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Technology in Schools

This is our last #newsletter article of the year! We originally intended to discuss “when to go old school;” however, with our back-to-school series and the interest in #school technologies, we decided that tech use in American schools and what to prepare for before returning to school would be a better fit.

A few months ago I asked #parents of repatriating #students what technologies they had to learn when they returned. I’ve done some baselining research on these below (including demo links where available) and provide a few other ideas on how to prepare your students for returning to these if they’ve had a more traditional learning experience or used different technologies in your previous school. Welcome your thoughts on what else you’ve seen! Lastly, if you’ve recently returned and are challenged with the transition, do reach out and we can create a journey map and accountability feedback loop to support you.

Do you remember your first computer? Do you remember ever taking typing classes? If you do, you are certainly older than most school-age people today. Most of Generation Z, approaching University age, has always had access to technology. Not just technology, but fast technology – that allows you to stream video and more intuitively and quickly search vast repositories of data. Students today are therefore more likely to access information electronically to validate it, learn new things, and explore different ideas. Such technology is becoming more pervasive for several reasons and offers huge opportunities to engage students, differentiate learning to individuals, and adapt learning styles to each student.

A few factors shape the landscape of technology use in schools. Generationally there are more tools for younger children who are exposed to them earlier. We therefore see K-3 grades adopt technologies faster. According to a 2016 Deloitte study, the most pervasive technologies are adaptations of older teaching methods, such as e-books and online videos. E-books and online videos are also the technologies most accessed by students over summers. The data is from 2016, and based on current research and thinking, games are likely to become far more pervasive due to the ways in which they help students retain data and engage with it.

What technology trends are you seeing in your school? What do you as a student prefer? Why? What holds your attention or helps you grasp information best?

There’s lots of speculation regarding where technology will go and how it will integrate into learning next year, but what if you are returning from schools that aren’t integrating as quickly or don’t have the infrastructure to support 5G learning? For you and your students, we look through a few applications and technologies being used in the U.S. and how to prepare your students for using these technologies when they return.

While we won’t go into each technology available or even each subject, we’ve included below for your ease of reference the technologies approved or being used in DMV schools:

Falls Church, VA – Each school can choose different applications. It’s unclear what they’ve chosen, though they are using unified classroom management software like PowerSchool and Schoology

DCPS: they appear to use fewer apps

Montgomery County, MD: Using their own dashboard, Montgomery County uses mymcps to manage lessons – this appears to have replaced the variety of other applications.


--It might be worth stating here that as the prevalence of devices in the classroom to support learning has exploded many schools are challenged by financing technology for their students. To ensure devices for each student, some ask students to “BYOD” – Bring your own device. Knowing what programs your school wants to use and with which operating system they are compatible can help make an informed decision on what to get your student.

--Similarly, getting quality cases and even perhaps a back-up for when a device is damaged or lost might be wise, if it fits in the budget. Losing or damaging a device can cause chaos in the household as everyone scrambles to accomplish all that is demanded be done on apps instead of in hard copy.

--There are a whole host of applications out there that are used for managing student homework, testing, grading, etc. What you will need to explore will have to be a conversation in advance with the school counselor or teachers. Most schools now have a technology officer who usually has an e-mail address on the main webpage and should be able to direct you to the right person to become more familiar with the applications – though it seems demos are rare.

--Discuss with teachers or counselors during enrollment what types of technology will be required in the classroom and what applications are being used. If the school can provide a code for last year’s class your student can start learning how to navigate the programming in advance. It is also an opportune time to discuss the teacher’s expectations of technology proficiency. You can accomplish this through a discussion of what types of technology were available in your last school and how that might impact your student’s familiarity with the technology.

--Create a checklist of what will be required logistically for use of a device and practice early. Miranda Cook wrote this article of her experience with the introduction of iPads in her school which demonstrates the challenges teachers face as well. Understanding how they intend to use the technology will also help ensure that your student gets the greatest use out of it or other methods as appropriate to the subject and the student’s learning styles.

--Lastly, know that there are application managers out there. As applications and online preparation proliferate you may be asked to check in on several different programs, get notifications, and all this on a screen after likely having spent the entire day in front of another screen. This challenge is real! See if the school has a consolidating application or what hierarchy of check-ins are required.


Beyond knowing what’s being used and how and what you need to get! Getting in front of applications being used and becoming familiar with their user interface can be helpful. Based on what a very informal survey of DMV parents suggested, here are some apps that were being used in schools and might be of interest. Which other apps have you seen? What user interfaces have been useful/difficult?

