Cool Tool | ParentSquare

CREDIT ParentSquare.pngHere’s an all-in-one parent engagement platform helping K-12 schools securely streamline communication and inform today’s parents in their preferred methods and language. ParentSquare is an everyday tool used and loved by administrators, teachers and staff to interact with parents about school and student activities. Along with their intuitive two-way communication platform, the platform offers full SIS integration, voice alert notifications, automated attendance calling and performance statistics making it a pretty complete solution for all parent communication and engagement needs. Learn more.

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Worlds of Possibilities

Three edtech trends to watch and how to use them to transform learning in your classroom.

GUEST COLUMN | by Melissa Maypole

CREDIT virtual whale.pngEducational technology continues to open up a world of possibilities for both teachers and students, but let’s be honest—it can be intimidating. With new devices and trends popping up on a regular basis, it’s difficult to know what to embrace and what to ignore. In this article, we’ll discuss three movements in ed-tech that are not to be missed and offer advice on how to incorporate them into your curriculum with minimal fuss and maximum results.

The thought of adapting curriculum to include new technologies can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.

1. Makerspaces

Project-based learning has been a trend in education for years now, but thanks to recent advancements in technology, this initiative is gaining even more steam. Tech-inspired teachers are now beginning to incorporate makerspaces into their classrooms and curriculum. What are makerspaces? Makerspaces are physical spaces within the classroom where students can apply what they’ve learned during instructional time in order to create something tangible. High-tech maker spaces may include fancy tools such as 3-D printers, die-cutters, and even robotics. Even the budget-strapped classroom can create a makerspace using low-tech essentials that are widely available for discounted prices. Makerspaces are incredibly effective learning environments because they appeal to students’ innate curiosity and ingenuity, and perhaps most importantly, they facilitate truly authentic learning experiences. Now, instead of simply discussing a concept from a desk in their classrooms, students can actively participate in their own learning. Moreover, students in makerspaces are often encouraged to work in teams, practicing the kind of communication and collaboration they’ll one day be asked to apply in professional environments.

2. Virtual Reality

Teachers have always tried to bring learning to life for their students. Think about all the times you’ve passed around pictures, showed videos to your students, or asked them to simply imagine a scenario in their minds. Although these enrichment techniques can certainly enhance learning experiences, they stop short of the ultimate goal—to allow students to experience subject matter firsthand in steps (this is what is commonly referred to as virtual reality, or VR). Although VR is still in its infancy in terms of applications in the classroom, it’s growing at a rapid pace and becoming more and more accessible, even for teachers on a budget. Consider Google Cardboard, for instance. With a smart phone and a simple piece of cardboard (or even a pizza box!) you can put true-to-life experiences in front of your students via free apps, making learning more fun and meaningful than ever before. Imagine being able to instantly transport your students into the past during a history lesson or have them navigate a “real” marketplace during an economics unit. This is the power of virtual reality in a classroom.

Is virtual reality really a worthwhile endeavor, though? The answer is, quite simply, yes. Although it may seem a bit gimmicky, it actually has real learning implications for your students. The reality is that our students are enamored with technology applications. Virtual reality allows us to leverage engagement and immersive experiences in favor of real academic gains. We can now use the same technology that makes video games and mobile apps so appealing to our students in order to engage them in authentic learning.

3. Augmented Reality

Augmented reality may sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but this technology already exists, as any student who has ever used a Snapchat filter or played “Pokemon Go” can tell you (and it can help transform the learning environment in your classroom).  Unless you’re completely up-to-date on trends in educational technology, it can be easy to confuse augmented reality and virtual reality. The difference is simple: virtual reality is a completely immersive digital experience, whereas augmented reality—or AR—layers digital elements into the real world. A great example is this video of a whale magically appearing in the school gymnasium. In blending the digital world with the real world, AR allows students to interact with objects, concepts, and processes that they wouldn’t have access to otherwise. For example, students could hold a virtual atom in their hands for inspection or dissect a virtual frog. These applications of AR through mobile devices are not only incredibly engaging, but they take advantage of the technology that is already widely available in schools (like chromebooks and iPads).

Is augmented reality feasible for the average classroom, though? Thanks to free AR tools like Aurasma and Layar, the answer is a resounding yes. These applications allow teachers to create augmented reality experiences and share them with their students with minimal effort and no expense. All it takes is a little creativity and a desire to transform your classroom with cutting-edge technology!

