Cool Tool | Voters Ed from Second Avenue Learning

CREDIT second avenue VOTERS EDThis cool tool from Second Avenue Learning empowers students of all ages to understand the presidential election process. For use in a web browser on interactive whiteboards, computers and tablets, Voters Ed provides a platform for students to engage with historical and up-to-date election data without media spin or advertising. The program gives students primers on the Electoral College and presidential primaries. Students are able to explore results and key issues from all past presidential elections. By tracking current primaries and polls, students are able to build their own prediction maps for the election. Prediction maps can be saved for comparison and can be shared with teachers or parents. With the program, educators receive professionally designed lesson and technology integration plans that are tied to curricular standards and grade levels from kindergarten to AP and college-level learning. Voters Ed supports civic learning and discussion in a wide variety of classrooms. The range of data provided by Voters Ed makes it an appropriate resource both during and after the election cycle. Learn more.

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Challenging Territory

Navigating the B2B to B2C international solutions sales marketplace.

SMARTER SCHOOLS | by Michael Spencer

credit-google-earthSelling in the international school market can be difficult enough; selling to schools that generally have little understanding of blended learning leads to some especially challenging territory.  The success of a curriculum vendor’s international blended learning strategy begins on the learning curve with knowing the market, the international school’s core curriculum, and learning the needs of the individual schools. Then finally, to actually initiate a solution-based sale, someone must educate the school about the customized blended learning solution—a high bar before you get your foot in the door.

A solution-based strategy must be explained and demonstrated to the school owners and the decision maker, and must clearly define how the solution fits the school needs.

An important aspect of successful sales with international schools is the behind-the-scenes path involved to get to the sale, which can be multi-layered. Typically, international school sales are best supported by having a local representative, a reseller.  The curriculum vendor/supplier (usually a U.S.-based company) contracts with a local reseller who has extensive experience in the education sector, a team of sales representatives and has a business network in place. This is often referred to as a B-to-B relationship. When the reseller engages and begins to work with a school, yet another B-to-B relationship is established. Finally, when the school, with the assistance of the reseller, engages the parents to purchase the solution, a B-to-C sale, the third connective relationship is established.

Yes, the B (Vendor) to B (Reseller) to B (School) to C (parent /student) international business model results in multi-layered contracts, roles and strategies, and is a bit time consuming—yet results in low cost of student acquisition years two forward and automatic scale and student retention year over year.

A solution-based strategy must be explained and demonstrated to the school owners and the decision maker, and must clearly define how the solution fits the school needs. This is the responsibility of the reseller. The solution should reflect customization, showing the school the uniqueness of this solution and providing the school with a new perspective often over-riding their preconceived ideas. Solution-based sales sometimes requires the vendor and/or the reseller to adapt or repurpose an existing product or program.

International schools are interested in changing their programs to include a blended learning solution so they can:

  • gain a competitive edge
  • diversify their program offering
  • expand their curriculum
  • replace underperforming outdated curriculum
  • stimulate student’s interests
  • be current – offer updated methodologies and delivery modes
  • fulfill parent’s expectations of being the best school
  • personalize their program based on a student’s needs, pace and ability levels.

Implementing a solution-based sales approach can help schools to identify, focus and improve their weak areas in their academic program. For instance, the reseller can explain how a blended learning solution provides curriculum quality assurances:

  • fosters consistency in curriculum – in content and emphasis
  • easily adds school-wide specific course(s) to address a specific deficiency
  • promotes and assists in meeting accreditation standards.

And blended learning solutions further offer the schools benefits that the reseller can highlight:

  • improved student satisfaction
  • multi-modal delivery of information – teaching to learning styles
  • boosts student enrollment and retention.
  • reduced teacher lesson prep time
  • the staff training / orientation is usually offered free
  • increased one on one teacher student interaction
  • saves money – no more investment in books
  • staff vacancies can be filled easier with a facilitator/para-professional rather than a teacher
  • saves expenditures on teaching staff –  can use more paraprofessionals.

Success in utilizing a solution-based model when selling a blended learning solution to international schools is complex, but workable. It requires a flexible vendor, local reseller with in-country connections, reseller knowledge of the local education market and schools, motivated and solution-oriented trained local sales teams, education of the local school decision makers, as well as time and patience.

Michael Spencer is Senior Director of International Business Development at K12. He is past SVP at The American Education Corporation and past president of One2OneMate, with extensive experience building businesses, designing and manufacturing innovative consumer electronic products and successfully marketing them into the US, European and Latin American markets. He is a regular columnist writing the Smarter Schools column for EdTech Digest. Write to:

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The Best Methods

Transforming special education through measurement science.

GUEST COLUMN | by Rick Kubina

credit-chartlyticsSince the passage of the landmark Public Law 94-142 in 1975, special education has grown as a field. Yet special education finds itself a young applied science continuing to discover the best methods for providing differentiated and appropriate education for all students.

