Category Archives: K-12

Dear Ed Tech Companies

Dear Ed Tech Companies:

Many of you came through for educators in the spring of 2020 by providing your tools for free to school districts.  But, let’s face it, you need to make money.  When school re-opens in August or September, many things will need to change – and that means you will likely have to go back to trying to make a profit.  Here are some things that I hope you will consider as you assess your services and their costs:

  • Please make sure that your company is COPPA Compliant – and more.  Though COPPA applies to children 13 and under, we don’t want you tracking or selling information from any of the students using educational platforms.
  • Ads are irritating.  Keep them out if you can.  If you can’t, make them short and appropriate for kids.  And not gross.  Toes with fungus on them can quickly derail a class of any age.
  • Your educational tool needs to work on multiple types of devices and any size screen.  Bonus if it allows for both online and offline use.
  • If you are tiering your pricing, please offer a free version.
  • If you had a free tier pre-pandemic, do not move some of its features to paid.  Keep those same features free.  I can tell you that any company that pulls this trick immediately ends up on my list of never-use-again-no-matter-how-good-it-is ed tech providers.
  • Offer an affordable, browser-based plan, that is available for teachers who just want to use your product in their classroom.  Affordable – b/c a lot of teachers are willing to pay out-of-pocket (even though we shouldn’t) to avoid district bureaucratic obstacles.  Browser-based – b/c a lot of districts don’t allow teachers to download their own software or apps.
  • If a teacher contacts you because you are not an approved district vendor, do the work to become one.  Don’t expect the teacher to do the legwork.  I’ve had to do this numerous times, and it is a nightmare.
  • Accept Purchase Orders.
  • Play nice with other ed tech companies.  Include features that allow educators to import work they have already done, such as flashcards or slide shows, into your platform – and allow for export as well. If applicable, allow for direct assignment to Google Classroom or other Learning Management Systems.
  • Keep a list of potential grants that teachers/schools/districts can apply for in case they are unable to afford your product.
  • Make it easy for teachers to get help with your product or to offer feedback.  There is a 3d printer company that made it to my never-use-again-no-matter-how-good-it-is list b/c it was impossible to get in touch with a live person, the website was a mess of labyrinthian proportions, and of course there was no e-mail contact or online chat.



A Teacher Who Set Up The First Internet-Connected (Dial-Up) Computer in Her School, Donated by a Company That No Longer Exists

Dear Ed Tech
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

How to S.T.E.A.M. Up Distance Learning

In my third article for the NEO Blog, which was published today, I give a detailed look at how S.T.E.M./S.T.E.A.M. instruction can be accomplished remotely.  The article has links to many resources, so you will likely find at least one new helpful tool somewhere in the post.  You can read, “How to S.T.E.A.M. Up Distance Learning” here.

My previous NEO articles have been: How Distance Learning Fosters Global Collaboration, and How to Use Design Thinking in the Classroom.

Next month’s article will be, “Applying Universal Design for Learning in Remote Classrooms.”  As always, I would love reader input on this topic.  If you have any resources or examples that would be helpful, please comment on this post!

STEAM Up Distance Learning
Image by janrye from Pixabay

Social Distancing Hacks

One of the challenges I have with students when we are doing Design Thinking is to teach them to embrace constraints.  Sometimes I will get feedback from them at the end of projects that “we should be able to do whatever we want,”  despite my explanation that my experience has shown that complete freedom can often be too overwhelming – and sometimes not very safe.  So, I’ve been watching the slow emergence of innovative ideas coming out of our current pandemic situation with some delight at the creativity being revealed as people try to design around social distancing.

These are all basically ideas using, at the very least, the “Adapt” step of S.C.A.M.P.E.R., as people attempt to find ways to stay healthy while still leaving their homes.  After you show them a few of the linked images, students might enjoy designing their own social distancing hacks for school, shopping, the beach, etc…  I’d love to see their ideas!