The thought of adapting curriculum to include new technologies can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Knowing which advancements and innovations are here to stay and which are just passing trends is half the battle. After that, it’s a matter of choosing which devices and approaches are best for (1) the objectives and goals your students need to achieve, and (2) your budget. Technology should never be used in the classroom simply for the sake of its existence. Instead, the end goal should always be learning gains. Makerspaces, VR, and AR are three trends that are here to stay because they are relatively inexpensive to adopt, and they have the potential to make a big impact on student engagement and learning.

Melissa Maypole is a content writer for Wisewire, a digital education marketplace and learning experience design company. She has a Master’s degree of Science in Education, integrating technology in the curriculum and five years of experience teaching grammar and advanced composition in the U.S. Melissa is an active educator and parent blogger. She is Head of Corporate Social Responsibility for Qustodio, a parental control software that helps parents monitor children’s activities from connected devices.

CREDIT virtual whale.png

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CollabGeneration

Two teachers combine classrooms linked by technology – and a common goal.

GUEST COLUMN | by Rachel Thomas and Steven Lamb

CREDIT THomas and Lamb CollabGenius.jpg

Inspiration or pure insanity. These are the only possible reasons why “Virtual Team Teaching” is successful within an elementary school setting. What is this technology teaching thing? A new curriculum? A professional development book? Essentially, it is two teachers who have combined two classrooms, at two different schools to create one virtual, collaborative environment. Our initial intentions were basic; we wanted students to share information and get to know one another using video. From there, it progressed to students educating each other about topics they were studying in class. Finally, it evolved into an inexplicable entity we never expected.

Not only had it become a student-centered pedagogy, but a student created pedagogy.

Our students began connecting and learning in ways we couldn’t have imagined when we started. Take one of our favorite collaborative moments centered on an integrated health unit: our students were communicating over a video conferencing tool while simultaneously working on a shared cloud document. These elementary-age children were working on a spreadsheet, interpreting data, learning word processing skills, collaborating, and discussing information while carrying themselves with poise, respect, and confidence. They had the opportunity to redefine and shape themselves while learning about different peers, different experiences, and different cultures. They embodied the art of meaningful, productive communication. Perhaps the experience is best described by our students: “This has changed our learning so much that we feel like we are now the teachers. We have a different point of view.”

With more teachers involved, the possibilities are limitless for what this style of teaching can accomplish.

With more teachers involved, the possibilities are limitless for what this style of teaching can accomplish.


This week, follow along as we showcase our collaboration through the @PBS.Teachers Instagram page. We’ll offer a look at how we set up our classrooms, share a few of our favorite activities for building digital citizenship, and highlight the tools that keep us connected all year long. Come take a peek inside our classrooms on @PBS.Teachers.


Ready to start collaborating with other educators? Here are our top three suggestions as you venture into the world of redefined digital collaboration:


TouchCast. Smart video, which is exactly what it sounds like. Record videos with interactive features. The sky is the limit when considering the lessons that you can put together for your students, or even better, the videos your students can create themselves.

Quick collaboration tip: Have students create ‘get to know me’ videos using vApps.


Zoom. Our “go-to” for teleconferencing. Zoom allows you to record sessions, share your screen, annotate, invite multiple attendees (including parents), and much more. Access this tool by invite code (or email invite) only.

Quick collaboration tip: When conferencing with another class, always begin with basic introductions. It helps participants gain some added familiarity and comfort with the teleconferencing environment.


Nearpod. Customizable, interactive, mobile presentations. Nearpod includes mind-blowing features such as 3D diagrams, VR field trips, videos, audio files, open response questions, polls, quizzes, a draw feature, collaborate boards, fill-in-the-blanks, standar-aligned lessons, and more.

Quick collaboration tip: Why control one classroom, when you can control two with over 40 students?! Design lessons to engage two different classrooms from two different locations.


That’s it for now! We hope you explore these suggestions and make great use of them as you continue to engage your students and put them in command of their learning experiences. Want to start collaborating with us or others? Find us on Twitter @collabgenius and share your own cool tools, experiences and success.

Rachel Thomas and Steven Lamb are co-creators, PBS Digital Innovators, and connected educators using a teaching method known as Virtual Team Teaching (VTT), allowing students to share with and learn from peers across their own city, and as far afield as Jamaican high school students and Malaysian college students. Follow @collabgenius

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The Future of STEM

A real-world approach fosters globally connected project-based learning.

GUEST COLUMN | by Richard Larson and Elizabeth Murray

CREDIT MIT BLOSSOMS program.gifLearning in the classroom should be a source of excitement and curiosity, not a boring and dreaded task focused on the memorization of facts for standardized tests. Luckily, education trends are shifting toward project-based learning environments in which real-world problems are a driving force.