As an example, the Supreme Court may soon tackle the issue of what constitutes a “meaningful” educational benefit. The petition to the Supreme Court shows the circuit courts disagree as to what an appropriate level of education means. From the SCOTUS blog:

“Two circuits – the Sixth and the Third – hold that a child’s individualized education program (IEP) must be calculated to provide the child with a substantial educational benefit … Five other circuits expressly reject that view and hold that this Court’s decision in Rowley requires no more than a just-above-trivial educational benefit … Three circuits also appear to apply the just-above-trivial standard but without expressly rejecting the higher standard … And the Ninth Circuit is internally conflicted, with different panels aligning with opposite sides of the circuit split.”

My company took the Precision Teaching (PT) process and transformed it into a simple-to-use, web-based platform.

The disheartening state affairs special education finds itself in stems from the lack of adoption of a robust measurement science. A “meaningful educational benefit” derives from an intensive, individualized, precise data monitoring system. The field of special education has had such an engine of measurement, Precision Teaching.

Measurement science

Precision Teaching (PT) began in late ’60s and has given rise to thousands of peer-reviewed articles, an annual international conference, a professional journal, and an organizational body governing its members. Even with all research showing PT’s effectiveness, the measurement science finds itself a niche community due to its paper-based roots.

In recent years, PT is finding a resurgence, as online tools become available to help simplify the “charting” process. Chartlytics is one of these companies, and today teachers are able to apply the power of PT into their classrooms with minimal workload to great effect.

My company took the Precision Teaching process and transformed it into a simple-to-use, web-based platform. Through the app, teachers first generate a “pinpoint.” The pinpoint describes a target behavior generated from a precision framework that enhances the detectability of behavior earmarked for change. The second step called “record” helps teacher measure a pinpoint with real units of measurement (i.e., frequency, duration, latency). It turns out most teachers use percent correct as their principal metric for understanding behavior change. However, percent correct has many limitations and provides only basic information.

The third step of Precision Teaching helps the teacher decide whether or not they need to make a “change.” A specialized visual display called the Standard Celeration Chart offers a ratio chart designed to depict data with standard slope and quantification of learning rates. The fourth and last step of PT shows teacher how to “try again” and apply recursive problem solving strategies gleaned from individualized learning statistics and a record of past interventions.

Case study in blending compassion and measurement science

Stephanie Slavick, a special education teacher at Intermediate Unit 1 in southwestern Pennsylvania, began using the principles of precision measurement in her autistic support classroom. Stephanie started by redesigning all of her Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) with pinpoints. Common terms such as aggression, tantrums, and participation had to go.

Examples of IEP terminology changes:

Before                                                 After

Property destruction                      Throws object in the classroom

Elopement                                        Walks self out of classroom without permission

Noncompliance                                Rips paper when presented instructional material

When reading the list, the accuracy and countability standards necessary to observe a student’s behavior and/or apply an positive intervention dramatically shift when comparing the before and after columns. Labeling behavior with precision requires skill. Without pinpoints, discerning the presence or absence of targeted IEP objectives can pose a challenge for the teacher and staff.

Changing vague targets and unclear objectives to laser-focused, precision objectives marks the first step for crafting an appropriate, relevant, constructive IEP.

Stephanie also added a dimensional measure into all of her IEPS: frequency. The inadequacy of percent correct bothered Stephanie because she realized achieving 90 percent accuracy provided a false standard of mastery. For instance, a student scored 9 out 10 on a spelling test but took five minutes to achieve the goal. The student’s painfully slow spelling behavior meant she could perform the behavior with accuracy, but without speed. And with almost all skill, speed matters.

Stephanie now writes all of her objectives with a frequency measure. Frequency refers to the count of a behavior over time. Frequency advances time sensitive allowing comparisons of behavior to a frequency standard. For example, fluent typists can keyboard 60 to 90 words per minute. A student keyboarding only 10 words per minute would immediately reveal the discrepancy between the present level of behavior compared to the standard.

The careful selection of a target behavior (i.e., pinpoint) and its measurement with frequency show the course of change when placed on a Standard Celeration Chart (SCC). The SCC functions similar to an electrocardiogram:

-standard visual display reduces interpretation errors and facilities accurate decision making

-precise, quantitative metrics lead to a rich description of behavior change

-data conventions and pattern recognition enhance communication of important intervention effects

Taken together, pinpoints, units of measurement such as frequency, and a standard universal visual display like the Standard Celeration Chart, reveal “meaningful education benefits.” Teachers like Stephanie provide hope and epitomize the compassion and science necessary to transform special education.

Rick Kubina, Ph.D., is a professor of special education at Penn State and co-founder of Chartlytics, helping people create dramatic performance improvement. Write to:

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In the Company of Makers

A pioneering computer scientist inspires next-gen engineers with hands-on learning.

GUEST COLUMN | by Susie Armstrong

credit-qualcomm-thinkabit-labThe increasing need in the U.S. to have more people prepared for STEM careers is alarming. The economy is producing more high skilled jobs than there are high skilled workers available to fill them. In fact, there could be as many as 2.4 million unfilled STEM jobs in the United States by 2018.

