5 Edtech Questions Teachers Should Ask

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A sharper pencil never made anyone a better writer, and from what I’ve seen and read, digital reading hasn’t yet led to an increase in reading comprehension. To the contrary, it leads to a decrease.

Indeed, the data is coming in, and the billions invested in education technology have not yielded a strong ROI, or, by one study, any ROI at all. The OECD recently released a report on the effectiveness of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in nations that have invested heavily in classroom technology.

The findings: “The results show no appreciable improvement in reading, mathematics, or science in countries that have invested heavily in ICT for education” (3).

A sharper pencil never made anyone a better writer,

Because of this and similar results elsewhere, in some circles, the public conversation about edtech is beginning to shift away from: “Cool, let’s try it!” to “We tried, let’s cool it.” And, I would hope that by “cool it”, we mean that we should slow down and evaluate the goals of education, and in doing so, the questions we should ask of our education technology plan.

Before we trade our Chromebooks in for composition books, it is worth thinking about what really drives learning, and asking how we can use technology to reach those ends.

Here are five questions I’d suggest asking before implementing new technologies.

1.  Does the technology increase isolation or collaboration?

In an age of screen time when 8-18 year-olds spend upwards of 53 hours a week plugged in, we need to be wary of adding tech hours unnecessarily. To the degree that the screen-time activities are meaningful and necessary, we ought to leverage the power of peer to peer learning and in-class collaboration. Because so much learning and knowledge is socially constructed and transacted, the classroom is the ideal place to build and communicate knowledge. This question may seem obvious, but our allegiance to our tech can be so overwhelming that we can, like Mark Zuckerberg, become oblivious to how creepy and isolating technology can be.

2.  Does the technology encourage surface or deep level knowledge?

This is big.  Assessing the depth of knowledge that our classroom technology encourages must be a priority for every teacher. Why? Because so much of our tech enables students to merely identify or match information, skimming across the surface of thought.  Good instructional tech will be flexible enough for a teacher to use in a variety of contexts, but with that flexibility comes a downside: it might be fun while not helping kids learn.  Students might enjoy a “clicker” system as much when it merely assesses their knowledge of a word’s definition as much as they would if it measures  their ability to use a word in context.  Even so, clicker systems don’t require that students explain their answers, just that they know it. It is the teacher’s job to adapt the technology with an emphasis on deep thinking. Teachers need to ask: “Can this tool help me help my students go deeper?”

3. Does the technology facilitate meaningful feedback?  

The best research we have on feedback suggests that the feedback that teachers receive on their own instruction is as important as the feedback students get. Why? Because teachers who get feedback consistently on their own instruction will improve their instruction. For this to happen consistently, feedback needs to be contextualized to the learning, timely, consistent, and ideally, it can’t require lots of teacher time before or after the lesson. Similarly, the value of student feedback depends on the type of feedback they receive. It is not enough for a student to know whether or not they got something “right” or “wrong.” Instead, they need to know WHY they got something right or wrong. Lots of tools give feedback, but we need to favor the ones that encourage the right kind of feedback.

4. Is the technology practical?

Teachers want solutions that integrate into their workflow, that don’t require hours of set-up, and that give more bang for the buck. They also need tools that they can use flexibly in a variety of instructional contexts. There are lots of tech tools that seem like a good idea, but ultimately factors like  the learning curve, accessibility and feasibility get in the way.  Teachers, who always have more added to their plates, generally want to know that the work involved in adding new tech tools will save them time, energy and effort, so they can give more to their students.

5. Does the technology encourage equity?

The strength of 1:1 systems is that they level the playing field for students without access to tools at home, but inequity of access is only one type of inequity.  There are other important inequities that need to be addressed in the classroom. How about inequity of engagement? Our tech tools should help us to engage 100% of our students, and they should equip teachers with the personal knowledge necessary to differentiate instruction, to develop a stronger personal bond, and ultimately to give each student the focus he or she deserves. The classroom should be the first place we look to close the achievement gap, and we should favor the tools that help us do this well.

All edtech solutions are merely tools, and tool serves specific purposes. We know this intuitively: Nobody would ever decorate a wedding cake with a hammer.

