More Power to You

Creating a generation of college- and career-ready students starts with K-12 edtech.

GUEST COLUMN | by Kate Ballard-Rosa

CREDIT truePrepAccording to a new report from the University of Pennsylvania and the Pell Institute, 77 percent of people from high-income families have earned at least a bachelor’s degree by age 24, compared to just nine percent of people from low-income families. Although the percentage of high-income students graduating from college has nearly doubled since 1970, the percentage of low-income students obtaining a college degree has increased marginally, by just three points.

Technological advancements will aid educators in providing each student with the customized approach that will best prepare him or her for exceling in college and in the workforce.

Because a student’s chances of success in college is largely determined by the foundation he or she receives in K-12, curriculum using integrated technologies must begin in those classrooms in order to meaningfully impact college graduation rates. It is imperative that educators, school administrators, parents, and others focus their attention on including education technology platforms, such as Google Classroom, iPad apps, etc., into three areas that can substantially improve college completion rates and create a workforce capable of meeting today’s job requirements: improving academic performance, closing the confidence gap and overcoming financial constraints.

Improving Academic Performance

More schools are recognizing the value of whole child education, which prioritizes creating an environment where each student feels safe but challenged. Because every student’s mind works differently, using one teaching strategy in classrooms is not effective. Education technology has allowed teachers to look at each of their students individually and focus on their strengths and weaknesses in a particular subject or skill. Educators have begun to experiment with teaching concepts in different ways – for example, teaching the “practical reason” behind mathematical problems for students who need concepts to be more tangible in order to absorb them. However, this personalized and diverse instruction can become much more powerful with the use of technology.

Imagine an hour in the classroom. Extra practice with the math app “Math Doodles”, which is designed to give a visual representation of math problems, gives the student who needs math to be tangible extra practice with exactly what he needs. Conversely, a student who struggles in math because he has fallen behind in mental math skills could spend that same time using the app “Number Board”, which is designed to build mental math skills. And a third student, one who just needs more practice than his peers to reach mastery, could use an app like “Math Evolve”, which provides repetitive practice. 

Incorporating a range of teaching styles in K-12 education with the addition of technology is especially important for students with learning challenges. Oftentimes, these students have the potential to meet or even exceed their peers’ academic performance, but they often develop at a slower pace and by the time they catch up (typically around third or fourth grade), they’ve already fallen behind academically. For that reason, it’s no surprise that the graduation rate for such students is 20 percentage points lower than the national average.

Closing the Confidence Gap 

By third or fourth grade – especially when beginning to tackle more complicated mathematics like multiplication or fractions – most students come to believe they are either “smart” or “dumb,” regardless of their actual abilities. A “smart” student will approach a difficult question confident that he or she can figure it out, while a “dumb” student will immediately give up. Educators need to prioritize building confidence in students, especially those who may not be receiving adequate support at home. Scaffolding – or gradually increasing the difficulty of lessons – is one instructional technique that has proved effective in helping students gain confidence and preventing them from wanting to quit or give up. Education technology platforms often break up tasks that were once lumped together.

Take for example the online vocabulary-building platform “membean”. Every program begins with a “calibration”, where the student first determines his starting level. This ensures that the student’s confidence is never shaken, as the vocabulary program will include some words the student knows, and then gradually build in more challenging words. This way, no holes are left in the elementary stages of vocabulary, and the student can continue to learn and develop his vocabulary in a safe environment.

Overcoming Financial Constraints

Because teachers are usually responsible for a class of 20-30 students, students who struggle academically often benefit from working with a tutor outside of the classroom. The rise of online tutoring services with improved functionality have lowered the cost of tutoring substantially, due to minimal overhead costs and technology that automatically customizes a student’s learning plans. The time and money saved by allowing students to work with tutors at home, rather than driving to and from a facility, will benefit high- and low-income families alike. Additionally, with the slew of new resources for educators, such as the aps “Lecture Tools” (which allows educators to easily store lectures and resources) and “Super Duper Data Tracker” (which allows educators to track student progress), it is easier than ever for increasingly more people to become powerful educators. This increase in the number of quality tutors provides access to students who never before would have had the opportunity to receive one on one attention.

In the past decade, K-12 educators have made tremendous strides in recognizing that students have different learning styles and challenges that, with the right tactics and new technology, do not have to hold them back from achieving anything that their peers with more conventional learning styles and stability at home are capable of. Technological advancements will aid educators in providing each student with the customized approach that will best prepare him or her for exceling in college and in the workforce.

Kate Ballard-Rosa is the Managing Director of truePrep, a premium, online tutoring company that provides high-quality SAT tutoring at an affordable price. She previously worked as a tutor and is a graduate of University of California, Berkeley. 

