A Startup Story

Lessons learned from an edtech company founder and teacherpreneur.

GUEST COLUMN | by Zak Ringelstein

CREDIT Renaissance LearningTrue, some of the greatest companies started in a garage. Mine, however, began at my dining room table with me frustrated and fatigued, hunched over a stack of ungraded homework assignments, staring at a dauntingly blank Microsoft Word file. After a full day of teaching, I would begin my lesson planning just around 5 pm each day. As much as I loved my job, I did not love this particular part of it. Knowingly planning lessons that had been designed thousands–if not millions–of times before me, I emerged with uninspired plans on more occasions than I would like to admit.

To add to the frustrations, teachers are continuously required to juggle new developments in both standards and technology. It’s driving teachers absolutely insane!

The average teacher spends 2.5 hours planning lessons per day. With 30 million teachers in world, that’s 75 million hours of planning. Teachers spend so much time re-planning the same overlapping curriculum and it’s a gross misuse of time and energy. As mobile technology has become increasingly ubiquitous, we have embraced its collaborative functionalities from sharing status updates on Facebook to sharing housing on Airbnb. Unfortunately, the education industry has remained one of the slowest adopters for this.

Consequently, with a lack of quality resources available, educators spend less time honing effective instruction, which inevitably takes a toll on student learning outcomes. To add to the frustrations, teachers are continuously required to juggle new developments in both standards and technology. It’s driving teachers absolutely insane! We know. We’ve interviewed them.

With millions of inaccessible, quality resources floating around on personal desktops, forgotten in lost flash drives, and tucked away in dusty file cabinets, what if there was a comprehensive mean teachers to locate great material and construct their own lessons? The current landscape does very little to support communication and active collaboration amongst teachers. Energy otherwise allocated toward content creation needs to be optimized. Districts need a way to maximize creative talent and exchange high quality resources.

Since recognizing this shortcoming in the education industry, I have founded my solution to this and developed a content management system that not only offers teachers a portable workspace to craft their lessons, but also empowers them with choice. Our resource exchange feature offers three primary benefits:

District-wide collaboration

Teachers can easily search resources uploaded by other teachers within their own district or school and rest assured knowing that the materials come from a reliable source. Our platform takes the district’s best resources and makes them instantly accessible on the system’s portable cloud. Pooling content allows teachers to pull inspiration Useful files can also be emailed to other educators in or out of the district network directly from the platform.

Administrator curriculum distribution

Our solution opens an avenue of communication between teachers and administrators. A centralized content system allows administrators a seamless mean for distributing district-purchased or curated curriculum to teacher. Narrowing the disconnect between the two entities, administrators also have a higher-level view of what great content in their own district looks like and can, from there, analyze how to make improvements.

Millions of resources

In addition to sourcing files from their district network, teachers can also access materials from the platform’s pre-uploaded resource repository. Our platform is equipped with 17 million Common Core-tagged resources, vetted by master teachers.

Compatible with all file types, our personal file management system is a tag-enabled tool optimized for K12 curriculum planning. It’s a portable space to find, store, and compile resources that we designed to make teachers’ work days a little less exhausting and instruction a whole lot more effective for students.

Zak Ringelstein is CEO of UClass, which was recently acquired by Renaissance Learning. UClass is a leading K-12 content management solution that enables districts to flexibly distribute core curriculum to staff, facilitate collaboration across schools and measure the efficacy of its resources. Founded by public school teachers, their mission is to increase opportunities for all students by providing schools the tools they need to ensure they use the most relevant content for the personalized needs of teachers and students.

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Active Learning

How to create an active classroom experience with technology.  

GUEST COLUMN | by Jessica Sanders

CREDIT learn2earnThe traditional teaching method of giving a lesson at the front of the class puts you, the teacher, in an active position but leaves students in a passive role, where they are taught to but don’t interact with the material as much they should. In fact, Edudemic reported that teachers do 80 percent of the talking in class. This format can quickly cause students to become bored and disengaged—students that aren’t engaged have a higher rate of failing. When you use technology, however, the classroom becomes an active space, where you can interact with students and be more hands on. These active, technology-rich classrooms are often referred to as Active Learning Classrooms, and because of their many benefits, they’ve become a popular option for college professors in recent years.

