve as a handy little go-to list that you should be asking when you’re implementing anything new in your classroom.

10 Drivers of Blended Learning

  • Teachers need and want to:
  • Personalize learning
  • Improve the progress potential for each individual student
  • Improve student engagement and motivation
  • Shift to online state testing as of 2015
  • Extend time and stretch resources effectively
  • Extend the reach of effective teachers
  • Improve teacher’s working conditions
  • Decrease device costs
  • Have students and parents adopt learning apps
  • Narrow the digital divide

10 Questions To Ask Yourself When Implementing New Technology

  • The answer doesn’t have to be yes for every question, but the more boxes you can tick, the better!
  • Does it improve the teacher’s ability to personalize learning? (yes!)
  • Does it offer potential for individual progress? (yes!)
  • Does it improve student engagement and motivation? (yes!)
  • Does it help teachers to to online testing methods? (yes!)
  • Does it extend time and stretch resources effectively? (yes!)
  • Does it extend the reach of effective teachers? (yes!)
  • Does it improve teacher’s working conditions? (yes!)
  • Does it decrease device costs? (yes!)
  • Does it help students and parents adopt learning apps? (yes!)
  • Does it help narrow the digital divide? (yes!)

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Money, Time, and Tactics: Can Games Be Effective in Schools?

There are so many people out there in education who truly don’t understand the power of games and gaming in education. I have been fortunate enough to work with a few people who are experts in the field, Henk Rogers (Tetris) and Mark Loughridge (F9 Entertainment) in the development of games, animations and simulations we have used SUCCESSFULLY in education. You can see some of our work on our website  and if you are interested in collaborating then contact us.

via Mindshift

If it’s true that 97 percent of teens in the U.S. are playing digital games, then the focus on how games can fit into the shifting education system becomes that much more important. Schools, districts, and individual educators are trying to figure out how games and learning can fit into the current complicated landscape.

The newly released report Games for a Digital Age: K-12 Market Map and Investment Analysis,released by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center and the Games and Learning Publishing Council,describes the many different criteria in play in detail, including obstacles from the policy standpoint, lack of teacher development, as well as how the Bring Your Own Device movement is influencing the push towards games and learning.

“Games are more popular than ever with youth today with many students spending hours a day playing them,” said Michael H. Levine, executive director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. “What we don’t know yet is whether and how they can be a key ally in driving pathways to academic success.”

Though it’s well worth reading the report in its entirety, below are excerpts pulled from the report, conducted and written by Dr. John Richards, Leslie Stebbins and Dr. Kurt Moellering.


The school day is divided into class periods, and this division limits lesson length. Furthermore, the combination of standards and the scope and sequence tied to core curriculum create “coverage” requirements that place practical limits on the number of lessons that can be devoted to a single topic.

Nearly all games fall clearly along a continuum ranging from short-form to long-form with a critical distinction and a bi-modal distribution pattern based on fitting in a class period. As noted by Rob Lippincott, Sr. Vice President of Education, PBS, “Games don’t fit the time box of a class period; a game succeeds when it is sticky and gobbles up more time. You want games in school to finish quickly and speed up learning.” (CS4Ed interview, April 2012).

We placed games into these two time-based categories, short-form and long-form. Within these broad areas fall dozens of different kinds of games, ranging from three-minute apps to open, immersive Multi-User Virtual Environments (MUVEs) that involve lengthy game playing. In addition to the length of play, the mechanics of a gaming experience varies broadly, with simple “add-on” gamification-type reward systems falling typically at the short end of the time continuum, and more complex, multiple-path, role playing games falling at the long end. In longer-form games, the game mechanics are typically intrinsic to the learning experience rather than placed at the end of or external to the game play itself.

“Games don’t fit the time box of a class period; a game succeeds when it is sticky and gobbles up more time. You want games in school to finish quickly and speed up learning.”

1. Short-Form Learning Games

In most K-12 schools the day is organized in blocks of time that average 40 minutes or less. Transition time and time for instruction or discussion connected to curricular material frequently leaves only 20 to 30 minutes for actually using a learning game. Short-form games are interactive digital activities that fit within a single class period and have some components common to all learning games. They focus on a particular concept or on skill refinement, skills practice, memorization, or performing specific drills.

