Re-Engaged with Core Knowledge

The education division president of the venerable publisher outlines a path forward.

GUEST COLUMN | by Greg Worrell

CREDIT ScholasticThe beginning of a new school year is a time to start fresh – for teachers, students and families to reboot and dive into the new journeys and adventures that each year brings. It’s a time when professionals in our schools often look to re-engage with the core of what school and teaching is all about: relationships, instruction, a love of learning; stories, knowledge and understanding. Back-to-school engenders a similar feeling for us at Scholastic. And after a busy spring and summer, we’re starting the 2015-16 school year by re-focusing on the core of what we do as well: striving to become an even better and more adaptable partner to teachers and school leaders; continuing to improve our content, programs and services so they deliver precisely what educators today seek; and helping teachers “Open a World of Possible” by creating inspirational learning experiences for students.

Every child, every teacher and every school has unique needs, and we’re committed to providing solutions – in print and digital formats—that are right for them.

We recently announced a new service that will provide “Comprehensive Literacy Solutions” to schools and districts. We recognize that every school and every district has distinct needs and challenges, and this realignment of our education business means that we can even more readily customize solutions to meet those specific needs.

When it comes to technology, our number one focus is on being responsive to the needs of educators. In creating programs such as BookFlix®, TrueFlix®, Storia® school edition, and the digital companions to our classroom magazines, our education technology is designed to ensure that teachers can be successful from day one. Programs like these are easy to implement, require very little training and can fit into a school’s or teacher’s existing curriculum.

Rather than focus one portion of our business on educational technology, tech is integrated throughout our learning ecosystem to add value wherever it makes sense – just as it is in our everyday lives.

What does the ecosystem of our Comprehensive Literacy Solutions look like?

Our Comprehensive Literacy Solutions center on four focus areas.

  • Instructional Reading & Writing

Our long-held focus on Instructional Reading & Writing combines the best research with the expertise of the top minds in instruction to create a range of resources, materials and curricula that educators can use to tailor instruction to their students’ needs.

This year, new curriculum mapping and digital pacing tools are helping us more easily customize solutions that meet the unique needs of each district, school and classroom. Technology is even helping us create classroom libraries customized to the student population in each room.

Our Guided and Leveled Reading programs are used in schools across the country, and this year we’re expanding the student populations served by these programs by launching Guided Reading: Lecturas Cortas for English Language Learners.

  • Professional Learning

Our professional learning group, called Scholastic Professional, provides multimedia books infused with video and other digital components, curricular resources, literature collections, and consulting services developed to help transform instruction in any school or district. For decades, Scholastic has sought out the leading experts in instruction to guide our product development and author books for educators. This year, we’re expanding our work with literacy advocates and researchers, including Ruth Culham, Nell K. Duke, Stephanie Harvey, Phyllis C. Hunter, Jan Richardson, Laura Robb, Maria Walther, and our team of expert consultants is delivering an expanded array of professional development services and training for teachers, principals and district leaders.

Two new additions to Scholastic’s list of digitally-infused professional books are planned throughout the year, including two exciting titles releasing in November: Every Child a Super Reader by literacy expert Pam Allyn and renowned educator Ernest Morrell; and Page-to-Stage Writing Workshop by Newbery medal-winning author and educator Kwame Alexander.

  • Learning Supports and Family & Community Engagement (FACE)

In 2011, we launched Scholastic FACE, a group devoted to creating programs and resources that reinforce the important role families and communities play in ensuring children succeed in school and beyond. We are now expanding this service to include district- and state-wide programs of Learning Supports, a consultative approach that helps school leaders identify and reduce barriers to learning so that all students can achieve.

We are also deepening our partnership with renowned community engagement expert Dr. Karen Mapp of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. In July, we began offering a three-day workshop series to provide professional development to district leaders, school staff, and parents and community members in the area of family engagement.

We’re also looking into ways that social media can help parents and educators connect in productive and collaborative ways.

