KC-Area Organizations Launch Student Competition to Combat Child Trafficking

Call for Entries Now Open Asking Students to Take Action Against Trafficking

Kansas City-area Rotary clubs have partnered with local organizations Intouch Group and Lumen Touch to spread awareness about child trafficking. Together, the organizations have launched a contest, “Students Stopping Trafficking,” which aims to inspire Kansas City-area high school students to create a compelling awareness campaign or idea to combat the trafficking and targeting of peers in their own communities. Ideas could include an advertising campaign, a live event, a social media campaign, or something more.

In 2019, 11,500 human trafficking cases were reported in the United States; around two-thirds of those reports were for sex trafficking. As with most public health issues, awareness is key to the prevention of human trafficking. “I’ve been asked, ‘Is trafficking really a public health issue?’ It absolutely is,” said Intouch Group Chief Creative Officer Susan Perlbachs. “And it’s not just me saying so. The Administration for Children and Families, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, considers it a public health concern affecting entire communities.”

­The contest unites three organizations that share a passion for technology, educating young people, and advocating on behalf of public health issues. “Trafficking is becoming more severe with the help of technology, and as a technology organization focused on students, we want to help bring awareness and support our community in eliminating student trafficking,” said Audrey Mathis, Chief Operations Officer at Lumen Touch.

Three cash prizes will be awarded to the first-, second-, and third-place winners — each given to the students’ schools — and students who submit the first-place selection will then work with Intouch Group, a healthcare advertising agency, to bring their idea to life.

The contest is open to students aged 13-18, living in Kansas or Missouri. Entries are due by October 1, 2021, and finalists will be asked to present their ideas to a panel of judges via video conference. More information about the contest – including FAQ’s, a scoring rubric, and resources for students – is available on the website at https://studentsstoppingtraffic.com/.

Assessments, Learning Loss, and the Future of Learning

A lot of people in the education industry are talking about how the pandemic fundamentally changed education, simply because it was being delivered through a different medium.

We disagree.

If the means by which we expect students to learn is not allowed to change, then change doesn’t happen just because we vary the medium through which education is delivered. In fact, most educators, often bound by the curriculum requirements of their districts, are still teaching the same subjects in the same way with the same assessments. Just because they’re doing it online instead of in person doesn’t mean anything has fundamentally changed – and fundamental changes to education are what we really need.

We Need to Stop Focusing on Failure

If a student is excelling in music and art while failing math and science, then that doesn’t mean they’re failing as a student. It means they demonstrate exceptional skill in areas that can lead to innovation. In order to foster the true passion and talent in every student, we need to make a fundamental change in how we assess success. This point has been brought to bear on how we evaluate learning loss as a result of the pandemic. Dr. Yong Zhao explains during an interview with Dr. Wendy Oliver, published on EdisonLearning:

The pandemic has created a very unhappy environment for a lot of children. They’re isolated, they’re not going to school, and they’re not talking to friends. But at the same time, we probably should pay attention to see how they have grown. Human beings learn from experiences. These experiences have changed our children in different ways. Perhaps now they are better at handling adverse situations. They are now better at making friends online, which is essential in today’s life. Maybe your children are becoming more independent in learning? These are the types of things he stresses we really need to focus on.

Right Now, We Assess Failure and Focus on Failure

From early on in our students’ educational journeys, we focus on measuring failure. We conduct spelling and math tests and mark what they get wrong. We focus on how far beneath the average they are and we assume that wherever they are at that moment academically is where they will remain. This places an undue burden on the students and the teachers when they are forced to approach education in this way. Instead, we should be focused on the successes and strengths students have. When we focus on successes and strengths and take the time to understand a student’s passions and interests, we can find ways to improve their subject matter expertise by teaching through their passions.

Every Student Deserves to Have an IEP

Right now, the only students who qualify for an IEP (Individualized Education Program) are those students who have a disability that is recognized by the federal government. But shouldn’t every student have an individualized learning plan that is customized to meet their needs and help them achieve the best outcome?

