Tech & - STEM and Emerging Tech - October 2020

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By Ray Bendici







From How It Works Magazine



From How It Works Magazine




REAL CHANGE HAPPENS ONE STEP AT A TIME “As we are beginning a new school year in the midst of a pandemic, we are realizing this crisis has challenged districts and ministries of education worldwide to consider schooling in a very different way.” These words from Dr. Kecia Ray, found in her article, “The Evolution of Education” (p.4), could not be more true. Our schools remain in crisis, but our community of educators and administrators continue to rise to meet this challenge with innovation, tenacity, and perseverance. We present snapshots of this innovation in action in this issue. In Managing Editor Ray Bandici’s article, “How to Teach Science Remotely” (p. 8), he interviews representatives from the National Science Teaching Association about how educators are still finding creative ways to give their students hands-on STEM experience in remote learning environments. Education reporter Sascha Zuger talks with a STEM teacher in Orange County, Florida, about the tools she’s using to engage her students remotely (p. 10). Principal Catherine Jones of Tennessee shares her school’s two-pronged approach to meet the needs of both in-person and remote students through interactive STEM activities (p. 14). We also offer a few fun activities (p. 16) from our Future partner magazine, How It Works, that teachers can download and share with their students. There also examples of how emerging technologies are reshaping pedagogy on pages 18, 20, and 22, including edtech reporter Leah Zitter’s article on how AR and VR can be used to support students with special needs (p. 24). Another big question that educators have struggled with is: How do we assess students remotely? Education expert Carl Hooker addresses this question in his article on page 26, in which he offers specific tools and strategies to help educators redefine assessment in an era of remote learning. Finally, read Morris School District’s “Covid Diary” story on page 31. Part of Tech & Learning’s COVID Diary series, Director of Technology Erica Hartman shares her district’s story of teaching and leading during a pandemic. In the words of Ruth Bader Gnsburg, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” We will continue to report on these stories of historic change in education in our monthly magazine and on If you would like to share your story, please contact me at Thank you, as always, for all you are doing for your school communities.


Group Publisher Christine Weiser CONTENT Managing Editor Ray Bendici

Production Manager Heather Tatrow

MANAGEMENT Chief Revenue Officer Mike Peralta

Managing Design Director Nicole Cobban

Brand Director Evan Kypreos

Senior Design Director Lisa McIntosh and William Shum

Vice President, Sales John Bubello

ADVERTISING SALES Sales Manager Allison Knapp, VISIT US


Head of Production US & UK Mark Constance Head of Design Rodney Dive

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The evolution of education will require vision, clear and consistent communication, and a plan with measures of success By Dr. Kecia Ray Sir Ken Robinson inspired educators around the globe to include creativity and rethink the way we consider schooling. Uncanny, we lose the loudest voice of re-envisioning school during a period in world history where we are actually being challenged to re-envision school. As we are beginning a new school year in the midst of a pandemic, we are realizing this crisis has challenged districts and ministries of education worldwide to consider schooling in a very different way. As we continue to re-envision schools this school year, here are some key areas in which we see potential for the greatest evolution of “school.”

Well-being Human beings require structure and a feeling of normalcy. COVID-19 has disrupted every aspect of normalcy, especially for our children. As schools reset for the 2020-21 school year, an abundance of caution is being taken to prepare for the unknown as districts follow the recommendations of CDC


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as well as state and local health departments. The one piece that health departments cannot predict is the amount of social-emotional unrest parents, students, and teachers are feeling. School districts around the country are focused on the social-emotional well-being of kids, some even telling teachers not to focus on standards the first few weeks of school but rather to connect with their students and attend to their emotional dispositions.

Organizational Culture No one functions well during a pandemic, let’s be honest. But districts with a cohesive educator and staff professional learning plan perform better than most. Providing PD to not only teachers but also administrators, curriculum specialists, educational technologists, counselors, and other positions ensures everyone intricately connected to student success has the best tools and resources to support students. Being inclusive in the design and delivery of this learning experience develops a culture of collaboration.

THE EVOLUTION OF EDUCATION Delivering learning to adults in a similar fashion as learning is expected to be delivered to students also aids in modeling effective practices.

Vision of Learning Learning has forever changed, thanks to COVID-19. Online learning was once an alternative program and is now the standard of course delivery. Hybrid indicates a combination of online and face-to-face instruction, a tenet of blended learning now visible in almost every education system in the world. With these increases in online access to learning comes the heightened concern for equity in access to technology and content. Most agree that students must be oriented to online learning and not just thrown into the experience, but few have the time to actually build this gradual release experience for learners. Our students from special populations also need to be considered in a completely different way with regard to inclusion and accessibility. Hybrid and online learning requires a special effort to increase engagement, especially among young learners. The curriculum and content selected for traditional classroom environments must be recalibrated in order to deliver online or through a hybrid approach, and all the while we must ensure students are meeting the measures of accountability. Technology planning is a priority now as is identifying resources, staffing, and funding for the changing landscape.

especially during a period of limited contact with others. Establishing connectedness and support through collaboration can help districts overcome the sense of isolation during this time.

The Role of the Caregiver

Innovation in Chaos

The school isn’t the only location with a facelift! Gone are the days when parents were considered “visitors” to classrooms; now we depend on them to be co-teaching. Households are setting up classroom spaces in bedrooms and family rooms, and family engagement is more essential now than ever. Schools are entering into true partnerships with parents, which requires an increased focus on communication and a new dedication to collaboration.

Just as Sir Ken challenged us for years, now is the time to innovate. Budgets are somewhat full of promise from the federal government and states are beginning to reopen to decrease the economic impact. It is too soon to tell what the world will look like on the other side of COVID-19, but one thing we can be sure of with regard to education: It will never look the same. Parents will be more involved, teachers are enhancing or developing practices that will forever change the way they consider delivering lessons, and administrators have learned the value of planning for the future. We have the opportunity to do something very special in education. Let’s not let this crisis pass us by without putting it to good use. Let’s commit now to innovate through the chaos and create a new normal that is better than ever before.

Collaborating with Partners Parent collaborators are just one of many of the collaboratives within a district. Corporate partnerships are increasingly significant as districts try to innovate and fund this new way of learning. Gaining momentum from the community is also important and that requires a significant amount of effort to develop community partnerships,

Dr. Kecia Ray is a strategic thinker and a proven leader in K12 transformation. She serves as Tech & Learning’s Brand Ambassador and is the founder of the consulting service, K20Connect

It is too soon to tell what the world will look like on the other side of COVID-19, but one thing we can be sure of with regard to education: It will never look the same.


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HOW TO TEACH SCIENCE REMOTELY Best practices, advice, and resources to teach science remotely By Ray Bendici With remote learning continuing to be in effect for many schools, teaching a hands-on subject such as science is a challenge for educators. Not being able to allow students to experiment, test, and explore firsthand, however, has encouraged new teaching practices. In Orange County, Florida, science teachers have gone back to basics in a way, according to Veronica Franco, former STEM Gifted Education Teacher and STEM Futures Director. Unable to participate in on-site school experiments, students explore their neighborhoods and backyards in science-based scavenger hunts that involve identifying flora and fauna. Teachers also assign project-based tasks, such as coming up with ideas to help a local farmer with his excess strawberry harvest. Students are also encouraged to explain science concepts to family. “The conversation about helping adults learn is our science inquiry component,”

says Franco. “If they can teach it, that’s a great assessment tool and way to prove their understanding of the material. They are also discovering, investigating and if they can teach it, that’s really going full circle.”