Successful short-form games meet an important and defined market need, whether it is by demonstrating a concept to the whole class on an interactive white board, or by providing individual students with practice on a specific concept or skill. Short-form games include drill and practice, brief simulations, visualizations, or simulated training tools, and different types of “game-like” interactive learning objects. These types of games have the potential to be embedded in personalized learning environments or adaptive engines that combine data and feedback loops that are becoming increasingly popular in schools.

This type of game product is starting to gain traction in the K-12 market, due in part to its alignment to standards and to extensive product lines that cover many topics within the curriculum or meet an important, albeit narrow, market need. Teachers find such games easy to access and understand, and the games fit neatly into the short blocks of time available in the structured school day.

2. Long-Form Learning Games

Long-form learning games extend beyond a single class period. Typically game-playing is spread over multiple sessions or even several weeks. Long-form games lend themselves to the development of 21st century skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, creativity, and communication. Kurt Squire, [co-founder and current director of the Games, Learning, & Society Initiative] underlines the distinction between the sophisticated learning skills developed through immersive experiences versus games where students are rewarded for memorizing vocabulary words or performing math drills. Squire views games such as Civilization III as having the potential to push students to engage actively in problem solving, reflection, and decision making related to historical and political situations (Squire as quoted in Klopfer, Osterweil, Groff, & Haas, 2009). Other researchers concur, and view long-form, immersive game play as a critical factor supporting a broad arena of social and cognitive learning (Shaffer, 2006; Bogost, 2007).

A number of individual studies have demonstrated that specific long-form games perform better when compared to typical lectures. Examples from research studies include Supercharged!, an electrostatics game that showed a 28% increase in learning (Squire, Barnett, Grant, & Higginbotham, 2004); Geography Explorer, a geology game that showed a 15 to 40% increase in learning (McClean, Saini-Eidukat, Schwert, Slator, & White, 2001); Virtual Cell, a cell biology game that showed a 30–63% increase in learning (McClean et al., 2001); and River City, a game that showed a 370% increase in learning for D students and 14% increase for B students (Ketelhut, 2007).

Recent research also points to the significance of the engagement factor produced by long-form learning games. Engagement fosters motivation and keeps students involved in the learning experience. While many educational software products have focused on extrinsic rewards for skills practice, longer form games where game play and learning are closely connected have been proven to be even more engaging than following a learning task with an external reward (Habgood & Ainsworth, 2011).

The authors of a report issued by the Committee on Science Learning at the National Research Council concluded that simulations and games have great potential to improve science learning in the classroom because they can “individualize learning to match the pace, interests, and capabilities of each particular student and contextualize learning in engaging virtual environments” (Honey & Hilton, 2011). The authors also echoed previous research demonstrating the appeal and engagement of learning games, and indicate that games can help support new inquiry-based approaches to science instruction by providing virtual laboratories or field learning experiences that overcome practical constraints.

The time required for playing long-form games has proven to be a significant barrier
to their widespread adoption. As Dave McCool, co-founder, President and CEO of Muzzy
Lane Software explains, “For us, with Making History3, it was a matter of having a product that was deep and narrow and was only needed for content that was covered for one week of the curriculum” (CS4Ed interview, February 2012).

In our interview, Scott Traylor, CEO and founder of 360KID, argued that long-form games can more easily fit into the homework side of the equation and that class time can be reserved for discussing results of the homework activities, strategies, and content learned (CS4Ed interview, March 2012). This “flipped classroom” model addresses the classroom time factor in that teachers can control how much time is spent on discussion sessions. However, there remain challenges with connectivity for students from lower-income households. As more schools experiment with various forms of online and blended learning, a better fit between available class time and long-form games may emerge.


The language of gaming and learning games is still in flux, and there has been little agreement between experts in the field about what falls under the category of “learning game” and what is not a game, but has “game-like” elements. Not surprisingly, the literature of games contains no agreed upon definition of a learning game. When we asked our interviewees what they considered a game, we found no consensus. One extreme cited any “formative assessment based on an adaptive engine,” while the other cited products with aspects of game mechanics such as badges, rewards, and points. Although the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) Codie awards category is for “Games and Simulations” (and researchers are sometimes careful to distinguish between simulations and games), for the purposes of this report we have included simulations in our broad definition of learning games.

