Of Course

Mapping the way to more relevant professional development.

GUEST COLUMN | by Leslie Kerner

CREDIT Amplify Professional Learning MapsProfessional Development, or PD. If you’re a teacher, these words can bring on mixed emotions. On one hand, you clamor for more time to work with your colleagues, enhance your skills and step back to take a deeper view of your practice. But what little time you do get doesn’t always feel like it’s been meaningfully spent.

All too often, professional development amounts to little more than a mandatory, one-way lecture. If you’re lucky, you might get customized PD, which usually means that you had the chance to select which video lecture to watch. It’s no wonder many teachers walk away from these experiences feeling unfulfilled.

There are no one-size-fits-all solutions to PD, so what’s a district administrator to do?

As an administrator, it can be difficult to determine how to focus professional development in a way that meets each teacher’s needs. Time is wasted if the topics don’t resonate, and money is wasted on substitutes needed to cover those teachers during PD days or workshops.

The goal of PD should be more than peppering educators with a few facts on the latest research, trends or theories. Meaningful PD should provide teachers with an opportunity to think about how to help every student achieve their highest potential. Just like every student needs something different to learn, every teacher needs a different kind of PD.

There are no one-size-fits-all solutions to PD, so what’s a district administrator to do? You need something customized, affordable and fast. But where can you get it?

One highly effective option is Amplify. Many people know our company for education technology products, like our suite of mobile assessment tools, the Tablet and our Curriculum. But few know about the professional development services we’ve been providing to states and districts for over a decade; we were one of the first in the education space to bring mobile assessments to the classroom when teachers were routinely administering paper-and-pencil evaluations. We know that you can’t have a successful digital education program without engaging professional learning.

Our approach to the work is simple: we don’t assume what teachers want or need, we ask them. To start, we begin by surveying every teacher in the state or district. We then analyze the feedback and design a professional development program to meet the needs of individual teachers, grade levels, departments, schools and the district as a whole. This approach led us to develop a new solution, which we call our Professional Learning Maps.

Professional Learning Maps are a honeycomb-style data visualization showing administrators and coaches the best path for teachers to improve their instructional practice. With one click, you can delve deeper into any skill area and provide step-by-step guidance and sample activities designed to target the specific skills educators need to improve—all without losing any class time.

For example, a coach who is facilitating a Professional Learning Community (PLC) for second and third grade teachers can easily customize the map to view the specific needs for the teachers in those grades. She can cover the most relevant topics during the PLC meeting. Additionally, a district leader can view a map of the whole district, noticing the most common needs across groups of teachers, and make more efficient decisions about how to allocate time and resources to better professional learning.

The results? Educators are more engaged because they are getting exactly the professional development help they need, when they need it. And administrators are happy because they can now ensure that every hour spent on professional development has an impact.

Our customized approach has helped districts see real results; we just finished a statewide engagement in Delaware, where state assessment scores went up in part because of our efforts on the ground. We’re also coaching educators across schools in Rhode Island. While our work there isn’t done, interim reports tell us that teachers feel more confident than ever before using data in their instructional practice.

We’re honored to have the opportunity to work with states like Rhode Island and Delaware and know we have the capacity to help many, many more. That’s why this spring, we’re offering a chance to try our Professional Learning Maps for as little as $25 per teacher, which includes reports and analysis for individual teachers, grade levels, departments, schools and the district as a whole.

Personalized learning can be a powerful tool when it’s guided by leaders who understand what educators and students need to succeed. But learning what kind of PD each and every teacher needs can be a daunting task. That’s where our Professional Learning Maps can help. The combination of our cutting edge technology with our years of experience providing customized PD has helped educators in districts across the country improve their practice. Now we’d like to help your school as well.

Leslie Kerner is Senior VP and General Manager, Professional Services for Amplify.