Adapting to the New Classroom When teachers are preparing to teach science remotely, they need to be reflective and understand that they can’t take their traditional classroom with students sitting in front of them and simply replicate that online, says Dr. Christine Royce, a former National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) president who also is a professor of teacher education and co-director of MAT in STEM Education at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania.


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TEACHING SCIENCE REMOTELY “Science teachers need to ask themselves: what has changed? And then, ‘What do I need to do to adapt to that?’” says Royce.“They need to consider what the big ideas are and what the students need to do rather than just replicate what’s being done in a traditional school day.” Science educators need to continue pushing exploration and engaging students in discussion. Ideally, students would use equipment themselves to perform experiments, says Royce. Depending on the students’ age level, however, a teacher can provide a video of a hands-on exploration of, say, chemistry or physics, and encourage students to ask questions, investigate, and use data sets to make sense of what they’re seeing. As mentioned earlier, teachers can make use of the outdoors, such as having students watch how leaves blow or how marbles roll down a sidewalk. “You can have young students go out and engage with simple materials that they find around the house,” says Royce. “If we want to experiment with friction, for example, it can be any kind of ball, and you’re going to have different outcomes, the observations of which will be very powerful for students to discuss.” Such activities also tie into phenomena-based learning, which is aligned with Next Generation Science Standards and encourages students to drive learning through wonder and discussion. “It doesn’t require students to only be in a classroom,” says Royce. “They can go collect information on their own and then come back and share it when they are in a synchronous classroom.” In a remote environment, asynchronous learning time can be used

for investigations, and synchronous learning sessions can focus on group discussions, says Royce. As with in-person learning, it’s critical that educators continue to guide students to wonder why something happens, and encourage those discussions in groups. “Asking ‘Why?’ is very powerful because it helps the student put their own pieces together in their mind, and correct things in their own mind, because they have to discuss it with others,” she says.

Embracing Edtech Tools For teaching science remotely, Royce recommends a number of tech tools, such as: • Flipgrid - “Sometimes having students verbalize their understanding is more effective than writing it out,” Royce says. • Idea Sketch - Allows students to record their own ideas. • Jamboard - If students are typically given cards associated with animals or organisms in a food chain, for example, those cards can be put into a Jamboard and they can still manipulate the cards electronically. • - Allows a teacher to create one document and then give each student their own version to manipulate, and then offers sharing for discussion. Teachers need to figure which tools are best for them, and then allow their students to become comfortable using each one, Royce says.

Best Practices for Teaching Science Remotely Some best practices to consider when teaching science remotely, according to Royce. • Discussion is important and needs to be facilitated during synchronous classes. Students being involved will help them connect their own ideas and ask questions of others. • Keep what is shared online simplified. Learning online is a heavier cognitive drive, says Royce, so focusing on the key points will help facilitate student thinking, reasoning, and discussion. • Help students become the architects of their own learning. Teachers still have to develop the content and sequence, but the students should be in more control of their learning, including executive management functions such as time management and task completion. “When students become more involved in the process, it’s going to be a tipping point at which we see more investigations, more questioning, and more interest in their learning when we go back to the classroom,” says Royce.

Additional Resources • • • •


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NSTA: Distance Learning Resources NSTA: Daily Do STEM Teaching Tools CSSS Community Projects



REMOTE STEM LEARNING Opportunities for remote STEM learning are all around By Sascha Zuger Who: Veronica Franco, former STEM Gifted Education Teacher and STEM Futures Director Where: Orange County, FL What: Using edtech for remote STEM learning and to keep students connected No in-person school? No problem for your science curriculum. We use nature walks and backyard classrooms to keep our kids in the game. Whether life science or chemistry or earth science, we can use the outdoors to our advantage. For example, one of the tech tools we use is Leafsnap, which is like a tech glossary of plants—students take a picture and it helps identify the leaf or plant. That’s classification of science through nature. We try to support scientific inquiry and they can take ownership of their learning using this app. For students who are home, they can take a walk and participate in a science-based scavenger hunt to find items known to be present in your area’s environment. Even city-based students will find leaves or plants or birds to include. Photo hunts can be just as effective and with a little creativity can stoke imaginations for those unable to leave their homes For


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example, take a photo of a cumulus cloud, snap a shot of an item classified as a fruit or vegetable, or build a tower using the same number of household items as there are leaves on a stem of poison ivy. You can also create neighborhood scavenger hunts using tech. I like the Discovery Education Studio Boards in which kids can collaborate and build presentations in a safe space. It’s filtered, monitored for language and content, and it interfaces directly through the phones so a student can upload a picture right from their phone onto the studio board and collaborate. The studio board becomes a template for them to build their scavenger hunt or project together without a big need for specific tech or hardware they might not have on hand in the home setting. We’re finding a lot of families appreciate this kind of hands-on project. They are trying to work with their kids in the house and here’s a way to motivate them to get out and soak up the fresh air and sunshine while keeping learning alive.

Scientific Inquiry During this difficult time, we have been interviewing our community members and elders via Skype/Google/FaceTime. Many have experienced similar things to what we are facing now—there’s a certain congruence,

REMOTE STEM LEARNING Pro Tips Tap homeschool forums for ideas. Think out of the typical edtech box. We’ll use platforms such as NextDoor to tap into education opportunities. For example, we have a local farmer who can’t do much with his goods with the farmers’ markets closed. He put a challenge to the kids: “What can I do with all my excess strawberries?” He’s donating some to the food banks, but he wanted suggestions on how to make the most of this excess—is there anything creative to do, using sustainability as a motivator. It can be used for project-based learning, creating a unique theory and experiment. You don’t have to actually use materials, it’s about designing and engineering a plan and collecting data and analyzing.

times of hardship, shortage of resources, elements of confinement, etc., they may have experienced during wartime and or an economic crisis. They can be a firsthand subject for a project to answer questions. Through student research and questions, they can find some contributions and solutions to some of the things we are struggling with right now. “I know so-and-so—they are from North Carolina and were around during the tobacco field issues and know a lot about production and how that affects supply chain.” Who knows what we might discover? Scientific Inquiry!

Finding Funding This is a great time to try out tech and see what works well as many programs are offering free trials or complimentary access during the pandemic lockdowns. As mentioned, we’re using Discovery Education, which is offering free access to home users. It’s very open and offers common core-aligned options. When it comes to physical science, we use Khan Academy and Walt Disney’s Imagineering in a Box. It’s pretty cool and really speaks to our playspace learning, so it also is a way to get kids excited about science concepts.

Biggest Challenge Our current reality is an experiment. We have this situation where we need to socially distance ourselves, so we have to reason out and come up with strategies on how to keep relationships during social distance. Students get to design ideas, discover solutions and test whether those are successful. Kids get to be the creators of the projects that solve the problem of being forced to separate. With these challenging constraints, they can be the ones to design the experiment and keep the data of how other kids are accomplishing the task.

What Not to Do Don’t give up on physical or group learning because of distance learning restrictions. Science can still be done, instead of relying on traditional classroom manipulatives, get creative and use things found around the house—beans, coins, cans.

Unexpected Perks An unexpected silver lining that has come of this is that kids are honing their own STEM skills teaching grandma and grandpa how to use tech. They are showing them how to work FaceTime, how to Google-share on a doc, or use Google slides. We’re basically doing adult learning with kids as the educators. It’s imperative—if you really want to have kids learn, part of that is teaching what they know. If they can teach it, that’s a great assessment tool and way to prove their understanding of the material. The conversation about helping adults learn is our science inquiry component. They are also discovering, investigating and if they can teach it, that’s really going full circle.


