Lessons from the Trenches of a 1-to-1 Laptop Initiative

Marshall_WendyWebmain2Editor's Note: The Savannah-Chatham County (Savannah, GA) school system is in the second year of a 1-to-1 laptop initiative that has shown some terrific results . Along the way, Instructional Technology/Media Manager Wendy Marshall learned a few things that would be applicable to any school system considering this type of program.


Savannah-Chatham chose to pilot the program at two high schools and one middle school. Each school had 30 participants who took their core classes (English language arts, social studies, science, and math) together, taught by four teachers trained in interactive teaching. The administration expected the courses to be truly immersive: Only one subject had access to an online textbook. Marshall shares some tips for making 1-to-1 successful.

Evaluate the schools and teachers carefully
Marshall recruited four motivated teachers at a middle school, but the program still failed to take root. A lack of tech savvy on the part of the teachers was a factor, but so were administrative hurdles. “The teachers were motivated, but I think it was just too dramatic of a shift,” says Marshall.

Understand the tech-support costs
Marshall has eight technology coaches for 53 schools. The tech coach working with the 1-to-1 initiative schools had little time to work with anyone except the teachers in the program. Other issues also took time: making sure the Internet filter extended beyond the campus as students took their laptops home; arranging repairs; explaining to students how to maintain a laptop; and answering questions from parents who might never have had a computer in their homes.

Consider teacher recommendations when selecting students
This was a key recommendation from teachers in the program. Caring for a laptop, uploading assignments, and understanding how to gain Internet access to complete homework–these all call for a level of maturity not all students possess. “We need to know if teachers think the students will be successful in this type of environment,” Marshall says.

Engage parents
The program was piloted at schools that serve predominately working-class neighborhoods. Not all the parents are tech savvy, so the schools set up four events during the year to encourage parents to come to school and see what their students were working on. This worked well at the high schools; it didn’t at the middle school. Marshall says this was because the middle school scheduled the events right after school, instead of early evening when more working parents would be available to participate. Another key factor is having a reasonably priced home Internet plan available. Marshall worked with the local cable provider to get a $9.95 a month plan.

Address ongoing training
Teachers usually have one planning period during the day. Savannah-Chatham schools traditionally group all teachers within a subject area in the same learning period to facilitate professional learning communities. Marshall had wanted the 1-to-1 teachers grouped separately to expedite ongoing training. Not all the schools could accommodate that request, and even if they could, “It does take them away from planning with teachers in their core content area.” Marshall is working to create online training programs for teachers on an as-needed basis to free them up to participate in professional learning communities and free up the technology coaches.

Reach out to the universities that educate teachers
Marshall says education majors need to learn how to integrate technology into the classroom when they’re in college. That’s what she did when she taught education majors prior to taking this job. Ideally, aspiring teachers need to take the technology class before  starting their education methods courses so they can apply what they’ve learned to creating coursework. Marshall says if they all learn how to build web pages, use interactive boards, flip the classroom, and use a document camera before they take their first job, they will be better prepared  for any interactive/computer-assisted learning environment.

Take advantage of high-quality, free programs
Marshall’s teachers relied heavily on SAS® Curriculum Pathways®. Available to educators at no cost, the product provides interactive, standards-based resources in all the core disciplines. SAS focuses on topics where doing, seeing, and listening provide information and encourage insights in ways conventional methods cannot. Content can be differentiated to meet varied student needs. The product also provides learner-centered activities with measurable outcomes and targets higher-order thinking skills. All materials are linked to state and Common Core state standards. Schools can adapt the content to match their technological capabilities. Marshall’s teachers are also starting to use Google Doctopus for sharing and grading student projects and Flubaroo for grading. Expensive online textbooks that didn’t include an interactive component were not purchased.

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Reach for the Stars: Touch, Look, Listen, Learn


Creating an interactive astronomy book for 10- to 12-year-old students—including those with visual impairments—involves managerial and collaborative complexities only a bit less daunting than those that govern star formation and evolution. That the iBook Reach for the Stars: Touch, Look, Listen, Learn was released last week, on schedule, is a tribute to the project manager, Donna Faircloth of SAS, and the three co-authors, Ada Lopez and Ed Summers of SAS and Elena Sabbi of the Space Telescope Science Institute.

