Time to Shine!

EdTech Awards 2016 leadershipThe EdTech Awards shine a spotlight on the best and brightest tools, leaders and trendsetters pushing forward today’s education revolution. Our finalists and winners are part of a greater story of 21st-century education transformation. In keeping with the mission of EdTech Digest, we invite you to enter your cool tools, bold leaders and innovative trendsetters to inspire learners and leaders everywhere. Past winners include some of the top trendsetters and leading lights of the education and technology arena, including products and people from K-12, higher education, special education, and others in and around education and technology. Your methods, ideas, apps, platforms, products, services, and environments for learning are working for education, but they must become widely known about and well thought of. If you are reshaping the education culture, creating a new and better future for students everywhere, be sure to enter the 2016 EdTech Digest Awards Recognition Program. For an entry form and full details, including a list of entry categories, click here.

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A Special Mission in Denver

How data and technology can make a difference for students with autism.

GUEST COLUMN | by Gene Bamesberger, Jo Gunderson, and Jennifer Harris

CREDIT Rethink Autism imageIt is estimated that 1 in 68 children in the United States have an autism spectrum disorder. As these diagnoses continue to rise, schools have a growing responsibility to care for and serve these students. Thankfully, technology is making it easier for educators who serve students with autism to focus less on paperwork and more on the individual needs of the student. Educators who teach students with disabilities are tasked with tracking Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for each student. The plans

In education there are no silver bullets; any move to integrate more data and technology must be done thoughtfully. 

are long and detailed, outlining specific goals and objectives and describing what instruction and assistance is needed to help a student meet those goals. Often times teachers and their paraprofessional staff are teaching students of varying levels of competency with vastly different needs. And, it is not uncommon for teachers to be faced with new challenges for which they lack specific training.

Several years ago at Denver Public Schools, we implemented an online platform that provides on-demand professional development for our teachers and paraprofessionals. As a result, teachers have access to the content they need, when they need it. Rather than attend daylong professional development seminars that don’t always cover the right topics, teachers and paraprofessionals can watch two-minute videos on the issue they need help with. By watching the same tutorials for addressing very specific needs, teaching is consistent regardless of who is working with the student.

The online platform called Rethink is also tied to an integrated data system that gives our teachers easy-to-use tools to track and monitor student progress. Our teachers are saving time by having one comprehensive place to enter updates, prepare information for parents, and most importantly, ensure their students are succeeding. Having quality, accessible data means that teachers can intervene sooner when they notice a student isn’t progressing without losing valuable days and weeks.

In education there are no silver bullets; any move to integrate more data and technology must be done thoughtfully. To that end, we’ve put into place a coaching program that allows teachers to get direct support from district staff. Each coaching team has 12 people and each coach is responsible for several programs. In addition to individual training, our coaches host monthly check-ins with their team to talk through challenges and brainstorm solutions as a group

Between the tech-driven resources and ongoing coaching support, this new program has allowed us to make significant progress with students. Last summer, a student joined us at Morey Middle School. He had previously moved from school to school and even had several aggressive outbursts that required his family to send him to a group home. With our new data system in place, we were able to quickly pull together data from the other schools he attended, establish a detailed plan of action, and meet with his family to discuss his IEP. All of the work has paid off. He has not had a single outburst since January and we are currently talking to his family about getting him back home.

Incorporating technology and data into the fabric of a special education program takes work. These changes didn’t happen overnight and we are still making improvements to our program. If you are looking to bring a new tech-supported program into your district or school, here are few things to remember:

Go slow and be patient. As with any new program, you must gather buy-in. Taking our time and thinking carefully about how to roll out the various pieces gave us the chance to integrate teachers and paraprofessionals into the process. As a result, they love the program and are reaping the benefits.

Provide needed training. To help our staff most effectively use the new tools we provided, our coaching team was key. Our goal was to make it as easy as possible for teachers. We first trained our trainers which made them effective ambassadors for the new program. By making this investment up front, we’ve watched our coaches grow in their confidence and ability to coach teachers. We now have a great partnership between coaches and teachers – they share what is working and what they need and our coaches focus on making things as easy as possible for our teachers.

