Month: February 2016

Apps for Students with Autism

by Kristie Burk

Last week at Pete & C, I had the pleasure of attending a session featuring Randy Palmer, a special education and computer expert at The Children’s Institute, a school in NJ for students with autism and related disabilities. Working with students with autism spectrum disorder to do activities like creating multi-media stories with Garage Band, Palmer also strives to help other educators use assistive technology to promote independence.

To that end, he has compiled an excellent list of Apps to Support Students with Autism in the Home, School, & Community. The LiveBinder includes links to apps for communication, social skills, activity schedules, self-regulation and more. These resources can support a variety of students, so check them out!


Khan Academy Partners with Pixar

by Kristie Burk

Most of our students have seen at least one Pixar movie, such as Brave or Inside Out. That is why I am so excited about the latest partnership between Khan Academy and Pixar called Pixar in a Box, released this month.

If you’ve ever heard students ask, “When are we going to use this??”, you need to show them this site! In typical Khan Academy fashion, the students can walk through a series of lessons that shows how math is used for “creative benefit” at Pixar.  The students learn about both math and Pixar’s filmmaking process.

“Our goal is to show you how the concepts you learn in school are used to tackle creative challenges we face during the making of Pixar films.” – Pixar in a Box

The beginning lessons start at the elementary level, which are mostly appropriate for grades 4 and 5. The lessons get progressively harder. At the end of the lessons is a hands-on activity for the students to explore.

For example, one lesson on Environment Modeling shows students how Pixar animators use parabolas to model grass in a scene where Merida falls off her horse. There are seven topics right now that are tied to Common Core, but Pixar plans to add more later.

If you use this site with your students, let us know how they liked it!

Website Wednesday: Read-able

by Kristie Burk

I spent the last two days at the Pennsylvania Educational Technology Conference and Exposition in Hershey, PA with a few DASD colleagues.  Educators from all over the state gathered together to collaborate and I cannot wait to share what we’ve learned with you.  Today’s website, for example,, which I learned about at the conference from Teresa Cross, an elementary ESOL teacher in the Salisbury Township School District.

The concept of the site is very simple.  In the search box, type (or copy and paste) a Web address.  Read-able will return the readability score of the web page, including the web site’s average grade level. It will also tell you the Flesch Kincaid Grade Level, SMOG index, and other indices.

In addition, will tell you the number of sentences, words, complex words, average words per sentence, and other important information.

Ms. Cross uses Read-able with her ESOL students to determine whether the reading level of a website is appropriate. For example, I can get the following information about this week’s blog article called “Downingtown Classes Link to Japan.” When I type in the URL on Read-able, I get the following useful information about the site:

readability score

Downingtown Classes Link to Japan

logoby Kristie Burk

We all know that teachers in Downingtown Area School District are doing amazing things with technology to help their students to think beyond their local community.  One example is Beth Buglio, DASD’s Japanese teacher, who has partnered with Kizuna Across Cultures , an online language and cultural exchange program, to make Japanese come alive for her students.

With support from the staff at Kizuna Across Cultures, Ms. Buglio has her Japanese students at Downingtown East and West enrolled in a Schoology class with students from a school in Japan. Every week, the students communicate with their peers in Japan by writing discussion posts, sharing pictures, and responding to one another in both English and Japanese. Once a month, the students or the teachers will pick a new topic to discuss. The students have really grown to know one another; in October, the students even did a small gift exchange with each other.

Ms. Buglio is very pleased with the results of the communication among the students.  She says, “It has brought a reality to their communication.  There is a real reason for learning the language.  It’s no longer just a subject to them, but a necessary way for them to share their ideas and to talk with each other.”

Ms. Buglio admits that the experiment is not without its difficulties.  For example, the American students struggled with communicating the idea of diversity to their Japanese peers who did not have a similar word for the concept.  However, Ms. Buglio says it was a great learning experience for the students as they talked about culture.