… longer form games where game play and learning are closely connected have been proven to be even more engaging than following a learning task with an external reward.

Such a wide range of products is confusing to the K-12 audience, because “games” can vary from products that are prototypical to ones that only leverage somewhat extraneous game mechanics to engage and to motivate. Confusion among types of games is of particular concern when examining the research evidence of the effectiveness of games in learning. Most university-based research evaluates learning games in environments that engage students for several weeks with immersive, challenging experiences. Thus, when researchers argue that learning games are efficacious, promote critical thinking, and engage 21st century skills, it is not necessarily clear that these conclusions apply to many shorter forms of learning games.

All games have game mechanics that are the central element of the game and, to some degree, are integrated with the learning content. As James Gee argues in his keynote at the 2012 Games for Change conference, the extent to which the mechanics of creating motivation and directing attention is intrinsic to the content of the game can greatly influence learning outcomes.

Gamification is the use of game-based elements or game mechanics to drive user engagement and actions in non-game contexts. In gamification, the game mechanics are divorced from the content being taught and are instead added in the form of some sort of reward element after completion of an activity. For example, a short-form math game that involves answering math questions where correct answers are followed by a badge or the reward of playing a “dunk the clown” game would be called gamification. David Dockterman, Ed.D., Chief Architect, Learning Sciences with Tom Snyder Productions/Scholastic is concerned about this use of game mechanics, stating “Gamification can begin to undermine a kid’s desire to learn” (CS4Ed interview, March, 2012).


The systemic barriers to entry include:

  • the dominance of a few multi-billion dollar players;
  • a long buying cycle, byzantine decision-making process, and narrow sales window;
  • locally controlled decision making that creates a fragmented marketplace of individual districts, schools, and teachers;
  • frequently changing federal and state government policies and cyclical district resource constraints that impact the availability of funding;
  • the demand for curriculum and standards alignment and research-based proof of effectiveness; and
  • the requirement for locally delivered professional development.

However, recent trends provide an increasingly positive arena for learning games and other digital products, including:

  • the move to one-to-one computing in schools and the rise of a “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) infrastructure for learning;
  • the widespread acceptance and purchase of interactive white boards;
  • the improvement of school IT infrastructure and access to the Internet;
  • the 2010 National Education Technology Plan;
  •  a strong focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) skills, and more broadly, on higher-order thinking skills;
  • an increasing move in schools from print to digital materials and from a highly structured to a somewhat flexible textbook adoption process;
  • the increasing interest in Personalized Learning Environments (PLEs) and adaptive engines; and
  • an expanding base of research that shows the effectiveness of long-form games in learning.

District Administration Magazine Webinar on Blended Learning…..check it out

Blended learning – the powerful combination of real-time and online interaction— is being adopted across the country to improve math teaching and student learning. By implementing an online supplemental math program that utilizes intelligent adaptive learning™ technology, your school or district can easily and effectively provide personalized instruction in the classroom and at home for all students, regardless of level or ability. Attend this web seminar to learn how to get started with blended learning and the keys to successfully adopting this latest technology to improve achievement of your elementary math students.

Topics will include:

  • The importance and efficacy of blended learning
  • Evaluating curriculum and blended learning model options
  • The latest and most effective technology used in elementary-level mathematics


7 Excellent iPad Games to Develop Kids Critical Thinking

This is a great site that I found online and wanted to share it with my readers. They have PHENOMENAL resources for a teacher and students. You can check their resources at or by clicking on the link.
There is an app for everything these days. From health apps to travel apps, iTunes market is teeming with all kinds of apps. It only takes one click in a search engine to find what you want but as we always say not every app can do what its developers preach , you need to have a critical eye to evaluate the apps that will work for you. As teachers and educators, we are in a constant search for apps to use with our students and this is why we need to make sure we have recourse to checklists such as this one whenever we are to recommend apps.
Educational Technology and Mobile Learning has even made it way easier for teachers to pick the apps they want from some pre-made lists of apps organized according to each subject area. You can check them HERE.
In today’s post , we are providing you with a list of great games designed to improve your students critical thinking and creative powers.Check them out below and don’t forget to check the list we have posted before on iPad  Apps to Develop Kids Critical Thinking.
1- Feed the Head

 ” The iPad adaptation of our classic surrealist toy! Poke the Head. Prod the Head. Tug the Head… but most importantly, Feed the Head. Like a living cartoon, the Head will unfold and transform in surprising, startling, and hilarious ways.”