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Resources • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Khan Academy/Disney’s Imagineering in a Box Discovery Education Nearpod Prezi NextDoor Symbaloo -- Digital resources for NGSS curriculum TechRocket -- Online code and video game design for kids HopScotch -- Make your own game and learn to code NAVY STEM -- Navy STEM for the classroom NOAA -- NOAA Education for studying weather in the classroom National Weather Service -- Learn all about weather Project Noah -- Explore and document wildlife everywhere Marine Debris Tracker -- Track and report marine debris to prevent pollution • iNaturalist -- Community of citizen scientist to document experiences



Educators discuss best practices and tools to help boost remote STEM engagement STEM skills are career skills, says Dr. Catherine Jones, principal at Prescott South Elementary School in Cookeville, Tennessee. “STEM skills, such as problem solving, are necessary for all jobs,” Jones said during a recent webinar focused on encouraging STEM engagement. “We need to teach students that we don’t need to just be the consumers of technology, but we need to teach them how to troubleshoot, how to code, and almost build those as literacy skills,” said Jones. At Prescott South Elementary, the engineering design process is a point of emphasis, even in subjects such as English, to help students learn to solve problems. During the webinar, presented by Trox, Jones and other educators discussed strategies and tools to help schools adapt existing STEM lesson plans or create new ones to engage learners of any age in a remote learning environment.

Hands-on STEM learning has been a primary focus for students at Hartford Day School, and educators now have been adapting lessons to work in both remote and face-to-face environments.

Key Takeaways Two-pronged approach. At Prescott South Elementary, Jones and her staff have both remote and in-person students, so traditional STEM instruction is being supplemented with devices that are sent home and choice boards to determine what activities students can participate in. “It has definitely refreshed my belief in the STEM practices,” Jones said. Face-to-face students have been very enthusiastic about STEM projects, and teachers have been printing out and displaying the work of remote students for all to see. Manufacturing is this year’s schoolwide theme at Prescott Elementary, and the purpose of this theme is to increase students’ understanding of the manufacturing process and STEM careers within this field. Manufacturing is incorporated into the school’s special “Encore” classes, teaching students how the objects they use are created. For example, they learn how various sports equipment is made or how books are produced from start to finish. Harford Day School is approaching STEM in a similar manner, says Director of Technology Tracy Schoene. Devices and other materials are sent home on Fridays for projects the following week, and the students have been responding very positively. “It’s great to see how excited and engaged students are,” says Schoene. All classes are live streamed, so educators can see students working in real time at home. The school is using various


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online resources such as thingiverse, and imagineeringinabox. For online coding, Dash’s Neighborhood, Scratch and Scratch Jr. are used. “We’ve shifted to a lot of online resources, but we’re trying to keep that hands-on feeling for our students as well,” says Schoene. Flexibility is key. “Flexibility is the biggest lesson we’ve learned,” says Schoene. A big emphasis was on professional development to help teachers be prepared to support students in these new environments. Video tutorials have been created to also support teachers, as has been making sure that students and teachers not only have the materials they need for learning, but that everyone has equal access. In that vein, Wonder Workshop has released Dash’s Neighborhood, a virtual robot program that allows students who are in a remote environment to enjoy a virtual hands-on coding learning experience. More curriculum and lessons are being added because a number of schools have already gone through everything already available, says Tim Tomasso, a former high school technology instructor now with Wonder Workshop. “That’s how we pivoted everything,” Tomasso says. “Going from having physical robots in front of the kids to work with them to creating the virtual tools so they can still do the same thing.” Having virtual options also help schools who may have to transition quickly from face-to-face to remote learning.


Also shifting has been Maker Bot, which in lieu of actual 3D printing is sponsoring 3D printing design challenges. “You don’t have to wait until you have a 3D printer to start designing projects,” said Dottie Stewart, a former educator and now education consultant with Maker Bot. The platform is also providing cloud-printing options that allow students to send projects to teachers’ 3D printers for rendering and distribution. It can also be used in conjunction with other resources, such as Tinkercad, to create unique STEM projects. Find new STEM challenges. Encouraging students to find solutions for challenges related to the pandemic, such as opening doors, designing PPE or no-touch dispensers, is also a creative way to develop problem-solving skills, said Stewart. “Watching how students can find a problem and then solve that problem is just phenomenal.” If teachers aren’t sure how to use certain STEM tools, there are plenty of video tutorials out there, said Schoene. “And then the kids just run with it, and they start to teach one another.” Equity challenges. Making sure that all students have access to learning and STEM tools and materials continues to be an issue for many schools. Teachers have had to rethink their lessons to accommodate what students have on hand, and being at home has added an extra layer of problem-solving opportunities for students, said Schoene. “The goal is the application of the learning,” added Jones, citing examples of students using everything from stuffed animals to furniture in projects. “The pieces are just pieces.” It’s important to encourage students to explore the world around them rather than just look at PowerPoint slides all day.

Shifting STEM resources. At Prescott South, Jones has reallocated STEM funding from personnel and one-time projects that students might take home to investing in products such as robots that would stay on campus and can be used to better illustrate to parents how coding works. The STEM program has also been designated a schoolwide program, so general funds can be used for purchases, and the school has tried to partner with community organizations as well. Safety first. During STEM robot projects, students at Harford Day School have shields up at desks and are assigned particular roles to help increase safety, said Shoene. Projects that used to go across multiple grades are now done one grade at a time to allow for sanitizing of robots in between as well. Starting from nothing. When trying to build a STEM program from scratch, Jones said she started small with just a few educators who were interested in participating. And then as the interest grew among others watching the first classes experiment, the demand grew, which encouraged her to find funding for additional projects. “Start with one robot for three kids, and let them get excited and tell someone else about it, and then it starts growing naturally,” she said. “And then it’s never work, it’s the fun part. ‘Are we going to get to do that?’” Visual examples, either on hallway walls or social media, can encourage other teachers and students to participate. Tomasso echoed the need to “find champions” to start STEM learning and build excitement. “And then who doesn’t want to teach something that kids are excited to learn?” he said.


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Inventors took more than 100 years to perfect the incandescent light bulb, using electrical resistance to make a thin coil of wire, or filament, glow. Getting it to work is not as easy as it looks! This is a tricky experiment, but if you manage it it will brighten your day.



FROM > Jar with lid > Thick insulated electrical wire, at least 2.5 mm (0.1 inch) diameter > Crocodile clips > Tea light candle > Heavy duty 6-volt lantern battery > Glue > Wire cutters > Wire strippers

5 Mins

Step 1

Cut two pieces of thick wire about 30 cm (12 in) in length. At one end of each attach a crocodile clip. Ask an adult to strip off about 2 cm (0.8 in) of the insulation from the other ends and bend the wire into a hook.

Step 2

Get an adult to drill two holes in the top of the jar’s lid, just big enough for your wire to fit through. Push the wires through the holes, hooked ends first, and glue them in place.

Step 3

Straighten out a paper clip and then curl it around a nail to make a coil. This can be quite tricky, so ask an adult to help you. Rest the coiled paper clip in the hooks of wire. This is your filament.

Top tip

Step 4

Light a tealight and drop it into the jar. Put the lid on tightly. After a few seconds the candle will run out of oxygen and go out.


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A filament made out of thin iron wire may be made to glow more easily, but it might also burn through completely. However, if you are using a less powerful battery than specified here, try using a thinner filament.

How does this work?

As current-carrying electrons move through a conductor, they collide with the atoms that the conductor is made of. This slows the electrons down and turns some of their electrical energy into heat. This effect is called resistance. Materials that are poor conductors have high resistance. In your homemade light bulb the paper clip is made out of steel, which conducts electricity much more poorly than the metal in the electrical wire. The resistance it provides is so high and produces so much heat that the paper clip begins to turn orange. Burning the candle first lets the paper clip glow for longer. It consumes the oxygen inside the jar that would otherwise react with the hot filament and make it burn out more quickly.

