Such a commendable first Tech for Schools Summit conference by EdSurge! The relaxed environment, delicious food (and drinks!), and hands-on atmosphere made for great opportunities to learn more about multiple EdTech devices and companies.
A few thoughts on products presented…
Newsela: Allows students to read news articles online (mostly from the AP, I noticed) in the reading level of their choice. This is a great idea! My students write about current events every week, and practice public speaking by sharing summaries of their events with the class. Newsela would make their weekly searches more engaging. Teachers have the ability to annotate articles, too. One thing I would love to see within Newsela is the opportunity for students to type their own questions about articles as they are read. Similar to the Discussion Director role in Literature Circles, I believe asking questions along the way helps students engage with text and have personal reference points once their reading is complete.
Gobstopper: Excellent program for online textbook content manipulation. I appreciate the clean, simple look of the UI and how many popular titles will soon be available to teachers/students at incredibly low prices. One option that would be helpful would be to pair current curriculum texts (e.g. Wordly Wise vocabulary) with Gobstopper. This way, students could potentially identify words from current lessons within text as they read. Repeated recognition of such words in context can often help improve students’ understanding of word meaning.
Bloomboard: I must say, I was excited to learn more about Bloomboard after reading about its success at SXSWedu. Though the product looks helpful for large schools with many classes per grade and, likely, many administrators, I found its process a bit overwhelming for a small(er) school like mine. With one class per grade and two administrators, Bloomboard would complicate my school’s otherwise simple evaluation process at this time. There are elements of Bloomboard from which we would benefit, including video evaluations, electronic feedback, and longitudinal teacher performance data. A recommendation would be to connect our current lesson plans online (www.planbook.com) with Bloomboard technology. Our administrators would be able to provide immediate suggestions for improvement (or praise) through the lens of the electronic evaluation process.
KnowRe: After speaking to a representative from Knowre, I found it intriguing that the designers of the product were once online game designers in Korea. Although it looks like a game, KnowRe is actually pre-algebra and algebra curriculum. I decided to visit the site and try a few of the lessons. Having coins as incentives helped me stay motivated while completing mini-lessons and listening to explanations of problems. It would be great to see more pictures and/or colors in the mini-lessons, as well as larger font sizes for legibility. I plan to tell fellow faculty members about KnowRe, and hope to receive feedback from older students about the product.
Classdojo: Easily my favorite product of the day! Classdojo addresses classroom management with adorable avatars for users, day-of and long-term data, and videos for teachers and students to learn more about the product. Its purpose is to utilize positive rewards for students by awarding points via app or website while teaching. I decided to try Classdojo upon my return to the classroom, and my students have responded positively thus far. They especially like that I have customized behaviors for which they can receive reward points, instead of simply using the suggested behaviors on the site. Though I have only used the product for a few days, I recommend that teachers learn more about it to see if it fits the needs of their classrooms.
After speaking with a fellow attendee of the Summit, it appears as though one of two processes exist among the companies and/or products presented:
1) a technology exists and developers try utilizing said technology to fulfill a classroom need, often not fully connecting with teachers or missing key elements concerning how the technology may be used in lesson planning;
or 2) a classroom need (possibly identified by a teacher) requires a technology to be developed, but an extraordinary amount of time is required for said technology to completely fulfill the need.
The first process seems to leave developers frustrated with the (often terribly slow) pace at which education changes. The second process seems to leave educators frustrated because they hope for immediate implementation into their lesson plans/classrooms.
I recognized this underlying disconnect at the Summit, but know that at the end of the day, we were all trying to manipulate information so that all users have access to (and can learn from) as many products as possible. Thus, the Summit left me smiling, inspired, and motivated to introduce new products to my students. Bravo, EdSurge!