2018 EdTech Awards Final Deadline

2018 EdTech Awards last chance to enterThere is still time to enter The 2018 EdTech Awards. The annual program recognizes people in and around education for outstanding contributions in transforming education through technology to enrich the lives of learners everywhere. Featuring edtech’s best and brightest, the annual recognition program now in its 8th year shines a spotlight on cool tools, inspiring leaders, and innovative trendsetters. Finalists and winners of the 2017 EdTech Awards were announced in March. The 2018 EdTech Awards program is open for entries through our FINAL DEADLINE: Thursday, October 19, 2017, enter here: 2018 Entry Form. For assistance with category selection, or for help or guidance, email us.

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Booming in Buffalo

A community agrees on a truly transformative tool for teaching and learning.

GUEST COLUMN| by Joe Parlier

CREDIT zSpace image.pngKriner Cash views his district as on the cusp of a major renaissance, parallel to the one that the western New York state city of Buffalo is experiencing. And as superintendent, he has high expectations for what can be achieved in Buffalo Public Schools (BPS). “We want to become best-in-class in urban education for the whole country,” he says.

As a transformative superintendent, Cash launched the New Education Bargain for BPS less than a year ago, an initiative with six major elements, all interconnected and all necessary for the district to grow and grow fast.

Every time I visit a class, the kids are 100 percent engaged, they absolutely love it and they can’t wait to get a visitor’s attention and share what they are doing.

Through the New Education Bargain, the district has instituted Rigorous Early Elementary Education with significantly reduced class sizes in the early grades, launched five New Innovative High Schools, 13 Community Schools and ratified a new contract with the Teachers Federation.

In early 2016, BPS Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Sanjay Gilani saw a new mixed reality technology that he knew supported the vision for transforming the district’s schools.

zSpace allows students to learn STEM subjects using immersive images that they can move and manipulate in applications across a wide-range of standards-aligned curriculum. The all-in-one-computer combines elements of VR and AR to create mixed reality computing experiences that are interactive and lifelike. Each all-in-one computer features tracking eyewear and a stylus, allowing students to interact with objects and really understand the science behind them. Unlike other virtual reality solutions, such as head-mounted displays, it enables interaction and group collaboration. In addition, it empowers students to “learn by doing” in an environment where it is easy to undo mistakes, make changes, and not worry about material costs or clean up.

BPS began to roll out its first such learning labs during the 2016-2017 school year.

Seeing the Changes

Twice weekly, Superintendent Cash visits schools to see the changes from the New Education Bargain in action. Visiting one of the district’s Innovative High Schools with a zSpace Lab, he had the opportunity to experience the mixed reality environment for himself.

He said, “As soon as I tried it, I knew that we were doing something special. It was so clear and animated. Students were fascinated and totally engaged in the learning.’

Continuing, Cash said, it has all of the best features of good cognitive learning, but also visual and digital and tactile – it gets you entirely engaged in learning simple to the most advanced content can be easily learned because it takes the abstract and makes it clear for our whole spectrum of learners. Combined with good teachers, it is a one-two punch for improving learning that is unprecedented.”

CTO Gilani introduced Sarah Edwards, the district’s supervisor of instructional technology, to this solution and she had the chance to experience it for herself at ISTE 2016. “At first, I was skeptical, but in five minutes, I was blown away,” she said.

Edwards returned to Buffalo to roll out eight such labs in the 2016-2017 school year and more labs will be added during the 2017-2018 school year. She said that the ultimate goal is to have a lab in all of the district’s 55 schools.

Motivated By Opportunity

The motivation? Edwards said that the solution provides the opportunity for hands on learning across the curriculum and the opportunity to interact with the content. “Every time I visit a class, the kids are 100 percent engaged, they absolutely love it and they can’t wait to get a visitor’s attention and share what they are doing. It is absolutely the right thing for our students at the right time.”

Edwards noted that because of BPS’s diverse immigrant population, some of the girls in the district are new to education and school. “We had one sixth grader who couldn’t wait to show me. She told me that it opened her eyes to the content and said, ‘Now that I have seen this, I really want to be a doctor.’ It opened the world of possibilities for her.”

