Resources

Coming Soon: New Catalog Games

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We're excited to announce that our team is currently in the process of building out master games that will be accessible to all of our districts. The games will focus on topics and skills we've seen throughout the catalog--and then some! We're working to publish a new level each week, starting with our G Suite Apps Game. Each game will be designed as a building block that districts can adapt and modify to suit their individual needs. Our top priority content is based on your needs, so let us know what you'd like to see! Stay tuned next week for G Suite Apps: Basic Level!

Games will include:

  • G Suite Apps
  • Devices
  • Digital Citizenship
  • Project-Based Learning
  • Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE)
  • Student Information Systems (SIS)
  • Assessments
  • Professional Learning Networks & Collaboration
  • Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK)
  • Classroom Apps
  • Classroom Management
  • Troubleshooting Tech

Building a PD Plan: Budget

According to the Center for Public Education, school districts spend an estimated two to five percent of their budgets on professional development. The caveat is that many districts aren't aware of how they're spending that money. They may only be accounting for the total cost of workshops and conferences, without considering the cost of hiring substitute teachers when primary educators are out of the classroom. They may not be factoring in the time teachers spend collaborating with one another during department meetings. In fact, according to the study, "the largest cost of effective professional development is actually teachers' time." So, how does this translate?

When it comes to your professional development program, you can't just throw money at it --  regardless of how big your budget is. It takes careful consideration and planning to create a viable, long-term program.

“Even high quality professional development must be directly relevant to the needs of teachers and genuinely improve teaching and learning. And low-quality professional development, frankly, feels like detention.” Randi Weingarten, AFT President

Let's assume you've worked through steps 1 & 2 of this series: you've identified your professional development goals, and outlined resources and modes of delivery that you feel would be the best fit for your district's teachers. A budget creates the final parameter on your program. How much can you spend, and where should you spend it?

Engineering your budget

It's easy to think of a budget as a limitation on possibility. For the sake of this exercise, adopt an engineering mindset, and consider your budget as a creative solution to a challenge. Are you a visual learner? Create a mind-map. Prefer bouncing ideas off of another person? Find another trusted educator to confide in.

Start by identifying what activities you and your teachers consider professional development. Revisit responses you collected when you identified your PD goals. While you may have only considered workshops and conferences, some teachers might think of department meetings as a sort of informal PD opportunity. Create a comprehensive list.

Identify how much money is currently being spent on all of these activities (even those you don't necessarily consider professional development). Don't forget to take into account the time spent. Time = money when it comes to evaluating a budget.

Evaluate

Circle those areas you feel were created without intention, or that were potentially unsuccessful. These areas represent a loss on your ROI. For any district, the ROI is all about student learning. Did this time and money translate to an improvement for students? Keep in mind that what you might consider successful or unsuccessful may have been viewed differently by your teachers. Consult with other educators and prepare for honest feedback.

You've got an overall sense of how much your district spent on PD in one year. Can you afford to spend more this year, or do you need to cut back? Could a restructuring change the outcome? What unsuccessful strategies from last year can you revisit and improve?

Take a look at the resources you researched in step 2. Which resources did you identify as most conducive to meeting your PD goals? What are the associated costs (including teacher time)? Are there alternative solutions that could save money, while achieving the same outcomes? Do these programs align with the CPE's 5 Principles of Effective PD? Pick one or two resources to be the "star" of your PD program, and work from there.

Remember that professional development is a process. It will never be perfect for every educator. What one person finds useful, another may not. You've done your best to get as much input as possible. Remain flexible and open --  you can always restructure again next year (or even next marking period).

"High-quality professional development must be an ongoing process of improvement that allows teachers not only to master new content but also to integrate this knowledge and skill into their classrooms. Evaluation, done well, can be a part of that continuous learning and feedback loop. And, as we have seen around the world in nations with high-performing education systems, teachers thrive in a collaborative culture that gives them the time, tools and trust to drive their professional learning." Randi Weingarten, AFT President

Ways to save

  • If you've decided on a conference or workshop this year, check to see if there is an early-bird special and try to book in advance, or inquire about group rates.
  • Opt for versatile experiences. Pick opportunities that can apply and appeal to a a large number of teachers, without being too generalized. While a group of ESL teachers is attending a reading intervention technology workshop, history teachers might be attending a seminar on teaching geography with Google Earth.
  • How can you deliver content in-person and online? Oftentimes, online experiences are less expensive, because they require less resources. Check out Blended-Learning PD: Time, Accessibility & Evaluation for more information.