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Cool Tool | UClass.io

CREDIT UClass.ioA powerful K-12
content management system and resource exchange for schools and districts, UClass.io is equipped with over 17 million Common Core-vetted resources and a mobile cloud workspace. A curriculum-planning tool for teachers and administrators in over 5,000 schools, the comprehensive platform allows teachers to source new and relevant material, construct complete lessons, and portably store files. The system’s search engine, specifically engineered for educator needs, allows users to narrow resulting resources specifically by filters such as grade level, subject, and file type. In addition to individual files and URL links, the UClass.io repository also includes pre-packaged lessons containing lesson plans, formative and summative assessments, and multimedia links. The preview functionality allows teachers to inspect files before importing them into their file system or downloading them to their personal desktops. The key-word tag enabled file system makes sharing and planning curriculum as simple as drag and drop. On a higher level, the tool allows administrators to easily distribute files throughout their district. As part of the UClass.io package, UClass works closely with each subscribed district to deliver a custom tailored system that accommodates every client’s own standards (Common Core or not) as well as any other specific needs. Check it out.

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Pitching for Principals

In search of a single set of utilities to truly help a school leader lead.  

GUEST COLUMN | by William McCoy

CREDIT Joe Mabel CreativeCommonsAs time has passed, the job of school principal has shifted from one of Instructional Leader to Administrator. The mandates of the job have taken principals from their campuses and classrooms, to their desks. This is bad for instruction, for discipline, and for kids.

As a school superintendent, I have been watching this slow shift in the principal, and I have felt unable to help at a fundamental level. The necessities of the job, the job that I am asking principals to do, has become more about paper than people. There are work orders to be filled out, vehicles to be managed, parent/student/community surveys to be compiled, campus facility inspections to manage, and don’t forget about Instructional Leadership!

The field of education technology is beautifully vast, but I came up empty when seeking a single set of utilities that would help me.

So as I watch great principals grow distant from their primary objective, ensuring the education of children, it finally became untenable. Something had to change, and I couldn’t find the answers anywhere other than inside myself. I started to look at the pieces of the principal’s job that are a drain on their valuable time, and that keep them at a distance from classrooms and students. The only reasonable goal I could develop was to find a way to increase their efficiency (saving them time) and to get them out of their offices and back into classrooms.

I looked at the processes and procedures that our district has implemented that resulted in slowly eating away at the valuable day of a principal. Where were efficiencies to be found, and how could logic and technology overcome the “administrivia” in our district? I found several challenges, and took them on one by one.

My background is in Curriculum, Instruction, and Technology which provides me the constant lens of technology as a tool. It was through that lens that the answers began to come into focus. Let’s be clear, though I understand the capabilities of technology, I am not a programmer. I could not just sit down and write programs to solve the issues that I saw in my district. Instead, I had to seek out tools with the capability of being shaped into tools that would be useful for my principals.

The field of education technology is beautifully vast, but I came up empty when seeking a single set of utilities that would help me. Many offered similar ideas, but none of them were comprehensive enough to cover the territory that I was to conquer. The answer came not from the education field at all, but from the business and conference management world. (I told you I did my research!)

I started approaching business companies with my idea, much of the time speaking of ideas and concepts that were somewhat foreign to the business industry. There are no Common Core standards in business, and I was often referring to ideas using the language of Education, and not that of Business. I had to become a salesman of my ideas to the business sector before I could see if the business sector could do anything about my struggling principals. It was incredibly frustrating.

The breakthrough came when I was able to start speaking with a businessman from New Zealand, Stephen Cohn. I had written an inquiry about a possible technology partnership with his company, Contact Software. Stephen is the CEO of the company, and he actually responded to my inquiry, and then he listened to what I had in mind. By then, I had attempted to explain my idea so many times to others that I was fairly good at providing the vision, and the way in which his company could partner to create my idea. It became not only an extended conversation across the Pacific, but across typical Business and Education fields. We both had a great deal of translation to do between our worlds, but the work is moving ahead.

Through our partnership together we have started to plot a mutually beneficial course. With his help, I have been able to create a suite of Utilities for schools called Zippy Campus. Zippy Campus provides the following supports to schools:

*A campus walk-through tool that encompasses best practices, professional teaching standards, and the Common Core.

*An incredibly fast emergency response system that allows administrators to send and receive status updates to staff via an app tailored to this purpose.