We must be particularly cautious as we come out of the pandemic, as there is a push to assess students and determine what they’ve lost by learning from home. Brian Moon explores this in terms of the unbounded concern over learning loss. He points out that part of the problem stems from education focusing on the wrong question: “How do we help students perform better on standardized tests?” By doing this, we are forcing teachers to teach to the test and focus on teaching what students need to know to pass tests instead of engaging their minds.

Moon suggests a new question: “How do we use assessment to accelerate, deepen, and showcase individual student learning?”

How Do We Use Assessment to Accelerate, Deepen, and Showcase Individual Student Learning?

That is the question that needs to be explored as we redefine education in the twenty-first century. But in doing so, let’s focus on Moon’s point:

We need not categorize students as deficient in order to justify improving the efficiency, depth, and meaning of their learning experiences. Assessment scores are finite, but learning is limitless. When we center student growth – rather than points or percentiles – as the goal of education, we expand the possibilities for how schools can provide value.

The Future of Learning

The future of learning should be individualized. Assessments should not be used to penalize students but rather to help encourage learning. And what students learn should be modernized and revolutionized so that the students moving through the education system today are prepared to live, work, and engage in the society of tomorrow. Learn more about how Lumen Touch is contributing to the future of learning.

How to Support Teachers as We Return to the Classroom

July has come to an end, and in August virtually all educators begin thinking about the coming school year as they develop lesson plans and prepare their classrooms. This school year in particular, there are many challenges facing teachers, not the least of which is a teacher shortage in many areas. Given these challenges, what can we do to make returning to the classroom easier?

How Administrators Can Support Teachers

Obviously, one of the best ways to better support teachers is to increase salaries wherever possible. When educators are not burdened with financial stress, they are better able to focus on the most important job they hold. But beyond allotting bigger salaries, administrators can demonstrate support by:

  • Providing teachers with the tools and technology they need in the classroom
  • Listening seriously to their ideas about how to improve education, safety, and the learning environment – and implementing any ideas you can
  • Ensuring they have a safe workplace
  • Saving teachers time by giving them a powerful learning management system that manages curriculum, instruction, assessment, and grading

How School IT Leaders Can Support Teachers

Most schools were already integrating more technology into the curriculum, but that certainly escalated during the height of the pandemic. IT leaders were responsible for making sure students had the equipment they needed, and for providing tech support for students, parents, and teachers throughout the school year.

For most districts, going into the new school year, the focus will shift toward ensuring that classrooms are ready for teachers and students. As more schools convert to smart classrooms, technology – and the experts who make sure the IT infrastructure stays up and running – become more crucial, to ensure the best possible educational experience. As SEL (social-emotional learning) becomes more prevalent in every school, IT leaders can play a much more important role.

How Parents Can Support Teachers

Aaron Cardwell, who was a teacher at Rocketship Public Schools and recently started a position as Assistant Principal at Success Academy Charter Schools, shared advice that went viral on Facebook about how parents of kindergarten and first-grade students can help, as their children begin the school year. He emphasized the focus on practical skills. Read his post here. Parents can also support teachers by:

  • Providing the requested supplies – and sending extra if possible
  • Filling out and returning all forms (a lot of this can now be done online through a parent portal)
  • Responding to and communicating with teachers when parental involvement is needed
  • Supporting their efforts in the classroom by ensuring that their children do their homework each day and come to school prepared to learn
  • Being active in the PTA and in the community, advocating for education equity and support

How the Community Can Support Teachers

There are so many ways the community can support teachers, including getting involved in the school board, attending school district meetings, advocating for the changes that teachers need, and voting “yes” on budget increases in those communities where voter approval is necessary for district funding. However, we know that teachers often spend far more each year on school supplies than their tax-deductible $250, so one thing we can all do to support teachers is to #clearthelist. This is a movement started on social media to help teachers obtain the supplies they need for their classrooms. Another organization, Donors Choose, connects communities and corporate donors with teachers who need project funding. It’s a great way to support education.

