Category Archives: Innovation

10 Demands For Professional Learning – A Ransom Letter

Dear administrators, 

Listen carefully! We are a group of individuals that represent a large faction of educators. While we respect the way you have run the training methods of your organization in the past, it is time for a change. As such, we are holding your teachers’ learning hostage. Their learning is safe and unharmed at this time, however, if you would like to release their learning, you must meet our list of demands when it comes to how you provide training for adults. Failure to meet these demands will result in the wide-spread lack of professional growth and lack of improvement in pedagogical practice by your staff. 

 

 

 

It doesn’t hurt to spend a little energy and effort promoting professional learning and getting teachers excited for it. Come up with a theme and make it feel like an exclusive “members-only” type event. While some of them may come because they “have to”, it helps start the training off with excitement and energy. One example would be to send out a video or graphic that highlights the training in a fun way. Here’s one that takes a “Point Break” theme to make learning about High Quality Assessments just a tad more exciting:

 

 

 

Building on the buzz and excitement from your promotion, take some time to create an atmosphere for your training event. This can be as simple as having some appropriately-themed music to adding some simple decorations around the tables. When someone walks into your room, they should be excited about being there, not dreading it. Know that many educators are entering your room with the expectation that this will just be another 6 hours of “sit n’ get”, which is why it’s important to create that exciting first impression when they walk in. Have fun activity for them that involves more than just making a name card like “tweet what your first job ever was” or “find a picture of what super hero best represents you”. This will give you as the trainer an opportunity to connect with the attendees as well as give you some material that you can use later.

 

 

 

Research shows that hunger affects the brain and cognitive development. While we know funding is always tight and food is the first thing to get cut, this is a list of demands. If you want your staff to learn, make sure they are not hungry. This doesn’t mean you have to provide a 5-course meal, it can be as simple as a basket of chocolate or some protein-heavy snack mix. Having protein in your diet not only creates better avenues for neurotransmitters to help with learning and retention, it increases happiness according to this study.

 

 

 

And this doesn’t mean have 10 minutes set aside for walking around and adding notes to those giant sticky chart papers on the walls. Take a moment and put yourself in the shoes of the attendee. Would you attend your own professional learning? “Fun” can sometimes be a negative word when it comes to learning and it shouldn’t be. Making learning fun, even for adults, will not only increase engagement in the learning, it will keep them coming back for more.

 

 

 

Having periods of movements or “brain breaks” throughout your training not only provide some much needed breaks from what is being input into the brain, research shows that movement facilitates brain plasticity (essentially the science of having the brain learn something new). Doing a brief improv activity or having your attendees move and stretch increases oxygen flow to the brain as well as this plasticity. A side-effect of doing a group improv activity is that it creates an environment of trust and risk-taking as well as collegiality between staff that might not normally be working along side one another.

 

 

 

How many times have we heard that adults shouldn’t lecture children all day? Do we think that what’s best with pedagogy wouldn’t also apply to what’s best with andragogy? Who’s doing the work and talking during professional learning? If it’s more the instructor than then the attendees, you need to rethink how you are engaging your adult learners. When outlining your day for professional learning,  try and employ somewhat of a “chunk n’ chew” method to the day. Break the day up into 20-30 minute segments that involving both introduction of a new skill, but also time for attendees to try it out and discuss ideas for application.

 

 

 

Taking into account the demands for engagement, movement, and making things more student-led, you must create opportunities for staff to collaborate on an idea or solve a problem. Providing time for collaboration in your professional learning allows opportunities for staff to discuss best practices around a topic or share strategies around a particular pedagogical problem.

Taking time for collaborative conversation at a recent training

 

 

 

Learning new things and skills takes a lot of cognitive ability. Having a training where all you do is show a series of new tools or tricks can be overwhelming to the brain and makes it nearly impossible to internalize all of it. As mentioned in demand #6, creating “chunk n’ chew” learning opportunities throughout the training will give staff an opportunity to try out the new skill as well as plan for application. Taking time to plan for application of the skill when it is learned, has a greater chance to translate into actual practice in the classroom.

 

 

 

We try to differentiate for learners in our classrooms, why not do the same for staff? Every single person comes into a training session with a different set of prior skills, knowledge, and preferred learning methods. When planning your professional learning, you need to allow opportunities for both the struggling learners and the high-flyers to be successful. This can be as simple as sharing your outline for the day ahead of time on Google docs or a website so that some can go at their own pace, while others can revisit a newly learned strategy.

 

 

 

Our final demand is that you provide some time for staff to reflect on what they have learned.   When planning the professional learning experience for your staff, make sure there is time to reflect throughout the day. This doesn’t mean just spend the last 5 minutes reflecting on something they learned that day, but rather actual pockets of time throughout the day where they can reflect in the medium of their choosing. After all, educational reformer John Dewey once said, “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”

We feel our list of demands are not unreasonable. Please secure these demands prior to your next professional learning event or your teachers’ learning will suffer the consequences. 

Sincerely,

The E.B.P.L. (Educators for Better Professional Learning)

Creating Time for Your Inner-Genius

I had a major problem in my last year as a first grade teacher. I had been teaching for several years and the students were so far ahead with two months to go that I had to figure out what to do with them. The year before, I decided to give them a head start on second grade curriculum thinking they would lose some during the summer break. I discovered that this was a major no-no and akin to taking a teacher’s personal parking space. Following a pretty good tongue-lashing by the second grade teachers, I was entering April with a choice, do I do it again?  Or do I figure out something else to do for our final 2 months together?

One thing that always bothered me as a teacher was the curriculum. The school I was teaching at and the team I was teaching with would rarely stray from it. The Teacher’s Edition was like a Holy Bible for a newer teacher as it provided the scope, sequence and pacing of delivery of content. There was one MAJOR problem with this….it didn’t take into account the kids. I was forcing them to learn math through fake story problems involving trains moving in opposite directions and learn history of whatever the textbook or standard dictated and never any more than that.

So with almost all the first grade content covered and a couple months of school left, I decided to consult the most important people in the school about what to do with the time….the students. I asked them what they wanted to learn about for the remainder of our time together. I had hoped for maybe one or two ideas but instead I got 22 different ideas for 22 different kids. It makes sense when you think about it. They each are unique and have different passions, so why wouldn’t they come up with things they are interested in?  The choices ranged from tornadoes to the actress Rachel Weisz (yes, a little boy named Sean was obsessed with her).

After gathering their list of ideas I presented them with a challenge – tie in all the core areas of curriculum – writing, science, reading, math and social studies into their passion and present a final project the represents all of these areas. While the school day was still fairly structured with centers and finishing up the final pieces of first grade curriculum, I started giving them an hour or more each day to work on their “passion project”.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this is exactly the way companies like Google work with their 20% time. It’s also the basis behind the concept of “Genius hour” in schools. Spend the majority of your time working on the “work” but then carve out pockets of time to explore your passions and inner genius. I’ve also heard it referred to as “Interest-based Learning.”  Whatever you want to call it, I stumbled into it my last year of teaching and immediately had regret. Not regret for doing it, but regret for not doing it sooner.