Streamline. If not done correctly, new data systems can lead to duplication. Use one platform, instead of two. In our case, we used the new system as the comprehensive repository of student information. At the district office level, we can extract information we need without requiring teachers to resubmit information they’ve already entered.

Despite the upfront work involved, the end result is worth it: more efficient and effective teachers, a more collaborative approach between teachers, parents, and school leaders, and most important, happier, more successful students.

Gene Bamesberger, Jo Gunderson, and Jennifer Harris work for Denver Public Schools as Associate Director of Special Education, Associate Support Partner, and Multi-Intensive Autism Teacher, respectively. They have each been instrumental in implementing the software and support program, Rethink, to improve special education and services for children with autism throughout the district.

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Cool Tool | The Dynamic Schedule

CREDIT Epiphany Learning Dynamic ScheduleEpiphany Learning, a student-centric, web-based personalized learning application for K-12, recently launched the Dynamic Schedule – a powerful feature that allows schools to transform traditional classrooms into learner-directed environments. This feature reduces the amount of time teachers spend scheduling flexible environments and enhances the personalized learning experience by giving students more choice while facilitating student ownership and accountability. It allows learners the choice to select their own classes or seminars, manage their own time, and develop their own schedule based on their needs – all while allowing teachers to manage the parameters of students’ schedules so learning requirements are met. The feature also invites learners to voice their opinions by providing teachers with documented feedback regarding events and assignments; and, by facilitating time management from an early age, it helps nurture an important life skill. Check it out for yourself.

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Cool Tool | Herokins

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 9.34.49 PMHerokins celebrate the adventure of learning by bringing traditional storytelling to life and strengthening family bonds. This new children’s education line is composed of a Bluetooth-enabled wearable action figure and mobile app that harness the power of intrinsic motivation and turn teachable moments into fun joint parent-child adventures. Herokins reshape children’s understanding of chores, safety lessons, and healthy habits through interactive StoryQuests. The action figures – McRed and Dr. Rose – easily sync to the accompanying mobile app, which includes a library of StoryQuests to choose from. Each 5-10 minute StoryQuest implements the latest findings in child development research to make learning life lessons positive and entertaining. Each Herokin comes equipped with LED lights and a speaker through which it speaks to the child throughout the story by asking questions and prompting actions. By design, Herokins are a companion learning tool, rather than an authoritative learning device. Children empathize with their Herokin as they solve problems together. Additionally, the child’s behavior and choices impact the storyline, creating a truly personalized learning experience. Herokins are available now for pre-sale on Indiegogo and will be available on Amazon and through specialty retailers in time for — dare we say it while it’s still July — the holidays.

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Dream It, Fund It

A funding platform especially for PTOs and PTAs from experienced edupreneurs.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT edbackerWith millions of people who want to help schools but no single destination for them to search opportunities to help fund everything from small classroom science projects to large scale facilities projects such as playgrounds and sports courts, Gary Hensley saw a problem with traditional school fundraising that technology could solve. Gary is the CEO and founder of edbacker, an online funding platform for PTA/PTOs, schools and organizations. He has worked in the education space for 12-plus years; he sold his previous company to Pearson and has five years experience at Pearson in strategic

Critical programs are being cut and parents are rising to the occasion because they refuse to let their children fall between the cracks in the school budget.

partnerships and product management. Mary Ellen Matheson is the VP of Business Development. She’s worked in fundraising for more than 10 years and has more than 10 years experience in marketing and business development. Their advisory board includes Blackboard CEO and founder Michael Chasen and other interesting leaders. In this interview, Gary and Mary Ellen talk in more depth about the platform. “Schools have never been more in need of money, and traditional school fundraising has never been more in need of innovation,” says Gary. “We want to make it so funding never stands in the way of implementing a passionate parent’s great idea,” says Mary Ellen. Here’s more.

