Cool Tool | Tynker

CREDIT TynkerProgramming is the new literacy, the people behind this company believe, and the ability to program is what separates those who simply have an idea from those who make their ideas a reality. Tynker is a new online platform that easily and successfully teaches students introductory computer programming, so they can learn how to code through the activities they already love: games and stories. Tynker lessons not only make it easy for students to understand abstract programming concepts, but they learn how to apply concepts to different projects, games and scenarios that they enjoy. They can use their coding skills to easily create games and quizzes, and animations that explain math concepts, or complex science topics. With this curriculum, students learn the fundamentals of programming language without the frustrations of traditional syntax. These benefits also meet many of the criteria demanded by today’s rigorous standards, and kids are also learning fundamental concepts that put them on the path to a STEM career. Plus, as educators respond to the pressures to meet rigorous new standards in core academic areas, the schools that have adopted Tynker as a project-based learning tool to support math, science, social studies, literature and art, are finding that students are more naturally engaged in meeting the rising challenges of each of these academic areas. Check it out here:

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Conditions for Learning

Maintaining a safe and ethical school environment in a social media age.

GUEST COLUMN | by Michelle Vroom

CREDIT eSchoolViewTheir voices can be loud and their stares intimidating. Hatred is laced in their messages. And, in some cases, their impact can intensify because the attacks are made in a seemingly private space behind the glare of cell phone or tablet.

Bullies have been around longer than the one-room school house and always seem impervious to treating their peers with respect.

Bullying (and cyberbullying, more specifically in the edtech arena) prevention can come from a school or district that embraces technology and social tools then models positive, influential behavior. Teachers and principals can encourage students to use their smartphones and tablets as tools of engagement rather than weapons of attack.

Safe, nurturing environments produce engaged students who challenge themselves and others to excel. 

Safe, nurturing environments produce engaged students who challenge themselves and others to excel. Students are less apt to take risks and explore new ideas in settings where they feel threatened or alone.

Enter digital citizenship and the critical role leading-by-example plays. Integrating electronic devices and tools into a classroom setting opens a world of possibility for our students.

Technology is a major player in both the promotion of cultures of positive acceptance and abandoning isolation. Our job as educators is to establish proper rules of use and clearly defined consequences for misuse and abuse.

We have the opportunity to use technology to build open environments that foster constructive collaboration and learning. Grants and dollars allocated by state governments are helping more and more districts across the nation implement alert systems to send immediate messages to first responders and district personnel during emergencies and potential crises.

We truly can put technology to use to listen to the voices we haven’t heard — in more ways than contributions in the classroom. We can use the power of discovery to create a way for those hurting to tell us just how they need help.

Michelle Vroom is a communication strategist with eSchoolView. Tools like eSchoolView’s Instant Connect (a Cool Tool Finalist) assist students, teachers, administrators and parents in stomping out instances of bullying in and around schools and maintaining a constructive, collaborative learning environment.

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The Opportunity Gap

Real-world perspective from the founder of a purpose-driven group of innovators.

GUEST COLUMN | by Andrew Coy

CREDIT Digital Harbor FoundationThe achievement gap is a well-known problem in schools today. When I started teaching social students at Digital Harbor High School, I found we don’t have an achievement gap; what we really have is an opportunity gap. At this technology-focused school in Baltimore, Maryland, I saw firsthand how my students, many from low-income families, lacked opportunities.

Not having Internet at home is like giving students pens and books at school, but then taking them away when the final bell rings.

To give my students a unique opportunity while preparing them for the future, I founded an after-school club where I taught basic web development to students, with the goal of connecting inner-city youth to paying client organizations that needed simple, brochure-style websites. My students worked very hard while learning not only about technology and web development, but about business, team-work, and client relationships. More than anything it showed them they could achieve just as much, if not more, when given the right opportunities.

When the city announced it would be shutting down the South Baltimore Rec Center, that happened to be just a few blocks from Digital Harbor High School, I saw the potential to give these students and others like them real-world opportunities on a broader scale. In less than a year, we launched the Digital Harbor Foundation (DHF) Tech Center, an informal learning space where we teach youth the most up-to-date technology. We now work with more than 400 students outside of school, fostering innovation through 3-D design and printing, app creation, game and web development, engineering, and more.

Recently the DHF team participated in a special event with Comcast at the Digital Harbor Foundation alongside Comcast Executive Vice President David L. Cohen, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and other officials and partners. Students from Digital Harbor High School and Liberty Elementary School got to explore technology projects created by DHF youth and heard from industry and community leaders. Comcast made significant commitments to DHF programs through its broadband adoption initiative, Internet Essentials, which provides low-cost home Internet service, the option to purchase discounted computer equipment and free digital literacy training to eligible families. The company awarded 55 computers and six months of complimentary Internet Essentials services to students attending the event from Digital Harbor High School and Liberty Elementary School. Since 2011, Internet Essentials has connected more than 350,000 families, or 1.4 million low-income Americans, to the power of the Internet at home.

