Edgenuity Completes Compass Learning Acquisition

EdgenuityEdgenuity, a leader in online and blended learning solutions, today announced the successful completion of the Compass Learning acquisition. The deal, announced in August 2016, creates the market’s most robust suite of digital curriculum products and extends Edgenuity’s reach from Kindergarten through high school.

“We see the growing demand of educators for personalized, targeted learning across all grade levels,” said Sari Factor, CEO of Edgenuity. “Now, with Compass Learning fully integrated into Edgenuity, we are in an even stronger position to address schools’ most important needs with high-quality online curriculum and tools for each critical stage of learning – from elementary to the middle grades to high school.”

With the acquisition now complete, the breath of Edgenuity’s product portfolio spans K-12 online and blended learning content, initial credit and credit recovery courses, and intervention solutions – along with a strong instructional services business. In addition, Edgenuity will enter the test readiness market this year with UpSmart™, the first fully adaptive middle school solution to help students demonstrate mastery of state standards in English language arts and math.

“With the acquisition, Edgenuity gained both exceptional people and products from Compass Learning,” continued Factor. “We will focus on utilizing the strength and talent of our newly combined company to accelerate our mission to help educators achieve their academic goals and improve outcomes for all students across K-12.”

The combined company, headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona, will operate under the Edgenuity brand.

In the next few weeks, more information will be available for NCCSA members regarding this announcement. 

What Effective Blended Learning Looks Like

A high school algebra teacher in Lawrence, KS, has her students watch Khan Academy videos for homework, and when they come to class the next day, she gives them a choice of what to do: They can work together on a problem set that puts the lesson into practice, teaching — and learning from — each other. They can work independently on the same problem set. Or, they can listen to the teacher go over the lesson herself in a more intimate, small-group setting.

In Sonoma County, CA, high school students in Catlin Tucker’s N.E.W. (Next Evolution in Work-based Learning) School classroom rotate through various stations as they learn concepts related to a cross-curricular theme. At some of the stations, students work offline by reading handouts or attending small-group “skill labs.” Other stations have students working online, such as doing internet research or reading digital texts from McGraw-Hill’s StudySync or other sources. Then, students break into groups to collaborate on solving a real-world challenge of their own design.

Read More

How to Create Relevant, Compelling Online and Blended Learning Assignments

Tests and quizzes are a common tool for assessing what students have learned, but relevant and compelling assignments can offer similar insights and allow students more opportunities to explore their creativity and the subject at hand. In online and blended learning classrooms, effective assignments can hold an even more significant weight, as test results may not always provide a true assessment of a student’s comprehension.

Although creating assignments may seem tedious and daunting to some teachers, it truly pays off to be able to create a valuable experience for both students and educators. Here are a few ideas and tips on creating relevant and compelling assignments in online and blended learning classrooms:

Get to know your students with questionnaires and surveys.

With online courses, it can be quite difficult to get to know your students since the direct face-to-face interaction is simply not there. One way to alleviate some of this obscurity is by assigning an ice-breaker questionnaire. You can make this a private, teacher’s-eyes-only assignment, or you can allow students to share with fellow classmates to help them build a sense of community. However, some students may be uncomfortable sharing personal details with the rest of the class, so you may opt to exclude potentially sensitive information in a group assignment.

To make the questionnaire audience appropriate, you can tailor the ice-breaker assignment depending on the learning level of students within the class. With elementary learners, the questionnaire may include a favorites section, for example, with questions about favorite foods, books, sports, activities, etc. You can also include simple school- or goal-related statements such as, “I’m excited to learn about …,” “The part of school I struggle with most is …,” or “When I grow up, I want to …” These are easy for students to understand, yet the answers can provide you with great insight into the student’s relationship with education. If possible, you may also create a questionnaire that parents or guardians can complete to help shed light on their child’s strengths and struggles.

Survey blended learning assignment on tablet

With high school learners, you can include similar school- and goal-related statements. You can also include questions that make students think on another level. For example, “Describe school/yourself in one word,” “Who was the best/worst teacher you’ve had and why?” and “If you could have dinner with any one person, who would it be and why?” These are all types of questions that can give you a more unique insight into the student’s personality and background.

Middle school learners can receive a mix of elementary and high school questions. And at all learning levels, it is good to end with a simple, “What else should I know about you?” so students can address what previous questions didn’t ask. Find more ice-breaker examples to help familiarize yourself with students in the online classroom.

Another fun way to get to know your students is by using surveys. These can be deployed as an ice-breaker assignment, or they can be sent at intervals throughout the semester to help promote classroom discussions, check for understanding after difficult lessons, and collect general course feedback. For instance, if the class is going through a tough lesson, you may want to send out a light-hearted, non-school-related survey as a pleasant, brief interruption (e.g. fun “would you rather” questions). In blended learning classrooms, you can physically write your own surveys. Or, read more and view a tutorial about using SurveyMonkey, an online tool that allows you to create unique ten-question surveys for free. Read More

What’s Next? Personalized, Project-Based Learning

It’s easy to do project-based learning, it’s just hard to do it well.

Project-based learning is a great way to engage students, to encourage collaboration and creativity, and to promote authentic work and assessment. But it’s hard to:

  • set a high bar for high quality project deliverables;
  • assess projects objectively especially when they’re all different;
  • help students with low level skills engage in challenging projects;
  • mitigate the free rider problem of loafing team members;
  • provide enough but not too much formative feedback and support; and
  • avoid big knowledge gaps resulting from a string of projects.

A new generation of schools are blending the best of personalized learning and project-based learning to address these challenges. They value deeper learning and development of success skills (growth mindset and social emotional learning) and track competency in all outcome areas. They use a variety of grouping and scheduling strategies to offer a rich and varied learning experience. They provide customized supports to build individualized skill fluency to allow students with learning gaps to fully engage in challenging projects.

Next-Gen Models
Following are 10 U.S. K-12 next generation school networks representing about 275 schools (two thirds of them in school districts). The blended environments combine personalized learning strategies and tools with challenging and integrated projects.

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  • High Tech High is probably the known project-based school in the world. What makes it so successful in serving a diverse population is the twin commitment to equity and deeper learning. At High Tech High, “everyone exercises voice and choice, engages in work that is accessible and challenging and connects with the world beyond school,” said Kelly Wilson. She added, “Multiple rounds of critique and revision of student work throughout the project provide personalized support, enabling students to not only demonstrate transformation of knowledge and application of skills, but growth over time.” Wilson directs the Masters in Leadership at the HTH Graduate School of Education.
  • New Tech Network is a national network of project-based schools (90% district schools) that share a common (and recently updated) learning platform. They continue to improve the skill-building capacity to enable students to fully benefit from challenging project-based work. As a network, they support public school districts that “create vibrant learning organizations where students graduate ready for college and career.” (See feature on Katherine Smith Elementary.)
  • Harmony Public Schools, a Texas network of STEM schools, used a Race to the Top grant to incorporate project-based learning into their blended learning model. With frequent demonstrations of learning, the interdisciplinary model is called Students on Stage (STEM SOS). The online Harmony PBL Showcase is designed to promote and share exemplary student work that can serve as valuable learning and teaching tools for students, parents, teachers and other educators. Three project infographics of the hundreds currently available online are shown below.

  • Summit Public Schools in the Bay Area uses digital playlists to develop knowledge and skills and to prepare students to engage in challenging projects. (See 10 innovative features of the Summit model.)



  • Brooklyn Lab is new blended middle school that, with Summit, is among the best examples of a team simultaneously developing a next generation learning environment and platform (see 2014 trip report). Built on the Ed-Fi data standard with support from the Dell Foundation, the Cortex platform is highly configurable. School head Eric Tucker said, “LAB is increasingly engaging students in authentic, rigorous, relevant, and collaborative projects that are designed for complex learners and students with diverse ability levels. Whether the project is designing the academic program of high school of the future, health bars for disaster relief, treatments for drug-resistant malaria, a supply list for a wilderness survival trek, or a building. LAB increasingly uses projects to fuel learning.” Given the diverse learners LAB serves, each project has multiple access points and distinct roles that enable a fall range of students to engage and succeed. Cortex Playlists, Agenda Book, and Goal Setting help make this possible.
  • Thrive Public Schools founder Dr. Nicole Assisi said there was no risk of learning gaps at Thrive given their approach to blended and personalized learning. While blended learning rotations fill in content gaps, “project-based learning is necessary to engage learners, to build enthusiasm, and support authentic work and exhibition,” said Assisi. She added, “If school is just skills building and no application, where’s the joy?” The following short video explains Thrive’s approach to project-based learning.