2-Where’s My Water

 “Where’s My Water? is a challenging physics-based puzzler complete with vibrant graphics, intuitive controls, and a sensational soundtrack. To be successful, you need to be clever and keep an eye out for algae, toxic ooze, triggers, and traps. “


3- RoomBreak

“Room Break is an adventure game about escaping.The purpose of this game is simple.Users will be detained to certain places and situations and they need to open the door of each room and escape.”

4- Cross Fingers Fee

 “Mobigame, the team behind the multiple award winning EDGE for iPhone and iPod touch, returns in full force with Cross Fingers, a unique game which challenges you to combine solid pieces in a gigantic tangram puzzle”

5- Doodle Fit

 “The task in Doodle Fit is simple: fit the given sets of blocks into the given shapes. Drag the blocks into positions in search for the layout that covers the whole shape. A level is complete when all blocks have been used and there is no more space free in the shape..”

6- Jelly Car

“JellyCar is a driving/platforming game for both iPhone and iPod touch. The game is about driving a squishy car through squishy worlds, trying to reach the exit. JellyCar features soft body physics for all of the objects in the world. Also your car can transform for a limited time to aid progression through the level “7- Geared for iPad

 “Geared is a radically new and innovative puzzle game; a unique addition to its genre. The first and only Gear-based game with absolutely no snap-grid. Geared delivers complete and total freedom to the player, bestowing every puzzle with a near infinite array of choices. “

8- 7 Little Words 

 “7 Little Words is FUN, CHALLENGING, and EASY TO LEARN. We guarantee you’ve never played anything like it before. Give 7 Little Words a try today!”

Smarter Balance Consortium updates Technology Requirements for Assessments…..

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium has released an updated guide to technology requirements and recommendations for member states planning to implement the common core assessment system the consortium is developing for the 2014-15 school year.

Under the framework, most schools should be able to implement the assessments, the organization said. However, schools that meet only the minimum specifications for the assessments may experience lag times and delays, while schools that implement the recommended guidelines for technology will experience a faster, more seamless assessment experience. However, the organization asserts that the lags and delays will not affect the quality of the assessments, only the amount of time it takes to process students’ responses.

The document makes five recommendations to prepare schools for the new assessments.

1. Move away from Windows XP (which is currently used by more than half of schools today) to Windows 7. Windows 8 might be acceptable, but further testing is needed. However, the assessments will work with Windows XP.

2. Upgrade computers to at least 1 GB of internal memory. Most schools have already implemented this recommendation (63 percent, to be exact.)

3. Make sure that all screens being used for the assessments have a visual display of no less than 9.5-inches, with at least a 1024 x 768 resolution. About 88 percent of schools have already met this recommendation. The assessments could work with an 8-inch screen, but 9.5 inches is the recommended width, the document says. Schools should also consider the dimensions of the actual visual screen if using tablets with an on screen keyboard, the document recommends, suggesting that schools provide plug-in keyboards to take full advantage of the screen.

4. Make sure the student testing site operates on secure browsers. While data reports from the assessments can be accessed through Google Chrome, Safari on iOS, Firefox, and Internet Explorer 8, the organization will release secure browsers each year that will be required for the actual test-taking. These browsers will prevent students from being able to access anything except the exam, and it will prevent them from copying and pasting or taking screenshots. The browsers will need to be installed every year prior to the assessment dates.

5. The assessment requires about 5-10 Kbps of bandwidth per student. The amount of bandwidth needed will depend on the assessment, some of which include animations, recorded audio, and other technology-enhanced items. Schools should estimate about 1 Mbps for every 100 students taking the assessment, keeping in mind that the school may be using additional bandwidth for other functions within the school during assessment periods.

