December 1, 2016

We hope you found a friend – 2016 Edcamp Roundup

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Our 2016 Edcamp season is officially over, and we think this was our most successful year to date. We sponsored 34 events in 19 states!

In February, we revamped our Edcamp efforts and committed ourselves to empowering educators with resources to take charge of their professional development. We created a new system of submitting Edcamp sponsorship requests, updated our swag and offered higher monetary donations and special Reflector 2 deals for attendees. Most importantly, we built long-lasting relationships with educators. We appreciate all of the hard work that went into making each of these events a success!

We are honored to be a part of the experiences that help educators gain confidence, ignite their passion for education and share ideas with one another in a comfortable environment. These motivated educators inspire us to continue making products that help them accomplish their professional goals.

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If you’ve been to a Squirrels-sponsored Edcamp before, you know that we provide fun goodies for you to take home, including Squirrels lanyards, prize packs with various swag items and free copies of Reflector 2. We also provide monetary donations to organizers for breakfast, lunch, refreshments or any other expenses. Speaking of lunch and breakfast, we’ve seen some tasty-looking lunches come out of our donations! Whether you attended one or many Squirrels-sponsored Edcamps this year, we hope our contributions helped make these professional development experiences the best ones yet.

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Check out the Edcamps we sponsored in 2016:

We would love your feedback on how we can improve our sponsorship efforts as we gear up for 2017. Feel free to leave a comment telling us how we can make your experience better as an attendee or organizer.

If you are hosting your own Edcamp and are interested in a Squirrels sponsorship for 2017, fill out our Edcamp Sign Up Form. Sponsorship may include monetary or swag donations, discounts on our products and more!

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November 22, 2016

From the Classroom to the Real World: How EdTech Increases Student Success

Every student going through school is taught concepts that can be applied to real-world experiences. For example, learning the Pythagorean Theorem in math class may cause students to question when they would ever need to know it as an adult. Although the student may not understand it at the time, this theorem can be applied to a number of real-life experiences, including taking a road trip, determining what size TV to purchase or calculating how far it is to throw a baseball from first base to third base.

Can this same logic be used to determine if technology used in the classroom prepares students for future careers and experiences?

About 20 years ago, students learned basic computer skills in a specially designated computer classroom. Now it’s hard to find a classroom that isn’t using computers and technology. Some educators argue that schools have a responsibility to give students the confidence and skills to use technology. Colleges and employers expect students to be digitally literate when they graduate. Digital literacy helps students navigate the workforce, college and use creative thinking to solve problems.

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Students develop essential skills and knowledge when they are exposed to technology at a young age. They need to be taught to think and understand what technology is and how to use it in the right way to prepare themselves for a tech-infused post-grad world. They can use educational games to learn how to read, use classroom devices to develop research skills and participate in Makerspaces to creatively explore their ideas.

Education technology decreases learning gaps that appear most often in early childhood. A student who struggles to learn early may find it difficult to prepare for college or the workforce because learning is cumulative. Identifying these gaps is important because early learning facilitates later learning. If you notice a student is struggling with reading or math skills, try using one of the many learning applications, such as Math Shake, DoodleMath, Photomath and BrainPOP to get the student back on track.

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Have any comments or feedback about how education technology increases student success? Feel free to share in the comments below!

November 16, 2016

Oh, Brazil: Alpha Squirrel Guest Post, Part Three

This is the third post in a three-part blog series* featuring Alpha Squirrel EdTech Expert Marc Faulder. Marc is an educator and Interactive Technologies Leader at Burton Joyce Primary School in the U.K. He has spent the past two years working with the University of Nottingham in England on a research project about closing the math gap for marginalized students using tablets and math apps. They used math apps from onebillion, a London-based nonprofit, to measure the impact that this intervention has on learning.

Marc is traveling to Brazil with his team to continue the research project and scope out the possibility of launching the onebillion initiative in Brazil. They’ll also train teachers on the use of technology in the classroom. Read part one and part two of Marc’s journey.

