Summer of Learning

Halting the ‘summer learning slide’ with some fun and games.

GUEST COLUMN | by Lane Jabaay 

CREDIT Shakti WarriorsWith the holiday weekend upon us, summer is officially here for students and teachers alike. Summer offers a change of schedule and in the best case – no homework! However, it’s also a time when students fall into the dreaded ‘summer leaning slide’. Researchers found that the summer learning slide, or loss of student performance levels, equates to about a month of learning lost throughout the summer. More disturbing, however, is that findings show that summer learning loss is cumulative, and rates are far more substantial for low-income students versus their higher-income counterparts, contributing to an even greater widening of the achievement gap.

In the City

Mayors in major U.S. cities are following Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s lead by implementing “Summer of Learning” campaigns within their cities for students. The initiatives are designed to purposely quell the summer learning slide while enhancing students’ knowledge and skill-sets around STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math).

In addition to keeping children mentally engaged, summer learning programs are also intended to link school children to their community through innovative organizations providing enrichment opportunities, activity-based learning and digital literacy options focused on STEAM disciplines. Last summer, Chicago created more than 250 STEAM learning opportunities through local organizations. Chicago’s youngest citizens earned over 100,000 digital badges by participating in the educational opportunities, which include both on-site and online experiences.

Summer of Promise

Software and technology offer the promise to transport children from the library, or computer lab, to a place of imagination. Digital literacy is a piece of curricula programming that must be included if our young people are going to be successful as global citizens in the 21st century.

Students need to be provided engaging and relevant technology-based content in a format they can comprehend. Online games and software solutions are becoming a safe place for students and young adults to “try on” new personas and ideals while being immersed in experiential STEAM programs. Using the summer months to integrate such programming has the potential to help students achieve two to three month gains in reading and math, in addition to positive changes in students’ attitudes toward learning and education.

In support of summer learning, the city of Los Angeles, working in conjunction with the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) Beyond the Bell Division, will offer a ‘Whole Child’ Development program, called SHAKTI Warriors, as one of their innovative STEAM badging opportunities. SHAKTI Warriors is a holistically integrated digital education curriculum that uses super heroes to serve as modern day role models to ground children in STEAM basics and character education.

LAUSD’s independent curriculum audit found Shakti Warrior’s computer activities highly affective and engaging for students due to the combination of rich educational content delivered in a compelling gaming format where students don’t realize they are learning. Students create online avatars that represent themselves and are required to master the STEAM basics, aligned to Common Core Standards.

Technology’s Role

When artfully created, technology-based curriculum for 21st century classrooms can promote dialogue, critical-thinking, and communication skills. Technology tools for communication, collaboration, social networking, and user-generated content are already transforming both mainstream and school culture.

The summer learning initiatives offered by cities has the potential to help close the achievement gap by engaging students in STEAM-focused activities through imaginative play. Students participating in summer learning, whether in Chicago, Los Angeles, or other cities, will be given the opportunities to play online and in their communities in ways that will engage and fascinate them. In fact, the only ‘sliding’ the students will hopefully do — is on the playground.

Lane Jabaay is President and CEO of H2Group, a multimedia company that develops innovative educational curriculum focused on whole-child development best known for the creation of the Shakti Warriors whole-child development digital curriculum used in after school programming.  Visit: SWHeroes  and www.shaktiwarriors.com

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Constant Oversight

Protecting your students and your IT investment through three steps to safety.  

GUEST COLUMN | by Tim Williams

CREDIT Absolute SoftwareTechnology in the classroom has expanded the learning experience. No longer limited to static information in a hardcover textbook, students rely on laptops and tablets for an interactive learning experience. With these devices, the information they access is always up to date, the pace of learning can be easily moderated to suit each student, and tedious tasks such as testing can be automated so that wasted time can be time spent learning. However, connecting students with technology can also result in heightened risk and negative outcomes to students and the school.

You wouldn’t give your students $500 in cash and then let them walk down the street waving it in the air. Entrusting a child with an iPad is no different.

