Cool Tool | Accelerated Reader 360 from Renaissance

CREDIT AR360 RenaissanceWith the proven concept that consistent practice is powerful, Renaissance Accelerated Reader 360 oversees and assesses the reading abilities of K-12 students. Through the program, students read nonfiction and fiction texts personalized to their reading level, and then go on to complete activities and quizzes. Teachers can see student activity in a teacher and administrator-monitored dashboard; assessments are instantly scored and provide data to inform instruction, guide students to appropriate reading material, help teachers evaluate each student’s skills, and identify students needing intervention. Engaging students in this process, educators help students build transferable literacy skills that can move their students confidently and autonomously into more complex texts. Backed by more than 150 academic studies, use of the program is recognized as an accurate predictor of overall academic success, ultimately preparing students for college and career readiness. Learn more.

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Planting STEM Seeds of Interest

How young is too young to implement STEM education?

GUEST COLUMN | by Ricky Ye

credit-dfrobotAs advancements in how we approach STEM education and initiatives are on the rise around science, engineering, and mathematics, we’re seeing a greater impact on how we recognize children’s development and understanding of now-vital tech skills. Coding has become the new literacy, so it is essential to our children’s future that they learn to design and create digital technology via skills such as programming. There are many debates about what a child should and should not learn while they are growing up but coding and programming has become an essential one. But at what age should these skills be implemented? And how young is too young to introduce STEM education to children?

These courses need to be taught by engaged and enthusiastic teachers using hands-on and minds-on activities.

The Benefits of Robotics in STEM Education

Over the next five years, STEM education will have an even greater impact on the knowledge structure for innovation, spurring the next generation of visionaries. In order to expose more students to computer science, 17 states have passed legislation to create basic math and science requirements in the curriculum, rather than count them as electives. With coding and programming driving education, these skills will become more essential than ever before. After all, Oxford University estimates that as many as 47 percent of U.S. jobs could be wholly automated in the next 20 years. Given this information, it’s vital to implement programming and coding heavily into today’s educational programs, so that students have a firm grasp of the mechanisms behind it. It also ensures today’s students keep pace with the rate of innovation in the workplace.

As STEM courses become part of the core curriculum in schools around the world, robots and robotics will begin to serve as the central force of STEM education. We’re seeing robotics set on a course to impact wide-ranging fields such as medicine, military and disaster relief. In fact, looking ahead to 2019, it is predicted that 25 percent of all jobs will be offloaded to robots. Additionally, robots are increasingly being used as entertaining, interactive toys for children, creating opportunities for learning. As a result, children gain STEM skillsets by practicing, repeating and growing their coding abilities. The impact of robotics is unavoidable, which makes STEM skills both essential and synonymous with the future of work.

The Challenges of Implementing STEM too Early

STEM education focuses on helping students develop critical thinking and innovation skills, which is what they will need to succeed after high school. In order for students to develop a passion for these fields and the motivation to succeed in them, STEM education must be emphasized while students are still in kindergarten and elementary school. Why not earlier? STEM programs are typically very hands-on and intellectually challenging, so while it’s essential to introduce STEM to children at a young age, we need to also examine the challenges that may come with introducing it too early.

If STEM education is applied in children too young, they can actually be put at a disadvantage. A child’s cognitive development has not truly been shaped until approximately the age of five making it challenging for them to truly understand and grasp certain subject matters. However, that timeframe between kindergarten and fourth grade is essential to a child understanding STEM and the lack of practice during these school years can be detrimental to their overall success in these fields. In fact, approximately 40 percent of U.S. children are not ready for kindergarten and too many end up reaching the fourth grade lacking key science and math skills.