Check out some of our budgeting articles for more information:

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Summer PD: Reads

For flexible thinking

The Growth Mindset Coach; Brock & Hundley

Created by teachers for teachers, this is the ultimate guide for unleashing students’ potential through creative lessons, empowering messages and innovative teaching. The Growth Mindset Coach provides all you need to foster a growth mindset classroom, including:

• A Month-by-Month Program • Research-Based Activities • Hands-On Lesson Plans • Real-Life Educator Stories • Constructive Feedback • Sample Parent Letters

Studies show that growth mindsets result in higher test scores, improved grades and more in-class involvement. When your students understand that their intelligence is not limited, they succeed like never before. With the tools in this book, you can motivate your students to believe in themselves and achieve anything.

Get inspired

Today I Made a Difference; Joseph Underwood

Everyone remembers that teacher who made a difference. The one who went the extra mile to truly affect lives, whose lessons carried as much importance outside the classroom as inside. This book is a celebration of those teachers who continue to make an impact. A collection of stories from some of the country's top educators, this book is a celebration of teachers' work, and motivation for them to continue. Joseph Underwood has collected stories from each of the twenty-eight 2004 Disney Teacher™ of the Year honorees. And every story celebrates a different obstacle they overcame, the power and know-how needed to triumph, and the reward granted upon beating the odds. It's the perfect gift for anyone in or considering the profession. This collection is sure to inspire, celebrate, and motivate those people who make the biggest difference in everyone's life.

Frustration busters

The Happy Teacher Habits; Michael Linsin

What do daffodils, baseball announcing, and Tina Fey have to do with teaching? As it turns out, a lot. In The Happy Teacher Habits, Michael Linsin guides you through 11 little-known habits of the happiest, most effective teachers on Earth.

Based on the latest research, and drawing on experts from the worlds of business, marketing, sports, entertainment, music, and medicine, you will learn simple, actionable strategies that will eliminate your teaching stress, supercharge your ability to motivate and inspire your students, and empower you to really love your job.

This is no ordinary teaching book. It is a success roadmap through an educational system that is becoming increasingly harder to navigate. It will expose the falsehoods and misinformation teachers are bombarded with every day, and reveal the secrets to what really matters in creating a happy and fulfilling career.

A tribute to teaching

What Teachers Make; Taylor Mali

In praise of the greatest job in the world...The right book at the right time: an impassioned defense of teachers and why we need them now more than ever.

Teacher turned teacher’s advocate Taylor Mali inspired millions with his original poem “What Teachers Make,” a passionate and unforgettable response to a rich man at a dinner party who sneeringly asked him what teachers make. Mali’s sharp, funny, perceptive look at life in the classroom pays tribute to the joys of teaching…and explains why teachers are so vital to our society. What Teachers Make is a book that will be treasured and shared by every teacher in America—and everybody who’s ever loved or learned from one.

When you're feeling "crazy"

Why Are Good Teachers Crazy?; Frank Stepnowski

A refreshingly honest look inside the teaching profession, Why Are All the Good Teachers Crazy? is a captivating collection of hilarious stories and unreserved observations from one man’s odyssey in the classroom. With equal parts humanity, insanity, and profanity, Frank Stepnowski, a twenty year veteran of the academic wars, offers unique insight into a world everybody knows about but very few understand. “Step” as he was re-christened by his students, pulls no punches in the classroom, and takes no prisoners in his writing debut. The title, which comes from a line that the author heard many times throughout his career, is both a confession and a confirmation. “I wanted a book,” he explains, “that would make people laugh out loud but also open their eyes to just how insane the teaching profession can get. With that in mind, the book is a riotous success, providing searing insight into the classroom and giving an iconoclastic voice to a profession that often goes unheard. Why Are All the Good Teachers Crazy? is a wake up call for some, a rallying cry for others, and an invitation to laugh and learn for everyone.

Based on actual events, the vivid imagery, colorful characters, and incendiary dialogue of this nuclear powered novel will take readers on a roller coaster ride that they will be talking about long after the ride is over.