What is project-based learning, or PBL? It’s an approach that is fundamentally different from traditional methods in that it doesn’t involve teaching different subjects like math, science and literature individually. Instead, PBL begins with a discussion of a real-world issue, and ends with a potentially viable solution developed through a flexible process that includes research, testing, analysis, context and collaboration.

If we want the next generation to develop the global competencies that the 21st century demands – then we need to build better systems and enable teaching methods that prepare them now.

Research indicates that PBL inspires students to obtain a deeper understanding of the subjects they are studying, making them more likely to retain the knowledge gained. In addition, it helps students develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. This is particularly true when it comes to STEM education. Project learning has proven to be an effective way to engage students in science and engineering subjects, and spark students’ desire to explore, investigate and understand their world. We foster that at MIT BLOSSOMS.

Our goal now is to take PBL to the next level. The idea is to expand PBL not only through the use of technology, but also by leveraging computers, the internet as well as interactive whiteboards, global-positioning-system (GPS) devices, video and other cutting-edge tools to facilitate PBL and problem solving in real-time, at a global scale.

In June, MIT BLOSSOMS, which began as an international program aimed at improving math and science education in the developing world, launched its latest international partnership. This time, with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and its Learning Technologies Group . Our joint mission: to develop a new integrated online platform that combines BLOSSOMS’ free interactive video lessons with Technion’s Augmented World platform to enable globally connected PBL – creating a new online learning model that can facilitate STEM education involving teachers, expert scientists and fellow students from diverse nationalities.

For over nine years, MIT BLOSSOMS has worked with educators around the U.S. and the world, including Jordan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, China and Mexico. Together with these partners, BLOSSOMS has developed a free, online library of interactive video lessons designed to supplement high school science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses. There are now over 200 lessons in the BLOSSOMS library, each with the goal of developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills, connecting abstract concepts to the real world and demonstrating how mathematicians, scientists and engineers think.

Augmented World is a location-based social networking platform with an open and flexible system that allows users to contribute their own contents using multimedia tools (and other cutting-edge technologies).

The new integrated platform being developed will enable teachers in the U.S. and around the world to access new BLOSSOMS video lessons focused on common community problems, such as providing clean water or solving sanitation issues. The Augmented World networking platform will serve as a starting point for middle and high school classes to jointly tackle the challenging problems being presented. Students will then conduct research, adding layers of information and evidence to the platform via text, images and videos, creating dynamic information points on digital maps. The platform will also provide an online community in which students can communicate and collaborate to weigh perspectives, evaluate results and evolve ideas in an effort to find innovative solutions.

The idea is to provide young students with a diverse view of the world, one that helps create a foundation for better understanding and empathy along with diverse contexts and learning experiences. By sharing ideas and working together to solve problems, we believe we can promote innovation that leads to new ways of curing disease, feeding the world, eliminating pollution, and more.

If we want the next generation to develop the global competencies that the 21st century demands – then we need to build better systems and enable teaching methods that prepare them now. This new platform will provide a long-overdue update to STEM education – allowing students to engage regularly and deeply with world issues, while communicating and collaborating with people whose perspectives may differ from their own. It’s about complex problem-solving, information synthesizing, and globally connected teamwork.

Richard Larson is Principal Investigator of the MIT BLOSSOMS Initiative and Mitsui Professor of Engineering Systems at MIT.  Elizabeth Murray is Project Manager of MIT BLOSSOMS.

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Cool Tool | Kids Discover Lessons: History and Science of the Solar Eclipse

CREDIT Kids Discover eclipse image.jpgKids Discover, a leading provider of engaging science and social studies curriculum for elementary and middle school students, has curated a collection of digital resources for teachers looking to give their students scientific and historical context for the upcoming solar eclipse on Monday, August 21, 2017, in North America. Resources include Kids Discover articles on the sun, moon, and Earth, as well as the history—and mythology—behind astronomy. Kids Discover resources will help students visualize the eclipse with kid-friendly illustrations, animated graphics, and concise explanations at their own reading level. Students will discover the Polish astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus, who was the first to declare that the Earth revolved around the sun, rather than the other way around. They will also learn about the phases of the moon, and how the different heavenly bodies interact to cause an eclipse. To solidify the connection between students’ learning in the classroom and real-world events, teachers with Educator accounts can use the pre-made questions from the resource articles to easily create a custom assessment for their students to complete.

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