In order for children to truly succeed in STEM, their kindergarten education must focus on observation rather than concrete practice. This is more commonly known as teaching STEM through the process of play vs. learning. Play-based curriculum is acknowledged as a key factor in effective early learning. This education route lets children take the lead in exploring and asking open-ended questions that ultimately cause children to reflect on their actions, form theories and begin thinking strategically. In contrast, curriculum that features direct instruction is essential to building a child’s STEM skills and knowledge. However, a high percentage of pre-kindergarten teachers do not know or understand their role in early STEM education creating another challenge for students looking to learn and understand STEM at an early age. The lack of guidelines among STEM educators in schools around the world can put children at a disadvantage when that teacher leaves or retires.

Because STEM is so important for our children, we need to encourage the students currently in our educational systems, as well as future generations of students, to understand and embrace the technology that affects their lives everyday. Students should be advised on the merits of taking as many math and science courses in middle and high school as possible. And these courses need to be taught by engaged and enthusiastic teachers using hands-on and minds-on activities. Making science and math courses fun and interesting will not only help students to learn, but might also plant the seed of interest that could grow into an exciting and rewarding STEM career.

Ricky Ye is CEO of DFRobot, a dream factory for robo-holics. Their diverse team includes a former nuclear submarine technician, bluechip company senior engineer, artist, hacker and software guru. A robotics and open source hardware provider, they cater to hardware engineers, DIY enthusiasts and interactive designers, providing over 900 components and widgets, from sensors and robotic platforms to communication modules and 3D printers.

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Cool Tool | Skyscrapers from TinyBop

CREDIT TinyBop SkyscrapersIn Skyscrapers, these behemoths of modern urban life become as tangible and real as the concrete and steel they’re made of. As kids construct and investigate their own buildings, the app reveals the design, science, and lives behind opaque glass and towering heights. In the app, kids can create a skyline of skyscrapers, adding up to 50 floors, and choosing the facades and tops for each building. Kids test their building’s structure against wind, earthquakes, and dinosaurs. Kids also see how people live, work, and play inside, and how water and electricity travel through the building to keep them comfortable and happy. Skyscrapers is the seventh in Tinybop’s Explorer’s Library, a growing series that covers universal, fundamental topics kids learn about in school: from biology in The Human Body to physics in Simple Machines, from geology in The Earth to social studies in Homes. Each app is designed to nurture kids’ natural curiosity and foster lifelong learning habits. Parents are empowered to support their kid’s development with free downloadable handbooks that include interaction hints, tips, background information, discussion questions, and activities. The Skyscrapers Handbook is available in the app’s dashboard and at in eight languages.

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Connecting with Funding

What’s happening and what’s ahead for 2017 E-rate.

GUEST COLUMN | by Cathy Cruzan

credit-funds-for-learningE-rate has come a long way, and in the past four years funding has been restored for school and library connections. This year marks my 20th filing window, and 2016 reminded me again how important it is for schools and libraries to receive E-rate funds.

This year brought the latest funding window close in E-rate’s history. For the first time, the E-rate application was entirely online and a new discount request form had been rolled out. Applicants were told to allow extra time for themselves as they needed to become familiar with the new system. This was easier said then done, and ultimately, the window closing was pushed back. At the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) training in Los Angeles, USCA was candid about the challenges many encountered this year in the new E-rate Productivity Center (EPC). Of course, in any new system, challenges arise and we have to work through them.

There has been a lot of change, and it hasn’t been easy, but it’s a worthy cause, and we all have a role in helping the E-rate process move along.

Also noteworthy, USAC issued its fastest funding decision, coming only 21 days after the close of the filing window for schools. This wave represented more than 2,000 applications for requests that consisted of internet, data, and voice services. The total funding amount was $17.7 million and was surprisingly the lowest amount committed in a first funding wave. At the same time, it was also a positive indication that funds would begin flowing, and USAC would release applications as soon as they are processed.

The data behind each funding request has also been interesting. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • In the Category One funding requests, lit fiber exceeded $1.2 billion, nearly five times the requested amount of the next highest service (telephone), and included 4,402 requests for voice/internet services.
  • In Category Two, more than 65 percent of dollars requested by school and district applicants was for switching and Wi-Fi infrastructure. Throughout E-rate’s history, 2015 and 2016 have seen the highest participation in this category – reiterating the need for connectivity.