EUREKA MOMENTS Switching on the lights

US inventor Thomas Edison (1847–1931) was one of many scientists who made the first light bulbs. His 1879 bulb had a carbon filament that glowed brightly. Modern incandescent bulbs have a tungsten filament that heats up to about 3,000°C (5,500°F) and are filled with an inert (non-reactive) gas so that the filament does not burn through.

Get more STEM content from How It Works magazine!

Energy-saving light bulbs Step 5

Turn out the lights and attach your metal clips to the terminals of the battery. After a few seconds the paper clip should begin to glow.

Incandescent bulbs glow by producing a large amount of heat, making them very inefficient. Increasingly, they are being replaced with bulbs that work in a different way. Fluorescent energy-saving bulbs produce light without producing much heat. They use electricity to energize mercury vapour. This produces invisible ultraviolet rays. A chemical coating inside the bulb changes the UV light into visible light.


How It Works is the action-packed magazine that’s bursting with the answers to your curious questions - every issue is jam-packed with the most exciting advances in science and technology and features everything you need to know about how the world around you - and the universe - works. Find out more at


We used wires 2.5 mm in diameter. Do not use wires thinner than this with a battery of this size. They could heat up or even catch fire. The paper clip filament will become very hot. Do not touch it until the battery has been disconnected and it has stopped glowing for some time.


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BALLOON HOVERCRAFT When two surfaces rub against each other, the force between them is friction. If you’re on the move, friction can slow you down. To reduce friction and move faster, a hovercraft glides on a cushion of air.

Step 1 Remove the pop-up top from the bottle and glue it over the hole in the CD. Leave it until it has set.

> Balloon > Pop-up top from a drinks bottle > Old CD > Glue

10 Mins

Get stuck into a book Get stuck into a book Take two books of equal size and interlace the pages so that they overlap each other by about 2–3 centimeters (0.4–1 inches). Then push the books together so the pages overlap about halfway. Now try to pull the books apart. They stick tight even if you and a friend grab one side each and pull. All that is holding the books together is the friction between the pages.

Step 2 Place the pop-up top in the closed position. Inflate a balloon and, pinching the neck so that the air can’t escape, stretch it over the pop-up top.

How does this work?

Friction is the force that acts between any surfaces that rub together. Molecules in their surfaces bond (stick together), making it harder for the surfaces to slide past each other. A balloon hovercraft reduces friction by blowing air between the CD and the table to hold them apart. The friction caused by the air is much less than with a solid object.

A film of air separates the CD and the table


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Step 3 Place your hovercraft on a smooth surface and open the pop-up top. Give the CD a little push and watch it glide.





Top tip The rougher the surface, the more friction there is. Your hovercraft will work best on a flat, smooth surface, such as a polished table top. You could try it on different surfaces to see how far it will slide over each.


Anything that moves through air or liquid is slowed down by a force similar to friction, called drag. Some shapes naturally create less drag by letting air or liquid pass over them more easily. These are called streamlined shapes. A dolphin has a streamlined shape to help it glide through water.



Travelling on air Real hovercraft use a powerful fan to pump air down below the craft, where it is trapped by a flexible rubber skirt. Hovercraft can travel over both water and land because they move along on top of a layer of air. They are used as passenger ferries, military vehicles, and search-and-rescue craft.


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IS BEING USED IN HIGHER ED From answering basic campus questions to providing academic support, artificial intelligence is helping higher ed to work smarter not harder By Ellen Ullman From chatbots to discussion platforms, artificial intelligence (AI) is popping up at campuses all over the globe. In fact, the recent AI in Education Market Research Report from Research and Markets predicts that the global AI in education market will reach $25.7 billion in 2030, up from just $1.1 billion in 2019. The report shows that the largest demand for AI has been for learning platforms, mainly because of the increasing preference for remote and online education courses—even before the pandemic. It predicts that the next AI area to explode will be intelligent tutoring systems applications.

Chatbots to The Rescue A chatbot is a computer program that imitates human conversation and continually learns from every conversation it has, improving the efficiency of its responses. At Ocean County College in New Jersey, the enrollment services department was tired of sending emails that only gained a 10% engagement


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rate. To appeal to Gen Y’s demand for instant gratification and 24/7 availability, the college partnered with AdmitHub and launched Reggie the chatbot in November 2017. Reggie started with a knowledge base of 1,200 enrollment-related questions for prospective students, such as “How do I apply?” and “What is your mascot?” In its first year, Reggie answered 14,000 questions and more than doubled its knowledge base. In the second year, its engagement rate increased by 26% and it answered 98 percent of questions without having to forward any to a human. The students love Reggie’s snarky personality. “He has an answer for everything,” says Sheenah Hartigan, director of enrollment services, including a favorite color, what he’s wearing, or if he wants to date. “Even if a student asks ‘Where can I get pizza?’ Reggie has an answer.”

Other Uses of AI Several institutions use AI speech technology for remote learning. At UCLA and California State University (CSU), Chico, students suffering from Zoom call fatigue can use Otter for Education to turn spoken lectures

AI IN HIGHER ED into lecture notes. “Learning at CSU is evolving quickly due to the current environment,” says Jeremy Olguin, accessible technology manager at CSU. “With Otter’s technology, our faculty can capture and share lecture notes in real time with their students.” Olguin and other administrators say that this type of AI has been extremely beneficial to students with learning and other disabilities who require academic accommodations. Penn State and the University of California, Davis use the AI-powered Examity for online proctoring. Examity works with biometric keystroke analysis, predictive analytics, and video review to verify students’ identities and protect the integrity of exam content. “Ensuring that testing is secure, and learning is validated, is critical to fulfilling the promise of quality that students have come to expect from our programs,” says Meggan Levitt, associate vice provost of information and educational technology at UC Davis.

Beefing Up Online Discussions One of the newest ways AI is being used is to improve discussion platforms. Stephen Slice, an economics lecturer at the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina, teaches multiple classes of

90 to 120 students, making it pretty much impossible to grade ongoing writing assignments. In an effort to help students improve their written communication skills, he turned to online discussions but had little success until last year, when he discovered Packback, an AI-powered discussion platform. Its algorithm evaluates responses based on sentence structure and grammar, and monitors for uncivil discussions or comments. Each week, Slice gets an email from the platform that points out the best student responses for him to acknowledge. “I’ll write something like, ‘Good job!’ and the students always thank me for acknowledging what they’ve done,” says Slice. Alec Cattell, Ph.D., an assistant professor of practice at Texas Tech University, agrees that Packback helps him to provide feedback. “It helps me identify excellent and problematic posts,” Cattell says. “I don’t have to read every one but students feel like they are getting individual attention.” Cattell says his college’s learning management system’s discussion forum is old-fashioned and not very engaging. Packback looks more like social media and lets students use avatars, which they enjoy. “If a student’s post is flagged, the system does a little coaching to help the student learn how to rephrase the post, which further reduces the teacher’s time,” Cattell says. “It really helps with digital literacy, reminding them to do research and include sources.”