A lot has happened in the past year or so. Let’s back up and provide a whirlwind timeline of how things have gone since inception, with highlights.  edbacker logo

Gary: We launched the platform about 2 years ago with our first offering that centered around fundraising because parents across the country are feeling the effects of budget deficits at their kid’s schools and needed to raise money more efficiently than ever before. After the initial release we really began to build the engagement portion of edbacker by offering email and newsletter capabilities combined with an easy way to manage all that data.

Why such rapid growth? 

Gary: We are built for parents by parents and make running a parent organization easier. This market is incredibly hungry for a solution like ours that makes it easy to support your student and the local school.

What need is this filling that a Kickstarter or Indiegogo or other platform can’t fill? 

Gary: Parents are raising money year over year vs. one and done. We make it easy to engage and easy to raise. Most importantly, we recognized that parents want to be involved and participate in their children’s school life — so we offer them a way to do that in person or while they are at work.

What does this say about school funding these days? 

Mary Ellen: There have never been more demands on parents’ time and resources. Critical programs are being cut and parents are rising to the occasion because they refuse to let their children fall between the cracks in the school budget.

We hear of teachers spending out of pocket – have been hearing that for several years now, maybe more. What’s the state of education in the past five years where it’s come to this?

Gary: I don’t see this trend going away any time soon. Parent organizations have always been there to support teachers and we see stories of this happening all across the country. We partner with these organizations to strengthen and streamline their important work.

This is a masterful use of technology. Let’s talk about features, benefits and specifics of the platform, why the robustness of the platform is something that is so needed and why edbacker has a unique back end.

Gary: When you integrate fundraising with a communications tools some really cool data begins to emerge. You can feed this data back into the system to help it make smart decision like excluding list of people who have already given to the campaign in the next outreach. We are also helping customers solve some really practical problems like keeping track of who has paid membership and how much a parent has given for the year for tax purposes.

Mary Ellen: We have also started to partner with companies who have interest in engaging with parents and see value in freeing up capital for schools to be more successful in their efforts.

What are your thoughts on education these days? How does the need for an edbacker speak to the overall trends and shifts in funding, funding for education, and future directions? is this a case of a tectonic plate landscape with serious changes underneath? 

Gary: Parents have more choices than ever before to effect change in the school and they can do it without asking for permission. K-12 funding model is a very complicated system and is inherently linked to the tax base. With the current system in place you always see ups and downs in school funding. Parents and schools are getting creative when it comes to finding ways to reach their goals and I see that happening at an accelerated pace, both in funding and supplementing their child’s education.

Everyone has a story – especially when it comes to needing funds and telling why. What sort of anecdotes can you share? Do you get heartwarming, interesting, strange, unique stories?  

Mary Ellen: Yes, this is the best part! Where do I begin? The stories are as unique as the schools and parents we serve. We have had the privilege of working with an urban elementary school raise funds to create a wetlands garden outdoor classroom. So cool to see students who come from modest means and families who live primarily in apartments working side by side to use raised funds to build the gardens that teachers use for experiential learning. On the other hand we had a very tight knit school community host a secret pop-up campaign to create a scholarship in honor of their suddenly retiring principal and school founder. Funny story, we had high school students create their own campaign to travel to Quebec for an immersion program. The kids took on the project, created the videos and fueled the effort!

Anything else you care to add or emphasize concerning your current success? about funding? future direction? 

Mary Ellen: We’re getting great feedback from parent organizations that we are making their jobs easier and more efficient by offering a highly sophisticated technology to accomplish their most basic needs like collecting dues but also versatile enough to drop and drag a polished newsletter to raising significant revenue in capital campaigns.

Gary: If we look into our crystal ball we see the future for schools involves engagement in their entire community — local merchants, national businesses with a local presence as well as and community leadership who all have a vested interest in seeing our education systems succeed. We all know it “takes a village” to support our children but now we have the tools to pull it off.

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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2016 AWARDS PROGRAM. EdTech Digest recognizes people in and around education for outstanding contributions in transforming education through technology to enrich the lives of learners everywhere. We are now accepting entries for the 2016 awards program. Submit an entry<<

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