The content of our COWs – Apple’s iBook

The classroom bubbled with energy whenever the students had time to work on their projects. With only 4 computers in the room (do you remember Compaq computers?), they had limited research time and time to create. I ended up locating the one COW (Computers on Wheels) at the time which was full of a dozen pearl-white Apple iBooks (image left). I told the rest of the school that I would be the computer “farmer” in charge of the COW until the end of the year as my kids were using it heavily to wrap up their projects.

The amount of creativity energy flowing out of room 52 that year was breath-taking. During the last week of school, each of the students presented their passion project. I invited their parents in to see the final outcomes. Mary’s project on horses involved a history of horse migration to North America, an original poem on horses, and even math story problems on horses (“If two horses leave a barn at the same time heading in opposite directions…”).  Every student rose to the challenge and while it was hard for some to tie in the core content areas (Rachel Weisz was particularly challenging), they each accomplished the goals on the rubric.

So how do we make the time in schools for students to follow their inner-genius or passion? Some schools create Genius Hour time one day a week or one class period a week. Others, like one of our elementary campuses, creates something called “Enrichment Clusters” (based on the work of Joseph Renzulli) where not only do the students get to explore their passions, but the teachers get to teach their passions as well. Courses range from coding to yoga to golf in these clusters where students learn and ultimately present their project at the end of a 9-week time period.

As the students in my class wrapped up their projects that year, I felt extremely rewarded for making the choice I had for our time together those final weeks.They had the time to explore their inner-genius and had rewarded me by showing their learning. Thusly, I wanted to reward them for taking on this idea with such fervor. I tried to find some sort of trinket or object for each of them associated with their project. The boy who’s passion was Harry Potter got a stuff-three headed dog named Fluffy. The girl who was passionate about surfing got a charm bracelet full of different surf boards.

Oh, and in case you are wondering what happened with the student who created the Rachel Weisz project, I decided to reach out to the actress’ handlers but didn’t get a response. I ended up asking Sean to present on the last day just in case she decided to send a note or something. On the last day of school, his reward arrived:

It’s amazing what students can accomplish if you give them some voice and some choice. As a teacher, we need to figure out how to make this time for our students. We all have an inner-genius, we just need the time to explore it.

 

 

Bold Predictions Sure to Go Wrong in 2017

Every year I embark on an expedition to either look brilliant or embarrass myself. (Let’s be honest, that’s more like every day in my life) Since 2013 I’ve set out to make a series of predictions, mostly in the Ed Tech world, that are bold. Now, let’s look at the definition of “bold” below before we get started.

screen-shot-2017-01-02-at-3-33-51-pmWhile all of these certainly can be applied, I’m going to focus on the final definition and say that some of these predictions stretch the usual limits of conventional thought or action. Last year for example, I predicted that schools would start to implement self-driving buses.  As crazy as this may sound, about a month after the prediction, a company in Perth, Australia, began to pilot the self-driving bus in their community.  It’s only a matter of time before schools use them right?

You get the idea. Some of these are crazy, others actually just make sense, and some I just wish would happen.  So, with that in mind and stressing that this is a “no judgement” zone, let’s proceed:

A Dual-Language school will open with coding as the second language

The immersive dual-language movement has been going on for decades. Why not treat coding as a foreign language? If we really believe that we are preparing kids for a global society, then why not teach them a language many of them will find useful later in life? This does not mean that learning an actual foreign language is any less important, it’s just that we should probably start to value coding and programming on that same level in schools. One sign that this would become a reality would be if a school district actually gave a language credit to those learning to program and code. Talk about taking “hour of code” to the next level!

The POTUS will use SnapChat to give the State of the Union

I’m not even touching the political side of this, but instead, let’s focus on the medium to which our future president will use to communicate the State of the Union with the masses. I get the feeling that Twitter will not be enough for him in the future. I mean, either they’ll have to change their limit of 140 characters (not likely) or he’ll choose a different way of communicating. Enter SnapChat! What a great way to make a bold statement and then have it disappear (sort of) just a few seconds later. Does this sound all that crazy considering where we are today with social media, politics and the recent election?

The Learning “Movement” will take center stage at this year’s iPadpalooza

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iPadpalooza 2017: “Learning on the GO”

Every year, iPadpalooza tries to center our attention around a certain theme. Last year we let the “Learning be with us” via a Star Wars-focused theme centered around looking into the future. This year, we take the PokemonGo phenomenon and flip it on its head with our “Learning on the GO” theme. I mean, what good is it to have all of these mobile devices in schools when kids are forced to sit in desks in rows learning the same traditional content the same traditional way? During this year’s event, there will be a whole lotta shakin’ going on with sessions centered around the theme and even a new type of session called a “Walk n’ Talk” where attendees will actually walk around the campus with a presenter sharing an idea. You’ll want to have a good pair of walking shoes before you join us this summer!

Someone will invent a PokemonGO type app for education

Speaking of PokemonGO, it’s only a matter of time before someone invents an app that has some of the same addictive…er…engaging pieces of the widely popular Niantic app. I know there already is a PokemonEdu Facebook group and Twitter hashtag centered around using the characters from the app in an edu setting, but I’m talking something bigger here.

Imagine it.  As a teacher, you have access to a platform that allows you to upload little learning nuggets into a platform.  Students then actually get up and physically leave the classroom to discover these learning nuggets. Working in teams, they put the nuggets together and get certain badges for completing certain challenges. There could even be time limits, based on the class schedule, so you don’t just have kids wandering the halls all day. It’s like taking the APPmazing Race to a whole other level….hmmmmm….

Data actually gets sexy

I’m always reading stuff about “Big Data” and hearing about some fancy things happening with the IBM Watson project, but in truth, I find data to be extremely boring in its traditional, spreadsheet-focused format. I equate it to going and getting a physical. You don’t want to do it, but you need to if you really want to improve your health. Let’s face it, unless you are an accountant or testing coordinator, you’d rather find something else to do with your time rather than pouring over hundreds of color-coded graphs.

But this year, I think that will change. Now, I’m cheating a little bit here as I’ve been privy to a new program (called CatchOn) that actually puts usage data in a simple, clean, fantasy-football-like format. Gone are the days of me logging into different programs to look up usage statistics and figure out the ROI of a particular program. In this not-so-distant future, we’ll actually be able to see everything that’s being used on a district or school level right on our phone and then adjust accordingly. As someone who delivers professional learning in my district, being able to see this data instantly and beautifully would be powerful in steering what we need to help train teachers on or what we need to get rid of. Now that would be sexy (and save us money)!

Mixed Reality makes it’s way into the mainstream classroom

Virtual Paper Football!

Virtual Paper Football!

For the past couple of years, there have been several one-off ideas of using some sort of mixed reality in the classroom. Maybe it’s virtual through programs like Google Expeditions or Nearpod VR, or maybe it’s augmented like using the Aurasma app to see hidden things (something I attempted to do with my book series). Either way, mixing realities can provide a powerful way to engage students into certain content areas and up until now, it’s largely been seen as a niche or fun side activity. As witnessed by this recent Kickstarter called the ZapBox, it’s not too hard to see a future where the holograms actually do pop up on the desk so you can interact with them. Now, if only they can invent a way to create virtual versions of those paper footballs that I used to flick across the classroom.