Tracy Nagowski, who teaches fifth grade math and science at Marva J. Daniel Futures Preparatory School, is also seeing the ways that the tool is expanding her students’ world. “Our students don’t get a lot of opportunity to vacation, to go camping, to interact with anything other than the six-block square that they live on. [This] puts the world at their fingertips.”

It has also changed the way that Nagowski teaches. “When I plan a lesson, we start in the classroom and set some purpose to what we are going to do and then we go into the lab. The students are very independent. I am just the facilitator.”

“I know that my students have met their learning objectives when I hear them discussing what they have learned. They naturally work with partners and they are learning together side by side.”

A World of Learning

Even the youngest learners see the ways that the technology is changing learning. A second grader said, “We learn in more of an entertaining way because it is in 3D. It is fun to work with a partner. If the choice is Franklin’s Lab versus a textbook, I would definitely pick [the mixed technology lab] because you can learn tons of stuff about science and engineering.”

Aniya Clough, seventh-grader at West Hertel Academy, also prefers learning with mixed reality. She said, “[It] is really spectacular.I like this way better than learning with a textbook. You can actually pull apart a heart or see the insides of a cow. It feels like you are touching it – it is so real. This is much better than having a textbook where you are just throwing paper around. “

Aniya sees the possibilities for learning with such technology throughout her education, “I would like to have this all day, every day, for the rest of my school. It’s like you are in a different world. You get to try out new things. The possibilities are endless. It gives a new dimension to learning.”

Noah Spalding, a science teacher at Aniya’s school, is seeing student engagement and achievement spike. He said, “When learning with [this tool], many students that are not able to read a lab or have not had much interest in learning are much more interested. Their participation and their grades have gone way up.”

A Transformative Technology

They are also increasing parent engagement in the school community. Spalding’s school has a Saturday Academy where it is open to the community. He said, “We had a parent, who is a mechanic, come in and he was using [the technology]. He found a program with every part of a car in it and found me to tell me that this would be a great way to teach auto mechanics.”

Demario A. Strickland, principal at Harvey Austin School, said “Things are getting exciting here at BPS with our new community schools program. A big part of the community schools program is a push on technology integration. In a high poverty area, students don’t get the opportunities that other students get.”

He said that this technology is transforming the way teachers teach as well as how students learn. He said, “I observed a teacher’s lesson with her class using [the tool]. I’m a big chemistry person and they were learning about electrons, neutrons and protons. Every single student was engaged in the learning.”

CTO Gilani said that BPS’s journey with such mixed reality technology is just the beginning. “As we expand mixed reality learning opportunities throughout the district, we have the opportunity to widen the horizons for all of our students. These hands-on, interactive learning opportunities help them grasp difficult concepts, delve more deeply into what they are learning, and open their eyes to career and life possibilities that they might never have considered.”

Joe Parlier is the senior director of education solutions at zSpace, a Silicon Valley-based mixed reality education technology provider. With a background as an educator and school administrator, Parlier is integral to the zSpace product strategy and ensuring products meet customer expectations.

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In Student Hands

How technology drives personalized learning.

GUEST COLUMN | by Rachel Tustin

Editor’s Note: Over the past sixteen years, classrooms have seen a world of change. This post takes the long view, examining classroom practices from the perspective of a veteran educator.

CREDIT Stackup image.pngIf you walked into my classroom more than a decade ago, students would have been in awe just to have more than one computer in the classroom. Their favorite days were the ones when we got a turn in the computer lab to work on the desktops. The software wasn’t exciting, mostly just tasks such as composing essays, math practice, or occasionally working on a simulation that had to be run off the hard drive. My students didn’t have cell phones, tablets, or laptops at home. Times have certainly changed. Our students are now avid consumers in the business of technology. Our children just don’t play video games alone. Instead, they are often playing online with other children across the country and around the world. Many of the students in our classrooms have smartphones and can access the Internet anytime and anyplace. For the first time, we are teaching children who are technology natives. As a result, we have to change how we teach in schools.

For perhaps the first time in history, teachers can easily create and facilitate personalized learning paths for their students.

The revolution of education towards personalized learning begins with putting devices into student’s hands. I have been fortunate to teach in an urban district where there has been immense investments of capital toward transforming schools to 1-to-1 computing. It began by putting laptop carts in classrooms, and has since moved on to purchasing Chromebooks for every child. While we still keep paper notebooks, the vast majority of my lessons and assignments live entirely online. Rural districts in my state, however, have not been so fortunate.