  • Workshop School in Philadelphia seeks to “unleash the creative and intellectual potential of young people to solve the world’s toughest problems.” Andy Calkins, NGLC, said, “Workshop is interesting because they are trying to demonstrate that deep, PBL-infused personalized learning can work for 100% high-poverty, very at-risk urban student populations, as a counter to the rigid, behaviorist, almost bootcamp-style “No Excuses” models. Workshop’s leaders are convinced that state-test proficiency in ELA and math is important but wholly inadequate as an enabler (and predictor) of success after high school.” (See their Rethinking the Achievement Gap series the difference between reducing test-score gaps and the imperative to increase deeper learning for the most vulnerable students.)
  • Da Vinci Schools, like Thrive, Brooklyn Lab, Workshop and Summit, is an Next Generation Learning Challenges grant winner. The schools near LAX engage K-12 students in project-based learning that emphasizes depth over breadth, engages students’ interests and motivates them to learn in a personalized learning environment where every student is known, seen and valued. Da Vinci is hosting a summer institute in July focused on building student culture, partnering with industry, project based learning, and mastery based grading.
  • Design Tech High uses design principles to personalize the learning experience for high school students in San Mateo, California. “Competency-based learning means not giving up in a kid until they get it,” said founder Ken Montgomery. Every week teachers mark students as ahead, on track, or off track using multiple forms of formative assessment. Students schedules are flexible to ensure that students get the right support at the right time.
  • SPARK Schools in South Africa, adds design thinking projects to a Rocketship-like blend. The competency-based flex allows students to progress as they demonstrate mastery in core subjects. More than half of the students have different reading and math levels and, as a result, benefit from a differentiated approach.


In higher education, Olin College of Engineering, in western metro Boston, offers an “interdisciplinary, project-based approach emphasizing entrepreneurship, liberal arts, and rigorous science and engineering fundamentals.” A summer Kern Family Foundation sponsored Collaboratory makes lessons learned available to other colleges.

Worcester Politech is a great example of a 150 year old institution transformed by a 40 year commitment to problem-based learning organized in seven week terms. WPI is a member of the Kern sponsored KEEN Network, engineering schools seeking to unleash entrepreneurship.

College for America, a program of nonprofit Southern New Hampshire University, uses a couple dozen projects to help students develop 120 competencies to earn a degree. There is no failure in the competency-based system-just “mastery” and “not yet.” Students can re-submit work and benefit from feedback from the adjunct faculty members. Learners have a coach that serves as an academic advisor and helps construct and monitor an academic plan. There is a fast and slow path with more individualized supports for struggling students.

Stanford physicist Carl Wieman is a leading advocate for project-based learning in HigherEd (listen to his recent NPR interview). Read More

Moving Beyond Grade-Driven Learning

Portrait of Young Kids first day of SchoolOne of the topics that came up over and over again during my conversation with the RSU2 team is how to address the needs of students who aren’t at grade level. It’s a huge topic wherever I go because the majority of districts converting to competency education are still trying to teach students grade-level standards even when they know the students don’t have prerequisite knowledge. Yes, there is much more effort to provide additional support, there is lots of scaffolding, and they are working hard to create elective courses in high schools to build foundational knowledge. But the problem seems to be that we can’t shake off the idea that we should be teaching students the standards at their grade level rather than personalizing education so they have the opportunity to build the foundational skills (and fluency) they will need to be successful.

Meeting Students Where They Are

In our conversations, RSU2 leaders described how converting to measurement topics and learning targets has been very effective in helping students who have the prerequisite knowledge to learn the skills. However, in hindsight, they found that it would have been wiser to build the capacity to use the system of topics and targets to support students where they were in their own learning progression. Steve Lavoie, Principal of Richmond Middle and High School, explained, “Ideally, we would have shifted our perspectives to look at the continuum of learning rather than continue to have measurable learning objectives structured within grade bands. Everyone has some holes in their learning, even the valedictorian, but when students do not have prerequisite skills or have significant gaps in their learning, it creates tremendous pressure on the teachers and the students. We need to know where are the kids on our continuum of learning.”

One person used the example of the “fraction chasm” where more than 50 percent of the fourth and fifth grade math standards are about fractions. In sixth grade, working with fractions continues as students learn to apply them. When students start to tackle algebra, they will once again be drawing on their understanding of fractions. If students aren’t fluent in fractions, it is going to impact their learning into secondary school. Yet, the traditional practice of teaching a grade-level curriculum prevails.

This is super important – if we always teach at grade level standards, how do we find out where students really are on their learning progression? If we don’t know what they know and don’t know, how do we help them learn it? Most of the standards-based grading information systems don’t help us with this – they tell us how students are progressing in the standards at the grade level or in the course but not where students are, inform us about what skills they have (and don’t have), and help schools plan how to make sure students have the prerequisite skills. So a question for all districts converting to proficiency-based learning is, “How will you know what skills students have and how will you track their progress?”

John Armentrout, Director of Information Technology, explained, “There are many implications to consider in how a school creates the architecture of the measurement topics and learning targets. One of the things to think about is how it will support students who do not have the foundational knowledge for the age-based curriculum.”

So the question now becomes, What would this look like? Read More

iNACOL Releases Updated Strategic Plan

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) illuminates, instigates and collaborates to drive systems change. Since 2002, iNACOL has helped stakeholders make sense of the trends advancing the global transformation of K-12 education and, together with our partners, we commit to continuing our pursuit of powerful, personalized, learner-centered experiences for all students. Our mission, vision and values will power our strategies to address current and future challenges and to leverage ongoing opportunities in the field.

To download iNACOL’s strategic plan infographic, click here.


Edgenuity/NCCSA Webinar

Learn more about how Edgenuity can help NCCSA schools. Join Edgenuity, a leading provider of online and blended learning solutions, for an informative webinar on how to use online curriculum to meet your academic goals. Whether for initial credit, credit recovery, or remediation, Edgenuity will partner with you in developing a solution to meet your students’ exact needs.

Edgenuity offers:

  • Standards-aligned core courses
  • A next-generation platform for blended learning
  • Data analytics
  • Advanced Placement courses
  • Elective courses
  • Dual-credit courses
  • World language courses
  • Data-driven intervention for math and reading

Please join us to learn more about Edgenuity and the NCCSA/Edgenuity Partnership: Wednesday, February 24 – 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time

Background: For those that may not have reviewed previous information, the NCCSA and others have worked for many years in combining the best attributes from various vendors to allow schools to utilize a next-generation learning platform. Blended and personalized learning is no longer the future of education—it is here. It is fully integrated in many public school districts, it is implemented in most private academies, and Christian schools are slowly incorporating the benefits that this type of platform allows. When learning styles are truly understood, an educator realizes that not all students learn the same way; yet most schools still follow the same structure of instruction that controls the student’s pace of learning, place of learning, and path of learning. The NCCSA and Edgenuity marketing packet is available HERE.

NCCSA Administrators have been emailed the webinar registration details. If you have any questions, please email info@nccsa.org.

Edgenuity’s Innovative Blended Learning Solutions Recognized by Leading Ed Tech Organizations

Edgenuity, a leading provider of online and blended learning solutions, announced today that four leading ed tech organizations recognized the company for its curriculum and products. The accolades highlight Edgenuity’s continued leadership in delivering online and blended learning solutions that personalize the learning experience for students and drive better academic outcomes.

“2015 was a tremendous year for Edgenuity, as an increasing number of schools and districts across the country adopted our solutions to address a range of academic needs,” said Sari Factor, CEO of Edgenuity. “We’re driving meaningful student learning gains with the courses and products that were recognized by these organizations, and we look forward to continuing to build upon this momentum in the years to come.”

Edgenuity’s 2015 industry awards are detailed below.

33rd Tech & Learning Awards of Excellence

  •     Best New Product – Edgenuity MyPath™
  •     Best Updated Product – Edgenuity Curriculum and Learning Management System

The Awards of Excellence recognize outstanding ed tech products: both creative new offerings and significantly updated products that help educators in the business of teaching, training and managing with technology.

District Administration 2015 Readers’ Choice Top Products

  •     Top Product – Edgenuity’s Online and Blended Learning Solutions

This annual award program alerts superintendents and other senior school leaders to the best products their colleagues around the country use to achieve district excellence. Read More

What Blended Learning Means for Teachers

Blended learning is growing rapidly, with half of high school students expected to engage in some form of online study by 2019. While considerable research has focused on the efficacy of distinct blending learning models, far less attention has been paid to the people developing and implementing those programs. While technology may open doors for students to broader and deeper content, it is really an opportunity for skilled teachers to use online programs to build on and enhance their existing practice. This is why blended learning—the strategic combination of in-person and virtual learning to personalize instruction—cannot replace good teaching; rather, it demands good teaching.

Over the past year, with support from The Learning Accelerator, TNTP visited more than 20 schools across the country to better understand how blended learning affects key human capital issues. We observed various instructional models in action and interviewed more than 60 teachers and leaders about their experiences.

On these visits, we saw educators breaking out of the traditional “25 students in a box” model, using technology in innovative ways to better serve each of their students; we saw a classroom where students moved seamlessly between working independently and receiving one-on-one instruction while using an online personalized playlist that laid out everything they needed to learn over the course of the year. We saw another school where teams of lead teachers and assistant teachers worked together in learning labs to guide students in targeted small group instruction.    Read More

NCCSA has selected Edgenuity as its primary Online Learning Partner

The North Carolina Christian School Association (NCCSA) has selected Edgenuity as its primary online learning partner. Edgenuity will provide access to its full curriculum and offer Instructional Services, EdgenuityMyPath, and interactive tools including CloseReader™ and read-aloud translations to more than 70 NCCSA member schools as well as other private schools within the overall NCCSA network. Many schools are already using Edgenuity, some are transferring a few classes to Edgenuity after Christmas, and some are planning to implement Edgenuity during the summer of 2016. We are excited about this opportunity for NCCSA schools, as well as other schools in the overall NCCSA network.