A well-educated society is the backbone of an economically strong, socially engaged country – and teachers are a pillar of that society. Our teachers have always been heroes but in most cases have gone unrecognized. The pandemic focused a spotlight on the education system and the value of the teacher versus the institution. It is our hope that everyone will support teachers more fervently going forward.

Are Virtual Classrooms the Future of Learning?

Students may be returning to the classroom in the fall, but technology has certainly changed not just our ability to deliver instruction but also the innovation surrounding effective education. Virtual classrooms will not go away. The possibilities are limitless! Here are some great examples of how technology is creating optimal learning experiences:

UCI Professor Goes Virtual

Grown tired of Zoom, Christina Lopes, a professor at University of California, Irvine (UCI), developed a virtual space for her students to obtain hands-on experience in her course, How Computers Work. According to a Newswise article, she helped to create a new program called OpenSimulator. Instead of sitting in a classroom learning from a textbook, students are able to see the code come to life.

Virtual Innovation Is Disrupting Every Industry

From virtual meetings, where the CEO of a company appears as a hologram in various locations around the world, to tradeshows where buyers are able to examine virtual versions of the equipment they are interested in buying, virtual and augmented reality are changing how we perceive the world and how we interact with one another. Virtual environments are enhancing virtually every industry, and education is no exception. Virtual classrooms can help educators meet the needs of more students. What started as a way to reach students when schools closed during the pandemic has revolutionized education in a way that can hopefully continue even as students return to the classroom.

Virtual Classrooms Help Bring Education into the Future

We know that a radical revolution in education is necessary in order to prepare students for the future of work. Teaching to the test and basing student advancement on their ability to regurgitate facts is no longer enough to prepare students for the workforce of the future. Virtual classrooms allow students to accelerate their tech skills, improve their soft skills, and learn how to leverage technology for their benefit.

Virtual Learning and Classrooms Can Co-Exist

No matter how students receive instruction, educators are paramount to the overall success and progress a student makes. Virtual classrooms may never fully replace in-person instruction. But virtual classrooms can be used to enhance the in-classroom experience, by allowing students to pursue individualized and customized areas of learning, thereby giving every student the opportunity to have a richer education. Virtual classrooms can also allow two teachers from different districts, states, or even countries to collaborate to deliver a richer, more diverse curriculum.

Virtual education is not the enemy of the classroom – it is an enhancement to it. And for students who have difficulty being in school every day, either due to illness, disability, or the circumstances of their home life, it can bring additional equity to your district.

Preparing Students for the Future Means Radically Changing Education

“Technology is neither the problem nor the solution, it’s just a tool. In the end, these are all human problems that need human-focused solutions.“ 

– Dr. Vivienne Ming

In March 2018, Vivienne Ming gave a speech at the SingularityU Czech Summit about the future of education and how to robot-proof kids. Fast-forward three years and her words are just as prophetic, if not more so, given the huge shift to virtual and hybrid learning we’ve experienced due to the pandemic.

Resolving Inequities

One of the reasons Lumen™ Touch talks so often about inequity in education is that it really does have an impact on the success of the student. When we can resolve inequities, such as access to the internet, access to a computer, and easy access to libraries, the gap is reduced. Ming explains that there is no bigger impact on children’s minds than their experiences within the home, so the other thing we must tackle to give our students a better future is to address economic barriers at home: access to jobs, transportation, mental health, and medical care. This allows parents to provide the kind of role modeling that students need to start with a stronger foundation.

The Connection Between Education, Workforce, Health, and Inclusion

Ming’s research discovered that people who came from a higher socioeconomic status were 10 times more likely to have patents attributed to them as kids who performed similarly but came from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds. When we consider what that means in terms of, as Ming describes it, the massive economic, cultural, and innovative potential that is being squandered, we can clearly see the need to address inequities in education, to take advantage of that potential.

How do we do that?