Perhaps the foremost challenge throughout the project involved the collaboration between the three authors as they sought to convey the fundamentals of astronomy, the latest scientific advances, and the tools that make those advances possible. Why was that a challenge?

Sabbi is as astronomer with special expertise in the Hubble Space Telescope. She knows what happens in the sky, but her cutting-edge scientific duties do not include translating complex information into language and images suitable for schoolchildren.

Finding simple but scientifically correct ways to describe complex subjects like the electromagnetic spectrum and the Hertzprung-Russell diagram involved months of back-and-forth between Sabbi and Lopez—a science curriculum specialist who works in SAS Curriculum Pathways. And while Lopez knows what works in the classroom—and what standards busy teachers need to meet—she isn’t a computer specialist. She doesn’t monitor technical innovations to ask, “How can this raw capability be used to enhance learning?”


Reach for the Stars is available at no cost from iBooks.

Enter Ed Summers, a visually impaired computer scientist at SAS and the driving force behind the production of this book. At every stage in the process, Summers asked (and often answered) key questions: Can technology help us make this information more accessible? Are traditional approaches failing students? Can we develop a better way to learn? Can we do more than simply inform students? Can we inspire them to seek careers in science? A complete listing of the various kinds of expertise that went into the development of this book would test the limits of a blog post. But even the abridged version gives a sense of the project’s collaborative complexity and our commitment to educational excellence and innovation:

  • Experts on conveying data with sound (“sonification”) helped create a rich, engaging experience accessible to all students. This is one of the chief innovations of Reach for the Stars. You no longer have to imagine what it might be like to look at and listen to a graph. The implications for visually impaired students are difficult to overstate.
  • Software engineers ensured that no dreams died on the drawing board and that all product elements ran smoothly on an iPad.
  • National Braille Press produced tactile overlays for the book’s interactive images.
  • The Space Telescope Science Institute provided the dazzling Hubble-generated images that appear throughout the book and collaborated with SAS on the first attempt to render an image from Hubble using sound.
  • Graphic designers worked with those images and ensured that the interface was visually appealing and easy to navigate.
  • A narrator recorded all of the text so that students have the option of listening or reading.
  • Audio experts insured that all sound recordings were of the highest quality.
  • A video team travelled to the Space Telescope Science Institute so the book could include footage of NASA scientists (including a Nobel Prize winner!) speaking directly to students, encouraging them to pursue careers in STEM fields.
  • An emerging technologies lab manager produced printable 3D files for the Hubble Space Telescope, the Tarantula Nebula, and the James Webb Space Telescope.
  • NASA provided funding for this groundbreaking Education and Public Outreach project.
  • Legal experts and editors ensured that the book was ready for release.

Developing first-rate educational technologies requires a committed, interdisciplinary team. A lot can go wrong. To produce quality products, a company must be philosophically committed to educational excellence. The release of Reach for the Stars is a sign of that commitment by SAS and its collaborators.



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Publish Don’t Perish with Our Innovative Writing Publisher

Writing Navigator—from SAS Curriculum Pathways—is a suite of tools designed to guide and support students in all four stages of writing: planning, drafting, revising, and publishing. We’ve recently released the final tool in this suite: Writing Publisher. It helps students put the finishing touches on their essays.

That means documenting sources and proofreading.publisher1

Works Cited

The documenting-sources feature will be a huge boon to teachers and students, saving time and increasing comprehension as it guides beginning writers step-by-step through the preparation of a Works Cited page.

Like the mythical Scylla and Charybdis, handbook guidelines have proven perversely frustrating and often ruinous to generations of young writers attempting to negotiate the confusing straits of proper citation, which involves seemingly capricious variations depending on whether one is citing a journal, a magazine, a newspaper, a book with one author, a book with multiple authors, a book with an editor and multiple authors, a book with multiple editors and a Martian co-author, and so on into despair, breakdown, and insanity.

