Shannan Speaks: Technology is transforming education

Shannan Costello is an intern for the Capital Region BOCES Communications Service. She is a senior at Marist College where she is majoring in Communications with a concentration in Public Relations. She will be contributing content to Education Speaks throughout the summer from the unique perspective of a college senior.

Technology has become increasingly important in education. It can be customized to suit different students’ learning styles and is essential for modern career success. Technology was always a big part of my life. I got my first email address at seven and my Facebook page at 14, but this is nothing compared to the current young learners who are practically born with an iPad in hand.

Educational technology is the subject of frequent discussion because it provides so many potential benefits, but also requires adaptions to the teaching process and funding to supply the products. While some argue technology is widening the achievement gap because some districts cannot afford it, others believe it is producing more college and career ready students.

As a communications major, technology has been a large part of my college experience as well as my K-12 education. I upload assignments and check my grades on my college’s web platform, use my Kindle to read textbooks, text friends about going to the library and more. My online classes have required additional technological integration. With a broad range of technology available there are many ways to use it in education.

Social Media

Social media is often heavily involved in communication about assignments, such as group project work on Facebook or assignments and suggested readings tweeted by professors. However, one of the most interesting and beneficial ways I’ve seen social media used in the classroom is for foreign language learning. There are social media sites dedicated to connecting native speakers with language learners in order to help them practice and offer corrections.

Interactive Whiteboards

When I was in high school, my school transitioned nearly all classrooms to be equipped with SMART Boards. The ability to access anything on the computer and project it to the class was always extremely helpful. In addition, new technology creates excitement for the students, which can lead to more volunteering and collaborating in class. It allows students to interactively work on worksheets and activities on screen, while keeping them more interested.


Tablet and iPad use is becoming increasingly popular for teachers of all grade levels. Schools are using apps to teach students everything from addition to chemistry. Applications are built to allow students to learn at their own pace and teachers to check in more frequently with students using programs that can monitor their progress. Apps are also ever-changing and easy to install which gives schools the ability to always be up to date.


The ability to learn new programs is often more important than knowing the programs themselves. Having modern and diverse software in different classes helps with both content learning and comfort with technology. I started learning software in elementary school by using the game Oregon Trail and other typing programs. In my experiences as an intern I’ve seen companies switch to or build new software and individual employees, including myself, come in and be required to learn new programs. Strong tech abilities can help people adapt during those kinds of processes.

The possibilities of technology use become even greater as students get more specified in their career interests. Many career and technical students have 3D printing, digital arts software, state of the art auto-diagnostic computer systems and more at their disposal. Schools can offer their students more with technology, including more customized learning options, more interactive textbooks through e-readers and tablets, video guides for homework help or studying, more stimulation for visual, kinesthetic and auditory learning and greater access to information.

Basic tech skills must be built at a young age in a world where regular essential tasks, such as applying to college and banking are done online. Cultivating tech skills gives students an advantage in all aspects of their lives and helps our nation to stay competitive. Government and grant programs are encouraging EdTech integration and data is driving the global economy. Everyday there are new and improved ways to integrate technology into learning at school and at home.

Technology has been a critical part of my education from elementary school to college and it is constantly evolving. As both a student and an employee, I’ve found the technology that I learned in school extremely helpful to be prepared for the next step in life. But young students today have an even greater advantage; because it is no longer just about learning technology, today technology can help students learn in countless other areas.

Friday Rundown 7.11.14

How do you feel about Common Core? It looks like you may have to ask yourself that question before stepping into the voting booth this November. The standards have sparked debates nation-wide and that won’t be changing now that there may be a “Stop Common Core” ballot line.

Also in the news, lunch standards, the E-Rate, pre-k and more.

Our view: Better access to summer meals makes sense (Auburn Citizen)

Michelle Obama Fights GOP On School Lunch Rules (Huffington Post)

A watershed moment for technology in education (Washington Post)

What libraries need from key U.S. technology program (Washington Post)

A grand (statewide) pre-K experiment (Capital New York)

Coalition outlines mandate-relief proposals (Plattsburgh Press Republican)

Values of education (Times Union)

Progressive think tank releases report on return on investment for US’s education spending

The Center for American Progress recently released a report on the educational “return on investment” for schools nationwide. From a Times Union article on the study:

“In a report released Wednesday, the Washington, D.C.-based Center for American Progress looked at the “Return on Educational Investment,” or spending among individual school districts nationwide. Researchers also included federal monies, which don’t always show up on school budgets.