You don’t have to rewrite your entire curriculum or individual lessons. Instead, take a look at what you’ve already prepared and consider how you can supplement with technology.

Creating an active learning environment is also a valuable opportunity for teachers of younger students, who have keep a whole class of inattentive students focused and interested.

While some teachers choose to rearrange their classroom to make them more student-focused, the simple addition of a few tech tools can make immense improvements for you and your students. See how simple it is to make this happen for your classroom.

Classroom Design (The Non-Tech Portion)

Some teachers like to rearrange their classrooms to make it more conducive to the active learning experience. In these classrooms you’ll commonly see one podium in the center of the room and round tables or desks that are placed together in a circular shape.

“This classroom design enables instructors to spend a few minutes guiding the whole class from the center of the room, and then quickly transition students into collaborative work without needing to reconfigure the furniture or organize students into groups,” according to Tech Basics for Active, Collaborative Learning. 

However, it’s important to note that this is not a critical aspect of active learning; you can facilitate this learning experience without rearranging your classroom. If you want to ease into it, consider the following four steps.

Step 1: Assess Student Objectives

Before introducing any new tech tools, it’s important that you consider the learning objectives for your students. You don’t have to rewrite your entire curriculum or individual lessons. Instead, take a look at what you’ve already prepared and consider how you can supplement with technology in a way that makes the lesson more active. For example:

  • Add an engaging video.
  • Task students with writing responses in a blog post.
  • Use Google Earth to explore a region students are learning about.
  • Connect with another classroom via Skype to further explore an assignment.

Or you can use the following ideas to build entirely new lessons:

Step 2: Consider the Learning Curve

Before implementing the tool in your classroom, it’s important that you learn how to use it. Not only will this make you more confident, but it will give you an idea of what kind of learning curve your students will have with the tool. For example, perhaps after setting up your teacher blog you know right away that there are a few students who will struggle with understanding the tool at first.

In this case, plan for a more personalized learning experience where you work closer with those struggling students on the first day to ensure everyone is on the same page later in the lesson.

Step 3: Introduce it to Your Students

Introduce any new tools just like you would a lesson or theme. Prepare any extra materials you’ll need, compile important resources, and create samples if necessary. This is the process Nicole Long, a secondary language arts teacher, used when she first introduced Skype in her classroom:

“For the first [Skype] session I compiled a list of resources and added them to the sheet; these resources provide tips on how to navigate Google Maps, a World atlas and a map of different time zones, among others—this is a helpful resource for students to prepare for every session. Try to keep this resource simple to encourage students to engage their own research as well,” says Long.

Consider what resources, tips and documents you’ll need for the specific tool you’re using.

Step 4: Reassess

Take a look at the progress you’ve made since introducing this new technology. Tools like Inside Mathematics, Whooo’s Reading, or an LMS will provide you with data about student improvements. Read through this information to determine if students have made any gains that you can attribute to that technology. If so, you can use this as leverage to get the school to pay for paid tools.

An active learning environment is more effective for students and gives you an opportunity to work closer with each student. This increases engagement and excitement, which will make your job easier too!

Jessica Sanders is the Director of Social Outreach for Learn2Earn. She grew up reading books like The Giver and Holes, and is passionate about making reading as exciting for young kids today as it has always been for her. Follow Learn2Earn on Twitter and Facebook, and send content inquiries to social@learn2earn.org.

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Cool Tool | KUBI

CREDIT KUBI imageKUBI is a telepresence robot that delivers a simple and elegant solution for more engaging video conferencing and distance learning. Japanese for neck, it’s a flexible, affordable robotic platform that holds any tablet. This enables remote students or teachers to make the tablet pan and tilt, letting them look around and interact with others during video calls. It transforms the remote student from a passive listener to an active participant within the group, as that student can now easily engage with anyone in the room. Be they higher education or K-12, students now have the means to meaningfully participate in class remotely. Not only can the student look around to see who is asking a question, they can engage in small group discussions as well. This is an enormous step forward, especially for distance students or students that need to be out of class for extended periods of time due to medical or other issues. KUBI also makes it easy for outside experts to deliver distance lectures and other presentations. At $499, this educational technology can be put in each classroom, letting remote students easily “teleport” from one class to another, whether the Kubi is next door or on a different campus. Check it out.

