Four Years of Progress, Five Lessons Learned

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April 30, 2015 03:58 pm

When I crossed the threshold at 1201 Connecticut Avenue in May 2011, the nation’s graduation rate stood at 72 percent. The best data we had on the use of technology in education was from 2009 and indicated that only 40 percent of teachers used technology “often” during instructional time. The term “digital learning” was not well-defined and could be construed to mean online learning, blended learning, or the use of calculators.

This week is my last at the Alliance as I prepare to depart for a three-year overseas tour with my diplomat spouse. But looking back at the last four years, I’d say it was time well spent. The graduation rate is now 81 percent. Students of color have made significant leaps. And digital learning, for lack of a better word, is a “thing.”

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4 Bad Education Metaphors We Need to Stop Using

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April 29, 2014 03:26 pm

Education is full of metaphors. Some are good: the principal as conductor of an orchestra. Some are overused: Learning as a light bulb, or a book symbolizing knowledge. But some are just wrong, and yet they are repeated again and again. Here are four bad education metaphors that we need to stop using.

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Replacing Snow Days with E-Learning Days

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March 25, 2014 12:24 pm

Sometime in the afternoon of the 11th snow day of the year, after watching the movie Finding Nemo for the third time and drinking hot chocolate, my third grader came to me with a question: “Mom, can you help me find something new to learn on the computer?”

“Do you want me to help you log into the school’s website?” I responded, confused. Her teacher had posted a nice list of educational games and websites on the class webpage earlier in the year.

“I’ve already done all those,” she replied. “I want something new. Something different.”

This winter has seen huge swaths of the country hammered repeatedly by large snow storms, leaving many schools and districts behind schedule. Having long ago used up all of their designated make-up days, many districts are scrambling to fill in the gaps in their curricula by extending school years and cutting their spring breaks short.

In at least nine states, schools and districts are exploring the viability of e-learning days as a way to fill in the educational void left by unpredictable winter storms. Referred to as “cyber days” by some schools, e-learning days allow teachers to turn traditional snow days into days with an instructional purpose. E-learning days tap into snow days’ untapped potential, providing students with activities and assignments to be completed from the safety of their home. In an era where many students have access to vast quantities of information virtually anywhere through computers, phones, and tablets, providing teachers with an alternative to lost instructional time seems almost like a no-brainer.

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The Power of Virtual Connections

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March 05, 2014 01:12 pm

The power of connections between humans is as old as the human race itself. Yet the ways we connect continues to grow and change. While reading “Little House on the Prairie” to my daughter, she was amazed that the Ingalls family was only able to send and receive letters once a season; there was no other way for the pioneer family to connect or communicate with family back in Wisconsin. I was living overseas when Facebook took off and became a way to connect; it was vastly different than the tinny, echo-filled phone calls I had with my Navy dad on his 11-month deployments in the 1970s.

There is no question that technology developments both enhance connections while presenting new challenges. We’ve all had the experience of getting frustrated over an e-mail exchange and felt gratified when we were able to just get up from a desk, walk down the hall, and have a face-to-face conversation that was much more productive. We are fortunate, in this day and age, to have so many ways to connect; the hand-written note still holds value, even when we are more likely to FaceTime with family across the country rather than talk on the phone.

During this year’s run-up to Digital Learning Day, we greatly increased the intensity of our virtual connections. We ramped up our outreach on social media and were gratified to make connections with new teachers, librarians, principals, and leaders. We extended our efforts to include students, both in high school and college, and benefited greatly from their contributions. 

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The Digital Classroom: It’s All About Great Teaching

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February 04, 2014 03:13 pm

This guest blog post comes from Peter Cohen, President of McGraw-Hill Education PreK-12. 

If you’re involved with Digital Learning Day, you can probably already name a dozen excellent reasons to take your classroom digital. Today’s students are digital natives. Modern digital learning can engage and connect students in ways that were unimaginable a decade ago. Perhaps most strikingly, digital personalized learning tools seem to be getting more sophisticated by the minute.

But what are the common threads here? We hear a lot about how digital tools help students learn – and they certainly do – but that’s only half the story. At McGraw-Hill Education, we truly believe that digital learning allows teachers to be the best they can be.

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E-mentoring: The Difference an Hour Can Make

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February 04, 2014 08:40 am

This guest blog post comes from Carissa Cassin, Director of Aspire Mentoring Academy and Volunteerism for AT&T. 