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ONLINE LABS ARE HIGHER ED’S LATEST EXPERIMENT Like true scientists, college instructors are trying new approaches to online labs to provide hands-on learning opportunities

Heather R. Taft has been teaching online classes with remote labs since 2014. The lead faculty member for the natural and physical science at Colorado State University Global, Taft says despite the challenges of conducting online labs, there are many upsides. “Before the pandemic, I was really concerned about the lack of online offerings for science courses in general because so many courses were going online, and I felt like people who needed to be doing remote education were going to be picking those courses as opposed to biology,” Taft says. With numerous higher ed institutions offering only remote classes this semester, online labs are becoming significantly more common. Despite the increasing prevalence, however, questions remain about how graduate programs will accept these offerings. “We are not one hundred percent certain of what admission policies will be,” says Dr. Elizabeth Johnson Provost of Post University, in Waterbury, Connecticut, where labs are being offered exclusively online this semester. “We’re identifying students who are interested in going on to graduate school or medical school and asking them to hold off on their lab courses. We don’t want any of our students put at a disadvantage.” It is hard to translate some aspects of the laboratory online, says Dr. John D. Loike, professor of biology at Touro College and author of a monthly column for The Scientist Magazine. In his advanced lab classes, he teaches skills such as culturing cells, how to grow brain cells in culture, and how to do polymerase chain reaction (PCR). “All of these things are very hands-on,” he says. “You can watch it on YouTube, it’s okay, but it’s not the same thing.” That’s why Loike has opted for a hybrid model in his lab this semester. He’ll have small groups of students in the lab at different times for the vital hands-on lessons, and then conduct the rest of the class remotely. Loike sees the remote portion of the class as an opportunity to add more real-world applications to his undergraduate labs. “A lot of labs, they’re fun,” he says. “But are they really transformational? Many of them are not.” After Loike moved his classes online mid-semester in March, he found great success teaching students the kind of real-world critical thinking science


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skills that are generally only taught to graduate students. He plans to duplicate that with the remote portions of his class this semester. For instance, while teaching students how to analyze scientific papers, he gave them one of his published papers. “I say, ‘Read it, come back, and criticize it. Tell me what I did wrong.’ So I have to defend it,” Loike says. Loike also had students look up preventive measures for COVID-19 and study why antibody tests can be as high as 30 to 40 percent inaccurate, and then asked them to analyze and draw conclusions from raw laboratory data. “[This kind of exercise] gives students a hands-on type of experience that they rarely get in undergraduate sciences,” he says. SDI_PRODUCTIONS/GETTY IMAGES

By Erik Ofgang

Resources for online labs For those teaching remote lab courses, there are a number of tools available, says Taft, who conducts online science consulting for instructors. Several companies provide lab kits that can be mailed to students. These include Hands-On Labs and eScience Labs, which both host predesigned labs on their online platforms. Another company Taft recommends, Carolina, allows professors to assemble a kit for a lab they’ve designed and then for students to purchase that kit. Lab simulations are another option. Free simulation tools, such as PhET simulations and those found on the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s BioInteractive, are among Taft’s preferred ones. Labster, another online resource, walks students through experiments as if they were in the laboratory or doing fieldwork. Visible Body can be used in conjunction with or instead of in-home dissections, says Taft. In her own classes, Taft is using a combination of these resources. “[Traditional labs are often] kind of like cookbook exercises to help walk you through content that you’re learning in the course,” Taft says. Teaching science online can also provide opportunities for more new approaches that encourage creativity, problem-solving, and critical thinking. “I’d like to see students designing their own experiments more and actually using the scientific process more,” says Taft. “That’s something I do more with graduate classes.”

HOW VR AND AR CAN BE USED TO SUPPORT STUDENTS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS VR and AR offer capabilities that resonate for students with special needs By Leah Zitter In recent years, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have helped teachers educate, motivate, and increase classroom interaction for students of all ages and abilities by making learning more accessible, memorable, practical, and engaging. VR immerses the user in a 3D environment in which they hear, touch, smell, and taste stimuli. Students interact either through a traditional desktop and VR software or wear a head-mounted display (HMD) and data glove. AR enhances physical content with 3D effects so that users remain external observers and observe the augmented effects through apps such as Google Lens. The challenges implementing VR and AR are mostly logistical and technical. Qualified staff and plenty of space is required for VR, plus users can become easily distracted and need to be trained in digital competencies. Apps entail data security and privacy issues. Equipment can also be expensive. Still, schools can employ even limited AR and VR solutions, especially to support students with special learning needs.

Supporting Students with Special Needs Both AR and VR have been shown to increase motivation, facilitate interaction, develop cognitive skills, improve short-term memory, and make lessons more enjoyable. The greatest effect lies in improving communication skills, especially in students with hearing problems. For autistic students, VR seems to facilitate social interaction. Examples of VR and AR being used to help students with disabilities abound. Teacher Veronica Lewis uses Google Chromecast to enlarge images for visually impaired individuals, and employs VR screen readers, such as VoiceOver and TalkBack, that describe the environment with information from alt text in the images and videos. Morehead State University researcher Sue Parton has shown how deaf students benefit from Google Glass and from video and 2D barcode camera phone scanning. In The Deaf and Dumb School in Gujarat, India, where some students don’t recognize their own names, staff uses VR images processed through a program called Foton to teach them. Multiple studies have shown that VR and AR help users on the


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autism spectrum recognize facial emotions and improve their social skills. For learning disabled individuals, AR can improve vocabulary through gamefication. In India, educators have created an interactive textbook that uses 3D images, audio clips, and videos to explain text. Other studies show how VR has been effectively used JANIECBROS/GETTY IMAGES to improve social anxiety, language deficiencies, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), physical or motor disability, cognitive deficits, dyslexia, and Down syndrome, among other disabilities. At the 53rd St. School in Milwaukee, Megan Rierdon, a special needs educator, uses Google Earth VR for field trips. “The kids sat down in a chair, put on a virtual reality headpiece and saw a tour walking around an entire greenhouse,” Rierdon told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “[They] were reaching down to touch the dirt and waving to the people they saw.” AI-based Training with Molly Porter helps prepare students to discuss their disabilities with interviewers. Too much sensory overload? At the Perkins School of the Blind relaxing 360-degree videos of animate or inanimate objects or locations is used to calm students.

More Promising VR and AR Options on the Horizon With developments in VR and AR on the rise, applications are immense. For example, a team of researchers at the University of Michigan are developing iGYM, an augmented reality system designed to teach wheelchair-bound children community-level sports. Developers are also beginning to prioritize accessibility during design, leading to lighter headsets and more user-friendly controllers, among other gear, for users with physical disability; appropriate color choice, audio descriptions, and text and image magnification for children who are blind; and clear transcripts and closed captioning for users who are deaf or hard of hearing. Ultimately, teachers will be able to use virtual and augmented reality to make a classroom environment that fits the needs of any student. Leah Zitter, Ph.D., is a High-Tech Writer and Research Scientist.



STUDENTS REMOTELY Assessing students remotely is a challenge, although there is a multitude of best practices and tools to help

Assessments can be particularly challenging in a remote learning environment. How can you verify that the students just aren’t Google searching everything? What if their parents are completing the projects for them? These and many other questions plagued educators in the spring (pardon the pun). While there is no easy answer for assessing students in a monitored setting, there are strategies that educators can use to make sure students are demonstrating their knowledge and understanding of their learning.

Defining terms Before we get into strategies let’s define a few terms that will affect the timing and type of assessments given remotely. Many of these strategies and terms apply with in-person assessments as well. Formative vs. Summative: Are you trying to check for understanding or just knowledge of material? Googleable vs. Non-Googleable: Multiple choice, fact-based assessments can be easily searched online. Assessments that focus more on opinion, process, and student voice are harder to search with Google. Synchronous vs. Asynchronous: Are you giving the assessment to the whole class at the same time or is it a long-term project? Synchronous assessments lend themselves to multiple-choice type tests whereas asynchronous are generally graded with a rubric in mind.


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Credit: Carl Hooker

By Carl Hooker

What is the purpose of the assessment? Assessments can also hold several different purposes based on student goals and outcomes. The graphic below defines three types. The biggest differentiator is whether or not the assessment is formative in nature (a continuous feedback loop) or summative (final outcome). Knowing these types and the corresponding definitions will help as we get into tools and strategies.