When it comes to Ed Tech, we need to get better at asking: what are these tools for? And in education, that leads to worthwhile questions: What is an education for? How do people learn? What is a teacher for? In getting serious about answering these questions we stand a chance of avoiding becoming tools of our tools, and instead, we can better use tools, old, existing and new to make real, lasting improvements in our schools.

 

If you are interested in learning more about how I’ve asked and answered these questions  download the Oncore classroom instruction iPad app on the App Store, or visit our website: Oncoreeducation.com.

 

 




New Integration: Next Generation Science Standards

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We’re excited to announce that the K-12 Next Generation Science Standards are fully integrated into Oncore. Now we’re not just the best in-class formative assessment tool for English and Math, but also for science.

The “Next Gen” standards require students to think like scientists, and Oncore can encourage and capture this thinking by engaging the intellect and attending to equity.  Tell your local science teacher that we now have a tool to help them meet this new challenge head on!

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Oncore Tips: How to Modify Classrooms in Oncore

 

Someone recently called Oncore the “Swiss-Army Knife” of classroom management.

Swiss army knives often have seemingly random tools that have functionality, but nobody knows why they are there. So it goes with Oncore. One of the hidden gems in Oncore is modification. And you can modify just about anything once you know how to use the modification slide feature. It makes Oncore even more awesome than you thought. So, here’s a list of Oncore’s modification features.

 

Modifying Classes

Look for the two gray parallel lines. Press and slide to reveal your classroom editing options. 

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You’ll see four icons.  Here’s what they do:

Pencil Icon: Edit class name and information.

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“X” Icon: Delete the class. Oncore will ask you to confirm this choice!

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File Drawer Icon:  This will move your classroom into the archived class list which appears below your existing list.

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 Pages Icon: This allows you to duplicate a class.

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Modifications Within Your Classrooms

You’ll see the same modification interface and icons in several places:

In the student list feature you can modify or delete any student. The modification feature is especially great for students who have nicknames.

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Moving to the seating chart feature, you’ll find that the feature opens an important seating chart editing window.  This feature allows you to modify the number of available seats in rows and columns in the classroom. This is very helpful.

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Also, in assignments and groups, the teacher has the ability to edit or delete these as well.

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At Oncore we want you to have the right tools to fit your classroom and your kiddos.  We love feedback. Let us know how we can improve features like these to improve your classroom climate and instruction. To unlock the full power of Oncore, download Oncore Pro.

 




3 Effortless Ways to Know if They Get It

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I remember sitting in an accreditation meeting nine years ago when a visiting teacher asked our group about formative assessment. He wasn’t talking about quizzes, tests and projects, but daily, meaningful engagements with students, checking in with them to measure incremental understanding.  Our group was flummoxed. We had been talking about assessments for months, dutifully preparing a report, and yet we had never asked ourselves “What is formative assessment?”  Essentially, formative assessment boils down to measuring if they get it. Later, I found out that formative assessment is among the most effective strategies for improving learning.  

 

Confronted with the fact that I wasn’t doing it well, I knew that I needed a system for helping me assess understanding while learning was taking place, and I was looking for something more than a clicker system that measures fixed answers. I needed to measure thinking itself, so I created Oncore, and here are three ways that any teacher can use Oncore to level-up formative assessment.

 

  1. Intermittent “Pit-Stops”

The racing metaphor is foreign to me, but the idea of a pit-stop describes the bread and butter of what Oncore accomplishes. At any time in the instructional process I can do a quick five minute formative assessment. The process: Give a clear question related to our work, give students an opportunity to share what they think with a partner, and then let Oncore take over.

I can attach a standard to this participation pit-stop.

Standard selection through Oncore's CCSS and NGSS standards library.
Standard selection through Oncore’s CCSS and NGSS standards library.

Oncore’s student selector button will call on a student who has had fewer than average interactions with me.

Oncore's Student Interface shows engagements and overall performance levels.
Oncore’s Classroom Interface allows teachers to choose students and to see a performance snapshot.

I can evaluate that student’s work on Oncore’s Color Scale.

Teachers can easily do formative assessment via Oncore's color scale.
Teachers can easily do formative assessment via Oncore’s color scale.

If I call on three or four students, I can get a statistically significant read on whether or not I can move on in my instruction or our activity.