The task has not grown simpler with the introduction of online sources.

Writing Publisher eliminates guesswork and confusion. By making a series of simple choices from pull-down menus, students automatically follow the prescribed MLA format. As they identify the type of publication (e.g., a book), its title (e.g., The Manageable Cold), the author (e.g., Timothy McBride), the publication date (e.g., 2011), and other details, Writing Publisher makes the correct formatting decisions and displays them for the student to see.

McBride, Timothy. The Manageable Cold. Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 2011.

Students thus save time better devoted to refining their essays. They don’t try to memorize formats that even graduate students need to look up every time they write a paper. And teachers save time looking up and correcting citation formats that often prove as puzzling to the student in corrected form as they did during the original failed composition. Moreover, by seeing the correct citation assembled step-by-step, students learn more effectively than they can by trying to match their citation with a (“kind of”) similar example in a conventional guide.

Also in keeping with the MLA format, Writing Publisher automatically links the Works Cited entries and the parenthetical page-number references that appear in the student’s essay. And a section on plagiarism reminds students of their research responsibilities.


Flexible proofreading functions also help students ferret out spelling, capitalization, and other errors. Students can choose to review the text word by word, line by line, or paragraph by paragraph. This feature helps students to see their text anew: they review what they’ve actually written rather than what they meant to write.

Five proofreading tools are provided in Writing Publisher.

  • Check for homophones (e.g., rain, rein, reign).
  • Locate repeated words (e.g., rain, rain, rain).
  • Locate missing words (e.g.,    )
  • Check capitalization (e.g., rAin)
  • Check punctuation. (e.g., rain rain rain)

Be sure to check out the full suite of tools in our Writing Navigator series. Dorianne Laux — director of the creative writing program at NC State University, author of five books of poetry,  winner of a Guggenheim Fellowship—comments on what makes that series special:

"Writing Navigator isn't just about surface details: this is right; that is wrong. No one learns to write effectively and memorably from a merely prescriptive, schoolmarm approach—a bunch of abstract Do's and Don'ts. This interactive product goes deeper than that. It prompts students to make creative decisions, to discover what they want to say, to reach for what Coleridge called 'the best words in the best order.'"

Give Writing Navigator a try. You’ll be glad you did.


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Pit-bull Guide to Powerful Prose

In 2008, I agreed to foster an ominous-looking shelter dog no one seemed willing to adopt. He doesn't have any papers, but a glance at his noggin makes clear that he's not a greyhound or a whippet. He's an American pit-bull terrier.

Although his well-armored head and fence-post neck suggest he was was bred with what Mike Tyson once called "bad intentions," he turned out to be a gentle dog, friendly to people and other canines--although he's so strong that his wagging tail leaves a welt.

I named him Muggs, after a dog owned by the American writer James Thurber, so he has a literary pedigree. After my coworkers met Muggs, they fell in love too.

When it was time to develop some new Audio Tutorials on writing with power, we decided we needed a mascot. Our designer, Karl, was itching to animate a central character. Who better to represent writing power than mighty Muggs! He's so strong you can see the flexing muscles on the top of his skull when he chews a bone or one of my shoes.

So our English language arts specialist, Terry Hardison, decided mischievous Muggs would be the perfect inspiration for students.


Muggs now has six videos that give students immediately useful information on how to write with power. We focus on topics that students learn best by seeing the principles we describe--not simply reading about them as in most books on writing style. Expressed in unforgettable animations, these ideas make an instant impression on students.

  1. Make sentences more forceful by choosing strong verbs.
  2. Enhance clarity with concrete terms.
  3. Improve precision: cut needless prepositional phrases.
  4. Control sentence structure to invigorate your work.
  5. Say what you mean: link related words.
  6. Stop the confusion: no more misused expressions.

With Muggs, your students can laugh while they learn. So unleash your students! Give them the Pit-bull Guide to Powerful Prose. You'll be glad you did. And be sure to check out our Writing Navigator and Punctuation Rules!