  • Independent Reading:

You’re probably familiar with the most widely-known parts of Scholastic – our support for home- and school-based independent reading through Reading Clubs, Book Fairs and Classroom Magazines, which we provide at the building level to most schools in America. At Scholastic, we continue to be committed to increasing the availability of high-quality, affordable books and ebooks that encourage and motivate independent reading both in school and at home. Through these channels, as well as through our long-established Leveled Book Rooms and Classroom Book collections, we are offering even more options to meet kids where they are and support them as they move to higher reading levels..

The Scholastic Kids & Family Reading ReportTM found that while 33% of children ages 6–17 say their class has a designated time during the school day to read a book of their choice independently, only 17% do this every or almost every school day.

With the support of numerous studies that definitively conclude that the more kids read the more they achieve, our goal is to increase time spent on independent reading both in school and at home.

Our four-pronged approach means that we can support the whole child – whether it’s with instruction in the classroom, independent reading at home, professional development for educators, support from families and communities, or reducing barriers to learning. Every child, every teacher and every school has unique needs, and we’re committed to providing solutions – in print and digital formats—that are right for them.

Greg Worrell is President of Scholastic Education, which partners with schools and districts to raise student achievement for all students by providing comprehensive, customized solutions that include professional learning resources and print and digital instructional materials that ensure children have access to robust classroom libraries, powerful instruction, and books in the home. Follow @ScholasticHelp

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EdTech Awards – Get Your Entries In!

2016 EdTech Awards ENTRY FORMThe 2016 EdTech Digest Awards Recognition Program entry period is currently open and the deadline has been extended to October 15, 2015. The EdTech Awards program recognizes people in and around education for outstanding contributions in transforming education through technology to enrich the lives of learners everywhere. The program celebrates the best and brightest apps, platforms, products and people in the education and technology (“edtech”) world. The awards program is open to industry solutions providers, hardware and software; platform developers, app-makers, educators and other leaders, innovators and trendsetters in and around education including K-12, Higher Education and lifelong learning. There are three broad entry categories: the Cool Tool awards, the EdTech Leadership awards, and the Trendsetter awards. Each award, in turn, has numerous subcategories under which to enter, e.g., emerging technology solutions, mobile learning apps, academic gaming solutions, professional development solutions, STEM solutions, special needs; edtech leader, edtech visionary, product or service setting a trend, and many more categories. Time is short, but entry is quick and easy. To be considered, click here for an entry form and details.

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Cool Tool | EdCast

CREDIT EdCast 10 minute Insight seriesEdCast is always trying to improve the way we learn and take in knowledge. The fast-growing social knowledge network is a haven for lifelong learners to be able to connect and interact with some of the world’s most innovative minds and now it has just gotten easier. Recently, EdCast launched its 10 Minute Insight Series, the first interactive setting for global influencers to share their specialized insights to help better the world. Participants who join the series can ask questions and connect with influencers in real time—for free. The series’ mission is to create a space for knowledge seekers and lifelong learners to interact and share bite-sized pieces of information with a wide-range of specialists on topics like global issues, finance, space and more. This series on global knowledge sharing will be led by Kunal Sood, the founding curator of TEDx UN Plaza and NOVUS, along with an eminent advisory board that have vetted and selected many high-level influencers. EdCasters will be able to recommend future influencers to the advisory board for consideration. You can find a continuously updated schedule here. To date, the current line-up of participants includes Mastercard CEO Naveen Jain, Scott McNealy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems; Tim Draper, Managing  Partner, DFJ; Seth Levine, Co-Founder, Foundry Group; Dan Cohen, CEO, TechStars; Ajay Banga, CEO, Founder, Intelius; Vivek Ranadive, owner, Sacramento Kings; Robert Scoble, blogger and technological evangelist; Dean Ornish, world renown alternative medicine expert; Vivek Wadwah, named on TIME ’s 50 Most Influential Minds; Arwed Niestroj, CEO, Mercedes-Benz Research & Development NA, Michèle Angelique Flournoy, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy; and Lars Rasmussen, Co-creator of Google Maps. Check it out.

