Archive for April, 2012

A school communication hero!

April 30, 2012 Comments off

Kimberly Flanagan is an English teacher at Brandywine High School and a communication hero. Ms. Flanagan was honored with recognition by the Delaware Showcase of Excellence in Digital Learning for her work in home-school communication.

Ms. Flanagan communicates with students and families using a website powered by Edmodo. Edmodo is a free service that provides powerful websites designed for districts and teachers to manage and communicate schoolwork and assignments.

Edmodo is a good system and is very cool, but that’s not the point. Any similar system will do, including eSchoolPLUS which all teachers already have. The point is the communication philosophy Ms. Flanagan brings to communicating school assignments:

I use Edmodo to post each day’s LFS formatted lesson plan. I put all worksheets, handouts, and packets in the Edmodo library so that the students may access them at any time. I also post all PowerPoints and video feeds that I show to the class on the site so that they may review the information as often as necessary. This provides the students with one central location to access information provided in class.

As readers of this blog may know, in my experiences in Red Clay I have mostly despaired of convincing teachers to enter assignments in advance in eSchoolPLUS. When I ask for assignments to be communicated in advance, and documents provided online, I get responses like:

  • “I don’t have to.”
  • “It takes too much time.” (actually, it doesn’t take any extra time)
  • “Withholding this information teaches students responsibility.”

So Ms. Flanagan’s communication philosophy is a blast of common sense that cuts through all those excuses. I can’t understand why this kind of communication isn’t promoted to be a district-wide best practice. Especially since teachers don’t really have to maintain a web site anymore – all they have to do is enter the assignment in their eSchoolPLUS gradebook, and parents and students can immediately see the assignment on the web.

Does providing assignments online mean students aren’t learning responsibility? Nope:

I use Edmodo primarily as an accountability and communication tool […] I am not a fan of excuses, and Edmodo is one way for me to help the students to become self-sufficient in seeking answers to any point of confusion after the information has been taught within the classroom.

Is communicating assignments too much work added to the burden teachers already have? Ms. Flanagan doesn’t think so:

Edmodo also helps me with the teacher’s “paper burden.” The students submit their work to the site, and I can annotate it, grade it, and provide feedback in a timely, yet private manner. I can even do most things through my smart phone! […]
I cannot tell you how many once time consuming emails, questions, and requests from administration, students, and/or parents I can now answer with the simple phrase, “It’s on Edmodo.”


Thought of the day

April 26, 2012 Comments off

Block scheduling is the most disruptive thing in schools since ADHD.

Dickinson open house this Sunday; choice deadline extended

April 25, 2012 Comments off

It’s not too late to choice your student to John Dickinson High School and its promising new academic programs. Due to the recent approval of its IB program, the deadline for students to choice to Dickinson has been extended to June 30, 2012.

Dickinson will hold an open house this Sunday 4/29 (2:00 – 4:30) to introduce parents to its new STEM Academy and International Baccalaureate program. Dickinson also has a Ninth Grade Transition Academy designed to help ninth-graders transition to high school.

Only a year or two ago, Dickinson was not on our family’s list of potential high schools. But then I had the opportunity to visit the school several times and meet Principal Byron Murphy, and was bowled over by his energy and commitment to these new academic programs and the total turnaround of the school.

If you haven’t heard about Dickinson’s new programs, you really should come to the open house this Sunday to meet Mr. Murphy and the key staff for each program.

Delaware to adopt social media-like exchange for learning materials?

April 22, 2012 Comments off

Delaware teachers may soon be browsing, selecting, and downloading learning materials from a national online exchange with features of social media, which will assist them in meeting requirements of the Common Core State Standards.

This screenshot is a working prototype of the Learning Registry browser. Go ahead and try it; click on the screenshot to go to the browser. Enter some search terms and then refine your search (I entered “Civil War”). Remember this is a developers’ prototype and is not yet hooked up to rich sources of content. The version teachers use will likely be much more polished and customized.

The evidence that Delaware is actually planning to use this tool is circumstantial so far, but it seems clear something like it is in the future for Delaware’s teachers.

In a post a while back on the Shared Learning Collaborative, I mentioned the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI):

LRMI is basically a tagging scheme specialized to describe learning materials aligned with the Common Core State Standards. The idea is that content providers can apply these special tags to their CCSS-compliant learning materials and contribute them to a shared pool. Content could be just about any type of document or media: lesson plans, text-based resources, video, audio, images, documentation of specific learning activities, or more.

At the time, the technical information on how this would be implemented was very sketchy.

But in its February application for an ESEA waiver, DDOE lets slip a clue:

Compilation and cataloguing of Instructional Materials in the Learning Registry, with meta data analysis tagging enabling easy access within the state as well as across states for selected materials

The Learning Registry
The Learning Registry is an indexing engine for instructional materials. Think of it as Napster for instructional materials. It keeps a list of your own instructional materials, and then goes out and finds other lists. The materials themselves aren’t stored on the servers, but the lists know where they are stored. So you just have to click to download the materials from wherever they are.

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Data-driven decision making takes a pratfall

April 16, 2012 1 comment

Delaware school districts have launched a groundbreaking and promising plan to promote parent engagement by tracking usage data for one of Delaware’s premier data systems – Sungard’s Home Access Center (part of eSchoolPLUS).

But despite Delaware’s commitment to data-driven decision making, the usage reports available from eSchoolPLUS are not detailed enough to support credible decision making for this plan.

Delaware Department of Education data gurus should be urgently requesting that Sungard upgrade its product to provide these reports, or to provide an interim workaround. In the meantime DDOE should be taking what steps it can to create custom reports that are more detailed. It’s not too late to improve the reports for next year, as long as action is taken this summer.

District plans
In their district success plans, 13 out of 19 districts have committed to increasing the numbers of parents who use the Home Access Center. HAC is the web portal for parents to look up assignments and grades, among other things. It is part of Delaware’s student information system (eSchoolPLUS) provided by Sungard.

The districts are on the right track here, because HAC is a powerful enabler and indicator of parent engagement. The more parents use it, the better. Here’s one quote from the Appoquinimink success plan:

Increased parent use of Home Access system creates awareness and has the potential impact to increase parent expectations for student achievement.

I’ve been advocating for a HAC usage report for some time now. Districts, schools, and parent advocates all stand ready to reach out to families and students to put this valuable tool (HAC) into more hands. With a reliable usage report, we can measure and fine-tune the results of their outreach, and judge the effectiveness of different strategies. The district success plans lay out specific tactics they plan to take to increase parental engagement through HAC. But Sungard does not provide a report for HAC usage.

There is a way for DDOE administrators to create a custom report, but the underlying data infrastructure is so rudimentary the basic report carries very little information and is virtually useless for the district’s purpose.. In my opinion, the inability for a modern web product to properly report its own usage is a defect.

Everybody acknowledges that parent engagement is one of the most important factors for student success. We need to be able to rely on our information systems to support our efforts to promote parent engagement.

The eSchoolPLUS system and HAC are proprietary, and Sungard is unwilling to share details about how the usage reporting mechanism works. I asked about this very thing on Sungard’s public blog. In response, I got an email that informed me Sungard’s policy was not to respond to parents about their products, and my message was forwarded to DDOE. And now, let’s just say discussions with DDOE on usage reports are proceeding slowly.

But I have gathered technical information from a variety of public sources, and have reached some conclusions and some recommendations. What follows is my informed guesswork on the technical details, so if you have any better (verifiable) information please add a comment, or email me at

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