Risks to Students

Some criminals will target a person simply because he or she is carrying a computer or tablet device. The headlines are full of stories about violent mobile device thefts. Sadly, students are particularly vulnerable because they are often more trusting and less observant than many adults.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reports 30 to 40 percent of all street robberies involve mobile devices. Two-thirds of these robberies target children between the ages of 12 and 18.

Risks to the Education Organization

Before technology entered the classroom, a lost or damaged learning tool was easily remedied by providing the student with a new textbook. Today it means spending hundreds of dollars from a budget that is constantly dwindling.

The result is an often unrealistic expectation that IT will maintain constant oversight of these devices, while magically controlling the behavior of grade- and high-school students. If this were possible, we wouldn’t need technology.

Three Steps to Safety

When deploying mobile devices in the classroom, three key areas need to be addressed:

1. Student & Staff Protection: You wouldn’t give your students $500 in cash and then let them walk down the street waving it in the air. Entrusting a child with an iPad is no different. So before you start handing out devices, you should train students and staff how to avoid high-risk scenarios.

A good example is the Absolute Safe Schools program. Overseen by a dedicated Investigations team, this program works to keep students, staff, and school environments safe.

Those who completes the program will know how to avoid being an easy target for criminals as well as best practices for the care and security of their devices. Awareness continues throughout the year with on-site branding and material to create a constant visual reminder.

2. Device Security: Along with protecting students and staff, protecting your technology investment is essential. Look for a persistent endpoint security solution that can centrally track, locate, and secure IT assets regardless if they are on or off school property.

Ideally the solution will include a managed recovery service so that you can recover (versus replace) a stolen device, as well as a Service Guarantee. If a device is not recovered, a Service Guarantee will cover some or all of the replacement cost – leaving your IT budget intact. For more tips on how to protect devices at school and at home view this post.

3. Device Management: Computers and tablets require significantly more maintenance than textbooks – and IT is definitely feeling the pinch. As with most education budgets, resources are minimal so the ability to automate and work remotely is imperative. Whenever a device goes dark, a student isn’t learning.

Ensure you choose an endpoint management solution that supports all devices, including Mac, PC, and iOS devices so that your IT department is using a single tool for all of its work.

I’ve seen many schools start with one type of device, like Windows laptops, and then expand to include iPads and Android tablets within a couple of months. You shouldn’t have to invest in new management technology each time you introduce a new operating system or form factor.

The good news is that plenty of schools are getting it right.

For example Southern Kern Unified School District (SKUSD) based in Rosamond, California, found a solution to protect all 650 laptops they have  circulating among pre-teens, and another 650 planned for high school students in the coming year.

The IT department at SKUSD was tasked with educating students on safety protocols while maintaining control of its technology investment. SKUSD chose a persistent endpoint security solution to secure the laptops and the Absolute Safe Schools program to educate the entire student body and staff on the safe use of devices.

Students and staff were taught to keep the laptops secure when not in use, not to leave the laptops unattended when in any public location and to make sure the laptops were not visible when being transported. Now SKUSD is recognized as a Protected Campus with a focus on student safety.

Most importantly, SKUSD students and staff know how to avoid becoming easy targets for criminals.

Tim Williams is the Director of Product Management for Absolute Software. A former U.S. Army officer with more than twenty years of experience in high tech, Tim has helped develop tools for managing multiplatform and mobile environments, and consulted with major commercial and government organizations in planning their IT lifecycle management strategies. Prior to joining Absolute, he was responsible for sales of endpoint management solutions in the Southeastern United States for Symantec Corporation. 

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Cool Tool | Edmodo’s Snapshot

CREDIT Edmodo snapshotA social learning network created by educators for educators, Edmodo’s new frequent, formative assessment tool, Snapshot, is designed to provide real-time insight into student proficiency in educational standards and help teachers immediately address any learning gaps. Built directly into the Edmodo platform, Snapshot is customized for both teachers and administrators with distinct functionality aimed at improving student learning outcomes. Accessible from the main Edmodo homepage, Snapshot for Teachers generates quizzes, based on a teacher’s classroom curriculum, using standards-aligned questions for grades 3-12 Math and ELA. Upon quiz completion, teachers have instant visibility into student and overall class progress with intuitive visuals, allowing them the opportunity to identify gaps in knowledge at the class, group and individual level. To remediate any learning gaps, the tool also features a content recommendation engine, which surfaces helpful resources teachers can easily assign students to personalize learning. Similarly, Snapshot for Schools is a premium version of the Snapshot suite aimed at school and district administrators. It extends the existing admin feature set of Edmodo and enables school and district professionals to gauge progress on educational standards in real time at the school and district level. To learn more, visit snapshot.edmodo.com.

