K12 schools get ready for action with edtech

Some edtech concepts embed themselves in K12 classrooms while others remain a few years out
By: | Issue: January, 2019
December 19, 2018
FORMING CONNECTIONS—A student at Muskego Lakes Middle School completes an edtech project. Educators in the district, Muskego-Norway Schools, will experiment with augmented reality and podcasts in 2019.

What new edtech innovations will make a big splash in 2019, and what technology will cement its place in classroom instruction?

Most educators and experts agree that computer science will remain a mainstay, with more administrators looking to involve younger grades in coding. Educators are finding that reaching the youngest students sparks interest earlier, making it easier to prepare them for today’s high-tech careers and jobs that have yet to emerge.

When asked what learning technologies may still be a few years from having an impact, educators and experts examined advancements in virtual reality, design thinking, voice-assisted technology and artificial intelligence. Read on to see if their forecasts match your outlook for edtech.

Tony Spence, Chief Information Officer

Muskego-Norway Schools (Wis.)

In 2019, Muskego-Norway plans to build on strides made in podcasting and virtual reality to prepare students for high-tech industries. During a site visit to a neighboring school district, Spence saw edtech at a new level. A welding class there surged in popularity when administrators added an augmented-reality welding system.

More than 160 students signed up for the simulated welding class. When spots ran out, teachers were forced to turn away incoming ninth-graders.

While some students may miss the smoke, fire and heat of actual welding, they are able to see how well they are welding in real time, and the system then uploads the data into the cloud for an instructor to review, Spence says.


Sidebar: Driving K12 innovation: Reports will document edtech trends


Podcasts will also establish a greater presence in 2019. Teachers and students can podcast to share ideas, record meetings, post presentations online, take notes, and create newscasts or radio shows.

“We are seeing an uptick in their use in classrooms,” he says. “They’re great for learning and still an untapped resource at the same time.”

Shannon Stanley, Superintendent

Boaz City Schools (Ala.)

The LMS is embedding itself in everyday operations and instruction at Boaz City Schools, making it easier to identify learning gaps before a student falls behind. The small rural district enhances learning by relying on its new online LMS.

The district is in year two of using an online diagnostic and instructional program. The software automatically captures unique details about students, including their strengths and weaknesses, and it identifies academic deficiencies. Armed with this information, teachers talk to students about career pathways outside of their region, where manufacturing and agriculture are key industries. “It enables us to learn what they want to do, what are they good at, and what they aspire to do, and to help them plot a pathway to be successful in that,”
Stanley says.

The LMS illuminates how “each child learns best.” Increasingly, the LMS shows that digital and online instruction addresses a wide range of student interests. Also promising is that students have some level of control over their pathways and the pacing of their education, while teachers can use downloadable lessons that correlate with their learners’ online experiences.

“There are times for whole-group, small-group and individualized instruction,” Stanley says. “The technology allows us to manage the classroom that much better.”

Collin Miller, Technology Administrator

Taos Academy Charter Schools (N.M.)

Taos Academy, a state public charter in rural New Mexico, offers a hybrid educational model that combines classroom and online instruction. Gaming and computer science opportunities are offered, but Miller says 21st-century learning should also emphasize a “soft touch.”

“Everyone should learn how to code, but then the question becomes how do you get creative with that code?” he asks. “You need the human element, in addition to hard science, and it has to be balanced.”

Schools should let students experiment with various tools and instructional delivery models, he says. In Miller’s classroom, for instance, some students work one-on-one with the teacher on math, before moving to Khan Academy for remedial support. Later in the class, they play math games that target individual subjects such as numbers and operations.

Miller anticipates that blockchain, a group of records linked using cryptography, will enter the K12 educational sphere at the administrative level and will improve efficiency. Any gains could begin to take shape in 2019.

Take student records and transcripts, he says. Once a student completes a class (pass or fail), their transcript is automatically updated using the blockchain “without additional interference of other parties like the registrar or teacher,” Miller says. He thinks blockchain could streamline verification and mitigate potential fraud in education records.

“We need to find the educational purpose and standardization for stuff that kids are already using,” he says. “My job is making sure that the school will be adapted to whatever the future may hold.”

Mark Gerl, Director of Design and Engineering

Fulton Academy of Science and Technology (Ga.)

Design-thinking elements and project-based learning lie at the heart of instruction at the Fulton Academy charter school, says Gerl. He trains teachers to move away from standard worksheets and quizzes by adopting forward-looking approaches.

Lesson plans are based on a hands-on, experiential curriculum, which the school plans to expand in 2019. Learning targets infuse engineering-design and STEAM concepts across the curriculum.


Read more: Design thinking in education


The learning method grows students’ problem-solving and analytical chops, as well as their people skills, he says. “We’re trying to make it much more problem-based, and let students solve issues while thinking about how their ideas will impact the people they are solving problems for,” says Gerl, who believes a combination of people skills and a strong STEAM background will position students to earn the cutting-edge jobs of the future.