VR-Enhanced Movies!

Piggy backing on the VR concept and expanding into pop culture, I see hollywood grabbing onto the VR the concept and expanding it to the viewer. Now, as someone attending a VR-enhanced movie, you put on the VR goggles, much like you do now with 3D glasses, and are instantly in the middle of the movie. You look around at all the characters around you and actually sit in the middle of the room where the action is taking place. Imagine sitting in a car from Fast and Furious 15 as it launches out of a plane and lands on a boat! Or imagine sitting in the living room during Halloween Part 13 and instead of yelling at the screen for the actor to turn around, you can actually turn around as the killer approaches? Doing it in a movie theater gives everyone the same shared experience and you could even make movies more “Choose your own adventure-like” where half the audience goes down one hallway and the rest go down the other. Sound crazy or genius? I’m not sure where I fall on this yet, but hope it happens.

The Classroom becomes “Smart” with Frank

With devices like Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa really taking off in the consumer market, it doesn’t seem that far-fetched that we would soon see an educational version of these tools. I think it should be called something like “Frank”. Frank would be like a fact-checking teacher’s assistant that all the students could also use. “Frank, when was the battle of 1812?” or “What is Bohr’s law?” or maybe “What is my teacher’s favorite treat?”  All of these could be useful in saving time in the classroom and help dive into even deeper learning and higher Bloom’s level thinking. However, I imagine it might also come with a lot of new classroom management issues.  But hey, for every challenge comes an opportunity, right Frank?

I finally publish my first children’s book…and this time I mean it!

Yes, I know this was on last year’s predictions, but I sort of had that whole Mobile Learning Mindset book series to finish first. With that series finally complete, I’m ready to embark on a new journey. I’ve got a lot of good ideas for a tech-centered children’s book that will definitely be some sort of mixed reality book too. It might even come with it’s own pair of VR goggles attached on the back. Like a virtual pop-up book of sorts. Now, if only I can find a publisher willing to take a risk….

There you have it.  A few bold and bolder predictions that may happen this year. What do you think? What do you predict? Add your comments below and maybe together, we can make the future a better place for learning too!

Happy New Year!

 

Review of 2016 Bold Predictions

review

Photo credit – goo.gl/YPq23i

Every year I since 2013, I like to take a few risks and attempt to predict which new trends will catch on in the world of education and ed tech.  Some years I’ll get it right, some I’ll get wrong. Among my best predictions were:

2015 – Pearson will lose its massive testing contract in Texas. (100% accurate prediction)

2015 – Drones will make their way into education (mostly true and happening now)

2015 – I will finally publish a book. (took until 2016, but it happened)

2014 – The “21st Century Skills” will be renamed something more appropriate and clever – (sort of happening now with “Future Ready” skills)

Of course, they ain’t all winners folks. Some of my more famous failed predictions were:

2013 – A non-Apple tablet will rule them all (Chromebooks now surpassed iPads in sales in schools, but they aren’t technically a “tablet”)

2015 – A human battery level app will be invented (not yet….)

All in all, I feel like my track record is about 50/50 on these. With that said, let’s see how I did on this past year’s bold predictions sure to be wrong:

Prediction – A school will try a self-driving bus

Outcome – not yet

I know this prediction seems completely unfeasible, but when you think about the practicality of it, should they get the safety part down, I think this will happen in the next 5-10 years. In fact, this year in Helsinki they actually have the world’s first self-driving bus, so it’s only a matter of time until education catches on.

Prediction – MYOT (“Make Your Own Textbook”) Becomes a Reality

Outcome – trending in the right direction

This is actually getting closer and closer to being a reality. With colleges like Rice’s Openstax and MIT’s Open Courseware now entering the fray, I think K-12 will continue to travel down this path sooner rather than later.

Prediction – A “Teen Social Media Prediction” app will be invented

Outcome – Wrong

The truth is, even if there was an app that could predict what kids were doing online it wouldn’t matter. As I wrote in this post (Everything is Social Media) last spring, technically, everything that kids do online can be social. From making comments on Amazon to chatting with friends on XBox, social media is here to stay and it doesn’t really matter if we can predict the next big platform or not.

Prediction – In a district far, far away….someone will develop Star Wars school.

Outcome – NO

Wishful thinking on my part. Learn we must. Create we will.

Prediction – Speaking of Star Wars…the Learning will awaken at iPadpalooza this summer

Outcome – True

We had one of our most engaging iPadpaloozas ever this past summer.  With the theme of “May the Learning be with You”, the event featured lightsabers, stormtroopers (in the bathroom even) and a bantha’s worth of high quality speakers and sessions. Can’t wait until 2017!  Here’s a highlight video of this year’s event:

 

Prediction – The Election Will Be Televised…via Periscope

Outcome – Mostly True

While I was right about the fact that social media would play a large role in the election, I was wrong about the tool.  Periscope and Facebook Live did play a role in the messages online, but in the end, it was the president-elect’s use of twitter to sway the masses that ended up tipping the tide in his favor. Whether you like him or not, in an age where “who ever says it first must be right”, the reality TV star played that card masterfully to craft his message and sway people into his camp. Now comes the hard part for him….actually being the president.

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Prediction – The “Undead” learning movement will happen!

Outcome – Still hopeful

As much as I would have loved a protest of broken #2 pencils being tweeted, snapped, and instagrammed out, this movement never quite took off. That said, more and more schools (like these in San Diego) are seeing the damage of too much standardized testing and thus reducing it from their daily practices.

Prediction – A School will go 1:1 cardboard

Outcome – Almost a reality

With the launch of Google Expeditions spreading like wild fire and the addition of Nearpod’s VR box, we are seeing more and more of these cardboard modeled phone-based VR goggles.  Zapbox even makes a headset that does mixed reality.  I’m a sucker for cool kickerstarters!

Prediction – I’ll Write a Children’s Book

Outcome – I still have a couple of weeks left

I’m in the middle of finishing my 6th book in the 6-book Mobile Learning Mindset series, so my time is very short here. That said, I have some early leads and a couple of ideas that might help me self-publish my first children’s book in 2017.  Here’s hoping!

So there you have it. Some winners. Some losers. Some that remain to be seen. Now comes the hard chore of researching trends from 2016 and attempting to gather them into some sort of coherent list for 2017.  Come back in January to see what crazy ideas come to fruition then and place your bets on which I’ll get right or…more than likely….wrong.

Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road

Do you ever have that moment where there is something you have to do, but you don’t want to do it?  Maybe it’s just a menial task like putting away laundry or doing the dishes. In your job it may be something like entering grades or uploading data via .csv files. Those moments happen throughout life unless you are lucky enough to have a butler and not have to work.

But what about those times when there is something you have to do that troubles you because you know it pushes you out of your comfort zone?

