April 22, 2014

This month, in anticipation of Teacher Appreciation Week (May 5-9) and the Center for Teaching Quality’s #TeachingIs social media campaign, EdWeek invited five student bloggers to share their thoughts about what #TeachingIs.

Click the links below to read student insights:





Our Teachers Deserve More Respect (By: Fatima Khan & Muniba Siddiqui)

Teachers: The Only Role Models Many Students Will Ever Know (By: Jackson Barnett)




“Most of my teachers wanted to send me to the principal’s office. But my fourth-grade teacher once put her arms around me and said, ‘You sure write well.’ And I’ve had good penmanship until this day. She was the only one who ever said anything nice to me. That’s the kind of motivation that students need.”

-Andrew Young

Innovative Education Model Challenges Teachers to Adjust

March 18, 2014

Check out this cool video posted on Education Week about an Algebra teacher in Philadelphia and an innovative paradigm shift in teaching at a nationally acclaimed Science Leadership Academy:


7 Habits of Highly Effective Tech-Leading Principals

March 17, 2014

Happy Monday!

A few months ago we posted a great article on the 7 habits of Highly Effective teachers using technology. Recently we saw a similar post on 7 habits of effective tech-leading principals which has awesome insights on some of the most innovative principals in the country.

Patrick Larkin, principal of Burlington High School in Burlington, MA, started a 1-to-1 iPad initiative in the fall of 2012. Read more at

T.H.E. Journal recently surveyed principals from across the country to identify the attributes they think a principal who wants to be an effective technology leader should demonstrate.


Also, sign-up for our Always Prepped Newsletter to enter for a chance to win an iPad Mini! Contest ends April 30, 2014.

To Tweet or Not to Tweet…That is the Question

March 21, 2013

Kerri Schweibert – Guest Blogger

I don’t have a Smart Phone, I don’t have cable, and I took the leap into 2011 last year by finally signing up for online banking. So I’m not the go-to girl to lead a technological revolution. Of course I host online discussions, have class websites on Moodle, and utilize a SMART Board, but I’ve realized that I’m hesitant to blindly follow in the direction technology seems to be baiting us (no carrot required). As an English teacher and lover of books, I cannot fathom a world where Kindles have become ubiquitous and books extinct. And when people ask me why I’m so opposed to digital texts, the Romantic in me can’t come up with a more concrete explanation than, “There’s just something about holding a book!”

I recently came across an article that, for the first time in a long time, opened me up to the possibilities of technology in education. I’ve always believed that our children’s use of technology hampers their writing capabilities. However, according to OMG Engaging Students on Their Own Terms, “texting encourages written communication. Students are actually writing more now than any time in history.” This makes complete sense when you realize that the typical teenager sends over 3,000 text messages per month. Okay true, but texting will be the death of real writing. In response to this growing sentiment, the article explains that Socrates believed “writing was going to be the death of thinking and debate,” and “fifteenth-century educators believed that the printing press and wide availability of books would be the death of scholarly writing.”

In Shakespeare’s words, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Having students summarize an article, or state an opinion, or forge a question in a tweet of 140 characters can force them to stop doing the tango around their point and just get there. However, at the same token, what if Shakespeare tweeted the balcony scene? The beauty and romance of his language would be lost. So what else can be at stake? What is the dowry we need to pay to the technological gods infiltrating our classrooms?

Larry D. Rosen claims that we’re all headed for iDisorders: “where you exhibit signs and symptoms of a psychiatric disorder such as OCD, narcissism, addiction or even ADHD, which are manifested through your use — or overuse — of technology.” As ludicrous as it sounds, it’s true. People keep their phones next to their dinner plates, families enforce “tech breaks” at the table, someone gives you the play-by-play of their daily activities via status updates. As my dear friend Ryan once said, “Why is it I can drive for days with my gas light on but freak out when my cell battery goes below 50%?”

So what’s the apropos cliche here? “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”? Well, maybe you can just send them a friend request.


Kerri Schweibert received a B.A. in English Education from Stony Brook University and an M.A. in English literature from Queens College.  Born and raised in New York, Kerri spent time traveling and studying abroad before she decided to settle down in Hawai’i.  She currently lives in Honolulu, teaching English at Assets High School.

EdTech and Teacher Voice

March 18, 2013

Ben Barton, Guest Blogger

I have just returned from SXSWedu (4-7 March) where my company zondle was competing for the Launchedu prize (K12). We didn’t quite make the showdown but the experience of pitching was fantastic.

Overall the conference seemed more a ‘trade show’ rather than teaching event with groups like Pearson (Foundation) and Amplify having a big presence. Others have commented about the lack of teachers including @tomwhitby, @ewanmcintosh and @audreywaters, and this did cause me some concern (along with the obsession with ‘big data’ – what are governments going to do with it?).