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Site: flickr.com [Image 1]

Summer PD: Reads

Survive your first years on the job

See Me After Class; Roxanna Elden

Teaching is tough. And teachers, like the rest of the population, aren't perfect. Yet good teaching happens, and great teachers continue to inspire and educate generations of students. See Me After Class helps those great teachers of the future to survive the classroom long enough to become great.

Fueled by hundreds of hilarious--and sometimes shocking--tales from the teachers who lived them, Elden provides tips and strategies that deal head-on with the challenges that aren't covered in new-teacher training. Lessons can go wrong. Parents may yell at you. Sunday evenings will sometimes be accompanied by the dreaded countdown to Monday morning. As a veteran teacher, Elden offers funny, practical, and honest advice, to help teachers walk through the doors of their classrooms day after day with clarity, confidence...and sanity! Teaching is tough. And teachers, like the rest of the population, aren't perfect. Yet good teaching happens, and great teachers continue to inspire and educate generations of students. See Me After Class helps those great teachers of the future to survive the classroom long enough to become great.

Fueled by hundreds of hilarious--and sometimes shocking--tales from the teachers who lived them, Elden provides tips and strategies that deal head-on with the challenges that aren't covered in new-teacher training. Lessons can go wrong. Parents may yell at you. Sunday evenings will sometimes be accompanied by the dreaded countdown to Monday morning. As a veteran teacher, Elden offers funny, practical, and honest advice, to help teachers walk through the doors of their classrooms day after day with clarity, confidence...and sanity!

Teach lifelong learning

Make it Stick; Brown, Roediger & McDaniel

To most of us, learning something "the hard way" implies wasted time and effort. Good teaching, we believe, should be creatively tailored to the different learning styles of students and should use strategies that make learning easier. Make it Stickturns fashionable ideas like these on their head. Drawing on recent discoveries in cognitive psychology and other disciplines, the authors offer concrete techniques for becoming more productive learners.

Memory plays a central role in our ability to carry out complex cognitive tasks, such as applying knowledge to problems never before encountered and drawing inferences from facts already known. New insights into how memory is encoded, consolidated, and later retrieved have led to a better understanding of how we learn. Grappling with the impediments that make learning challenging leads both to more complex mastery and better retention of what was learned.

Many common study habits and practice routines turn out to be counterproductive. Underlining and highlighting, rereading, cramming, and single-minded repetition of new skills create the illusion of mastery, but gains fade quickly. More complex and durable learning come from self-testing, introducing certain difficulties in practice, waiting to re-study new material until a little forgetting has set in, and interleaving the practice of one skill or topic with another. Speaking most urgently to students, teachers, trainers, and athletes, Make it Stick will appeal to all those interested in the challenge of lifelong learning and self-improvement.

Prepare students for adulthood

How Children Succeed; Paul Tough

Why do some children succeed while others fail? The story we usually tell about childhood and success is the one about intelligence: success comes to those who score highest on tests, from preschool admissions to SATs. But in How Children Succeed Paul Tough argues that the qualities that matter more have to do with character: skills like perseverance, curiosity, optimism, and self-control.

How Children Succeed introduces us to a new generation of researchers and educators, who, for the first time, are using the tools of science to peel back the mysteries of character. Through their stories—and the stories of the children they are trying to help—Tough reveals how this new knowledge can transform young people’s lives. He uncovers the surprising ways in which parents do—and do not—prepare their children for adulthood. And he provides us with new insights into how to improve the lives of children growing up in poverty. This provocative and profoundly hopeful book will not only inspire and engage readers, it will also change our understanding of childhood itself.

When you need a good laugh

Teacher Misery

Teacher Misery perfectly encapsulates the comical misery that has become the teaching profession. Morris’ strange, funny, and sometimes unbelievable teaching experiences are told through a collection of short stories, essays and artifacts including real emails from parents, students and administrators. From the parents who blame their son’s act of arson on the teacher for causing him low self-esteem, to the student who offers to teach the teacher how to sell drugs so she can pay her bills, to the administrator whose best advice is to “treat kids like sacks of s***,” one story is more shocking than the next. An important read for teachers and non-teachers alike-- Teacher Misery paints an amusing and thoroughly entertaining picture of what has become of our education system, without detracting from the overall point that what teachers have to put up with today is complete, utter, unacceptable insanity.