This process is virtually effortless. I’m merely collecting data and using it to modify instruction. That’s formative assessment 101

 

  1. Replacing “The Stamp”

The stamp is a remarkable tool in many ways: At best it measures quality of student work, and at worst it measures completion of work (and that is not without value). But what the stamp does not do is measure mastery of standards, and it does not give a teacher a focus for evaluating work. With Oncore, I’ve improved upon the stamp.

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Teachers can layer assignments over the class seating chart.

Oncore’s assessment feature turns the seating chart into a standard’s mastery learning grade-book.

To do this create an assignment, link a standard, and then assess student work instead of stamping the work.  

Teachers can easily assess student work in a timely, relevant manner.
Teachers can easily assess student work in a timely, relevant manner.

I’ve learned through the process of assessing using Oncore that I can leverage the power of warm-up time, peer feedback time, group work time, and independent practice time to give better feedback in class.

In this way, I’m able to give specific, criteria-based feedback to each student. Also, assessing in this way encourages me to clarify expectations for students in advance, so that I’m more focused when I grade their homework or classwork using Oncore.

This feature hits the sweet spot of reducing paper load and increasing the effectiveness of my feedback, giving me more time to work on planning lessons or just more time on the weekends with my family (something no teacher should be ashamed of).

As an added bonus, this data also migrates into Oncore’s standards reports, and factors in to a student’s overall Oncore profile.

 

  1. Measuring “Group-Think”

Oncore also does for groups what it does for individuals or assignments. Oncore’s innovative group feature already allows a teacher to effortlessly create mixed or same level groups, but it also allows them to attach a standard to that group’s work, and to assess the group as a whole or as individuals.

This accomplishes two things. It creates the necessary group dynamic of accountability. Students often know that I can call on any student in the group to assess their understanding of the task at hand. Also, it helps the group clarify their own goals for learning, again based on my instruction and explanation of the task.

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Teachers can assess student groups too, easily and in an organized manner.

In the last few years, I’ve logged thousands of performance-based interactions which have all helped me clarify my expectations, encouraged students set meaningful goals, and have made my class feedback rich. Oncore has helped me level-up my assessment game. 

To download Oncore for free on your iPad visit the App Store.

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Stronger Classroom Bonds

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Within the last two years, I’ve started noticing something. More former students, many more, have been greeting me in the breezeways between classes at school, even at long distances, calling out “Hi Mr. Rosenkranz!” Added to that, the “high-five” quotient from adolescent male athletes has also skyrocketed. Of course there may be multiple explanations as to why this is happening.

Let me dismiss a couple of them.

  1. I’m not nicer than I used to be.  Ask any of my colleagues: I’m not uniquely empathetic. I don’t have an ebullient smile. Chipper? Extroverted? Gregarious? Nope. Not so much.
  1. Kids are not that much nicer than they used to be. I know that bullying has diminished since 2009, and thankfully so, but for high schoolers to go out of their way to call out to their former teacher at an age characterized by self-focus and peer-focus, well, I just don’t see how culture could change that dramatically. Public adoration is one of the perks of being a first grade teacher, not typically the experience of a 10th grade English teacher.

So, why do they greet me more? I’ve come to the undeniable conclusion that they  greet me more because they KNOW me more. In knowing me more they also LIKE me more. Why else would I notice this uptick in casual conversation?  As importantly, I know THEM more, and, for the most part, I also like them more too.

The practical question is this: how did we all come to know and like each other so much?

What has changed in the last few years is my approach to classroom instruction.

Believe it or not, I can look anyone in they eye today and tell them without blinking, that I engage every single one of my students in meaningful dialogue, consistently checking for understanding, and evaluating their work, giving relevant, “just in time” feedback as learning is taking place.

In short, I have become a remarkable teacher (Yes, I can feel the cynicism surging across cyberspace.).

A New Model of Student Engagement

A few years ago I started reflecting on my classroom dynamics. I had read a startling statistic from John Hattie’s Visible Learning. That in any given classroom 20% of students are well-behaved and completely disengaged. That bothered me. I started asking myself how could I engage all of my students? What bothered me more was how culpable I was for having not engaged them, for inevitably there was a sizable group of students in my class with whom I had brokered a silent covenant. “You avoid eye-contact, and I’ll avoid engaging you.”  Call it what you want, “the soft bigotry of low expectations” or the subconscious desire to avoid causing my students social anxiety, but I had a sinking feeling that these students were not learning, and I had few tools to determine whether or not this feeling was valid.