We believe technology is the key for youth be successful in today’s world. Not having Internet at home is like giving students pens and books at school, but then taking them away when the final bell rings. Youth need access to both technology and tech education to overcome the digital divide. I’m grateful to Comcast for their commitment to support DHF’s mission of fostering innovation, tech advancement, and entrepreneurship in youth. This work is incredibly important to the economic vitality of Baltimore City, the state of Maryland, and the United States. The digital skills gained through our maker activities and tech workforce readiness at our Tech Center, combined with Internet access in their homes, will prepare youth for success in their education now and in their future careers. We are excited to partner with Comcast’s Internet Essentials, and to provide real opportunities to more families in Baltimore.

Internet Essentials and DHF are working together to level the playing field for low-income children. Internet Essentials connects families to the Internet at home, while DHF connects students to a pathway into a future tech career. I invite you to join our efforts and do what you can to help end the opportunity gap facing far too many of our students today.

Andrew Coy is Executive Director of Digital Harbor Foundation. Educator, technologist, mentor and entrepreneur, Andrew is interested in bridging the gap between education and technology. He is passionate about educational equality and dedicated to reinventing education to empower students to take their place in the 21st-century digital workplace. Contact him through Twitter @DHFBaltimore

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DS Challenge

The data security challenge — and what to do about it.

GUEST COLUMN | by Steven Grant

CREDIT EduLokThe shift to electronic records, without a doubt, has allowed schools to operate more efficiently. Digital records keep student information accessible and in one place. They allow for better communication and flow of information between teachers, students, parents and administrators.

However, digital records complicate data security. Modern hackers have the tools to get around most schools’ security software because the technology it is based on was developed in 1985 and has been hacked ever since – over and over again. Even sophisticated and tech-savvy institutions, in many cases, are more vulnerable than they know.

The importance of protecting the privacy of students and faculty has been a hot topic this year.

In some cases, lack of knowledge is the problem. Data security is a complex issue, and the technology is rapidly changing. It’s difficult to sort through what’s available to find the best options. In other cases, budget constraints, lack of policy, or a shortage of IT staff lead to holes in security.

The Impact of Data Breaches on Schools

If a data breach does occur, the impact can be devastating. Sensitive student information – from social security numbers to grades to medical records – is compromised. Trust and reputation are eroded. The audits and damage control that follow can be wildly expensive.

Most of the high-profile incidents have been in higher education. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, a University of Maryland cyber attack reported in February compromised more than 300,000 student and personnel records, and cost the school millions. Within the same few weeks, major data breaches were reported at Indiana University and North Dakota University. The average cost of an education data breach, also according to the Chronicle, is a whopping $111 for each record compromised.

K-12 schools can be targets, too. A November breach exposed some 15,000 records of Long Island elementary, middle and high school students. A March incident at a pair of Catholic schools in Seattle put social security numbers of employees and school volunteers at risk, and led to fraud. The schools had to temporarily close to address the issue.

Four Tips for Better Protecting Your School’s Data

The importance of protecting the privacy of students and faculty has been a hot topic this year. The U.S. Department of Education issued guidelines in February that address security and privacy concerns relating to software, mobile apps, web-based tools and more. Congress is debating the issue now, and many states have introduced education privacy bills.

There’s truly not a simple answer, but security experts – from government employees to private technology companies – seem to agree on some shared best practices. Some are more procedural in nature, while others focus on the technology you should choose:

Set clear policies and procedures: Many data breaches are strictly the work of hackers, but sometimes a breach is caused by something as simple as an employee mistake or the lack of a defined policy for how data should be handled. If your school or district doesn’t have a comprehensive policy in place for how to handle data and protect privacy, it’s time to put one together. Can teachers work on confidential data at home? Are hard drives erased when computers are recycled? Does the faculty understand when confidential data can and cannot be used? The practices should be in writing and part of training.

Switch to two-factor authentication: Many schools are still relying on an outdated method of one-factor authentication to allow students and faculty to log on to secure networks, apps, email and more. In simplest terms, that’s just using traditional user names and passwords. However, experts have long said something known as two-factor authentication is a much safer alternative. And the recent news of a major Russian hack has energized that talk. Two-factor adds an additional layer of security by combining something the user has, say a key-like token or mobile app, with something they know, like a password. Look for security software that relies on two-factor – these products are increasingly hitting the market.

Encrypt and fragment data: Whether it’s a document storage system or security software, look for products that encrypt your data. The Department of Education also recommends only sending sensitive data over email via an encryption program. New technologies have also emerged that fragment your stored data, dispersing it in the cloud across multiple locations to prevent hackers from getting all the puzzle pieces they would need to commit identity theft.