How often do you sit in front of your computer and realize an hour has quickly passed you by? Whether immersed in work, online shopping, catching up with people on Facebook, or reading the latest breaking news, it’s easy to spend an hour in the digital world. What if instead you used that hour to make a difference in the life of a student?

A new report released earlier this month found that young people experience significant improvements related to academics, community involvement, and career development when they are mentored. However, the survey also showed that one in three young people will reach adulthood without having a mentor of any kind.

At AT&T, we are helping fill the mentoring gap by connecting students with our employees who can be caring adult mentors in their life. Aspire Mentoring Academy provides our employees with opportunities to mentor students at risk of dropping out of high school and help them graduate ready for college and careers. This program is part of AT&T Aspire – our company’s $350 million commitment to education.

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Four Ways To Rethink Schooling

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February 03, 2014 09:27 am

This guest blog post comes from Sari Factor, CEO of Edgenuity, an online and blended learning company based in Arizona. 

On February 5, 2014, nearly 25,000 teachers and millions of students will join the Alliance for Excellent Education in celebrating the third annual Digital Learning Day, spotlighting the growing momentum around the implementation of technology in K-12 classrooms. While innovation through technology is gaining momentum across the country, it is important to ask ourselves whether we are doing everything we can to make the most of new opportunities to transform the learning experience for our students.

I’ve thought about this a lot as CEO of Edgenuity, an online learning company that’s helped more than one million students prepare for college and career. I’ve concluded that it’s time to rethink the school experience because it is our responsibility to ensure we are sending today’s students into the world ready to grasp the opportunities of the future.

Here are four important ways we can start:

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The Looking Glass: Virtual Learning For Teachers and Students

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February 02, 2014 03:26 pm

This guest blog post comes from Brad Clark, a 4th and 5th grade teacher of English language arts and social sciences at Simmons Elementary in Woodford County, Kentucky. 

I am fortunate enough to work with amazing teachers across the nation through the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ) and the Hope Street Group, two organizations that are transforming our definitions of teacher leadership. I met CTQ through National Board Certified Teacher Lauren Hill, a parent of a student in my class.

Lauren’s encouragement has been instrumental in facilitating my teacher voice as I’ve gotten involved with the CTQ Collaboratory, a virtual community for teacher leaders. So, with Digital Learning Day approaching, I asked Lauren to share her perspective on how teachers are leading efforts to help students learn via digital tools and experiences. I also wondered, how are teachers using these resources to learn more about the craft of teaching?

Lauren had plenty of wisdom to share: “My guiding principle is to never allow the technology to lead the lesson, but to use technology to support the original goals. Technology can make many tasks visceral—activating many more of students’ senses than do our usual tools. It can transform our classrooms into multimedia, immersive experiences.”

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Digital Learning and a Bold Brand of Teacher Leadership

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January 31, 2014 09:45 am

This guest post comes from Barnett Berry, CEO and partner of the Center for Teaching Quality. See Barnett talk more about teaching and digital learning on Digital Learning Day, February 5, 2014! 

Where digital learning blossoms, you can find strong teacher leaders. Consider, for example, Talladega County, Alabama, where four teachers gained the support of administrators to lead a dramatic instructional transformation.

We live in age of top-down mandates (and big tech contracts). But we all know what makes digital learning successful: the expertise of practicing teachers in using technology to personalize students’ experiences. As researchers and advocates have documented, “technology can provide more opportunities for teachers to design learning experiences and content that incorporate proven pedagogical practices.”

Even as learning “goes digital,” teachers will continue to play a vital role in effective use of new technologies to boost the progress of individual students.

Pressing questions we face in 2014

How can we make the most of this moment in the history of digital learning, when technology is available to more schools than ever? What will help teachers to use digital tools and resources to maximize, personalize, and transform learning, rather than merely adding 21st-century shininess?

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5 Ways To Make Every Day Digital Learning Day

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January 30, 2014 01:22 pm

Twitter never fails to inspire me. Every time I participate in a Twitter chat, I am blown away by the passionate educators and the amazing things happening in classrooms all around the country. And that’s what Digital Learning Day is all about – celebrating that, and finding ways to bring it to every classroom, every teacher, every student.

So last week’s #edtechchat (listen to the BAM Radio Network story), I asked the question:

What would it take to make every day Digital Learning Day? 

After all, as we say often here at the Alliance, we’ll know we’ve succeeded when nobody understands what the day means – when every day is a learning day.

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