Image by db_oblikovanje from Pixabay


Which One Doesn’t Belong – More Photos!

One of my favorite math activities to do with students is called, “Which One Doesn’t Belong?” This was an idea that seems to have originated with @MaryBourassa, who created a website for this.  I described the concept and offered some links in this post from 2016. Recently, I saw a Tweet from @Simon_Gregg offering an entire album of over 200 WODB images for educators to use for stimulating math discussions.

Each picture set has 4 different images.  Project the images to your students, and ask them which one doesn’t belong – and why?  Hopefully, you will receive many different answers, and they will all be right for various reasons.  Because these are so open-ended, they can be used with different levels of complexity from number sense to geometric reasoning.  Encourage students to use mathematical vocabulary as they defend their choices, perhaps even making it a game where points are awarded for including particular words.  Challenge the students to try to find a reason for each one of the four to be excluded from the group, not just the first one they notice. The “See, Think, Wonder” Thinking Routine would go very well with this activity. (For more on Project Zero Thinking Routines, see this post.)  A formative or summative assessment option would be to ask students to create their own WODB challenges.

WODB is one of the 15 Math Sites That Won’t Make You Fall Asleep that I’ve listed on this post. I highly recommend checking out those links if you feel like you want to add a bit more zip to your math lessons – or just enjoy doing unusual math puzzles.  (I’m addicted to the SolveMe Mobiles!)

wodb numbersearch 1
Which One Doesn’t Belong? Image by Simon Gregg (@Simon_Gregg), from this WODB album

Two Bit Circus

Two Bit Circus is a foundation that describes its mission as follows: “We serve children in all economic situations by creating learning experiences to: inspire entrepreneurship, encourage young inventors, and instill environmental stewardship.”  The organization has aimed to achieve these goals through activities such as summer camps, STEAM Carnivals, and workshops.  Although many of these programs have had to come to a screaming stop during the last few months due to the pandemic, Two Bit Circus has not faltered in its delivery of quality content.  Instead, it has shifted to offering streaming classes during the week on topics that range from creating music to building balloon racers.  You can find the archive, already full of informational project videos they have streamed since March, here.  Note that Caine Monroy (yes – the charming young man from Caine’s Arcade) makes a special appearance in some of them.  He is a member of the foundation’s Junior Advisory Board.  In fact, according to the streaming schedule on the home page, Caine will be hosting another live session this Thursday, May 21st.

It’s clear that Two Bit Circus is making a strong effort to offer distance learning projects that are fun, educational, and mostly reliant on household supplies.  Some other resources you will currently find on their website home page are their STEAM Carnival Playbooks (currently free downloads thanks to Vans), a Bricks Playbook for Parents, and “Power Lab,” a “Print-At-Home Escape/Story Room Experience.”  In addition, parents who are suddenly finding themselves to be educators may learn some helpful advice from the “Teachers for Teachers” series that you can find here.

While the official school year may be winding down for some, the unpredictability of the next few months will probably still leave some gaps in children’s schedules.  With these resources from Two Bit Circus you can make that time fly!

Image by jacqueline macou from Pixabay

Art Jumpstart

Darrell Wakelam (@DarrellWakelam) is an artist who shares his considerable talent by doing workshops with children at schools and museums.  During the quarantine I have noticed Wakelam’s tweeting free #ArtJumpStart activities, and I asked him for permission to write about them on this blog.  I had no idea that he had so many available on his website!

Each #ArtJumpStart consists of a pair of pictures.  The first one shows his completed project, and the second one gives instructions.  As you can see, the materials should be fairly easy to find in most households, making these works of art ideal projects for students staying at home.  The hope is that these will inspire students to create and innovate no matter where they are.

You can download the full gallery of #ArtJumpStart projects here for free.  Also, be sure to check out Wakelam’s photos of his art on this page of his website.

Cardboard Fly Trap by @DarrellWakelam,
Cardboard Fly Trap Instructions by @DarrellWakelam,