• •

Adjust instruction based on student responses - Teachers can quickly adjust instruction based on how well students understand the content. Just-in-time support and intervention - Students who are struggling with a concept can be provided support in real-time. Help demonstrate student knowledge more than understanding

Credit: Carl Hooker

While there are many tools out there that can help with this, some of the more popular choices include apps such as Kahoot!, Formative, Quizziz, Socrative, and Quizlet.

Focus on feedback Feedback is a major part of assessment as it allows students to make corrections and learn from their mistakes. Formative assessments generally involve feedback as part of the process for learning, either from the teacher or the student’s own self-reflection. It can also be done in either a synchronous or asynchronous environment, depending on purpose. Some things to focus on when providing feedback: • • • • •

Make sure it’s timely - Providing feedback weeks later doesn’t help the student learn and adjust at the moment of the assessment. Keep it appropriate and reflective - Encourage students to reflect on their process and what they could do differently to improve. Provide support - Allow opportunities for students to ask questions and grow. Be honest - Students need to understand their mistakes to improve. Medium matters - Giving critical feedback should be done with your own voice in an audio or video format if at all possible. Written feedback that is highly critical doesn’t allow for inflection and can be damaging to the trust and relationship with the student.

Keeping in mind how you will provide feedback will help as you design your assessments for remote learning.

Polling for feedback Before we dive into formative assessments, using polls can be a great way to provide feedback in whole group settings. Polls can be done asynchronously, but generally are posted when you have a whole group on a video call. Some video conferencing platforms such as Zoom provide built-in polling features, or you can always supplement with tools such as Poll Everywhere, Mentimeter, Slido, or Answer Garden.

Synchronous formative assessment If the goal is immediate feedback and checking for understanding, giving an assessment synchronously over a video call is the route to go. Here are some of the advantages of using a synchronous assessment: • Provide instant feedback - Students can adjust immediately based on feedback.

Gamified assessment Some formative assessment tools such as Kahoot! and Quizlet Live add a competitive and time-based element that keeps students engaged and makes it harder for them to use Google for their answers. Besides these ‘trivia game’-like tools, there are now lots of different ways to do end-of-unit reviews in the form of a game show or even live bingo. A tool such as gives teachers in GSuite districts the ability to edit a variety of interactive games with just a Google sheet. Using gamification as a tool for assessment gives teachers another strategy for assessing student understanding and keeps students engaged during synchronous remote learning.

Interactive presentations with embedded assessments One of the downsides of using formative assessment tools is that requiring students to log into various platforms can be time consuming and add a layer of technical challenges. Posting a link to the assessments in the LMS or video chat can help with this transition time, but embedding it in an interactive presentation can help keep students on the same page while teaching synchronously. Interactive presentation tools such as Nearpod and Pear Deck can keep your students on topic and allow you to send various polls and formative assessments to check for understanding. Both of these tools also allow for a student-paced asynchronous component so that if a student misses the video call or has connectivity issues, they can catch up on their own and still give the teacher what they need.

Asynchronous remote assessment Many teachers only have a limited amount of time with their students in a synchronous video call. Using that time for teaching, discussions, and feedback means that you may not have enough data to truly assess student understanding. Providing asynchronous assessments can mean a little more work, but it can provide a wider range of data points that a multiple choice quiz doesn’t provide. Some advantages to designing and providing asynchronous assessment: • Flexible time to process - Rather than having to think and respond on the fly, students have more time to research and process to build their understanding.


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Not as internet dependent - One of the challenges of giving synchronous assessment is that not every student has the same level of at-home access and may miss parts of a quiz or video call due to connectivity issues. Asynchronous assessments can be done on the student’s pace and are less bandwidth dependent. Built-in reflection time - Research shows that learning is more internalized when students have an opportunity to reflect on what they have done. More focused on the process - Learning is a process more than a product. Having high-quality asynchronous assessments provide teachers insight on what a student is thinking. Help demonstrate understanding more than knowledge

When choosing the tools for asynchronous assessment, teachers need to focus on those that give students an opportunity to explain their thinking and provide their voice and reflection.

Asynchronous feedback via Learning Management System Most LMS platforms provide ways for students to submit drafts and gather feedback from teachers and/or their peers. In an asynchronous environment, teachers can utilize built-in tools to give directions, set expectations in a rubric, and provide direct feedback as students check in throughout the process. Some LMS platforms offer portfolio options that can provide for both the student and teacher a long-term view of progress and growth. Using these features can be cumbersome or limited depending on the LMS, so teachers may need additional tools to provide and catalog asynchronous assessments.

Tools that provide voice, process, and reflection While an LMS can give a space for voice, process, and reflection, it can also quickly be overloaded with announcements, discussion boards, and assignment postings. Having a tool or tools to use specifically for asynchronous assessment can help streamline the process. Here are a few platforms that teachers gravitate toward for this purpose: •


lipgrid - A teacher favorite as either an exit-ticket or for just F having students share their voice to a question or issue. Flipgrid now also comes with built-in white boarding so that students can record an annotation of their thinking when they respond. Book Creator - Now available on any device, Book Creator gives students a chance to have a running interactive journal to document their learning by recording their voice or capturing a hand-drawn picture. Teachers can see their students on a virtual bookshelf to check progress. SeeSaw - An LMS-type system that is geared toward younger students. It offers a powerful set of tools for teachers to record verbal feedback for students to hear.

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ulb Digital Portfolios - An eportfolio tool that gives students space B to set goals, reflect, and document their own learning processes.

Final checklist for remote assessment As teachers analyze the learning to assess this year, in either a remote or in-person setting, there are a multitude of tools and strategies to help with this process. Some final things to consider prior to delivering a remote assessment: • • • •

Will the assessment be synchronous or asynchronous? Are you checking for understanding or knowledge? Can students reflect on the learning process? Do students have an opportunity to explain their thinking?

The answers to these questions will help guide educators as they design assessments in the most flexible way heading into what promises to be a very different school year.


AN INCLUSIVE ESPORTS COMMUNITY BX Start is focused on building an inclusive esports community from the ground up By Erik Ofgang

Community first, competition second. That’s the philosophy driving the inclusive esports and gaming initiatives at DreamYard, a Bronx, New York, organization that partners with local schools to help students achieve success through the arts. In November the organization launched “BX Start,” a 4,000-square-foot gaming center in Foxhurst designed to be an inclusive gaming space that fosters students from diverse backgrounds interested in developing gaming careers. “We’re collaborating with schools and other nonprofits to begin hosting tournaments to provide best practices and informal training to educators and gamers on how to grow healthy esports communities,” says Rudy Blanco, director of entrepreneurship and gaming at DreamYard. Ultimately, Blanco hopes the center will host its own esports tournament next spring. Esports has exploded in popularity recently. More than 170 universities have esports programs some of which award substantial scholarships. But despite increasing minority participation and audiences, gaming as a whole remains primarily white and male. About three out of four working in the gaming industry are men, and a similar proportion are white, while 79% identify as heterosexual, according to a survey conducted by the International Game Developers Association. Blanco is hoping the gaming community “BX Start” fosters will increase diversity in the industry and create opportunity for Bronx students. Since March the facility has been closed due to the pandemic, but the mission continues to be accomplished through online interactions and gaming events.

Another former Blanco student, Kimari Rennis has gone the coding route, although she says it’s not necessary, and likens the diversity of jobs within gaming to that of making movies. “When you’re making games you need an economic teams, you need people from marketing, you need HR and PR, you need artists, you need people who are skilled in audio,” says Rennis, 18, who writes for New York Videogame Critics Circle and will begin a degree in video game design at New York University this fall. “You need people who are good at writing narrative. There are a lot more things that go into making games beyond programming.”