This lack of STEM expertise begins in the K-12 years and becomes very apparent at the advanced degree level. According to the National Science Foundation, 77 percent of electrical engineering and 71 percent of computer science graduate students at U.S. universities were foreign nationals in 2013. As a computer scientist who has had the opportunity to work for two pioneering technology companies, this concerns me.

Looking back, it is wonderful to see what my early exposure to STEM has led to, but in a way it’s also troubling that not every student has that opportunity.

I was interested in math and science from an early age. With engaged parents and interested and invested teachers, I had a significant support system to pursue these studies. While I thought this would lead to a field in medicine, I switched to computer science after taking my first programming class in college. I had also always loved handcrafts and building, so programming felt like puzzles to solve and a new way of “making.”

I had eight job offers when I graduated Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. With a Bachelor’s in Computer Science, I took a job at Xerox, and had a hand in creating what many considered to be the first personal computer. Twelve years later, I ended up with another technology pioneer, Qualcomm. Again surrounded by engineers, researchers and technologists, I created a simple way to access the internet in our mobile devices. That same technology is used in the groundbreaking smart cities and Internet of Things technologies. Looking back, it is wonderful to see what my early exposure to STEM has led to, but in a way it’s also troubling that not every student has that opportunity.

At Qualcomm, a company of inventors, we believe a huge hurdle to getting students into STEM fields is the lack of exposure to how interesting and creative STEM fields and careers can be. We have a keen interest in inspiring students to pursue high-growth STEM careers. That’s why Qualcomm created the Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab, which brings students and educators into a dedicated space—part lab, makerspace and classroom—to foster problem-solving, creativity, collaboration and help develop critical skills needed for 21st-century jobs.

The Thinkabit Lab has served thousands of students, teachers and administrators in the San Diego area since opening in 2014; many of those students had never been exposed to STEM and related careers.

As an engineer, inventor and someone who had experienced firsthand the challenge, excitement and pride of a STEM career, I was fascinated instantly by the Thinkabit Lab and its hands-on making and STEM activities, as well as its World of Work experience, which enables students to see what kinds of careers these activities could lead to. I wanted more people to experience it, to bring additional depth and expertise to Thinkabit, and to better support educators; expanding the Thinkabit Lab with universities was a clear path.

Our first collaboration outside of San Diego launched on September 8 with Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering and School of Education. Virginia Tech has strong expertise in engineering, education and education leadership, and for several decades has prepared thousands of talented professionals in these fields. The location of its Northern Virginia campus at Falls Church, Virginia is well situated for working with national capital region students and teachers.

I’m excited that Qualcomm and Virginia Tech are collaborating to leverage Thinkabit Lab initiatives with research to create new academic programs, and to promote innovative STEM experiences. Of course, we have all been eager to unveil the first Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab outside of San Diego region.

I am fortunate to work for a company of makers, problem-solvers, and innovators that realize the importance of inspiring the inventors of tomorrow to create the technology of the future, and this has given me the chance to wear many hats during the last twenty years. Through Thinkabit, I have an opportunity to help pass on some of that good fortune, working with an accomplished university. I hope the Washington, D.C. area will engage with the new Qualcomm Virginia Tech Thinkabit lab as the San Diego community has, and I look forward to helping others choose a career with the kind of creativity, challenge, satisfaction, and yes, fun, that I have in a STEM field.

Susie Armstrong is a Senior VP of Engineering at Qualcomm, and leader of the Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab. She was a pioneer in bringing Internet protocols to the cellular industry, resulting in the first web surfing on a cellular phone in 1997, and Qualcomm’s commercialization of packet data in 1998. She subsequently led the chipset software group, and the worldwide engineering group that commercialize Qualcomm’s products into mobile devices. She is currently working to bring that engineering and product background to Qualcomm’s policy work.

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Cool Tool | Big Word Club

CREDIT Big Word ClubYou’ve heard of the Digital Divide, well, here’s a very different chasm in education: the Word Gap. What’s this? “A gap in vocabulary between rich and poor,” says Shane DeRolf, founder and CEO of Big Word Club. Research has documented that students from lower socioeconomic homes hear as many as 30 million fewer words by the time they’re four years-old, translating to a gap of 400-700 words in their vocabularies between themselves and kids from higher socioeconomic families. “If you consider that vocabulary is the single best predictor of success in school and in life,” he says, “then it’s easy to see why disadvantaged kids who know fewer words at kindergarten tend to start behind and stay behind. 400-700 words is a lot but it’s not insurmountable.” Providing parents and teachers with better tools to teach vocabulary to today’s media-savvy kids in ways that kids love and that work for busy teachers and parents is the mission of Big Word Club. “How do you close the Word Gap in America? In the same way that you eat an elephant—one bite at a time—we believe you do it one word and one day at a time,” says Shane. Big Word Club has developed one of the first low-cost, highly scalable digital learning programs that uses books, songs, animation and dance to teach kids a new “BIG” word every day of the school year—that’s 180 new words every year. Meanwhile, they’re helping a generation of kids fall in love with words—which they strongly believe will set them on a course for success that will last a lifetime. Learn more.

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