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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

Topic: technology

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December 1, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Texting parents with tips boosts pre-K language skills, study says

Children from low-income families typically have fewer opportunities to develop language skills than middle-class children, which creates learning gaps evident on the first day of kindergarten.

Research shows that parents can close that gap if they read regularly to their children and take advantage of everyday activities like grocery shopping and doing laundry to build literacy skills.

But educators have long struggled with how to get that message heard widely, without spending too much money.

Stanford researchers recently tested one promising solution — text-messaging — that provides parents with bite-size tips that they can use immediately with their kids.


Comments | More in News | Topics: early learning, parent engagement, technology

July 14, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Computer scientist hopes to customize teaching and learning

Educators have been struggling for decades to resolve a fundamental problem: Students who are in the same grade because of age often vary greatly in skills, abilities and experiences, even on the first day of kindergarten.

Teachers are told to differentiate their instruction so that each student gets what she needs ­ a good idea in theory, but hard to pull off in a real classroom because teachers also vary in skills and abilities.

That’s the big puzzle that University of Washington computer science professor Zoran Popović hopes to solve with insights gained over the last five years of developing computer learning games that adapt to the skills of individual players so they progress more efficiently toward mastery.

Popović directs the university’s Center for Game Science.

He also is the founder and chief scientist at Enlearn, a not-for-profit organization started with money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which partnered with the center in May. Enlearn is developing a commercial application for the interactive technology aimed at the global K-12 market.


Comments | More in Math and science, News | Topics: math instruction, Seattle Public Schools, technology

January 14, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Dump your cellphone? High-school students to unplug for three days

Illustration by Donna Grethen / Op Art

Illustration by Donna Grethen / Op Art

Most of us sense how reliant teens have become on technology, plugged in every waking moment — and even, sometimes, during sleep. But here’s an actual number: Cellphone users age 13 to 17 send and receive an average of 3,705 texts per month, according to a 2011 study by Nielsen.

That doesn’t even count online chatting, posting or tweeting.

These habits are becoming so pervasive that growing chorus of educators is worried about the fallout of techno-glut on kids’ brains — their ability to plan, retain information and communicate face-to-face. On Monday afternoon at precisely 2:15, Issaquah High mounted its response: a Tech Timeout Academic Challenge, in which 600 of the school’s 2,000 students disconnected from cell phones, iPads and all social media for three days.

The hope was that students would come away with a keener sense of their dependence on technology and a desire to spend more time communicating the old fashioned way.

“Even after timeout started, it was pretty clear that some students were still using their phones — they kind of waved them at us in defiance,” said filmmakers Marty Riemer and Michael Stusser, who will be documenting the withdrawal.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Issaquah High School, Tech Timeout, technology

December 19, 2013 at 12:58 PM

Poll: Are tablets replacing books in your household?

Yesterday on the blog, we weighed the pros and cons of using technology as a learning tool for toddlers:

Not much is known about how such media experiences affect infant brains, according to Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, director of the Infant and Child Lab at Temple University, who spoke on a recent online panel sponsored by Child Trends, a nonprofit research group.

What they do know: Done well, digital experiences can enhance children’s knowledge and skills. Done poorly, they can hurt.

Also on Wednesday, The Atlantic published an article about children reading on electronic devices. The headline: “Tablets make it nearly impossible for kids to get lost in a story.”

The post went on to cite a study from the UK that found more children are now reading on screens than reading physical books. Learning-based apps, the author argued, are focused on interactivity, making it difficult for children to easily follow long narratives and “fall in love with reading.”


Comments | More in Poll | Topics: reading, technology

December 18, 2013 at 5:00 AM

Tech for tots: Not all bad — or good

Screenshot of the Apptivity Seat, as seen on the Fisher-Price website

Screenshot of the Apptivity Seat, as seen on the Fisher-Price website. The American Council of Pediatrics recommends no TV or video viewing for children under 2, saying the existing studies show it has no benefit and may hinder language development.

Digital media is changing so fast, developmental psychologists have a hard time keeping up with how it affects young children’s learning — especially as kids spend more and more time with screens.

Not much is known about how such media experiences affect infant brains, according to Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, director of the Infant and Child Lab at Temple University, who spoke on a recent online panel sponsored by Child Trends, a nonprofit research group.

What they do know: Done well, digital experiences can enhance children’s knowledge and skills. Done poorly, they can hurt.

So before you download yet another so-called educational app — or purchase an “Apptivity Seat,” a controversial new product that pairs an iPad holder with a newborn/toddler seat — here are a few points to consider:

Human beings, especially children, learn best by interacting with other people and the world around them, Hirsh-Pasek said. So a child sitting passively in front of a TV, tablet or other screen … not so good, even though the panelists, as parents themselves, understand that’s hard to avoid all together.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Apptivity seat, Child Trends, digital media for infants

December 12, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Are textbooks obsolete? In some classes here, they soon may be

Michael Osbun / Op Art

Michael Osbun / Op Art

With the growing amount of educational materials offered on the Internet for free, are textbooks on their way out?

They soon may be. In the Lake Washington School District, for example, educators are investigating whether they can replace their high-school science texts with e-books built from free materials available online.

Up until recently, district officials didn’t think there was enough online curriculum to replace traditional textbooks, said Linda Stevens, director of curriculum and assessment.

Now, the district believes online materials may be equivalent or superior to what’s in print — and cheaper, too.


Comments | More in News | Topics: e-textbooks, Lake Washington School District, Linda Stevens

November 12, 2013 at 3:04 PM

Tech-skills training for students now available online to adults — for free

Need low-cost technology training but don’t know where to go? Try your local library — it’s free.

Starting today, more than 385 public libraries will begin offering a suite of online training programs through a partnership between Washington State Library and Microsoft’s IT Academy.

The program — which includes hundreds of training sessions in everything from basic digital literacy to Microsoft Office to advanced IT — is already available in public high schools. Since  2011, 16,000 students here have become technology-certified.

Similar trainings will now be available to adult library users.


Comments | More in News | Topics: adult education, IT Academy, Microsoft

October 28, 2013 at 4:00 PM

New app, report point to career options for recent grads

Screenshot of the JA Build Your Future iPhone app Junior Achievement, the nonprofit that educates students about workforce readiness, has teamed up with the global professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to offer a free phone app that helps students learn about career options. The app, JA Build Your Future, gives information about more than 100 different careers, and…


Comments | Topics: careers, higher education, technology