Cool Tool | The Joey Cart

CREDIT Joey CartAt 32 inches high, 37 long and 25 wide, this 96-pound mobile storage and charging cart can hold laptops, tablets, iPads, and Chromebooks up to a 15-inch screen size. Designed for easy assembly, other carts can take 2-3 times as long to wire. When a teacher opens up the top, they avoid bending down time and again to a bottom shelf and instead can easily place up to 40 devices in the cart to be charged and stored behind a padlock. Learn more.

Posted in cool tools | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Cool Tool | TeacherSherpa

CREDIT TeacherSherpaThis online platform gives teachers the ability to create and share editable classroom materials. It brings together all the design elements a teacher needs, alongside the ability to customize materials from other members because no two classrooms are the same. It’s a community of teachers who inspire each other by sharing their editable materials. Browse and borrow materials made public by other members on the community board and quickly customize them to meet specific classroom needs. The platform provides an easy-to-use design tool preloaded with teacher fonts, doodles, clipart, a QR code widget and integrated with Pixabay clipart and image libraries to create classroom materials. They offer two membership plans: free members are able to browse, follow and print shared materials without restrictions. Premium members ($9.99/mo) can create and edit any of the shared materials on the site, as well as participate in a 20 percent lifetime revenue share referral program. Learn more

Posted in cool tools | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making an Educational Game

Behind the scenes of an edtech company.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jenny Paradise

CREDIT Brainzy Education.comIn the past, the makings of a successful school lesson consisted of an inspired idea, a whiteboard, a worksheet, and eager students.

With advances in technology, more parents, teachers, and homeschoolers have sought out new and innovative ways to teach that can complement the tried-and-true success of printables and other non-digital resources. As more educators look for ways to bridge the gap between school and technology, edtech companies have gone beyond the simple digital adaptation of resources to stimulate young learners in ways that were never possible before.

The Making of an Experience

In 2012, the idea of an interactive game that was engaging, educational, and resonated with our core age group of pre-K and elementary school kids was born. Countless process

To glean this valuable insight, we observed educators teaching at school and invited teachers to give demonstrations of how they taught different skills to students.

updates, versions, trials and errors later, Brainzy was introduced to the world in October 2014. I’d like to highlight the aspects of our game development process that were crucial to building the product we envisioned.

Consult with a Variety of Teachers

Consulting teachers was a critical tactic to our game development. consulted with a wide range of teachers and curriculum specialists to find out how each would focus their teaching to help foster meaningful engagement among students in ways that could be measured by quantifiable data over time. From tactile techniques to emerging technologies, exploring a variety of approaches to skills helped make Brainzy products useful and applicable to many different kinds of learners.

To glean this valuable insight, we observed educators teaching at school and invited teachers to give demonstrations of how they taught different skills to students. Every teacher brought in products that they use in the classroom, giving game developers demonstrations to ignite inspiration on how translate hands-on strategies into a digital experience. These games ranged from flashcards and ten rods to digital apps that branched outside of the “drill and kill” approach. Experimentation was key here, because we didn’t need just one way to teach addition. We needed five.

Identify Core Skills and Multiple Strategies

Another key step is to understand your audience’s needs. We looked into engagement data around our other content types, specifically worksheets, to pinpoint the skills and strategies that parents and teachers found most useful.

This data, combined with advice from our early education experts, provided a rich resource of knowledge. One math teacher’s dedication to hands-on, manipulative-based learning inspired game development that mimicked this concrete style. A literary specialist strongly emphasized the importance of phonics in early grades as an essential pre-reading skill, despite its occurrence just once in the CCSS. This exhaustive research left us with a variety of approaches to essential skills.

Kid Test Your Product

Point scoring, friendly competition, kid-friendly themes, characters, artwork and music all help immerse children in new and familiar skills without becoming frustrated or bored. However, kid testing of these features is key. Development teams can hypothesize about what will resonate with children, but confirming your hypotheses is critical. On more than one occasion, our preconceived expectations were challenged and punted back to the drawing board after a humbling visit to a local elementary school.