To view this announcement, please click here.

The NCCSA and Edgenuity Marketing Packet is located HERE.

NCCSA State Office

Education Transformation: From One-Size-Fits-All to Student-Centered Learning – Part Two

This is the second post in a series on education transformation. See the first post here.

Blended Learning

It is difficult to imagine being able to implement personalized learning without technology. The tools in blended and online learning can support flexible pacing, differentiated instruction, immediate interventions and anywhere, anytime learning.

What is most important is to understand the nuanced differences between blended learning models and the instructional designs that can enable personalized learning and how personalized learning itself can be a driving concept for new learning models. Blended learning is a combination of face-to-face learning experiences and online learning platforms, content and tools for personalizing instruction. True blended learning is a modality for realizing a fundamental shift in the instructional model toward personalized learning.

It is important to examine blended learning models to evaluate the extent to which high-quality implementations create major shifts in the instructional design—from the differences in educator roles in traditional, one-size-fits-all classrooms (one teacher, one textbook, one pathway to learning objectives)—and transform learning experiences to result in personalized learning opportunities to optimize teaching and learning. Thus, blended learning is about the transformation of the instructional design toward personalized learning with teachers and students harnessing advanced technological tools to accomplish the shift toward personalization by design.

Blended learning instructional designs leverage the strengths of both the classroom and online modalities. The blended learning instructional model shifts have the potential to result in “learning optimization” to create more personalized learning opportunities. Read More

Education Transformation: From One-Size-Fits-All to Student-Centered Learning – Part One

As I travel throughout the country and the world, I am excited by the work of a few tireless education pioneers and innovators who are shaping future education to transform learning for future generations of students by how well students demonstrate high levels of knowledge and skills through personalized pathways and their ability to show what they know in performance-based assessments.

The three areas that intersect to create the perfect storm for this education transformation are: personalization, blended learning and competency education.

The power of each moves us away from the monolithic, industrialized factory model of schooling and toward a rich, flexible learning environment in which students move through advancing mastery along learning pathways, grounded in curricula redesigned with strong standards and required skills but with the flexibility of personalized experiences and heightened student voices and choices.


Personalization theory pushes educators to think outside the box by emphasizing the need for learners to be involved in designing their own learning processes (Campbell & Robinson, 2007). In a personalized learning environment, learners have agency to set their own goals for learning, create a reflective process during their journey to attain those goals and be flexible enough to take their learning outside the confines of the traditional classroom.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development (2006), there are five phases of personalized learning:

  • Assessment: Teacher and students work together in a formative manner to identify strengths and weaknesses.
  • Teaching and learning: Teachers and students select learning strategies.
  • Curriculum choice: Student chooses the curriculum, creating a pathway for student choice.
  • Radical departure from typical education models: Built on student progress, this phase provides teachers the flexibility to choose their own teaching strategies.
  • Education beyond the classroom: Using social and community connections, students personalize their surroundings (with the help of the teacher, when needed) to create their ideal learning environment.

Read More

Grade levels could be a thing of the past in schools focused on competency

Some educators says grouping students by age is too important for social-emotional development to give up grade levels altogether. Photo by Fuse/Getty Images

Some educators says grouping students by age is too important for social-emotional development to give up grade levels altogether. Photo by Fuse/Getty Images

In a suburb just outside of Denver, Principal Sarah Gould stands outside a fifth-grade classroom at Hodgkins Elementary School watching students work. This classroom, she explains, is for students working roughly at grade level. Down the hall, there are two other fifth-grade classrooms. One is labeled “Level 2 and 3,” for students who are working at the second and third-grade levels. The other is for students who are working at a middle-school level. Read More

6 Categories of Deeper Learning Skills for Education Leaders

Deeper learning is an umbrella term for the skills, understandings, and mindsets students must possess to succeed in today’s careers and civic life. They must tackle challenging interpersonal issues of cross-cultural understanding and conflict resolution, and the urgent global issues of our time, such as availability of clean water and nutritious and affordable food, poverty, and climate change. Increasingly, schools are taking a lead role in supporting students as they develop the critical deeper learning skills to address these challenges.

Classroom teachers with expertise in deeper learning skills can more successfully orchestrate these experiences for their students. To support teachers in developing their expertise, Digital Promise is building a system of micro-credentials based on deeper learning skills to identify and recognize teacher competencies. Micro-credentials are much more focused and granular than diplomas, degrees or certificates. As such, they are more flexible, and support educators with many options for both formal and informal learning throughout their careers.

While teacher competence in deeper learning is important, it is also essential for education leaders at all levels to understand, articulate and model deeper learning skills. Leaders who operate from a deeper learning mindset can support a coherent culture of inquiry and risk-taking in schools, essential for continuous and transformative improvements. For each of the six areas of deeper learning below, we identify ways education leaders can develop their skills. Read More

To Innovate Or Not to Innovate? Solving the Educator’s Dilemma

When it comes to innovation in education, there is a tension.

Some educators express concern about innovating when children are involved. Innovation implies experimentation and uncertainty. Aren’t “disruptive innovation” or even “breakthrough sustaining innovations” too risky to pursue in schools given that the well-being of children is at stake?

Other educators come at it from the opposite perspective. Believing that current schools aren’t good enough for students, they think avoiding innovation in schools is akin to malpractice. 

In our new book, Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools, Heather Staker and I devote a chapter to sketching out a way to innovate that takes into account the truth in both positions: the need for caution in unpredictable innovations, and the need for innovation to improve how educators serve students.

When launching something that is unfamiliar and unpredictable, with a low ratio of knowledge to hypotheses, educators need to change the planning and design process. A standard planning process—making a plan, looking at the projected outcomes from the plan, and then, assuming those outcomes look desirable, implementing it—will not work, because the assumptions, both implicit and explicit, on which the outcomes rest are often wrong. This is why bold new plans—be they disruptive or sustaining—do not typically survive long beyond their point of initiation.

Even some of the most successful blended-learning schools have made significant adjustments to their original plans and designs as they have operated. Summit Public Schools, for example, uses the lean-startup method to iterate rapidly. Accordingly, a Summit school today looks completely unrecognizable compared to its first blended-learning model. Read More

What’s New About Blended Learning

My friend’s question resonated with me. As a young teacher, I had embraced project-based learning in an era of standards and accountability and had been a founding teacher in a small high school that incorporates many elements of the expeditionary learning model.  In fact, as someone who has the privilege of reading dozens (if not hundreds) of applications for innovative schools, I sometimes wonder how much of our design criteria are new labels slapped on older concepts. But I also know that this moment in history is unique, when new approaches to design, innovation, and technology that have influenced other industries are also impacting our own.

I decided to pose my friend’s question to our own NGLC grantees during a recent set of school visits to the Bay Area.

Here is how our grantees responded to the question: “What’s new and what is grounded in existing efforts?”

Summit Public Schools

What’s new?

Summit has received a well-deserved reputation for being a leader in developing a new, post-Industrial Age school model. After visiting Summit Denali, the grantees on the site visit agreed that there was much that was truly new about the model. Enabled by an online platform, students set their own goals and work backwards to assess how their daily, weekly, and yearly work impacts their future goals. Also new is the way that the platform allows students to truly individualize their learning, mastering content at their own pace. Read More

A Big Need In Christian Education Today

Another great blog post from Dr. Glen Schultz 

As I was thinking about this summer’s Kingdom School Institute, I was reminded of a meeting for Christian school administrators I had attended several months ago.  After the morning program, we were asked to sit at tables with people from other schools and brainstorm what ever topic(s) came to mind while lunch was being served.

There were administrators from six very strong Christian schools at my table.  Most of these school leaders I knew quite well.  After several topics were brought up and discussed, I asked the group if I could ask each each one of them a question.  My questions was this.  What are you doing at your school to intentionally make sure that every staff member knows, understands and is committed to a biblical philosophy of education?

The responses I received caught me completely off guard.  I was shocked to hear that not one of these school leaders had done any intentional staff development on a biblical philosophy of education over the past few years.  Of course, they all said that they were careful to hire good Christian educators.  One administrator said that even though they hadn’t done any specific training in this area, they were always talking about it in daily conversation.  Read More

Academic Excellence: A Blessing or Curse

I am finding a common emphasis being made in Christian schools today that, I believe, is very dangerous. On the surface, it may seem logical and maybe even commendable. However, if we study it carefully, we will find that this emphasis can be very deceptive and destructive. You may be asking, “What is this dangerous trend?”

It is the emphasis on “academic excellence”.  WAIT!  Before you stop reading, please know that I am not saying we shouldn’t be striving to do our best and, in turn, challenging our students to do their best in every area of life, including learning. The pursuit of “academic excellence” that I am witnessing is not about just doing our best at learning. It is about pursuing knowledge in order to gain the recognition and praise from the world.