In these districts, where funds are tight, they have been resourceful in spending money updating their networks and expanding their bandwidth as they adopt Bring Your Device (BYOD) policies. Rather than ban cell phones and other devices, BYOD districts adopting these policies allow students to bring a device and access their Internet when on campus. My nephew lives in a rural area and only has access to computers and the Internet in his classroom because his parents purchased him a Chromebook for classes.

With a device in every student’s hand in the classroom, educators can now use virtual classrooms to create personalized learning experiences for each student. A virtual classroom in its simplest terms is a website a teacher uses to “host” their class online, so students have access to information anytime, anywhere. Textbook publishers like Pearson have turned from just making a PDF of their textbook available online to creating virtual classrooms teachers can use to create assignments, give tests, and give students access to additional multimedia tools. This model is far more appealing to my students than paper textbooks.

If you gave my students a choice, most would opt for completing work on the computer every time. For some, it is because technology is more comfortable to them than paper and pencil. Others struggle with organization, and like having it all organized for them to locate in the virtual classroom. For myself, using a virtual classroom platform allows me to personalize learning for students by creating different groups, and even easily translating materials into other languages.

Building a Classroom Online

In recent years, I have had the luxury of using one of the more sophisticated virtual classroom platforms for teachers. Our school works with Summit Charter Schools, who using their partnership with Facebook and developed a sophisticated personalized learning platform being implemented in schools across the country. Their platform allows me to create and assess personalized learning paths for the students all within a single program. Within the platform I can create “playlists” of content for their students pulling resources from wherever I wish.

Sometimes I pull content from YouTube, or I can link multimedia from the Pearson online textbook. When I need to, I can create my own resources using any website or app I please. Unlike other platforms, I am not limited to a single publisher. When a student takes a test, the test is randomized so that while students are taking equivalent exams, no two tests are identical. So within my classroom, I am never concerned that students will cheat on an exam because no two tests are alike. My students and I have freedom to adjust the pace as the year goes on, letting them move faster or slower as needed through the material.

There are many other platforms available for teachers. Some prefer Edmodo because it is designed to look and function like the interface on Facebook. Teachers can post materials, assessments, and discussion questions to their page. Students simply have to look in the thread to find what they need. In our district we also use Google Classroom, which is also free and works in the same way. Students log in and see the main thread of items for their course. You can post discussion questions, assignments, or even multimedia for student’s access. Google also allows teachers to integrate Google Forms to administer assessments via the Google Classroom for students.

Social media can also be a powerful tool to create a simple virtual classroom experience for students. In my classroom, I often use Twitter as an educational tool. We have discussions across class periods using hashtags to share information and ideas. Some of my colleagues do the same using Instagram. Over time, programmers have realized the lucrative business of creating social media tools for teachers and students. More and more, virtual classroom platforms are being designed to imitate social media.

The App-Driven Revolution in Personalized Learning

In the beginning, I wasn’t a fan of apps. I avoided adding them to my phone, and scolded students who tried to add them to their Chromebooks. In my head I associated apps with gaming, and it took me a while to wrap my mind around them being anything else. It was actually a colleague who convinced me to explore the apps. In a meeting I listened to them talk about how they used the app Blendspace to create personalized learning, and I could mentally feel my mindset shift. This app allows teachers to integrate videos, websites, and assessments easily into a lesson. You can personalize learning by creating different groups, and customize the lessons accordingly.

Bookwidgets is a similar app that offers some more sophisticated options for creating lessons, such as the ability to create interactive crossword puzzles and extra bells and whistles for presentations. These apps are a great tool when I work with new teachers who may not be experienced at using technology in education because they are easy to use and share with students.

For teachers who want to personalize learning without necessarily building whole modules online, there are apps such as Stackup. This app, when installed on a Chromebook, allows teachers to assign and track student reading online. Teachers can personalize reading based on their content area and the different abilities in their classroom.

Once students have completed their required reading, teachers can use free apps such as Socrative to engage different groups of students in interactive games or even assess learning based on student’s personalized learning path. For my teachers who are just starting out in personalized learning, it is an easy way to track what their students are working on in the digital world.