So what’s next for the 2017 E-rate year?

As we quickly move into this next year, there are significant political and financial scenarios to consider: we’ll have a new president wanting to make his/her mark on the FCC, and USAC has appointed a new vice president, Craig Davis, after his long-time predecessor retired. In both occurrences, we need to be mindful of changes they may have to make as the political climate shifts.

Until that time comes, our thinking should be on how to enhance the E-rate program’s support of schools and libraries nationwide. We’ve seen strong indicators already on the success of the E-rate program as $214.2 million has been disbursed for the 2016 year – an encouraging sign as to what is to come in this next year.

There has been a lot of change, and it hasn’t been easy, but it’s a worthy cause, and we all have a role in helping the E-rate process move along. In the coming weeks, look for influential survey data from Funds For Learning team discussing applicants’ reactions to the 2016-funding window. These numbers will shed some light on what this next funding year will bring.

As always we’ll keep our eye on what’s happening on the E-rate front.

Until then…

Cathy Cruzan is president of Funds For Learning, a leading E-rate funding compliance services firm with a mission to provide high quality solutions for the needs of E-rate stakeholders.

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Made in Finland

Helsinki-based company knows business, but does it know the business of education?

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

credit-claned-vesa-peralaBefore entering the edtech arena, Vesa Perälä was a senior exec at Nokia, Jabra, and Coloplast for nearly 15 years. He became an entrepreneur in 2008. As CEO of Web of Trust, he grew the company to over 100 million users, and closed deals with Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yandex, and He has founded companies in five countries, has three exits under his belt, and has raised over 25 million euros in venture capital for his startups thus far. An experienced international business developer, he is passionate about business models, scaling up, monetization mechanisms, and strategic partnerships—all of which have helped him with his current efforts, CLANED, an open, personal, and intelligent social learning platform leveraging AI to show a user’s study performance and personalize their learning for maximum results. Vesa recently raised half a million euros in a successful crowdfunding campaign, and just before that, signed with a Western Australian school system to provide the platform to nearly 100,000 users there. The Helsinki-based company clearly knows business, will it now succeed in the business of education?

I think we need to seriously shake up the education systems globally. We should not retrofit technology to out-dated educational systems, but write a new rulebook instead. 

Vesa provides some candid thoughts about edtech, learning, the praise heaped on Finland for their education system, and what’s in store not just for CLANED, but for the future of education.

You’ve grown companies to over 100 million euros; what prompted you to pivot to education? 

claned-logoVesa: The original idea of CLANED emerged already in 2004, but technology nor the market was ready back then. In 2013, we finally decided to start developing CLANED and today the global education market starts to look ready to be disrupted by digitalization. From my own perspective, ed-tech is the perfect combination: disruption by digitalization offers fantastic business opportunities but it also feels splendid to do good by improving the learning of individuals around the globe.

Your experience with business models, scaling up, and monetization mechanisms – does that strategy apply very well in education?  

Vesa: I think it does. Digitalization will impact education such like any other industry and most proven business models, etc., work there as well.

The goals of business and the goals of education are different. How would you characterize them, and where can they be compatible? 

Vesa: Any digital business is about personal relevancy these days. In education, most organizations still apply the one-size-fits-all approach although is widely acknowledged that individual learners learn differently. CLANED is bringing personal relevancy to all learners thus changing the old paradigm. From our perspective, the goals of education go hand in hand with the goals of business.

Let’s talk about metrics and change. What is effective change? What is there to learn about effective learning? 

Vesa: Effective change can be many things on different levels. From an individual student’s perspective, it can be more personalized learning materials or study buddy recommendations leading to optimized motivation and better learning results. It can be prevention of dropping out, or providing more challenging tasks for the most advanced students. From an organizations perspective, effectiveness can be about understanding how the current course materials work for the students or employees, or how they should be further improved. Most of all, effectiveness is about personalized learning and being able to provide it in real time.