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Site: flickr.com [Image 1]

Building a PD Plan: Identifying Goals

Summer is the perfect time for school districts to restructure their professional development plan. A successful strategy incorporates all of the district stakeholders: administrators, teachers, technology coaches and curriculum directors. The first step in crafting a PD program is identifying goals for next year; be that expanding technology tools, offering support for a specific department, or focusing on a particular curriculum component. Next, research tools and resources that will help your district reach these goals. Finally, review the existing PD plan and expenses, and consider allocating funds in a new way. If a majority of the budget last year was spent on conference attendance, consider using it this year for an on-site workshop, or a blended learning PD platform. This week, we'll focus on creating a plan outline. Stay tuned for upcoming posts on finding PD resources and budget restructuring.

Gathering data

Start by identifying instructional goals. Your PD program may be dictated by your district's strategic plan, or you may choose to take a more flexible, democratic approach by surveying stakeholders about what they feel is important in next year's PD program. Here are a few ways you can engage others in outlining PD goals:

  • E-mail survey. Summer is a busy time for teachers, who may beenjoying time off or working a seasonal job. Send a brief, three-to-five question survey. You could have teacher's rank issues on importance on a scale of one to five, or answer true-false questions about the state ofPD at the district. For example: True or false? I feel that our existing PD program supports my individual teaching goals. A benefit of this strategy is that collecting and aggregating data is simple.
  • Connect with advocates. Reach out to teachers who are known for being vocal and honest. This might be a person who has (respectfully) challenged district protocols in the past. Ask them for their honest opinion on the current state of professional development in the district, and be prepared for constructive feedback.

If you don't already have one, consider asking interested teachers in participating in a professional development committee. While they might not be able to meet before the start of the school year, they can be instrumental in crafting and adapting PD plans in the future.

Analysis

Using the information you gathered, identify the top two or three areas for improvement. How do these points align (or not align) with your district's strategic plan? Have these areas been the focus of professional development in the past?

You should also identify whether or not these topics apply to the district as a whole. If you got a lot of feedback about issues with standardized testing from the math department, but not from any other departments, this may not be an area you choose to focus on in the overall, district-wide PD plan. That's not to say it's not important -- be sure to address any and all concerns shared by your teachers in one way or another. (Like calling a meeting with a specific group to problem solve.) In order for a PD plan to be successful, teachers should feel that their voices are heard, and their voluntary feedback is being taken seriously.

Breadth vs. depth

Decide how specific you'd like your PD objectives to be. For example, a district with a large Hispanic population might identify "improving outcomes for Spanish language students," as an area of focus, and could provide teachers with tools to connect specifically with those students and their parents (ie. bilingual learning materials). Alternatively, your goal might be "improving outcomes for ESL students." Here, you would take a broader approach, offering workshops on general ESL strategies (ie. using visuals in presentations, modifying assignments).

How you decide to frame your objectives is up to you and your stakeholders. Regardless of the objective you choose, make sure you'll be able to measure the outcome of the program at the end of the year. Next week, we'll take a look at different ways schools across the nation structure their PD plans.

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Site: flickr.com [Image 1]

Digital Citizenship: Growing Up Online

We've covered a lot of different aspects of digital citizenship over the past few weeks: what it means, how students can become productive "digital citizens," and the consequences and etiquette surrounding virtual communication and participation. We've encouraged teachers and parents to talk with students about how their actions online can impact their future and the well-being of others. But there's another aspect of digital citizenship that's just as critical--how media and online interactions influence and shape a child's self-image.

A different world

Modern society has always been exposed to advertising. Even "back in the day" when we got our news from a newspaper, the local grocery store circular would be tucked inside, a 4x4 inch advert for the local lawyers next to the sports column. What we're experiencing now, however, is more influential, more pervasive. Want to read the latest from CNN? Hang on, you've got to watch this shoe commercial for 20 seconds, selected for you based on your browsing history. Models and actors are photoshopped, products presented with just the right amount of sportiness, sexiness, or "cool factor." And adults aren't the only ones bombarded by these advertisements--companies work just as hard to sell to the next generation of consumers.

