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Articles: Technology

An image on the Common Sense Graphite landing page, above, illustrates how educators might search for content.

Getting the right education apps into classrooms isn’t as easy as reading reviews, doing a quick download and making a link available to staff. Because there isn’t a standard rating system to verify whether an app will live up to its educational claims, there’s no single best approach to matching student needs with new programs.

While technology infiltrates every aspect of K12 operations, CIOs must negotiate with various vendors to ensure students and educators can make the most out of new software and hardware.

At Lawrence Public Schools in Kansas, teacher Paula Barr sits with second graders in her blended learning classroom at Quail Run Elementary School.

Widespread use of digital learning materials, an intensifying focus on achievement and the influx of digital devices into classrooms are increasing districts’ need to have some form of learning management systems (LMS), experts say.

Students at Cherokee County School District use Pearson’s WriteToLearn to help them become better writers.

As Common Core standards require students to write extensively across the curriculum, more districts are using automated assessment tools to save teachers time and give students immediate analysis.

Birmingham Public Schools use ETS’ Criterion as a learning and teaching tool. Students get immediate feedback on grammar and mechanics, as well as links to exemplary writing with detailed techniques to improve.

Some vendors have developed tech tools that will solve the challenges of teaching and assessing student writing effectively. We asked several experts to share their thoughts about writing assessment concerns and how administrators can address those issues. Here’s what they had to say:

From videos to games, tools to help students learn to read are all about fun.

Programs that are compatible with mobile devices allow students to improve reading and literacy skills in and outside the classroom. On the educator side, many new products track students’ progress and offer assessment tools.

Vocabulary.com

Vocabulary.com

John Williams is executive director of technology for Metro-Nashville Public Schools.

When your job is to manage the IT infrastructure for more than 83,000 students, across 150 schools, who use more than 340 different pieces of education software, it would not be too surprising to be singing the blues.

But in Music City—Nashville—our district is singing up-tempo and thriving even as we enter year two of a sweeping technology initiative to equip all students for 21st century learning and future colleges and careers.

New PD apps can save districts money on travel costs by connecting them virtually with education consultants.

A new wave of apps connects teachers with mobile access to professional development and expands opportunities for collaboration with mentors and peers.

“When apps first started, they were basically for entertainment or information,” says Robbie Melton, associate vice chancellor of mobilization emerging technology at the Tennessee Board of Regents. “As mobile devices evolved, we now have a wealth of information and apps for education and workforce development.”

In the middle school STEM lab at New Canaan Public Schools in Connecticut, students frequently choose to learn with flight simulators rather than 3D printers, video games and other technological options.

“It’s definitely our most popular tool,” says Vivian Birdsall, New Canaan’s middle school STEM teacher. “Not only do the flight simulations expose our students to aviation, they’re so exciting and fun that our students often don’t realize how much they’re learning from them.”

The percent of school IT leaders who say they are using different cloud services has increased in the past year, according to CoSN’s 2015 “K-12 IT Leadership Survey.”

A large majority of district technology leaders report moving some crucial IT services to the cloud this year, according to a March report from the Consortium of School Networking (CoSN).

More than 65 percent of IT leaders say their district now uses productivity tools such as Google Apps for Education that run through the cloud—a rapid increase over last year, when only 10 percent reported using these services, the 2015 “K-12 IT Leadership Survey Report” found.

Providing students with the right academic resources is crucial to their success. Whether it’s finding printed books, e-books or other research materials, new software can help librarians organize materials and make them easy to find.

High school mentors help teach middle school students about online safety and responsible use of social media at Columbia Public Schools in Missouri.

Only a handful of school districts attempt rigorous, round-the-clock monitoring of social media traffic to spot threats against their schools or students. Leaders in these districts say the extra level of security acts as an early-warning system that can prevent young people from hurting themselves or others.

Students at Columbia Public Schools in Missouri have had their social media traffic monitored for the last few years.

Laws in different states provide varied leeway when it comes to monitoring students’ public and private social media activity.

Under an Illinois law that was passed last year, district administrators (after parental notification) can demand a student’s social media passwords if they have “reasonable cause” to believe they will find evidence the student has violated school rules.

Youths take advantage of anonymous apps like Yik Yak may not always be aware of the potential consequences.

Parents have taken over Facebook and, to a lesser extent, Twitter. This has sent device-laden students flocking to social media apps such as Instagram, SnapChat and Yik Yak, and the shift has created new challenges for administrators trying to root out cyberbullying and threats of violence.

Landlines are out and internet-based phones are in for many schools this year, as the modernized E-rate program begins scaling back funds for traditional phone service.

Discount rates for long-distance calling, cell phones and other services will drop by 20 percent every year starting this year, as determined in the July 2014 E-rate Modernization Order adopted by the FCC. E-rate funds for email, web hosting, paging and phone directory assistance were completely eliminated this year.

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