If you’re in the market to develop an educational game, don’t be too proud to abandon beliefs about how games should be used. Instead, focus on how players interact with your product and adapt it to fit their needs. By starting with the needs of your customer, you’ll create a dynamic, engaging game experience that resonates with every kind of learner.

Jenny Paradise is the Editorial Director at, a leading online destination for educators of students Pre-K through fifth grade.

Posted in guest column | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Paperless Preschools

Technology can be an enabler to a better classroom by actually getting out of the way.

GUEST COLUMN | by Dave Vasen

CREDIT brightwheelThere’s a general refrain that technology should be avoided when it comes to early education. Teachers should not be pulled away from the classroom; young students should not be sucked into devices.

As a parent and someone who’s dedicated their career to education, I strongly agree with those principles. But it’s a mistake to assume that technology does not do so as well. The reality is that there are a large number of requirements and expectations placed on teachers in Pre-K, and technology can actually play a meaningful role in saving time and improving the learning environment.

We conducted extensive research across a variety of early education settings – childcare, preschool, after school – across school sizes and demographics. What we found was significant time spent on non-teaching activities. This includes licensing and funding requirements, such as tracking attendance and student activities. Educators have various systems for observing student development, including notes and photos. Then there is the internal communication and coordination across teachers (most rooms have multiple) and the plethora of communication with parents – updates, reminders, events, etc. And on top of all this, because pre-K is a private industry, many educators are also managing a business – staffing, billing, tuition collection, taxes, and so on.

With thoughtful design in collaboration with educators, technology has the opportunity to support teachers and deepen the learning experience.

This is a lot to expect of the individuals who are educating our children in their most formative years!

And it’s being done inefficiently. While many industries have developed great tools that are customized to the specific needs of their constituents, early education is an exception. The majority of the tasks described are still being done on paper. Paper is inefficient – and actually expensive.

Let’s take one example: Pre-K facilities are often required to log attendance on a daily basis, which usually consists of a daily sign-in sheet. That’s one piece of paper per classroom per day. Parents physically sign the sheet twice a day, while staff members monitor it and relay information across rooms. At the end of the day, paper is stored in binders and filed cabinets – later removed for billing or licensing purposes. That’s 260 pieces of paper per room per year. Not to mention the coordination across staff and parents to ensure accuracy.

Now transfer all of that to a single tap on a mobile device. The device logs the person, time, and location. If someone forgets, it sends a reminder. If a staff member wants to know a student’s status, she can quickly look up that information from anywhere on campus.

Parent communication is another great example. Think of all the notes, reminders, and calendar items that get sent home on paper for each student, not to mention the rushed verbal communication each day. That is usually just to one parent. Imagine if a teacher could relay all of that much faster – in less than 1/4 of the time – for all students in a medium that all parents can stay up to date with. Mobile and speech-to-text technology has made this possible.

The list goes on. The fact is that – when thoughtfully developed and deployed – technology can be an enabler to a better classroom by actually getting out of the way. Through time studies, teachers have reported saving up to five hours per week by combining the activities described into a single app that is faster and more efficient. That’s five more hours with students each week. It’s giving teachers great tools for observing child development. And it’s teachers and parents in better communication, having deeper conversations about student learning rather than focusing on logistics.

With the introduction of any new process of any kind, there will be detractors. With technology in classrooms, people warn of separating teachers from students, enabling helicopter parenting, or reducing teachers to mechanized robots. This fear mongering is simply unwarranted; we see the exact opposite. Across thousands of schools, we have consistently seen teachers saving time and being more satisfied with their work, while parents are more connected to their child’s development. Not every technology solution is worthwhile, and indeed some may have negative externalities. But that doesn’t mean we can ignore the potential when tech is done right.