The report’s authors weighted poverty levels as measured by the percentage of students receiving free and reduced-price lunch, as well as other factors that could impact both the cost of running a school and the level of educational attainment.

Also considered are factors like the cost of living in a given area and number of youngsters who are just learning English.

Researchers then looked at per-pupil spending and compared it to standardized test scores, focusing on the number of students who passed, or met the desired standards. While noting that there are wide differences between individual schools, the study looks at districts as a whole and compares them within their state.”

Here is a summary of the study’s findings:

  • Low educational productivity remains a deeply pressing problem, with billions of dollars lost in low-capacity districts.
  • Some of the nation’s most affluent school systems show a worrying lack of productivity.
  • In some districts, spending priorities are clearly misplaced.
  • State approaches to improving fiscal effectiveness vary widely.
  • States have failed to make fiscal equity a priority and large funding gaps exist across school districts.
  • State budget practices are often inconsistent and opaque. 

To read more about the results and to see how your district stacks up, you can view the study here. A disclaimer from the organization’s website warns readers: “Please interpret our individual district productivity evaluations with a heavy dose of caution. The connection between spending and educational achievement is complex, and our data does not capture everything that goes into creating an effective school system.”

Thursday Rundown 7.3.14

Happy holiday weekend! Starting with the national news, in the spirit of the Fourth of July, the nation’s top education headlines include: Global competitiveness, Common Core, standardized testing and more.

New York reform news –

POV: The pivotal middle school years

Points_viewThis Point of View was submitted by Shaker Junior High School principal Dr. Russell Moore of the North Colonie Central School District. Dr. Moore is currently in the 26th year as principal. He attended SUNY Potsdam, and graduated with a BA in mathematics and education (1976) and a MA in mathematic (1983). Dr. Moore received his MEd. in ed. administration from St. Lawrence University in 1986 and his PhD. in ed. admin. and policy studies from the University at Albany in 1993.

School years end – which is a good thing for students and adults. Courses are developed in yearly format, so there is a defined beginning and a defined end. We finish off one year and look forward to the next. We end the school year, everybody takes a break, we start another one.

At least that’s what it looks like to people outside of education.

Those of us who work in schools, however, know that is not the case.

Within individual school districts there is a lot of work that goes into transitioning students from one grade level to the next. Some considerations for doing so include determining course of level placement for each student, meeting the new year’s teachers, recognizing the accomplishments of the year ending, working with parents as needed to clarify what’s taking place, planning students’ inclusion in summer programs, and several other annual tasks that are geared to help students be prepared for the coming year.

The transition process it even more involved when you consider students who are entering your school for the first time. In my school’s case, we have students entering from six different district elementary schools, in addition to several new entrants from area private schools. Transitioning these students is an important task, as each year our entire seventh grade is new to our school. In addition, working to transition parents is almost as important, as there is a fairly high level of anxiety with many parents, mostly those with their first child entering the junior high. The move from the neighborhood elementary school, which the student has been a part of for the past seven years, to a much larger, differently structured secondary school creates angst.

Schools should not wait until the end of one school year to begin the transition process to the next. Schools need to demonstrate to parents that that they understand their unease and will be working to help them and their incoming kids to get a little more comfortable with their new environment. Kids’ feelings are different; they’re nervous but in an excited, eager to move on to the next level way. Parents are just plain nervous.

One way to begin easing parents into your school is to reach out to them about courses offered. In most middle schools, there aren’t many options for 6th and 7th grade students, but providing a description of all the courses offered in the initial school year is informative and helpful. It’s a plus if your guidance counselors visit each of the elementary schools to meet with the fifth or sixth grade teachers about the incoming kids.

Another way to inform and transition is to post information about your school on your web page. Most schools hold an evening orientation program for parents in early June, at which parents hear information provided by representatives of each department, each teacher team, guidance counselors, perhaps a PTA rep, and building administrators. Many schools also have the kids visit their school sometime in June during the day. At this program the kids can have lunch, hear from some of their specific teachers, guidance counselor and/or building administrators, and see the school.

