Rugged Connections

One state’s mission to harness the power of data for student success.

GUEST COLUMN | by Judy Chappelear

CREDIT Wikipedia creative commons rmhermenLike much of the nation, Montana faces a challenging academic and economic landscape for supporting college and career readiness.  Though this is a top issue on the national agenda, it requires resources and buy-in from individual states, districts, and schools. With an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent and a high school graduation rate of 84.4 percent, Montana has seen steady improvements in its economic prospects over the past five years. There is still much work to be done, however, to close skills gaps and drive individualized student success.

Stakeholders in education – from students and parents to school administrators and state officials – need access to secure and organized student data to make informed decisions

Aligning postsecondary and high school curriculums to these job needs is imperative. 

and drive alignment between student career aspirations and statewide workforce needs.  Montana will join a growing number of states utilizing technology to forge a stronger connection between education and career success.

Fostering College and Career Readiness

We often ask sixth or seventh graders if they plan to go to college and the majority say that they do. However, by the time they are juniors in high school, that goal can be thwarted for a variety of reasons, making it tough to steer them back on course.

Research shows that academic success in high school, postsecondary retention, and career satisfaction are all related to a learner’s understanding of how his or her interests, skills, and values relate to academic and career pathways. When a student identifies the right pathway and makes good decisions about their postsecondary and career goals, it leads to higher high school graduation rates and postsecondary retention, which leads to completion and job placement.

But whose responsibility is it to guide students through this process? We too often rely on school counselors to provide information and guidance. With student-to-counselor ratios of 450+:1, it is not possible to provide personalized attention to every student.  An ongoing process is needed to support career aspirations and drive college accessibility and affordability.  Moreover, students need to understand their options and strive for success early, since 71% of projected jobs in 2020 will require some form of a postsecondary education.

Building a Skilled Workforce

The nation faces a growing need to develop a skilled workforce in order to meet the demands of our current industries and fill job openings. Montana is not exempt from this.  Although the labor market in Montana mirrors that of the national market, there are some differences. For example, in Montana, there is a greater need for skilled manufacturing workers, as well as students who pursue degrees in hospitality and healthcare.  Aligning postsecondary and high school curriculums to these job needs is imperative.  Employers and institutions must work together to equip students with the training needed to be successful, and together identify potential candidates with the skills and personalities that will be able to fill these jobs in the future.

Utilizing Technology to Overcome Challenges by Empowering Students and Administrators

In response to these challenges, Montana is taking a big step toward creating a one-stop college and career readiness environment for students and families.

Montana OPI will provide every administrator, teacher, parent and student with access to a personalized portal equipped with the tools needed to promote academic, career, and financial planning at any stage of a student’s learning.  A student will be able to combine his or her academic history with future education and career aspirations to create a personalized plan for success.  This approach helps to level the playing field by providing information and planning tools to all students and their parents, particularly benefitting the underserved populations and first-generation college students.

The portal will also allow counselors to monitor students, track cohorts, and intervene as needed. The portal further simplifies the transition from high school to college by ensuring that academic records combined with information like career aspirations, self-assessment, and extracurricular interests are readily available to postsecondary institutions for admissions consideration. Additionally, school and government stakeholders are able to monitor student outcomes, and make informed decisions regarding the improvement of education and workforce.

While Montana’s primary goal is to support student success and facilitate transitions to college, their innovative approach will ripple forward to impact the economic future of the state by providing a well-prepared workforce for employers.

Judy Chappelear is Vice President of Solutions & Strategy at ConnectEDU. The Montana Office of Public Instruction provides vision, advocacy, support, and leadership for schools communities to ensure that all students meet today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities. The partnership between ConnectEDU and IBM is putting data into context, and comparing it across time, schools, and districts to ensure Montana’s students are on track to graduate and are college- and career-ready.

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Cool Tool | Teaching Games for Understanding App

CREDIT TGfUNicholas Stratigopoulos is a physical and health education teacher based out of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He is a graduate from McGill University’s physical and health education program and a master’s candidate in Concordia University’s educational technology program. Through his educational apps, Nicholas encourages physical and health education teachers all around the world to enable their students to adopt a more healthy and active lifestyle. TGfU Games PE provides physical education teachers and physical activity specialists with instant access to more than 200 games and activities that can be readily incorporated into their lesson plans.TGfU is an acronym for Teaching Games for Understanding, a modern approach to teaching games in a deeper and more authentic manner, with the focus on tactical understanding and transference of strategies across games. Within the educational app, games and activities are sorted alphabetically as well as categorically by TGfU category or by sport. Each game and activity includes the recommended grade level, equipment needed, tactical problems, rules of play, safety, variations and progressions, and last but not least, a diagram. Additionally, TGfU Games PE allows users to bookmark their favorite games to a list for a quick and easy reference. Don’t know where to start? Tap or shake for a random game. Planning a lesson for a substitute teacher to run? The ability to print out games and activities makes TGfU Games PE ideal for these situations. TGfU facilitates the delivery of fun-filled and highly effective lessons for children through its comprehensive collection of games and activities. Check it out.