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Decisions, Decisions

Should I outsource my school’s Wi-Fi network?

GUEST COLUMN | by Jason King

CREDIT ADTRANPicking up from our last discussion around cloud wireless, let’s take a look at the specifics for when a school district should move forward with either an on-premises or managed Wi-Fi solution.

From a greater number of mobile devices on the network to digital education initiatives to online learning and flipped classrooms, there are a growing number of market drivers making this decision more critical than ever before. Ultimately, a loss in connectivity can result in lost productivity and frustrated students and teachers.

Giving students an education that facilitates long-term academic success while instilling confidence and critical thinking skills requires a modern curriculum and a dependable network.

With this in mind, when does it make sense for a school district to make the switch from an in-house Wi-Fi solution to a managed offering?  Key to this decision is to ask the following questions:

Question 1: Single-site, Multi-site and Multi-tenant facilities – does the district have difficulty managing multiple buildings?

For smaller school districts or private schools where there are fewer buildings, an in-house Wi-Fi solution might make the most sense. If the school doesn’t have the IT staff needed to manage multiple properties, then a managed Wi-Fi service might be the best way to go, so that everything is centralized with one provider.

Question 2: Wireless network expansion driven by BYOD – is the district able to keep pace with the number of new devices coming onto the network?

Many school districts are facing a growing number of devices on their network. This is being driven by both BYOD and 1:1 computing programs, where wireless devices are becoming the norm in the classroom. Does your IT staff have the expertise to handle the on-boarding of all these devices? There is software to help combat this trend, but many are turning to a managed solution to offload the burden.

Question 3: Limited IT resources – does the district have enough resources to manage the network?

Many schools focus on a student to teacher ratio in order to determine if the learning environment is being optimized for individual attention and student success. Flip that around and consider your school’s IT staff to student ratio. If you start trending too high, a managed solution might be the right move.

Question 4: Day-to-day maintenance/management – is the IT staff getting bogged down in routine tasks?

If the staff is limited, the district could benefit from offloading typical IT burdens and allow their existing resources to focus on what they do best—serve their students and faculty.

Question 5: Wi-Fi security – are you able to keep up with the security demands?

Today’s IT staff needs to have real-time and historical reports and trends into network health, users, connected devices, capacity and usage. Only then can they make informed decisions on network investments, which include whether to go with an on-premise or managed solution, to improve the user experience.

Critical to all of these questions is making sure the district also has the flexibility to go from an outsourced model to bringing management back in-house – especially important, knowing that E-rate funding has no guarantee year after year. Also, most school districts do not want to get locked into a long-term subscription model.

A school system’s first priority is students. Giving them an education that facilitates long-term academic success while instilling confidence and critical thinking skills requires a modern curriculum and a dependable network. That’s why the network solution needs to be one that enriches this experience and puts learning above all.

Jason King is the director of marketing for the Bluesocket Business Group at ADTRAN. With over 15 years’ experience in the industry, he is responsible for the overall promotion and positioning of the company’s Wi-Fi solutions. Find him on Twitter @jjking24

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Cool Tool | Edgenuity MyPath

CREDIT Edgenuity MyPathA new supplemental program designed to meet students where they are in reading and math, Edgenuity MyPath™ gives them exactly what they need to catch up and get ahead. The program incorporates the benefits of technology to provide students with age-appropriate, online instruction and give educators the ability to monitor progress easily. While designed for middle and high school students, the program covers skills and concepts as low as the third-grade level. MyPath consists of three elements crucial to a successful intervention that provide an effective learning experience: assessment, instruction, and progress monitoring. MyPath uses a proprietary assessment, the Edgenuity Placement Exam (EPE), to place students into an appropriate Individualized Learning Path (ILP). Schools that already have a partnership with Northwest Evaluation Association™ (NWEA™) can simply import their Measures of Academic Progress® (MAP®) results into Edgenuity MyPath. Based on the results of the student’s placement exam, MAP results, Edgenuity’s learning management system recommends an ILP that provides high-interest, age appropriate instruction for each student. These ILPs target the skills and concepts each student is ready to learn, regardless of grade level or class. As students work through their lessons, educators use dynamic reports to monitor progress.

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Knowing Data

How schools are getting smarter about analytics.

