Cool Tool | Fishtree

CREDIT FishtreeFishtree is a
place where teachers find resources for their lesson plans in seconds. Resources from textbooks, Open Education Resources, teacher lesson plans and even news from recently published, trusted sources, all easily accessible. With Fishtree, you’re able to make a lesson, and then adapt the lesson for individual students, in a way that is easy to manage in the classroom. Each student is given personalized resources to attend to their individual needs or challenges with varying degrees of difficulty. Teachers control the entire process and are given the real time data on each student, without being overwhelmed by individual learning paths or multiple assessments. Whether you have students who are struggling in certain areas or, students who are more curious and want to get deeper on a topic, you can now reach out to every student in the classroom, quickly and easily — before it’s too late.

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Cool Tool | Allowance Manager

CREDIT Allowance ManagerThis online and mobile tool empowers kids grades K-12 to save and spend their allowance money wisely. Created by a family for families, it enables parents and kids to track their allowance deposits and spending and provides children with a firsthand experience with money. It makes it easy for parents to impart money-handling skills in an enjoyable and engaging way for kids by giving their child allowance through automatic deposits to a prepaid debit card called the AllowanceCard.  The platform helps establish and maintain trust between children and parents as kids do not need to ask for allowance and parents do not forget to give it to them. The Allowance Manager app offers a quick and simple way for parents to oversee and manage how kids spend their money through the app’s text and email notifications of transactions. The app can be viewed from any web-connected device including iOS, Android, Blackberry, Fire Phone and Windows Mobile.

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Rising to the Challenge

How are we leveraging the benefits of technology in the classroom while avoiding the pitfalls?

GUEST COLUMN | by Philip Dolan

CREDIT Saint Lawrence AcademyA Catholic, co-educational college preparatory school in Santa Clara, California, Saint Lawrence Academy is one of several dozen schools in the Diocese of San Jose. The Diocese leverages its Silicon Valley location to keep its parishes and schools on the cutting edge of technology. The benefits of adding technology as an educational tool are well known. One of the key benefits is that people can use technology to learn in the way that suits them best. For example, some students may learn better by watching video while others do better with reading articles or engaging in interactive experiences, such as by using various applications. The ability to deliver learning through multiple channels increases student motivation, engagement, and performance.

The pressure has never been greater to do more to prepare our students to successfully navigate our increasingly complex world with fewer resources available to carry out that mission.

The U.S. Department of Education reported that access to technology delivers multiple benefits to students, such as increased motivation and self-esteem, improved technical skills and ability to accomplish more complex tasks, greater collaboration with peers, and increased attention to audience needs from a design and delivery perspective. Technology also frees teachers to become facilitators instead of the sole focus for educating their students, especially as students become empowered to support and mentor each other.*

These benefits are not without some significant challenges: First, traditional desktop, laptop, and mobile devices are expensive and subject to damage, theft, or loss. Second, a single device infected with malware can impact the entire network. Third, it is important to prevent students from accessing inappropriate materials, such as adult content. Fourth, managing individual devices and environment can burden IT resources. All of this adds up to extra direct and indirect costs, this at a time when public and private educational budgets are being strained like never before. The pressure has never been greater to do more to prepare our students to successfully navigate our increasingly complex world with fewer and fewer resources available to carry out that mission.

Implementing a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) can be a cost-effective way to resolve these challenges and free up the full range of benefits offered by technology… provided that the VDI can deliver acceptable levels of performance to users, that is. To be effective, technology must respond and adapt to the needs of its users, and not the other way around.

Saint Lawrence Academy implemented a VDI as part of our overall Technology program to allow our students to access applications from any device in any location, thus maximizing digital education opportunities for our middle and high school students. We hoped that putting all of our tech-related programs under one roof and adding accessible thin clients, tablets, projection systems, and more would create an educational hub for all of our students—whether they’re focusing on digital media, or if they just want to augment a lesson or project for a more traditional class.

In general, students welcomed these new capabilities; however, those enrolled in graphics-intensive courses, such as digital photography and yearbook, quickly ran into problems with lag caused by the VDI tasking the server CPU with processing and rendering graphics. This significant roadblock cast doubts on the feasibility of expanding our digital curriculum going forward. Then we learned about NVIDIA GRID technology, which promised to eliminate performance bottlenecks by allowing remote users to access GPU resources.

We implemented NVIDIA GRID K1 boards in a Dell PowerEdge 720 server running the Citrix virtualization platform just in time for the grand opening of the Tech Media Center in December of 2013. Our body of almost 300 students had no idea this was coming, but they immediately began commenting on how much performance and image quality had improved, especially when running Adobe Creative Cloud. The applications that once posed the greatest obstacles to the success of our VDI were now running perfectly.