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Keeping It Simple

Advice on creating something that truly influences the edtech world.

GUEST COLUMN | by David Tobin

CREDIT audiojackThe challenge facing students, parents and educators when it comes to technology is, where to begin? It seems as though there is a never-ending supply of great miracle applications and devices that will magically cure the education innovation drought we have been facing — but is that just a sales pitch?

With its advance, technology has become available to almost every demographic in education. The way we digest it has also become new and exciting. The stimulation provided by these new options hints at an advent in the right way, however, most become a fad and aren’t used by teachers regularly.

Make our lives easier with this new technology. We want to use it, but we don’t have time to learn something new.

There is a learning curve, not just for students, but for teachers as well. The goal is to not only find things that stimulate the mind, but that (more importantly) can be regular tools that students can grow with from year to year. It’s about taking the medium in which they learn and making it exist with fundamental ideals intact, and offering flexibility to drift from subject to subject.

Not all options out there will work. They require too much of a learning curve and that means time — the one thing teachers don’t have. So, this new batch of solutions to hit the market need to address a simple tact for classroom adoption.

The goal of any edtech designer should be to play off what already exists in the classroom, or what is native to those in it from their outside life. Think very basic actions that we do everyday: watching TV, hitting play on a music device or video player, writing a note on a post-it, making a phone call, or even texting someone.

The above suggestions should play into the functionality of the device. This root look at the problem of tech makes everything easier to digest. If you’re trying to have a teacher or student learn how to operate a new device or if it has too many steps in it, you’re already at a disadvantage. Students tune out fast and teachers are a close second in a world that has a lot to do in a very short time.

By taking the basics and creating a functional delivery system around them, you’ve already taken a huge step toward getting the classroom on your side. The content is a whole other issue, but we need to focus on user experience as innovators. If you can create a product that has a short learning curve and does the job of another section of class but increases performance and takes less time — you’re in. That’s it.

After speaking with hundreds of educators all over the world, we keep hearing the same thing: “Make our lives easier with this new technology. We want to use it, but we don’t have time to learn something new.” That right there — those simple two sentences — should be what keeps you up at night when creating educational products.

The other thing to keep in mind is that educators are wary of the ‘too good to be true’ pitch. If you come in claiming you’ve created the one thing that’s going to “change the classroom”… well, you better have proved it with thousands of repeat users. Teachers aren’t gullible, they’ve been hearing this promise for years, and only a few things have truly impacted learning over this time.

Test the product until you think you’ve gotten as much data as you need, then test it some more. Test it against variables that should never be a factor, use it with people who would never use it, then slowly bring it into the schools. If the product is solid, it will get purchased. That’s the bottom line. And if it gets bought by a few, that will grow to many.

Word of mouth is the best weapon other than a great product any educational innovator can have. When the day is done, teachers vent to other teachers and they are a tight group. If you have something that makes their day easier and gets great results, they will tell others, and in turn — you will see wide adoption.

Creating a big sales push should come much later. Not until you know you have a solid stake in several markets around the country do you put the weight of your sales team behind the product. The sales force needs to be stoking the excitement already created by word of mouth. There are too many educators to pitch a product to, to expect them all to have time to try it and agree it’s solid.

You may be thinking, ‘Well, I will pitch to the head of the school or department head and go from there.’ Well, then you’re looking at selling to someone that is incredibly busy and also apprehensive about forcing an unproven item on an already stressed population. It’s a slow process, but once it heats up, you will get amazing results if it’s a great product.

In the end, it’s all about ease of use and quality. Focus on making the user experience seamless in the hands of students and teachers. Once the delivery system is proven to work with a short learning curve, get some data. Start doing research on the actual results of the program. Solid numbers make it easy for the purchaser to say yes.

Then, after you’re in the mix, monitor your program and let it grow naturally. If it’s going to be a hit, you’ll know. Social media will talk about it and parents will want a version for their own home, and from there, you’ve now created something that has truly influenced the edtech world.

David Tobin is the Founder and CEO of Audiojack.