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Ready or Not

Four must-do’s for building next-gen wi-fi for Common Core and beyond.

GUEST COLUMN | by Kezia Gollapudi

CREDIT Aruba Oyster River School DistrictReady or not, Common Core is here now! If you are a school district getting ready to roll out the Common Core-based Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing, you might easily relate to the palpable nervousness in the air at districts across the country. The nerves are not just about student and teacher readiness for the new online assessments however. They are also about whether districts’ wireless networks will be able to meet the demands the new tests will place on network infrastructures as the primary test-taking devices students use turn from pencil and paper to Chromebooks and iPads.

Of course, while the ability to support online testing is an immediate topic of discussion, Common Core is not just assessments. It’s also about:

  •       Boosting student engagement on tablets and laptops
  •       Enlivening the new curriculum with exciting learning tools
  •       Empowering teachers in technology-rich classrooms
  •       Investing in classrooms without breaking IT budgets

If schools focus on preparing their networks to accommodate the above factors, they will be well prepared to meet the specific demands that testing will involve as well.

Boosting student engagement on tablets and laptops

As schools invest in hundreds of Chromebooks and iPads to transition to Common Core learning, it is important to ensure that students thrive on those devices in the classroom.

Recent surveys* reveal that 87% of today’s students prefer digital textbooks, 38% use social media to collaborate and communicate with teachers and classmates, and 75% play educational games regularly. Engaging this new generation of digital learners in the classroom calls for a seamless learning environment where a classroom full of students can easily and reliably get on their devices and start learning. Bad wireless network performance should not decelerate or interrupt their learning experience.

The first question school districts must ask when preparing for Common Core is whether their current wireless networks are able to support the influx of devices that are coming into their classrooms. Whether they employ a BYOD model or one based on school-issued devices, school districts must ensure their wireless infrastructures deliver the capacity and reliability required to facilitate uninterrupted mobile learning. To do this effectively, school districts should consider deploying gigabit Wi-Fi, with one 802.11ac access point (AP) per classroom. Because Gigabit Wi-Fi is designed to deliver high performance for high-density classrooms, it is well suited to handle increased network traffic as more users, devices and apps connect to classroom Wi-Fi. The result is a robust, always-on network that teachers and students can rely on.

Enliven the new Common Core curriculum with exciting learning tools

Teachers and students are increasingly using educational video and gaming applications to enrich learning. Video-based learning applications like YouTube Education, Netflix, Khan Academy and PBS Video are being integrated into traditional teaching. Even social media tools are being leveraged at middle and high schools to help students and teachers collaborate and communicate.

However, supporting these new applications and tools requires the ability to accommodate bandwidth-hungry applications and new types of traffic on the network as never before. It also requires IT departments to identify and be able to manage all the applications they have running on their networks.

To successfully conduct testing in one classroom while running HD video next door without breaking the network, IT Departments need a reliable network with smart application handling. Granular visibility and control over the applications students are using and how those apps are performing will allow district IT personnel to prioritize critical learning and testing applications over other apps. Today, smart Wi-Fi networks are able to recognize different types of traffic on a network and allow IT to assign the highest priority to more important traffic, while blocking the use of inappropriate apps and applying quality-of-service to delay-sensitive video instruction media.

This level of control over network traffic is especially critical as schools strive towards creating a controlled and predictable online testing environment.

Empower teachers to control technology in their classrooms

Digital classrooms create great opportunities but also new challenges for teachers. Allowing teachers to choose some of their classroom technologies and giving them tools to stay in control of student activity during class can help immensely in classroom management.

For example, a growing number of teachers have begun using tools like AppleTVs and Chromecast to simplify screen sharing and collaboration in their classrooms. However, these tools are consumer devices designed for home use and not for schools, so there are some inherent challenges they present. For example, if each classroom has an AppleTV, how can teachers and students easily recognize which AppleTV they should connect to? Or, what if some teachers want to completely block student access to the tool, or to grant it selectively?

