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Technology in the Classroom, Part 1 of 3

You may have seen the recent Wall Street Journal article Technology in Classrooms Doesn’t Always Boost Education Results. Author Ben Kesling, summarizes the OECD report, “Beefing up technology in the classroom doesn’t always lead to better education for children…”. This well thought out article and summation of the report spawned quite a bit of sensationalism in the press and social media. But neither bothered to delve into the details of the report nor its focus areas.

According to Kesling, “The report suggested that ‘we have not yet become good enough at the kind of pedagogues that make the most of technology; that adding 21st century technologies to 20th century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching”. The observation that technology is a tool that requires proper planning and implementation as well as significant effort to adapt pedagogies to leverage and harness the power of the tool is evidenced by schools and Districts that have achieved some documented success in student engagement and measureable increases in learning outcomes. When institutions properly implement technology into the learning environment as a tool, while identifying, propagating and supporting pedagogical models that teachers can assimilate and students can consume and beneficially use, success more often than not will occur. Since the article and the OECD report looks primarily at online and use factors that do not differentiate content from pedagogies from device types to specific geographies. For purposes of discussion, let’s focus on K-12 education in the U.S since this is the largest tranche of students impacted and is made up of mostly large districts that don’t have the ability to turn away students when speaking of public school districts. We will also put aside, for purposes of this discussion, issues and challenges related to institutional challenges around models to close the digital divide (1:1’s, BYOD/BYOT, Interoperability, etc.) as these were not a focus of the OECD report. For full benefit of advancing pedagogical practices to leverage technology tools and for student engagement and outcomes, the best practices for the models today are a reality and requirement.

Too often in the past, educational institutions have treated technology (and in the context of both the report and article, we will put group/small group technology like Interactive White Boards and polling/formative assessment “clickers” to the side for now and focus on student’s online/personal use of internet-enabled devices) as an additive to be bolted on to current pedagogy. This too often involves using the technology for what could be defined as 3 broad areas with diminishing impacts to educational outcomes. These 3 broad categories or clusters of practice could be loosely defined as:

·       Educational: Content creation, research/web-quests/reference

·       Supplemental: Fluency, time-on-task and “learning facts” games

·       Administrative: grade-books, attendance, homework distribution, online agenda
journals, parental/guardian pull portals and the like

While the Educational cluster of practice does have positive impacts on engagement and learning outcomes, they can be onerous and time consuming for faculty (content creation/OER) to assimilate into their pacing and lesson plans initially and when one considers non-departmentalized teachers and classes, preparing these practices for multiple curricula for numerous lessons is extensive. This not only slows adoption, but can lead to lower value learning objects and elements when these may not be curated to the extent needed to ensure valid instruction occurs as a result. Specific to content creation in an internet connected or technology tools learning environment, further challenges can arise in modality selection best practices, instructional design and instructional psychology inclusion. Appealing to digital native students through the use of tools and media they use every day is a positive and the increasing use of blended learning for web quests, research and Supplemental use is predominant today. As the OECD report points out (along with the U.S. student results on international standardized testing), these practices and inclusion into the learning environment do not necessarily lead to greater learning outcomes.

Part 2 of 3, coming soon!

Sherida Johnson, Learning Advisor at GPA Learn Curriculum Director, LoveMath™

Meeting Math Standards, Part 2

Are our assessments meaningful enough to determine if our students are really meeting the standards?

When mentioning the term “assessment”, many ideas come to mind. The assessment process can take many forms. They are all necessary and when used in combination, a true understanding of a student’s progress can be determined. To determine if our students are meeting standards, a variety of assessment methods should be used.

Paper and pencil methods have long been used as the primary assessment method. Over the years, many have chosen other options when possible. Although this method does not provide a full view of a student, it should not be tossed entirely. Paper and pencil methods provide a written reference to revisit. Teachers can also reuse these type of assessments. When needing documentation, having paper and pencil assessments can provide a quick option for progress and performance.

Oral communication and observations are excellent alternatives for students with better speaking skills. Students often have test anxiety when presented with stacks of paper. The information may be there, but delivery may be easier when simply answering a question orally. Being able to recall and retell information verbatim does not represent mastery. However, being able explain a topic in their own words demonstrates the student’s full understanding of the concept.

Performance based assessments allow students to demonstrate their knowledge of a topic while also expanding their learning. This model is highly effective in skill acquisition. While students are working to meet the requirements of the performance based assessment they are also extending their learning through research and application. This is a favorable option because instruction continues even during the assessment process.

Digital assessments have become much more prevalent in recent years. This method is proving beneficial and very time efficient for busy teachers. Digital assessments save time by providing teachers with immediate results. When teachers have easier access to student performance, instructional decisions can be made quickly. Digital applications such as LoveMath™ provide teachers the option of assigning lessons to students based on their skill level. These lessons also include a short assessment. Teachers can use this immediate information to make necessary adjustments to the instruction.

While facing the task of differentiated instruction, the assessment process often goes untouched. We understand students learn differently, but we often forget they will also demonstrate that learning differently as well. Using a variety of assessment methods give us the best chance of unlocking our student’s knowledge and determining what’s really there. We are not able to make reliable conclusions about their understanding of the standards without assessing in a manner that taps into their multiple methods of understanding the content.

Sherida Johnson, Learning Advisor at GPA Learn Curriculum Director, LoveMath™

Meeting Math Standards

Are we really doing what it takes to make sure our students are meeting the standards?

Educators are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring students are meeting standards and prepared for the future. While this may seem fairly straight forward, the path to get there is anything but that. Educators must determine a student’s current skill level, identify any potential barriers, create and execute a plan to meet the current grade level standards. What often takes place during this winding road process is simple exposure rather than a full immersion and understanding of the standards.

So how do we ensure our students are really meeting the standards? There is no iron clad method with 100% accuracy; however, we can increase our chances by educating ourselves. We must begin by understanding the standards. No, we are not completely throwing out the previous expectations of our students through the instruction of old standards. They still have an important place. However, many of those standards are being built upon and expanded. The requirements are more rigorous although they seem familiar and similar to days of old. Do we really know what is expected? This is where the educator must begin.

Once we understand the new expectations, we will begin to look for different evidence of learning in our students. Exposure to the standard is no longer an option. A student can easily regurgitate key language through simple exposure. Mastery and a deeper understanding is evident through the ability to explain in their own words. Students should also be able to use the information in a variety of settings, not just one reflective of the original instructional method.

Instructional and assessment methods must also reflect variety. We know worksheets are not favorable when overused, but this method should not be completely thrown out either. A variety of instructional and assessment practices include paper/pencil, oral communication, performance based, gamification, observation, and much more. These ongoing assessments differ greatly from standardized testing methods. Using an authentic assessment approach can help educators determine if students have a deeper understanding of the standards long before standardized tests are even administered.

The expectations are high, but certainly not unattainable. We must be creative in our approach to achieve extraordinary results. In fact, educators must understand that we have a standard to meet also. We must meet the new standards of instruction, learning, differentiation, and assessment. Ensuring our students meet standards begins with us.

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LoveMath™ Makes Its Way to South Africa

We are proud to share photos of the Bottomup School in South Africa using our award-winning math application to learn math. Students have access to our program via its web-based design. Teachers all over the world are raving about student engagement and the personalized instruction it offers. Way to grow, Bottomup!

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