Cool Tool | WriteReader

credit-writereaderHere’s a cool tool scientifically designed to teach children grades K-3 to read by helping them write digital books. It motivates and strengthens early literacy skills by fostering creativity, encouraging children to become young authors. The students can create, share and publish their digital books and share them with friends and family. By using WriteReader, students can research a specific topic, i.e., animals. Then, they can write sentences to show their research on the characteristics of that animal. Afterward, they can insert photos or drawings demonstrating that they have understood those characteristics. Students get instant feedback from a teacher or parent. Writing a corrected version below, students are encouraged to write without hesitation, iterate naturally, and thus improve their writing. Teachers can also get inspired with Common Core aligned lesson plans. Free so far, it takes less than a minute to set up a class for teachers. Students log in with a class code shared by the teacher. Perfect for primary schools and home users (K-4), accessible on Chrome books and iPads. Learn more.

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Cool Tool | Letters to the Next President 2.0

credit-letters2presidentDesigned to engage teenagers in the upcoming election, Letters to the Next President 2.0 (L2P 2.0) provides a platform for students to voice their opinions about issues that matter to them. Created by teachers and jointly hosted by PBS member station KQED and the National Writing Project, L2P 2.0 publishes a diverse range of letters penned by students across the nation. Students connect with each other about topics such as immigration policy, the environment, health care and more. Teachers and mentors register for L2P 2.0 and then invite students to begin developing written letters or multimedia content. In addition to empowering students to become productive and active citizens, L2P 2.0 aims to foster research, writing and media skills. Students can make submissions through November 8, and all published letters will remain visible to the public through the president’s first 100 days in office at the beginning of 2017. Learn more.

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You’re Hired!

In closing the skills gap, building a LinkedIn for the trades.

GUEST COLUMN | by Michael Colonnese

credit-workamericaEmployers commonly complain about the lack of skilled workers, particularly in manufacturing. But what if companies are looking in the wrong place? To solve the skills gap, we have to fix how employers search for candidates, and how vocational students search for employment.

I have seen this disconnect from all sides: working with recruiters of both local and large employers like Vulcan Materials and Covenant Transport; inside vocational colleges like TCAT Nashville with a first-hand view of how admin and career services operate; and by spending significant time meeting with students across the country to understand the community college and vocational/CTE demographic.

Here’s how it typically works: students in the trades primarily find their first job through their instructor. Instructors have on average 3-5 very close relationships with local employers that they know will hire recent graduates. Afterwards, these newly minted workers find their second, third, and fourth jobs by word of mouth from colleagues, friends, and family. This pattern is especially prevalent in the manufacturing, logistics, and allied health sectors where birds of a feather flock together.

When employers contact students while they’re still in school, it reduces the likelihood of a gap between education and employment—and helps solve our nation’s skills gap.

Now contrast this to how employers recruit. Most HR departments search for candidates online by posting jobs on Indeed, CareerBuilder, and Snagajob—or outsourcing that work to staffing firms. With the exception of a few large employers, companies don’t typically reach out to schools.

Last year, we visited a nationwide staffing firm that could not find the talent they needed. Right across the street was a highly respected community college. When we inquired about their relationship, the staffing office managers admitted to never having ventured over to reach out to students directly!

As a result, employers search online for candidates who are not typically online for the purpose of finding a job. Everyone is trying to solve this. Over the past few months, we’ve witnessed an explosion in the number of schools, state labor departments, industry associations, and credentialing agencies building their own registries and job boards.

But there is a problem with this approach. First, employers aren’t likely to search through hundreds of different websites, each with its own niche focus. That’s why they keep using the big guys like Indeed and Monster, despite diminishing returns. Second, having all these different websites and options is overwhelming and downright intimidating to students, a demographic not used to creating a professional online presence!