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Desktop Virtualization

Opening the door for student success on a shoestring budget.

GUEST COLUMN | by Scott Savage

CREDIT NComputing classroomLike most school districts around the country today, Pana Community School District #8 is consistently challenged to meet technology needs on a shoestring budget. As a Central Illinois public school district that’s comprised of four K-12 campuses, we are committed to giving our 1,400 students the best competitive advantage possible by providing the latest technology resources and tools for computer-based learning, online research, assessments, and collaboration.

Our technology support staff is a team of two, which consists of a curriculum integration specialist, and myself. Because of our commitment to providing quality technology in the classroom and our need to meet a limited IT budget, our team motto has always been “do more with less.”

Because of our commitment to providing quality technology in the classroom and our need to meet a limited IT budget, our team motto has always been ‘do more with less.’

So when it came time to replace the aging computers in our classrooms, we had to do it in a thoughtful manner. Our school district needed to move from our outdated Windows XP towers to a more modern, cost-effective system that would meet the requirements of teachers and students, both immediately and long-term.

After evaluating many different options, a virtualization-based solution quickly emerged as the best way to address our goals and meet our budget. The solution stood out because it would deliver a consistent experience to all teachers and students and eliminate the need for us to have to maintain individual desktops across our campuses.

We decided to replace our fleet of PCs with a desktop virtualization solution from NComputing. The system is made up of vSpace Server and L300 thin client devices. I led the initiative and It didn’t take us long to realize the true power of a virtualization solution.

We immediately realized several benefits, the first one being price. Our school district saved approximately one-third on hardware acquisition costs. Not only that, installing the thin client devices was effortless, and we’re now able to easily support multiple users. Our ongoing maintenance chores have been significantly reduced. If a teacher calls me up and happens to have an issue with their classroom thin clients, I can easily fix it at the server, whereas before, I had to push group policies or run scripts on 50 desktops then verify the changes had been successful. I’d estimate it takes me about one-fourth of the time to manage our desktop virtualization system versus our previous PCs.

We’ve also realized PC hardware repair benefits. Before, replacing CMOS batteries, power supplies, fans, hard drives and motherboards were common occurrences. Now, with our desktop virtualization solution, none of that is necessary. As an added bonus, we get to enjoy the reduced power and cooling requirements that thin clients offer. Before, PCs were causing circuit breakers to trip, resulting in classrooms being too hot or too cold because they were trying to accommodate the extra heat output of so many tower computers. Our new solution has completely eliminated these problems and has resulted in about a 90 percent power saving per workstation, not to mention a quieter, neater learning environment so our students can truly focus on the tasks at hand.

Finally, another benefit that we’ve realized from our new desktop virtualization technology is that it meets the technology requirements for our state mandated online testing. With our new thin client devices, students get a full Windows desktop experience without requiring their own PC or laptop. Beyond support for online testing, desktop virtualization has allowed our students to run a variety of programs related to reading, math and other topics.

Implementing a desktop virtualization solution within our classrooms and labs is without a doubt one of the best IT decisions Pana Community School District #8 has made. It has freed up time for teachers to be more productive and focus on teaching and has allowed our IT team to focus on enhancing our overall technology, rather than running around servicing systems. Most importantly, it has helped us support our students’ most vital educational needs – and that has made all the difference.

Scott Savage has been with central Illinois K-12 school district Pana Community School District #8 since 2008. As the district’s technology coordinator, Scott is responsible for maintaining its current infrastructure, which includes over 240 virtual desktop client devices from NComputing.

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Watch This | Teach to One

THAT’S A FACT. When a teacher teaches to the whole class, somebody gets left behind. Approaching instruction through multiple modalities, or ways of teaching (leveraging available technologies), all students get a chance to learn in a way that is engaging to them. 2:29 Source: New Classrooms

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