I started to get serious about tackling this problem, and after some weeks of mulling over this and several other of my teacherly shortcomings, I started to draw up a plan for a formative assessment app called Oncore, a tool that would ensure that I engaged all students while feeding me the data on past interactions, an app that would give me the ability to gives one-touch data on student performance.

To be clear, my initial goal with Oncore wasn’t to facilitate stronger relational bonds within my classroom, but, as it turns out, that’s exactly what the app achieved, and looking back, this might be its greatest achievement.

Here’s why:

Oncore’s student-selector feature favors the students I’ve interacted with the least. In other words, the app hacks my own human nature and “forces” me to work with all students. We think of student equity as equal access to resources, but for whatever reason, we don’t think of the teacher as a resource! Now I do. Each student gets my focused attention. And when I interact with them, they know I’m collecting performance data. They know that that data is going to inform my every interaction with them in the future. They know I care about every one of them. Not abstractly, but concretely.

Moreover, they know that I’m focused on their learning.  What Oncore has goaded me into doing is to design lessons that have clear goals.  If I’m evaluating them with an app daily, I better know the criteria on which I’m evaluating them in the first place.  In this way, my classroom has a mastery focus. So much more than in the past, I take the time to clarify the standard or the habits of mind necessary for growth.

I take control of collaborative grouping. In the past, I would number kids off or just say, “find a group.” Now, I can create mixed-performance level groups in 20 seconds.  This ensures that all groups have a mix of skill levels and abilities. Because I can assess groups or individuals within the group, or use Oncore’s grading feature in group mode, I’ve also been able to leverage accountability to make groups more fair and focused.  

I now realize that what began as a project to overcome my shortcomings has turned into an emergent system, a system that is greater than the sum of its features. And next to increased learning, what Oncore has created most is trust.  

I’m assessing learning all the time. I never use the data I’m collecting to shame students. Instead, I tell them that the data I collect is mostly about evaluating me. Oncore gives me feedback on how I’m managing the lesson and instruction (and groups and behaviors, and seating and a host of other discrete aspects of being a teacher) which, when done well, creates a trusting community: A whole classroom of students committed to growth, to mastering the content, to giving and receiving good feedback. And the unexpected outgrowth out of all of this is a surprise: my students say hi a lot more. They feel that someone on campus really knows them and really cares. And they are right. 

When I first developed Oncore I asked my class of 35 summer school kiddos (who had all previously failed English)for some feedback on Oncore.  They loved and hated the app for the right reasons, but three comments stuck out to me.

One student wrote the following: “I like the app because I always know the answer but just don’t volunteer in class. The app made me feel smarter.”

Another student wrote, “I like that you make the groups because I always get stuck with the losers.”

Finally one student wrote plainly, “I made a friend.”

Technology can have a tendency to depersonalize and to alienate, but sometimes it can be leveraged to do amazing things like fostering trust, friendship, and personal growth. And for me, technology continues to surprise me, doing amazing things like spinning data from the classroom into high-fives in the quad.
Image Credit: Frankie Le




5 Common Classroom Problems Oncore Solves

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Any teacher can tell you that a classroom is full of inefficiencies. In creating Oncore, we asked the question “What inefficiencies can we solve with an iPad app.

 Here’s a list of five problems that Oncore solves. 

 