We level the playing field by providing access to edtech, AI, and other technologies, so that each student has the opportunity to develop, achieve, and contribute.

“In the future 10-15 years from now, there’s only going to be one job description: adaptive, creative problem solver.”

– Dr. Vivienne Ming

Window of Opportunity: Radically Changing Education Can Happen Now

Between the ages of five and eight, a child’s brain is most impacted by things like childhood household stress and childhood isolation. The trauma of those stresses decreases a child’s ability to develop working memory. Using literacy and numeracy, working memory can also be improved. Ming also discovered, through the course of her work, that grades don’t predict success. She goes further, however, insisting that education should be about helping each individual have a happy, healthy, productive life – not just philosophically but in an objective and measurable way.

How Can Radically Changing Education Help All Students?

According to Ming, we must recognize the trap of assuming that who a student is during one parent-teacher conference is not who that student will always be. So, if we learn to give students what they need in the moment, we can maximize their long-term outcomes. And this approach works whether a student is in elementary school or high school or college. It’s about putting emotional intelligence into education.

“If we keep building them for a world that’s not existing 10 years from now, then we will end up with a society in which a tiny sliver of people will be ready to compete.”

– Dr. Vivienne Ming

Watch her presentation here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_y5dhBdg48M

What to Expect in the Next School Year

The school year is winding up, and while there will be celebrations and goodbyes and acknowledgements of completing another academic year, most school administrators and IT directors have already turned their attentions to next year. Budgets are being planned, and for the most part, we are all expecting to have most instruction occur in-person.

COVID-19 Has Forever Changed Education

We are seeing signs of permanent changes in education as a result of the experiences we’ve all had during the pandemic. Technology is not going away. In fact, the success of edtech has been so profound that some school districts are recognizing the value that remote learning provides in other circumstances. For example, the New York City public school system has cancelled snow days for the 2021-2022 school year, citing the benefit of remote learning.

Learning Analytics Will Be More Effectively Leveraged

Being able to deliver instruction, manage testing, and analyze data has been strengthened in the past year, and reliance on that data will be used to improve the delivery of education to all students. Because educators will continue to use edtech solutions and learning platforms to deliver some in-class instruction, they’ll be able to swiftly adjust to the needs of the students in their classrooms, using the more immediate feedback from the data.

Health Monitoring and Vaccine Tracking Will Remain Essential

Already, governors are announcing that a COVID-19 vaccine will be a requirement to return to school, placing pressure on schools to be able to track and monitor student health more carefully. In addition, because there will continue to be outbreaks of COVID-19, particularly in those areas that have not yet achieved herd immunity, the ability to conduct health checks and contact tracing will remain essential.

Student Data Security Will Take a Front Seat

Speaking of student data, student data security will be priority number one for school administrators and school IT leaders. From the incorporation of blockchain technology to the use of a private, secure platform through which edtech solutions are obtained, such as Bright PASSPORT, there will be a much more formal effort to ensure that whatever edtech is used by schools is properly vetted, securely obtained, and approved for use.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Lumen™ Touch can help you meet the rapidly changing needs of your district, get in touch.

Student Data Security and Bright PASSPORT

Cybersecurity is a conversation we normally hear about in the business world, but cybersecurity is just as important for schools, as student data is a goldmine of information for cyber criminals. Schools are required, under a variety of governance regulations, to protect the information they collect about students. 

Unfortunately, threats to student data security are continuing to grow at an alarming rate. Last month, the FBI issued a warning about the uptick in ransomware attacks on schools. A week later, Park Hill School District in Kansas City, MO were targeted. Just prior to that, schools in Buffalo were shut down by a cyberattack.  And schools in Florida are being held for millions in ransom. As schools and districts struggle to fend off these attacks, enhancing protection must be a priority.

Protecting Access to Student Data – It’s the Law

Even if there were not federal regulations to guide schools, such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), protecting student data is a matter of safety. Schools that have multiple edtech solutions often must provide each vendor with roster information and more. Unfortunately, the schools often have no control over the level of security each individual edtech vendor applies to the information they collect. This places a huge burden on district IT teams.  

