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Have you heard of Digital Learning Day yet? It’s happening tomorrow—February 1, 2012—and will be a celebration of the innovative use of digital technologies in education to engage students in rich learning experiences. Digital Learning Day is likely to contribute valuable insights into the projected continued expansion of digital technologies in schools throughout the US.
According to the ed tech experts, in 2012:
Given these predictions, why not check out what Digital Learning Day has to offer? Visit the Digital Learning Day website to sign up for the webcast or town hall meeting, learn about contests you and your students can enter, download toolkits (there’s a kit for just about anyone – from parents and teachers to school district and state leaders), and more. You can also search “digital learning month” to find out how your state is celebrating digital learning all February long.
And finally, be sure to subscribe to this blog if you haven’t already. Because here, nearly every day is Digital Learning Day!
See the full text of the experts’ predictions at: http://www.eschoolnews.com/2012/01/04/experts-share-their-ed-tech-predictions-for-the-new-year/
Attend one of our popular webinars with thought leaders in learning. Live and pre-recorded webinars are available. Register today!
It’s hard to believe, but it’s been two years since Dr. Bill Jenkins, Dr. Martha Burns, Sherrelle Walker, and a host of staff bloggers launched the Science of Learning blog. In those two years we’ve learned a lot and had a ton of fun while creating posts we hoped you would find valuable.
In honor of the occasion, we’d like to share some of our readers’ favorite blog posts to date. Here are just a few of the posts that readers have told us they’ve liked best:
Kathy recommends: How Learning to Read Improves Brain Function
“As an adult literacy tutor, I was fascinated to read Stanislaus Dehaene's research showing that students who don't learn to read may experience severe difficulties with other forms of instruction as a result. This underscores the critical importance of funding such programs as Second Start Adult Literacy in Oakland, a city with a high level of adult illiteracy. And, fact-based research like this gives us a more powerful defense than emotion-based anecdotes, as we fight to protect city and state literacy funding. Thank you, Scientific Learning!”
Jennifer recommends two posts:
“In a learning environment that tends increasingly towards 'teaching to the test,' our nation’s students are losing the skills crucial to a lifetime of knowledge acquisition. Without good questions we cannot find good answers, good solutions, or grow good thinkers. This article outlines a tested method for teaching children how to go about formulating a complex and well thought out question.”
“School gardens are an invaluable interdisciplinary learning tool that gets students out of the classroom and allows them to use classroom knowledge in a real world scenario. A school garden acts as a place to learn, test out theories, and acquire life skills, as well as providing a space of beauty and an object of school pride. In my time as a garden educator, I found the bounty of opportunity to teach in the garden near limitless, and believe that all children should have the opportunity to see what they can discover in the garden.”
Teresa recommends two posts:
“All of the blogs have good information for parents, educators and caregivers, but the one I like the most is the one about love and limits. I think this post is applicable to all children. The math readiness post is a close second, as I did not know about the "cardinal principle." If more parents knew about the information in the love and limits article, we would have happier and more well-adjusted children.”
“I've got my backpack ready to take a 3-D field trip in learning! This mode of education sounds incredibly exciting for students. The sky will be the limit for learners who become engaged in this technology. Thank you Scientific Learning from a retired Maine Elementary School Counselor!”
Thanks so much for your readership and feedback. We are already hard at work on more high quality posts for the new year, and are looking forward to sharing them with you.
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Blended learning, the combination of independent online learning with supervised brick and mortar programs, is on the rise. While there were 2.94 million students participating in a hybrid learning program in 2010, it is expected that the number will be 10.07 million by 2015.
This growth pattern surpasses homeschooling, virtual schools and online charter schools. Schools employing these methods believe that students are more engaged with a 24/7 access model and have seen improvement in both district achievement and graduation rates. It does require a culture shift that includes a strong emphasis on trust, but there are many benefits.