This media- and advertising-rich culture is pervasive, and has helped to create a climate of constant self-promotion. Teens spend hours devoted to taking and choosing the best photo to post to Instagram, counting up their likes, comparing themselves to others. It seems that teens are increasingly focused on putting their face forward--a study from AP-NORC found that 76% of teens 13-17 use Instagram, and 75% use Snapchat--while Facebook and Twitter use has remained steady. Growing up is hard enough--add in this constant online competition for who's having the most fun with the most glamorous friends, and you've got another layer of added pressure.

What can adults do to minimize the effects of these platforms on a teen's self-esteem? According to the Child Mind Institute, it's all about focusing on life offline. "The gold standard advice for helping kids build healthy self-esteem is to get them involved in something that they’re interested in. It could be sports or music or taking apart computers or volunteering—anything that sparks an interest and gives them confidence. When kids learn to feel good about what they can do instead of how they look and what they own, they’re happier and better prepared for success in real life. That most of these activities also involve spending time interacting with peers face-to-face is just the icing on the cake."

A tale of two faces

Who are you IRL (in real life)? Who are you behind your device? We all have flaws, bad days, lulls in our social life. Online, however, it's easy to paint a much different picture, with perfectly arranged Instagram meals, Facebook check-ins with friends at an event. For most adults, it's easy to separate and acknowledge that this carefully curated fantasy is just that--fantasy. For teens, this dual experience during their formative years can be detrimental to shaping their identity. On one hand, it's great that a shy child can express themselves freely online, but it's problematic if it comes at the cost of abandoning real, face-to-face social skills and interactions.

This phenomenon is also significant on a much larger scale. "Sometimes it seems that the Internet has amplified the importance of “self” identification and identity to the point that the term has become a kind of acronym. SELF = “Showcase Every Little Fact” about me. Nothing seems too trivial to post, even a "selfie" photograph. With this increased "self" preoccupation, we may have entered a more narcissistic age, people increasingly entranced with admiring the Internet reflection they have created, treating it as a chance to star in their own and other people's eyes," writes Dr. Carl Pickhardt in Psychology Today.

Helping children navigate their online personas starts with a conversation about respect, representation, and reputation:

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Digital Citizenship: Districts Support Parents & Families

It used to be that parents were generally more fearful about who or what their child was seeing online, rather than what they were sharing. This stranger danger fear was fueled by news stories and programs like "To Catch a Predator," which misrepresented the prevalence of inappropriate online behavior between children and strangers. While it's certainly a serious situation, and one that should be discussed between parents and their children, it happens much less frequently than other types of negative online interactions. More than one in three adolescents has been threatened online, and sexting scandals seem to have replaced news stories of dangerous online predators. Fortunately, most parents are aware of the consequences of digital communication. "94% of parents say they ever talk with their teen about what they should share online, while 92% say they talk with their teen about what constitutes appropriate online behavior towards others," according to a 2016 Pew Research Study.

But "stranger danger," cyberbullying, and inappropriate conduct are only part of the digital citizenship puzzle. Children should not only be made aware of the dangers of the Internet, but also be empowered to utilize the vast number of tools available to them for education and exploring their interests. By involving parents in digital citizenship, school districts can ensure that their students are using online tools appropriately both in and outside of school.

Partnering with parents

Communication is key when it comes to partnering with parents to promote digital citizenship and safety. In one district, educators worked together to organize a Parent Tech Institute, which focused on cyber safety and Internet basics. Organizer Heather Wolport-Gawron shared her experience on Edutopia. "Schools must help empower parents to be the digital caretakers at home, because we can only do so much during the school day. We must teach families simple tools to insist on, and have them extend the culture of cyber safety to the homes. Parents must work hand in hand with schools if our students are to function in this digital world."

Encourage parents to ask questions about the tools their children are using for school. Many children are increasingly more reliant on the internet and devices to complete assignments, so exploring apps together is a bit like the modern version of sitting down at the table to go over that night's fractions worksheet. Teachers can facilitate these conversations by sharing information with parents about the apps students are using for learning and providing resources on how they can help their child at home.

Safety first

Parents are the first line of defense when it comes to internet safety. They have the authority to access their children's devices, and the tools they need to set parental controls. Not to mention, students are more likely to use their devices for social purposes outside of school, when they're in their parents' care. Help parents take control of cyber safety at home with the following tips:

  • Befriend your child. Surprisingly, only "56% of parents indicate that they are friends with their teen on Facebook, Twitter and/or some other social media platform." Being friends with your child can give you insight into what they're sharing, and with whom.
  • Familiarize yourself with parental controls. From your operating system to your web browser, there are many different ways you can monitor or limit your child's online activity.
  • Research. Find out what apps your child is using, and learn more about features that could pose a risk to your child.
  • Ask questions. You don't have to become a spy to find out what your child is doing online. By fostering a positive, nonjudgmental relationship, your child will feel safe to share online experiences, and be more open to your advice.

