Teacher of the Month: Shana Nissenbaum

We are very excited to present our November Teacher of the Month, Shana Nissenbaum! Shana is an amazing elementary teacher who works in Ohio and lives in Indiana. Read on to learn more about Shana and how she uses Edcite.

Continue reading Teacher of the Month: Shana Nissenbaum

Read On: Edcite’s New Passage Library

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Since Edcite began, we’ve heard a clear need from teachers for more free, high-quality digital literacy tools. Teachers have voiced that they love Edcite because it’s a great platform for creating reading-based assignments, even if you’re teaching Spanish or Biology. But we wanted more for our teachers. We wanted more free texts for our teachers, including texts specifically designed to help struggling readers and English Learning Learners (ELLs). And we wanted our teachers to easily add these texts to the assignments they create.

And so we let these motivations guide us and we built our very own passage library. We’ve gathered dozens of passages for different subjects, grade levels, and lexile ranges. We’ve partnered with an incredible non-profit Story Shares, which works to bridge literacy gaps, providing relevant and readable texts to struggling readers in middle school, high school, and beyond.

Here is some more passage library information:

About The Passage Library

  • Contains dozens of passages, for subjects like STEM, History, Math, Psychology, and Civics.
  • Contains passages in different languages, including Gaeilge and Spanish.
  • Includes passages from Story Shares, specifically designed for struggling readers.
  • Searchable by subject, topic, and Lexile score.

How To Use The Passage Library

  • Video on using the passage library.
  • You can insert the passage library directly into an ELA question when you make it. Here are the question types with the ability to add passages:
PARCC Questions SmarterBalanced Questions
Tabular Drag Response

Select Text Answer

Multiple Choice (ELA)

Essay Response (ELA)

Extended Select Answer (ELA)

Free Response (ELA)

Multiple Choice (ELA)

Essay Answer (ELA)

Select Text (ELA)

Rearrange Text (ELA)

We can’t wait to hear what opportunities our new passage library unlocks for you and your students. Tell us how it goes in the comments below! In the meantime, read on!

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The Power of Partnership: Bringing Equity to EdTech

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For educators who care deeply about equity, the prospect of increased technology in classrooms affords much potential. With more EdTech, teachers can differentiate their practice to best fit the varied learning styles and instructional needs of their students. Students can push their own learning forward by listening to lectures online, watching educational videos, or merely scouring the web. Consider the story of Battushig Myanganbayar, a boy from Mongolia who aced MIT’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on ‘Circuits and Electronics’ at the ripe age of 15.

While these stories encourage and inspire us (rightfully so!), they may also mask the flip side of the coin: the fact that education technology can greatly exacerbate preexisting issues of equity. While the internet has made it possible for students to research concepts to no end, many rigorous practice opportunities still require a fee. This trend exists with teachers as well, who are often asked to pay for lesson plans and other curricular resources, like good reading material or practice worksheets for students. All too often can one see divides like these form along racial and/or socioeconomic lines, for both students and teachers alike.

Two years ago, I joined a team of people who seek to take advantage of the current EdTech trends to even the playing field for teachers and students alike. Together, we began building a website called Edcite, which equips teachers with high-quality digital assignments, regardless of their tech access (the site works on all devices), their school budgets, or even their country of origin.

But our firm, unwavering commitment to equity in education technology can’t start and stop with us. In that vein, we chose to magnify opportunities for the students we serve by partnering with organizations and individuals who are equally dedicated to addressing inequity. So we were really excited when, through the powerful professional learning network (PLN) of #edtechbridge, we met another organization that shares our vision for equity: Story Shares.

Story Shares is an incredible non-profit aimed at closing the literacy gaps among students beyond elementary school. Typically, students that read below grade level often have to read texts that aren’t age-appropriate. Story Shares solves this problem by providing interesting, engaging, and age-level appropriate reading content for struggling readers. It’s all digital, and it’s all free!

We knew that our combined interests and vision for education necessitated a partnership of some sort. And so we thought: what if we could equip teachers with passages from the Story Shares books to accommodate struggling readers? What if we could build an even larger passage library so students can get free, rigorous reading practice?

A few months later, we did just that. By soliciting the feedback of Story Shares and many of our ELA teachers, we built a passage library with dozens of passages for different subjects: English, History, Science, Politics + Civics etc. And this number will continue to grow each week!

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We’re thrilled about this passage library and our continuing partnership with Story Shares, for we know that, together, we can get valuable reading material into the hands of the teachers and students that need it the most. And, beyond this initial project, we’re excited to have met yet another partner in this shared mission to spread the benefits of high-quality education to everyone, everywhere.