Now I’ll stop here and say that the phrase “have to do” would really be more apropos if replaced with “should do.” It’s those uncomfortable moments when you have an opportunity to do something that has some potential benefit, but because it pushes your comfort zone a bit, you decide not to do it. You end up circling back later usually with some regret, expressing how you should have done whatever it was. You end up “should-ing” yourself out of doing things. (Great video here detailing this concept)

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I got to travel to Australia to present and MC the amazing iPadpaloozaGC event taking place there. We decided to make a mini-vacation out of it as I was taking time off to travel anyway and go up a few days early. After traveling 26 hours, we landed in Gold Coast with really only 2 and 1/2 days to explore, the 1/2 day being the Sunday we landed.

My wife had done some research and discovered a place called “O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat” which had a great viewing platform that over-looked the rainforest. The only problem was, it was too far for an Uber ride so we had to rent a car.  Now, as you may know, in Australia they drive on the left side of the road with the car seat in the right side of the car. We decided rental was the way to go and as we landed I noticed something strange….I was nervous.

I say strange, because nervousness is not usually a trait I possess. Even before public speaking, you can often find me laughing and dancing off-stage (probably as a way to combat the onset of nervousness mind you). My hands were clammy, my stomach began to ache, and I began to imagine that scene in European Vacation where Chevy Chase is running into everyone in the parking lot as he learns to drive.

I began to frantically look at the cost of an Uber ride. It would be about $300 round-trip, but that cost might be worth it if for no other reason than to overcome the anxiety I was now experiencing. Without really thinking though, we walked up to rental counter to “hire a car” as they say it down under. And so, despite being exhausted and jetlagged, I found myself behind the right side of a car driving on the wrong side of the road.  We were off.

We picked up our friends, Scott and Lisa on the way up to O’Reilly’s to share in the horror/experience of me learning to drive all over again at the age of 41. Of course, being a male, I had to hide my fear, but anyone looking at my knuckles on the steering wheel would have noticed they were stark white. As we traveled up the mountain the road began to get narrower and narrower. Eventually, it turned into a one-lane, two-way road that didn’t have any guard rails and a deadly cliff on one side. Here’s a little time-lapse of what that looked like from the passenger seat on the left side:

 

Needless to say, I was now completely terrified. Every time a car was traveling down the road, I would have to pull off onto a non-existent shoulder with the car teetering on the edge. My wife would dig her nails into my leg as she had a bird’s eye view on what would be our eventual demise. At some point on the drive (which lasted about 45 minutes), I began to have a sense of euphoria overtake me. Had we died and I didn’t notice? Was this what adrenaline junkies refer to as an adrenaline high?

This euphoria I was experiencing was from learning something new. That change and discomfort I was feeling went hand in hand with learning something new. Now, I know this isn’t a break-through in science as many blogs and articles have discussed how you can grow through discomfort, but this experience was extremely visceral for me.  I started thinking about my own career and the education of our students.  I started thinking about our teachers who we ask to take out of their comfort zones at times with the integration of technology.

As if perfectly timed, the next week I was back in the states (now re-learning how to drive on the right side of the road) and preparing for our first ever iLeap Academy for internal staff. iLeap Academy is an immersive learning expedition of sorts. Tim Yenca (@mryenca) and I train teachers over several days on effective and meaningful ways to integrate technology. We also visit many of our classrooms and let the teachers take on the role of the observer to see 1:1 in action.

This academy isn’t for the tech savvy teachers. It’s for the teachers that have sound pedagogy and content knowledge that are just looking for a way to improve their practice with the integration of technology. Over the course of four days, 36 brave teachers sat down in their seats and prepared to drive down the wrong side of the road and get out of their comfort zone.

They were introduced to boundary-pushing concepts, forced to competitively collaborate in a series of challenges and an Appmazing Race, and even had to endure some of my most difficult brain break challenges on top of learning new tools and ways to integrate them. Like my drive up to O’Reilly’s, I could sense that many in the crowd had some fears or discomfort to some of the concepts and ideas being discussed, but decided to take the ride anyway.

When the week ended, Tim and I went back to review some of the comments from the exit survey. We have done iLeap Academies for other districts, (next one is November 8-10, register here!)  but never our own staff. We were both floored by the responses:

Wonderful experience, I feel I am walking away as if I went through a technology boot camp and going to try some of these things next week. Very excited to try all of this in the classroom and can’t wait to see my kids reactions to some of the ideas!

It was excellent, I would recommend it to every teacher I know!

I really enjoyed the opportunity to come and learn about technology even in my 33rd year in education.

One teacher, who was in his 30th year of education, even took the time to write our superintendent to tell him that this was the best professional learning experience of his career. Many of the teachers in side conversations expressed initial hesitation for attending and being a part of this. It was a couple of days out of their classroom which means sub plans, playing catch-up, etc. and it also meant learning about some new ideas. But after the experience and stretching them out of their comfort zone, they went forward with confidence and ready to take a risk.

As Tim and I visited campuses the following day, we saw many of our “iLeapers” proudly wearing their iLeap shirts and more importantly, putting into practice immediately some of the things they had learned.

That sense of euphoria from learning something new can come in many different ways. It comes from trying new things and getting out of your comfort zone. It comes from sharing an experience with friends or colleagues as you travel down a narrow road. It comes from not “should-ing” on yourself and being brave. While the peril that exists on the other side of our choice may not always be a deadly cliff, taking a risk or changing a mindset is still an extremely uncomfortable thing for our brains to do.

I applaud all those teachers out there that continue to try and improve their craft.

So take a chance and drive on the wrong side of the road every so often when it comes to your teaching craft. The pay-off for student learning can be spectacular. Much like the view from the top of a rainforest.

"View from the top" of O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat

“View from the top” of O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat – We made it!

How Mobile-Friendly is Your Classroom?

For generations, the main areas of learning in the classroom have been the same. Reading, Writing, Math, Science, and Social Studies.  These “core” subject areas of curriculum have been a focus of American learners since the mid-20th century.  These subject areas were thought to be the essential curriculum necessary to prepare the youth for success in college and the workplace.  The manner in which these subject areas were taught mirrored the factory model method in which they were delivered. Content was passed back, row-by-row, as students repeated tasks and built skills over time.

While both traditional teaching styles and core subject areas have been slow to change to the modern world, the new area of mobile devices in classrooms is disrupting all of our previous ideologies around these sacred pillars of education. Repetitive tasks can now be gamified into forms that create critical thinking. Fact-based content can now easily be searched, opening up time to work on association and application of that information. Science and Math have given way to STEM.  Reading and writing are now being embedded throughout the curriculum in a more project-based approach. 

As these changes collide in a classroom that now welcome mobile devices, the modern teacher needs to think about how this affects change in their classroom in multiple areas. In Book #4 of the Mobile Learning Mindset, I represent this transition in a concept I call the Mobile Learning Quadrant (MLQ).