Over a decade ago, LinkedIn solved this very same problem for white-collar (managers, directors, VP’s C-suite) employees by creating a single site where everyone participates. However, LinkedIn is directed at a population that is used to sitting behind a desk, has laptops with wifi accessibility, and has full data plans for web surfing on smart phones.

That’s why our company created a site dedicated to the trades worker. We used our extensive experience with this demographic to understand the best way to engage them in a simple and easy to use platform, highlighting their schooling and industry credentials without the intimidation of asking for references and portfolios of work.

The platform is free for job seekers and schools. We’ve built in special features designed for CTE/WFD students, including a messaging system where recruiters send inquiries through our site that appear as a text message to candidates. We all know that emailing and logging into messaging sites isn’t the best way to reach a millennial, so why not communicate with them the way they prefer? Career services departments remain in the loop with alerts that inform them students are being engaged by employers, so that they can coordinate resume writing support and mock interviews.

Our Smart Job Feed geo-tags a job seeker’s location and their credential and only display jobs that they qualify for—aggregated from across the internet—eliminating their need to visit multiple sites. Some of our school partners have incorporated this tool into their employment readiness training.

Since our launch in 2013, we have partnered with dozens of community colleges and technical schools. And we are one of five companies in the inaugural cohort of Michelson Runway, an initiative of the Michelson 20MM Foundation. Supported by Dr. Gary Michelson, the program is the first social impact accelerator focused on innovations in higher education and workforce development.

From the beginning, our goal has been to create a national site that brings employers, job seekers, and schools together to seamlessly communicate. When employers contact students while they’re still in school, it reduces the likelihood of a gap between education and employment—and helps solve our nation’s skills gap.

Michael Colonnese is CEO and co-founder of WorkAmerica. For more information, visit or email

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Cool Tool | Wonders 2017 from McGraw-Hill

credit-mcgraw-hill-wondersLearning science company McGraw-Hill Education recently launched Wonders 2017, a newly redesigned and expanded suite of English Language Arts (ELA) solutions for the 2016-2017 school year. It offers the latest research-based instruction with new digital tools, as well as new programs focused on English Language Learners (ELLs) and Spanish Language Arts. New features include an innovative Data Dashboard, which makes student data instantly available and actionable for teachers, offering real-time recommendations for grouping students and re-teaching materials. Administrators also can track students’ progress and mastery of skills and standards at the school, class or individual level. The suite includes four targeted programs featuring engaging multimedia resources:

  • Wonders, a core K-6 ELA program
  • Wonders for English Learners, a fully connected English Language Learners (ELL) instructional program
  • Maravillas, a fully equitable Spanish Language Arts program for parallel, dual-immersion instruction
  • WonderWorks, a fully connected intervention support program.

Every feature of the core program is also reflected in Wonders for English Learners, Maravillas and WonderWorks, and the full curriculums for each of the programs run parallel to each other, ensuring all students have equity of access to the same core content and subject-area knowledge. Learn more.

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Cool Tool | The Visual Edge

CREDIT The Visual Edge Sargy LetuchyCommon Core Standards pose many challenges, including quantity, rigor, and a lack of precise resources. The Visual Edge: Graphic Organizers for Standards Based Learning, Common Core 6-12 is designed based on the principle that visual learning is an effective, efficient way to tackle these challenges. It is an e-book of digital instructional tools carefully crafted for each English, History, and Science-grades 6-12 standard. Using it, teachers are able to ensure that a lesson, project, or assessment is precisely tailored to the standard(s) in order to maximize classroom time. They can visually model and have students perform the skills outlined for their grade level with each tool provided, as the graphic organizers maintain classroom attention on the particular standard(s) being taught. Each page has three sections: the standard(s) in full text, an explanation section that clarifies the standard and details how to use the digital instructional tool at the bottom of the page, and the majority of each page features the corresponding visual instructional tool representing that standard(s) (e.g., a graphic organizer or example guide). This cool tool is available in e-book on Google, in paperback on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, or by contacting the author.

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