Managing Access to Student Data, Simplified

When everyone is finally back in the classroom, technology and edtech solutions will still be employed to aid with learning. Because of the enormous risk involved in sharing roster and other personal student data with multiple edtech vendors, schools must consider a different way forward that allows them to not only remain in compliance but to ensure that the vendors with whom they share the data are also using strenuous measures to protect that information. To make that easier for everyone, Lumen Touch is introducing Bright PASSPORT – a centralized, secure method of sharing student data.

What Is Bright PASSPORT?

Bright PASSPORT governs how schools share personally identifiable information (PII), such as student roster data. Rather than allow teachers or school districts to implement apps for their classrooms, Bright PASSPORT provides for districts a library of approved apps that have been properly vetted to meet the required security standards required.

Bright PASSPORT communicates with third party applications, providing secure and federated access credentials for all end-users within their Lumen Touch portal.

Student Data Security with Bright PASSPORT

Schools mitigate risk through the use of Bright PASSPORT, because information sharing becomes centralized and secure. Approved applications are provisioned to each individual user, allowing parents, students, teachers, administrators and staff access to their applications without ever leaving their Lumen Touch Portal. Vetted apps can be accessed directly through the Lumen Touch AppStore.

To learn more about how to adopt this solution for your school and secure your student data, get in touch.

Why Every Classroom Should be a Smart Classroom

Remote learning has taught us that we need to provide more access to education – and technology is the solution that levels the playing field among districts. While most districts have certain elements in their classrooms that make them smart, the idea behind a smart classroom is that technology plays a significant role in the delivery of education – automating things, such as assessments, grading, and assignment tracking – so that educators have more time to work directly with students. What also makes classrooms smart is the way in which technology improves the learning environment by managing air temperature and lighting. The physical environment of the classroom plays a major role in learning. 

Benefits of Smart Classrooms

Smart classrooms, at their most basic level, foster access to education. From students who can continue learning from home if they are unable to attend (think: lice outbreaks; colds; and other illnesses that would otherwise spread throughout the student population; students without access to transportation; and more) to those students who benefit most from a classroom environment, edtech enriches their education.

Exposure to Technology that Makes Students More Hirable

As we’ve seen during the last year, with the shift to online learning, students are capable of learning how to use the tools and technology required in today’s workplace. Most third graders are at least as adept at Zoom as the adults using it – and sometimes more so. But it’s about more than just the tools; it’s about having the ability to integrate technology, merging these tools with collaborative efforts, project management, learning, and communications, that makes these students even more prepared for the future.

Deeper Learning

With the internet at their fingertips and the ability to take advantage of supplemental audio-visual information alongside every lesson, today’s students in a smart classroom have the potential of learning more about any particular subject. As well, subjects can be integrated with each other. While learning math, you can incorporate a science lesson on astronomy, a history lesson about Copernicus, and a social studies lesson about the Renaissance. Multiple educators can collaborate to bring entire curriculums to life in a richer way than was ever before possible.

Better Individualized Learning

It’s not just students on IEPs and 504s whose learning should be individualized. Every student should have an individual education plan. But that’s difficult to execute when you have 30 students in a classroom. Technology in smart classrooms can help educators provide a more individualized experience to all students, freeing those who can do so to work deeper or further along while providing educators with more time to help those who are struggling.

The smart classroom is the classroom of the future. It’s not designed to replace educators but instead to allow them to use the skills they possess to truly impact the learning experience of every student.

Preparing for the Return of Teachers and Students to Classrooms

For some students, online learning has lasted for a year or longer. Some teachers have likewise been making magic in front of a computer screen instead of a class full of students. So, the return to fulltime in-person instruction is an exciting moment, but we cannot for one minute think that it will be easy for anyone.