I share many concerns that business and big government are driving too much of the innovation in education right now, and teachers are being left as passive consumers of whatever technology will give the right data (or return on investment).

This is why the best part of my week was visiting a small school in South Austin called Cunningham Elementary to take a class on games based learning, talk to teachers and watch an amazing assembly.

Zondle is my third start up, each of these have started bottom-up by focusing on what teachers need to deliver on requirements set to by districts or central government. By keeping our overheads low and building communities around each business, we have been able to make strong profits by targeting affordable products straight to teachers.

There are three key methods for keeping in touch with teachers and putting them at the heart of our community:

a)    Focus Groups – run 5-10 every term to test products, find out what teachers are concerned about right now and build community.

b)   Regular email/twitter contact –to keep teachers informed about our developments, and even what we are thinking about new initiatives from government etc.

c)    Visiting schools – after I sold my second business, I became a teaching assistant in a school in inner city London. The experience was invaluable, and I now try to visit a school (for a whole day) at least 2x per month to ‘walk in the shoes’ of teachers.

None of this is rocket science, but it does fly in the face of the cult of the engineer and marketing guru in many EdTech startups I see.  Of course I love amazingly put together technology and innovative approaches to the market, but if your company doesn’t begin and end with the teacher in mind then your product/service won’t get used.


Ben Barton is CEO of zondle (one of 6 semi-finalists in LaunchEdu at SXSWedu 2013). Zondle has over 220,000 users around the world answering 7m questions each month. Previously Ben was a co-founder at Rising Stars UK Ltd and a teaching assistant at Whitmore School, Hackney, London. He tweets @bartoneducation and re-builds a canal boat in his spare time.

The Law All Educators, Students, and Parents Need to Know

March 6, 2013

Funny to say out-loud and passed in 1974, FERPA seems like a law that wouldn’t be relevant today. But, with the advent of the edtech industry, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) has never been more important.


FERPA was created to make sure that information about students, collected by schools, was being utilized in a responsible way by setting up the following rights:

  • Parents, guardians, and students 18 or older (PG&S) can obtain and request corrections of student data
  • PG&S must sign off on the sharing of any student data with the government, other schools, or outside firms

However, Schools can share “directory” data with whomever they please. Directory data is categorized as “the student’s name, address, telephone listing, date and place of birth, major field of study” (5, A), among a few others.

Why it’s so Important Now:

 When reading the bullets above, one might ask, “why is the second bullet point in bold”? The section of FERPA that gives PG&S the right to be notified about data has a wide swath of exceptions. This is where the all-important discussion about edtech innovation versus personal liberty comes to the center stage.

Subsection 5, F of FERPA gives teachers and administrators the ability to share student info without permission if they feel it will improve their education.

The sharing of information is a double-edged sword for education innovation, both a vital tool to be utilized for aiding teachers on shaping the future of our world, and an area that could be manipulated and over-marketed if put into the hands of those who care more about money than our children. At Always Prepped, we believe that student data must be secure and entrusted to only those who are fighting to improve education, not manipulate it. That is why we have taken so much time and care to make sure we have the best and safest system (bank grade encryption) for our educators, students, and parents to help them monitor their information.

Whatever direction the future takes, the door is open for a great dialogue.


To read the actual text of FERPA:


5 Things that can change education forever

March 27, 2012

I recently heard a speech I’ve been bragging about to everyone I know by Harvard Professor Roland Fryer that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about — not even at 2am on a Saturday night.  I’ve never heard him speak before and it was incredible to see such passion in a person when he started diving into why education was so important to his life.  The only other person who has impressed me as much when talking about education is Sir Ken Robinson.