*A series of electronic surveys tailored to a variety of purposes (Title I, School Climate, Customer Service, and Bullying) that are taken via portable electronic devices and are compiled automatically for administrators, Site Councils, and School Boards.

*An app that quickly assists staff members in notifying custodians/maintenance crews of problems.

*A system that simplifies fleet management check-in and check-out procedures.

All of the pieces of Zippy Campus work on iOS and Android devices, which makes them accessible to most school districts that receive cell service. The prototype utilities are currently under development, and we are finalizing the pricing, marketing, and distribution channels for our efforts.

Stay tuned for something great!

William McCoy is a district superintendent and founder of Zippy Campus. William looks forward to announcing the launch of his products in June of 2014. If you have any questions, inquiries or ideas to share, he would love to hear from you. Write to: william@zippycampus.com

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Flash Answer

Higher education faces user demand for ever-better performance of core applications.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jeff Whitney

CREDIT Astute NetworksFlash storage technology has made great inroads into IT in recent years, a trend that is accelerating rather than abating today. And the demands of higher education are at the very forefront of this growing technology change.

A major contributor to the education sector’s storage growth is the increasing competitiveness facing teaching institutions today. Colleges and universities face user demand for ever-better performance of core applications, ranging from booting up individual computer workstations in the morning through to the response time for databases providing student, financial, program, medical, academic, research, and other data for a diverse user community.

And all while managing within budget constraints, facing scrutiny from accreditation agencies and regulators, conforming to new legislation, enduring cost cutting initiatives, and competing for and retaining qualified staff.

Adopting new technologies has always been the way of life for institutions of higher education. To cut costs and support larger, more demanding student bodies, with matching academic and support staff, education sector IT professionals have often turned to virtualized environments like VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure). Many also are contemplating or have already begun the movement of some of their data into private or public clouds for further cost reduction.

As a result, IT professionals in colleges and universities don’t always have the manpower, time, or financial resources, to ensure their systems are always up to the tasks in front of them.

To address these concerns, flash storage technology is increasingly being deployed as a solution to decreasing the access time to critical data while serving it up to key applications reliably and affordably. All Flash Array (AFA) solutions, the most recent wave of solid state flash solutions to reach the storage market, from multiple vendors bring the promise of meeting those goals. AFAs deliver the performance of dedicated server flash, yet offer the shared access of hybrid flash/disk systems, while exceeding their performance.

At the same time, AFAs can be used to replace existing systems that no longer meet the performance demands of serving up data to the servers. The economics of power reduction and reduced cooling of flash over disk, combined with dramatically reduced footprints in the data center, provide a strong return on investment that far exceed the old computation of price per gigabyte.

Alternatively, AFAs can complement the existing storage, offloading critical data and freeing up the disk system to be used for less demanding applications. This can improve ROI further, eliminating more storage purchases, while allowing the existing investment to continue to benefit the organization without disruption.

The majority of All Flash Array solutions offer outstanding performance. For flash, performance is typically measured in IOPS (Input/Output Operations Per Second) and the performance delivered dramatically increases application responsiveness. When a key application needs to deliver improved response time, such as for a Microsoft SQL Server database holding tens of thousands of records, a well-designed deployment of one or more AFAs can improve application speed by up to 10X, without making any other changes or requiring any tuning.

In a VDI environment, major challenges like boot storms (where a group of users all boot up their systems at the same time, resulting in very long delays) and daily operational delays, are largely eliminated by adding that kind of performance into the equation. That is achieved due to the low latency of flash, which makes it ideal for the challenges of a VDI deployment.

The best All Flash Arrays go a step further, with a simple deployment model that allows connection directly into the existing Ethernet fabric (1 or 10GbE), and to be up and running in minutes rather than hours or days. That time savings allows IT to concentrate on their many other day-to-day challenges.

Again, the best solutions can be managed using not just their own tools, but entirely within popular virtualized environments such as VMware using vSphere, eliminating the need to learn a new interface or change operational procedures.

Key built-in features, such as such as hot-swap flash drives, power supplies and fans, plus RAID protection, over-provisioning, and wear leveling technology are found in many All Flash Array solutions. Some of the best also offer compressed, encrypted links for replication between systems to protect student data in distributed or high availability environments without requiring additional hardware.