You’re a Finland-based company, a country consistently ranking on top for its education systems, where being a teacher is more competitive than getting into law or medicine, and everyone seems to be in love with your country’s approach and results—perhaps to the same degree that they don’t admire what’s in their own. Is it really that great? Has technology played much of a role in any of that? Finland is smaller, more homogenous, has a lot more teachers per capita, how many lessons from Finland are really portable to the U.S. and abroad? 

Vesa: I truly think we have the best education system in the world. What’s even better is that, since August 2016, we are completely renewing it. The new nationwide curriculum emphasizes building core competences such as creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, etc., instead of memorizing things. Technology plays a major role in the new curriculum as it, when used right, can contribute a lot. CLANED plays a major role in the renewal process as we are providing the professional teacher training to Finnish teachers on CLANED in close to 30 cities/municipalities right now and estimate to reach 80 percent of all Finnish teachers in the near-term future.

What role does collaboration play in learning? 

Vesa: We see learning as an active process instead of a one-directional feeding of information from a teacher to a learner. Learning should build on the engagement of the learners. We must give our learners an active role so that they can use the things they already know and to build on their previous knowledge base. These kinds of solutions are commonly built on collaboration. And frankly, I see no other option.

Sure, the digital natives know how to use chats and social media—but it’s another thing to use them effectively as tools for learning.

Work-life is essentially collaborative. Our students need to learn how to use digital tools effectively to collaborate and create innovative solutions to real-life problems. Sure, the digital natives know how to use chats and social media—but it’s another thing to use them effectively as tools for learning.

How is technology shifting the education landscape toward a better future? Where are the pitfalls, where is the progress? 

Vesa: Technology should be linked with pedagogy. As such, it does not shift the landscape nor impact the learning truly. Purchasing iPads or similar for kids is mostly a waste of money if there is no plan how to utilize the devices with relevant digital content, a personal learning environment, etc.  Teachers need to be properly trained as well. Overall, technology should be seen as one important ingredient in the soup. It can impact learning very positively but not as a stand-alone element.

What does open, personal, and intelligent mean to you? 

Vesa: Ours is an open platform for multiple reasons: First of all, we are building an ecosystem powered by our unique insight into how learning takes place on individual and organizational level. We provide this insight to our partners to help them do better. Secondly, openness is about users and content providers deciding themselves in which content format they create their content. Our platform is not dictating this (i.e., there is no traditional authoring tool in it). Thirdly, a concept called CLANED Global Classroom enables students and teachers to build communities on any level even outside of organizational or country boundaries. Personal and personal relevancy is key to optimized study motivation and better learning results. CLANED ensures these by knowing how the individual learns different subjects in different learning setting and reacts accordingly by making relevant recommendations. On our platform, intelligence is hidden in the back-end and algorithms: we surface it as pieces of magic surprising users positively by relevant and timely recommendations. Intelligence is also about simplicity. Complex and bad user experiences are sooo yesterday.

Big data, student data, and privacy issues are all interlinked. How do you describe their relationships? 

Vesa: Big data, student data and privacy are naturally interlinked as you say. Privacy is of uttermost importance especially in learning and one can’t have any big data solutions without focusing on very robust privacy and security.

Anything else you care to add or emphasize concerning education, technology, or anything else? 

Vesa: I think we need to seriously shake up the education systems globally. We should not retrofit technology to out-dated educational systems, but write a new rulebook instead. EdTech start-ups, such as CLANED, can play a major role in this. Lastly, I think in the future education will be two things: mobile and personalized.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest and oversees the EdTech Awards. Featuring edtech’s best and brightest, the annual recognition program shines a spotlight on cool tools, inspiring leaders, and innovative trendsetters. Write to:


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