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.

Recife2

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?

Recife3

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.

Recife5

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.

Recife7

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?

October 27 , 2016

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

This is the first 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 using tablets and math apps to close the math gap for marginalized students. 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.

The Journey to Brazil
Today I travel to Recife, Brazil, and it feels like the beginning of a great adventure. But whilst I wait for my connecting flight to Sao Paulo from Amsterdam, I look back at the 18 months which led up to this moment.

Unlocking Talent Through Tablet Technology
Unlocking Talent is a research project supported by Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) and the Norwegian Government. Led by the University of Nottingham in England, the project evaluates how onebillion is using innovative math apps to give marginalized children access to this critical math education. The apps allow children to learn at their own pace and in their own language. Beginning in the African country of Malawi, this research found that from six weeks of using the apps, children received the equivalent of 18 months of learning gains in math skills.

As this research continued, the university and onebillion questioned whether or not this way of working could be replicated beyond Malawi. This is where I joined the team. We ran a pilot study across the schools in the federation that I work for. We found similar learning gains here, as well as in other small-scale pilot studies from U.K. schools. In June, we launched the U.K.’s first large-scale evaluation of tablet technology and math attainment.

The apps are used with Early Years children that have been identified as working below age-related expectations. They work on activities set by the teacher in the app for up to 30 minutes a day. The learning is 1:1, personalized and self-paced. These children use this app as well as normal teaching practices and traditional interventions. When combined like this, the learning gains have been huge.

The findings from the initial U.K. pilot studies can be found here.

A Cross-Cultural Study
Today I travel to Brazil with Dr. Nicola Pitchford, an associate professor at the University of Nottingham, and Laura Outhwaite, a Ph.D. student in the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham. These two have been instrumental in the success of the research in both the U.K. and Malawi. Our initial trip to Brazil is a scoping visit and came about following a visit from researchers from CESAR Recife, an innovation centre that promotes transformation through technology, back in January. Marie Neves and Flavia Nascimento came from Recife to Nottingham to observe best practices in my classroom using both onebillion software and iPads to enhance learning. You can read more about this visit here: https://enabling-environments.co.uk/2016/01/19/brazil/

MarcFaulder

Inspired by what they saw and with a good knowledge of the schools they work with in Recife, Marie invited us to partner with CESAR and look into the possibility of bringing onebillion to their schools.

During our initial trip this November, we’ll meet with teacher training institutions, local and state government representatives and Portuguese schools in the area. Marie and I have also organized a conference for 30 teachers where they can learn some ways to best use iPads in the classroom and how to maximize learning gains when embedding this practice in a learning environment.

A Chance to Reflect
There is much to learn on this visit. Plenty of time in this trip has been dedicated to meeting professionals and observing current practices in Recife schools. This visit is about hearing teachers’ stories and learning about their ways of closing the gap in math. Our purpose in these conversations is to exchange knowledge and share what we are finding in the U.K. and Malawi.

The most exciting part of this trip for me is looking at different learning contexts from the same perspective; closing the gap in math. It’s easy to look beyond your home country and see what is different. But to make comparisons based on learning gains for math provides a common ground for any teacher, no matter what the context is. What are we doing to support the children who are working below age-related expectations? Whether this be 10 children in a class of 30 in the U.K., or 80 in a class of 100 in Malawi, teachers are united by the way in which will tackle this issue. Being able to share the same resources to close our gaps is such an exciting way to collaborate and bring these school contexts together.

I look forward to sharing more of my visit with you as it unfolds over the next two weeks.

*Marc submitted this post to Squirrels on October 24, 2016. You can contact Marc and follow his adventure on Twitter

August 17 , 2016

Back-To-School Tech List: Grab The $15 EdTech Tool Used In More Than 100,000 Classrooms

RF School

If you are an educator looking for a cost-effective way to make mobile devices a more valuable part of the student learning experience, you’ve come to the right place.

You know how kids go shopping with their parents to pick up supplies before the school year begins? Teachers shop for supplies, too. Except, due to limited funding, they often end up spending their own money to purchase EdTech tools that improve the lives of our children. Oh, and these tools usually cost a lot more than notebooks, pencils and lunch boxes.

But not every popular EdTech tool breaks the bank.

Reflector 2 is $15 software created by Squirrels LLC that runs on the teacher’s computer and allows students to wirelessly display their iPads, iPhones, Chromebooks and Android devices onto the teacher’s computer screen.