Although Ms. Buglio received help from Kizuna Across Cultures, other teachers can replicate the idea in their own classroom on their own.  For example, Mr. Spiers, Engineering teacher at Downingtown West, posted a message on Schoology looking for international classrooms to collaborate on an engineering project and has already received some responses.

Would you like to get connected with another classroom outside the district? Let me know and I (or one of your tech coaches) will help you get started!

Are you doing something cool with technology in your classroom that you would like to share with others? Let us know at



Tech Tip Tuesday: Put Reminders on Your Email

by Kristie Burk

Have you ever had an email that you wanted to follow-up on, but you didn’t want to do it right away? There is a very easy option in Outlook that allows you to flag your email with a reminder.

Within an email or on the home tab, click on the follow-up flag.


In the dropdown list, select add reminder.


You can then pick the date, time and even the type of sound you get for a reminder. The due date and start date will also flag items to appear in your To-Do Bar, in the Daily Task List in your calendar, and in the To-Do List in the tasks view.

Start setting reminders for email messages that you don’t want to forget!

Food for Thought Friday: Better colleges = Better earnings??

College of DuPage 2014 Commencement Cere by COD Newsroom, on Flickr
College of DuPage 2014 Commencement Cere” (CC BY 2.0) by  COD Newsroom 

by Kristie Burk

This week, several of my PLNs were talking about an article in The Wall Street Journal with the controversial title “Do Elite Colleges Lead to Higher Salaries? Only for Some Professions” by Erice R. Eide and Michael J. Hilmer.

After analyzing data from thousands of college graduates, the authors concluded that for some particular majors, elite colleges do not make a difference in future earnings.

“For example, if an engineering student chose to attend the University of Pennsylvania instead of Texas A&M, the average starting salary would differ by less than $1,000, but the tuition difference would be over $167,000. At that slightly higher salary, you’d have to work for more than 150 years before you make up for that vast tuition difference.” – Eide & Hilmer

Do these findings matter? Well, here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, over 70% of college graduates in 2014 were in debt for an average of $33,264, according to the Project on Student Debt.  PA ranked 3rd highest in the country for student debt.

The article is not without its debate, of course.  But it’s definitely good food for thought this Friday.  Check it out and add your voice to the conversation.

Have a great weekend!


The Future of Jobs Impacts the Future of Education

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Elaine J. Roberts, an educational consultant with p20Operators and a former director of professional development at Follett Software and Pearson Education. This article is reposted with her permission.

by Dr. Roberts

This started out to be a very different post. Trends and fads in education are nothing new as is the fact that political and educational culture are often influenced in odd ways by popular culture. I’d been thinking about a cultural historical view of personalization so did a smidge of research on Burger King. Back in 1974, Burger King told Americans we could have our burgers our way. And, perhaps, so it began. (BTW, in 2014 Burger King discarded the “Have It Your Way” slogan for “Be Your Way,” which seems to have gone unnoticed by most of us and puzzled those who did notice it though I flirted briefly with the idea that BK was trying to build off Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” (2011) phenomenal success.)

I think about “having it our way” a lot when I encounter individuals who have particular ideas about what personalization means. I hear folks harumph about entitlement and work up to talking about back in the day when they were in school, etc. I’ve done that: referenced back when I was in school. But the world was different then. Very different. And what constituted work was different as were the predictors for skills, dispositions, and knowledge required for specific classifications of work which were, in themselves, far more predictable.

In a recent article, Phil Rosenthal, a writer for The Chicago Tribune, reported on the Future of Jobs analysis published by the World Economic Forum.  Rosenthal notes the report “anticipates that advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, 3-D printing and biotechnology will result in a net loss of more than 5 million jobs by the end of 2020 across 15 major developed and emerging economies examined” (emphasis mine). Your first thought might be, “Okay, but that means there should be more jobs supporting all of that technology, right?” Yes, maybe 2 million. By my reckoning, that’s 3 million people without jobs.

It’s not just the jobs, though the jobs and potential career paths and implications for K-12 and higher education are many. It’s also about what drives those changes for jobs and Roshan Choxi investigates those for TechCrunch. The drivers of change are not just technological.