Oh, Brazil
Our time in Brazil wrapped up with a visit at the mayor’s office and a meeting with the University of Pernambuco at the British Consulate. Both of these meetings were organized to plan for the future. Great progress has been made with local schools and partners here over the last 13 days. Moving forward with the onebillion math intervention seems likely. On my final visit to ABA Global school, I was presented with a gift from Francisco Gomes de Matos, peace linguist and President of the Board at ABA Global Education:

“Oh, Brazil, about you what can I foresee well? You will be internationally admired. You will be educationally developed. You will be scientifically and technologically advanced. You will be interculturally comprehended.”

This resonates with me and our trip here. This articulates our goal to work with Brazil and assures me that Brazil makes a perfect partner for our projects and research.

In my first blog post, I explained three projects we brought to Brazil:

  1. Closing the Gap in Math – “How can mobile technology and the onebillion software support marginalized learners?”

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In March 2017, Laura Outhwaite (Ph.D. student in the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham) will return to Recife, Brazil, to work with ABA and DAMAS schools to pre-test children. Teachers will then implement the math gap intervention for 12 weeks. This will happen in English, Portuguese and with a control class – a design based on an international model used in England, Canada, South Africa and Malawi. During my visit, teachers have been trained to use the onebillion software. They are excited about this intervention. The teachers have also had a hand in designing the study so that it works with their curriculum and timetable. Laura will return again in June 2017 for a post-test and to receive feedback from teachers. Afterwards, the findings will be included in an international, cross-cultural evaluation of the software. And as the research is teacher-led, the schools will continue using the software and support the likely expansion of this project in Recife. Beyond the pilot study, there has been great interest with other partners in this work. We look forward to the possibility of expanding this project beyond the pilot study.

  1. Stories of a Lifetime – “How might we keep local legends, myths and fables alive while also sharing our place in the world?”

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ABA and DAMAS schools both joined the project, and in our second week here a third school, Red Balloon in San Paulo, Brazil, joined as well. These three schools will use the project with different aged children who will research and retell folklore from Brazil and Recife. On my final project day in Recife, I taught a group of children at ABA Global School. Part of this lesson time introduced them to the Stories of a Lifetime project. They learned the story of Robin Hood, designed their characters and retold the story in their own words using Puppet Pals. I will share this response to the story back in my school with Digital Leaders and upload this work to the Stories of a Lifetime website.

  1. Connecting Classes Across Continents – “How might we develop deeper understanding through the use of global connections to broaden learners’ perspectives?”

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In my second week, I returned to ABA Global School to work with a group of Year Five children on this project. They spent time with me learning about Nottingham and they read the book about Burton Joyce, authored by Year Six children form my school. They met with the Burton Joyce children over FaceTime and exchanged knowledge about their place in the world. Following this visit, they will work on their own school book to share with Burton Joyce children and a second call will take place when I return to work. These two books will be combined as a case study text and published to the iBooks Store in the same style as the collaborative book my school published with St. Francis Xavier, Goa.

I have learned that visiting schools is a great way to share knowledge and expertise. Being in a setting gives many more opportunities to collaborate and provide practical ideas bespoke to that place. I’ve learned this through my own consultancy role in England and from managing the Apple Regional Training Centre in Nottingham. Applying this to an international context has been a beneficial way to further develop my skills as a leader and advocate of educational technology.

An international visit is much different to working with schools at home. Even though we had an agenda planned, opportunities arose that were unexpected. New relationships brought about detailed discussions that allowed our plans to evolve quickly. We had no contacts to rural schools before this trip, but we were able to make a visit because of the relationships we formed in our first few days. The advice from The British Consulate gave new avenues for collaboration beyond our visit. We have so many more contacts and ideas to explore now.
Meeting teachers in schools with technology gave new opportunities for me to share my projects and develop them in new, exciting ways with educators beyond the Apple Distinguished Educator network. Our priority was to launch a pilot study of the onebillion software in Recife, and this was finalized by the end of our trip with training provided to teachers and an implementation designed with school coordinators.