  1. Student Equity: Most teachers don’t engage 100% of students. Instead they interact with the charismatic and curious. In the past, I used the note card ( or popsicle stick) system, but I still wasn’t sure that I was engaging everyone, and I had no easy way to assess the quality of a student response on a notecard or a stick. Oncore’s student engagement feature ensures that the teacher interacts with 100% of students equitably by calling on the students the teacher has interacted with the least. In class, it seems random, but it isn’t. Also, since the seating chart is the main feature of the user interface, a teacher can just as easily summon the student of her choice and can see the number of engagements they have had on that day, or over time.
  2. Formative Assessment: Formative assessment is the most valuable type of assessment, but so much of it goes undocumented. In order to document it, teachers have to do a lot of work to set up call and response systems which unfortunately tend to measure “multiple choice” surface knowledge at the expense of critical thinking. By contrast, Oncore allows a teacher to attach a daily focus standard to any class session, group or assignment created within the app. Teacher’s can effortlessly engage and then assess students on the Oncore color scale. This data automatically updates in Oncore’s “reports” feature. Formative assessment can now take place daily and the data that was once unattainable is now easily accessible.
  3. Paperwork: Oncore allows a teachers to be mobile and maximizes their classroom time by allowing them to check student mastery on assignments during class time. With Oncore, teachers can easily create assignments and attach standards and points to them. This allows the teacher to give “just in time” feedback contextualized to the student they are assessing. Too often paper load saps a teacher’s time and energy. Oncore increases the likelihood that students will receive good feedback, so that they can master content more quickly.
  4. Grouping: Creating performance level groups can be a chore for teachers. By assessing learning in the class period, Oncore captures performance levels easily and updates those levels throughout the school year. Oncore allows teachers to create same-mixed, level, or random groups using that same data. The groups are modifiable and teachers can assess standards for individuals or whole groups. Teachers can also grade assignments in group mode. Now it takes 20 seconds to create and start working with groups.
  5. Communication: Oncore teachers can send emails home to communicate attendance issues, missed assignments and positive or negative behaviors. Teachers can easily modify these messages to give any necessary context for the notifications Oncore creates. These notifications are automatically logged in the student’s history tab in the app.

 

We usually think of educational technology as a way of improving curriculum and assessment. In creating Oncore, I have improved my instruction by leveraging the power of data to inform and enhance the relationships and processes within my classroom.  
Click here to download the free Oncore Classroom Productivity app on The App Store. 




3 Ways Oncore Helps Teachers Communicate with Parents

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Teachers know that parent communication is an important but labor-intensive task. What triggers a parent communication varies from teacher to teacher, school to school.

Some apps automatically send progress reports to parents weekly, but this can quickly become a chore for teachers and parents alike, requiring another system for the teacher to keep plugging away at, and clogging up inboxes of parents.

The Oncore approach to parent communication is simple:

THE TEACHER can easily create notifications and THE TEACHER has control over the decision to email or archive the Oncore notifications she creates.

So, here three ways that we help teachers to communicate with parents more effectively.

1. Non-Attempts Notifications

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When a teacher marks the “non-attempt” button on an assignment, Oncore creates a notification letting the parent know that the student didn’t attempt the assignment. Teachers can customize any non-attempt message.

2. Behavior Notifications

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Teachers can choose from a standard group of positive and negative behaviors and send a quick response home. Pro users can customize behaviors for their learning context.

3. Attendance Notifications

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Tardies and absences both trigger a notification. Teachers can easily send these to parents of students who continue to show  poor attendance behaviors.

At Oncore we want to maximize a teacher’s capacity to create a classroom environment that is fair, focused and feedback rich. Giving the teachers the power to send these simple, effective notifications can help classrooms thrive.

To download Oncore find us on the App Store.

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A Little Help from Our Friends, or…Old-School, Old School Portraits

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Hi Everyone,  Scott here.  We’re building a strong foundation this summer for the imminent release Oncore 2.0.

This involves marketing. I have a fun idea for a marketing campaign, but I need some help.  I need your school pictures from childhood, the cuter, the cheesier, the more awkward, the more dated, the better. 

If you’re interested in being immortalized in the Oncore universe, please email me at scott@oncoreeducation.com. I’ll send you a digital photo release form, you’ll send me your old-school, old school portrait and then we’re off to the races. Oh, and we’re a bootstrapped startup, so you won’t be doing this for any compensation or royalties, only for the novelty, the public good, or just for kicks.

Thanks for considering it.

 

 

Photo Credit: Daniel M. Hendricks, “Tony in Gradeschool” Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0




Screen Shots of Oncore 2.0

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We’ve been busy for the past few months (and by “we” I mean Jacob Bullock) designing the next version of Oncore.  Right now we’re in the alpha testing phase to work out any major bugs.

Below are previews of our new student interface, group screen and improved analytics.

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We want to thank all of our users for their feedback and their patience. We’re working to release this new version to you as soon as possible!

Best,

Scott and Jacob