A one-time cost of $15 per classroom makes it a modern-day unicorn… a rare budget-friendly classroom tool in an education market filled with price tags that frequently reach hundreds and thousands of dollars.

Yeah, we know what you’re thinking. “Of course you think Reflector is the best thing since sliced bread. You are the company that made it, after all.”

While we’re obviously a little biased, we’re not alone! We hear from teachers every day who tell us how much they love Reflector and appreciate what it has done to increase collaboration and sharing in their classroom.

Educators On Reflector 2
Here are a few of the sentiments educators have shared with us via our Reflector Twitter account.

Reflector 2 is perfect for any classroom with mobile devices. Educators in 1:1, BYOD and flipped/blended learning environments use it to wirelessly share both teacher and student device screens. Most teachers open Reflector on their computer, then connect their computer to a projector so the entire class can see what is happening on any mobile device that is wirelessly connected to Reflector.

Better yet, Reflector allows multiple mobile devices to connect to the teacher’s computer simultaneously. A mix of student and teacher iOS, Android, Chromebook and Surface Pro* devices can all be mirrored to Reflector at the same time.

AND EVEN BETTER YET… Every Reflector session can be recorded. That’s right. Teachers can record connected student mobile device screens directly from their computer. This is ideal when a student is giving a presentation from a mobile device, or when a teacher would like to pre-record a lesson ahead of time to play for the class later.

Tech Tips For Teachers
Reflector 2 was recently featured in a Tech Tips For Teachers article. Author Becky Shiring said that Reflector is a tool she desperately wishes she discovered while she was still in the classroom. The following is an excerpt from the article:

“While in the classroom, when I found an app I wanted my students to be aware of, I can remember painfully trying to walk students through finding the app in the app store, downloading it, opening it, signing in and then using it, all while circulating the room demonstrating from my tiny cell phone screen. It was exhausting. Not to mention that some students used Android and others iOS. This frustration could have been eased with Reflector 2.”  

If you would like to learn more about Reflector 2, you can watch our “How To” videos including How to Connect to Reflector 2 and How to Record Mirrored Devices on our YouTube channel. Or, you can visit our website to learn more about Reflector in the classroom.

As always, feel free to leave any questions or feedback in the comments section below.

*Microsoft Surface Pros require our sister app, AirParrot 2, to wirelessly connect to the teacher's computer because Surface Pros do not come equipped with a native screen-sharing functionality such as Apple's AirPlay or the Chromebook/Android Cast technology. 

August 2 , 2016

The Squirrels Monthly Edcamp Roundup – July 2016

Summer 2016 has been one of the busiest seasons to date for us. Between launching a new product, attending the largest EdTech conference in the country and developing another new product that’s due fall 2016, we have remained committed to supporting educators. As we start to round out the warmer months in Ohio, it’s time to reflect on the Edcamps that made this summer one to remember.

  • Edcamp IT – Fort Worth, Texas
  • Edcamp Leadership Michigan – Jackson, Mich.
  • Edcamp Leadership Ohio – Gahanna, Ohio
  • Edcamp Literacy – Boston, Mass.
  • Edcamp PBL Ohio – Columbus, Ohio

We were honored to sponsor these events and hope our contributions helped exceed attendees’ expectations. Our donations went toward supplies, door prizes and most importantly, sandwiches (YUM)! We worked with five phenomenal Edcamp organizers who are passionate about what they do and want to share that passion with educators around them. Seeing that drive from these individuals inspires us every day to make software that promotes creativity and a fun learning environment.

Edcamp Prizes

Each of these Edcamps showed us what educators are talking about and what ideas are important to them. Here are just a few of the many topics educators discussed during the month of July:

  • iPad apps
  • Chromebooks and Google Classroom
  • New tech tools
  • Planning Edcamps
  • Becoming a connected educator
  • Formative assessment using technology

July was a great month of professional development for 550+ Edcamp attendees! The best part? This year isn't over yet! We'll be updating you about more Squirrels Edcamp sponsorships in the coming months.

EdCamp

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

About Us

Squirrels is a software development company based in North Canton, Ohio. Our excitement and passion lies in creating high-qualty, budget-friendly software that can be used to enhance the devices already found in today's home and work environments. Follow our blog for all the latest product releases, #TeamSquirrels news and industry insight!