Depth and Rigor

Evolving standards, technology solutions and teachers keeping up.

GUEST COLUMN | by Rohit Agarwal

CREDIT TenMarksAs many school districts and teachers know, math standards have been evolving and changing over the last few years, causing administrators and educators to rush to get up-to-speed on the new standards. The biggest challenges have been with implementation with fidelity and ensuring that the instruction has the necessary depth and rigor. Of course, all teachers want to ensure their students deeply understand and conceptualize this new way of learning; however, not all teachers have the time or resources to help them efficiently implement the coursework.

There are many things districts can do to help teachers create efficiencies in learning these new standards.

In a recent national survey conducted by Amazon, and responded to by 4,400 K-12 teachers:

-          71% of teachers reported receiving standards-aligned math teaching resources from their school/district

-          96% of teachers routinely supplement from the Internet or create their own resources for math

-          86% of teachers spend multiple hours a week researching, finding, and creating math lessons

There are many things districts can do to help teachers create efficiencies in learning these new standards, and one of those is to provide instructional resources to help teachers plan, and quickly implement curriculum that ensures students develop deep conceptual understanding, critical thinking and problem solving skills, and ultimately prepare them for college and careers.

One resource that our company recently launched, TenMarks Math Teach, provides a comprehensive set of resources to guide effective instruction for each math standard. Teachers can use it to prepare for instruction or during class, and it is supported across multiple browsers. It is initially focused on Grades 2-6, with instructional resources for 12 core standards in each grade. Districts can also opt for the premium model ($399 per teacher annually) — providing access to all instructional resources for grade levels.

We think this program will provide ample support for teachers and provide in-depth resources as they implement math curriculum. Our hope is that this eliminates some, if not all, of the outside work teachers typically spend searching for additional math resources for their lesson plans — something that is particularly needed as we head into the second half of the school year!

Rohit Agarwal is the CEO of TenMarks, an Amazon Company.

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Cool Tool | EdTechLens

CREDIT EdTechLensTeaching complex science concepts like photosynthesis and the water cycle can be difficult for elementary educators because young students still rely heavily on their senses to learn. To bridge the gap between the senses and these concepts, EdTechLens has launched its first online curriculum, Rainforest Journey. Using the rainforest as its backdrop, the subscription-based and standards-aligned online curriculum uses high-resolution original photographs and video, along with primary source reading passages to bring these concepts to life. Rainforest Journey accommodates different reading levels for grades K-5. Students can read short passages, enriched passages or can listen to the passages. This leveled content helps meet the needs of different student populations, including homeschoolers, gifted and talented students, students with special needs and non-readers. To aid teachers in instruction, Rainforest Journey shows which standards each lesson addresses—specifically Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and New York State Learning Standards—and includes the LexileTM and word counts for each of the reading passages to ensure that students are reading on skill level. The program includes three different types of assessments and scores are saved in the system for easy grading and gauging of student understanding. To sample free lessons from Rainforest Journey, click here.

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Teaching in Wonderland

A 21st-century educator reflects on teaching, classroom life and channeling her inner Alice.

GUEST COLUMN | by Kristal Doolin

CREDIT Catherine BlakleyAs a teacher of 21st-century digital natives in a time of major educational shifts, I often sit before my online plan book channeling my inner Alice. It’s the part of me that is, after 18 years in the classroom, more curious than ever and determined to make my classroom a place of exploration and fun. Unfortunately, from time to time as I’m guiding the Alice within, the following scene from Lewis Carroll’s wonderfully imaginative story unfolds.

“Alice came to a fork in the road. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked.

‘Where do you want to go?’ responded the Cheshire Cat.

‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered.

‘Then,’ said the Cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.” 

Last summer, while I was in the midst of this scene and unsure of what path was best for our opening fiction book study this year, I came across what was to me a new concept –Transmedia, a multi-media storytelling technique that goes above and beyond typical digital narrative. It was at this point of discovery that the stars aligned, and I met another Alice – Inanimate Alice. Like the “road less traveled” in Frost’s poem, she has made all the difference.

“I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Fast forward to September with my awesome new classes who were willing to go down the rabbit hole with me.

We started small by examining the first episode to determine how it differed from typical stories. In their discussions, this automatically went to common core as my students began to analyze narrative structure, point of view, setting, character, conflict, figurative language, flashback and foreshadowing among others.

To someone just stopping by our room for a moment, this may seem like everyday analysis of text; however, when you stick around you see that the sound, visuals, and interactive elements bring this to a whole new level that met my students where they were in both interest and ability. Watching them discover new ideas and discuss them as I work as a facilitator rather than the keeper of knowledge was priceless.