*Stay tuned for our upcoming blog post and videos on how to use the passage library!

Mind the Gap

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Why Technology Can Help Reduce the Summer Learning Gap

It’s May!  In my classroom, students are preparing for finals and completing final projects. In these moments, I try to pause and reflect on the growth and accomplishments of the past year.

As I do so, it stands out to me that this growth we are celebrating will not “stick” with my students equally. While some of my students will keep growing in the next few months, others will actually lose skills and understandings that they have now. Unsurprised? Some people (who probably aren’t educators) would say “This makes perfect sense, some students end up successful, some don’t.” But this is not random. Not at all. With a high degree of accuracy, I can predict which students will gain or lose ground in which subjects.

Who is Affected:

I do not have a crystal ball, I just know about Summer Learning Loss (SLL).  SLL occurs when students lose academic skills or knowledge during summer vacation.  The academic community has started to try to quantify this loss. They have found that on average, American students lose about a month of academic time during summer break.

But these data do not tell the whole story, which is much more interesting when you look at specific subjects and populations of students. In mathematics, students lose approximate 2.6 months of content time. Interestingly enough, in ELA, high-income students actually GAIN in achievement during the summer, while low-income students lose about 2 months of reading achievement. To get a better idea of what these data mean, over the course of a K-12 school career, the average student loses over 2 years of academic time in math (and ELA for the average lower income student).

What Can We Do?

Technology can be a powerful lever in reversing the SLL trends. Think flipping your classroom, all summer long! Through the diverse education platforms out there, teachers can send assignments to students, monitor progress, and view student data as much or as little as they want during the summer. And, because more and more educational websites are becoming mobile-accessible, it’s becoming far easier to access these learning tools and practice opportunities.

shutterstock_225866281I’m currently working with teachers to set up their summer work on Edcite, and the process has been inspirational to see! Based on their level of mastery during the school year, teachers are differentiating the content and sending specific assignments to specific groups of students. Thankfully, with multimedia-rich and interactive assignments, this summer work will be a lot more engaging for students that the traditional summer work packet. Best of all, teachers don’t have to wait until school starts to see if a student did or did not complete the work — they can monitor progress and access student performance data throughout the summer. And, through Edcite’s reporting features like the standards report, teachers can see what standards and concepts students have mastered, and which might need to be focused on more during the next school year.

If you have any favorite digital resources you love to use during the summer, I’d love to add them to my bag of tricks! You can email me (brian@edcite.com) or tweet at me (@bbmcintosh14)!

Standards, Or No Standards? That Is The Question.

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Education standards have played a role in education reform measures since the 1990s. In the last few years, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has been a buzz word amongst educators, politicians, and even comedians like Louis CK.

When I was a teacher, I constantly utilized the standards — first the California State Standards and then the Common Core standards — to design and pace my curriculum. The standards gave me a baseline set of objectives to reach on a daily, weekly, and annual basis. But, after starting my Masters in Education this year, I began to read about the backlash on standards, and I began to question what I thought was a fundamental aspect of my pedagogy. To expand my thinking, I engaged with friends and colleagues whom I deeply respect. Today, I bring their thoughts to you, in the hopes that your thinking can be pushed and challenged as well.

Ryan McCormack:

Me: To what extent should teachers think about standards in their pedagogy?
Ryan McCormack: “I think it depends on the standards. To say they’re automatically harmful or beneficial can be irresponsible. If we are to have standards, they need to provide teachers with the freedom to enact the choices that are best for their group of students in their development. Standards that are too specific often hurt the students who need the most help.”

Me: What do you think of this quote: the standards movement “is the latest means of exclusion, whose success depends on placing the onus for failure to achieve academic credentials on the individual rather than the system” (Aronowitz 2004)?
Ryan McCormack: “I would agree with that statement for the most part. Standards are around to ensure teacher accountability. Whatever standards are changed to, now or in the future, are intended to be fixes to improve the system. However, until you start at the beginning with teacher education (both in credentialing and continued development at the school site), teacher selectivity, and the elevation of the profession to a respected place to attract the best teachers, it’s hard for the standards to have a whole lot of impact. More education, training, and recruitment on the front end would lead to new implementations to be far more effective.”