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We Need Your Vote: SXSW March 2015

sxswlogoThough the 2015 conference is still many months away, South by Southwest Edu has already opened up voting for the proposals!  This conference focuses on teaching and learning with innovative technologies and practices. At SAS Curriculum Pathways, we want to be a part of the excitement, and we need your votes and social media shares! 

We submitted a few proposals that we encourage you to check out, along with the other 1038 creative topics that have been suggested. However, to present at SXSWEdu, we need your vote! Anyone can vote; it takes only a minute to log in and give our sessions a thumbs up. Here are our proposals. Thank you for your vote and for sharing this with your friends and colleagues!

  • Code across the Curriculum with Young Learners: There is great interest in developing innovative ways to introduce young students to basic programming concepts and computational thinking. This session will introduce participants to cross-curricular techniques designed to engage all young learners. Check out our video here.
  • Love to Read. Learn to Read. Read to Learn: This session presents innovative technologies to help students: Love to Read—through shared experiences that introduce early reading skills; Learn to Read—by developing and guiding fluent reading practices; Read to Learn—by supporting close, analytical reading skills to derive meaning from text. Check out the Read Aloud video here.
  • Mobile Learning is HOTS: Demanded by top companies, higher order thinking skills (HOTS) are often ignored in the formal curriculum. We’ll highlight resources for creativity, critical thinking, communication, and problem solving. We will also discuss strategies for using mobile to cultivate HOTS in our students.
  • Contextualize Learning via Proximity with iBeacons: Indoor positioning and proximity-based contextualization are the latest features in mobile apps. We’ve developed a museum navigation and guide app in collaboration with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. It uses iBeacons to deliver a contextualized in-app experience supporting geo-aware interfaces and indoor way-finding.
  • Not Your Parents' Science Museum Audio Tour App: The NC Museum of Natural Sciences is providing an interactive mobile app to guide and engage visitors of all ages and abilities. The aim is to improve the informal learning experience. This app, through use of iBeacon technology, offers high levels of accessibility and a new way of engaging with the museum’s exhibits, an exciting possibility for museums and informal learning.

SXSWEdu offers some of the most leading edge ideas for learning. We’ve been inspired and have left Austin each year with renewed vigor for providing innovative educational products and finding new ways to engage students in their learning. We are hopeful we’ll earn a voice to present at this year’s conference. Thanks for taking the time to read, vote, and share!


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Reading Records just got better!

Since our initial release, we've talked with teachers and reading specialists from across the country about ways to improve SAS Reading Records, our popular, cross-platform solution to running records of reading. The overall consensus: “Wow, this is great, but we want more!” So, here’s what you can expect from the latest version.

An easier way to add students

You can now add students to your class quickly and easily using our new add student tool. Simply enter the student’s name, create a username and password, and you’re done! The student can also log in to any SAS Curriculum Pathways resource with the newly assigned credentials. As before, students that already have SAS Curriculum Pathways accounts can still join your class using your class code.


Visualizations of students’ performance and progress

We added reporting tools to help you analyze students’ performance and monitor progress over time. Every time you grade an assignment or modify students’ reading levels, a series of graphs and charts update automatically. So, whether you’re interpreting an individual student’s results or comparing performance across your class, Reading Recs now provides all the data visualization tools you need.


Open-ended comprehension questions

Our library of passages now comes preloaded with open-ended comprehension questions. In addition to the existing multiple-choice questions and passage-retell prompts, you can ask students to type in open-ended responses in order to demonstrate comprehension. As with the other assessments, our open-ended questions can be edited to meet the needs of your students.


Greater support for classrooms with limited access to technology

Don’t have a classroom set of iPads? Don’t want to fool with student accounts? No problem. Students can now complete assignments right from your teacher dashboard. Just tap the “read now” button, and the assignment will display just as it would using a student account. And don’t worry, when the student is finished, you will be prompted to log in again to ensure your account remains private.