As we moved on throughout the four episodes, we discovered that this story is not only multi-media but also multi-layered. During small group and whole class analysis, students where picking up on so any levels of Alice’s story that it was hard to keep up with them: one group were researching geographic locations to determine if certain details were accurate, while another group were discussing the link between the interactive game and story, yet another were comparing Alice’s sentence structure and complexity from episode to episode.

The icing on the cake was when Ian Harper, series producer, accepted an invitation to Skype with my students. He graciously answered a load of student questions and provided inspiration for their own Transmedia projects by talking about the creation process for Inanimate Alice episodes 1-4.  Then, he allowed us to be among the few to view Episode 5 pre-publication to provide critical feedback. Could this experience get any better? I thought not and actually dreaded the end of the unit.

However, the good kept going as students created their own Transmedia stories via Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker and Sploder Gamer Maker. I challenged my students to couple what they’ve learned about the characters and story to bring Alice to the United States. This was particularly interesting, as we wanted to be more than “plot junkies” determine to tell an entertaining story. Our goal was bigger than that.

We sought not only to incorporate the details of the geographic location, but to honor the nuances of the series by including important aspects like Alice’s Mother Ming’s love of painting or the way Alice often refers to her mother and father as Ming and John. I can’t say enough about watching students examine their selected locations and make critical decisions about their own script, storyboard, sound, game inclusion, etc. based on those discussions.

After many weeks of work, I’ve concluded that this is the most innovative, engaging idea I’ve encountered since I started using literature circles over ten years ago and introduced students to our digital classroom with Edmodo several years ago. I’ve described Transmedia as a multi-media storytelling “wonderland” that will engage 21st century digital natives while hitting multiple standards and preparing students for the media rich college and career world they will need to navigate later in life.

What I’ve learned from my experience is it is much more than that. It is a shift in thinking much like the shift in our standards, and the change affects everything. For example, after we completed our Inanimate Alice unit and moved on to our Holocaust unit recently, I found my students diving deeper, not through my direction, but through their own inquiry with art, geography, music, video creation and more. This was unlike years past. The trajectory of the classroom has changed.

My advice for other educators: follow that white rabbit.

Kristal Doolin is a Language Arts Teacher at Corbin Middle School. She was the 2013 Kentucky Teacher of the Year, she is a Better Lesson Master Teacher and serves on the Kentucky Teacher Advisory Council. See more of her work at

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Cool Tool | OOHLALA

CREDIT OOHLALA imageHere’s a mobile platform for student engagement that was created for students, by a team of recent grads that consists of student leaders, education researchers and engineers. Its highly engaging and interactive mobile app connects students with their school and surrounding community as a whole. OOHLALA uses smart algorithms, alerts and self-regulation tools to deliver a personalized experience to students and provides them with the tools they need to succeed educationally and socially. This includes serving as a “personal smart assistant” and waking students for class and guiding them to their classroom via GPS. After class, students can access relevant campus content such as events and career workshops. The app also allows campus administrators to connect with students and manage information, like academic calendars, tuition deadlines, add/drop, registration and real-time alerts. Using the app, administrators can even launch augmented reality games and showcase the importance of campus locations through an interactive virtual tour. The analytics platform allows administrators to collect insights on student behavior and build reports to improve efficiency and program effectiveness. OOHLALA is currently deployed in over 100 institutions in 5 countries with a reach of over one million students and 400 campus organizations. Learn more.

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Trends | Engaging Minds and Imaginations

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 4.50.57 PMThere are various factors to look at when considering edtech for your classroom: What tools will be most engaging? What solutions will your school actually want to use on a daily basis? What is reasonably affordable? What are the expected long-term benefits? Among some of the more engaging concepts and tools available today are 3D stereoscopic, portable interactive whiteboards and academic skill-building video game software which harness the full potential of powerful educational technology — equipping teachers and students with easy-to-use, flexible and affordable solutions for dynamic learning experiences and increased achievement. Referred to as “roving AV solutions,” the latest and greatest in 3D, portable interactive whiteboards, custom broadcasting capability and wireless iPad/Android mirroring solutions from innovator AVRover, for example, deliver more than the sum of their components; they give teachers the ability to bring high quality audio and projection anywhere in the school environment, anytime they need – events, assemblies, parent teacher conferences, gym class, faculty meetings, etc. Similarly, cutting-edge video game tools from pioneer BrainWare Safari are leveraging decades of research and proven techniques to provide the most comprehensive, effective and engaging applications. These video game solutions are designed to enhance 41 cognitive skills essential for everyday learning and performing, using a cross-training approach. Students can have fun while developing their attention, memory, thinking, visual and auditory processing, and sensory integration. When paired together, the AVRover and BrainWare Safari offerings deliver optimal audio-visual benefits to the teaching and learning process. See if they’re an actual fit for your classroom; learn more at:, or distributor

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