The four areas of the MLQ are Content, Space, Interaction and Time.  Here’s a brief overview of how these four quadrants can change in a mobile learning environment:

Content

While much of the content in education is still based on the core subject areas (driven mostly by traditionalism and standardized testing), it now begins to take on a much more interactive form with mobile devices. Initial iterations of content on mobile devices meant glorified PDFs in the form of online textbooks. Still, at the beginning, mobile learning meant consuming content on a screen rather than in a book. In the new mobile learning environment, content must shift from consumption to creation. Rather than reading the textbook online, students can create their own textbook to demonstrate learning.

Space

The days of having desks in rows are over. It’s time to write an obituary to the student desk. Obviously the word “mobile” applies to much more than just devices.  However, in many classrooms this isn’t the case. Devices are distributed to engage learners, yet really all they do is replace their paper notebook as students sit in rows and take notes on their Chromebooks. The mobile learning environment should contain flexible spaces that encourage interaction and collaboration with others in the room and online.  It doesn’t always have to be an expensive new modern chair either. Many teachers are hacking their spaces with bean bag chairs, exercise balls and pub tables. Learning doesn’t even have to be contained within the classroom walls anymore.  Teachers assessing their space in the MLQ should determine how much of their students’ time is spent in static spaces versus dynamic ones.

IMG_7597

A sneak peak at our new Incubator room at Westlake High School. Purposeful and mobile furniture.

Interaction

With more flexible space comes more meaningful interaction amongst students.  When I took part in the #Student4aDay Challenge, in the classrooms where the space was static, there was little to know interaction between student to student.  In fact, most of the interaction was uni-directional (teacher to student).  However, in the classrooms with more flexible space and student created content, interaction becomes much more collaborative in nature rather than isolated.

Time

All of the above quadrants can still happen without technology or mobile devices.  While mobile devices make them all much more possible and dynamic, much of it depends on how the teacher integrates them. The ability to shift learning from a set-time every day to more on-demand can only happen with technology.  Remember only a couple of decades ago when in order to watch the next great episode of the Facts of Life, it meant that you had to sit in front of the television at 7:30 on Thursday night? If you missed it, you missed it. In our schools you could apply that same rule to the class schedule.  If you are the type of person that learns math best in the afternoon but have to take math at 9:30 in the morning, you also “miss” it. Now with flipped classrooms and blended learning in a mobile environment, we can “bend” time to make the necessary content much more available on demand.

Infusing mobile learning into a classroom where students consume content in isolation in a desk at a set time of day is a waste in some ways. Creating flexible spaces that encourage collaboration to create content and an environment where learning can happen 24/7 is truly a thing to behold. Leveraging the MLQ in this way can really begin to move the needle when it comes to efficiency of learning with mobile devices.

Now, if we can just do something about those standardized tests…        

MLQ infographic.001

My infographic on the Mobile Learning Quadrant (MLQ)

Editor’s note: This post is based on the book series Mobile Learning Mindset.  This 6-book series explores how each key stakeholder can best support a mobile learning initiative.  The first two books are already out and can be purchased here.  Books 3 (focused on coaches and professional learning) and book 4 (focused on the teacher and classroom environment) are set to be published at the end of September.

   

“The Gauntlet” – An Innovative Way to Hire Talent

When I started this position in 2010, hiring new educational technologists followed the same lines as all other positions in the district. A group would get together, look at resumes, and basically determine which 4-6 candidates made the most sense on paper to come in and interview for the position.  The interview was a standard 1-hour process made up of the typical questions like “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” or “Tell us more about yourself.”  While this process had been in place for years, it really didn’t shed much light on the ins and outs of the position itself nor did it give other candidates a chance to participate if they didn’t have what it takes on paper.

Something else I noticed in education (and somewhat in private business as well) is that it’s much easier to hire someone than it is to fire them.  If hiring consists of a 1-hour interview and a couple of reference checks, firing takes months to years worth of documentation, discussions, mediations, and even at times, legal involvement.  With that background, over the past few years, we’ve set out to make the hiring process much more robust.  In December of 2011, I thought I had nailed it by adding a presentation component to the process.

Alas, it was just the beginning.

What follows is the now 9-part process we implement when it comes to hiring an Ed Tech at Eanes ISD.  I’m sharing this because other districts may benefit from reviewing and updating their hiring practices and I would also love to learn from other districts that have a more rigorous or innovative process.

Round 1 – Application Score

Looking through the field of applicants, any that match the minimum criteria for the position as posted on the job description  make it into this initial round. Putting all the applicant resumes and cover letters in a shared folder, my team reviews each and gives them a rating based on the campus that needs to be filled and how well their resume aligns.To keep consistent, each scoring section carries a 1 to 5 scale for interviewers to score the applicants.

Round 2 – Social Media Background Check

According to Career Builder, 43% of companies now add a social media background check as part of the hiring process. As our position involves sharing online as well as gathering content via virtual PLNs, I individually search each of the qualified candidates on social media.  A candidate with no profile online can’t hurt them, but it also doesn’t help them. In some cases I’ve come across questionable material which has caused me to pass on a candidate and in other cases, I’ve seen some amazing digital profiles that could nudge the candidate into the next round if there is a tie or they are below the cut-off line.  Based on profiles I either award a single point, a zero, or a negative point to the process. Taking the applicant score and social media background check bonus, we narrow the field down to 12-14 applicants which will then process to the next round.

Round 3 – Video Resume

Those 12-14 candidates that survive round one and the social media check are then asked to create a video resume. This is a 2-minute or less video that highlights the best of the candidate.  We encourage candidates to be as creative and to not make the video Eanes specific (more on that later).  Usually at this point, a few candidates drop out and some have even claimed they “don’t have time for this” which is somewhat telling.  The candidates have 5 days to create their video and submit at which point I put each video into a form to be scored by the interview team.  Here’s a mock version of the form (added some of my favorite video projects to protect the innocent).  Following the scoring round, we reduce the field to either 4 or 8 candidates depending on the positions we need to fill.  Those candidates are then invited to participate in “The Gauntlet”.

A classic game from the 80's or a new hiring practice?

A classic game from the 80’s or a new hiring practice?

“The Gauntlet” 

No, not that classic video game from the 1980’s, but it is somewhat equally challenging. In fact, at some point during the process I can almost hear the game narrator say, “Valkyrie, your life force is running out.” The Gauntlet all takes place on the same day.  The idea is to give each applicant a snap-shot of a day in the life of an Ed Tech.  It also optimizes the time of the interview committee.  In the traditional interview method (1-hour Q&A with a candidate), reviewing 4 applicants would take 4 hours plus time in between each candidate as well as prep and debrief time.  Looking at 4 candidates in this traditional format would generally take up to 6 hours. This process reduces the actual time with the candidates to 2.5 hours and gives us a much broader look at the skills and talents of each candidate.  Here’s a matrix of what the day might look like for four applicants (A-D):

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 8.52.25 AM

Rounds 4-7 – The Gauntlet Matrix

Each candidate participates in these 4 components.  They are all done in a different order for each candidate but laid out as such that the interview portion doesn’t back up to the presentation portion, as those tend to involve the most stress.  Each component takes 30 minutes or less.