GUEST COLUMN | by Aaron Feuer

CREDIT Panorama EducationThe field of analytics, though well established in the corporate world, is rather new to schools. Districts don’t typically employ data scientists, and most schools track only attendance and test scores. But this is changing – driven partly by teacher and parent requests, schools are getting smarter about analytics. No one would try to argue that attendance records and test scores provide a complete picture of the quality of the learning environment. But what metrics should schools track? In our work with K-12 school districts, we’ve developed a list of approximately 50 softer metrics that impact learning, including:

–   Student Perceptions of School Safety

–   Parent Involvement

–   Perceived Quality of School Leadership

–   Student Grit

–   Perceived Quality of Teacher-Student Relationships

So what should school administrators do to get started with analytics? First, of course, you need to start collecting data.

The value of Teacher-Student Relationships was demonstrated in a study conducted last year by Dr. Hunter Gehlbach, Associate Professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education and now Director of Research at Panorama. By providing feedback that showed teachers and students a few of the things that they had in common, Dr. Gehlbach and his colleagues saw relationships and academic performance improve in the classroom.

For the study, Dr. Gehlbach and his research team surveyed students and teachers about their interests and values. Based on prior research that highlights how learning about similarities can strengthen relationships between two parties, they hoped that providing feedback about shared commonalities might help teachers and students better connect with each other. Sample questions asked of students and teachers included what were the most important qualities in a friend, which sporting event they would most like to attend, and when students learn the most.

A week after this initial “get-to-know-you” survey, students and teachers were randomized into different experimental conditions. The treatment group received feedback on what they had in common with the other party, and the control group did not. Five weeks after that, both students and teachers completed a more comprehensive survey to measure the effect of receiving this similarity feedback. The research team also gathered classroom grades at the end of the first quarter.

The study found that five weeks after the intervention:

  • Students and teachers who learned what they had in common with the other party perceived themselves as being more similar.
  • When teachers learned that they shared commonalities with their students, they rated their relationships as more positive. (By contrast, the intervention did not significantly affect students’ perceptions of their relationship with their teachers).
  • When teachers received feedback about being similar to their students, the students earned higher grades (though the effect was far more profound in Black and Latino students – something Dr. Gehlbach’s team will explore further in future research).

These early results suggest that similarities between students and teachers may be a promising lever to improve teacher-student relationships, and demonstrate that small interventions can have outsized impact on the learning environment.

So what should school administrators do to get started with analytics? First, of course, you need to start collecting data. Surveys of students, teachers, administrators and parents are a great way to do this. There are free, open-source survey tools that can help schools measure student perceptions; that may be a great place to start.

Once you have some data collected, here are three actions to take:

  1. Draw relevant comparisons – Look for ways to draw comparisons between key stakeholders within your school– for example, look for commonalities or differences between students by demographics or grade level, or compare schools in aggregate to others within the district. Are some groups being better served by the school than others? Which populations seem most important to focus on?
  2. Look beyond one source of data – Survey results can highlight the unique perspectives of students. But you may consider combining that information with third-party/demographic data from external sources as well. For instance, does data on income or ethnicity predict which parents feel as though the school provides the best fit for their children? Perhaps after-school or extracurricular participation is associated with students’ performance in school.
  3. Measure changes over time – Collecting feedback through surveys should be an ongoing activity. Make a plan to follow up with your results in order to measure how response data changes over time. How are student perceptions changing over the course of a school year? How does feedback from the same grade level change as students advanced to higher-grade levels? Have the programs you implemented last year been well received by students?

The use of analytics within schools is only going to become more prevalent. Districts that understand this, and take action to harness and leverage all of that data, will be better positioned to improve the learning environment and prepare today’s students to be tomorrow’s leaders.

Aaron Feuer is founder and CEO of Panorama Education, which helps 6500+ K-12 schools improve through data analysis and feedback survey.

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Cool Tool | Aerohive AP230 Access Point

CREDIT Aerohive AP230As school-issued smart devices and other technologies are more frequently used in today’s learning programs, and students are encouraged to bring their own devices into the classroom, educational institutions need high capacity, pervasive wireless coverage provided by 802.11ac, the latest and fastest standard in Wi-Fi. However, IT departments are unwilling to deploy 802.11ac due to cost limitations, new power requirements and limited time and resources necessary to re-architect wireless infrastructures. Enter Aerohive, a leader in controller-less Wi-Fi and cloud-managed mobile networking. Aerohive’s AP230 access point is a low-cost and high-performance access point for 802.11ac and 802.11n networks with enterprise features in an economical package. By combining the latest in 3×3, three-stream 802.11ac Gigabit Wi-Fi technology and advanced security and control, the AP230 allows educational institutions to deploy 802.11ac into every part of the network infrastructure. The AP230 delivers full functionality with existing PoE infrastructure, allowing smooth integration with educational institutions’ networks, reducing cost and deployment complexity by removing requirements to purchase or upgrade backend network devices or controllers, and manages applications on every user’s device. Learn more.

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