An iPad Alone Does Not Make an Instructional Program

Abstract image of tablet used for education

If Apple’s stock depended at all on the number of districts purchasing the iPad, it would be a strong buy right now. At least that’s how it seems, when every district leader I work with has one on his or her desk and every district technology specialist asks me about iPad compatibility.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my iPad. In fact, I come from an iPad-only family. My husband, parents, brother, and sister all have them—with different colored covers so family vacations don’t become confusing. The only one without an iPad is my four-year-old nephew (although as far as he’s concerned, he has six iPads with different colored covers).

But I digress … So now what?

What are we going to do with all these iPads? Well, the good news is that districts are already well equipped to answer this question. Good curriculum is good curriculum, whether it’s in print, online, or in the App Store. It includes systematic and explicit instruction, not just a collection of practice games. It is focused and coherent, not just a playlist of unconnected skills and activities. It provides appropriate feedback and adapts to the learner. It includes rigorous assignments and assessments and is standards-aligned. Most importantly, it is not just a textbook published on a digital platform, it leverages the power of the Internet to pass real-time student performance data back to educators in actionable ways. Read More

Top New Books for Educators

September Books for Educators

Despite the Best Intentions

Despite the Best Intentions: How Racial Inequality Thrives in Good Schools

Amanda E. Lewis, John B. Diamond

Release Date: September 2, 2015

On the surface, Riverview High School looks like the post-racial ideal. Serving an enviably affluent, diverse, and liberal district, the school is well-funded, its teachers are well-trained, and many of its students are high-achieving. Yet Riverview has not escaped the same unrelenting question that plagues schools throughout America: why is it that even when all of the circumstances seem right, black and Latina/o students continue to lag behind their peers?

Through five years’ worth of interviews and data-gathering at Riverview, Amanda Lewis and John Diamond have created a powerful and illuminating study of how the racial achievement gap continues to afflict American schools more than fifty years after the formal dismantling of segregation. As students progress from elementary school to middle school to high school, their level of academic achievement increasingly tracks along racial lines, with white and Asian students maintaining higher GPAs and standardized testing scores, taking more advanced classes, and attaining better college admission results than their black and Latina/o counterparts. Most research to date has focused on the role of poverty, family stability, and other external influences in explaining poor performance at school, especially in urban contexts. Diamond and Lewis instead situate their research in a suburban school, and look at what factors within the school itself could be causing the disparity. Most crucially, they challenge many common explanations of the “racial achievement gap,” exploring what race actually means in this situation, and how it matters.

Diamond and Lewis’ research brings clarity and data into a debate that is too often dominated by stereotyping, race-baiting, and demagoguery. An in-depth study with far-reaching consequences, Despite the Best Intentions revolutionizes our understanding of both the knotty problem of academic disparities and the larger question of the color line in American society.

A Prison Called School

A Prison Called School

Maure Ann Metzger

Release Date: September 6, 2015

Why are our educational institutions and practices such a poor fit for so many students? A Prison Called School addresses the complex issues that place many students at a disadvantage as they try to survive yet another hurdle in life—school. Although some students are able to navigate and succeed in the current system, other students struggle to survive a system that is unable to meet their needs. For those students, school can feel like a twelve-year prison sentence.

Students who cannot fit the outdated, one-size-fits-all model, are further penalized by a system that blames the struggling student rather than holding the institution accountable. For students to thrive in school, the system, not the students, must change in deep and substantial ways. A Prison Called School is a powerful catalyst for creating the empowering, engaging, and effective learning environments that all students need to succeed in school and life.

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Innovative and Affordable Technologies for the Classroom

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Educators are always on the lookout for ways to enhance their instruction, and today that often means using some form of technology. Teachers want access to up-to-date technology but they also want it to be user-friendly, cost-effective, and practical. The more cutting-edge technology just wasn’t accessible to teachers until recently—either the equipment was too expensive or it just wasn’t suitable for classroom use. But since technology is rapidly evolving, the innovations of the future are slowly making their way into schools across the world. Below are three of the latest (and coolest) affordable and user-friendly technologies that can transform learning in the classroom.

Virtual Reality: Google Cardboard and Expeditions App

“Google Cardboard 2” by Maurizio Pesce is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

Google Cardboard 2” by Maurizio Pesce is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

Virtual reality (VR) has been around for decades, used for gaming and in the military, but only recently is VR showing promise for practical application in the classroom. Thanks to Google’s ingenuity, educators can take students on a fun virtual reality fieldtrip—no buses or permission slips needed! By combining Google Cardboard and Google’s Expeditions app, students can visit almost any place in the world from the classroom. Google Cardboard, along with wireless devices, provides an easily accessible virtual reality learning experience that educators can seamlessly integrate into instruction. Read More

How Parents Can Get Their Kids into Reading This School Year

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In just two weeks our household will transition from hosting barbecues and enjoying ice cream nightly to completing homework and packing lunches. The new school year marks an exciting time in my stepsons’ lives: new teachers, new classmates, and even new sneakers and schools supplies!  My husband and I will also use this time to reestablish old routines and create new ones that help the boys learn and grow.

When I first met my stepsons several years ago, they were considerably more into screen time than reading. And while I shared their love of games, TV, and movies, I was determined to also make them love reading. By making some simple changes, we have created two avid readers (regardless of reading logs or summer assignments)! Read More

The Value of an Old Couch in the Classroom

The Value of an Old Couch in the Classroom

Over the years, researchers have studied the impact a positive climate has on school effectiveness—from providing a safe place to learn, to offering a space for student collaboration.

A study by Robert Marzano on school effectiveness states that a lead indicator is a learning environment in which staff and students not only feel safe, but experience order. And Larry Lezotte’s research says classrooms should be learner-centered and collaboration should be the norm. The National Dropout Prevention Center/Network states, “A safe learning environment is focused on academic achievement, maintaining high standards, fostering positive relationships between staff and students, and encouraging parental and community involvement.”

So now that you know what makes schools most effective, how can you put those principles into practice in your classroom? Read More