Round 4 – One-on-One time

Each candidate gets an opportunity to ask a previous Ed Tech questions.  In some cases, it could be an Ed Tech that was previously posted at the school hiring or one that has retired. Which this seems like a pretty easy step, you can tell a lot about a candidate based on the questions he/she asks. The Ed Tech being questioned returns at the end of the process to report out their view on each of the candidates based on the questions asked.

Round 5 – Interview

This is the most traditional component, but we tried to update some of the traditional questions to make it more modern.  George Couros has a great post here that ties the 8 characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset (his book) to interview questions. To prepare the candidates, I email them the general topics around what questions are asked so they can have a story or two in mind. (i.e. Perseverance, handling failure, leadership, etc) Then, each person in the interview room is given a scoring form with each question asked.  Here’s an example of what that form looks like.

Round 6 – Problem-Solving Room

Candidates are placed in a private office and asked to answer three different email scenarios on a Google doc (see example below). The scenarios involve an email from a parent, a teacher, and a principal that pose a problem or concern that needs to be addressed. The Google doc is viewable by the rest of the interview team which are then asked to score them (blindly) based on the candidate responses.  (Mock example here)  As a wild-card, during this process I walk in wearing a wig (yes…a wig) and different outfit.  I’m playing the role of a teacher who’s iPad won’t work as well as someone who questions why we even have iPads in the classroom.  As part of this role is constantly getting interrupted for just-in-time troubleshooting and problem-solving, the purpose of this wild-card isn’t to see how they fix the problem as much as how they deal with me.  I then awarded a bonus point to the candidates with the best responses.

Mock email scenario

Mock email scenario

Round 7 – Mini-Presentation

Each applicant is asked to prepare a mini-presentation that lasts no longer than 20 minutes which builds in some time for set-up and Q&A afterwards. The audience is made up of administrators, Ed Techs, and staff from the campuses that are hiring. The candidates are encouraged to use this time to showcase their presentation/training style while also teaching the group an idea/topic/concept. Following each mini-presentation, the audience scores the candidate using a form like this one.

Following the jigsaw matrix of the 4 rounds above, the candidates are all invited into our main room to participate in the final collaboration challenge.

Round 8 – Collaboration Challenge

Each candidate sits with a team of 3 teachers to help solve a dilemma or disagreement.  The teachers are asked to play three different roles: a teacher that is super excited to integrate technology, one that is not, and one that is in-between.  They are then asked to choose one of two different blind scenarios and read them aloud.  Over the course of the next 20 minutes, we observe how the candidates listen, ask questions, and help mediate the mock team meeting. Afterwards, each group assigns a collaboration score using a form like this one.

Following all the challenges, the entire group meets to debrief.  We hear the strengths of each candidates as well as the areas which they would need support if hired.  We don’t rank the applicants or ask for a ranking as the scores will bear that out.  Even with the scoring system, it’s always good to hear from members of the interview crew.  As this group is made up of teachers from hiring campuses, administrators and Ed Techs, they each provide a unique perspective on the candidates and how they can fit with the campus culture. I then ask them to submit their final thoughts on an open-ended form as sometimes, sharing in a group of 16-18 educators can be intimidating and I want to hear the thoughts of everyone on the committee.

Round 9 – Reference Checks

Pretty standard, but necessary.  I use this time to ask not only the strengths, but also what supports the candidate might need going forward in our district.

Summary

While this is an exhaustive process, using technology helps us optimize time spent with the candidates as well as receive feedback from a wide variety of people.  While this is the first year, we’ve implemented the “Gauntlet”, we have done the mock presentation, email scenarios and video resumes in the past.  In looking at the blind scores and coupling that with the feedback from the group, EACH time the candidate with the highest overall score also gets the most positive feedback.

Communication is key for this to work.  From the moment the applicant applies to the day I offer them the job, I’ve sent them an email with an updated timeline and instructions for each step along the process. I’m doing this not only to inform them, but to also see if they follow-up for questions or respond to let me know they received the instructions (testing their professionalism a bit).  In many way, this process begins when that first email is sent.

For those candidates that don’t get hired, I try and give them feedback on things they could improve to earn the position in the future.  In some cases, applicants return the following year and get hired based on this feedback and campus match. In other cases, I’ve had candidates tell me they’ve received offers in other districts based on their video resume (which is why I ask them to not make it “Eanes specific”).

Hiring will never be as hard as letting an employee go. I know this process isn’t perfect and we are constantly trying to improve it.  One thought from the team is to weight the scores of different components based on importance (like the collaboration or presentation components). Regardless, my hope with this process is that we can be as informed about a candidate’s personality, skill-set, work ethic, and overall ability so that firing will never be an option.

The Truth About Teens – Everything is Social Media

 

It’s interesting what we think of when the words “Social Media” are mentioned. For parents, our minds drift to a couple of different places mainly; Facebook and bad things with teens.  For kids, it’s actually a very different experience.  Looking at the definitions above (courtesy Merriam-Webster), the technical definition of social media is “Spending time together interacting and communicating(social) through a system which can be spread to a large number of people(media).”

This past month, I had multiple opportunities to host discussions with students of all ages when it comes to social media and technology.  The first opportunity was with my very own Westlake High School students. The second was with the students of Casady School in Oklahoma City, OK (home of EdTech guru Wes Fryer @wfryer. Here’s a link to his post about my visit). I wanted to use these opportunities as a chance to not only have conversations with kids about social media, but also pick their brain about what they think is happening online and better yet, what they think adults think about their use of social media.

Given this dedicated time with students who live and breathe in this world, I wanted to make the most of it.  Here’s a break down of some of the challenges I did with students during our time together.

2-minute challenge

In teams of 3 or 4, I challenged the students to name as many social media platforms as they could in 2 minutes.  While I knew this would bring about some silly answers, I also knew that the competitiveness would kick in at some point.  Many of the teams had more than 25 different responses, including 32 from one team of middle school students.  I did my best to collect these quickly and have students explain the ones I didn’t get.

Here are a couple of the lists from the Westlake group (excuse my bad handwriting):

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 11.59.43 AM

 

Some of the usual suspects were shared by both groups:

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Hangouts, Skype,Vine, Reddit and Tumblr

Some of the messaging faves:

Kik, WhatsApp, GroupMe, Text Free

Some not so usual suspects:

Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Omegle, Soundcloud, MySpace, Weibo, 4Chan 

There were some mentions of dating sites as social media:

FarmersOnly, Tinder, Christian Mingle

There were some sites I have never heard of:

Phhhoto, Discord, Twitch, and 9gag

And some we warn our kids about:

Yik Yak, Brighten, AfterSchool

Then things got interesting.

One of the students stood up and said “Amazon”.  I went to write it down and paused….”You mean, like the place you go to buy stuff?”

Yes. The student began to explain his thinking.  He says that if you recommend something you can actually use that space to interact with customers and companies. Therefore making it “social” in nature.  Looking at our definition of social media stated above, I would say he’s actually on to something here. At that point students began to mention many other platforms and places where they are social online.