Design thinking also reinforces empathy in learning, an element that can be applied in all subject areas, including the humanities. “There is a design to storytelling, and the rise and fall to different cultures,” he says. “A student uses design thinking to write a letter to a senator to influence law. The letter must meet certain standards to affect change. That’s
engineering.”

Teachers will use design thinking to consider how a curriculum applies to their students and to reconfigure lessons to better suit learners.

Samantha Becker, Educational Technology Consultant

Consortium for School Networking

Increasingly in education, technology dramatically improves the quality of life for individuals with special needs. Nowhere else is this more evident than in the realm of artificial intelligence, says Becker.

In the mental health sector, for instance, AI avatars take the form of virtual therapists. Advancements in AI allow this technology to “read very nuanced human gestures” to detect moods and thoughts, Becker says.

AI holds promise for classrooms that include students with the most severe learning difficulties, she says. “The instructor has a better sense of awareness of students based on support from AI chatbots, AI tutors or AI avatars.”

It is not mainstream yet, but some schools have acquired cost-prohibitive AI technology through corporate donations. A pilot through a strategic alliance with a vendor offers another possible avenue for schools to get their hands on AI devices in 2019, she says.

“It’s important that educators and school leaders codesign solutions with the vendors,” she says. “Educators have the institutional knowledge on what’s working and what the students’ needs are.”

Douglas A. Levin, President

EdTech Strategies, LLC

Edtech connected to the internet increases opportunities for cybercriminals to hack networks and steal sensitive student and school data. State and local education agency websites have lacked fundamental security tools, putting both schools and users of their websites at risk.

Most of these websites contain links, or shortcuts, to the district’s or state’s Facebook page and Twitter feed. And snippets of code embedded in the site collect general information about a visitor or embed cookies in a visitor’s browser to track their online behaviors. Knowingly or unknowingly, Levin found that 90 percent of state and district websites use cost-free tracking technology, such as Google Analytics services, and ad trackers provided by Twitter and Facebook. These “scripts,” installed as plug-ins, collect metadata or sensitive user information, such as the device being used and an IP address that can track one’s location.

Levin recommends that schools implement password management and authentication tools to block third-party scripts.

Tech teams should also re-evaluate the need for proprietary third-party ad trackers, and assess whether there are more privacy-respecting options available, he says.

“Even if you enter data and delete it, the scripts or plug-ins can capture that, and they can see what you’re interested in,” Levin says. “When combined with other data sources, this information can connect to a profile of a person, which is potentially sold to the highest bidder.”


Team visioning

Three tech educators from North Kansas City Schools in Missouri shared their forecasts on a range of subjects.

Mitsi Nessa, Director of Secondary Curriculum, Instruction & Professional Development

STEM: Educators in North Kansas City use kit-based programs containing laboratory science tools to connect activities with scientific ideas. These tools, along with online curricular materials, shift science from hands-on to “minds-on” participation, and enable students to carry out experiments, Nessa says.

Putting tools in the hands of students, and doing away with the scripted approach to science learning, transforms the classroom into an active, project-based learning environment aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards, she says.

“We were frustrated with the district’s approach to science education; it felt very 1985,” Nessa says. “In some situations, it was because teachers didn’t have the equipment to allow kids to do science.”

Before introducing these tools, science was content-based, and students learned in a linear progression based on a textbook, she says.

Hands-on and online components, however, allow teachers and students to approach the subject matter through a science and engineering lens.

“Our goal with using the technology and the science equipment and in how we design lessons is to accelerate what our kids are learning, encourage thoughtful questions, and facilitate design thinking as they construct understanding,” Nessa says.

Kyle Bundy, Instructional Technology Coordinator

AUGMENTED REALITY: Examining a human heart from 360 degrees and learning to surgically install a stent to increase blood flow in a virtual environment is something “kids just couldn’t do five years ago,” Bundy says.

Making such discoveries today is as simple as opening an app and putting on a set of goggles, thanks to virtual reality. District leaders commissioned a learning space in one school building, outfitting it with virtual reality tools and tablets. In 2019, educators hope to use virtual reality to make learning more dynamic and to deliver content differently.

“Within the next few years, virtual and augmented reality are going to be everywhere across education,” he says. “As the instructional technology department, we’ve recently pushed to use our devices to expand learning outside of our classroom walls and make learning more relevant for students.”

Tricia Scott, Instructional Technology Coordinator

COMPUTER PROGRAMMING: As in previous years, coding will continue to have an impact in 2019, Scott says. Coding is offered in CTE programs at all four of the district’s high schools.

Students are learning computer science and programming language using Java, Swift, JavaScript and C++.

Project Lead the Way, a STEM curriculum, is used in seventh and eighth grades. The district is currently conducting a K6 pilot utilizing the Everybody Can Code curriculum from Apple, while leveraging instructional resources provided through Code.org.

At a minimum, K5 students participate in an annual Hour of Code event “just to get exposure,” she says. “Coding is one of those things that may not find its way into the scope and sequence as much as we would like,” Scott says. “With this minimum hour of code, it will help kids find out if they like it. They can even do that on their own at home.”