Weeding Out the Toxicity To help ensure physical or online gaming spaces associated with schools are free of toxicity and bullying, Blanco recommends resources provided by, an organization dedicated to changing the culture of online gaming. “No matter where you go, we know that toxicity is going to be there,” Blanco says. “The bullying will happen. And we, as adults, can’t assume


Blanco says there’s a misconception that to have a career in gaming one needs to be a coder and even when most people “Talk about gaming it’s through a coding lens.” In reality, he says, “You can be a creative of any type and find an entry point into gaming.” “Not everyone has to be tech-savvy or a code talker to be a part of the gaming industry,” says Ronald Gordan, 19, one of Blanco’s former students who now writes for the New York Videogames Critics Circle community and is a student at City Tech College. “Me personally, I’m not pursuing anything in game design or anything like that, but I’m still part of the gaming industry because I review games.”


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we’re going to be there when it does happen, so the only recourse we have is to train leaders, which we do at DreamYard.” To develop gaming spaces that are also safe for LGTBQIA and minority students, DreamYard tasked a group of young people to design a server that focused on best practices. “They interviewed users, researched inclusive digital spaces, and are currently building a server with some inclusive practices baked in,” said Blanco. “The key is to build youth moderators that can grow into the role of guarding and holding safe spaces.” Rennis says that in a school setting the games you choose matter for inclusivity. “In all my years of going to video game clubs, they seem to attract 99 percent boys and I’m the only girl, and that’s because a lot of the games are really geared toward a male audience and that really pushes away a lot of the girl gamers,” Rennis says. School gaming clubs tend to focus on highly competitive fighting games, which she says may not be as appealing to women. Games such as Mario Kart and some of the motion Nintendo Wii-style games, are examples that are more casual and that everybody can fit into, she says.

Embrace Online Community and Resources Before the pandemic DreamYard’s programs were exclusively in the high school, Blanco says. Now that they are hosting online gatherings and gaming events, they are being beamed into student’s homes, which has its advantages. He says they are frequently connecting with their students’ younger siblings and getting the whole family excited about gaming. Gaming also provides online educational opportunities. As a high school student, Rennis worked with the School of Interactive Arts, a free program that partners with schools. “You can learn coding


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and enter gaming competitions,” she says. Through her work in the program, Rennis won a game design award, which helped get her into the industry. Other gaming resources she recommends include Mouse, Harvard’s free game development course, and New York University’s Future Game Designers.

Changing the Narrative Gamers are sometimes taunted and called “no lifers” by other kids, Rennis says, and there are a lot of misconceptions, even from adults, about how much opportunity there is in the gaming industry. “This is a valid career path and more non-gamers need to understand that,” she says. “This is a career and just as with pursuing a doctorate, it takes a lot of time.” The vast amount of opportunities is why Blanco is passionate about encouraging underrepresented students to pursue gaming journalism and game writing paths that emphasize narrative skills. “My perspective here is if we train writers to tell stories, we can change the story,” Blanco says.


MORRIS SCHOOL DISTRICT The Tech & Learning COVID Diary series follows educators and administrators throughout the year as they share stories about how their districts are handling teaching and learning during the pandemic Erica Hartman is the Director of Technology Integration for Morris School District in Morristown, New Jersey, home to 5,200 students, 34% of whom receive free or reduced lunch. The district is currently operating in hybrid mode, with a combination of face-to-face and remote learning. Here, she shares their district story.

Tools being used Clever, Canvas, Google Meet, Google Classroom, iReady, Flipgrid, Raz Kids, Ready Classroom Math, Reflex, GoGuardian, Kami, and Screencastify. T -Mobile for home wifi access.

The biggest challenge is the emotional toll and the unknowns ranging from “Will one of our classrooms or schools need to shut down tomorrow?” to “Will my webcam work? to “Will our online platforms be able to handle the traffic?” Taking all of the things that schools normally do in a nonpandemic environment, such as providing a safe and healthy place to learn, food, Wifi, technology, and counseling, and providing all of these things remotely, has been quite a challenge. Pre-pandemic, there were signs outside of classrooms asking students how they would like to be greeted, with a handshake, a fist bump, a hug, a smile, or a dance--none of these are acceptable options anymore and I think that realization, for our teachers and our students, has been the hardest. This summer when I was preparing devices for a pickup, I passed the signs in the hallway and began to tear up knowing that it will be a long time before we can see the smiles of a student without a mask or high five a student in the hallway. None of the things translate well in the virtual environment.

What are the advantages of teaching in this environment? The advantages are that our already amazing and tech-savvy teachers have upped their skills even more and have become experts at creating screencasts, instructional videos, curating content, and not only teaching via videoconference, but also taking full advantage of professional learning opportunities. The silver lining in all of this is how successful our virtual learning professional development series has been--we should have been providing virtual PD before the pandemic.

Educators at Morris School District have improved their technology skills to adapt learning to accommodate both in-person and remote classes.


Biggest challenge

Do teachers like instructing in this environment? I think our teachers would prefer every student was in school with them everyday. They have adapted to teaching virtually, but it takes a toll on teachers and families alike. A huge amount of preparation is needed to create online content and to learn new digital tools. Our teachers should be very proud of themselves and they are all working as hard as they can to provide students with the best instruction possible under very difficult circumstances.


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How are teachers being supported? We realize how hard our teachers have been working and have supported them by creating a virtual hub, purchasing new laptops and document cameras for them, and continuing to provide virtual PD opportunities on topics ranging from classroom management in the virtual world to creating engaging and interactive presentations.

Do your students like learning in this environment? Our K-5 students have the option to come in for a half day, 5 days per week, but our students in grades 6-12 are split into cohorts and come in for two days and then stay home for two days. Some students have come to love the flexibility of virtual learning and some wish they could be in the physical buildings more. It’s hard to make a blanket statement that students like either environment when there are so many other factors going on at the moment.

How are you supporting your students? We provide each student with a device and we have a community Wifi program for students in need via our partnership with T-Mobile. We also provide lunches and breakfasts, even for students who are remote. Our counseling departments are touching base with virtual students and we created a hub for them as well.

Are parents and families satisfied with this teaching environment? I think our parents are grateful we offer an in-person option as well as a completely virtual one. Our parents can see the work that has been put into both of these plans and realize that neither solution has been perfect.

How are you supporting your parents and families? We created a virtual hub for parents and have hosted webinars for parents on technology such as Google Classroom and Google Meet. Dr. Weber has created a series for virtual learning at home: For example - creating routines: For our Spanish-speaking families, we have created a Facebook page, and outreach staff use apps such as Remind to distribute information about virtual learning.


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Did anything unexpected happen (good or bad) during remote learning that can now be used as a teachable moment for others? One thing unexpected is that our parents have become very tech savvy! They are open to learning about the technology we use and how they can support their students online. They also see that technology is not always perfect and there are many variables we cannot control, and that everyone has to be flexible and have patience. Anything else you’d like to add about your successes and challenges being an educator during the pandemic? As the director of technology, I have learned that it is very important to have a team of educational technology specialists and technicians who are fully invested in the plan and will work very hard to provide every staff member and students with access to a device and wifi. I am lucky to have such a team where I work. Since March 1, my team has not taken any breaks and withstood all elements to get devices into the hands of our students, including setting up tents outside to hand delivering mifis to students in need. They treat each technology issue with care and compassion, knowing the technology issue may be the smallest issue that a staff member or child is dealing with that day. I also think most people wouldn’t understand the amount of work that any person involved in education has done in the past 6 months. From our custodians to our principals, to our nurses and business office staff, they have all worked tirelessly while dealing with their own personal pandemic issues to offer our students the opportunity to attend school in person for as long as we possibly can. I hope after this people realize that schools provide much more than an education. If you would like to participate in the COVID Diary series, please complete this form. Email with any questions.