In far too many Christian schools “academic excellence” is fast becoming an end in itself. It is not a means to a greater end but it sees the gaining of more knowledge and scoring higher on standardized tests as the ultimate goals of learning. Not only is this the ultimate goal of learning for many of our students but schools are also measuring their success by how well their students do on standardized tests, how many national merit scholars they produce and the universities their students have been accepted at.  Read More

The Value of Utilizing Parents in a Christian School

Perhaps the main resource not being used effectively in today’s Christian schools is the parent. First, let me state that I am well aware of several schools that recognize the value of parents and include them in various opportunities, responsibilities, board positions, and committees. Many of these schools are exemplary leaders in the areas mentioned below and simply do it right. Unfortunately, many schools that the NCCSA is familiar with do not utilize parents effectively, if at all. While assisting with school consultations, helping administer strategic plans and procedures, and supervising the accreditation process at numerous schools, the NCCSA has noticed that the schools that struggle with parent morale, public relations and marketing, positive community outlook, attendance, and other enrollment issues typically do not utilize parents well. In order to understand the value of shared leadership and the important role parents play in today’s education, a Christian school educator must understand the difference between Christian education years ago and Christian education in 2015.

This article is not meant to be an exhaustive research article or a review of literature on what has been published on this topic. Rather, it is based solely on my experience and observations from the various opportunities mentioned above.

Years ago, Christian schools enrolled many students that had unsaved parents or parents who had a different life philosophy than the school. Despite their philosophical differences, however, those parents still enrolled their child(ren) in conservative Christian schools, seeking advantages such as 1) biblical worldview, 2) safety and separation, 3) prayer in schools, 4) care from teachers, and 5) quality academics. In 2015, many parents who would make up the two categories listed above no longer enroll their child(ren) in conservative Christian schools. Certainly, parents who call themselves Christian and align with the school’s overall educational philosophy and methodology are still valued parents, but many parents who do not closely align with these ideals have turned to other Christian schools, private schools (non-Christian), charter schools, or even public schools. Additionally, school choice, a legislative topic that helps provide tax benefits for groups of parents that enroll students in private schools, provides many more options for today’s parents—especially those who do not line up with the school’s overall philosophy. Unfortunately, many Christian schools lack distinction and a competitive advantage. Today’s parents want to know why they need to pay hard-earned money to send their children to Christian schools.

Read More

Designing a Blended Learning Program

Simply implementing blended learning or following the “best practices” in doing so will not guarantee great results for students. Authors Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker explain how educators can capture the promise of blended learning while avoiding the pitfalls.

Across the world, educators are implementing blended learning — online learning in schools — to personalize learning for students, increase access and equity to a high-quality education regardless of where a student lives, and control costs.

But simply implementing blended learning or following the “best practices” in doing so will not guarantee great results for students, as we wrote about in a monthly column for THE Journal. All too often schools cram computers into their classrooms — to the tune of $100 billion over the last several decades in the United States — with little to show for it in the way of student results.

So how can educators capture the promise of blended learning while avoiding the pitfalls?

In our new book, Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools, we offer a design guide for educators to walk through a process to custom create the right blended-learning model for their circumstances.  Read More

Overcoming Faculty Resistance to Competency-Based Education

The prospect of transitioning a traditional educational program to a competency based model brings with it many opportunities for change, opportunities that some might view as threats to the field of education, or to their existing roles and responsibilities. This is the case with many faculty members at institutions that are considering competency-based education (CBE).

While providing CBE training to more than a dozen institutions over the past several months, I have witnessed faculty resistance at almost every one. In discussions with faculty members opposed to CBE, I have heard many of them say that they fear a CBE model will turn their institution into a vocational school, or that there will be too much emphasis on relating education to getting a job. Some spoke about a fear that employers will exert too much influence over curriculum. Still others are fearful about what a shift to CBE would mean for compensation models or tenure.

These are all valid concerns, and institutions that are considering moving in this direction would do well to consider them and engage faculty members very early in their discussions. The concept of competency-based education and assessment and the changing roles of faculty in such a model can be threatening to the very identity of most faculty members. There are, however, many faculty members who are excited by the CBE concept and the new opportunities it offers in terms of student interaction and models of education. These advocates can be instrumental in assisting with the development and acceptance of a CBE program, but there are many questions to be considered, even with an enthusiastic faculty. For example, how involved will faculty be in the development of the program? Will outside vendors be used to develop competencies in lieu of faculty? Will faculty be required to work with them? Read More

Meet The Classroom Of The Future

The classroom of the future probably won’t be led by a robot with arms and legs, but it may be guided by a digital brain.

It may look like this: one room, about the size of a basketball court; more than 100 students, all plugged into a laptop; and 15 teachers and teaching assistants.

This isn’t just the future, it’s the sixth grade math class at David Boody Jr. High School in Brooklyn, near Coney Island. Beneath all the human buzz, something other than humans is running the show: algorithms.

The kind of complex computer calculations that drive our Google searches or select what we see on our Facebook pages.

Algorithms choose which students sit together. Algorithms measure what the children know and how well they know it. They choose what problems the children should work on and provide teachers with the next lesson to teach.

A student checks the assignment screen to find where she is sitting today.

A student checks the assignment screen to find where she is sitting today.

Courtesy of New Classrooms

This combination of human capital and technology is called “blended learning.” And regardless of whether it makes you uneasy, the program, Teach to One, seems to be serving Boody Jr. High well. A recent study of the 15 schools using Teach to One, had mixed results, but showed they are outperforming their peers nationally on average. Read More

A New Kind of Social Anxiety in the Classroom

Kids who constantly use phones and computers tend to be more nervous in face-to-face conversations. What can teachers do to help?

Stress about a meeting that is still a week away, handwringing before talking to the cashier in the grocery line, worrying about seeing an acquaintance on the street—for people with social anxiety disorder, even the simplest task can prove challenging. The symptoms of social anxiety often set in around adolescence, when people place a new emphasis on social interactions and their place in their peer groups. But some academics fear that greater access to technology could exacerbate social anxiety among teens, particularly as smartphones, tablets, and computers become omnipresent in and out of the classroom. And even though teachers are increasingly exploiting the devices as learning tools, they also play an integral role in stemming the tide of social anxiety.

“If we are glued to technology 24/7, it’s going to have an effect on social skills—it’s just natural,” said Tamyra Pierce, a journalism professor at California State University, Fresno. The clear link between technology and social behavior makes it all the more important that teachers who embrace these devices need to keep students’ social skills in mind.

Teens are using social media as a crutch, a replacement for the in-person interactions that help them develop socially.

An estimated 15 million Americans have social anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and symptoms usually start around age 13. More than just shyness, social anxiety causes people to fear the judgment and scrutiny of those around them. People with social anxiety often have concurrent disorders like depression. The disorder can affect every aspect of a person’s life, from academic performance to self esteem; in severe cases, social anxiety can be debilitating, keeping sufferers in bed and out of public places to avoid confrontation. But almost everyone suffers from at least a little social anxiety, says Thomas Rodebaugh, a psychology professor at Washington University in St. Louis. “We’d be worried about someone who never experiences any social anxiety,” he said.  Read More

​Inside the Special Education Classroom: How Tech Can Help Students With Special Needs

At a glance, technology in special education classroom looks just like it does in a regular education classroom: computers, laptops, SmartBoards, and even an iPad or two. When you take a closer look, you will realize how much more this assistive technology provides in special education.

Assistive technology can look like many things in an elementary special education classroom, both low-tech and high-tech. No two students are the same, and they will have different experiences while trying to use technology.

What does edtech look like in the special ed classroom?

Some tools make it possible for students with special needs to use the computer just like everyone else. Students with low fine motor skills may have a large font keyboard plugged into the USB of a regular desktop computer. Now the student is able to type. The same keyboard can be color-coded to help a student with a vision impairment. If a student has very low fine motor skills to the point that they cannot push the keys on the keyboard, they may use a switch, a button available in different sizes that can be pushed to replace the click of a mouse or the enter key.

A touch screen can also be seen in the special education classroom and is engaging for everyone, whether they really “need” it or not. A SmartBoard, an interactive whiteboard with a touch screen instead of a mouse, is just a giant interactive computer screen, making a lesson accessible for those students that need a little assistance. If they are unable to come up to the board there is also an app that will mirror what is on the screen to the iPad. This way, the student still has interactive access at their fingertips but they never had to get out of their seat. Read More

Five Reasons Competency Education Will Improve Equity

Why do we think that competency education is a better strategy to serve our lowest achieving students, including low-income students, minority students, English language learners, and those with special educational needs? Here are my top five reasons:

  1. Competency education is designed to identify and address gaps in knowledge and skills. We will always have students with gaps in knowledge, whether because of poverty-induced mobility, recent immigration, military transfers or health issues. When we identify and address gaps, students have a better chance at progressing.  As Paul Leather, NH’s Deputy Commissioner of Education, has pointed out, “We learn by connecting concepts and building expertise over time. If we do not learn a concept, new learning cannot be built on it.” (from Necessary for Success)
  2. Transparency and modularization is empowering and motivating. They are the ingredients for student ownership. Success begets success, as students see short-term gains and clearly marked next steps. Transparency also challenges bias and stereotypes that may contribute to lower achievement.
  3. The focus on progress and pace requires schools and teachers to respond to students when they need help, rather than letting them endure an entire semester or year of failure. Many competency-based schools organize flex hours during the day to make sure there is no excuse for students going home without receiving the help they need.
  4. Competency education is a comprehensive approach that benefits vulnerable students as well as those in gifted and talented programs. Schools don’t need specialized programs that label students. In fact, students may advance in some disciplines and not in others, as flexibility is built into the core school operations.
  5. Competency education creates powerful learners. We can’t underestimate what student ownership means in the hands of students who have been denied a high quality education in the past. Furthermore, it prepares students to explore their talents, interests and the future that lies before them. Instead of differentiating students with a single number, their GPA, we see children differentiated by how they demonstrate and apply their knowledge.