There you have it. That’s why educational IT continues to move toward flash storage technology. By picking the best solution – easy to deploy, simple to manage, and with a great ROI – educational institutions can ensure that they meet their organization’s needs for today and into the future.

Jeff Whitney is the Vice President of Marketing at Astute Networks. Jeff offers hands-on, innovative marketing for young high tech companies. Write to: jeffnwhitney@icloud.com

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Taking It All In

Common Core and headsets: what you need to know.

GUEST COLUMN | by Tim Ridgway

CREDIT CalifoneAs the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are implemented across the country, much of the focus has been on the equipment schools and educators will need to meet the new standards. While hardware (tablets, laptops, and other mobile learning devices), corresponding operating systems and necessary bandwidth have received most of the attention, there is another critical hardware component that supplements these 1:1 devices and helps educators achieve their desired learning goals.

Imagine twenty (or more) students with iPads® or Chromebooks® in a classroom. It’s a tech-savvy educator’s dream, a classroom primed for learning. Now, imagine part of the learning involves them watching a video, playing a game or taking a language test requiring verbal responses. The dream quickly turns into a cacophony if all of the students listen at the same time through their device’s speakers or if the students are each talking into the built-in microphones.

The best way to avoid this chaos is by making sure each student uses a headphone or headset (a headphone with an attached microphone). This not only keeps the sound level down in the classroom, but the learning benefits extend far beyond diminished noise. They enable educators to incorporate rich audio resources into their lessons to support and achieve academic goals. Headsets and headphones also help reduce ambient noise (reducing the need to increase the volume), which helps better isolate the audio content and keeps students on task.

Headphones and headsets are important classroom tools, essential to computer and mobile-based learning activities such as student podcast creation, online class discussions and listening comprehension exercises. They help students build speaking and listening skills, which are vital components defined by the English Language Arts (ELA) portion of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

There are two consortiums with which almost all states have aligned themselves that support the Common Core: the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) Assessments, and Smarter Balanced. While PARCC and Smarter Balanced have certain philosophical differences about how to best meet the new standards, each requires headphones for assessments.

For example, PARCC states, “Headphones/earphones are required for all students for all PARCC assessments,“ while Smarter Balanced requires headphones be provided for English Language Arts assessments. Each consortium also includes technical specifications for the audio-visual hardware necessary for students to take tests.

Of course, when you have students listening to lessons and tests through headphones, safety becomes a concern. It is important to provide tools that deliver clear audio, but do not pose any danger to a student’s hearing.

Other issues are cost and life expectancy. Supplying enough headsets can be expensive, and any piece of equipment that passes through the hands of an endless number of kids week-to-week, year-to-year, is susceptible to wear and tear. Invest in equipment that is cost effective up front, but that is well-made and durable enough to survive the punishing classroom use.

Make sure the manufacturer warrants its product for use in schools (“institutional” usage). Consumer brands typically offer support only for the less frequent and gentler home use – not for the day-in and day-out student demands in classrooms.

Another important component of cost is device compatibility. Whether a school is implementing a BYOD, 1:1 or mobile learning initiative, the equipment that supplements those devices is just as important as the device itself for delivering and enhancing student learning. However, with so many different devices being brought into schools and districts, it is imperative to have technology that is compatible across multiple platforms. Schools and districts need to ask questions such as: Do we need headphones (listening only), headsets (listening and speaking) and which type of plug (USB, single or dual 3.5mm)? Will it work with all the devices students utilize? Is it compatible with multiple operating systems? These questions carry a tremendous weight when determining an investment, but knowing the answers can save schools and districts money long term.

As you carry out your own plan for achieving the learning objectives outlined in the Common Core, keep in mind that students should be equipped with a complete set of tools for learning. They need to be able to find the information their education demands, but they also should be provided with the proper equipment to deliver information to them, like headphones and headsets.

Tim Ridgway is the VP of Marketing at Califone, a leader in AV and supplemental curriculum products. Write to: tim.ridgway@califone.com 

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