If your students are like mine, while they are digital natives they are organizationally challenged. I have embraced the mindset now that “There is an app for that too!” The app Flextime Manager allows teachers to create lists of activities students are allowed to work on during personalized learning time based on their content areas. Students, in turn, get personalized learning by having a choice of what activities they complete. The app itself tracks what students work on, how much time they spend on each activity, etc. to help the teacher manage personalized learning more efficiently in their classroom.

Technology has placed in classrooms the great opportunity to personalize learning for students. No longer are teachers and districts without the resources to engage the diverse population of technology natives sitting in front of them. Instead, technology has provided resources for every school budget to personalize learning for students. For perhaps the first time in history, teachers can easily create and facilitate personalized learning paths for their students. Our educational system now as the tools to allow students to grow by catering to their interests and pace needed. Personalized learning can transform education in such a way that when it comes to learning, there will genuinely be no limits on our students.

Rachel Tustin, Ph.D., is a veteran science educator, having taught for more than sixteen years in public and private K-12 education, and eight years of teaching English composition at the university level. She has served as both a technology and new teacher mentor in Richland School District 2. Her passion is teaching environmental science, for which she has been recognized by the South Carolina Aquarium, Richland County Conservation Association, and Gills Creek Watershed Association.

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Trends | EdChat Interactive to discuss Digital Citizenship

Eric Butash - Headshot.jpgAnother exciting edition of Edchat Interactive is almost here, and Highlander Institute’s Eric Butash (pictured) will lead a discussion on the meaning of digital citizenship for today’s socially active students. What are the consequences of the way we help students learn to be digital citizens? Edchat interactive, brought to you by Steve Anderson, Mitch Weisburgh, and Tom Whitby, is replacing “talking head” webinars with an awesome, interactive, online professional development experience. Try it for yourself: join the discussion on Thursday, October 26, 2017 – but go ahead and register here first.

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Simply the Best!

IN CLOSE WITH | Yvonne R. Zamora

Yvonne Zamora (1) (1).jpgThe principal of Mims Elementary in Mission, TX, Yvonne Zamora shares her thoughts on building a society within her school and why she wishes social media had never been invented.

GETTING STARTED How did you get started as an educator, and how has your job changed over the years?

I began my career as a second-grade teacher at an impoverished school, which was in my neighborhood, only two blocks away from my house. I served as an educator for my neighbor’s children for six years. During those years, I got involved with University Interscholastic League (UIL) and General Education Diploma (GED) in search of other means to serve students and our community.

Once we provide teachers with professional development, it is imperative that we integrate technology with fidelity and that we monitor its impact.

During the latter part of my teaching career, I completed my Master’s in Mid-Management in the fall of 1999. I began my administration career as an assistant principal at Mission Junior High and completed two years, only to return to my elementary roots. I served as an assistant principal at Mims Elementary for three years and have served for 12 years as principal at Mims Elementary.

During these 12 years, lots of changes have occurred. Instructional leadership and accountability are now at the cusp of the principal’s main responsibilities. Throughout the years, the focus has changed from guiding teachers, maintaining facilities, and overseeing students’ educational needs to becoming an instructional leader, guiding and providing teachers with feedback and professional development, holding all stakeholders accountable for student achievement and progress, and building capacity while delegating other, less pressing, issues.


INSPIRATIONS What inspires you about teaching? Do you have a slogan or mantra that guides you?

Being at the elementary level allows me to see our students for a period of seven years. We get to build their strengths and weaknesses. We get to build their cognitive, affective, and physical abilities. We get to see them grow and watch their personalities develop. They come at the early age of 4 years old and leave at the age of 11. We allot ample time to help them evolve. We do so with the assistance of the entire school staff, along with our parents and community, in an effort to provide them the best educational opportunities. You ask what inspires me: our students do!

Our mantra is “Simply the Best.” We dedicate our lives to our students each day because our students deserve simply the best!

We dedicate our lives to our students each day because our students deserve simply the best!


FAVORITE TECH What is your favorite tech tool right now and why?