With thoughtful design in collaboration with educators, technology has the opportunity to support teachers and deepen the learning experience.

Dave Vasen is the founder and CEO of brightwheel. He has led education initiatives for companies such as AltSchool, Amazon, Cisco, and Teach for America. He lives with his wife and daughter in San Francisco.

Posted in guest column | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Measuring Career Development

A university’s secret weapon to measure course effectiveness.

GUEST COLUMN | by Melissa Lang

CREDIT Tulane University Melissa LangCareer development is an important part of a student’s journey through college, but how do we measure this? How does a student know when she is career-ready? How do we, as higher education professionals, know that we’ve done a sufficient job preparing her? At our university, we’ve leveraged data analytics in order to capture and improve career development in the student experience.

We can easily dissect information, looking at results by instructor, classification, major, advisor, or any other relevant detail that can give us a more accurate picture of what’s working (and what’s not).

Our use of a data analytics tool in our Career Center has helped us answer questions about student engagement and career readiness. Tulane has embarked on a goal of providing career education for all students at the university, and part of this effort includes our Career Development course (CRDV 1090). The course is designed to give students the tools, skills, and resources needed to for their career readiness roadmap, which we develop in three stages during the course:

1) Developing self-awareness (self-assessments, goal setting, career path)

2) Creating a Career Toolkit (resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profile)

3) Improving interpersonal communication skills (networking and interviewing)

We evaluate the effectiveness of the course’s objectives and assignments through comprehensive initial and final surveys. These surveys capture student growth in the various career-related activities and proficiencies accomplished throughout the semester. Since its a pilot semester, we’ve collected data from 1,600 students.

Surveys Goals

The primary goal of the surveys is to understand not only how the course was effective in developing students’ skills, but also to evaluate sustainable career knowledge and abilities so that we can help students leave the class with the ability to manage their career development independently. Specifically, the surveys are comprehensive in that they address students’ confidence levels in career knowledge and activities along with their skills and abilities, professional experiences, career interests and accomplishments. As you can imagine, the data set is a bit overwhelming, with many variables and a large amount of quantitative and qualitative data.

Career Development and Data Analytics

To manage this massive amount of data, we started using Salesforce to illustrate the results, as our surveys feed directly into its student profiles and Career Dashboards. We can see in an instant that students who successfully completed the career course increased their confidence in a number of tasks, such as resume writing (54 percent), and interviewing (20 percent). We can easily dissect information, looking at results by instructor, classification, major, advisor, or any other relevant detail that can give us a more accurate picture of what’s working (and what’s not).

This information is also integrated into a student’s profile so we can see specific information about a student, such as his/her career interests, LinkedIn profile, personality/strengths assessment results, if they’re interested in graduate school, if they’ve taken CRDV, how often they’ve met with a career coach, etc. From these snapshots we can make informed and meaningful decisions that better address student engagement and progress, as well as measure the effectiveness of our programs.

The data analytics tool gives us a comprehensive picture of where the student is in his career development as well as his short- and long-term goals. We have bridged the information gap as students transition from one year to the next and meet with various faculty and staff on campus. We’re able to understand small details as well as paint a larger picture of who our students are and what they need. And most importantly, we can take actions that improve the student experience, their likelihood of staying here, and success in their careers when they leave.

A Strategic Imperative

In an area of higher education as complex as a student’s career development, it is imperative that we are strategically working together across the university to build a comprehensive picture of our students as individuals and as a whole. Preparing a student for a career and life after college must be the responsibility of the entire university as it requires more than just creating a resume. In order for this to happen, we need a single space for data that allows us to communicate quickly and understand patterns.

With data analytics, our Career Center staff has been able to bring all the information on our students together to help us take action and best help them succeed at Tulane and beyond.

Melissa Lang is a Senior Career Advisor and Educator at Tulane University where she guides students through internships and job searches, career development and planning, resume writing, and interviewing and networking skills.


Posted in guest column | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment