The Evolution of EdTech — and What’s Next

The Evolution of EdTech — and What’s Next

Jason Katcher

Jason Katcher

VP of Sales, Kiddom

Education and SaaS technology leader with a passion for K12 edtech.

I have great respect for the past. If you don't know where you've come from, you don't know where you're going.

-Maya Angelou

How many times have you already looked at your phone today? You might’ve sent a few texts. Maybe you opened some emails. Perhaps you shared a document, or viewed a presentation. It's easy to forget that just over ten years ago, none of these actions were simple or ubiquitous -- the iPhone wasn’t launched until 2007, and most devices in the office (or classroom) were tethered to a desk, as the “cloud” had yet to take shape.

texts a day sent on average (Source: Text Request)

hours a day spent on smartphones (Source: Hackernoon)

To understand why the time is right for school systems to adopt their own “operating system,” let’s explore how technology has evolved over the past thirty years across six major waves.    
1980-2000s

Wave 1: The Closed OS

When people hear “operating system” they might think back to the early days of educational technology, when the ecosystems were closed; back then, you were either a loyal Microsoft or Apple user, and those were pretty much your only options.  As classrooms only had one option or the other, the computers subsequently ran Windows or MacOS. It was a binary landscape, to say the least. As a result, Apple and Microsoft dominated the education market for years.  During this time, most schools used on-premise servers to store all of their data (many still do). But this created numerous issues, including but not limited to limited collaboration, restricted mobility, and increased security risks. This lasted from the 1980s through the early 2000s. However, something called “the cloud” was brewing in the sky.

2004-2007

Wave 2: The Early Days of the Cloud

In 2004, something outrageous happened: you no longer needed to store emails in a local server. This was thanks to the release of "Gmail" by Google, a relatively new company then. One year later, Google purchased a company called Writely, which would ultimately become what is now known as Google Docs. With the ability to create and share content, Google secured a place to store it all in 2007. Originally called Platypus, this would later be known globally as Google Drive. These three pieces were built on the belief that the future was about the cloud -- the ability to access anything, from anywhere, on any device -- and it had a tremendous effect on the way education systems operated, from the classroom to the district. 

2007-2012

Wave 3: Enter Devices

The cloud was a disruptive force, but it wasn't easily accessible, as laptops and computers were still rather expensive. While the original 2007 iPhone changed the game for what one could do on a phone, it was challenging to be productive, no matter how “smart” the device was. It wasn't until 2012 that Google began to develop the first Chromebook, which caused the first major shakeup to the laptop ecosystem in years. Meanwhile, Apple stuck to their guns on a premium price point for Macs and iPads. During this time, Microsoft often stressed how much students needed to learn how to use Office, since that is what they would use in the “real world”. In the end, they were both impacted by an evolving market. Chromebooks delivered 90% of the functionality at a fraction of the cost, and by 2014, schools began to purchase them in bulk. Over the last four years, both Microsoft and Apple started to change their education model. Google’s lower price point for school devices significantly drove prices down and made them affordable to nearly everyone. This gave more and more school systems the opportunity to consider how technology might transform learning experiences with the goal of providing greater equity and accessibility. When any technology becomes a commodity, the end user wins.

2012-2014

Wave 4: Workflows

Years later the foundation Google has established paved the way for Google Apps for Education (now G-Suite). In the process, they effectively solved a major interoperability challenge: the offering was completely free, which challenged other players in the edtech space. While Microsoft and Apple ignored this paradigm shift for years, they were forced to evolve or be forgotten in the K-12 space. Office 365 was eventually launched, and although it was “free,” schools still needed to license Office, which was expensive. Apple's iCloud simply never gained the traction it needed and as a result, Google continued to flourish and eat up more of the K-12 market share.

The one major challenge still facing Google was that the combination of GAFE and Drive together offered a clunky experience. This is likely because they were developed and housed in different parts of Google. They didn’t “talk” to each other well -- a problem that often persists even with today's apps. Teachers needed to ask their students to create an assignment in Docs, download a copy of that to a local folder on their desktop, upload it to Drive, and finally, move it to the teacher’s folder. That's a lot of steps to take for every single assignment, not to mention, a lot of room for error.

While Microsoft and Apple were consumed with their device strategy, Google was solving this workflow problem. The answer soon arrived via Google Classroom: a way to enable Drive and GAFE to “talk” to each other directly. Classroom condensed those four steps into one seamless action and worked across all devices and operating systems. This simple solution simultaneously saved teachers time and helped us move towards classroom interoperability.

Microsoft has tried to launch their own version of Classroom, as has Apple, but both are inferior (and quite frankly, late-to-the-game) offerings. This is where the evolution and innovation of the LMS really hit a wall. The key advantage Canvas had, as it began to steal market share from the incumbent, Blackboard, was simply that they built a pure-SaaS product first and foremost. Blackboard got too comfortable and believed their loyal customer base would never leave.

Keep in mind as well that Classroom was never meant to be an LMS, or provide visibility for admins into the classroom. It was created to enable teachers to operate their classrooms more effectively. While this workflow was a huge value-add over the last four years, not much has happened since for K12, leaving the door open for new players.

2014-2018

Wave 5: Cross-Platform Applications

The next interoperability challenge was how to enable the various apps to run on any device in order to reduce the friction in schools who just wanted to teach and learn, and not worry about which device enabled it. For those who remember what happened with LAUSD in 2014, when content and curriculum cannot be accessed and used easily, technology fails. In the past few years, we can now operate Windows apps, like Powerpoint, Notes, et cetera, on a Chromebook or Android device. We can operate Android apps on Chromebooks, and we can even use Dropbox with Google or Microsoft as people seek their own custom, best-in-breed solution. We have now seen this convergence of enabling all types of applications to run across any device and OS. The focus on applications reduced the amount of friction for the end user, who just wants to access the content and does not care which OS or device they are using. It should just work.

2018+

Wave 6: Data Unification

The most important question for us today is, how does the data living across different applications speak to one another? And how do we make that data useful and meaningful for end-users of education technology? Schools can continue to work towards “personalization,” but the reality is that developing a holistic profile for every student across applications will be an absolute necessity to support individualized instruction. If classrooms are utilizing a learning management system, most of the achievement data will probably be with Google, Microsoft, or Schoology, to name a few. But regardless of any LMS’s collaboration features, their tools do not offer the ability to aggregate achievement data across applications for schools to make informed decisions about curriculum and instruction or resource allocation. As a result, the data necessary to make timely decisions and improve student outcomes currently lives scattered among a plethora of learning apps that don't “speak” to one another. And this is where Kiddom comes in.  We approached the challenge by building for interoperability from the start. We considered all of the major stakeholders in the K-12 environment when we designed our analytics. Because Kiddom connects the dots between curriculum, instruction, and assessment, we effectively streamline the workflow necessary for educators and administrators to build student-centered instructional models.

Kiddom picks up where the LMS leaves off, offering an operating system for K-12 schools and districts to measure and act on classroom intelligence. We define a K-12 operating system as a set of interconnected tools to enable schools to operate more productively, increase student outcomes, and improve upon their respective instructional models. If you're ready to see what the next wave of education technology can do for your school or district, let's talk. As a former “Googler” who led the Chromebook initiative into schools and districts, I’d be happy to connect with you and your colleagues to address any challenges, fears, or questions you have about our incredibly useful tool for K12 education.

What People Are Saying

“Kiddom is great for assessing data and then assigning appropriate work based on individual student performance. I love that it's very easy to attach standards and rubric to every assignment.”

Jackie Curts, Middle School Teacher

“Using Kiddom has made me stop and ask ‘Am I just letting this student repeat what they already know or am I really challenging them?’”

Ann Leghorn, High School Literacy Specialist

“I can see where my class and any student is at any moment in their educational journey. This way I can take action to assist them to work towards mastery.”

Mr. Albrecht, High School Teacher

You might also be interested in these articles:

The Case for a K-12 School Operating System

Nearly ten years ago, I started my career in education as a math teacher at a new alternative high school serving over-age, under-credited youth in New York City. My students were labeled “at-risk” of dropping out because they were 16–21 years old and previously...

Initiative Fatigue for School Administrators: Webinar Recap

Initiative Fatigue for School Administrators: Webinar Recap

Hello, and welcome to our recap from last week’s Change Management Initiative webinar with EdSurge and Kiddom! Our very own Melissa Giroux, School Success Lead at Kiddom and contributor to our Change Management Guide, sat amongst the four panelists.

In this insightful discussion led by EdSurge CEO and Founder Betty Corcoran, you’ll hear from current and previous administrators who have been there and survived to tell the tale. Listen to hear their success stories, tips, and even a few educational failures encountered while rolling out new tech initiatives at the school and district level. Please watch the video here or view a partial transcription below.

Webinar Transcription start:

Betty Corcoran: [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to today’s webinar, which is about making edtech initiatives stick. My name is Betty Corcoran, and I’m the founder and CEO of EdSurge. We’re really, really pleased to be here with you today. Just a quick note before we get started; this webinar will be recorded and the recording made available to you and others via e-mail. After the live event, we also really encourage everyone to ask questions using the Q&A button in the Zoom webinar window, and we’ll answer those as we go along. So please feel free to jump in, join the conversation, and be a part of it.

I’d like to start by thanking our panelists for joining us today. We have four terrific people here: Kyle Pace, who is director of technology at the Grain Valley School District in Missouri. Kyle has led technology initiatives as an instructional IT coach, starting with implementing Smart Boards, to today when he’s rolling out 1,100 Chromebooks to middle school teachers. Melissa Giroux is the school success lead at Kiddom in New York City. She’s been a teacher in New York, she’s been a founding teacher of an alternative school, and now she works with Kiddom to support teachers. She is also an EdSurge columnist — I hope you read her stories, talking about a wide variety of schools implementing technology.

Mikkel Storaasli is the superintendent of the Grayslake High School District in Illinois. Mikkel got his start as a math teacher in Leyden High School and rose through the ranks serving as an assistant principal and now is obviously superintendent for the high school district which has two high schools and almost 3000 students. And Pam Moran, Executive Director of the Virginia School Consortium for Learning, has really done it all. She’s been a teacher and one of the country’s top administrators serving at the Albemarle County Public School District in Virginia, and she’s the co-author of a new fantastic book called Timeless Learning: How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools. And I’m really pleased to say she’s also a featured speaker at our Fusion Conference, which is going to go on next week. Yay. Thank you all for joining us.

So, broadly speaking, you know what? Newton was right. It takes more energy to make a change than it does to keep things going as they are. And yet our world is continuing to change — that pace of change is accelerating — and that means that we have to figure out how to make change something that our communities; our staff, our students, our families, can embrace and welcome. We’re going to talk through ideas of what has worked with leading practitioners, and of course invite anyone who’s on this webinar to weigh in with questions and thoughts.

So a couple of things to start off: Studies do suggest that most educators feel overwhelmed by the number of new initiatives. They get ahead of a lot of them, but it is challenging. And let’s take a look at how technology reforms compare to other school reforms. 36% of teachers felt that technology reforms in the last two years had a pretty large impact on them. That’s a third of all of our teachers. And on the other side of the coin, only 59% of educators feel that they have the support that they need to implement reforms — that really should be 100%. So before we ask the panelists to weigh in and share some of their experience, we’d like to ask anybody who’s out there who is tuning into this webinar to answer a very short poll and give us some thoughts about your own experiences….

1. Has your school implemented a tech-based initiative in the last two years?

I’ll take a second for you to just click yes or no.

2. Do you feel that you have the support that you need to master the initiatives that are being implemented in your district or your school?

So just take a second and fill those out. We will come back to that poll in a couple of minutes and give you the results.

I’d like to start this conversation by asking each of you a question. Kyle, let’s talk about that Chromebook initiative; 1,100 Chromebooks! Take us through how you’re doing this rollout. So much of getting people to embrace change is building on trust. So what are you doing to get all of those middle school teachers who are saying “Oh my God, here comes 1,100 Chromebooks!” — How do you build trust with that community?

Kyle Pace: [00:05:10] Yeah absolutely, that’s a great question. Literally a month ago we brought one-to-one to all of our middle schools and gave every student a device. So that was a huge initiative just right here at the start of the school year that we added on to all of the devices that we already had in our district. So it takes a lot of planning and preparation and an outstanding team to build that trust for sure. We didn’t just drop in 1,100 devices and say “OK, teachers: here you go.” You know, we had already been introducing the devices for a good two years prior to this moment to get teachers comfortable with, “What does this look like with my teaching, and what does it look like for student learning? And how does this enhance teaching and learning?” And that all came through our two instructional technology coaches that worked a lot with all of the teachers at these schools to build that trust; to build that system of support, to show them what’s possible, to help them when things don’t work, to be there and celebrate the things that went awesome with them as well. And so our district’s commitment to that looked like… you know, we started out with just one instructional technology coach. Then we got two instructional technology coaches, and created a concrete plan of not only how we’re gonna support teachers and how we’re going to continually work with teachers, but also how we’re going to work with and support our administrators in all of this “new” that’s coming along, as well.

Betty Corcoran: [00:06:56] So before we let go of this, maybe just take us through those numbers and that timeline, because you said that you were working on it for two years, you now have two IT coaches. Remind us, how many teachers and administrators are these folks supporting and can you give us a couple of milestones on that ramp up?

Kyle Pace: [00:07:15] Yeah, absolutely. So this began at… we started with our high school actually, so our high school is in the third year of being one-to-one. So we started there and we started very small, created some pilot groups…

Betty Corcoran: [00:07:33] So that’s one teacher? Two teachers?

Kyle Pace: [00:07:34] Yes, so it was about half a dozen or so teachers.

Betty Corcoran: [00:07:38] Okay, So start with about a half-dozen teachers, that’s great. And they did it for a semester or a full year?

Kyle Pace: [00:07:44] They did it for the entire second semester of the year prior of what this would look like with the students fully supported.

Betty Corcoran: [00:07:54] How did that how did that ramp go?

Kyle Pace: [00:07:57] So then we ramped up to giving all of our high school students the device the following year, so that was approximately 1,300 devices that we rolled out three years ago to our high school students. Lots and lots of communication and resources and support had to come out ahead of that; we wanted to keep our parents in the know. Parents were also being asked to pay a Chromebook insurance fee for the first time, so that was something new that parents weren’t used to. So we had to make sure we were communicating the why behind this very regularly and very carefully. We wanted that to be very purposeful.

Betty Corcoran: [00:08:42] So now you’ve got the 1,300 high school kids using it, and as you said you started to get the middle school kids, so overall then what’s what’s the ratio? You’ve got two IT folks and they’re serving how many?

Kyle Pace: [00:08:54] Yes so we’ve got two Instructional Technology coaches that are supporting approximately 200 teachers, maybe just shy of that, that are teaching with a 1-to-1 environment.

Betty Corcoran: [00:09:10] Terrific. Well we’ll come back to those stories, but that’s a great start. Melissa, you’ve seen initiatives go well, and you’ve seen them stall. Tell us a little bit about a time when you started to see those early signs of “Oh my God… we’ve had enough initiatives!” And then, what did you do when you addressed that?

Melissa Giroux: [00:09:29] Yeah, absolutely. One of the key signs for me, from both an administrator perspective and a teacher one, is around that Why? and that trust that Kyle was speaking about. When I go into a school for the first time, one of the things that I’ll ask both the admin and the teachers, whether or not they’re in the same room, is “Why are you using our platform? Why are you using technology in the classroom?” That Why question and the variance of answers that it generates is often a really big warning sign. And for people focusing often on the products and the solution instead of the Whyand goals for the solutions —

Betty Corcoran: [00:10:04] Instead of the pedagogical reasons.

Melissa Giroux: [00:10:05] Exactly, the objective for implementing anything new, whether it’s technology or not. And so seeing teachers’ blank stares at that question, confusion, looking around at each other, or immediately kind of disengaging is a pretty scary sign. And from the administrator point of view, one warning sign I’ve seen is that fatigue. I think most admin have really good intentions, but they hold so tightly to initiatives. The freedom that tech specialists in these pilot teams that Kyle’s describing had to kind of play around in a low-risk way… this kind of takes the pressure off that head admin who’s leading the charge. It’s exhausting to try to be the sole driver of a new change, and so when I see an admin who already looks fatigued at the idea of pushing a new initiative, that makes me a little nervous, that they’re holding out a little too tightly, instead of building that trust and a little bit of experimental freedom.

Betty Corcoran: [00:10:59] Cool. Is there anything that you’ve done that actually is just kind of a great, sort of, almost a warm-up exercise or a scaffolding to try to deal with that kind of fatigue?

Melissa Giroux: [00:11:14] Yeah, absolutely. I think breaking people into smaller groups, where they have the chance to talk amongst each other, if they don’t have an answer to that “Why a new piece of tech?” question, whether breaking them into their department teams or their grade teams. Letting them sort of grapple with that in an open-ended way before I jump into anything technical has been a great way for me to be able to on-the-spot tailor materials as I hear things bubbling up in conversation. Teachers don’t get an awful lot of time just to talk to each other about the work and take a step back. So often those 37-and-a-half minutes of PD time are go-go-go, and then everyone leaves, and we don’t know what happened. So investing that time, and pushing my partners at schools to invest that time, into just a little bit of discussion to give me a fertile idea bank of ways that I might support them moving forward helps.

Betty Corcoran: [00:12:08] Mikkel, I’m sure that what Melissa said really resonates with you, because as a district leader you have had to kind of coordinate and connect all of the various pilots and initiatives and really try to help people answer that “Why.” How have you tried to do that? How do you make people see things as a unified whole, not “just another initiative.”

Mikkel Storaasli: [00:12:34] Yeah I mean as a district administrator I think a lot of times we’re the ones maybe at fault you know, for initiative fatigue. You know, we’re the ones that are seen as…

Betty Corcoran: [00:12:43] Thank you for saying that! I’m sure your teachers appreciate that.

Mikkel Storaasli: [00:12:47] Yeah, hey I’ll cop to it, absolutely. You know, what I think we have to do is exactly as Kyle said and exactly as Melissa said, you start with the “Why.” You have got to use that Simon Cynic idea of “This is why we’re doing this.” I don’t have a great answer. You know, it’s difficult to communicate why we’re doing all these things or how they all fit together. What I would say is we just have to be relentless about communicating why we’re doing it. Having some sort of framework, whether that’s a mission statement or a strategic plan, or a well-articulated set of goals, and communicate to people this is why we’re doing it. We may be doing all of these different initiatives, whether it’s a tech initiative or reading, or math, or PBL, or blended, or what have you. But they’re all pushing in the same direction. And again, just being relentless about communicating that “this is why we’re doing it, this is how it fits into the grand scheme of things, and this is why overall this is the direction we’re going and how it’s going to benefit our students.”

Betty Corcoran: [00:13:47] And just out of curiosity. In, say the last initiative that you’ve really started to rollout, maybe something that you’ve started to do this September, how have you framed that “Why” for your community?

Mikkel Storaasli: [00:14:02] Well you know like I mentioned we just rolled out a new strategic plan and a new mission statement — that’s why it’s on my mind, I guess. One key line, so to speak, of our mission statement is “relevant, engaging, authentic learning” and really pushing that — and it’s part of our goals. It’s really something that we’re trying to make sure teachers understand, no matter what you’re teaching, that’s what we need to be pushing toward. So we’ve got a couple of blended learning pilots, for example, where students are maybe in C in class three days a week and somewhere else in the building. Two days or a week, or what have you. And really communicating why that’s that’s important for students why we think allowing them or helping them learn how to manage their own time is important, and they gets into like technological issues and things like that. But it really gets to, again the relevant, engaging, authentic learning. Not just the use of their time but if and when they decide to go to college, they’re probably gonna be taking a blended course and are gonna have to learn how to manage their time regardless. So again, trying to to communicate how it fits into the grand whole.

Betty Corcoran: [00:15:12] Yeah. And Pam, in your book you have a really big important observation, (a lot of big important observations), but one of the ones that I really liked is that we have to realize that teachers themselves are at very different developmental stages, and you summed up with an idea you call squash, which I really like. Take us through an example of what these stages mean and what squash has to do with it.

Pam Moran: [00:15:39] Well I think that I’ve learned as an elementary principal for 10 years, which was part of a journey to being a superintendent for 13 years, that we live in a world where change is coming at us all the time in schools, for a variety of reasons. It was true in the 80s, it was true in the 90s, and it’s true today. What I think was absolutely critical for me, as an elementary principal, is that we were going through a process of trying to reinvision what we wanted curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment to look like, just for a principal. The teachers worked really hard on it. I was really working on it, and we had some support from the University of Virginia, in an educator who was in the Curry School of Education. And what we were trying to do was to build the integrated model around in firing the arts and writing as a set of pathways to getting at what we didn’t call at that point time, “deeper learning”. But I think we call it deeper learning today. Sometime right before the Thanksgiving holidays, teachers came and sat down with me and said “Gosh, we’re feeling really squashed here.” There was so much coming at us from so many different places. And what really emerged from that, is that they were overwhelmed even though they embraced the world and they wanted to be doing the work, but when you were trying to balance teaching kids, trying to invest in professional learning at the same time, and doing all the things that the division also expected us to do, that sense of being overwhelmed cause them to feel like they were squashed.

What we did, and I came back to the idea that sometimes you have to relieves the pressure and take a break. Let’s step back and take a break. And the way we got to the take a break conversation was interestingly by having a parent at school who worked at a local restaurant and worked with us to prepare a menu that was served on a day right before the Thanksgiving holidays, that was a professional development day, and the theme was squash. Literally that day had every single part of the meal was made from some version of squash, including the bread pudding. But what it did was it just caused everybody to sit back and say, “You know, what we’ve got to be able to do is to take small bites of this work, versus taking big bites, to use the food metaphor. And we need to maybe be more invested in doing a slow meal versus a fast meal.”

Betty Corcoran: [00:18:40] I love that point.

Pam Moran: [00:18:41] And it was interesting because, one of the things that caused us to think about that metaphor more is that one of the teachers said, “You know schools should be run like a great restaurant. Where you have really good service, where the food is then really cooked to perfection, where you take your time and you enjoy your meal and before everybody gets up, that you realize that you had a really fun evening. And if our work isn’t like that, if we can’t run like a great restaurant, then one of the things that we have to do is to ask ourselves the question, “What are the barriers to doing that?”

The other thing that I learned as the superintendent was that change can come from a lot of different places, it can come from the grassroots, it can come top down. But the reality is, when you embark on change, if you don’t have a process to do what I call somewhat of an aim small, miss small model, where you actually are not trying to create change that’s going to cut across the full organization, but rather to start with almost a prototyping space, so that you know you can always make mistakes. And we see it rolled out in the front of EdWeek every time there’s some big division that’s had a national fail in terms of rolling out an initiative, that if you aim small, miss small, and you really think about how can you test out this, then you get some people who know that they’re in it to help you figure out what the barrier’s going to be, where the mistakes are going to happen, and how to fix those before you take it out to the bigger audience of the entire staff, so I think that would be the two things I would offer up.

Betty Corcoran: [00:20:30] Those are some amazing points. I’d love to come back to this aim small, miss small point again. But we do have that poll ready, so just going to pause for one tenth of a second to show the polls. So of the people who are currently on this webinar… Yes, 81% have had some kind of tech initiative. And we’re kind of running neck-and-neck here about whether they feel that they have the support. So that makes this conversation incredibly timely.

To hear the rest of the webinar, please watch the full video on ourYouTube channel here, and we also encourage you to check out our free guide on Change Management to learn more about successful edtech implementation for your school or district.

Large Districts: Take a Page Out of Smaller Districts’ Playbooks

Large Districts: Take a Page Out of Smaller Districts’ Playbooks

Listen to Classroom Teachers to Solve Interoperability Problems

According to a recent EdWeek Market Brief, K-12 district leaders rarely adopt solutions for use based on teachers’ suggestions. While this won’t be surprising to educators teaching in large districts, it illuminates one of the reasons for major implementation hurdles as large district leaders roll out major initiatives with good intentions but poor grounding.

When I taught math at an alternative high school in New York City, I had a set of mandated tools which I had to use, but some of them didn’t meet my classroom needs. To better serve my students, I patched together a bunch of disparate edtech tools to ensure the materials were appropriately differentiated and accessible anywhere at any time. This meant devoting an inordinate amount of time copy-pasting achievement data from one system to another to ensure compliance with our set of mandated tools. Maybe my use case might have better informed other learning communities serving a similar student demographic. Maybe this information would have created an opportunity for school and district decision makers to more effectively evaluate the technologies they had purchased.

Why aren’t teachers considered a source of truth for large districts seeking product solutions? Teachers are on the front lines for our children, playing coach, mentor, counselor, and mediator before, during, and after the school day. They pour their blood, sweat, and tears into writing curriculum that guides students in making meaningful connections across concepts. They explore and incorporate new tools and instructional models in the name of student achievement, even when that means working late into the night and on the weekends.

There is some good news. According to that same EdWeek Market Brief, about three out of five small district leaders proactively seek teacher recommendations before procuring education products. Of course, smaller districts are inherently set up to be more responsive because they can have less bureaucracy. At Kiddom, we see this very clearly, as our K-12 operating system is gaining the most traction in small-to-medium sized districts, where leaders have their ears to the ground (and their eyes in the classroom). They recognize that any major new instructional initiative requires staff buy-in first, and to do that, you need to understand the tools your teachers have already chosen for their classrooms.

According to a report by SETDA entitled, State Education Leadership for Interoperability: Leveraging Data for Academic Excellence states continue to face massive challenges in making data readily available for use by decision makers, teachers, parents, and students. The report illustrates how interoperability can help states and districts better achieve student learning goals, in that “interoperability can allow for a balance between high quality information and local use of that information to support teaching and learning.” If half of K-12’s large district leaders continue to ignore teacher recommendations, and we assume that those teachers will continue to use tools that work best for their classrooms, how can we solve the interoperability issue in education?

To institute change and ensure decisions are made using high quality information, large district leaders should take a page out of their smaller peers’ playbook and create meaningful opportunities for pilot programs to report results directly to district leaders. If they don’t, they will only perpetuate the interoperability problem plaguing all of us in education, from students and teachers to district administrators to education technology companies.

If you’re the leader of a large district, you might remember LAUSD’s infamous $1.3 billion 700,000 iPads-for-all initiative. This blunder could have easily been avoided by engaging classroom teachers in decision-making processes, making critical improvements to the plan, and then building authentic buy-in. When we started Kiddom more than three years ago, we first focused on building tools needed to enhance the experience for individual teachers and students. By focusing on classrooms first, we discovered a disconnect between teachers and their administration bodies. So we listened and worked closely with public school administrators to understand how to connect school systems from the top-down and bottom-up.

At Kiddom, we recognize the need for change management when implementing new initiatives such as personalized learning, blended learning, and/or instructional models that are more student-centered. Our team of success managers are former educators focused on acting as thought partners for administrators, and connectors between school communities tackling similar challenges. We work alongside you to provide contextualized, targeted resources to guide teachers through long-term changes. If you’re interested in learning more about how we’re helping schools and districts measure and act on classroom intelligence, we’d love to chat.


By: Abbas Manjee, Chief Academic Officer

P.S. We’re obsessed with designing and implementing technology that enables all students to learn via pedagogy and pacing optimized for them. Are you an administrator seeking to build buy-in to a new initiative to support your teachers? We’d love to learn more about your goals.

The Case for a K-12 School Operating System

The Case for a K-12 School Operating System

Nearly ten years ago, I started my career in education as a math teacher at a new alternative high school serving over-age, under-credited youth in New York City. My students were labeled “at-risk” of dropping out because they were 16–21 years old and previously unsuccessful in high school. Many suffered from chronic absenteeism, caused by factors such as homelessness, family responsibilities, and/or incarceration. If we, the educators, were going to serve our students well, we were going to have to get pedagogically creative.

One of the first curricular tools I built to share — on the first day of school — was a public, student-friendly gradebook on Google Sheets. (Yes, this was before Google Classroom existed!) Students could track their progress and identify which skills needed extra work at any time. Little did I know this experience would eventually propel me to help develop a school operating system that tackles technology issues plaguing educators and supports them with more opportunities to offer individualized instruction.

Creating a Toolbox — and Filling It

After creating the gradebook, my colleague and I developed a curriculum aligned to New York state math standards. We scoped and sequenced the curriculum according to a set of power standards representing scaffolded skills. If students mastered a power standard, they could move on and didn’t need to wait for others. This competency-based system made sense; if students were chronically absent, holding them accountable to a pacing calendar would prove futile.

To supplement in-person support offered during class and lunch periods, I published a simple Google site to house my lessons, assessments, and other resources. If students missed class or needed additional help, they could go to my website and access the day’s lesson as well as videos and digital exercises from YouTube and Khan Academy.

 

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As my students submitted work, I tracked everything in my gradebook. My goal was to minimize the information asymmetry that tends to exist between what teachers know about their students and what students know about their performance. At the time, I had no idea this system was called “standards-based grading.” I was so green at this point in my career that I probably assumed every classroom in the 21st century operated this way. I didn’t realize what we were trying to build was innovative.

The following year, I wanted to ensure that when students did come to class, they could participate and engage — or at the very minimum — access the content via a class set of iPads. I stepped up my game by adding even more videos and assessment exercises to my class website, mining resources from IXL and CK-12. I generated logins for my students and started “blending” instruction using the free content from these publishers. This worked nicely for my students, who felt like I was carefully attending to their learning pace and providing them with targeted learning materials.

By the end of year, more than half of my students passed the Algebra 1 state exam. For context: in years prior, every one of these students had failed this exam at least once. Of those who failed again this time around, many had never come so close to passing and looked forward to retaking it in the summer.

Enter the LMS

I was proud, but also exhausted. The time required to maintain the number of tools I was juggling was eerily close to the time I used to spend working as an investment banker. I dedicated hours every week copy-pasting student achievement data from multiple systems into one gradebook, analyzing each student’s progress and assigning work based on need. The last thing I needed was another system to maintain, but that’s exactly how my third teaching year started: my school administration decided a centralized system for grades was necessary to assess how all classrooms were doing. They bought a learning management system (LMS) and asked us to start using it.

Procuring the LMS was purely an administrative decision, fueled by a desire to monitor school-wide trends to make resource allocation decisions. I couldn’t fault school leadership for this, but I still hated using it. I didn’t want to change the way I’d set up my class because my model working for my students. Now, in addition to importing data from IXL, Khan Academy, and an adaptive learning program called Carnegie Learning, I had to transfer the achievement data from my gradebook into another system. It felt like every tool I used in the classroom was inherently designed to work in isolation.

 

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By the end of that year, my patience had grown thin. I stopped updating the LMS on a regular basis and wondered how long it would take before somebody noticed. My colleagues had mixed feelings about it too. Because the LMS was designed to contain a lot of tools for teachers in a single view, it was clunky and cumbersome to use. For example, it didn’t integrate with Google Apps, which we had spent the last three years using. Nor could I customize features to align with my class set-up, or remove certain features altogether.

Building and Brainstorming

After three more years teaching in alternative high schools, I left the classroom to join Kiddom and address this interoperability problem. In an ideal world, teachers would be able to access a set of tools driven by their classroom needs and aligned to an instructional model of their choice. Administrators would be able to measure and take action from macro-level trends, manage and review curriculum, and enable educators to incorporate the instructional models and technologies that serve their classrooms best.

Unfortunately, teachers are constrained by tools that are ineffective or redundant. Many education technologies are not interoperable. School and district leaders continue to spend an inordinate amount of time piecing together data to understand what’s really happening. When that takes too long or doesn’t work, they resort to classroom observations — because they’re easy to do.

During my time at Kiddom, I’ve had the opportunity to apply my teaching experience and work with a team of designers and developers to tackle these problems head-on. At first, we focused on teachers and learners and the tools needed to enhance a singular classroom experience; this led to a simple, visual standards-aligned gradebook. Next, we connected this gradebook directly to digital content publishers like CK-12 and Khan Academy so that teachers could access teaching resources in order to differentiate instruction efficiently and save time.

Because every classroom experience plays a role in the larger ecosystem within a school, we designed a set of collaboration tools to help teachers work together, share, and learn from each other more effectively. We then focused on the information asymmetry that exists between classrooms and their respective administrative bodies. Working with and listening closely to public school administrators, we brainstormed various ways we could support school systems from the top-down and bottom-up.

A K-12 School Operating System

The result of this work is Kiddom Academy, a K-12 school operating system supporting collaboration and individualized instruction. Using Academy, administrators can identify and act on aggregate achievement trends, manage curriculum and assessment, and efficiently integrate other tools they’ve come to rely on. They can set up frameworks for a range of pedagogies in line with their organizational goals. Classrooms gain access to a comprehensive library of standards-aligned resources and curriculum development tools. Beautiful, actionable reports help students, teachers, parents, and administrators monitor progress and take action.

 

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Kiddom Academy, our K-12 school operating system for schools and districts

 

A K-12 school operating system is the next step in the evolution of education technology. Interoperability matters in schools and districts now more than it has ever before, because we’ve come expect it everywhere else. For example, I can purchase a pair of concert tickets using my EventBrite app, and then export the information directly into my iPhone calendar. So too should teachers be able to use a variety of learning apps in their classroom and expect them to work together seamlessly. As we see more content and pedagogy-specific tools in the market, we can expect increasing numbers of teachers to find and patch together the tools that work best for them; administrators will be no different.

My teaching experience helped me understand that I didn’t need to buy a blended learning or personalized learning product. I had a process and practice in place, and needed a set of interoperable tools. I can’t imagine how much more passion and creative energy I might have offered my students and colleagues if I wasn’t staying up late every night copying and pasting data to differentiate instruction. “Personalized learning” might be trendy, but it isn’t new. Teachers have been trying to enhance and individualize learning using the tools at their disposal for a long time.

That’s why at Kiddom, we’re hell bent on designing and implementing technology that enables all students to learn via pedagogy and pacing optimized for them. We’re betting big on the idea of building a system for other learning apps to run on — rather than in — to help schools plug and play the tools they find most effective. We can’t wait to see how schools will use Kiddom Academy to execute their vision for teaching and learning.

 


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By: Abbas Manjee, Chief Academic Officer

 

P.S. Are you an administrator seeking resources to support your teachers? Book a 1:1 walkthrough with a member of our team.

Originally posted on EdSurge

3 Ways We Personalized Support for Classrooms and Schools

3 Ways We Personalized Support for Classrooms and Schools

Building relationships with administrators and teachers demands thoughtful inquiry, care, and reflection

Education is awash with efforts to personalize learning. But what does it mean for a company to personalize its support for the teachers who use its product? School leader, Jordan Silvestri and Kiddom representative, Melissa Giroux, describe what it takes for an edtech company to deliver the kind of personalized experience to its customers that teachers give to their students.

 

Jordan Silvestri: Our school focuses on preparing our students during their final years of academic involvement to gain and hone the skills that they will need to be successful after they graduate. We started Torah Academy in September 2016 with a strong vision for how and what we want our students to learn. Every class, student interaction, social setting and community learning experience is another opportunity to help our students see their potential and grow.

After our first year of running the school, we realized that one of our major challenges involved how we were tracking students’ progress. We needed a student-centered program that would be easy to function for the teachers and bring all of our work into one place.

 

Melissa Giroux: Our initial planning session with Torah Academy was extremely energizing. We were excited to meet a school leader who had great clarity around his team’s strengths and goals: Jordan wanted his team to become more accustomed to using data to drive daily instruction and he wanted technology to support consistent routines so his students could become independent learners. His concrete goals made us confident we could support his staff’s day-to-day work from afar.

Working together over the course of the year, we — at Torah Academy and Kiddom — together learned three powerful lessons about how to deliver personalized support to educators:

 

1. Lead with Inquiry

When teachers in professional development workshops push back on learning a new tech tool or question if a new platform might mean more work instead of less, it would be easy for a principal to double down on mandates and take a hardline stance.

Empathetic leaders respond with questions: “Can you tell me a little bit more about that?” or “Can you walk me through the steps you currently take?” and most importantly, “How can I help?”

When teachers hear their administration pause to learn a little bit more about them, learning becomes collaborative. Rather than fighting, they work as a team to figure out if the platform can adapt to meet the needs of a range of educators.

Companies, too, need to build that kind of inquiry into every step of their work with educators.

Educators at Torah Academy teach courses that cover everything from Common Core mathematics to Judaic studies, as well as provide services including speech therapy and vocational training. A one-size-fits-all tutorial about edtech product features wasn’t going to cut it with such diverse staff goals.

The first session between teachers and Kiddom invited the educators to express their concerns so that together we could customize the platform to their teaching styles and goals. Teachers learned how to move their existing curriculum from Google Drive into collaborative Kiddom classes. Other workshops, using the Question Formulation Technique, helped teachers frame collective inquiry goals for professional learning communities.

The Right Question Institute frames this process well: “The skill of question asking is far too rarely deliberately taught in school.” We believe that same kind of questioning skill should characterize how teachers interact with edtech companies.

 

2. Walk the Talk

There’s nothing worse than a classroom full of students staring at you as error messages prevent you from moving on with a lesson. As an administrator, I (Jordan) was worried that some of my teachers might have technical difficulties with onboarding to new technology. The “competency test” for real customer service is simply this: Will it deliver when you need it?

One teacher, in particular, had reported that as she was working to set up her class over the weekend, she hit a snag. She struggled to figure out what was going on. Finally, she contacted Kiddom through the app and had a live troubleshooting conversation on a Sunday afternoon. I was floored by both the teacher’s proactive approach — and the fact that the company walked the talk, big time!

Just as important as responding quickly is speaking the language of the people you serve. The company’s support team has grown from a collection of part-time interns into a team of former educators — people who natively speak “teacher talk” — and avoid the kind of tech jargon that can confuse just about anyone.

