Helping Students Learn by Doing

What happens to learning when students are able to interact with content.

GUEST COLUMN | by Tom Piche

CREDIT Epson America“Anyone, anyone?” echoed Ben Stein’s character to a disengaged class in the 1986 classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Thankfully, education has dramatically changed since the ’80s and the teacher is no longer the sole speaker or facilitator during lessons. A shift in learning, where students are able to interact with the content at hand, has become commonplace in many classrooms.

This type of hands-on learning can lead to lifelong success. It can motivate – and actively engage – all students, especially those who thrive by doing. It can also help kinesthetic learners strengthen their short- and long-term memories by involving movement. Plus, students are accustomed to multitasking in today’s wired world, so educators must provide engaging activities to grab students’ attention. Confucius said it best, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

Another great way to engage the entire class in the learning process is working with the students to create a digital mural on the classroom wall that relates to science or social studies.

One proven way for educators to engage students is by leveraging technology. Educators can get students out of their seats and interacting with technology in many ways. For instance, an educator in an international school in Japan used an interactive projector to have students follow along with the story of Harold and the Purple Crayon and play out the role of the crayon.

Other examples include students playing a game of Spanish Hangman where they form teams and work together to figure out the word or phrase, and junior scientists testing water or soil samples on their school grounds and bringing the data back to the classroom to share what they have learned. Another great way to engage the entire class in the learning process is working with the students to create a digital mural on the classroom wall that relates to science or social studies.

It is through these types of activities that the following benefits can be obtained:

  • Greater retention of material – tactile activities help students commit the subject matter to memory.
  • Development of critical thinking – when students are tasked with inquiry-based projects they are challenged to problem solve through deeper thinking and reasoning.
  • Fostering of social-emotional skills – through group work, students learn how to deal with oneself and others in an effective manner.
  • Furthering leadership skills – working with other students allows for them to assume roles that reflect their strengths.

To further reinforce these benefits, teachers can allow students to take ownership of their learning and become teachers themselves. When students are designated as the teacher, they must rely on deeper thinking to demonstrate the understanding of content. If students can successfully teach their classmates a certain lesson or idea by utilizing engaging technology, they develop leadership skills and better comprehend the subject matter.

Educators across every content area can provide hands-on experiences. It’s important for educators who embrace technology to help other teachers understand the technologies available to them in the school and offer suggestions for incorporating hands-on learning lessons as part of their curriculum.

Tom Piche is product manager for K-12 interactive projectors with Epson America, Inc. Contact him through Twitter @EpsonEducation

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Trends | The Future of Lifelong Learning


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What Makes Them Tick

A passionate edupreneur discusses the value of a holistic view of student learning.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jack Macleod

CREDIT AlmaIf you are tracking trends in education, then you have probably heard the terms “whole-child approach” and “360-view of student performance.” Sounds catchy, but what the heck does it mean? Teachers are with students 180 days a year, so tracking behaviors and patterns has been happening all along, right? Well, the answer isn’t yes…or no. A holistic view of the student is more nuanced than that.

The old way of assessing students and tracking their growth was all about quick and dirty. This dropped students into seemingly arbitrary buckets. Back then, no one person could be expected to review every single piece of student data and identify emerging patterns and trends. And they most certainly couldn’t do it fast enough to shift instruction to accommodate each student.

There is huge potential for improving learning outcomes. Here’s to hoping the technology can make the grade.

The problem with that old school way of classifying students is that it doesn’t take into account that students are more than the sum of their parts (cliché, I know). There are a multitude of factors affecting student outcomes, and one isn’t most important; rather, it is the particular combination of each within a given student that informs success. And that unique mix is like each student’s DNA—unlocking it should tell us about what motivates and drives engagement and learning. And this is huge, given that researchers have found that motivation, not intelligence, is a better predictor of student success.

So if I had to define a “holistic view of a student,” I would say it is being able to articulate what makes them tick, and then leveraging that knowledge to really target instruction.

How do we get there?

The types of information we are talking about tracking here have always existed, and teachers were always able to use the data. The challenge has and always will be that teachers just don’t have the time to analyze complex information and identify emerging trends. Fortunately, technology can do most of the heavy lifting.

But much like student success factors, the technology that promises a way to automate these processes is not all created equal. Oftentimes when we think about tracking student information, we look for technology that has the ability to zoom way in on data, detecting granular changes at the microscopic level. In reality, the best information management systems will have the ability to zoom back out, and track where that data point (and the student is it attached to) is going, like sliding down the scale in Google maps. So how do you identify the right information management system? Ask yourself these three questions:

  • Is it intuitive? Analyzing data can be challenging. And sometimes, small mistakes have big consequences. An information management system should be easy-to-navigate, so teachers can quickly—and correctly—find and use the data they need.
  • Do all systems play nice? You can’t have a holistic view of anything if you there are missing pieces of information. If it makes sense to have one system that manages everything, great. If you prefer the patchwork approach, that’s fine, too. But if one system within the ecosystem doesn’t talk to another, then it won’t work. Period.
  • Can you extract actionable information? So you’ve identified a skills deficiency, now what? The system should point you toward next steps.

