Cool Tool | Zinc

CREDIT Zinc learning labs.pngZinc equips middle and high school students with critical reading and thinking skills, and uses fresh content and gaming elements to ensure that students enjoy the literacy-growth process. The program has three components: reading, vocabulary and data. The reading portion is comprised of a selection of nonfiction articles curated from the best writing around the web, from sites like The New York Times, Wired, and The Atlantic. Zinc also has a selection of fiction excerpts. All of their reading can be filtered by level (from 4th grade up to college), length, topic, State Standards, and reading skills. Each piece of text is accompanied by a short quiz and an (offline) writing prompt. It also has vocabulary to go with each piece of text, and to go with test prep (ex. SAT/ACT), to go with commonly taught text, by grade level and customized by teachers. The vocabulary games have four modes (image, sentence, definition and synonym) and use spaced repetition, meaning students see each word six times over two months. Zinc gives users access to detailed data on progress and performance through their reports. Their leaderboards promote healthy competition and keep students logging back in even when assignments are complete. Learn more.

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Building Schools around Technology

A tech coordinator’s perspective on disruption, re-design, and technology’s role in education.

GUEST COLUMN | by Paul Hieronymus

CREDIT Lakewood City Schools.jpgThe modern classroom has undergone dramatic changes over the past few years. Technology has disrupted our notions of how we design our schools and best deliver our curriculum to our students. As the Coordinator of Technology and Communication at the Lakewood City Schools in Ohio, I experienced my school district respond to these changes firsthand.

In 2014, we adopted a 10-year plan that would see all of our schools either rebuilt or renovated to better educate and prepare our students. One of the major focuses of this $100 million remodel was the role that technology would play in our classrooms.

One of the major focuses of this $100 million remodel was the role that technology would play in our classrooms.

Instead of having computer labs where students would go to use technology, we wanted to bring devices directly into our classrooms. Our aim was to create a learning environment where the students could be collaborative while preparing for an increased emphasis on online testing. The remodeling included tearing down three of our seven elementary schools placing them in transitional buildings. Space was an issue in the locations making computer labs a challenge. To effortlessly move the devices around the temporary classrooms and schools, we introduced LocknCharge carts, which then followed us to the new buildings once they opened. We were so pleased with this model that we dismantled our old computer labs in our existing buildings and converted them to mobile labs using the carts.

The carts allowed our educators to move the devices into the temporary buildings and between classrooms during the construction process. Now that we are settled into our new buildings, the carts allow our educators to share devices between classrooms.

We introduced iPads in a 1:3 ratio for grades K-2 and then shifted the students to Chromebooks for grades 2-5 at the same ratio. Second grade is designed to be a buffer year for the students to transition from a tactical learning environment with the iPads to a keyboard-learning environment with the Chromebooks.

With the 1:3 ratio, students are more likely to collaborate as they share the devices, which is why we are not currently trying to establish a 1:1 ratio in our elementary schools. We want to avoid the devices becoming a worksheet on a screen where the students are doing the same things as before, but just on a screen. By combining the use of devices and doing assignments by hand with paper, our goal is to create a learning environment that closely resembles the real-world.

After the two years of construction, we were able to bring the technology into our new, modern classrooms with great success. Our staff and students have become comfortable with the use of the devices and the administration has seen interest in them over the course of the project from the staff, students and their parents.

Our school district consists of approximately 5,200 students from 32 countries with five percent of those students being refugees and eight percent being English language learners. The mobile devices have provided an extra benefit to those students as they can utilize Rosetta Stone and translate extension applications to have materials translated for them as well as translate questions and answers between them and the educators.

Our parents understand the relevance of technology in today’s world so we have seen great responses from them. The students are immersed in this world of technology already so it is important that we have adapted to meet this need. Younger students know that their exposure to technology is only going to increase because we shift to a 1:1 ratio in middle school and high school.

Our school district was presented with a rare opportunity to embrace emerging technology while revamping our classrooms. With mobile devices, we have been able to create mobile device-friendly learning environments that help us cater our instruction to our students’ needs and better prepare them for what’s ahead.

Paul Hieronymus is Coordinator of Technology and Communication at Lakewood City Schools. Contact him through email.