TOP SITES AND APPS FOR MATH By David Kapuler One of the biggest challenges facing teachers as they head back to school in the ‘new normal’ of remote learning environments is making sure that students wware getting a complete, well-rounded education. These websites, apps, and online resources (in alphabetical order) offer various curricula, lessons, games, and fun activities for building math skills.

ABCYA A wonderful resource for educational games in a wide range of subjects including math.

APLUSMATH Offers math games, worksheets, and flashcards in addition to a homework helper.

CLASSPAD A new free online math tool that creates a digital scratch pad to solve any math problem, including graphing, statistics, and geometry.

COOKIE Lots of educational games for elementary students, with many designed for specific grades and skill levels.




One of the most popular sites for math for grades K-8, including algebra and geometry. In addition to tons of lessons, it features an educational portal for student tracking and reporting.

All things math grades K-12, with more than just equations to solve.

Features math resources and activities such as word problems, games, worksheets, flashcards, and more.

KING OF MATH An interesting, fast-paced iOS game for middle school math in which students answer questions and puzzles to level up characters.

LEARN MATH FACTS A free, flashcard-like iOS app for students looking to improve their math skills.

LURE OF THE LABYRINTH Pre-algebra students can go on an amazing adventure to rescue their lost pet and avoid monsters, solving math puzzles along the way. Aligned to state standards, this app offers a variety of lessons as well.

MATH A TUBE Videos, worksheets, and explanations for all sorts of math skills and concepts (geometry, decimals, fractions, etc.).

One of my favorite sites/platforms for developing K-12 math skills in all areas, DimensionU uses cutting-edge technology in 3D games and esports in a safe, competitive environment.



An excellent two-player mobile (iOS/Google Play) game in which players try to shoot the correct answer before the other.

An innovative online platform for grades K-6 that helps students achieve success in any number of core subjects including math.



One of my favorite iOS games for learning basic Math skills by playing an old school 8bit style RPG.


MILESTONE MATH An interesting iOS app that uses self-paced learning to help students build their math skills.

MONSTERS VS. FRACTIONS A super fun game to learn fractions through gamebased learning, plus an educational portal to track and monitor students.

MYSTERY MATH TOWN Ideally this highly addictive adventure is for kids 6-12 and focuses on addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Students enter a town and try to unlock levels and characters by solving equations and finding variables.

OPERATION MATH A fun iPad app in which students K-8 focus on basic math skills (and some geography!) while trying to stop an evil villain from stealing numbers by solving equations and locking his escape route.

POLYUP A free site that uses game-based learning to help students grades 3-12 with math and computational skills.

PRODIGY An innovative math game for grades K-8 with realtime reporting.


One of the most popular educational gaming sites on the web, with activities divided by grade level.

A super-fun iOS game for basic math skills that has players defend a castle from a dragon by solving equations.



An innovative equation editing tool that acts as a “spell check” for math and helps students solve problems.

Just as it sounds: Math games for all ages, divided by age or subject.



Differentiate instruction and create a specific program with digital lessons to meet individual student needs.

A terrific site for grades K-7 with plenty of free educational games, worksheets, and videos.


Offers math practice for K-5 students, plus teachers can create class rosters, assign lessons, and track student progress.

ROOMRECESS Elementary students can learn basic math concepts through a wide variety of free educational games.


A quality site for math grades K-6, with an educational portal for tracking students and generating detailed reports.


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TOP SITES AND APPS FOR STEM BIOINTERACTIVE – Real data, examples, and data for science teaching.

HOPSCOTCH – Allows students to

CAROLINA – Provides science

showcases science and technology for students.

supplies and curricula.

DASH’S NEIGHBORHOOD – Coding and robotics resources and lessons. DISCOVERY EDUCATION – STEM

content, tools, and professional development for educators.

ESCIENCE LABS – Hands-on online labs for remote learning. FLIPGRID – A simple, free, and

accessible video discussion platform for educators, students, and families.


exploration of locations around the world.


cloud-based digital whiteboard that allows for collaboration without boundaries and for users to share ideas in real time.

GOOGLE LENS – Simple augmented reality platform. HANDS-ON LABS ­– Tools to build science lessons, labs, and curriculum.

make games and learn to code.

HOW IT WORKS – Magazine that

IDEA SKETCH – A conceptmapping app that allows students to capture ideas and organize them into diagrams such as mind maps, concept maps or flow charts. INATURALIST – Community

network for naturalists and those interested in studying nature.




PREZI – Online presentation software.

and more related to teaching science.

– Learn all about weather from the U.S. National Weather Service. NAVY STEM – U.S. Navy STEM

resources for the classroom.

NEXTDOOR – A digital

SYMBALOO – Digital resources for NGSS curriculum.



LABSTER – Virtual 3D science labs. LEAFSNAP – A free app for

identifying plants by simply taking a picture of a leaf.

MAKERBOT – 3D printers for



document wildlife with this citizen platform.


Inventors Hall of Fame.

online series of interactive lessons in theme park design and engineering created in partnership by Khan Academy and Pixar.

PROJECT NOAH – Explore and

NEARPOD – Interactive STEM lessons, videos, formative assessments, and more.

neighborhood hub for sharing information.

INVENT.ORG – The National

online physics, chemistry, biology, and earth science interactive simulations.

for science, plus tools and resources for state-by-state implementation. NOAA – National Oceanic and

Coding resources, activities, and resources for students.

TECHROCKET – Online code and

video game design for students.

THINGIVERSE – Files to create

projects for 3D printers, laser cutters, or CNC machines.

Atmospheric Administration Education for studying weather in the classroom.

TINKERCAD – An easy-to-use 3D

OTTER FOR EDUCATION – An artificial intelligence platform that transcribes lectures for students.

for virtual dissections.

PACKBACK – An AI-backed

discussion board.

CAD tool.

VISIBLE BODY – 3D medical apps WHITEBOARD.FI – A free

online whiteboard for teachers and classrooms that can be used together in real time.

WONDER WORKSHOP – Offers robotics and coding resources.

Track and report marine debris to prevent pollution.

Featured STEM Resources ACCELERATED LEARNING STEMscopes, created by Accelerate Learning Inc., is a research-based national leader in PreK-12 STEM curriculum that offers comprehensive digital resources, exploratory hands-on kits, and supplemental print materials that together drive engagement and academic growth. Curriculum offers include science, math, video streaming, coding, engineering, environmental stewardship, and more built for your state standards. Accelerate Learning also provides educators with professional development, certifications, and higher education opportunities through several divisions.

BOXLIGHT Boxlight solutions are ideal for in-class, remote or hybrid teaching. Boxlight has created solutions that preserve the flow of learning


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in response to changing instructional needs, including variable class environments and types of lesson facilitation. Our hardware, software, STEM and training programs are designed to keep students focused and strengthen 21st century learning skills such as collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. In our mission to support educators, each solution includes professional development and premium customer service.

ROBOKIND Robots4STEM: Avatar is a remote learning, virtual, ISTE standards-aligned program that helps students master the fundamentals of coding & computer science. During the program, students explore the vast universe of visual block coding on a space station, with their own customizable robot avatar. Each activity provides immediate feedback, ensuring students are retaining the skills they are learning. Packed with mini-games and multi-option learning paths, robots4STEM: Avatar keeps students engaged, better preparing them for 21st century readiness!


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