What network managers need is a solution to easily manage these devices on the network by giving policy-based access and visibility to AppleTVs and other shared services to users depending on who they are, where they are and what device they are connecting with.

Another way to empower teachers is by providing them with classroom management tools that ensure students stay on task and are not easily distracted on their mobile devices. Choosing a purpose-built classroom management system from a solution provider who specializes in classroom applications can give teachers greater visibility into and control over how mobile devices are used in their classrooms. It can also allow teachers to view student device screens, co-browse, block apps and keep everyone focused on learning while in the classroom.

Invest in the classroom while staying in control of the budget

Finally, for network managers to invest in classroom technologies without breaking their budget, schools must explore and identify simple and affordable wireless solutions.

One way to build a robust wireless network while strapped for budget and manpower is choosing controllerless Wi-Fi. Controllerless Wi-Fi is comprised of access points with built-in virtual controller capabilities, thus eliminating the need to splurge on a standalone controller appliance. This approach is not only affordable and ideal for limited school budgets, it is also simple to deploy and manage – a key benefit for lean IT staffs. However, it is extremely important to ensure that the controllerless Wi-Fi selected is enterprise-grade and that there is no compromise in performance in exchange for simplicity.

Another smart investment as BYOD becomes a reality in schools is self-service capabilities that reduce IT effort. Students, teachers, staff and guests connecting to the school network with a variety of personal devices creates a tough challenge for IT. By choosing a secure self-service network access solution that simplifies device onboarding with automated self-enrollment, devices can be onboarded and network access privileges can be granted based on user roles, device types and location – all with zero IT involvement.

In summary, smart investment in a next-gen wireless network can allow school districts to not only meet their immediate Common Core network requirements, but also transform the student learning experience as a whole.

*Pearson Mobile Device Survey 2013 & From Chalkboards to Tablets: The Emergence of the K-12 Digital Learner [Project Tomorrow]

Kezia Gollapudi is a product marketing manager at Aruba Networks, a leading designer and provider of Mobility-Defined Networks empowering a new generation of tech-savvy users.

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Robots Go To School

Fun and learning with NAO robots at Southern Connecticut Hebrew Academy.

GUEST COLUMN | by Mark Sills

CREDIT Southern Connecticut Hebrew AcademySouthern Connecticut Hebrew Academy, located in Orange, Conn., is integrating NAO robots into its technology program, designed to promote the use of technology as a learning tool and facilitate the development of academic and thinking skills. How this came about was by a not too obvious nor planned route. It began, as so often is the case, by self-reflection. We are a dual curriculum school, teaching both general and Judaic studies. Therefore, given the limited amount of time that we have with students, typically no more than 40 minutes a week, teaching them keyboarding and the finer points of MS Office is out of contact with reality. We also come to accept the fact that children come in here with a preconceived notion of what computers are and how to use them. We may not like that perception, but it is reality, they see these devices not as computers, but simply as another appliance and they relate to them as such.

Within minutes, the students were coding the robot to stand up, wave hello, say something, walk and sit down.

It became obvious that what was needed was a role change, from that of the instructor to facilitator, adjusting to providing mini lessons to meet the needs of the students. Teachers were pushed towards using the technology lab as an extension of the classroom, using it as a place for students to work on class assignments and projects. Now, the students come to the lab with an assignment and by my having previously reviewed that assignment with the teacher the students can be provided with the instructions of the skills needed and then set them to work.

However, we observed that our students were missing the critical thinking, planning and assessment skills that we felt were necessary for life-long success. There was altogether too much emphasis on rote learning and as a result, real thinking is lost. Teaching our students to become critical thinkers is of significant importance, particularly in this age of potential information overload.

Some research and participating in the “One Hour of Code” project convinced us that coding would be a tool to introduce and then develop that skill set. We had experimented with Lego Mindstorms as a tool for learning coding and found that to be unsuccessful. First, they were Legos and our girls would not go near them. Second, despite our best efforts, boys saw them as toys and lost interest once they had built the robot. Since you have to build the robot before you can program it, Lego Mindstorms really did not appear to lend themselves to parallel learning.

Then came a “aha” moment, while looking at something else the answer came. We were looking for a means of providing teachers with a tool to search for and then integrate media of multiple types into lessons and enhance engagement of students. During a meeting with the representative from Teq, an educational technology and professional development company,  she asked if we were interested in robotics as an instructional tool. She then introduced us to NAO, a humanoid robot manufactured by Aldebaran. The NAO robot’s sensor network includes cameras for facial and object recognition, microphones for voice commands and sound localization, pressure sensors, as well as a voice synthesizer and two high fidelity speakers.