MarcF3.8Working with researchers and academics has been very interesting as well. My partnership with The University of Nottingham began over 18 months ago with the evaluation of the onebillion apps in the U.K. I’ve been involved in study design, implementation and evaluation of this research in the U.K. To have an involvement in the beginnings of a new pilot study in Brazil is very rewarding. I offered my own, first-hand knowledge and experience as a teacher and leader who has implemented a similar, successful pilot study. I explained the positive impact this study had on the children that I teach in math and other areas of learning. I look forward to offering support to these educators as they begin implementing their pilot of the onebillion software in Recife.

Working internationally has taught me three things:

  • Time is precious
  • Relationships are key to success
  • The work is hard

Moments of high energy and inspiration are met with moments of complications or exhaustion.  Problem solving, decision making and patience are needed as agendas change and challenges arise. Our plan altered on a daily basis. We were always on the go preparing for the next unexpected meeting whilst reflecting on the one we had just had. But when you see the children who deserve quality education, and you believe that technology can unlock talent, you know that the hard work for these children will pay off.

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Jose Guido Correa de Araujo, Emeritus Professor, International Relations Officer, University of Pernambuco

As I board my first of three flights back to the U.K., I leave Recife looking forward to collaborating with all of the friends I have met here. I look forward to seeing Connecting Classes grow with a new link school and case study publication growth. I look forward to seeing Brazilian legends told in Stories of a Lifetime. And I look forward to working on Brazil’s first pilot of the onebillion software in March 2017.

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“Oh, Brazil, what will be your legacy to every coming generation? Oh, Brazil, may all of these things happen to you; may you inspire Brazilians only good things to do” 

I would like to thank Squirrels for their support with this visit, for sharing my story and showcasing what is possible when technology enables quality learning. I need to thank the Apple Distinguished Educators who work tirelessly on projects which have a truly global reach. I thank them for committing their own time to these innovations and for encouraging me to share them beyond our community. I also send much love to Marie Neves for her friendship before, during and after this trip; see you in December! And also to Ricardo; our dedicated driver, intelligent interpreter and gracious guide.

I must end with a thank you to my partners at The University of Nottingham, particularly Dr. Nicola Pitchford. The time that you invest in my work, and the support you give me, means so much. This trip has been a career highlight. Thank You.

*Marc submitted this post to Squirrels on November 3, 2016. You can contact Marc and follow his education journey on Twitter

November 7, 2016

Alpha Squirrel Guest Post: Using Technology To Improve Math Education In Brazil, Part Two

This is the second of a three-part blog series* featuring Alpha Squirrel EdTech Expert Marc Faulder. Marc is an educator and Interactive Technologies Leader at Burton Joyce Primary School in the U.K. He has spent the past two years working with the University of Nottingham in England on a research project about closing the math gap for marginalized students using tablets and math apps. They used math apps from onebillion, a London-based nonprofit, to measure the impact that this intervention has on learning.

Marc is traveling to Brazil with his team to continue the research project and scope out the possibility of launching the onebillion initiative in Brazil. They’ll also train teachers on the use of technology in the classroom. Read part one of Marc’s journey.

Learning Gains in Brazil
It was a successful first week in Recife, Brazil, and our agenda took new directions each day. Our time was flexible because we initially dedicated much of it to observation and knowledge exchange. We were able to follow the lead of our local partners to maximize the opportunities for this scoping visit.

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Projects Shared
During the first week, we met with teachers, researchers and professionals from various organizations and schools. Marie Neves from CESAR was instrumental in initiating these relationships, arranging meetings with ABA Global School, DAMAS School and The British Consulate. In all three meetings, we spent time learning about their positions in this region. We also agreed to visit a rural school based outside of the town of Escada, Brazil.