For a full list of minimum technology requirements along with Smarter Balanced’s current recommendations, download the report here.


By Katie Ash on December 4, 2012 5:20 PM

Dec 2012




A+ Schools Infuse Arts and Other ‘Essentials’ (Edweek repost)

A+ Schools Infuse Arts and Other ‘Essentials’

This is a great article that speaks to the fact that we all need to explore our creative side.

As a group of Oklahoma principals toured Millwood Arts Academy on a recent morning, they snapped photos of student work displayed in hallways, stepped briefly into classrooms, queried the school’s leader, and compared notes.

They were gathered here to observe firsthand a public magnet school that’s seen as a leading example of the educational approach espoused by the Oklahoma A+ Schools network, which has grown from 14 schools a decade ago to nearly 70 today.

A key ingredient, and perhaps the best-known feature, is the network’s strong emphasis on the arts, both in their own right and infused across the curriculum.

“I took a million pictures today and emailed them to all my teachers,” said Principal Leah J. Anderson of Gatewood Elementary School, also in Oklahoma City.

Ms. Anderson said she was struck by the diverse ways students demonstrate their learning, such as a visual representation of the food chain displayed in one hallway.

“It’s not just a page out of the textbook,” she said. “They created it themselves.”

The Oklahoma network has drawn national attention, including praise from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and mention in a 2011 arts education report from the President’s Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

The A+ approach was not born in Oklahoma, however. It was imported from North Carolina, which launched the first A+ network in 1995 and currently has 40 active member schools. It has since expanded not only to Oklahoma but also to Arkansas, which now counts about a dozen A+ schools. Advocates are gearing up to start a Louisiana network.

What’s Essential?

Schools participating in the A+ network in Oklahoma and other states commit to a set of eight A+ essentials.

Taught daily. Inclusive of drama, dance, music, visual arts, and writing. Integrated across curriculum. Valued as “essential to learning.”

Curriculum mapping reflects alignment. Development of “essential questions.” Create and use interdisciplinary thematic units. Cross-curricular integration.

Experiential Learning
Grounded in arts-based instruction. A creative process. Includes differentiated instruction. Provides multifaceted assessment opportunities.

Multiple Intelligences
Multiple-learning pathways used within planning and assessment. Understood by students and parents. Used to create “balanced learning opportunities.”

Enriched Assessment
Ongoing. Designed for learning. Used as documentation. A “reflective” practice. Helps meet school system requirements. Used by teachers and students to self-assess.

Intentional. Occurs within and outside school. Involves all teachers (including arts teachers), as well as students, families, and community. Features “broad-based leadership.”

Supports A+ philosophy by addressing logistics such as schedules that support planning time. Provides appropriate space for arts. Creates a “shared vision.” Provides professional development. Continual “team building.”

Teachers “can manage the arts in their classrooms.” Stress is reduced. Teachers treated as professionals. Morale improves. Excitement about the program grows.

The networks are guided by eight core principles, or “essentials,” as they’re called, including a heavy dose of the arts, teacher collaboration, experiential learning, and exploration of “multiple intelligences” among students. At the same time, each state has some differences in emphasis.

Oklahoma’s network describes its mission as “nurturing creativity in every learner.”

The nearly 20 educators who toured Millwood Academy this month—part of a larger group attending a leadership retreat for the state network—covered the gamut from those brand new to the A+ approach to others with years of experience.

“The continual plea from people seeking to do things like this is, ‘Show me, demonstrate,’ ” said Jean Hendrickson, the executive director of Oklahoma A+ Schools, which is part of the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond.

“[This] is one of the handful of A+ schools we can count on to actively, any day of the week, demonstrate this model in action,” she said at Millwood. “What we want is for the others in our network to have their feet on the ground in a place like this.”

The network faces continual challenges, such as attracting sufficient state aid and coping with the inevitable turnover of school staff, which can strain the degree of fidelity to the A+ essentials.

This fall, 16 member schools in Oklahoma have new principals, more turnover than ever. Some of them lack prior experience with A+, including Consuela M. Franklin, who just took the reins at Owen Elementary School in Tulsa.

“I inherited an A+ school, and so my quest today is to actually learn more, the overall philosophy,” she said. “What it looks like. What it sounds like. How do you know it when you see it?”