Isolation Makes Human Contact More Stressful

Have you seen the film Cast Away? After 4 years on an island, when the character portrayed by Tom Hanks was finally thrust back into society, it was an overwhelming experience. While the situations may not be comparable, it’s likely that both educators and students will struggle to adjust when being thrust back into the classroom. Districts should consider having supports in place for their employees as well as strong SEL systems for students. Ted Gennerman, director of student services, and Emilie Tregellas, school psychologist for the Oak Creek-Franklin Joint School District in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, wrote an exceptional guide for incorporating SEL to support students and improve student behavior.

Beware the Assessment Drive

We realize that there will be a push to complete a lot of assessments when students return to the classroom full time, in order to determine how far behind – or how far ahead – they are from the standard grade level. While we’d prefer to do away with grade levels altogether and simply teach students at their own pace and in ways that motivate them to learn more and love learning more, we urge districts to complete assessments not to hold students back from their grade level but to identify who needs the most support to catch up.

Forward Progress Must Continue

Even as we return to traditional classroom settings, we can bring what we’ve learned about accelerating and individualizing education into the classroom – and we can bring the technology that helped us achieve it, too. Just as corporations are recognizing the benefit of continuing to support a remote workforce, schools are recognizing the benefit of continuing to use the learning systems and technology they implemented during the height of the pandemic.

Technology Improves Education

Hybrid learning does not have to end when schools open. Consider all of the kids sent to school sick because of attendance requirements who could continue to participate in class from home in a hybrid learning environment. Extending this further, consider the capacity for schools in different areas of the country or world that could collaborate on learning through technology. A recent study, “Learning and instruction in the hybrid virtual classroom: An investigation of students’ engagement and the effect of quizzes,” revealed that the ability for students to relate to their peers, as well as their intrinsic motivation, improved when multiple screens and collaborative technology were in place.

As school districts resume full-time, in-person classes, the last thing we want to see happen is that back-to-school means returning to educating students in the same way we did prior to the pandemic. We need to embrace everything we’ve learned during the pandemic, maintain all of the technology and innovation we’ve incorporated, and continue pushing forward.

Going Back to School Shouldn’t Mean Going Back to What Was

The pandemic has been a tragedy of grand proportions, and we do not want to take lightly the impact it has had on people throughout the country and around the world. However, we believe strongly in finding the positive and the hope in any circumstance – and in celebrating the resiliency and the innovative nature of people under pressure. We want to celebrate the scientists who are guiding us through the pandemic with rapidly developed vaccines and treatments. And of course, because of the industry we are in, we are elated with the progress we’ve seen in edtech and the nearly overnight transformation it has had on education – which is why it is all the more important that going back to school does not mean falling back into pre-pandemic patterns of providing education.

Edtech Should Be Here to Stay

Edtech has often been haphazardly incorporated into curricula, almost as a forced segment instead of a method for enabling teachers to better engage and encourage students. Having been thrust into online education, edtech and tech solutions took a front seat for many schools for the first time. But that technology, which may have been hastily thrown together to meet an urgent need, can now be properly integrated into varied curricula permanently.

Moving Education Forward

Hybrid learning, exposing students to the technology in which they will need to be savvy for success in the work environment, and giving educators tools that make it easier for them to be effective and engaging without being bogged down in the minutiae of paperwork should be priorities. Learning systems that allow teachers to automate lessons and grading practices, so that they can focus on individualized attention to students, should be the norm, not just a pandemic response.

Back to School Does Not Have to Mean Back to What Was

We will be announcing some new collaborations and innovations throughout the year, but the main motivation will be to continue pushing education into the 21st century. As school districts begin discussing the resumption of full-time, in-person classes, the last thing we want to see happen is for back to school to become a euphemism for back to what many consider to be normal.

In an education system that literally has not been updated in over a century, the changes that have happened because we have had to adapt must be sustained. We need to embrace everything we’ve learned during the pandemic, maintain all of the technology and innovation we’ve incorporated, and continue pushing forward.