'Power Up' Conference Highlights Effective Tech in School

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CUEing IN MASSACHUSETTS: There's no better place to get a sense of the long history of technology in education than at the 30th anniversary gathering of the Massachusetts Computer Using Educators (MassCUE) organization. And this year,  MassCUE joined forces with the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents (M.A.S.S) to co-sponsor their conference "Power Up: Empowering Teaching & Learning with Technology," to highlight technology making a real difference in schools.  

About 1300 attendees, including many K-12 teachers, mixed with 250 vendors for two great days of workshops, sharing, student showcases and fun. (Tom Brady and the New England Patriots provided an interesting backdrop as they practiced on the fields below before they departed on a red-eye to London, the location of their game for NFL week eight action.)

Keynote speaker Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow, shared insights into how students are thinking about technology as it relates to their own education. Her non-profit, which has strong support from industry, is surveying students, parents and educators around the country about the role of technology in schools in a project called Speak Up. (The survey closes December 14.)

 Two tidbits from her research: 

  • For the first time, there is no discernible difference in video game playing between boys & girls below sixth grade. The "gamer" stereotype of the male teenager in the sweatshirt hoodie alone in a basement may become a thing of the past!
  • Kids have developed intrinsic "personal learning goals" that may have nothing to do with their curriculum but are very real, very valuable and very attainable given the access to information.

Old School

Particularly impressive was the story of Mileposts, the flagship product from Silverback Learning Solutions. Retired Idaho superintendent, Jim Lewis, started Silverback in 2010 by spinning out an advanced Response-to-Intervention project that had grown up organically in his district over a decade. Silverback aims to simultaneously make teachers more effective, lead students to take ownership for learning and encourages parents to participate in their children's education. At the meeting Silverback announced a partnership with nonprofit education search engine, Gooru: Mileposts will help identify where students need help and then teachers will use Gooru to find resources that will help bring them up to speed. (Here's the press release.) 

Special Education

While not a major revenue opportunity for mainstream vendors, several approaches for serving special needs children were also highlighted at MassCUE: Learning Ally makes reading accessible for all through its audio books; Perkins eLearning is bringing online professional development to teachers working with blind students. (Full disclosure: I now work for Perkins). Vizzle is a visual learning product for children with autism that is also showing success.

Student Showcases

Students from Kingston, Mass. Silver Lake Regional High School  demonstrated how they are using an iPad app called Leafsnap to identify leaves on horticulture field trips. (Read about their "21st century walk in the woods project" here.) Westborough High School’s journalism students, who publish the school's online newspaper, The Lobby Observer, were also in full force using a range of Web 2.0 tools.

Kevin Bauman is the Senior Director of eLearning at Perkins School for the Blind. Find him on LinkedIn here or follow him on Twitter: @kbauman387

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