Parent-Teacher Communication

In addition to managing learning, a lot of communication apps to text, email, and send you calendar invites as parents or students directly from school administrators and teachers.

Remind – used to text, email, and calendar directly to your phone. These are direct and allow you to manage point-to-point communication. Unfortunately it’s unclear how it manages volume or ensures you are in touch with the right teachers. I suspect there are also etiquette issues in ensuring that your teacher can focus on teaching and not only responding to every parent!

ClassDojo allows for class culture creation with families – basically in a social media mode. Teachers can take photos or videos of their classroom activities and send to the family. Students can upload their work for parents to comment on. The app is free and consolidates parent-teacher communication – it seems to be among the most widely used applications in schools in the U.S. It also allows teachers to schedule in quiet time which helps explain some of the logistical challenges with these kinds of apps.

Powerschool is a school-based solution that includes an assignment and communications component for students and families. The organization works in close collaboration with Microsoft so it uses the suite of tools, Word, Excel, Paint, Powerpoint, Outlook, etc. Teachers can send assignments, classwork, homework, and grade within the system. A demo is available here.


Aleks is an online math course that uses a baselining tool to establish what students

know and then adapts learning to the student. It appears that Aleks can be standalone and is a tool for personalized learning that adapts to each student while assuring skills are achieved. Classes are each approximately 45 minutes and include consistent feedback and assessment. A demo can be seen in the included video. Alternatively, you could probably sign up for a trial in advance of returning if your school uses Aleks. Aleks is from the textbook developer McGraw-Hill.

Reflex is a math game program that allows students to play games that reinforce and practice math facts. It’s geared to students between second and sixth grade and appears to be an in class learning tool.

Language Arts/Reading

Achieve3000 is similar to Aleks but focused on language arts and English. Unfortunately they don’t provide a demo and it’s unclear where the program is hosted. If your school uses it, it’s probably worth discussing how the program works with them.

Newsela runs from K-12 with reading content derived from non-fiction sources including the History channel and Washington Post as well as famous speeches and research. It allows for testing and includes writing prompts and vocabulary. The nice thing about Newsela is the frequency with which Newsela updates content allowing it to be more current with social and news events. Unfortunately, Newsela seems somewhat less intuitive on the user end and doesn’t have a demo, though the embedded link shows how teachers can use it and gives an idea of the student interface. For this platform in particular, it would be helpful to get guidance in advance of how to use it most effectively and seek out tutorials either within the program, from your student’s teacher, or online.

Flocabulary uses hip hop to engage students and develop their vocabulary. It also has videos that allow students to think through how that vocabulary can fit into everyday life and allows for testing. The programming appears pretty intuitive, but you can also check out a demo here.

Raz-kids is focused on K-5 grades and providing e-books online with online quizzes to judge comprehension. Students are also asked to record themselves reading for fluency, a proven method that increases comprehension for most students.

Readworks, also focused on reading comprehension, has a similar structure to Raz-kids but is a free program that goes into higher grade levels as well.


IXL has a comprehensive list of skills for various grades and subjects. After providing a

diagnostic test it similar to other applications provides a means to learn and test those skills. IXL also doesn’t have a demo online, but does have a free trial, if your school is using it.

For K-3 students, Starfall is a non-profit online interface for special needs students. It’s fairly intuitive with the games it provides to learn basic skills. Each section is relatively short and provides immediate feedback for each question but does not provide assessments or the same AI that is in some of the paid programs.

Everfi uses games to support non-traditional learning in sectors such as financial literacy and college prep. Because of its business model it’s free for schools. It’s also focused on social, cultural, and wellness aspects, which makes it more of a dialogue than an assessment or validation tool.

College Prep

Naviance uses known Gallup tools like Strengthfinders to help middle and high school students discover their goals for life after work – including course planning while in school that aligns with interests and goals. This is supplemental in nature to primary course work but especially if transitioning could be useful as you try to consolidate an education history in prep for college admissions.

The sheer number of applications and competing ideas in the educational technology sector can be overwhelming. Talk to your teacher first and see what you need to prepare for! Focusing your research and study can help ensure a smoother transition. Lastly, if you are moving back and worried about some of the differences in studies please check out our back-to-school guide, which includes sites (on page 9) that help with conversions and English language differences.

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