Will competency education eliminate inequity? Will the achievement gap suddenly disappear? Of course not, given the economic inequality corroding our communities. Read More

Thoughts on a New Accountability Paradigm

Recently, I was asked about starting a conversation on how a new accountability system might work.

The potential of new learning models that are personalized, student-centered and utilize powerful delivery modes in blended and online learning offer a glimpse into solving some of the core problems across our education systems for focusing on equity, improving access and expanding educational opportunity.

I think of this as a system aligned to student-centered learning. Meaningful data at the instructional level and systems of assessments provide much richer data than our current system utilizes. Imagine student data and evidence of students demonstrating their proficiency level (through a performance) on each and every standard along a learning progression.

Student-centered learning requires knowing where students are when they enter a program and requiring “systems of assessments” with entry benchmark assessment, formative assessments, performance-based assessments producing student evidence of demonstrated mastery, and underlying assessments producing various forms of data. Ultimately, this collection of data could answer the question, “How much learning is happening per unit of time?” — and help get to the heart of productivity.

One of the field’s constraints on thinking about new accountability is the construction of current IT/SIS systems designed only to ensure compliance with current regime.

Rethink student-centered data first. What if every student had a profile that was standards-based and allowed three pieces of evidence to be collected on each standard (paper/project/portfolios, evidence from embedded assessments, etc.)? What if that was coupled with validation of proficiency levels through summative assessments that are more modular in nature? (Summative assessments could also be on demand or, as Tom Vander Ark suggests, with a sampling to validate the data on the ground to ensure rigor.)

This system would enhance “actionable data” toward the point of instruction and provide real-time evidence of learning to teachers. This data can be rolled up to inform new accountability. Gene Wilhoit suggests we should include systemic thinking on how accountability should look by first focusing on the data needed for instruction and personalizing learning, and then asking what data is needed at what level:

  • What does the district need to know for accountability?
  • What does the state need to know for accountability?
  • What does the federal government need to know for accountability?

All of this could be provided (for the sake of argument) in a real-time dashboard.

We need to rethink our paradigm – we must rethink summative assessment utility as “moderating assessments” for the data on the ground. And have a sampling regime using them (but in more modular format throughout the year) as audits of that data. The current accountability system is actually masking the true achievement gaps that exist. It only tests for annual determination of age/grade cohorts. Redesigned accountability could use real, actionable data to roll up the analysis.

Gene Wilhoit, Linda Pittenger and Linda Darling-Hammond are already doing a lot of work on this concept of new accountability with a few pioneering states. Their new paper is Accountability for College and Career Readiness: Developing a New Paradigm and it rethinks what starting from scratch with a system that makes sense for a student-centered, deeper learning would look like.

From iNACOL/CompetencyWorks  Here’s a link to a paper we co-authored on the topic:

A K-12 Federal Policy Framework for Competency Education: Building Capacity for Systems Change

For focusing on equity, improving access and expanding educational opportunity, this alignment around student learning would help drive continuous change in these areas:

  • Equity – blended learning utilizes the best of online learning to pinpoint student needs and gaps and personalize instruction;
  • Improved access – online learning offers access to many courses that students need to graduate on time and to be prepared for college and careers;
  • Alignment around student learning – knowing where every student is on their personalized learning plan; focusing in on student interests and multiple ways of presenting evidence on rigorous standards to ensure student success; and offering assessments that are aligned every day to the learning process rather than “once a year” litmus tests that hold no teeth for kids, would help to reorganize the system around learning and student developing competencies.

Imagine new, constructive models that support achieving mastery and are meaningful to improvements in student learning – while offering much richer data to inform true accountability.

This is the beginning of a very important conversation in the field of K-12 education around new accountability. We very much hope to engage in pushing thinking around the challenge (and promise) of ensuring every student has access to a world class education that will prepare them for success, regardless of what zip code they live in.

This post was written by Susan Patrick. Susan Patrick is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL). iNACOL is the international K-12 nonprofit association representing the interests of practitioners, providers and students involved in online learning worldwide.

11 Signs that Technology Is a Key Part of Education

The current trend of education technology is nothing to sneeze at. There are iPads and Android devices popping up in classrooms around the world. From BYOD to 1:1 to flipped classrooms, there are a lot of trends that leveraging the power of technology in education.

Aside from these few popular trends, there are other signs that technology is truly a key part of education. For example, technology makes it easy for teachers to create visually engaging images that illustrate a key concept. This would not normally be possible unless the teacher had a talent for art and design. Now, a teacher can head over to their favorite infographic-maker like Piktochart or Visual.ly or Easel.ly and whip up a fun little design that inspires a student. According to the visual below from JESS3, using visuals is beneficial as they increase retention from 14% to 38%. Take that random stat with a huge grain of salt but it’s something to ponder.

That’s the idea behind this handy chart below. It spells out just under a dozen (couldn’t have added 12th to hit the lucky dozen, huh?!) ways that technology is playing an increasingly important role in and out of the classroom.

What other key factors do you see in education right now? How is technology expanding and improving (or not improving) the classroom experience?


This article was written by Jeff Dunn.

Should Christian School Leaders Mandate Online Courses?

“America’s schools need innovation. Educational innovation should not be confused with just generating more great ideas or unique inventions. Instead we need new solutions that improve outcomes – and that can, and will, be used to serve hundreds of thousands of teachers and millions of students…Online courses and online supplementation of course material are catching on fast…” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

Online college courses and degree programs have seen an explosion in popularity and offerings in recent years. Shifting attitudes from employers and higher education institutions have fueled the desire to provide a college education to students who desire or need more flexible and customizable course options. Current estimates for the total number of students enrolled in an online program or course is now measured in the millions!

According to a survey of online learning conducted by Babson Survey Research Group, over 6.7 million students, or nearly one-third of all higher education students, enrolled in at least one online class in the fall of 2011. The survey also cites a significant number of institutions (69.1%) that state that online learning is a critical part of their strategic planning for future educational program development and growth. 62.4% of higher education institutions offered at least one online program, an increase from 34.5% since 2002.

As of September 2012, The International Association for K-12 Online Learning’s (INACOL) “Keeping Pace” publication indicates that there are now five states that require students to complete an online course in order to graduate: Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Michigan, and Virginia. Other states have passed legislation that encourages online learning. Minnesota signed a law that “strongly encourages,” but does not require, students to take an online course before graduating from high school. The number of states and school districts requiring online courses for high school graduation has grown, as states aim to teach students how to operate in a an increasingly digital world. Read More

Moving Toward Next Generation Learning

Raise your hand if you have uttered any of the following phrases in the past week:

Now raise your hand if you can define them so that the neighbor you barbecued with last weekend could remember and articulate the distinctions. An extra hot dog – with relish! – goes to that neighbor who could also describe how they overlap, connect with, and build on each other.

We are, let’s face it, a Tower of Babel when it comes to defining what we’re all doing here. That sounds disparaging, but I don’t actually mean it that way. Re-imagining the desired outcomes and the common student experience of America’s public schools is a messy, chaotic business – and that’s what real change looks like.

We can make the accomplishment of positive change a few degrees easier, though, by continuously striving to introduce bits of clarity amidst the messiness.  Herewith, a modest effort to do just that.

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Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Factors to Consider

While I was leading an in-service seminar on next-generation learning models at an NCCSA member school recently, I was asked my thoughts on the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) model. While I do have an opinion that mostly defaults to the popular opinion on this model, I did want to give my input to those teachers. For those that may not be aware of this terminology, BYOD models are most popular with schools that utilize digital textbooks, and schools must consider how to handle student-equipment needs. In order to address problems with internet security, multiple-device support, and multiple operating systems, some schools have implemented next-generation learning models. These models allow schools to outsource some of their content and even instruction to an online platform to reach the digital generation and provide customized learning.

Schools use many student-equipment models ranging from a) providing equipment to students, b) buying the equipment and charging students an annual lease fee, and c) utilizing the equipment that students already have (Bring Your Own Device).

While this article is not necessarily about the benefits of alternative learning models that utilize technology, it is vital that educators realize the options available that would enhance their overall school program to reach digital generation students. Please read this article to learn why schools are implementing alternative learning models that utilize technology. This article will give you a very simple introductory approach to alternative learning.

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The Journey Toward Freedom From Grade Levels

Sanborn High School in New Hampshire was a mediocre school with mediocre test scores. When the state passed a policy mandating that schools develop a competency-based system — advancing students based on mastery of specific skills and concepts instead of time spent in each grade — school leaders seized on the model as a way to turn the entire school around from the bottom up.

It hasn’t been an easy task and the journey isn’t complete, but in the past five years, Sanborn has moved away from many practices that have long defined traditional high schools, said Brain Stack, Sanborn’s principal.