A few weeks later, the Teq representative (a one-time English teacher) presented a lesson to a fourth grade class. Within minutes, the students were coding the robot to stand up, wave hello, say something, walk and sit down. Yes, the Chorégraphe software is “drag and drop” but they did have to think about what they wanted the robot to do, plan it out and then execute the thought process. The best part was that they received the instant feedback and gratification of seeing the results of their work.

So “Harry” is now a part of our school. Preschool and Pre-K students talk to him and drag their parents to see him. The “Wow” factor is great. More important has been student involvement. Having no real curriculum, it was decided that we would start a robotics club and see how to best teach using this. The initial thought was to use a small group of 5 students after school. In order to insure that the students really were committed to this after school activity, they had to apply to join. A very simple one page application was developed which included their having to write a paragraph giving their reasons why they wanted to join. That application had to be reviewed by their classroom teacher and then approved by the principal. We received over 25 applications and it quickly became apparent that the available number of slots would have to be increased, together with the number of afternoons planned for. We now have two afternoons set for the robotic clubs, 8 boys and 7 girls. I am very pleased by the number of girls who have joined after the disastrous experience attracting girls with Lego Mindstorms.

Each member of the club had been given the 200 plus page book Aldebaran provides with the robot. The initial plan was to have them read a chapter before coming to a meeting, review it at the meeting and then proceed with integrating that code into previous coding projects. What we found was that they were actually reading multiple chapters, some even completing the entire book well before the second club meeting. They were thinking ahead, planning what they wanted the robot to do, questioning how to make him do things and not considering anything other than its physical or mechanical limitations.

A quick change of plan was called for so we asked if they would like to prepare a presentation to the entire school and parents at the end of year closing assembly. They jumped on the thought, obviously wanted to show off to a large audience. Working in teams of two they are storyboarding their presentations. Some choosing to show off features of the robot, facial and speech recognition. Other have chosen to show off the robot’s movement ability by having him perform a dance. Others, in keeping with our Judaic teaching are going to have him deliver a presentation explaining the week’s Torah section. All are far more ambitious than we would have anticipated but so far they are demonstrating an ability to solve some complex coding problems. More importantly, they are learning to think things through, understand the cause and effect of minute changes in code and having a lot of fun while doing it.

It has also been interesting to watch the interaction of the students who have been selected. They cross the spectrum of academic capability and accomplishment. From students who have shown very little interest in academics to high-achievers. The robot has been a great equalizer as well, causing students who previously would not associate together to become equals. That this has translated from the club to regular school hours has proven to be a hidden benefit of the program.

Our robotics/coding program will be expanded next year and made a part of our regular in-class and technology curriculum beginning in the fourth grade. We will also be introducing coding to kindergarten through third grade by the use of Bee Bots. The robots, we will be getting a second, will also be used as an enabling device for “students teaching students.” Upper grade students will be encouraged to develop coding projects which present a lesson to lower grade classes.

The NAO robot enables our students to fuse the highest level of technology with our core curriculum of Judaic and General Studies. The success of our technology program is thanks to the generosity and vision of Morris (OBM) and Shirley Trachten.

Mark Sills is the Technology Coordinator at Southern Connecticut Hebrew Academy in Orange, Connecticut. Write to: or visit:

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Cool Tool | Performance Matters

CREDIT Performance MattersOver the last year, a growing number of states, including New York, Florida, Ohio, Maryland and New Jersey, have enacted laws specifying that student achievement will comprise a percentage of teacher and principal evaluations. For classes where there are no state assessments, such as art or music or health, many states are turning to Student Learning Objectives (SLO) to measure student growth. As a result, schools and districts are now responsible for crunching the data for SLOs to determine if students achieved the academic goals set at the beginning of a course, and to determine an effectiveness rating for each teacher and school leader as part of their annual evaluations. Gathering, analyzing, and measuring all of this data is a complicated task. Done manually, the time requirement – and margin for errors – is huge. Which is why Performance Matters’ SLO Module tool is so timely and important. Using the SLO Module, educators can quickly access the target score and results from pre- and post-assessments for each student under each SLO. With the tool’s automatic calculations, they can see whether each student met the SLO, as well as the overall percentage of students achieving the SLO by class or by course. In addition, the SLO Module ensures accurate mathematical calculations, which principals can use to group teachers into the appropriate ratings category — e.g. highly effective, effective, or ineffective — on the SLO portion of their evaluations. Check it out.


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