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An Issue of School Culture

Tech wisdom from one of the nation’s first fully digital curriculum public school districts.

GUEST COLUMN | by Matt Federoff

CERDIT Vail School District ArizonaEducation today has to meet the expectations that our learners bring from the rest of their daily experiences. As they expect their communications, news, and social interactions to happen anytime and anywhere, so too do they expect to be able to learn anytime and anywhere. The idea that “learning” is an activity that happens only in a designated area called a “classroom” (and only between the hours of 8 and 3) seems absurd to modern students. Further, the notion that a designated instructor is the sole source for information and opinion no longer holds true. With ubiquitous wireless devices, widespread Wi-Fi, and vast amounts of digital content, our users have demanding expectations on how, when, and where they will learn.

IT leaders must acknowledge that our users expect fast, reliable, and seamless wireless coverage everywhere on campus. 

Modern learners (both the students and teachers) expect to be able to learn (and teach!) anywhere on campus. Every classroom, office, library, and conference area is a potential instructional space. IT leaders must acknowledge that our users expect fast, reliable, and seamless wireless coverage everywhere on campus. This used to be the exception, but now it’s the expectation at every school — whether K-5, middle school, or high school.

Vail School District is located in the historical ranching and mining community in Vail, Arizona and boasts 18 schools, 1,700 employees, and more than 12,000 students. Vail’s five high schools are “1:1″, with a mix of district devices and BYOD. Along with a rapidly growing district and an all-digital curriculum, the Vail data network has very high expectations to meet.

Vail opened Arizona’s first 1:1 high school in 2005, and the nation’s first official BYOD initiative in 2009. After multiple iterations of wireless networking, Vail settled on a Cisco controller-based model in 2009. In general, the solution worked well for the needs of the time, but the intrinsic limitations of this approach became more evident as more demands were placed on the wireless network. A controller-based network architecture routes all wireless traffic through the controller, an inefficient model across widely distributed campuses. It also creates a single point of failure in the controller itself. These limitations, along with the mounting costs for licensing fees, firmware updates and costs of sparing equipment led us to search for an alternative solution that could provide better performance, resiliency, and lower costs.

The Aerohive approach of putting more intelligence into the wireless access point and moving management to the cloud was the perfect fit for us. As their access points deal with traffic locally rather than requiring it all to go back to the controller, network utilization is more efficient and latency is reduced. Each access point can work autonomously, so there is no single point of failure.

Vail School District has multiple networks in place for students, staff and guests to accommodate thousands of users and devices. The District has standardized on Aerohive for all new schools since 2012, along with HiveManager Online for cloud-based network management and policy control.

The flexibility and features of the their solution enables the district to easily manage and control the network. For example, if students break online user agreements, the solution provider enables Vail to relegate them to the ‘no-fun network’, resulting in only being allowed on a network that has access to educational resources, without social media or entertainment options.

A controller-less solution reduces capital expenditures and allows the district to scale and grow as needed by easily adding access points, without heavy expenses for additional controllers, or other costs associated with licensing fees.

Wireless performance is a classroom management issue, as poor reliability gives students more opportunities for off-task behavior. Wireless performance is an instructional issue, as precious teaching minutes are lost struggling with the technology, rather than using it.

In the 21st century, wireless performance ultimately is a school culture issue. We can’t create the learning experiences our students need without creating the learning spaces to support them. These spaces have pervasive high quality wireless, and it’s up to us in IT to provide this wireless network and help move our schools forward.

Matt Federoff is CIO of Vail Unified School District. For 15-plus years, he has designed and managed the implementation of instructional and information technology at the fastest-growing school district in Arizona. He established the district as the widely recognized leader in edtech in Arizona, opening 14 schools, including Arizona’s first “one-to-one” school in 2005 and the first “textbook-free” high school in the U.S. Additionally, he co-created the digital content repository “Beyond Textbooks” initiative in 2008, implemented Arizona’s first “BYOD” initiative in 2009, and installed Wi-Fi on school buses in 2010, making Vail one of the first public school districts in the U.S. to do so. He is a national and international presenter on education technology in K-12 and higher education, including at ISTE, COSN, SXSW, NSBA, T+L, and a number of other state and regional events.

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