Through a blended learning program, educators can move beyond the “one teacher, one textbook model” of education in a host of ways, including:
The trend toward blended learning within a district often begins in a specific school or grade level. For example, some districts start using blended learning strategies with their alternative education program, as the students are monitored by teachers at the alternative school but are supported by their general education teacher’s instruction, which can be delivered virtually. Others have found it makes sense to prepare students taking AP classes by providing virtual summer reading groups that include discussions and self-assessments in pre-class learning.
As blended learning takes hold with the starting group, the enthusiasm often quickly spreads when teachers see the opportunities for stronger student engagement and enhanced learning. Some districts also have found it helpful to implement online professional development programs as another way to help teachers gain acceptance and make the transition to blended learning.
Teachers can build powerful learning systems over time by adding online components to their classes. Starting gradually allows teachers to learn at their own pace and gives them a better understanding of what is needed on the teacher’s side to make blended and online learning more successful for students. A simple way to begin is with a blogging program, posting stimulating questions to foster student discussion, then guiding students in ways to respond appropriately to their peers in writing. Once the initial tools and processes are mastered by teachers and students, teachers can expand the initiative by asking students to turn assignments in electronically, encouraging students to participate in discussion boards or providing online quizzes that are self-graded.
Incorporating a virtual option into their classroom model enables teachers to more easily and effectively communicate with parents, collaborate district-wide via online communities and distribute curriculum materials. When curriculum maps are loaded into the district learning platform, students, parents and teachers can see where they are in the curriculum, and where they should be, at any given point in time.
The addition of virtual learning options can also solve pacing disparities that are more difficult to address in standard classrooms, such as providing more rigorous programs and college courses (engineering and biomedical classes, etc.) for advanced students. Similarly, students in need of credit recovery can be grouped in virtual learning programs that help them catch up and move forward, rather than re-teaching in the traditional environment.
Transitioning to a blended learning model is not about spending more, but about reallocating resources, changing mindsets and creating a paradigm shift within an existing culture. Most importantly, though, it’s about doing what is right for kids. The world they live in is fast, flexible, and online, and their schools should be, too.
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Dim the lights and listen. Rumbling and stomping fills the classroom. First grade students sit up and lean forward in their seats, readied with excitement and anticipation as their science lesson comes to life. A Tyrannosaurus Rex lurches into the room, right in front of their eyes. Students observe the mighty carnivore as it tromps through the classroom, taking note of its activities, its eating habits and its demeanor.
This scene heralds a new age of interactivity for 21st century classrooms throughout the country. The vivid, clear and extraordinary images provided by today’s 3D technologies dramatically expand the possibilities for classroom learning. Teachers understand the impact this type of technology has on students and are harnessing its power to bring the classroom to life and help students more easily grasp difficult concepts.
The possibilities for 3D-enhanced student learning experiences are limitless. No longer is learning based simply on textbooks or computer-based tools. Rather, 3D technology is being used to supplement and enhance the standard curriculum, giving students the opportunity to observe and explore phenomena up close in their own classroom via “3D field trips,” without the hassle of leaving the school grounds.
For the study of science, this is particularly exciting. Students can explore the solar system, taking extra time to observe the topography of Mars. They can fly along with a bee to learn about the hive, pollination and the important role bees play in the sustainability of our food chain and environment. With 3D modeling, students don special 3D glasses to immerse themselves in an experience such as looking inside the human body to observe how the brain works, or watching how a dissected frog’s internal organs function in real time.
As “digital natives,” younger generations are primed to respond to technology-based teaching techniques in the classroom. But with scarce education dollars at stake, what evidence is there that 3D technologies can positively impact learning outcomes?
Thus far, schools that have adopted these new tools have reported good results. Student attention has increased—especially among learners who have tended to be disruptive or inattentive during more traditional instruction. All types of learners are more engaged in creative thinking and actively participating in the lessons and discussions, with ELL students and gifted students particularly benefiting. Learners have been shown to grasp and retain information more effectively than their peers who learn the same material without 3D technology, and have shown significant increases in academic achievement.
Some say today’s 3D tools are just the beginning, and have started to imagine an enriched instructional world in which students will use yet-to-be-developed tools to visit historic sites, see how regrouping is done in subtraction, and tour a variety of ecosystems. An ultimate goal would be for 3D technologies to stimulate higher-order thinking in ways that 2D tools can’t, confronting students with experiences that they must consider and respond to in novel and creative ways.
The possibilities of 3D tools are promising, but how viable are they long-term? Can schools afford them? Will the supply of fresh 3D content become more readily available across subject areas? Will students step in, as some have predicted, creating content to fill current gaps—and will the content they create have the same type of positive impact on student learning outcomes that some early adopters have seen? Can 3D technology help schools produce more active and informed citizens? Can it help produce more highly skilled, tech-savvy, innovative workers to compete in the global marketplace?
There is no doubt that 3D technology has awakened classrooms with a new energy and new potential for richer, deeper learning. It has the power to turn our learners into explorers, their curiosity awakened and their skills and senses “switched on.” Now don your 3D glasses, because the rest remains to be seen.
When it comes to opinions on the use of Facebook in education, there’s a pretty clear dividing line: one side believes that when used in the right way, Facebook can be a tool, while the other thinks it is a distraction that should be kept away from schools.
Statistics show that 85 - 95% of American high school and college students are on Facebook, with a majority accessing Facebook via smartphone. When so many students access Facebook on their phones, it would be easy to take the position that Facebook could siphon time from classwork and create distraction. The clear remedy would be to ban cell phone use and block Facebook access on campus.
One question, though, begs to be asked those who have taken this approach: How is this working out for you?
This question is not a criticism of school or district policy, as the appropriate use of technology in education is a legitimate concern and there are challenges that arise from open access to Facebook in schools. However, when our students are using Facebook via smartphone as a primary means of communication, should we be communicating with them as “digital natives” on their terms?
There may be constructive alternatives to banning one of the most powerful tools our students have access to today. Let’s take a look at a few simple ways to use Facebook as an education tool and eliminate some of the taboo that comes along with it.
1) Create a private, closed group page for a class and invite students to join. Teachers can use a group page like this to invite students to connect in a safe manner that does not connect them to personal pages. In addition, teachers can add or remove students at any time, thus keeping the group intact and current their current class.
2) Post a daily topic of discussion. Have the students view the page daily to see what the next day’s class discussion topic will be. Via the comments section, allow students to ask questions and post thoughts that can be used to guide the next day’s lesson. This is also a great way to see where your students’ base knowledge of a subject lies. If you’re worried about inappropriate comments, set clear guidelines up front and let students know that access will be permanently removed for any student who violates the rules. Chances are, students will see it as more important to be able to access Facebook and use the tool than to test the boundaries and be banned.
3) Post links to articles, resources and websites for your students. Your Facebook group page is a quick and easy place for you to share other learning tools you have found that could help them.
4) Once a week, have a student create a daily topic of discussion. Open up discussion to topics your students find relevant in their world. A topic may not be within your exact curriculum, but use it as a chance to understand their world and have a meaningful line of communication.
5) Review the comments monthly with your students. As the year goes on, the level and depth of discussion should grow. Use this as an opportunity to motivate your class by going back and reviewing the comments with your students. Assess the growth as a group, having the class highlight comments they felt led to higher level thinking and challenged them. Support the conversation by recognizing discussions you feel had a strong impact on the group as a whole.
Whether you are in favor of using Facebook in schools or not, there’s no denying that our students today learn, communicate and socialize in ways that we never imagined. It is a challenge for us to reach them sometimes, and every once in a while we will have to take a leap and try something new.
This year’s annual customer conference, Virtual Circle of Learning 2011, took place online last Friday with over 800 registrants. The keynote speakers—Eric Jensen, Dr. Martha Burns, and Andrew Ostarello—addressed opportunities for customers to maximize the impact of their implementations of Scientific Learning products.
Much of the content from these keynotes can be seen in our Twitter stream with the hashtag #VCOL11, as we live-tweeted the keynote sessions and linked to articles relevant to each speaker’s presentation.
The articles provide further reading on increasing student motivation and engagement, maximizing the results of using Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant products, and more:
Customers who missed a keynote or breakout session can watch it on Customer Connect (customer login required). Feel free to share the link with others at your school who were not able to attend.
Also, be sure to complete your survey to let us know what you enjoyed and what we can improve for next year. And, if you have an iPad, be sure to include your iTunes email address so we can give you our new iPad app, Eddy’s Number Party!
And now, off to start planning for Virtual Circle of Learning 2012!
Hi! My name is Erin Ellinwood and I’m a product manager at Scientific Learning. I am super excited to write about our first ever iPad App, the Eddy’s Number Party!™game, for preschool and kindergarten aged children. Our products have always been grounded in science and built with scientific advisors, and this game is no exception. Equally pairing early math curriculum with two critical cognitive skills, working memory and attention, Eddy’s Number Party! helps prepare kids for success in kindergarten and beyond. In the game, kids help Eddy’s friends surprise him with the biggest dog birthday party ever and practice counting, remembering, and matching numbers.
Designed for Young Learners
Our roots here at Scientific Learning are in developing cutting edge adaptive learning games for delivery on desktop or laptop computers. Because this game targets a younger audience, we talked to teachers and educational experts to see what technology they thought would be best for preschool and kindergarten age learners. The resounding feedback we heard was that our game would be most developmentally appropriate on the iPad. And so, our first iPad app was born.
Makes Learning Fun (We’re Getting Great Reviews from Our Kid Testers!)
Sometimes learning can feel monotonous, especially for 3 to 5 year olds, so we added some key components to help break things up:
Includes and Enables Parents
Grown-Up Central is a unique feature among apps for kids (and my favorite part of the app). I believe that it is important to give parents the ability to review the game’s goals, tour all game levels, and learn about the underlying research and development behind the game. In addition to all of the information it provides about the app itself, Grown-Up Central also features a visual report card that shows a child’s progress and gives suggestions at each level for “what to look for” (such as a child beginning to count up from a known quantity) and how to further “bring learning to life” (such as cooking with the child from a recipe).
Being the product manager for the Eddy's Number Party! game has been a fantastic challenge, and I’m proud of the result.
I hope to see you at the party! Click here to download from Apple’s iTunes App Store or visit the App Store and search for "Eddy’s Number Party!”
And, if you like the app, please consider leaving a review in the App Store!
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Today is research day.
Your students are excited as they head to the computer lab to begin looking at ideas for their National History Day Projects.
They arrive. Sit at their computer. Open Google and begin typing their topic into the search bar.
Just then a bit of panic sets in as you realize Google Search can return all kinds of results, and your students are pouring over literally millions of target locations that possibly have no relevance to the research they are attempting to conduct. Even worse in your mind is that you have possibly just wasted thirty minutes of valuable time—time that could have been much more productive if you just knew a couple of things about Google Search.
Google Basic Search is how most of us use Google. It gives you the simple task of typing your search topic in the Google Search Bar and accepting the results it hands back.
It is valuable to know that Google compiles those results in many different ways, and not always in the specific way in which we are looking. For example, when I search for the Great Divide (or Continental Divide), which was a major factor in United States Westward Expansion, I get these top three results:
Now, take a look at some simple tools that will provide a powerful and impactful search for your students and maximize their time performing research. These tools are called Google Search Operators, and two common Operators are Site: and Source:.
Site:, when typed after a search topic, allows a searcher to find information on Google from specific sites or domain extensions (.com, .net, .edu) thus narrowing the search only to websites that are considered relevant and appropriate, such as educational institutions, media, government sites, etc. For educational institutions you would use their domain extension, site:edu, to generate only results that come from the educational community such as universities. For media or other websites you use their site and extension—some examples include site:cnn.com which would generate searches specifically from CNN.com or site:apple.com which would generate searches only from the Apple website. Give it a try. Type in Google Search [Steve Jobs site:CNN.com] or [Steve Jobs site:apple.com].