Safe, Smart & Social is one of many resources available to parents and schools, offering a network of speakers, programs, resources and webinars focused around internet safety, geared towards specific age groups. They also offer Footprint Friday, which "helps parents monitor their student’s social media presence every Friday in less than 5 minutes" by creating a report of their digital footprint. It's a way for parents to see their child's visible, public internet activity without invading their privacy.

Raising awareness

According to the Pew research study above, "the vast majority of parents talk with their teen about appropriate conduct in their digital lives, but discussions about appropriate offline behavior tend to be more frequent." Encourage parents in your district to talk with their children about who they communicate with online, and how. Consider sharing information about trends you've noticed at school. What applications are students talking about? What types of behaviors have become problematic? Letting parents know what's going on in school can help them address these issues at home.

What has your district done to educate parents about digital citizenship? How can you continue to encourage them to talk to their children about online communication? Let us know in the comments below!

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Site: flickr.com [Image 1]

Read It, Watch It, Try It: Silicon Valley Ed

Technology is rapidly changing the world around us--and it's shaping the way we think about and approach education. Nowhere is this more evident than in the new relationships between Silicon Valley startups and schools. Read on to find out more!  

Read It: "The Silicon Valley Billionaires Remaking America’s Schools"

Many schools have adapted an open-mind when it comes to introducing technology in the classroom. This mindset opens up a world of possibilities for students, with new ways to access and process information. For some schools, this has happened on a much larger scale, thanks to Silicon Valley investors and benefactors. While some consider these districts fortunate recipients, not everyone is enthusiastic about the rapid pace of technology growth in schools, or the influence of these "innovators."

Journalist Natasha Singer explores this unique dynamic, and shares how execs from Facebook, Salesforce, and Netflix have become involved in education in today's New York Times article, "The Silicon Valley Billionaires Remaking America’s Schools."

"In the space of just a few years, technology giants have begun remaking the very nature of schooling on a vast scale, using some of the same techniques that have made their companies linchpins of the American economy. Through their philanthropy, they are influencing the subjects that schools teach, the classroom tools that teachers choose and fundamental approaches to learning."

Watch It: AltSchool in Action

Ex-Google employee Max Ventilla has taken the Silicon Valley edtech one step further--founding his own private school, AltSchool, in 2013. Established in three cities, the schools "range in size from 35 to 120 students, and offer mixed-aged learning environments where technology helps educators create personalized, foundational knowledge and project-based learning experiences focused on developing the whole child." Watch this PBS special to learn more:

Still curious about AltSchool? Check out this video featuring an interview with the school's founder, Max Ventilla.

Try It: SVEF Ed-tech Startup Products

Silicon Valley Education Foundation "was founded on the belief that a new kind of organization is needed – one with a different philosophy and approach to the challenges in legacy systems. A nonprofit resource and advocate for students and educators, SVEF is dedicated to putting all students on track for college and careers, focusing on the critical areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)."

We've collected a number of contenders from SVEF's 2016 iHub Pitch Games, where edtech startups share their products and look for schools to partner up with. For more information on last years Pitch Games, or to see more innovative products, click here.

Cashtivity
"Cashtivity is a new way for students to develop the enthusiasm, mindset and skills to succeed in and outside the classroom. Cashtivity offers a collaborative and student-centered approach to learning, where students are in the driver's seat. Math is the best starting point to bring project-based learning to life. It’s the foundation for success as an active, well-rounded participant of the 21st century: it’s essential in business, in work and in life. Working through real world, entrepreneurial scenarios, students create their own personalized learning data that is social, authentic and relevant.  Teachers finally have a convenient and effective tool for bringing real world context to their lessons, helping students reach their learning goals in math."