With each partner, we shared three of the projects that we are bringing to Brazil:

  • Closing the Gap in Math – How can mobile technology and the onebillion software support marginalized learners?
  • Stories of a Lifetime – How might we keep local legends, myths and fables alive while also sharing our place in the world?
  • Connecting Classes Across Continents – How might we develop deeper understanding through the use of global connections to broaden learners’ perspectives?

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DAMAS school picked up two of the three projects we presented. They are particularly interested in joining the global research project in Closing the Gap in Math, as well as Stories of a Lifetime. ABA Global School will be joining us on all three projects. At The British Consulate, we gained expert advice on how best to scale up these projects in Brazil and who to approach for support in further developing our outreach here in Recife.

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One school visit we made on Friday was extraordinary. Driving inland, we saw life in rural Recife and found our way to the town of Escada. Just beyond the town, we stopped at a village built by a sugar cane factory. The villagers work on the planation, and the State of Recife provides schooling for the children at Dr. Jose Henrique Municipal School. Local people helped us find the school and introduced us to Regina, a school coordinator. She was very welcoming and showed us around. We met other staff and children at the school. It was a good opportunity to make the comparison between city and rural life in Recife. We also had a chance to share the onebillion math project with the head teacher, who had never used tablet technology before. Amazed by what she saw in the Portuguese version of the app, she agreed that this would transform math learning in her school.

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This visit allowed me to make use of the Book Creator text that the Burton Joyce children authored for ABA. The staff and children at Dr. Jose Henrique Municipal School were able to step inside Burton Joyce through the use of technology and see what life is like elsewhere in the world. The U.K.’s green fields and open spaces were a contrast for them but similarities were drawn from soccer and music. After an hour at the school, we exchanged contact information, and we plan on working together on a project in the future.

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Knowledge Exchanged
Meeting Roberta Ferraz at ABA Global School has been a highlight of my trip. Roberta is the Educational Technology Coordinator at this primary school and is a passionate educator who brings new ideas to the school curriculum. Working on many initiatives herself, including podcasting programs and student cinema projects, she was very inspired by Stories of a Lifetime and Connecting Classes Across Continents. Roberta will coordinate the pilot study of the cross-cultural math evaluation of the onebillion software.

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Leading up to my visit, children at my school authored a Book Creator text about Burton Joyce Primary School and life in their village. Roberta invited me to co-teach with her when I return to the U.K. next week and share this book with students at ABA. We have organized a FaceTime call between our classes at Burton Joyce and ABA so that children can connect over this personal text. Following this lesson, students will begin working on their own book about ABA school and Recife, which will be sent to us at Burton Joyce. This exciting project builds on the work I did with St. Francis Xavier School, Goa, back in 2015. I look forward to publishing a second global book in this series at the end of this collaboration, as well as extend the reach of the Connecting Classes Across Continents program.

Daniella, a coordinator at DAMAS school, is going to bring Stories of a Lifetime to her school alongside Roberta at ABA. Stories of a Lifetime celebrates local legends, myths and folklore in localities. Children who work on this project will research, script and illustrate their retelling of this local story. This can be in their first language with English subtitles or told in English. Once their story project is complete, teachers upload this three-minute video story to Vimeo and share the link with myself and ADE Jason Milner. We embed their video story in their country portfolio on the Stories of a Lifetime website for other schools to use as a learning resource. Those schools who access these stories are encouraged to respond in their own way via their school blogs and share this work as comments on the school’s Vimeo profile. You can find out more about this project on YouTube. 

Professional Learning
Daniella (DAMAS Coordinator) and Roberta (ABA Coordinator) have invited me to visit their schools next week to provide training to their staff. I will help their teachers learn how to best utilize their tablets so they can work with Stories of a Lifetime. We will also train staff to use the onebillion software and show them how to implement this teacher-led intervention in their part of this cross-cultural study. Roberta is very keen to develop the use of technology in early years at ABA, and I will be showcasing my class’s work with iPads to the ABA teaching staff.