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Ryan McCormack earned his undergraduate degree in International Relations from University of San Diego (USD). Ryan went on to obtain a Masters degree in Secondary Education from the University of Southern California (USC). After his masters program, Ryan joined the Teach For America 2012 corps. Ryan currently teachers Pre-AP World History and coaches the soccer team at KIPP San Jose Collegiate. He intends to one day pursue a school leadership position.

 


Ben Spielberg:

Me: Do you, in theory, agree with the idea of standards?
Ben Spielberg: “There is a large difference between the way standards are currently written and implemented and the concept of standards in general. Broadly defined, ‘standards’ to me means things every student should learn. And I think that’s something we should have. Students have to learn certain things to be successful in society and to develop the type of character that people should have. This is very important as a concept.”

Me: What do you think about the Common Core State Standards?
Ben Spielberg: “I think, in theory, something like the Common Core is compelling. The idea of focusing on skill learning rather than content learning is a good thing. The transition to Common Core has helped teachers think through questions like: ‘how can we help students think more critically about math?’ But Common Core, at least in secondary math, has also failed to deliver on one of its most important promises. The standards were supposed to help teachers delve deeply into the most important mathematical ideas, but rather than narrowing the list of topics covered, Common Core mostly moved standards around. If we really wanted to help students build conceptual understanding, we’d drastically reduce the number of standards to enable truly in-depth instruction on the most essential concepts.”



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Ben Spielberg (@benspielberg): After graduating with a degree in Mathematical and Computational Sciences from Stanford, Ben joined Teach For America as a middle school math and science teacher. Following his third year of teaching, Ben served as a math instructional coach in the San Jose Unified School District. Ben currently works in Washington D.C. for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. More of Ben’s opinions can be found at his personal blog, 34justice.


Esther Fensel

Me: In the 2012-2013 school year, you were already developing a curriculum that aligned to the Common Core Standards? What was your experience with this standards-based teaching? 

Esther Fensel: I believe that the CCSS — especially for math, given my own experiences — are a necessary opportunity to establish a floor of rigor for math education.  As the current state of secondary math education shows, absent a rigorous, cohesive set of math standards (that focus on depth vs. breadth, concepts, and reasoning), schools & systems can — and do — operate from low expectations.  Low expectations are aggravated in schools and systems that teach low-income students of color.  With a rigorous set of common standards, we can have the dialogue we desperately need: about implementation of rigorous math instruction (and professional development that actually supports teachers to do this), how to be rigorous and culturally responsive, and holding high expectations for what all students are capable of producing in math.

Me: Did you think this standards-based learning was helpful or harmful for students?
Esther Fensel: What I saw from my own students when I was supported in teaching towards the CCSS (compared to previous years, where I based my instruction on the CA state standards) was that they were able to explain the math concepts behind their chosen strategies; we had discussions about these concepts; and, simply, math was much more fun.



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Esther Fensel attended the University of Southern California (USC), where she earned a degree in psychology. After college, Esther taught 7th grade math and science at Joseph George Middle School in East San Jose and then at Gateway Middle School in San Francisco. Last year, Esther joined Teach For America staff to help support first and second year corps members in their classrooms. Now she works more closely with secondary math teachers throughout the Bay Area.

 


Ivy Martinez

Me: How do the Common Core State Standards impact students of color?
Ivy Martinez: I think Common Core standards can be a path to equity for kids, especially for low-income, children of color, especially given how rigorous and high-level the standards are. In an ideal world, they should be a slap in the face to any low-performing school that serves those children. The standards also give a clear picture of what kids need to be achieving regardless of the state they live in, thus increasing urgency and raising the bar. Where I think it gets tricky is when teachers feel like they are achieving equity for their students by following the standards period.

Me: How can we make these conversations about the Common Core Standards, which have become increasingly political and alienating, more productive?
Ivy Martinez: I would prioritize that we shift focus from the standards themselves to implementation of the standards. The nature of a word like “standard” can connote a “one size fits all,” which feels really dangerous because all kids are different and need different things. Teachers should take the spirit of the standards, maintain the high bar, and ask “how would my kids best access these? How can I teach these in a culturally competent way (affirming my students home knowledge and empowering them in their identity)? How do I use the standards themselves to teach kids about equity and access and to question equity and access?”


ivymartinez1Ivy Martinez graduated from Brown University with a degree in Public Health and Anthropology. Ivy was a member of the 2010 Teach For America corps and taught 4th and 5th grade at Galarza Elementary School in San Jose. In her second year, Ivy won the prestigious Sue Lehman Excellence in Teaching Award. Ivy now works as the Director of Admissions & Diversity for the Teach For America.