Desire to Change

The Oklahoma A+ network has a diverse mix of schools in urban, suburban, and rural areas. Some serve predominantly low-income families. Most are public, though a few are private. And they include traditional public schools, as well as magnets and charters.

The network is supported by both public and private dollars, with all professional development and other supports free to participating schools. But state funding was cut back sharply during the recent economic downturn. An annual line item in the state budget for the network that at its height provided $670,000 was zeroed out in 2011. In the latest budget, it was restored, but only at $125,000.

Schools are drawn to A+ for diverse reasons, said Ms. Hendrickson, who was a principal for 17 years before becoming the network’s leader. But it all boils down to one thing: a desire to change.

“What they want to change ranges broadly,” she said. “It can be they want better test scores. It could be richer activity-based, project-based-learning ideas. It could be taking their success to the next level. It could be more arts.”

As part of the application process, a school must gain the support of 85 percent or more of its faculty members before a review by A+ staff and outside experts. The review is focused mainly on gauging the school’s commitment and capacity to effectively implement the A+ essentials.

The level of fidelity to the approach varies across schools, Ms. Hendrickson said, adding that even within the same school, it may shift over time. “Schools are not static places,” she said.

“Over time, [A+ schools] tend toward one end or the other of our engagement spectrum, whether the informational end, ‘Thank you, we got what we wanted,’ or the transformational end, where, ‘It drives what we do,’ ” she said. “So we have different levels of engagement and different categories of affiliation.”

One teacher at the A+ retreat confided that with a recent leadership switch at her school, the commitment level has declined.

“It’s not the same if you don’t have a leader who is completely active and passionate about it,” she said. “So it has changed, but we’re hanging in there.”

Gary Long, 8, leads his fellow 3rd graders in spoken word poetry, quotes and chants as principals from other area schools record video on their iPads during a tour of the Millwood Arts Academy in Oklahoma City, Okla. State education leaders recently toured to get a first-hand view of the school’s program that infuses arts across the curriculum.
—Shane Bevel for Education Week

The tightest alignment comes with “demonstration schools.” Those schools, including Millwood Arts Academy, have “made a really strong commitment to the eight A+ essentials, and they are our best partners to help others see what it looks like,” said Ms. Hendrickson.

Millwood is a grades 3-8 magnet that primarily serves African-American students from low-income families. Unlike most Oklahoma A+ schools, it has selective admissions criteria. Admission decisions primarily are reflective of strong student interest in the arts and parents’ embrace of the school’s philosophy, said Christine Harrison, the principal of both that school and Millwood Freshman Academy, which is in the same building and is also an A+ school.

Speaking to her visitors this month, who saw classes for both academies, she sang the praises of the network: “A+ is our driving force.”

Ms. Harrison, who describes her schools as “dripping in the arts,” also emphasized the power of the other A+ essentials, including the intentional collaboration.

“We have teachers collaborating without me having to say ‘collaborate,’ ” she said. “You cannot be isolated in an A+ school.”

‘Shared Experience’

Following the trip to Millwood, the visiting educators spent time sharing ideas and exploring best practices. At one point, the principals sat down in small groups for an intensive, problem-solving exercise. Each leader identified a particular challenge and worked on strategies to cope.

“We provide ongoing professional development and networking opportunities, with a strong research eye on the methods we’re using, the outcomes we’re getting,” said Ms. Hendrickson.

Sandra L. Kent, the principal of Jane Phillips Elementary in Bartlesville, Okla., gives high marks to the professional development, especially the five-day workshop for schools first joining.

“We had a really powerful shared experience,” she said. “That’s one thing, as an A+ school, when you all go and live together for a week.”

Dance instructor Beth Eppler teaches her students how to solve math equations by counting their dance steps in a class at the Millwood Freshman Academy in Oklahoma City, Okla.
—Shane Bevel for Education Week

Ms. Kent said A+ is often misunderstood as being an “arts program.” The arts dimension gets significant attention “because not a lot of other people talk about it as being so important.” But other elements are also important, she said, such as the call for collaboration and the pursuit of multiple learning pathways that attend to students’ “multiple intelligences.”