Green Ninja
"Green Ninja is an educational initiative to inspire interest in the science and solutions associated with our changing climate. Adventures of the Green Ninja – a superhero – are told in a youth-oriented and humorous way, but grounded in science and data. Green Ninja curriculum is used to support teachers in the classroom and promote hands-on learning experiences that are designed to meet the Next Generation Science Standards. Green Ninja media are popular on YouTube, with a current viewership of over 2,000,000."

Sutori
Sutori is a collaborative platform that allows it's users to create visual stories in an interactive timeline format. Combining text, images, and videos, as well as surveys and discussion modules, Sutori is a unique way to demonstrate and share learning on a specific topic. In addition to using the tool to create assignments, teachers can search existing stories as a jumping off point for learning.

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Site: flickr.com [Image 1]

Digital Citizenship: Media Literacy

"To improve education, that is our goal. What we truly need to advance is a tool for teachers, with which they can engage in new strategies, communicate with one another, and demonstrate their learning. Something to turn our teachers from mere humans, to chrome warriors." - Benjamin Franklin, 1754

So...that's not a real quote--and you likely picked up on that. But had it been transposed over a picture of a classroom of engaged students, written in some "bespoke font," posted on multiple sites, you may have thought twice. With a couple clicks of the mouse, false information can be repackaged, given credence, and even vouched for by an audience (albeit a false one). The reality is, anything is possible on the internet, and for all of the positive information and knowledge shared across the web, there's an equal amount of garbage.

In some cases, it's easy to spot. Unfortunately, with social media and content gone viral, false information can spread like wildfire. While rules of conduct exist on the web, they're nowhere near as stringent as ethics codes that dictate what's printed in our newspapers, or said on our television networks--the internet is basically the Wild West of the media world. As our capacity to create and share content grows each day, so should our emphasis on media literacy.

According to the Media Literacy Project, media literacy is "the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media." In order to think critically about media, be it online or in print, we must be able to understand where it came from, who created it, what their message/purpose is and how it influences its audience, intended or otherwise.

Access

If you ask a student how to accomplish an unfamiliar task, or to summarize a complex event, their first instinct is likely to Google it, and to click on whatever pops up first (or on a Wikipedia article!). Of course, this is usually the fastest way to access information, but it isn't necessarily the most accurate or comprehensive. This doesn't matter when you want to figure out how long to hard boil an egg; but for school assignments, or an unbiased account of current events, students need to be taught where and how to get credible information. General guidelines for finding credible online sources include:

  • Know the difference between web suffixes, like .com, .gov, .org, and .net.
  • Familiarize yourself with popular news sources, and their political or ideological biases.
  • Utilize academic databases like EBSCOhost for finding research papers.
  • Complete the picture. Don't just search for online articles--look for credible video content, (real-life!) books, or audio files to complement your existing findings.

Analyze & Evaluation

Analysis and evaluation involves breaking media down into separate components: recognizing the opinions, biases, and facts that make up content. Is a news article simply stating a fact, or is it designed to cast a certain light on its subject? Is a product review video a straightforward survey, or does the creator have an affiliation with one of the product manufacturers?

The simplest way to start analyzing media is by putting it through a who, what, when, where, why and how filter. Of course, there are many other ways to look at content: what does it mean or say in terms of race, gender, socioeconomics, religion, or politics? How does the content creator relate to their subject? Equally important is evaluating your own response, recognizing your own biases and how this impacts your decision to endorse or reject content. For more information, read the "5 Questions Students Should Be Asking About Media," from Common Sense Media.

Create

Teaching students how to create media is about much more than giving them access to video editing software or encouraging them to start up a blog. Bringing in digital citizenship principles is important here: What types of information are students creating or sharing? Is their intention to persuade or educate? Encouraging students to identify their purpose will not only promote ethical creativity, but help them to better communicate their ideas. For a simple way to introduce some of these concepts, check out this "Create Your Own Ad" activity from PBS.

Media literacy is finally on lawmakers' radars--in fact, California Senator Bill Dodd's Media Literacy bill (SB-135) was just passed in the state Senate on May 30. In a press release from April, Dodd said, "Developing a comprehensive media literacy curriculum is critical to combating fake news. While information has become more accessible than ever, many lack the tools to identify fake or misleading news and information. By giving students the proper tools to analyze the media they consume, we can empower them to make informed decisions." Media literacy may be mandated in the future--but there's no reason to wait to introduce it in our classrooms.

Image attribution
Site: flickr.com [Image 1]