The most significant driver of demographic and socioeconomic change is how we work, which is influenced by many of the technological changes as well as how we’ve chosen to use the technology. Keep in mind that users are often finding ways to use technology that was part of the plan of the designers; Google Glass learned that lesson.

The report states “Our research also explicitly asked respondents about new and emerging job categories and functions that they expect to become critically important to their industry by the year 2020. Two job types stand out due to the frequency and consistency with which they were mentioned across practically all industries and geographies. The first are data analysts, which companies expect will help them make sense and derive insights from the torrent of datagenerated by technological disruptions” (emphasis mine).

I think about what data analysts might do with that torrent of data, provided they can manage it, provided they have any directives or context for analyzing that data. Is their objective in data analysis to make more money for the company? To help make the product or service better or safer for consumers? To find new or better ways to contribute to the improvement of our world?

As I read the report, I wondered if they and the people they surveyed and interviewed used typical categories for their thinking and for their buckets of their own data analysis; it seems so, which also seems a bit short-sighted of them, especially in thinking about the future. Now 2020 isn’t all that far off, but if we take a quick glance back to see how rapidly we’ve seen change in some areas in the past few years and how slowly we’ve seen change in others, we’ll likely observe there are some patches of change and disruption and lots of areas of status quo.

The barriers to change are quite fascinating, and a bit alarming.

Sixty-five percent of employers plan to “invest in reskilling current employees.” Given the barriers, they seem to have little choice but to think much more creatively about how to manage current and future work options.

I think the implications for education and training are daunting. We have enough trouble implementing fairly benign change in our schools. The kinds of changes these developed and emerging economies may require will necessitate much nimbler changes in education. I imagine many organizations shunning higher education completely and building their own educational options to ensure the pipeline of potential hires has more readily accessible skills, knowledge, and expectations; in fact, many have already done so which is why we’re seeing a return to and rise of apprenticeships.

So I pause to think about being at the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, wondering what marked the Second and Third Industrial Revolutions and how we fared with those, especially since, according to The Economist  and the Huffington Post with Jeremy Rifkin, we are just now in the Third Industrial Revolution. Like that’s not confusing.

But that led me to thinking about entrepreneurship, which is very much about personalization and having it your way. Which made me think of Angela Maiers and her work with Choose2Matter and Liberating Genius in our schools, which is a very positive message about students being who they are and finding their particular genius. Which made me think again of cross-curricular and trans-curricular teaching and learning. Which made me think of the controversial video posted on Facebook and likely elsewhere about what kids are learning and why,how some parents reacted to that video. Which made me think of the balance we struggle to find to teach kids what they need to know and don’t yet realize they might want to know, and to find ways to let kids learn what they want to know and demonstrate the things they’re learning along the way. Which made me realize that a lot of kids who are in this education incubator of personalized learning will be the ones who figure out how to manage and overcome some of these Third or Fourth Industrial Revolution barriers and will find new ways to think about work and to work in ways that we cannot possibly imagine now.

But it also makes me worry that much more for those whose options and opportunities seem more limited. We talk about the digital divide. The NETP refers to the digital use divide. We have to think, too, about the education and work skills/knowledge divide. Which made me think we have to stop fretting about new initiatives. And all of that brought me back to finding the balance between the basics (fundamentals of reading and math, critical thinking, problem-solving, awareness of the social/cultural and scientific world, etc.). Too much of that can get us tied up in knots.

I’ve done a workshop activity called “Know What?/So What?/Now What?.” I’ve done a variation on the protocol developed by the National School Reform Faculty. I appreciate it asks people to think about what they know, why it matters, and what they plan to do next. As we engage in short-term thinking about the future of education and its relationship to the future of jobs, we might apply that thinking. We may find it will help us organize our longer-term thinking and planning as we think about the basics, and whatever new adventures lie ahead. I think it’s important we remember that whatever the future holds for us and especially for our kids will look nothing like we expect or imagine.