Be cautious when outsourcing data storage: Not all schools have the IT expertise to store and manage their data, so many turn to third-party vendors. That’s inherently OK, but it’s crucial to know what these companies are doing with the data. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) bans selling the data, but there’s some murkiness about whether that’s being enforced. Always ask for a written contract that spells out data use procedures.

Steven Grant is vice president of operations at EduLok, which has created a security package for the education industry unlike anything on the market. The technology is based on a new method of multi-factor authentication that encrypts, fragments and disperses sensitive data in the cloud across 12 locations. Even if a server is hacked, the technology prevents hackers from getting all the puzzle pieces they need. EduLok’s technology does not require IT expertise, so it’s convenient and simple for schools use.

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To Enhance and Advance

Bridging the gap between technology’s promise and real classroom outcomes. GUEST COLUMN | by Jon Roepke CREDIT BelkinTechnology in education has the power to completely transform our understanding of the classroom —the power to improve digital literacy, collaboration and aid critical thinking. But technology alone isn’t the answer. Technology should be understood as a tool by which teachers and young minds can learn more, learn faster, and learn interactively together. In order to reach those education outcomes—at home and around the world—we need to bridge the gap between the promise of technology and its classroom application. Three years ago, our education technology team recognized this technology gap as we conducted primary research in classrooms around the country. This firsthand experience taught us that teachers and students both need an education in technology—and the necessary support structure—in order to achieve outcomes through technology. It is also vital for educators to invest in and effectively use the right tools to maximize ROI (return on investment) and ROE (return on education). This leads to greater learning outcomes, and improved teaching and learning efficiencies.

Teachers and students both need an education in technology—and the necessary support structure—in order to achieve outcomes through technology.

As we move through this still-new school year, I wanted to share some thoughts about maximizing the potential of technology to enhance and advance education. First, it’s important to deploy the right tools to meet objectives. One-device-fits-all doesn’t work, and different objectives require different tools. Educators should first ask important questions such as:

  • What is our instructional model and how can technology support it?
  • How will mobile technology use integrate with schools’ educational mission statements?
  • How, if at all, should our approach to education change based on technological capabilities?
  • What is our long-term vision for technology in and outside of the classroom?

If objectives are clearly defined, then more specific device questions can be answered. At a base level, educational technology should help enable experiences that differentiate, increase, and enhance instruction and student engagement. If appropriate, schools should consider a diversified deployment model. Thinking beyond “all-tablets” or “all-chromebooks” encourages flexibility of teaching and learning. I think it’s also important that we ensure the appropriate technical infrastructure exists to support and manage new technology. Unfortunately, today, Education Superhighway estimates that 63 percent of schools don’t have adequate Internet infrastructure for the current needs. To improve learning outcomes, we need to ensure schools have robust, secure wireless networks with reliable connectivity and adequate bandwidth. Education systems also need policies in place for appropriate technology use and means to efficiently maintain devices and systems. Beyond infrastructure, education systems need to also implement training and support structure to aid the adoption of technology. Organizational change requires adequate training and support, but “training” is not a one day workshop at the start of each school year—ongoing training should be scheduled throughout the year to manage the onboarding and troubleshooting process. Teacher support groups and regional education technology conferences are also great opportunities for schools, where teachers can exchange experiences, share their successes, and learn from each other. Once technological capabilities are aligned with education objectives and infrastructure and training is in place, it’s time to infuse technology into teaching and learning—in and outside of the classroom. It’s important to understand the full spectrum of technology integration in educational environments and acknowledge that integration is often best serviced as an evolutionary process rather than revolutionary one. Building organizational confidence and working through system issues helps reduce stress and allows everyone involved to develop a sense of enthusiasm for new technology. I believe Dr. Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model is a good framework for rolling out technology in the classroom. The SAMR model sets out a hierarchy of tech integration to first enhance current practices and then transform them into entirely new (better) practices. The SAMR model follows four key levels of implementation:

  1. Substitution
  • Technology steps in as a “tool substitute”, such as eBooks replacing textbooks in class
  1. Augmentation
  • Technology substitutes not only replace older learning tools, but they offer functional advancements to improve experience, such as eBook dictionary functions
  1. Modification
  • Technology functionality also significantly redesigns tasks or our previous approach to learning and capturing content/data, such as using an app to compose and record audio, video, and annotations
  1. Redefinition
  • Finally, technology enables us to take on previously inconceivable tasks and to redefine how learning tools are made, such as creating, presenting, and publishing media-rich eBooks for enriched learning experiences

I’m not sure anyone today can fully predict where technology will lead education. But by understanding technology as a tool, investing in infrastructure and training resources, and aligning our educational objectives with the right devices, we can bridge the gap between what technology promises and what it actually provides. — Jon Roepke is the director of product management for Belkin International, Inc. He leads the creation and fulfillment of new business ventures, and helps define and develop technology solutions, including mobile apps and hardware for next-gen learning environments in partnership with Apple, Samsung, Google and other core technology leaders. Follow @Belkin

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