 

 

A Global Glimpse of the Digital Divide

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Technology has been hailed by some as “the great equalizer.” As an IBM inventor and White House Champion of Change Dimitri Kanevsky asserts: “technology is constantly evolving to remove barriers that emerge due to a person’s social characteristics, geographic location, physical or sensory abilities.” But does technology in fact ‘remove barriers’ or does it only exacerbate pre-existing ones?

In the 1990s, the National Telecommunications & Information Administration of the Department of Commerce began to report a stark divide between Americans with internet connectivity and those without. This gap became known as the “digital divide”, or a divide between those with access to new technologies — like the internet — and those without.

Since its conception, the term “digital divide” has adopted many nuanced meanings. When I taught high school, I witnessed the divide not through internet connectivity, which was pervasive both at home and at school, but in the availability of tech tools such as tablets or computers. I noticed that most of my higher-income students had at least 1 laptop at home, whereas many low-income students did not. Access to technology also varied with race, such that most of the White and Asian students did own a personal device while many of my hispanic students did not.

Now, as a graduate student in the field of education, I wanted to expand my understanding of this concept. First, I hoped to explore the different facets of the digital divide. In so doing, I aimed to discern how this “digital divide” varies on a global scale. Do other countries experience a digital divide? If so, in what way?

I interviewed teachers and members of my team at Edcite, who have been working in the field of education technology in countries like the United States, India, and Ireland. Though I saw the digital divide correlate with race and income levels in my own classroom, I didn’t want my own experience to color the questions I posed or the answers I heard from my interviewees. I made sure to ask open-ended questions and listen — really, truly listen — to the viewpoints of my interviewees.

Conducting these video interviews brought to light many new sides of the digital divide. While I previously perceived of the digital divide as unidimensional, I now know that access to technology can be a function of:

  1. Socioeconomic levels
  2. Race
  3. Urban vs. Rural: as Julia Sweeney (Ireland) pointed out, internet connectivity and ownership of digital devices can vary based on where you live in Ireland. People that live near or in cities like Dublin will utilize more technology tools on a daily basis, while those living in rural environments might be excluded from this. According to the Federal Communications Commission, this rural/urban divide exists in the United States as well.
  4. Public schools vs. Private Schools: as Amar Rajasekhar explained, the digital divide in India breaks down by public and private schools. Schools that are sponsored by the government have fewer resources all around, whereas private schools possess more technology for students.
  5. Gender: according to Brian McIntosh (United States), there is a divide in technology “interest” (which can lead to a divide in proficiency as well) based on gender. His computer science class, though diverse by race and socioeconomic status, lacks females.
  6. Age: I always believed the digital divide to be a student-centered issue. But, in her interview, Mary Joy (India) discussed the digital challenges facing teachers, which made me ponder the generational divide in relation to technology. Even if a classroom has access to high-tech products, teachers may not know how to use them properly.

Ultimately, each of the countries surveyed in this project did experience a type of digital divide. Though the divide can change depending on the context, it is clearly a global, not national, problem. Dismal as that may be, the pervasiveness of this problem also paves the way for international collaboration to address this issue. Here at Edcite, we are committed to providing a free platform that everyone can use, regardless of income level, race, gender or age. Our mission is to empower teachers be part of the digital solutions by sharing their own digital resources. What can you do to help close the digital divide?

Celebrating Cultural Differences With the Common Core

shutterstock_137806400As a former educator, I’ve read the continuous back-and-forth debates about Common Core’s effect on students across the country. Yet as a Latina and a former teacher of predominantly Black, Latino, and Asian students, it’s disappointing to find that many of these discussions seem to leave out a critical question: how can we use these national standards to create culturally responsive curriculum for students of color?

A recent article in The Atlantic reported that by the start of this upcoming school year, Black, Latino, Asian, and Native American students will make up more than 50% of students in our public education system, making white students no longer the majority. The National Center for Education Statistics also predicted that in just three years “Latino students alone will make up nearly 28 percent of the nation’s student population.”

And these number do not only derive from states like Texas and California — states known for their diversity for years. Formerly homogenous states have also gained more diverse student bodies. For example, in Idaho last year, of the nearly 300,000 K-12 students, more than 22% were Latino and eight Idaho school districts are already majority “minority”. A 2010 Penn State Policy brief noted that though two-thirds of cities, suburbs, and small towns across the U.S. had white populations of 90% or more in the eighties, today only one third of cities and towns still have that demographic.