Built-in demo class for exploring features and sharing with colleagues

Our new demo class allows you to explore and share the features of Reading Recs without having to go through the process of creating a class and asking students to complete assignments. Now, you can simply tap the “start demo” and play around with an existing class of students. Each student in the demo class comes preloaded with pending, submitted, and completed assignments, so you know what you can expect out of this powerful app!


Additional passages and more!

As always, we’ve added more reading passages to the Reading Recs library—English/Spanish, fiction/nonfiction, and a range of Lexile levels. We've enhanced the overall interface as well. Whether you're creating assignments or filtering the library, we hope these changes make your experience with Reading Recs even better.

Have a suggestion for our next release? We’d love to hear from you!

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We're Going to ISTE 2014!

iste2014The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE®) is the premier membership association for educators and education leaders engaged in advancing excellence in learning and teaching through the innovative and effective uses of technology in PK–12 and teacher education. Their annual Conference and Expo is the premier educational technology for professionals worldwide. The conference starts up this Friday at

SAS Curriculum Pathways will be there with bells on and a few presentations as well! Be sure to come say hi!

No-cost Tools: Fully Engage Students in the Writing Process

spotlight-navseriesSunday, June 29, 8:00 am–10:00 am
GWCC Murphy Ballroom Galleria, Table 30
Digital Age Teaching & Learning
Participate and Share:Poster

Students track their own learning with digital data notebooks

spotlight-appsSunday, June 29, 12:45 pm–1:45 pm
GWCC B208, Table 3
Participate and Share:Roundtable
Jennifer Sabourin, Lucy Kosturko, Scott McQuiggan

Snapshot 1 of 2: Rolling out high-quality, no-cost resources

pd-tips-tricksTuesday, July 1, 8:30 am–9:30 am
Digital Age Teaching & Learning
Listen and Learn:Snapshot
Wendy Marshall from Savannah-Chatham County Public School System in Georgia
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How SAS® Curriculum Pathways® Saved a Student Teacher

As a pre-service teacher, one of the most exciting, challenging, exhausting, and rewarding experiences is student teaching. During my student teaching semester, I was placed in a Common Core Math 1 class at a high school in Wake County, North Carolina. I found that as a CCM 1 teacher, understanding the mathematical content is not as challenging as actually explaining the content to students. For example, from my math experience, I had a fairly firm understanding of what it means for an equation to be linear. However, finding a way to describe linear equations to high school students in a way that enhances their mathematical understanding and grabs their attention was a daunting task.

When planning a lesson, I used my Professional Learning Team's lessons as a starting point and foundation for pacing and content order. From there, I turned to SAS Curriculum Pathways for help. In some situations I used the lessons and tools as a reliable teacher-resource to recall the answers to questions such as "What are the characteristics of a monomial?" I found that searching "monomials" in SAS Curriculum Pathways was a more efficient and dependable way to seek an answer to this question than a general internet search. Since the Algebra 1 course aligned with the CCM 1 content that I was teaching, I selected parts of specific lessons to use to teach my students. With the technology that I had access to in my classroom, I found that the easiest way to do this was to show the lesson on the Smartboard and lead the class through select elements while the students took notes on the content and completed example problems.

I also used Curriculum Pathways for inspiration on how to explain math concepts to students. For example, the Algebra course lesson on Functions and Relations features a video that explains the characteristics of the domain and range of a function by comparing domain to people and range to places. I loved this analogy, but I wanted to take the video a step further and get my students involved in the example.

When presenting the concept to the class, I asked for volunteers to come to the front of the room and hold signs labeled as specific locations that my students could identify with.... McDonald's, The Mall, etc. I then called on several students to each pick a location where they wanted to "go" and connected each person to the corresponding sign with a piece of string. This allowed the class to have a discussion about how two people could be at one place together, but one person cannot be at two places at once and how this compares to the domain and range of a function.