Source: is a very focused search operator that, when placed after a search topic, allows a searcher to find information from a specific news source such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal or a local newspaper. To perform a search with source: you would follow the same steps as you would with site:, instead just typing the source in which you are looking to gain information. Try this search: [Election source:New York Times], which prioritizes results on the topic of elections that have been published in The New York Times.
There are many other advanced search operators for use with Google, but these two simple operators are a great start to help your students focus their time on performing credible research. If you would like to learn about these and other options, you can visit Google’s web search support page for more information.
Got an iPad yet? School leaders say it’s not just a cool toy, but rather a powerful, versatile tool that is virtually changing the face of education. With more than 15,000 “educational apps” available through Apple’s app store, teachers and students alike are having no trouble finding content and material for all areas of learning.
From kindergarten through college, iPads offer educators more diverse methods for delivering instruction and engaging students for learning in the 21st century. Here are 10 big benefits of using iPads in schools:
When it comes to lost arts, we could argue that none is getting lost faster than handwriting. Since the personal computer and now the telephone have become the primary methods for recording our ideas, we simply do not write – I mean with an actual writing implement like a pen or pencil – as much as we used to.
So, we must ask ourselves, is this really a problem? Sure, one could argue that receiving a handwritten letter is more meaningful than getting one that is typed, but that’s an emotional opinion; it’s not a scientific argument. And aren’t professionals in all fields using more computers, tablets and handhelds to communicate, record and share ideas? So, what is the real value of learning handwriting skills versus being able to type 100 words per minute on a QWERTY keyboard?
At Indiana University, Dr. Karin Harman James, assistant professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences, focuses her research on how motor stimuli can influence our visual recognition, and how the brain changes as we have different experiences. This research provides a basis for a scientific argument for the continued instruction of handwriting.
In a 2008 study published in the Journal of Cognitive Science, adults were shown new characters as well as a mirror image of these characters after reproducing them through writing and keyboarding. When quizzed afterward, subjects were shown to have a “stronger, longer lasting recognition” of the characters’ correct orientation when they had written them by hand versus produced them by matching them to a keyboard button. This suggests that engaging the motor nerves to create the shapes by hand helped solidify the ability to identify such shapes.
In another study, James’ team took this idea to the next level to see what was actually going on inside the brain during these activities. They used a functional MRI to map brain activity in children as they looked at letters before and after letter-learning instruction. Their results showed that those who practiced writing the letters showed more brain activity than those who only looked at the letters. In addition, according to a 2010 report on the research in the Wall Street Journal Online, James said that after four weeks of training, the children who practiced writing skills showed brain activation similar to an adult’s.
Between these two studies, we see excellent examples of brain plasticity at work. James’ work demonstrates a clear connection between how engaging more of the brain in the activity of writing improves how letters are committed to memory. Given that letter recognition is an essential step for early readers, it’s easy to see why practicing writing letters is an essential component of the groundwork for later success.
Certainly, with limited time, schools try to maximize student achievement, and give them a baseline of skills that will allow them to continue to develop to optimize their success throughout life in an increasingly technology-based society. That said, based on James’ research, it’s quite clear that penmanship has an important place in the classroom, and not just as an important traditional skill. In actually applying pen to paper, we allow our students to engage their brains in ways that typing on a keyboard cannot. And whether such an activity is done with pen and paper, a stylus and a tablet PC or chalk on a blackboard, it is in every student’s best interest to practice the “write” stuff.
For further reading:
The many health perks of good handwriting. Deardorff, Julie. Chicago Tribune, June 15, 2011. Referenced on August 14, 2011.
How handwriting trains the brain. Bounds, Gwendolyn. The Wall Street Journal Online, October 5, 2010. Referenced on August 14, 2011.
Writing strengthens orthography and alphabetic-coding strengthens phonology in learning to read Chinese. Guan, Connie Qun; Liu, Ying; Chan, Derek Ho Leung; Ye, Feifei; Perfetti, Charles A. Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 103(3), Aug 2011, 509-522.