Yet another outreach is to mail important information to parents during the summer, early enough for parents and kids to read and understand it. It’s very helpful if this mailing includes each child’s class schedule for the year. You may even consider holding an Open School Day before school starts. Such a day is very helpful to students because you can provide students with their schedules and have them try out their lockers to insure they open. Kids also get to see a lot of their future classmates on this day.

A final step in the transition can be a school’s Back to School Night. At this program, parents can walk through their kids’ schedule and hear specific information about each class from their child’s teachers. The information provided during this evening program can be much more content and class focused than the information given at the orientation program in June.

These are just some ideas that can help transition students and parents to a new school. Much of the communication should take place between individual parents and counselors as well, probably in June and July. Some of these conversations would be about specific course options, while others more general in content. Schools should work to insure that parents have a better understanding of the school, how it is structured, how issues are addressed (which may or may not be done differently than was experienced in elementary school), and what they can expect from building leaders.

Parents won’t be completely comfortable until their kids have been at their new school for a period of time and they have experienced how the building regularly functions. Effective transitions do not happen overnight. They take planning, evaluation, revision as needed and adequate attention to all involved parties. Done right, transitioning between schools can work quite well.

You can read more from Dr. Moore by visiting his blog: Moore Perspective.

Shannan Speaks: Four things all incoming college freshmen should know

Shannan Costello is an intern for the Capital Region BOCES Communications Service. She is a senior at Marist College where she is majoring in Communications with a concentration in Public Relations. She will be contributing content to Education Speaks throughout the summer from the unique perspective of a college senior. 

Graduation season is upon us, and a new generation of high school seniors are looking forward to their futures. For many, that means that college is on the horizon. But the transition from high school to college is not always easy.

From my own experience, moving from high school to college was a bit of a challenge. I thought I was prepared leaving high school because I was always a good student and received good grades. But the college environment was more different than I imagined. There were many new skills I needed to develop. Here are some lessons I learned:

1. The daily schedule is a big adjustment from high school.

I got into a routine in high school that was no longer applicable to my new life. I would begrudgingly wake up early, go to class all day, participate in clubs and extracurricular activities after school and into the evening, then start dealing with my homework for the next day.

When I started my freshman year of college, it was difficult to get into the mindset that the hours I had free during the day could be ideal for work time and that I should take advantage of it. I was suddenly in this schedule where I had a few classes each day with large blocks of time in between. It was up to me to fill this time with activities such as jobs, clubs, socializing, studying, and interning. Incoming freshmen should take advantage of the time to breathe after spending years in high school trying to saturate college applications with activities and “well-roundedness.” It’s important to learn how to manage time better and incorporate activities that will enhance the college experience.

2. With independence comes responsibility.

Independence is a word that gets tossed around a lot when college is discussed. I remember my mom using it when I didn’t clean my room, saying things like, “You’re going to be independent and on your own soon and living with a roommate! You need to do this without me telling you.” I remember my friend getting mad at her parents for being too strict and saying, “I can’t wait to go off to college and be independent and in charge of my own decisions.”

Independence and responsibility in your daily life at college is exciting, but it is also a crucial part of one’s education. Becoming an independent learner is very important.

High school teachers will guide students through what they’re supposed to learn. The same cannot be expected of college professors. I now feel that my K-12 education gave me the basic tools to survive in college, but I had to figure out how to put those skills into practice in order to excel. For many classes, professors will never cover the reading assigned for homework, but you are expected to know it for exams. There are also varying absence and grading policies for each professor. Some of my professors did not take attendance at all, but others drop a letter grade upon your third absence. There is no one there to ensure that I wake up and make it to class on time except for me. It’s important to get into a routine early and stick to it.

3. There are points in every semester where everything piles up.

Some days the only work I’ll have assigned is some reading. Other days I’ll have four papers, an exam to prepare for and a group presentation to worry about.

Stress management and time management are important skills to learn. Something that really helps me focus is going to the library. In high school, I did all of my work in my bedroom or kitchen, but during the tough weeks of the semester I can’t afford the distractions. Having one or two close friends to go to the library with really helps to keep me focused and motivated, we can all keep each other on track. Studying with friends in high school would have been no help at all, but in college, when I’m overloaded with work, it can help me from going crazy.

4. Think ahead and take advantage of the resources.

Almost every college has a writing center and a tutoring office, and all professors hold office hours, but it takes a little more effort on the student’s part to get the extra help needed.