Professor Fryer’s speech was awesome and had several good points, but there were five things that he talked about in regards to changing American education that really stood out to me.  That’s it.  Just five things to change education forever.
1) Kids need to spend more time in school.
2) We need to provide small group tutoring (groups of 6 or less, 4+ days a week).
3) More human capital in the form of teacher investments (tools, professional development, etc).
4) Data driven instruction several times a month
5) A culture of high expectations
My favorite and most important reform is the last one — a culture of high expectations.  I’m extremely annoyed by the level of standards kids are required to meet in this country.  I think it’s actually demeaning to our society to expect so little of kids who are smarter now than any generation of kids since the dawn of human civilization.  I know two year olds who can open an iPad, navigate to their favorite games, play or move to another app without asking for a single lesson on how to do so, and yet — we’re asking these kids to learn less when more is constantly given to them.
Although I grew up in America, being from another country and inherently growing up in two cultures (Bangladesh + America) — it always amazed me how my friends and family in these two very different parts of the world approached education and what expectations were placed on them.  I never believed that kids in China, India – or the far east were genetically superior than kids in Western Europe or God forbid America — yet, American kids are consistently behind other students in math, reading, and science — even when given incredible resources to go above and beyond their true potential.  Why is this the case?  Is it bad teachers?  Is it bad parents?  Is it the system?  It could be all of those things — or none.  We’ve heard countless studies on better teacher evaluations, shorter summer breaks, Title 1 grants for S.E.S. providers to help with after school tutoring, and of course — the latest revolution in the web and tablet world to provide “data driven” instruction, but we rarely — if ever — hear about a culture of higher expectations.  How often have you heard of a study in which the 3rd graders were told they need to meet and exceed 5th or 6th grade objectives?  Uhh…how about never?  What would happen if we tried this?  I’m willing to bet — most kids crush it and prove us the system is off by about three years (at least).
I think this is where we need to start.  Parents, teachers, districts — we need to raise the bar when it comes to what these kids can accomplish.  The best thing about America is the sense of competition it breeds into its culture and people.  We’re ingrained with a sense of “Be number one” — sadly, in everything but the classroom.
To read more on Roland Fryers study:

My radical 9th grade college idea

March 27, 2012

Here’s a radical idea – What if we had every 9th grader in America fill out a college application before they start high school?   These applications are exactly what they’d see as juniors and seniors with one exception – they don’t actually get sent to the schools.

Sometimes we get caught up in all the numbers and statistics only to forget that life has a lot of simple answers waiting for us.  My proposition for having every 9th grader fill out a college application started from a simple thought I myself had about high school: “If I only knew then, what I know now.”  Haven’t you had this thought in your life at some point?  Well, as adults we know the value of a higher education.  We know that kids have extraordinary potential; now more than ever with all the tools and technology available for them; and we also know that most 14 year olds – no matter how polished or educated until that age – have no idea what the college process is really like.  So why not give it to them?  The application won’t obviously go out – but will simply be a “practice run” on what they’ll actually need to do towards the end of high school.  An early guide, kick in the face – whatever you want to call it for every student entering high school with one objective in mind:  continue your education in college with a mastery and understanding of this application process being your “golden ticket” out.

I’ve spent the past four years of my life working at an education company in Washington DC selling software to college admissions offices, so I’ve picked up a few tidbits about the college application process over the years. I’ve talked to and met with schools in places I didn’t even know had schools.  Did you know there are over 4,000 Colleges and Universities in America and 20,000+ programs?  I don’t believe for a second that there isn’t an option for every kid out there who truly wants to get a degree of higher learning in something; Heck a lot of schools now even allow you to “create” your own major!

If every high school freshman filled out a “practice” college application, I believe it will do the following:

1)   Show them first hand what schools will ask of them throughout their high school career outside of the classroom (extra-curricular activities, sports, clubs, etc).  I think this alone will help boost engagement and teach kids the value of a rounded experience in high school and that simply getting good grades isn’t everything or enough.

2)   It will give them a better idea of what kind of grades their favorite schools tend to look for.  I believe this will better motivate kids to achieve in the classroom because for the first time, they’ll have an exact goal to aim for.  They’ll learn that not everyone can or needs to be a valedictorian or that every school requires a 4.0 to get accepted.  I think most kids have a fear their grades aren’t good enough for college when most of them consistently show extraordinary capacity for academic success.

3)   For the first time in their lives, it will give students a direct correlation between education and money.  Yes money – not just a “job”. Most of us grew up being told, “Go to College and you’ll make more money”.  Okay – but like most things teenagers hear, I think that goes in one ear and out the other.  What if a freshman in high school could understand that a career in anthropology, technology, music, arts, dance, advertising, media, etc – all have a better start with a foundation in higher education.  I bet most kids in high school have no clue how broad college is in terms of what it can offer.

I haven’t been able to find any statistical data or analysis on giving freshman a “college application” experience and then tracking that against a control group to see if their:

a)    Performance academically over four years increases.

b)   Their desire to attend and actually apply to college increases.

c)    Their retention rates in college are higher because of the early path they started on.

d)   They are less likely to commit crimes or go to prison.

e)    They are more likely to have a social impact on society.

I’m willing to bet – a whole heck of a lot that if we continue to push students at a younger age with more information about their future – in lectures, charts – numbers – and statistics, it will only move the needle so far.

We need to let students discover all of this for themselves.  They need to feel the impact of their future, before the future gets to them.  Our job as education advocates, teachers, and “adults” is to use information and data to create better systems for students to adopt, try, and develop.  Our job is not simply to feed kids data and information about their future and expect them to “understand” how they need to live their lives for success.

Let’s hand them the future – literally.