Social media sites we don’t consider as social media:

Amazon, NES (Nintendo Entertainment System), Google Docs, XBox Connect, Yelp, Text Messaging

This left me somewhat floored.  Not only were these lists growing, but now EVERYTHING could be social media?  It actually reminded me this video that Wes had shared with me a month ago:

(Note: This is satire…not everything on the internet is real)

Using comment sections on any site instantly turn it into a social media site. I don’t know about you, but I want to check out this new “Happy Fast Kitchen” site.

Agree/Disagree Challenge

The second activity we participated in was a game I call “Love/Hate” or “Agree/Disagree”.  In this case, I asked students to stand or move to one side of the room if they agreed with the statement.  If they disagreed, I asked them to stay seated or move to the other side of the room.  Here are the questions and some of the results:

Statement 1: Cyberbullying is getting worse.

Agree: 65%

Disagree: 35%

At Casady school, as it was done in a large performance hall, I used my CatchBox to elicit audience response. It’s always a dangerous thing to give a teenager a microphone in a large crowd, but the kids at Casady were honest and respectful when answering.  Here’s what it looked like: (thanks again to Wes Fryer for capturing this)
https://vine.co/v/ij7tq9BqH0g/embed/simplehttps://platform.vine.co/static/scripts/embed.js

Responses: Many of the students agreed with the statement with the rationale that because there are so many more social media sites out there, there must be more cyberbullying.  Some students mentioned the ease with which you could be anonymous now on many of these platforms, which makes it easier to cyberbully.  Those that disagreed said that they felt their generation is much more aware of the permanence of their actions online and how everything has a trace, even if you think it’s anonymous. According to this report by U.S. News, it’s actually been on a steady decline since 2005.

Statement 2: You can post a photo, then delete it and it will be gone forever.

Agree: 0%

Disagree: 100%

Apparently students at both campuses have heard this loud and clear.  Not a single student even stood up as a joke.  They know that if it’s online it could be accessed. However, when I relayed my story about my niece Jordan and her first run in with SnapChat, it made some of them squirm in their seats.  I told Jordan that I could hack the SnapChat server (like this guy) and access all the user accounts, including their photos.  Her face began to turn pale as did the faces of many of the kids in the audience when I relayed that story.  So while they believe in this statement, their actions may not necessarily follow suit when it comes to posting “temporary” photos.

Statement 3: Adults don’t understand what teens do on social media.

Agree: 50%

Disagree: 50%

This one and the next statement had the groups the most divisive.  Those that agreed with the statement mentioned in some cases that parents hear a negative story about an app or a kid on social media and assume that means only terrible things are happening online. Another mentioned that his parents just don’t take the time to ask and understand what an app is and how he is using it.  One student summed it up by saying, “Imagine if their (adults) parents told them to stay off the phone because someone could potentially prank call them. That’s how we feel sometimes when it comes to social media and our parents.”  For those that disagreed, they mentioned that parents are much more tech-savvy these days.  They have smartphones, access to other parents easily (via social media ironically) and can Google search just about anything.

Statement 4: I think my social media use could help me get into college or land my first job.

Agree: 50%

Disagree: 50%

Another statement that had the groups split right down the middle.  In fact, it was almost corollary with the previous statement in terms of who agreed and who disagreed.  Those that disagreed with the statement claimed that it depends on the type of job, which might make this statement false.  They also said that they had been made so scared to get on social media that they hoped it didn’t hurt them in the future. Many of the students that agreed mentioned how it could help build their online profile and make connections with them that would help in the future. One precocious 12-year old girl shared that “more and more colleges and businesses are looking at your online profile everyday.  That means their is a great opportunity to use that profile to help you land a job or get into college.”

I relayed my own story of how I screen our Ed Tech applicants through social media. While it doesn’t hurt the applicants not to have anything online, it doesn’t help them either.  This CareerBuilder.com press release goes into great detail about how many companies are looking at social media profiles and what they are finding that is either helping or hurting prospective employees.

Google Yourself Challenge

For the final challenge, I asked the students if they have ever “Googled Themselves”? Most of the students raised their hands.  When I asked some of the students to share what they discovered, there were some amazing and hilarious stories.  One of the students mentioned that his name comes up as a local car dealership for Mini-Coopers.  Another shared that he shares the name (and look) of a famous soccer player. When I asked them how many had googled their teachers, about half the hands were raised (along with some snickers and giggles). About the same amount admitted to Google searching their parents, where one teen mentioned that she discovered that her dad had been part of a pretty famous rock band before her time.

As part of their “homework”, I asked the kids to consider things they could do to improve their online profile and also ways that they could use social media for good.  I also asked those kids that were sitting during the statement about parents “not understanding” about social media that they use this as an opportunity to have a discussion with mom and dad about all the good things they are doing online. (I asked the parents to do the same at a parent talk later in the evening)

I’m sharing all of this because I think schools need to be having these conversations with kids and parents.  We can bring in an Assistant DA to scare kids and parents away from social media, but the reality is, we need to work together on ways to understand these new methods of interacting, communicating and well, being social. That doesn’t happen when you tell kids what they should be doing. It happens when you ask kids what they think they should be doing. I’m hoping that if you’ve read this far, that you will try something similar with the kids in your school or neighborhood.  Please post comments below and share your social media story.

When we share, we learn!

Courtesy Wes Fryer's Flickr - https://www.flickr.com/photos/wfryer/26095959761/

Courtesy Wes Fryer’s Flickr – https://www.flickr.com/photos/wfryer/26095959761/

Apple Classroom and iOS 9.3 in a 1:1

As mentioned in a previous post (Choosing the Next Device), we are moving forward with iPads in all K-12 grade levels but our new model will look and feel much different than the previous one.  When we embarked on the 1:1 in 2011, there was really no systems designed to distribute and manage our devices. Workflow was an issue (we used email mostly).  While we put restrictions on the devices in terms of age-appropriate app downloads, it was impossible to completely block all “non-instructional” apps without completely locking down the device.

With the release of iOS 9.3 and the subsequent update of our JAMF server,  Apple has revamped classroom and technology support of iPads in education.  Below are some of the newest features that Eanes ISD will be taking advantage of in order to optimize the use of these tools for learning.

1. Eanes App Store

Some of the feedback our Digital Learning Task Force received from teachers, students and parents was that non-instructional apps were a distraction when it came to learning.  While we have restricted some of this usage over the years, we will now have the ability to completely remove Apple’s App Store from the device.  Students will only have access to apps that we provision in the Self-Service app (examples below) which will act as a sort of “Eanes App Store”. (see infographic at the bottom of this post) We also now have additional flexibility to give some students, based on learning need and responsibility, access to the actual app store at some point.

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 8.32.47 AM

Teachers and students will still have the ability to request apps which can be added to this new Eanes App Store. By doing this we’ll also be addressing another concern that was raised in that we have too many apps being used all over the district.  This will allow us to better align both horizontally and vertically the apps that we are providing to our students throughout the district.

New Apple Management

The new iOS will allow for better management and deployment which will also help address another issue raised with the DLTF.  Many students didn’t receive their iPads until a few weeks into the school year.  Since most of our instructional materials are now digital, this caused quite an issue. With the new management software, we’ll be able to deploy devices much sooner, getting instructional materials and digital tools for learning at an earlier date than before.