College requires you to learn your own strengths and weaknesses and take charge of them. I have a friend who can’t comprehend large amounts of content quickly. Knowing this about herself, she asks the professors for the textbooks in advance so she can get them before the semester begins. I was fortunate enough to have an English professor fall semester of freshman year that required us to have weekly writing conferences with him to go over our work. If I didn’t have him, it probably would have taken me a lot longer to get used to approaching my professors when needed. In high school, I hated asking for extra help and reaching out to teachers. Working one-on-one with a teacher made me nervous. However, thanks to this English course in college, I learned how beneficial that time could be. Now, I try to meet with all of my professors, even in subjects I’m not struggling in. I value the time and help my professors provide.

College is about learning and growing up. The educational transition from high school to college is bigger than you may expect. The best way I’ve found to manage it is to identify your individual challenges, work to overcome them and always try to stay balanced. No student leaves high school and home totally prepared. As long as they are aware that everyone struggles at times and they’re open to learning and overcoming challenges, then they will be crossing another stage and going through this chaotic graduation season again in a few years.

NY principals: “When guessing gets you to pass, a test measures close to nothing.”

Via Washington Post: Two New York principals are out to prove that new standardized tests aligned to the Common Core Learning Standards are not helping to show which students are college and career ready, as they were originally intended to do.

John Murphy, assistant principal of South Side High School in New York, and Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School, have partnered on this project. Burris has been chronicling the flawed implementation of school reform and the Common Core Learning Standards in New York for some time. She was named New York’s 2013 High School Principal of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

An excerpt:

“Congratulations to the New York State Education Department. Officials there have solved the college remediation problem. Their Common Core graduation tests are so “rigorous” and have a  new passing score (for students graduating in 2022) set so high  that only about 1 in 4 students will graduate high school.  And the elite 25 percent who make it won’t be going to community college, so the colleges with highest remediation rates can close.

First, let’s talk about the Common Core Algebra Regents which was given primarily to 8th or 9th graders in early June. Passing the test is a graduation requirement for these students. In concepts tested, the exam was similar to the old Algebra Regents, with some traditional Algebra 2 topics making their way onto the exam. But in order to make the test ‘Common Core’, the questions became wordy and confusing. You can find the entire test here.

Here is one example. Question 12 asks students to identify an equation, written as a function, given two roots. In the past, the question would have been phrased: “Given the roots -6 and 5, which of the following would be the correct equation?” Students are then given four choices.
Here is the Common Core phrasing: “Keith determines the zeros of the function f(x) to be -6 and 5. What could be Keith’s function?”
This is but one example of a question that was made unnecessarily complicated and wordy in order to give the illusion of a ‘real world’ problem that requires deep thinking. And then there are the questions designed to give a window into the student’s problem solving skills, such as question 34, which includes, “Describe how your equation models the situation.” The “situation” refers to dimensions of a garden. How does an English language learner, with good math skills, begin to understand what that question is asking?”

Of greater importance, Burris and Murphy detail the importance of reasonable cut scores for students.

“It was predetermined by the State Education Department that for now, the passing rate on the Common Core test would be the same as the traditional passing rate on the old exam. In order to keep the passing rate the same (about 74 percent), students only needed to earn 30 of a possible 84 points on the Common Core exam in order to pass. What would the passing rate  be if the new “College Readiness” passing score were in place? That cut score was also determined. Ninth-graders, four years from now, would have needed 66 of 86 points; only 22 percent of the sampled test takers earned would have passed.”

Click here to read the complete article.

Friday Rundown: 6.27.14

School may be out for summer, but there’s a lot happening right now in the world of education. With high school graduations happening this week and next around the state, it seems like a great time to look at graduation rates:

At the other end of the education spectrum, pre-K:

Other news:

View: Cuomo turns back on education tax credit, students (Journal News)

Education stakeholders respond to the session; 21st Congressional District primary (WCNY)

Report: US Teachers Love Their Jobs But Don’t Feel Valued (Huffington Post)

Lawsuit coming over NY’s tenure laws

The Partnership for Educational Justice announced yesterday that it will file a lawsuit in Albany “in the next few weeks” challenging New York’s teacher tenure laws, including the foundational “last-in, first-out” protection.

You can learn more about the lawsuit at the Partnership for Educational Justice’s website.

Here’s an article from Capitol Confidential about the lawsuit which includes reaction from NYSUT leaders.

What are your thoughts on teacher tenure?