Another ingredient is enriched assessment strategies that aim to better capture what students know and are able to do.

One aspect that has helped get A+ schools noticed is the research base.

“They have a very strong evaluation component,” said Sandra S. Ruppert, the executive director of the Washington-based Arts Education Partnership. “They have made the investments, documented their strategies. They can look at the correlation with test scores, but also a whole host of other outcomes. … It is what gives that work greater credibility.”

Both the North Carolina and Oklahoma networks have been the subject of extensive study.

In 2010, Oklahoma A+ Schools issued a five-volume report on data collected by researchers from 2002 to 2007. It found that participating schools, on average, “consistently outperform their counterparts within their district and state on the [Oklahoma] Academic Performance Index,” a measure that relies heavily on student-achievement data.

The study also found other benefits, including better student attendance, decreased disciplinary problems, and more parent and community engagement. But it found the level of fidelity to the A+ essentials uneven, with those schools that adhered most closely seeing the strongest outcomes.

Meanwhile, a separate, more limited study in Oklahoma City compared achievement among students in A+ schools with a matched cohort of students. It found that, on average, students across the seven A+ schools “significantly outperformed” a comparable group of district peers in reading and math, based on 2005 test data. However, not all individual schools outperformed the average, and the study did not measure growth in student achievement over time.

Tapping Into Creativity

Amid growing interest in A+, neighboring Arkansas is ramping up its network, after stalling for a few years. Just recently, several charter schools in the high-profile KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) network signed on.

“People think KIPP: structure, discipline, rigor. Arts infusion? What the heck do they have in common?” said Scott A. Shirey, the executive director of KIPP Delta Public Schools, which runs schools in Helena and Blytheville, Ark. “But I think it was what we needed to bring our schools to the next level, … to tap into the creativity of teachers and students.”

Mr. Shirey said he values the ongoing support in the A+ network.

“It’s not, ‘We’ll train you for one week, and you’re done,’ ” he said.

Back in Oklahoma, Ms. Kent, the elementary principal, welcomed the fall leadership retreat as a way to get “refreshed and renewed and refocused.”

She said it can be tough to maintain support for an arts-infused approach as schools face the pressure for improved test scores and other demands. In Oklahoma, recent changes include a new teacher-evaluation system, new letter grades for schools, the advent of the Common Core State Standards, and a new 3rd grade retention policy for struggling readers.

“Yes, it’s very difficult with the policy changes to get other people to trust you and trust the [A+] process,” said Ms. Kent, who previously led another A+ school. Her current school is in its second year of transitioning to the A+ essentials.
“Until you really produce the results, people have a hard time going there,” she said.

But Ms. Kent said she’s convinced her school’s journey as part of the network will serve students well.

Schools can’t escape the push for strong test scores, said Ms. Harrison from Millwood Arts Academy. “Let’s face it, that’s a big part of how we’re graded,” she told the visiting educators. “But the A+ Schools way helps you look good on that paper.”

The tour of Millwood was eye-opening for Ms. Franklin, the new principal at Owen Elementary, who came away impressed by this example of A+ in action. She said “evidence was everywhere” of student engagement and learning.

“It was colorful, it was lively, it was audible,” she said. “I am motivated to take it back to my school.”


Mapping the Future of Educational Technology

If it’s true that 65% of today’s grade school students will work in jobs that don’t exist yet, then we better get ready for some drastically different learning environments.

Add this massive infographic to the recent discussion of futuristic dorms and what education will look like in 2020–and beyond. Designed by Michell Zappa’s Envisioning Technology (which also created that fantastic interactive infographic mapping the future of technology), this chart maps innovations in education technology for the next few decades.

It illustrates a shift from a classroom-centered approach toward an increasingly virtual set of learning environments. Of course the most eye-popping statistic is the idea that 65% of today’s grade-school children will end up at jobs that haven’t been invented yet. Hence the need for looking forward to try to anticipate how technologies might evolve and how we should expect to incorporate them into our schools.

“Despite its inherently speculative nature,” the graphic’s creators write, “the driving trends behind the technologies can already be observed, meaning it’s a matter of time before these scenarios start panning out in learning environments around the world.”