This successful VDI implementation is allowing us to focus on leveraging technology for our current and future educational offerings. Students can access applications and data with full workstation performance using their familiar desktop, laptop, and mobile devices. Our IT department can protect the network against unauthorized access and malware, shield students from inappropriate content, and focus on enhancing services instead of constantly responding to support requests. We have achieved all of this and more while saving at least $50,000 compared to traditional workstation models.

In my experience, nothing beats a VDI for delivering on the promises of technology in education while eliminating almost all of the risks entailed by taking that path.

*U.S. Department of Education. “Effects of Technology on Classrooms and Students.” Retrieved 14 August 2014 from

Philip Dolan is the President of Saint Lawrence Academy and Saint Lawrence Elementary and Middle School in Santa Clara, Calif. He is responsible for the management of school operations, mission advancement, strategic planning, board development, and school fundraising. Find him on Twitter: @SLACeltics

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Cool Tool | Net Power & Light’s Spin

CREDIT net power & light SPINOriginally developed to help musicians jam with other musicians in different locations in real-time, Spin, from Net Power & Light, has just become available for businesses and educational institutions in the Apple store. An industry-first application for mobile, multi-participant video collaboration, Spin enables up to ten people, groups or classrooms to participate in a video call while simultaneously viewing documents, photos, and videos– all without having to “pass control” to another participant. NPL also enables educational institutions to create a powerful student experience by embedding Spin, with its advanced videoconferencing and collaboration tools, into their suite of applications and learning services. In the new version of Spin, teachers and students can share documents and connect to Dropbox to view PDF files together in retina-quality HD. Each person can flip through pages, so everyone can participate in the action. New comment and markup tools enable groups to take notes and work together while viewing PDF files, photos, videos, presentations and more. With NPL’s low-latency technology, users with different devices and connectivity speeds are managed intelligently, giving the best possible performance to each device. This all translates to a mobile video collaboration experience with human fidelity – bringing people together with people to solve problems.

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Privacy and Security

How to safeguard student education data.

GUEST COLUMN | by Ray Ackerlund

CREDIT Skyward protecting student dataWith more than 90 percent of school districts in the United States electronically storing data on students’ attendance to test scores and everything in between, safeguarding student information is a topic that is necessary to address.

What information is being stored? Who is seeing all this data? Who is making sure it doesn’t get taken?

The protection of student data involves two elements: privacy and security. Privacy is the main topic of recent discussions, but the security of student data is an element that is equally important.

Providing the privacy of student data is a challenge facing districts across the country. Maintaining a high level of privacy requires collaboration between districts and vendors. Some efforts districts can take to ensure maximum privacy are:

  • Organize strict security access to ensure data access is consistent with FERPA requirements.
  • Confirm integration with third-party vendors is well defined and limited to the data they are authorized to access through written contracts and agreements.
  • Discuss the importance of data privacy with staff on a regular basis.
  • Conduct routine security audits to ensure roles have proper security, and appropriate staff is assigned to these roles or groups.
  • Establish a defined process to properly remove an employee from network and application security when he or she leaves a district.
  • Have a strong knowledge of FERPA and COPPA guidelines, and know appropriate times when student data can be shared.
  • Confirm backup policies include safeguarding copies of data in remote locations.
  • Clearly communicate with parents about data policies and usage.

Security is of the utmost importance to guarantee privacy is sustained. Each time a story appears about the loss of personal information in the consumer market, the fault is usually attributed to improper management or malicious attacks on security. Without proper security measures, student data is always at risk.

Without proper security measures, student data is always at risk.

Only a short time ago, on-premise storage was the most common backup choice. However, that has been surpassed by cloud-based solutions in the past five years, with 95 percent of districts relying on this strategy according to The Fordham Law study.

Cloud services provide a diverse range of functions, including data mining for student performance, support for classroom activities and student guidance, as well as special services such as cafeteria payments and transportation planning. Beyond the value of off-loading the maintenance and cost of on-premise hosting, one major benefit is data security and privacy protection, since direct data access is controlled and monitored by the cloud provider.

When considering cloud-based data storage approach, districts should follow these guidelines in selecting a provider:

  • Ensure they meet recommended standards, with a SSAE 16 standard as a minimum.
  • Provide database management and monitoring services.
  • Provide database updating and application updating.
  • Maintain multiple data centers with redundant failover.
  • Continually monitor industry standards to ensure latest protection and security recommendations are being followed.

Student data has the potential to make a huge impact on the way educators teach. Having earlier academic intervention, improving student performance and creating more personalized learning will advance education and the way our students learn.

Ray Ackerlund (@RayAckerlund) is the Vice President of Marketing and Product Management for Skyward, Inc. With the company for more than 20 years, Ray guides the strategic execution of marketing and product vision for Skyward’s administrative software exclusively designed for K-12 school districts. The software serves more than 5 million students and 1,700 school districts worldwide. For more information about student data privacy and security guidelines, visit:

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