My advice to future teachers approaching their student teaching semester would be to find whatever works for you, but don't forget that you never have to start from scratch. There are an overwhelming amount of educational resources online, some better than others. My best lessons came from finding ideas and lessons that were already created and then adjusting those lessons to fit my personality and teaching style. When looking for content support, example problems, complete lessons, visual representations, student assessments, or even just inspiration, SAS Curriculum Pathways is the perfect place to start.

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Walt Whitman on Innovation and Education

walt-whitman--matthew-brady-lIn June of 1855, Walt Whitman set the type for the first printing of his Leaves of Grass. To mark the 159th anniversary of that event, we’ve selected some inspiring lines from the canonical poet who—unlike many of his peers—was a great champion of technology.

There was a child went forth every day
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became,
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day,
Or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.

 Teacher, poet, champion of democracy, Whitman extols the boundless potential of the unfettered mind.

I fly like a bird…
I believe in those wing’d purposes.

 Whitman gives poetic expression to ideals of progress and inclusiveness that have long informed our ideals of education and our sense of who we are as a nation.

I launch all men and women forward with me into the unknown…
Outward … forever outward … toward something great …
O days of the future, I believe in you …

Recent innovations in technology promise to make opportunity more fully democratic, offering all students what had been available only to the privileged few. That’s one goal of our work at SAS.

This is the meal equally set …
I will not have a single person slighted or left away …
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand …
You shall not look through my eyes either, not take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.

Innovations are also linking students with the great minds of the past, with each other, and with the resources necessary to shape a more enlightened future. In this passage Whitman celebrates the transatlantic cable, the Suez Canal, and the transcontinental railroad, but one can easily imagine these words being applied to the web—or to SAS Curriculum Pathways.

The earth to be spann’d, connected by network,
The oceans to be cross’d, the distant brought near,
The lands to be welded together … for purpose vast …

Technological innovations are also promoting the “varied carols” of diversity—in the artist and the mathematician, the musician and the architect, the software developer and the historian, the teacher and the chemist.

Opportunity, creativity, cooperation, innovation—all are crucial if students are to meet the unforeseeable challenges in the years to come.

“There was a child went forth” … and in time that child becomes an adult … who also goes forth … on ever more daring and wondrous journeys of the mind:

O we can wait no longer.
Joyous we launch out on trackless seas.
Have we not stood here long enough?
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go …

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy…
O farther, farther, farther sail!

If these lines inspire you, why not create a multimedia presentation that introduces you and Whitman? Our lesson will guide you step-by-step through the process.

To learn more about Whitman and some of the poems quoted here, see our lesson Meet Walt Whitman and Me (QL# 343). The lesson also provides a link to an image gallery so you can get a look at the great gray poet.
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Supporting Middle Grades Data and Statistics Inquiry

The Common Core State Standards have certainly heightened the focus on statistics in math classes. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the middle grades, where the emphasis on data has not simply increased, but increased dramatically.

Middle grades teachers looking for resources to help their students become statistically literate–and meet Common Core State Standards–will find a wealth of resources in SAS Curriculum Pathways. Here are just a few examples of lessons and interactive tools that provide data-analysis instruction and increase student understanding of statistics.

Data Depot

Data Depot contains exactly the accurate, clearly formatted data that teachers need for classroom use.

Data Depot contains numerous data sources for analysis. Students can analyze and interpret data, examine and describe trends, and use data and graphs to estimate values and draw conclusions. Data Depot houses a growing repository of over 25 individual data sources, each configured in multiple formats including Excel and comma-separated values. Also, many of the data sets are accompanied by a corresponding lesson. Using these lessons, students can analyze high school graduation data, investigate the color distribution of M&M'S, and use rate of change to evaluate historical population data.

Another resource to address the standards, the Basic Probability Audio Tutorial, visually introduces students to the question, What is probability? This five-minute instructional video examines how to determine the probability of an event and includes a brief online quiz.

SAS Curriculum Pathways has over 20 additional statistics and data-related resources.

And check out these links to learn more about teaching statistics in the middle school classroom.

Statistics Education Web (STEW)

Guidelines for Assessment and Instruction in Statistics Education (GAISE) Report


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