CREDIT myON.pngMy favorite tech tool right now is myON. We pair up myON with Chromebooks and we have opened new doors to our students. Our initiative is that every student has access to a class set of Chromebooks, and we are almost there. myON comes along and reinforces our vision to have a literature-rich environment which offers students a variety of experiences. Moreover, diagnosed and undiagnosed hyperactive students and students on the autism spectrum have a tool that allows them to enjoy literature while having their literacy needs met. In addition, that experience is not limited to the classroom for our students. myON allows at-home access not only to students, but to all community members. At last, the total reading experience is within our reach!


RECENT EVENTS What memorable edtech conference have you attended recently?

CREDIT TCEA conference.pngI really enjoy attending the Texas Computer Education Association Conference (TCEA). This conference attracts thousands of educators due to the enormous number of technology tips that are shared that can be integrated in the classroom. The knowledge and resources shared give me a perspective on what we need to do to transform our classrooms. If I am unable to attend, we make sure that someone from our campus attends, so that we can stay abreast of new technology that is available.


GREATEST MOMENT What was your greatest educational moment?

My greatest educational moment was initiating our society within our school, our very own Minitropolis. Students in our Minitropolis study traditional academic subjects with an emphasis on real-world application. Students create a model of the world outside the school. Students establish a municipality, a government system, and an economic system. They participate in the democratic process by forming their own government, electing officials, and passing laws for the students or “citizens” of the school or “city.”

We have the privilege of seeing our students become leaders, enhance communication skills, solve problems, work as a team, and make decisions in real-world situations!

CREDIT MIMS Elementary.pngStudents create an economy by creating money, establishing and running banks, and becoming consumers of goods sold in the retail sector of the society. All students hold jobs within the society and are paid with Minitropolis money for attendance and following the values code. Students save their money in banks or spend it to purchase goods at various stores. Students must also pay taxes to the IRS. Non-profit organizations, other businesses, and a government-run post office are also a part of this society. We have the privilege of seeing our students become leaders, enhance communication skills, solve problems, work as a team, and make decisions in real-world situations!


RED ED What was your most embarrassing educational moment?

As a principal, we have countless things happening in our building. We rely on the entire team to make things happen. From time to time, we are asked to speak at different meetings being held at our campus. Due the number of events happening during a particular week, I stepped into a parent meeting. I proceeded to greet them and began what I thought was the topic of the meeting. Well, there is the art of reading your audience while you are addressing them. I looked around and watched parents and their expressions and then turned to the staff who was present who, with their not so subtle ways, were asking me to look at the agenda. There is also the art of using humor to redirect and completely change your topic while trying to redeem yourself. I thought I did a good job, but the jury is still out on that one!


PD FOR ME What makes for great tech-related professional development?

Research-based tech-related professional development makes for great presentations. The most important factor is to have staff buy-in. We need to demonstrate how the particular tech-based professional development is going to enhance instruction and impact our students. Start with the end in mind. Once we provide teachers with professional development, it is imperative that we integrate technology with fidelity and that we monitor its impact.


NEXT TECH What’s the next technology you want to bring to your school and why?

CREDIT Google for Education.pngBefore we venture out to obtain the latest technology gadget, I would like to fully take advantage of all of the amazing experiences that can be shared through Google. Google offers so many features that assist in enhancing instruction, and I would like our students to fully explore all the possibilities. We recently had one of our teachers become a Google Certified Educator. We are working together to prepare professional development to completely take advantage of all the tools that are available to us.


NO THANKS What technology do you wish had never been invented and why?

CREDIT Wired unlike.pngI wish social media had never been invented. It has become such an overwhelming part of our society. It has impacted the way we communicate by allowing incorrect grammar, spelling, and the exclusion of punctuation marks. Furthermore, it has disconnected people from the people they are surrounded by, only to replace them with people who are not physically present.


FUTURE LOOK What educational technology do you wish someone would invent and why?

Dysfunctional is the new norm. I wish someone would invent a tool that would bring back old-fashioned family values. I miss those! One can dream…


Connect With

Reach Yvonne through:

School website: http://mims.mcisd.net/

Email: yrzamora@mcisd.org

Facebook: Mims Elementary Public Group

Twitter: N/A


Got a suggestion for a great person to get IN CLOSE WITH here?

Write to: edtechdigest@gmail.com

Use IN CLOSE WITH in the subject line, and in the body of your email include their name, title, email, phone if available – and yours, too.

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