“In some ways we were building this model with the hope it would all work out,” Stack said. Sanborn is one of the few comprehensive public high schools in New Hampshire going after competency-based teaching and assessment aggressively. Most other schools in the state showing leadership in competency are charter schools whose systems don’t easily map to Sanborn’s existing infrastructure and staffing. “It’s not like we are a new school where we can say this is going to be our model and hire accordingly,” Stack said.
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The Promise of Personalized Learning

Patty Berganza is a chatty 16-year-old with a mouthful of braces, a thick mane of black hair, and a lightning-fast brain. The last of these left her so bored at her previous Los Angeles high school that she racked up more than 49 unexcused absences in one year and earned a reputation as a slacker. She never thought about college, because nobody ever talked about it. Indeed, she says of her previous high school, “I don’t think my teachers even knew my name.” In many ways, Patty represents countless students who graduate at abysmal rates but who have the capacity to do infinitely better. Unlike others, she found a new school that has helped her tap that capacity.

One learning model at Tennenbaum asks students to work together in groups of four. Pictured (left to right) are Cesar Uribe, Yvonne Arenas, Damon Siah, and Joshua Franco. (All photography/Shawn Jones)

Where Patty once routinely slumped at the back of the classroom, she now perches front and center, attentive and engaged. She has flown ahead of her peers in math, and earned an overall grade-point average of 3.28, and talks hopefully about applying to the University of California, Berkeley. What is remarkable is that Patty is realizing that potential in a classroom with 48 students. Read More

6 Recommendations for Learning in the Digital Age

An alphabet soup of ideas to improve learning in the Digital Age fills a report from the Aspen Task Force on Learning and the Internet.

The 20-member task force, which includes three former Federal Communications Commission leaders, made six recommendations comprised of 26 action steps for policymakers, education leaders and others in a report released on Tuesday, June 17. But the central idea of this report is that learning should revolve around the student, not the institution of school.

Some of the action steps in each of the recommendations pose big challenges for school districts and government leaders. These challenging steps include establishing open standards that allow different technology programs to work together, much like the open standards that made the Internet successful, said John Bailey, co-chair of the task force and executive director of Digital Learning Now.

The shift to competency-based education will also take a lot of work because it requires a change in thinking and policy. And making sure student data is secure and private is “a major challenge and tension point that a lot of schools are struggling with,” Bailey said.

These challenging action steps are nested under six recommendations that the task force made in its report.

1. Redesign learning environments so that students can learn anywhere, any time, at any place and at any pace.

Public education organizations in the U.S. have traditionally dictated that learning happens in school buildings according to a set bell schedule. But today, many organizations, advocates and education leaders are pushing back on this system and emphasizing that learning can happen everywhere without limitations on time or place.

Schools that implement blended- and competency-based learning allow students to learn both online and offline on their own time schedule and measure learning progress by competencies rather than seat time. In some cases, these schools give students freedom to do internships, visit museums, travel and experience other real-world opportunities that help them learn the competencies they’re striving for.

The task force suggests four action steps to carry out this recommendation: Invest in developing learning models that revolve around the student, pilot competency-based learning, share what’s working in these pilots and create assessments that show student progress toward competencies. Read More

Report: 83 Percent of High Schools Offer Online Courses

Only 17 percent of high schools do not currently offer any online classes and more than 40 percent are offering online courses in English language arts, history, math or science, according to the latest report from Project Tomorrow’s Speak Up report.

Based on online survey responses from more than 400,000 teachers, administrators, students and community members, the latest report, “The New Digital Learning Playbook: Advancing College and Career Skill Development in K-12 Schools,” examines attitudes about technology’s role in preparing K-12 students for higher education and careers.

The reasons principals who participated in the survey cited for offering online classes include offering remediation, at a rate of 66 percent, Keeping students engaged, at 63 percent and to provide credit recovery options, at 61 percent.

“Teachers who teach online classes, in particular, see a strong correlation between the use of technology and students’ college and career ready skill development,” according to information released by Project Tomorrow. “More than half of these teachers say technology use helps students understand how to apply academic concepts to real world problems (58 percent), take ownership of their learning (57 percent) and develop problem solving and critical thinking skills (57 percent).”

Other key findings regarding online learning and digital resources include:

  • 32 percent of elementary school teachers surveyed told researchers they use games in their classrooms. The most common reason cited was increasing engagement, at 79 percent, followed by the ability to address different learning styles at 72 percent;
  • Science teachers are more likely than other teachers to report using digital content in the classroom, with 63 percent reporting that they use videos they find online versus only 48 percent of other teachers. Science teachers also reported using animations at a clip of 52 percent and only 22 percent of other teachers said the same. The difference held across other types of digital content as well, including virtual labs, real time data, online textbooks and teacher-created videos;
  • Teachers with online classes were more likely than those in 1:1 environments and those using digital content to report that technology helps students develop creativity, take ownership of their learning, develop critical thinking or problem solving skills or understand how concepts relate to the real world;
  • Online teachers were less likely than teachers in 1:1 environments and teachers who use digital content to tell researchers technology can increase motiviation to learn or help students learn to work collaboratively;
  • While 41 percent of teachers surveyed reported that they had taken at least one online course for professional development, only 17 percent told researchers they were interested in teaching an online class;
  • More than half, 54 percent, of administrators who participated in the survey told researchers they believed ” that the effective use of digital content within the classroom can increase students’ career readiness by linking real world problems to academic content. Administrators surveyed also said that providing enough computers and bandwidth to realize those benefits was a challenge, at rates of 55 and 38 percent, respectively; and
  • Technology administrators who took part in the survey said that sufficient bandwidth would increase the use of streaming content in classes (74 percent), increase the use of multimedia tools (68 percent) and the use of online curricula (57 percent).

To view the full report, visit tomorrow.org.

This article was written by Joshua Bolkan who is the multimedia editor for Campus Technology and THE Journal. 

What Adaptive Technologies Do (Answering the “To What End” Question)

The phone rings and a superintendent is asking, “What adaptive software do I need to personalize learning?” If only the question were so simple. How does this “stuff” work? Getting precise about what specific technologies actually do in the instructional model is an important step to clarify in implementing high-quality blended learning.

For years, people have been using technology to improve their lives based on their individual needs – having access to information on-demand. Teachers using instructional technologies can improve strategies and methods to help student learning in powerful ways. It is fundamental for school leaders and teachers as “learning designers” to understand the specific functions that any specific technology provides in a personalized, student-centered learning environment.

In a recent meeting iNACOL and CompetencyWorks hosted with practitioners and technical assistance providers – we began to deconstruct how adaptive technologies are used to support different instructional models.

Here are the top 5 ways adaptive technologies are used:

Adaptive – It is very important for education leaders and educators to define the functions for which we use adaptive technologies – or be precise about the different meanings of adaptive (for what purpose) in personalized, competency-based instructional models:

  1. Leveling: Example – the adaptive technology helps identify precise “levels” for student differentiated lexile levels.
  2. Real-time Scaffold (RtS) and In-Course Correction: Provide tools to identify strengths and weaknesses in student learning progressions and adapt in the moment (examples are DreamBox and SuccessMaker). These adaptive technologies are designed to offer pre-requisite scaffolds and supports, and when students demonstrate mastery, then they can seamlessly get back into learning progressions at the appropriate point to stay on track.
  3. Honing the Progression: Minimizing number of problems worked by adapting the learning pathway for student mastery resulting in efficiency in use of time and effort (remove 5 objectives you don’t need to work on because you mastered it already); there is an idea here on honing in on the areas to keep students on their own “learning edge” and exactly in the zone of proximal development.
  4. Limitless Pathway: Students can continue to move forward when they have mastered and demonstrated learning; adaptive pathways enable learning environments so students can always be working on the next sequential piece or keep them on the pathway/progression (in concepts along a building progression of learning).
  5. Recommendations: System recommends content objects based on student performance or has embedded recommendation engines.

Perhaps we should start being clear about the purposes of technology and answer “to what end” to understand how teachers and students benefit using technology to personalize learning in online and blended learning models.

We strategically need to think about the purpose of adaptive technologies to ensure the best tool selection for quality implementations of transformative, blended, personalized new learning models. Just because something has online and adaptive software doesn’t tell us about the model for transforming instruction to increase student agency or become more student-centered and personalized. We must ask ourselves – to what end?

Using the research on how students learn, the design of new learning models should built on best practices and research – and work to create student agency, voice and choice with the empowered leadership of educators transforming learning for every student’s needs and success in the 21st century.

This article was written by Susan Patrick. Susan Patrick is the President and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL).  iNACOL is the leading voice for the emerging field of online and blended learning. Representing a diverse cross-section of K-12 education, including school districts, educators, state education agencies, universities, education reformers, and a variety of content and technology providers, iNACOL serves the field through education and advocacy aimed at building the capacity of online and blended learning professionals, publishing national quality standards, and shaping the direction of the field as a whole.

Adaptive Learning: Are We There Yet?

Partnerships between tech companies and publishers are turning an ed tech buzzword into a reality, but, as one expert says, “It’s going to take some time to get it right.”

For more than a decade, K-12 educators have been hearing about the potential of adaptive learning, an approach to instruction and remediation that uses technology and accumulated data to provide customized program adjustments based on an individual student’s level of demonstrated mastery. But interest in adaptive learning has been heating up in the last couple of years, thanks to new attention from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, new partnerships among education publishers and adaptive platform providers, and a growing list of product vendors. Along with that increasing interest and expanding vendor landscape has come a fair bit of confusion about exactly what the term “adaptive learning” means. In conversation, it’s almost synonymous with “personalized learning,” but in practice, these are different concepts, and K-12 districts investigating systems that promise to deliver adaptive learning should understand that difference.