Apple Classroom

Apple Classroom is a new tool that was just launched by Apple during its latest announcement on Monday, March 21. This new tool will act as a “Teacher’s Assistant” of sorts in that teachers can glance at all the screens of their students on their own screen to check for off-task behavior.  Additionally, the teacher can reset passcodes, remote launch and lock apps on student devices, and select a student’s device to view on the big screen wirelessly.  

In closing, we’ve come a long way since that initial deployment in 2011.  We’ve seen many things NOT to do and many amazing projects and benefits as a result of having mobile technology in our classrooms.  This next phase of our 1:1 will bring even deeper learning as we continue to focus our instructional use and make learning truly personal for all of our students.

 

Infographic New Eanes App Store

 

Choosing the Next Device: A Method for Crowd-Sourcing Input

In the spring of 2015, our district passed a bond which included over $5 million for a line item called “Student Mobile Device Initiative.”  For the past 4 and 1/2 years we’ve been a 1:1 district K-12 using the 16GB iPad2 as our device of choice. With the passing of the bond, we now had an opportunity to not only reflect on the first few years of the program but also to garner input from a variety of sources. This post is an inside look at the process we used and the ultimate results of that process.  It’s my hope that other districts will do the same when investing money into devices and also realize that purchasing the device is the easiest thing, it’s changing pedagogy and creating meaningful learning with technology that is the hard thing.

Formation of the Digital Learning Task Force

With opportunity comes great responsibility.  Ok, so maybe that wasn’t the exact Spiderman line, but we knew that going forward we needed to make sure we had several voices represented in choosing our next device. Rather than just form a “Technology Committee”, we decided to create a “Digital Learning Task Force” (DLTF).  The name was symbolic in that this was much more than just a selection of a device. The task force would be made up of teachers, students, parents, community members and administrators.

In the summer, we publicly posted an application for members of the district community to apply to be a part of a newly formed task force that would ultimately recommend the final device. (Here’s a copy of the application) In September, we gathered some board members and administrators to look through the applications in an attempt to bring a diversified group of parents from different schools in our community.  We then did the same thing in choosing our teachers, students and administrators to be a part of this team.

In our first meeting we discussed the two goals of this group:

  1. Look at what our current reality is when it comes to integration of technology AND
  2. What do we want our preferred future to be?

The task force then constructed multiple ways to not only gather input from the district community but also to learn and investigate the current state of devices in schools.

Digital Learning Symposiums

In an effort to create more discussions around digital learning, we decided to host several symposiums open to the community as a launching point for these conversations.  Each of these were captured via Livestream for those parents that couldn’t make it in person or wanted to watch at a later date. The first one was an expert panel made up of industry experts, university professors and people from the local start-up community. The second was a panel of teachers from across grade-levels and disciplines and included some round-table discussions as well as the panel discussion. The final symposium was made up of students from 1st grade to 12th grade and also included some round table discussions.  During the teacher and student symposiums, we asked students to submit their questions via video to the staff.  We also had a different person moderate each symposium.

Also the symposiums, feedback posters were placed around the room that correlated with online feedback walls.  The four posters asked the following questions (links to virtual walls included)

  1. What are some things we are doing well with technology?
  2. What are some things that we need to improve?
  3. What other things do we need to consider when it comes to tech? What’s next?
  4. What future ready skills do our students need?

Site Visits

One of the first assumptions from the public community was that iPads were not really being used much at the K-2 area.  There was a feeling that we could provide laptops or higher end devices to the high school students if we just took away the devices from the lower grades or went to a shared model. Before any decisions were made on that front, it was decided that the task force visit an elementary, middle and high school campus first.

Though those visits, the task force saw that the in fact some of the most meaningful uses of the devices were happening at the lower levels of elementary.  While they had the devices the least amount of time, they actually had integrated them much more fully than even some of the upper level high school classes. It was through these site visits that another recommendation would come in that we need to do a better job of communicating what’s happening in the classroom and which apps are being used district-wide.

Focus Groups

As the symposiums were very public, it makes it difficult sometimes for people to share honestly what they were feeling or concerns they had. As a result, we hosted focus groups for students, parents and teachers at each of our campuses and even hosted a central one just for parents. These focus groups provided some great qualitative data as well.  It’s through the focus groups where we heard the most about the day-to-day issues with distraction and the need to occasionally have access to other devices when needed. One other outcome as a result of this is the idea that even though we’ve made our final device recommendation (skip to the end to see that), we want to continue to have these focus groups yearly so we can make necessary adjustments on the initiative.

Online Interactions

As many on the task force mentioned, not everyone can get to a physical meeting or symposium.  We all live busy lives and it only seemed to make sense that since this was all about digital learning that we have an online component.  So besides the symposiums being posted online and the interactive feedback posters (via Padlet.com), we also created a Google Community. The community was a place where anyone could join and post questions or resources when it comes to digital learning. We also used the #EanesDLTF hashtag whenever information was shared or posted as a way to gather data. This hashtag would also be used as a way to curate questions for the panels at the symposium.

Survey, survey, then survey again

One of the final methods of data gathering was the use of many surveys.  Each survey focused on a different segment of our population and were focused on gathering information on both the current reality and our preferred future.  Here are copies of our surveys that your are free to look at and remix for your own purposes.

The results of the surveys were very diverse and gave us a wide range of feedback.  We saw a general tendency that the older the students were, the more they wanted to have a physical keyboard or laptop. Here’s an example of some of the data we shared with the school board on that first survey.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 11.51.32 AM

As a result of this and a discrepancy at the high school in terms of what students and teachers preferred, we decided to send a follow-up survey once we had narrowed down the device choices. Many of the students and teachers that preferred laptops wanted a high-end MacBook as their preferred machine of choice.  As budget for the program wouldn’t allow for a $1200 device and for the uses they had outlined being so varied based on class, we needed to land on a base-level device to use for all classes. We then took the final three devices (Macbook Air 11″, Dell 3350, and an iPad Air 2 64GB w/keyboard case) and made them available for viewing a week prior to sending the final high school survey. Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 11.57.45 AM

We sent out follow-up surveys to both the students and staff of the high school to land on our final decision.

Final Recommendation:

One thing for certain, was that no matter what the selection, there would be some groups happy and some upset with the choice.  After 600 hours of focus groups, discussions, meetings, presentations and symposiums as well as over 6000 survey responses, the task force voted unanimously for the option that gave us the most flexibility, with the best support model as well as ease of integration. In choosing the iPad Air 2 (64GB) for all levels, we are giving students and staff a model of iPad that goes 12 times faster, holds 4 times as much memory and now allows for split-screen multitasking. We also added a keyboard component for upper grades and some options for keyboards at the lower grades. This also honors the work of many teachers who have utilized the iPad to improve student learning in their classrooms for the past 4-5 years. It also reinforces the work we have been doing on the horizontal and vertical alignment of tools and curriculum within our district.

For more information I created this infographic which was distributed along with a press release today. (blog coming later on how I made the infographic using Keynote):

DLTF recommendation infographic