My own professional learning has benefited from working internationally. There have been many opportunities to reflect on my practice and learn how best to collaborate with teachers abroad. As an Apple Distinguished Educator, I am experienced in collaborating with teachers inside of this network. To apply this skill internationally, as an educator visiting from abroad, has been very useful to me. With four days left on this trip, I look forward to a week of professional development and project implementation with our new partners.

*Marc submitted this post to Squirrels on October 31, 2016. You can contact Marc and follow his adventure on Twitter

November 1, 2016

Why Higher Education Is Investing In Smart Classrooms, and What’s Missing

The college experience is gradually starting to resemble an education utopia for students. Higher education institutions are becoming a place where young adults can grow as individuals while surrounded by on-demand conveniences and like-minded peers. State-of-the-art leisure facilities and smart classrooms filled with collaboration and presentation technology are abundant.

That comes at a price, though. The cost of tuition has been increasing and state funding for higher education institutions has been decreasing ever since the recession. As tuition costs rise, high school students must make tough decisions when deciding which college to attend. This leaves schools looking for ways to add value and differentiate their offering from competitors to appeal to prospective students.

Funding down, tuition up
On average, states are spending 18 percent ($1,598) less per student, and annual published tuition at four-year public colleges has jumped by 33 percent ($2,333) since the 2007-08 school year. So how do schools differentiate themselves and show value in marketing materials for prospective students?

Lavish recreational facilities, apartment-style dorm rooms and pristine landscapes can all add value to a student’s educational experience. This is true of smart classrooms, too. It’s why higher education institutions are devoting more resources to equip learning spaces and offices with technology that facilitates collaboration, presentation and instruction.

According to The Center For Digital Education, higher education institutions will spend $10.8 billion on IT support and services this year. Network upgrades are a top priority on the agenda. Increased connectivity on college campuses can help educators reach students with modern teaching methods such as blended learning, personalized learning and competency-based learning.

The typical list of amenities in “smart classrooms” on college campuses looks like this:

  • MacBook or PC laptop
  • Projector
  • Large wall screen or TV
  • Apple TV/Chromecast
  • Microphone
  • Lighting controls
  • Speakers
  • Document camera
  • HDMI/VGA cables
  • Interactive white board
  • Wireless presentation pointer

What’s missing
While this technology contributes to a smart classroom, it doesn’t create a truly wireless or collaborative environment for students. It doesn’t do for instruction what a rec-center sauna does for the “college experience.”

Wireless content sharing is a common problem for higher education institutions. Imagine if every building on campus – academic buildings, administrative buildings, university libraries, student centers, conference centers and residence halls – had one simple and universal way to wirelessly display computer screens to TVs and digital projectors. Wouldn’t that be….convenient?

The key word there is “simple.” A school’s IT department must operate within a range of technical know-how that varies greatly among staff, students and faculty on campus. What’s common technical knowledge to a computer science professor may be a completely foreign concept to an adjunct journalism professor. This creates a barrier in the adoption of new tech services and solutions.

Collaborating in smart classrooms
The theoretical simple and universal screen-mirroring solution for college campuses mentioned above? Yeah, it exists. Think of it as a facilitator that’s used to display content in meetings, lectures and presentations. It makes HDMI/VGA cables obsolete and allows any student, teacher or faculty member to present from anywhere in a given room.

Content sharing is never going to be viewed as a game changer from a student’s perspective, and it’s just one component of an advanced smart classroom, but it’s an important feature of any room intended to foster collaboration. You can’t have a truly smart, collaborative and connected classroom until every individual in the room has the ability to quickly display his or her screen at a moment’s notice.

What makes your campus stand out?
While per-student funding decreases and tuition costs increase, higher education institutions will continue to look for ways to differentiate from competitors and add value, from campus technology offerings to student lifestyle enhancements.

What are some ways your school has tried to differentiate itself from competing schools? What’s in your school’s smart classroom? What type of technology would you like to see introduced to the classroom, lecture hall or administration offices?