No school is the same. Investing the time to send a company’s support team to visit schools and observe users in the field means that teacher advocates learn how to ask questions to troubleshoot and to gain context. They are not merely following tech support flow charts and giving standard responses; they’re relying on their knowledge of pedagogy and the challenging realities of everyday teaching to frame their responses.

 

3. Stop and Reflect

School-based staff don’t always have time to step outside of their day-to-day responsibilities and reflect on successes and challenges. But particularly when you start a relationship with a company, educators must ask their partners: How are you measuring success?

As a school for students with special needs, Torah Academy does not use letter or number grades to assess student progress. Teachers focus on helping students master the skills they will need to be productive members of their community. This approach to assessment — with the ultimate goal of having students apply their goals to new environments and interactions — has been core to our program.

During one of our first joint meetings, the company introduced its mastery grading feature to Torah Academy teachers as if it were a new concept. Hardly the case! In response, teachers showed the Kiddom team how that construct fit right in with the school’s methodology, so that teachers could correlate lessons to goals and assess student progress in one fell swoop.

Throughout the year of working together, our joint team relied on routine check-ins to collect feedback, plan targeted professional development and to provide administrators with a sounding board for worries or celebrations.

But by mid-year, it became clear that educators were adopting the platform in very different ways and at different speeds. We consequently scheduled a mid-year professional development day. The Kiddom team spent the day working with individual teachers during their prep periods, to better differentiate and leverage relationships. Each conversation was private, which allowed for candid feedback and questions and supported individual needs. Some teachers desperately wanted more support in analyzing reports; others were still working on building classroom routines using the platform.

Building relationships between teachers and students takes thoughtful inquiry, care and reflection — and the relationship between an edtech company and the teachers who use its products demands the same. When both groups invest the time, authentic learning happens.


Jordan Silvestri, School Leader
Melissa Giroux, School Success Lead

More information about Kiddom Academy for schools and districts:


Originally posted on EdSurge

Targeted Test Prep with Kiddom

Targeted Test Prep with Kiddom

Use Library’s engaging resources to help your students study

With state exams, midterms, and finals around the corner in the United States, many teachers are focusing on preparing their students for the bubble sheets and answer booklets ahead. We’re all too familiar with the standard review packets, full of busy work, but seldom do those prioritize student needs. Where are they at now, and where can they do better?

Personalizing and differentiating review material can be a daunting task, especially if your resources are scattered and/or don’t meet students’ learning styles.

In an ideal world, teachers would be able to pinpoint the exact needs of a student and quickly share materials to meet those skill gaps. With Kiddom, this is a reality: spend less time reinventing the wheel and more time directly supporting student needs.

Know exactly where your students are

Prioritizing learning targets is half the battle, and that’s where we come in. Kiddom’s standard mastery reports allow teachers to efficiently investigate progress already made on specific standards/skills and quickly act on it. View your class’s progress towards a specific standard or skill so far, and plan to remediate.

Need an even closer look? No problem! Click on each standard to view which students need the most attention, and which ones are ready to move on. Kiddom lets you add as many standards to assignments as you want, so you never lose track of the skills associated to your assignments.

All the resources you need, a search away

Kiddom teachers can use our Library to find and assign free resources, including videos, quizzes, practice activities, and more, based on the data from your standard mastery reports. We understand it can be time consuming to select resources, so we’ve made our search options as specific or broad as you would like them to be across grade level, subject area, or media type. Need resources that are standards-aligned? No problem. Kiddom’s Library allows you to search by specific standards, and your mastery reports connect you directly to the appropriate resources.

Find exactly what you need by easily previewing the resource before you assign it. Assignments may already have standards aligned based on the standard group you are using, but you can always add your own.

All of your materials, in one place

Chances are, you’ve collected a lot of materials for the topics you Don’t worry: you’re covered there too. Kiddom’s Playlist functionality allows you to group resources into one contained playlist, so your resources aren’t scattered everywhere. Think of it as Pinterest specifically for your classroom. Since your Playlists are housed in your Planner, you can choose when to assign them, and who to assign them to. Simply click to expand the playlist, and drag and drop the assignment into Timeline to assign to everyone, or click a student beforehand to assign to only them.

Kiddom allows you to create as many playlists as you want, so the possibilities are endless for thematic, skill-based, or topical groupings. Create a playlist dedicated to enrichment resources and another for remediation, or create one based on topic and subject. Whatever organizational method works for you, Kiddom works with you to house all of your resources and ensure your students get exactly what they need. Need to organize multiple resources for students to review for a test? Create a playlist to group them all together, and simply drag and drop it over to a student’s timeline to send it. You can create multiple playlists to address specific needs for students for test prep: use your reports to see where students need help, and create a playlist with content just to address those needs. Your students will appreciate the personalized resources, since now they’re reviewing what they need to review, and not going through things they already know. Students and teachers alike can agree: “busy work” is necessary.

Get Started

Gone are the days of the dreaded review packet, and long waits at the copier. Besides, cookie-cutter packets can be impersonal and can feel unimportant to a student: it’s just busy work and taking away from skills they should be focusing on. We hope you use our Library and Playlists to create engaging assignments, boosting student morale and skills in the process.

What are you waiting for? Explore Kiddom’s Library. And have fun!

https://upscri.be/17b283/


By: Shabbir Manjee, Support Analyst

Don’t have an account? No problem, sign up for free here. Take advantage of Kiddom’s free support resources. Or book a one-on-one demo.

Want to dive right in? Click here to access a demo class!

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