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Cool Tool | iC 30 Cart from LocknCharge


CREDIT iC 30 Cart LocknCharge.pngThe increased use of mobile devices in the classroom has increased the need for a solution that can store, charge and protect those devices. The iC 30 Cart from LocknCharge holds up to 30 devices that have up to a 13” screen size. The cart stands at 36.6 inches tall, 29 inches wide and 26.4 inches long. With wheels attached at the bottom, teachers and students can easily move the cart around the school. The top of the cart has a soft-close, sliding lid that becomes extra counter space if the cart is open. Teachers can close it with a padlock to store the devices while they charge. Inside the cart are the six individual, multi-colored baskets that allow for the educators or students to safely transport five devices at once. In fact, the baskets have proven to save up to a week of instructional time per year by simplifying device distribution. The bottom of the cart has an exterior charging status display that shows the status of the devices while they charge without having to go into the cart. With a lifetime warranty, the iC 30 Cart is a smart long-term investment for schools as they continue to integrate mobile devices into the classroom. Learn more.

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Making Happier Educators

With teacher evaluation software, discerning the burdensome from the beneficial.

GUEST COLUMN | by Todd Whitlock

CREDIT Standard for Success.pngTeacher performance management—whether you’re the teacher, administrator, or facilitator—has evolved considerably in recent years, and remedying outdated evaluation practices can make a world of difference.

For one, the way we analyze teachers today—considering the amount of compliance directives, limitations and scrutiny—begs us to reconsider how we measure their performance. It also encourages us to think about what to do if we hope to actually reap better outcomes in the long run.

Wherever you are in your teacher performance assessment program, there’s always something to be gained from asking deep questions and reconsidering the best step forward.

Based upon research, one thing is clear: The old ritual of annual reviews is broken. What professional growth can occur from evaluating performance only once a year? Or limiting feedback systems so they’re heavily one-sided?

It’s no wonder a survey by Watson Wyatt cited in a study for the Society for Human Resource Management showed only 3 in 10 workers think their employer’s performance evaluation system helps performance. A quick google search will turn up scores of similar findings.

In my 20 years as an educator, now working with thousands of teachers through my company, I’ve observed a few patterns to help us discern burdensome from beneficial teacher evaluation tools. Below is a cheat sheet of sorts, to help you pinpoint the right system for your organization or district:

First, look within.

Start by examining what’s not working well today, and how your teacher evaluation system must change. Below are important considerations, based on recommendations by the Center for Public Education:

>> Developing your evaluation system:

  • What are your goals in evaluating teachers?
  • Do they align with the strategic plans for the district?
  • Who should be involved in developing this system?
  • Should teachers take part in the planning? Why or why not? How?
  • Should districts have some flexibility in customizing the evaluation system to meet their own strategic goals?

>> What to include in teacher evaluations:

  • How will you measure success?
  • What are strengths and weaknesses of the proposed performance evaluation?
  • How will student achievement be factored in, and what measures will be used?
  • Will the same metrics be used for all teachers in all fields?
  • How often will teachers be observed? Who will observe them?
  • Will evaluators have enough time to conduct observations effectively?
  • How will you train evaluators?

>> What to do with results:

  • When and how will teachers receive feedback?
  • How will evaluation results be used to improve performance?
  • How will results be used for personnel decisions?
  • Will teacher performance metrics be released to the public? If so, how much will be revealed?

Second, consider essential software capabilities.

At the core of your teacher evaluation program, you’ll need software that can enable a feedback-rich culture and automate all as much as possible to minimize the burden on your staff.

Core capabilities should include:

  • Detailed analytics for both individual and organization-wide performance
  • Transparency with real-time insight and 24/7 access to reports (both for evaluators and teachers)
  • Tools that facilitate ongoing, open communication between employees and evaluators
  • Ease of use to ensure adoption
  • Data-driven learning, coaching and mentoring

Third, discern the right software provider.

  • Does the solution allow for customized, personal growth plans? No two people are the same. Your evaluation tool should reflect that.
  • Can employees check, up to the minute, how they’re performing, and communicate openly with evaluators?
  • How easily and quickly can you get support when you hit a snag, have a question or idea?
  • Can you easily verify claims or hear from existing clients? (A reputable provider is able to back up its claims and shouldn’t shy away from facilitating referrals or client-to-prospect input.)

Yes, this seems like a long list and a lot of upfront work. It is. It’s also necessary work that will ultimately lead to a happier and more productive group of educators who have the tools and feedback they need to improve.