What Is Adaptive Learning, Exactly?
According to Adam Newman, founding partner of Education Growth Advisors (EGA), a strategic advisory and consulting firm and investment bank focused exclusively on the education sector, “‘Personalized learning’ is really an umbrella term.” In two recently published white papers commissioned by the Gates Foundation (“Learning to Adapt: Understanding the Adaptive Learning Supplier Landscape” and “Learning to Adapt: A Case for Accelerating Adaptive Learning in Higher Education”), EGA researchers — Newman among them — defined “personalized learning” as a “pedagogical method or process that draws on observation to inform tailored student educational interventions designed to increase the likelihood of learner success.” As Newman said, technology isn’t actually required for personalization, but the tech makes it possible to personalize at scale.

K-12 educators have been personalizing learning in their classrooms for decades without technology: If Jesse is having trouble reading, the teacher assigns her some extra reading in Chapter Two, for example. Personalized learning covers a range of approaches and models, Newman said, including competency-based learning, differentiated instruction and tutorial models — as well as adaptive learning. “So you can think of adaptive learning models as one approach along a spectrum that enables personalization,” he said.

In “Learning to Adapt,” EGA researchers went on to define “adaptive learning” as an approach to creating a personalized learning experience for students that employs “a sophisticated, data-driven, and in some cases, nonlinear approach to instruction and remediation, adjusting to a learner’s interactions and demonstrated performance level, and subsequently anticipating what types of content and resources learners need at a specific point in time to make progress.” Read More

Three Trends Driving Digital Learning Today

Learning is becoming more digital–there’s no doubt about it

digital-trendsAs technology connects more teachers and students with digital learning opportunities, education is changing for the better.

Students are using online digital resources to learn and support their classroom education, and teachers use online resources to help students build important research and evaluation skills.

Ninety-five percent of teachers said they believe online tools engage students, and 93 percent said online tools improve performance.

By 2020, it is estimated that 98 percent of students will use blended learning, which consists of both classroom and online components.

Three trends, illustrated here, are changing the way education is perceived in the U.S., and learning outcomes are improving with more modern approaches.  Read More

What will Education look like in 10 years?

Doing away with the traditional grade structure in schools and allowing students learn at their own paces is one change possibly coming to schools of the future, according to Horry County Schools superintendent Cindy Elsberry.

She also thinks the 12th grade might be eliminated in the near future. A transitional year where students work closely with colleges and universities would take its place.

“Education is going to change a lot in the next 10 years and might be unrecognizable to generations past,” Elsberry said. “That has a lot of parents on edge, but something has to change for our students to be ready for the jobs of the future.”

Education is already changing in Horry County Schools with students getting personalized lesson plans and incorporating technology into every day tasks.

It is also changing at the college level with four-year universities offering degrees in fewer than four years and two-year colleges offering more technical, hands-on programs.

In Horry County Schools in January, all middle schoolers received iPads to use for everything from math and science to English and history projects.

Whittemore Park Middle School has even taken the iPads to the next level by offering students a dashboard, or lesson plan on the iPad, that tells them what they need to accomplish to move on to the next lesson. Read More

Blended Learning Revolution: Tech meets tradition in the classroom

This is a long article, but well-worth the time invested in reading it. 

Blended learning combines the best of online learning with traditional teaching. The educational trend is showing results – higher test scores, happier teachers and students – as more schools adopt and adapt it.

Fourteen-year-old Gabi Directo is technically in the middle of her freshman year. But in bursts of learning, hunched over her laptop in her Summit Shasta High School classroom, she has managed to zoom at her own rapid pace to the completion of all of her ninth-grade English, history, science, and math classes. By February, she was digging into her sophomore year Advanced Placement biology, physics, and Algebra II classes.

But in her school’s “blended learning” program, Gabi has had as much face-time with teachers and classmates as solitary face-to-screen time. The serious and soft-spoken teen is able to “blend” the best of online learning (progress at her own pace through subject content) with the best of classroom work (practicing new knowledge with peers and teachers). For example, her whole math class is working on projectile-motion models. But while some of her classmates’ models involve basic graphing to predict where an object will travel, Gabi’s factor in parametric equations and map time with distance.

Gabi says she thrives on the traditional classroom group work everyone does at the same time – but she also appreciates that she can use her more advanced skills gained in the independent work she does online, shooting ahead rather than waiting for her classmates to catch up. Likewise, she observes, classmates who struggle with a concept get to take the time they need to master it rather than get left behind.

“In regular high schools, you have to go at a certain pace,” says Gabi as she takes a break from typing an essay on her laptop to take a quick glance at her online “playlist,” which lists what material she’s completed and what she still has to do, along with her weekly goal. “Here, if you excel, you can go at your own pace…. I’m all done with ninth grade.”

Gabi’s remarkable progress is not unusual at Summit Shasta, a charter school created this school year here to specifically use the blended learning model. The model being pioneered at Shasta – part of a network of five high schools and one Grades 6-12 school – tailors education to each student’s needs by offering high-quality teaching with cutting-edge online programming.

Blended learning is spreading rapidly, say education experts.

“Most American kids are going to be in an environment that is predominantly digital before the end of the decade,” says Tom Vander Ark, chief executive officer of Getting Smart, an education firm that focuses on innovation and technology. “Most learning resources are digital instead of print…. I think we’ll be able to call most of those environments ‘blended’ in terms of combining online experience with face-to-face instruction.”

But Mr. Vander Ark and other advocates of the new model say that using blended learning to transform education and the traditional classroom means more than just incorporating an online element into instruction, giving kids tablets, or having students supplement class material with courses from Khan Academy (the popular nonprofit interactive education website that allows the teacher to “flip the classroom”: Students learn a concept online at home and apply it in class with a teacher).

Advocates of blended learning say that, when done well, it is as much about the time kids are off-line as the time they’re online – delegating more rote concepts to online instruction so that teachers can better use class time for small-group discussion, one-on-one check-ins, group projects, or targeted tutoring if students are struggling.

And making it work involves far more than coming up with the money to offer every student a tablet or laptop and selecting good software. Good blended learning programs blow apart the traditional school program, reconfiguring classrooms and school days so that learning can be as personalized as possible. Myriad models to accomplish this are being pioneered nationwide.

It’s “a reflection of finally realizing technology’s promise to disrupt and transform education in the ways it has disrupted and transformed nearly everything else we do,” says Andy Calkins, deputy director of Next Generation Learning Challenges, which gives grants to blended learning programs.

Mr. Calkins and other proponents of the model point out that in most US schools, classrooms look pretty much as they did 100 years ago: one teacher in front of a classroom, teaching the same material to 30 students who are probably at varying levels of readiness. Technology, thoughtfully deployed, can change that, they believe.

“Technology has always been a nice whiz-bang element, but stuck onto the traditional model,” says Calkins. “In the last four or five years, really for the first time, we’ve seen how technology has the power to enable this new learner-centered form of education in effective and efficient ways.” Read More

College Board Unveils Major Changes to SAT

New SAT test includes efforts to gauge actual student learning

SAT-changesIt might be fair to describe the major changes that are coming in 2016 to the nation’s most-recognizable college-admissions test, the SAT, as “intense.”

In fact, understanding how the word “intense” is used properly in an essay is one of the sample questions that the College Board, which oversees the SAT, rolled out Wednesday to give students and educators an idea of how the admissions test will change in two years.

In addition to making the controversial essay portion optional, in its most sweeping overhaul in years the Princeton-based testing service said its new questions will be more geared toward gauging what students actually learned in high school, problem-solving, and reading comprehension in the real world.

That will mean the elimination of esoteric, polysyllabic vocabulary words, such as “propinquity (nearness), that have long been a hallmark of the exam.

New questions will be based on “words that students will use throughout their lives–in high school, college, and beyond,” the College Board said in posting some of the new sample questions on the internet. It added, “Requiring students to master relevant vocabulary will change the way they prepare for the exam. No longer will students use flash cards to memorize obscure words, only to forget them the minute they put their test pencils down.” Read More

Financing a Successful 1:1 Digital Initiative

1:1 digital initiatives have the ability to transform an educational system. Without a well-planned financial strategy, however, most 1:1 initiatives will fail. When planning to fund this type of major endeavor, decision makers must consider three integral parts: 1) infrastructure and network, 2) computer purchase or lease, and 3) software.

First, a strong infrastructure and network must be present to handle the computers and ultimately the software that will be utilized in the educational environment. Each district will have a certain amount of infrastructure already in place to provide the usual and customary services. Additional components consist of wired or wireless networking as well as the servers necessary to support the computers and software. Funds for this aspect of a 1:1 initiative can be provided from current expense accounts, capital outlay accounts, new construction accounts, or grants.

There are also a variety of options available for funding the computer purchase / lease program and needed software. These funds could also come from a current expense account, capital outlay account, new construction account, grants, or programmatic state and federal funds.