We will achieve little in discussions about national standards and Common Core testing if we do not acknowledge these numbers and what they mean: our students come from very different racial and cultural backgrounds than they ever have before and these differences will largely influence how they learn in a standard American classroom. As we significantly alter curriculum through the Common Core this year, it is crucial that administrators, reformers, and teachers think about how curriculum choices will engage students of these backgrounds, and motivate them to succeed in a system that was historically built with a different demographic in mind.

In the past, as a country, we have significantly lacked culturally inclusive curriculum, and often even failed at acknowledging the existence and history of diverse racial populations in the subjects we teach. According to a grading system by the Southern Poverty Law Center, fourteen states earned failing grades for their civil rights curriculum and requirements. Five states- Alaska, Iowa, Maine, Oregon and Wyoming- do not require or support teaching about the civil rights movement at all.

Even those districts and schools that have attempted culturally inclusive education often execute it poorly. Curriculum often only focuses on the negative history of people of color (slavery, unfair labor policies for farm laborers and railroad workers, etc.) instead of also emphasizing the positive contributions people of color have made towards American society (art and literary movements like the Harlem Renaissance, contributions to the American military, etc). If not, schools often limit their celebration of diversity to “multi-cultural days” or once-a-year history month celebrations of cultural heroes instead of consistently integrating multicultural perspectives in every aspect of their educational model.

shutterstock_176263055Exploring course options in AP curriculums or universities around the country also reinforce this lack in multicultural curriculum. The Advanced Placement program includes classes on European, American, and World history, and yet no courses on the history of Africa, Latin America or Asia. A recent blog post by Kendra James on a prominent race issues blog argued that in many college literature or film studies programs (mine included), students aren’t required to take classes that focus on non-white or European writers and narratives and often have to go outside the department (as I did) to find these courses in the first place.

Fortunately, once educators acknowledge the critical need for culturally inclusive curriculum, they can easily use Common Core to work towards these goals. Several aspects of the Common Core standards allow teachers to easily integrate multicultural education, if they chose to. First, according to the Common Core website, the standards “intentionally do not include a required reading list” and “appropriately defer the majority of decisions about what and how to teach to states, districts, schools, and teachers.” This gives teachers the power to stray away from conventionally Eurocentric (not to mention: male-centric, Christian-centric, and heterosexual-centric) reading lists, and instead branch off into texts from authors of a wide range of backgrounds.

Secondly, the Common Core stresses that students support arguments with direct textual evidence, which makes it easier for students to approach questions equally. Before, English standards often placed too much emphasis on “making connections” and defending arguments with previous knowledge, experiences, or opinions, not realizing that students of disadvantaged backgrounds often have limited experiences that can connect with the kinds of texts presented. Under Common Core, even students with the financial or cultural privileges of having relevant outside experience can no longer use that knowledge to gain an advantage or an upper hand on testing. Instead, students will all approach a text on an equal playing field, having only the text to use to support their points.

The Common Core ELA’s emphasis on nonfiction and informational texts also creates the potential for including more social justice content that can appeal to students from diverse backgrounds. The Common Core believes that by elementary school, students should be reading a mix of 50 percent literature and 50 percent informational texts, and by high school, students’ reading will shift to be 30 percent literary and 70 percent informational.” No longer limited to classic literature- which historically has often portrayed a limited perspective- teachers can now use speeches, newspaper articles and essays to connect themes to local or global social issues. Through these texts, teachers can also focus on important issues of perspective and objectivity, asking students to critically think about who wrote the texts used, and whose voice is being heard, and whose isn’t.

It’s ineffective to discuss how Common Core Standards will change public education without also addressing how these standards will relate to the cultural backgrounds of public school students. Regardless of all the positive change Common Core has the potential to create, national standards won’t work if not also paired with a culturally relevant curriculum. The Common Core’s structure allows for this kind of curriculum to exist, if teachers are willing to take advantage of it. In no other point in America’s history has it been more necessary to try.

OTHER RESOURCES:

http://www.edchange.org/multicultural/resources/ct_characteristics.html

http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/how-choose-best-multicultural-books

http://www.tolerance.org/classroom-resources


amandamachadoAmanda Machado (@amandaemachado0) is an education writer and consultant based out of the Bay Area. Amanda earned her undergraduate degree in Creative Writing from Brown University. After university, Amanda joined Teach for America and taught 9th grade English at a KIPP high school. Now Amanda is a contributing writer for The Atlantic and is involved with global education initiatives like the South African EdTech Summit and the Global Glimpse program. Amanda has also shared some of her rigorous English content on the Edcite online platform.