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Solve the Problem, Not the Symptom

How a Catholic high school secured its STEM learning environment.

GUEST COLUMN | by Kevin Sweeney

CREDIT Central Catholic HS Pittsburgh PANetwork security is a tricky business. You’re walking a fine line between ensuring systems, information and people are secured from threats and making sure people can use the technology tools they need to do their jobs. It’s easy to put the digital equivalent of barbed wire, thick concrete walls and a moat around a network — it’s much more challenging to implement that level of security while maintaining easy access for verified users.

We are constantly updating and upgrading technology tools, software and classroom facilities to help students learn better. 

Central Catholic High School walks that line every day. We have nearly 1,000 students, teachers and staff who need to use our wireless network on a daily basis. We have teachers showing online videos as part of classes, a floor of “Classrooms of the Future,” with technology heavily integrated to make teaching and learning easier, and we are currently building a dedicated STEM learning building on campus. We have a focus on and dedication to STEM learning because our students must be prepared for college and the world beyond.

And we have a very intelligent and technically-savvy student body. That means that they are not only interested in—and expecting—a secure wireless network, it also means they are pushing the boundaries. They are probing the network, looking for weaknesses. It’s not to do anything malicious—they just want to see if they can breach our defenses for “street cred.” It’s a different challenge than most organizations face. We are constantly on the lookout for both internal breaches and external breaches.

It hasn’t been easy, but we’ve found an integrated approach to network security that is working for our STEM-focused environment.

We started by getting to know our network. One of my axioms is that you can’t manage what you don’t know. We hired a vendor to do a complete network analysis that revealed various issues. Before this January, our wireless network was slow, dropping connections and pretty much useless. We had too much traffic and no insight into what was clogging the network. The network analysis showed us that there were wiring issues that were easily fixed (once we knew about them). We got rid of a bunch of security tools and consolidated with one Fortinet FortiGate next-generation firewall that combined a high-performance firewall with spam and web filtering and helps manage the quality of the network so we can ensure its speed. It also allows us to see what’s going on with the network so we can troubleshoot and close gates that are open.

Various students have tried to hack our network and they have not succeeded because we are able to see what they are doing. We can block the intrusion and we make a point of talking with them to tell them we saw what happened. Thus far, our security measures have done their job and protected our network, people and information.

That’s the security side, but we also use a variety of tools to manage network traffic. SolarWinds lets me see at a glance what’s happening on the network—the top 10 endpoints, top five apps, who is using bandwidth and what kind. If there is unusually high bandwidth usage, we can use the firewall to check it out and shut it down if needed. We use AirWatch to monitor iPad usage and Aerohive to manage wireless access points. All of that combined helps us keep the network secure and sensitive data safe.

We also set some standard procedures for network access. Students are allowed to bring their own laptops to use on campus but they must be checked out by the IT department before they are allowed to access the network. Devices must have antivirus installed—no exceptions. There are approved and unapproved websites on the school network and we must review and release an unapproved site before a teacher can use it in class, for example.

Another thing we’ve done is to harness student interest in IT by creating a mentorship program in the IT department. We’ve had a number of students take advantage of the opportunity to gain knowledge and experience they wouldn’t otherwise have. We teach them useful skills and they help us—being aware when something is going on with the network and also performing tech support in their classes if issues arise. It’s a win-win.

The benefits of all of this have been huge. There have been cost savings, of course, but more importantly there has been a reduction in the frustration students and teachers used to experience. People can actually use the wireless network and it just works. We are constantly updating and upgrading technology tools, software and classroom facilities to help students learn better. And our teachers really embrace and support these efforts, which is great. Their tireless energy and appreciation, along with the success of our students, makes it all worthwhile.

I firmly believe that you must solve the problem, not the symptom. If you just address a symptom, like students trying to hack the network, the problem will pop up again. If you address the problem, with an integrated approach to network management, security and student mentoring, the problem is solved.

Kevin Sweeney is Director of Information Technology at Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh, PA. Write to:

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