So where do we go from here? One thing the technology can’t do is determine what information to capture and analyze. Educators must identify what needs to be put in to make sure what comes out is meaningful. It’s likely that educators will need some guidance to make this happen, as complex data analysis hasn’t found its way into the curriculum of most education degree programs. I think this is a real opportunity for vendors to set themselves apart by providing training not only on the technical aspects of their systems, but also on the practical, “how to use this to improve performance” side of things.

I also predict that we will see even more companies—old and new—come to market with integrated platforms that manage student information, school information, learning management and learning resources within one system. These new “holistic student engagement” platforms will be able to analyze all factors that affect teaching and learning within a school and better help synthesize that data so we can move more toward the ultimate goal of personalized learning that is scalable and effective. There is huge potential for improving learning outcomes. Here’s to hoping the technology can make the grade.

Jack Macleod is president of Alma, a modern school management system offering a better experience for K-12 administrators, teachers, parents and students. Write to:

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Cool Tool | Flocabulary

CREDIT FlocabularyAn online library of educational hip-hop songs and videos for grades K-12, Flocabulary is a learning resource used by over 20,000 schools. Engaging and inspiring students, this company creates instructional resources to support lessons across the curriculum, from science and social studies, to CCSS-aligned math and ELA. They also publish The Week in Rap, a weekly current events series that helps students connect to the world around them. Their Word Up vocabulary program uses contextual definitions to teach interdisciplinary Tier 2 vocabulary words, and has been shown to raise scores on state reading tests. They also offer implementation guides by subject and there are even lessons for teaching students to write their own academic rhymes. With a library of over 500 songs and videos, it has fun, engaging tools for almost every academic topic. Through constant feedback from its growing community, they are hard at work on new resources to meet the needs of teachers and students across the globe. Check it out for 30 days.

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Cloud Education

A private school IT guy offers up three lessons learned by using a cloud-based phone system.

GUEST COLUMN | by Rainier Apolonio

CREDIT RingCentralWhen Southlands Christian Schools was faced with the challenge of moving our pre-school through 8th grade programs to a new campus, our faculty and staff were up against lengthy phone system downtime and communication hurdles. We opted to take an alternative approach by turning to a cloud business communications platform to completely replace our on-premise legacy PBX system. And although the campus-wide technology modification occurred during critical work hours, our faculty staff continued working with no interruption.

As Gartner Research confirms, the cloud provides incredible value to education—and at our school we discovered the significant role cloud technology can play in enabling our teachers and staff members to do their jobs better. By testing the waters of the cloud in the K-8 setting, we witnessed the power of the cloud, and learned a few lessons along the way.

Let the Cloud do the Heavy Lifting. The cloud provides incredible value to education, whether you’re teaching in a kindergarten classroom, or the dean of an MBA program at Harvard. Initially, the biggest gripe I had with setting up another PBX on-premise system for our new campus was the infrastructure we’d have to lay down, and the complicated communication process we’d undergo to connect with the other systems across our three campuses. Cloud technology played a huge role in eliminating infrastructure challenges, and within a day our school staff of over 100 could reach each other with simple extensions.

Empower Teachers with Technology. We gave teachers and staff control of taking and returning phone calls on their mobile phones, with technology that keeps their personal numbers private. This small change empowered teachers to gain control of their classroom and better connect with the parents of students when needed. Empowering teachers gave our IT department added time to focus on other high priority technology initiatives.

Innovate Attentively. Businesses all around us are inventing and pioneering the very best technology. When working in the elementary school environment, it’s vital to innovate quickly, but still remain attentive to our school’s specific needs. Many factors, including student body size, location and test scores, determine the type of technological leaps we are prepared to take. New technology should be adopted vigilantly, and to meet your school’s individual needs.

Advancements in technology empower our faculty and staff to become better teachers, and I believe our institution benefits greatly from switching to a cloud-based phone system. As we evaluate other technological upgrades, we strive to make decisions that positively impact our teachers and student bodies across all three campuses. Technology has the potential to transform the way our teachers give information to parents and teachers—and switching to a cloud-based phone system has taken us a step in the right direction.

Rainier Apolonio is the IT Director at Southlands Christian Schools in California. Write to: or visit:

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