During the planning phase of a 1:1 initiative, the amount of capital needed may seem unfeasible. As you begin the process of implementing the initiative, however, you will find spending for items such as textbooks, workbooks, maps, globes, calculators, and reference books will decrease as these items will all be part of the digital world that all students will have access to. Also, do not forget to look at specific program resources, such as for CTE or Exceptional Children, when determining funds that may be available to support the program. Finally, there are many grants available that you may be eligible for; however, review grant applications carefully to ensure they don’t fund a specific type or brand of equipment used that may be different from that being used by your system. Read More

Report: Most Schools Delivering BYOD Programs, Training Teachers in Mobile Devices Usage

Implementation of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs in school districts has exploded since last year, spreading from 22 percent to 56 percent. BYOD primarily shows up in high school grades (84 percent), followed by middle school grades (74 percent). But even the majority of Pre-K through third grade schools also offers users the opportunity to use their personal mobile devices in schools.

Strategies regarding mobility in districts encompass professional development for teachers on the use of mobile devices and apps for instruction (88 percent), the use of student-owned devices in the classroom (83 percent), and encouraging the use of mobile apps for instruction (81 percent). Two thirds of districts provide mobile apps for student use and have structures in place to physically protect district-owned devices.

These are some of the findings of the latest survey of digital activities by districts held each year by the Center for Digital Education (CDE) and the National School Boards Association (NSBA). Read More

2013 Digital Learning Report Card

Backed by the generous support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, and many others, Digital Learning Now is a national initiative with the goal of advanced state policies that will create a high-quality digital learning environment to better equip all students with the knowledge and skills to succeed in the 21st century. Recently, the third annual report card measuring state policies on alternative models of education that utilize digital learning has been released. This report is based on each state’s alignment to the 10 Elements of High-Quality Digital Learning.

Click here to view any state and their grade.
Click here to download the entire report.

Blended Learning – So Hot Right Now

The following article is written by Tom Vander Ark from Getting Smart

Blended learning is so “hot” right now. Since 2010, more than 4 million K–12 students have participated in some form of blended learning and that number continues to grow, along with the development of best practices. A new white paper, released today from Dreambox Learning, Inc, in partnership with Getting Smart, provides a snapshot of these trends. “Blended Learning Innovations: 10 Major Trends,” takes a look into how these trends are revolutionizing how students learn and  how they are working in three elementary mathematics classrooms.

The 10 trends outlined are:

  1. The deeply student-centered learning experience
  2. Soaring numbers of digital learners
  3. Supporting standards and higher-order thinking skills
  4. Realizing benefits for both teachers and students
  5. Data-driven instruction to personalize learning
  6. Personalized learning accompanied by a lean, blended, interative approach
  7. Productive gamification
  8. The mobile world is where learners live now
  9. BYOD is here and key to active three-screen days
  10. More broadband, please


Learn more and download the full paper here. Join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtags #MathChat, #BlendedLearning & #BLTrends. DreamBox is also active on Facebook and Twitter at @DreamBox_Learn.

Khan Academy to offer Free SAT Prep

Last week, the College Board announced not only that the SAT will be redesigned for 2016, but that it has formed a partnership with Khan Academy to offer free SAT prep materials.

According to the Khan Academy website, students taking the SAT in 2014–2015 can visit the site now to find hundreds of questions from unreleased SATs and more than 200 videos with step-by-step solutions.

As for students taking the new SAT starting in 2016, Khan Academy said it will create thousands of practice problems and instructional videos that will be available in the spring of 2015. Students will have a full year in which to practice at their own pace using Khan Academy’s personalized learning dashboard, which recommends exercises at each student’s level and shows progress, points and badges.

David Coleman, president and CEO of the College Board, said, “The SAT should reward merit and hard work, and success on the exam should be available to all. There is no better statement of our commitment to making the SAT a world-class, high-quality and fair test than partnering with Khan Academy to provide free SAT preparation for the world.”

Successful Innovation Starts with Finding the Right Points of Integration

As we consider the potential of various innovations in our education system, it is helpful to look at that system through the lens of system architecture. A system’s architecture determines its constituent components and subsystems and defines how they must fit and work together. In any system, components work together through interfaces, and these interfaces can be either modular or interdependent.

Modular interfaces are clean, well-defined, standardized interfaces that make it possible for the teams developing subsystems and components to work at arm’s length. The drawback of modular interfaces is that they restrict designers’ freedom to innovate in how subsystems and components fit together. When components and subsystems must conform to modular interfaces, some design decisions are inevitably made not in the interest of providing the best service to end users but rather for the sake of making sure the component will be compatible with other components on the other side of the modular interface.

In contrast, interdependent interfaces are interfaces that have not yet been clearly defined and standardized. Successfully connecting components across interdependent interfaces requires a great deal of collaboration between the teams developing those components. Although this coordination requires extra effort, interdependent component interfaces can be optimized for meeting the overarching job of the system without having to conform to the requirements of rigid, modular interface.

As we think about how to leverage online learning to bring about a student-centered education system, the architecture and interfaces of our education system affect how innovations are able to develop. Because most schools and districts do not have the internal capabilities (i.e., software development teams, learning psychologists, and curriculum designers) to develop their own online-learning systems, these systems are of necessity being created largely by external providers. Of course when external providers working independently from schools and districts create the components, the components must connect with the education system through modular interfaces. Read More

Research Suggests Professional Development Delivers Better Student Scores

When teachers participate in professional development, students do better in assessments. That’s the conclusion of a study undertaken by researchers at the University of Utah and Brigham Young University.

In “Multi-State, Quasi-Experimental Study of the Impact of Internet-Based, On-Demand Professional Learning on Student Performance,” the researchers examined math and reading scores for students before and after teachers in their schools began using a commercially available online professional development program. Read More

Blended Learning Implementation Guide by DLN

Leading for Deeper Learning: Ten Proven Strategies

The following article is written by Tom Vander Ark from Getting Smart

Over the summer we interviewed two dozen school and network leaders producing strong academic results and developing powerful young people. Considering their leadership stories, we found ten things in common:

  • Good goals. Good schools have good goals; they use a variety of strategies to personalize learning supported by aligned supports, staffing, and schedule. Danville Kentucky is great example with goals focused on powerful learning experience, growth, global preparedness, communication, and community. Deeper learning will be a random occurrence without goals that make it a priority.

  • Equity focusSchools that promote deeper learning engage all students–not just honor students–in powerful learning experiences; they develop academic mindsets scaffolded by strong supports. According to principal Stephen Mahoney, “The accomplishments of Springfield Renaissance School’s students prove that a child’s zip code does not determine his or her destiny.”

  • Powerful designs. Most striking about these interviews was school leader efforts to create coherence: purposeful goals, intentional culture, powerful learning, with aligned structures, staffing, schedules, and supportive technology. That’s not easy.  It’s always a dynamic process, especially for leaders inheriting a school rather than designing from scratch.

  • Teacher support. The districts and networks we studied support teachers. They  make it increasingly possible for all of their teachers to achieve great results with common frameworks, big goals and good plans, learning platforms, and strong development systems for adult learners.  Read More

Email Options for NCCSA Schools

Please forward this to the person at your ministry who handles matters of technology and communication. 

Effective communication and technology tools are needed more than ever in the K-12 setting. As you might have heard, more technology is being moved to the “cloud.” Basically, this means that large buildings off site store data such as emails, documents, and other software, providing users with top-tier services without having to pay specialized IT staff to maintain on-premise equipment.

In the past few years, Google has made a strong push with its Google Apps platform. Many schools use Google Apps to offer technology tools to students and faculty and to lower the expenses related to maintaining communication and productivity technology.

While a platform such as Google Apps has several benefits, many users report that they do not like using a web interface to handle their email, and most users have formatting issues when working with familiar programs such as Microsoft® Excel or Microsoft® Word in the Google Apps platform.

Since workstations and laptops will never be outdated for offices and other non-mobile work environments, Microsoft® Word and Microsoft® Excel will continue to be the standard for word processing and spreadsheets. Microsoft® Outlook will be the desktop communication standard for handling emails, calendar storage, mobile phone/tablet sync, contacts, etc. Google Apps users who have always enjoyed handling their email in Microsoft® Outlook must now use Gmail as their main email interface, and most would rather use Outlook. Despite Gmail’s benefits, it does not have the capabilities and user-friendly features of Microsoft® Outlook (desktop or web version).

Read More

Personalized Learning Will Go Mainstream

The following article is by the Bill Gates Foundation Deputy Director, Stacey Childress, and appeared in EdSurge 2014 Outlook.

At the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation we envision a future in which students’ learning experiences will be markedly different than they are today in several ways:

1. On any day of the year, students will be able to see how they are doing, where they want to be, and how they might get there. They will feel ownership of their learning and motivated to succeed. They will collaborate and connect with their peers in ways that reflect how they live now and how they will work in the future.

2. Schools will be designed to optimize time, pace and instructional methods to make the most of teachers’ time and to create learning paths that work best for each student. Teachers and other adults will have more diverse roles in and out of schools based on their strengths, from coaches and guides to content experts. Teachers and school leaders will have the flexibility, autonomy, and information they need to select content and tools that work best for their students.

3. The technology to support such learning will integrate seamlessly into the environment and offer intuitive user experiences and smart recommendations. It will “just work.” 

Read More

2012 NCCSA/North Star Marketing Endorsement