Wherever you are in your teacher performance assessment program, there’s always something to be gained from asking deep questions and reconsidering the best step forward. Use these questions as a guide to discern the burdensome from the beneficial.

Todd Whitlock is founder of Standard for Success, a leading evaluation software company built for educators by educators. Todd spent 20 years in public education as a classroom teacher, coach, and district administrator overseeing technology, curriculum, testing, and early college programs. Follow @twhitlock


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Classroom Upgrades

In 2017, learning spaces and environments are the next frontier.


CREDIT Ergotron.pngWe’ve seen technology infiltrate the classroom in a variety of ways, from physical technology to creating connected, global classrooms. With this integration and the use of technology in the classroom, the way learning happens has changed. Consequently, both teachers and administrators have had to recognize the impact all this change has had on the learning process and help students and the classroom adapt.

What else is ahead in 2017? Here are a few important predictions as we head into the New Year.

Generally, in 2017 we expect to see further personalization of learning tools and technology. Those in the technology side of the industry have traditionally thought of the “tools” as the devices, software and curriculum (and the network infrastructure to support this), but non-tech tools are proving to be critically important in the evolution of personalized learning, too. Learning spaces and environments are the next frontier to bring out the best in our learners.

What else is ahead in 2017? We’ll continue to see the integration of technology in the classroom, the rise of personalized learning and classroom spaces that accommodate every learning type. Below are a few important predictions as we head into the New Year.

Flipped classrooms

As teachers become more experienced in managing the flipped classroom model, they are gaining greater insights and opportunities for differentiated learning. Mobile computing devices and digital curriculum continue play an important role both in and out of the classroom, but the physical learning environment becomes much more important as well.

The flipped classroom model uses educational technology as a means for students to study information outside of school (as opposed to during class time) through tools such as videos, slides and notes. Time in class is then spent discussing the information, with teachers offering guidance, addressing key issues or dealing with any points of difficulty that students may have. By studying the material prior to class, students can spend time asking questions with the teacher and fellow students, creating a more active and collaborative learning environment.

To execute on the promise of collaborative and adaptive curriculums, we need to provide learning spaces that are conducive to cooperative grouping strategies and individualized physical learning needs. Visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners all take in information differently. Teachers must recognize these differences and align their curriculum to these styles to ensure that students are accessing information the way they do best.

Schools will continue to support the integration of technology into students’ daily classroom time to assist with the flipped classroom. Tablets, laptops and desktops will be more readily available to every student and the classroom itself will need to be transformed to accommodate for less lecture style teaching and make room for more collaboration between students and teachers.

Blended learning

In 2017, blended learning will gain a strong foothold outside of well-funded, magnet school. It is an approach to teaching that combines online with traditional classroom methods. Typically, students get facetime with teachers in schools that are then combined with activities completed online through the use of desktops, laptops or tablets. This type of classroom learning allows students to then set the pace and timing of their learning, providing a more personalized learning process.

As teachers continue to implement this type approach, in conjunction with the 1:1 computing trend, students will gain critical skills that the 21st century workplace demands – better collaboration and idea sharing through the use of technology.

Classroom furniture

While curriculum modernizations create opportunities for teachers and students to use the classroom space more effectively, traditional classroom furniture does not. It may not always be the first priority, but classroom furniture at the most foundational level should enhance the educational tools and technology it’s supporting. At an aspirational level, it should also support the teachers’ curriculum, the students’ health, comfort and learning styles.

Given today’s intersection of technology and education, the classroom set-up is at a crossroads. Case studies have shown the positive role that physical activity and height-adjustable desks can have in modern education, helping address the physical and cognitive challenges experienced by students in what has traditionally been a sedentary environment. Classroom furniture can play a critical role in making today’s classrooms where healthier, more collaborative behavior can occur and will be more conducive to learning even as schools prepare for the next wave of digital instruction.

Technology is continuing to shape the future, and our students’ ability to excel in that type of environment depends on how we equip them to succeed. Enhancing the physical environment to support these changing learning styles is the best place for teachers and administrators to start. By integrating useful technology in the classroom and changing the way students interact and learn with those tools, we will bring about happier and more successful students.

Bob Hill is Education Manager at Ergotron, a leading provider of ergonomic products for computer users.

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