Category Archives: Leadership

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)

#SXSWedu 2017 Manifesto

screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-5-02-39-pmI’ve attended every SXSWedu since the beginning. As it’s located in Austin, it’s a great opportunity to learn and share with leaders from around the world right in my backyard. This year, we are sending quite a bit of staff to stretch their thinking and grow as professionals.  As usual, Ron Reed and the crew at SXSWedu put together a dynamite line-up that doesn’t disappoint. One thing I created to help guide staff is create a “manifesto” of sorts for those that are either going for the first time or are just needing help not being overwhelmed by all the great sessions in their lineup.

If you are a first-time or veteran SXSW-er, hopefully some of these tips will help you as you make your way towards Austin next week.

If you are with a group, create a Slack channel

Attending a large conference with a group can be engaging but you also can run into serious FOMO (Fear of missing out) on sessions you don’t attend. I invited all of our staff attending to our own district Slack channel. Slack is a great way to share resources and communicate in a group format that won’t crowd your inbox during an event like this. I consider it kind of like a group text on steroids. We will still encourage staff to follow along at the #SXSWedu hashtag, but using a private group Slack can be powerful when reflecting and sharing after the event is over.

Parking can be tricky…and Uber is gone

The days of free parking in downtown Austin are over (unless you are comfortable walking a long distance). That said, most of the parking around downtown is reasonably priced ($10-$15 bucks), but I’d encourage you to car pool if possible. Here’s a map of downtown parking for some ideas of where to find parking. Also, as Uber and Lyft pulled out of Austin since the last SXSWedu, you’ll want to use an alternate ride-share company like Fare or Ride Austin to get around down town. If that doesn’t work, there are always a bunch of pedi-cabs!

Registration

Registration is located on the Northeast corner of the convention center (Exhibit hall 5). You should have been sent a badge via email from sxsw@sxsw.com that has your Quickcode to scan when you get there. You can also link your account with the social.sxswedu.com account to upload your picture ahead of time if you don’t want them to take it when you get there.

You can pick up your badge starting at 4 PM on Sunday (advisable if you want to avoid longer lines on Monday).

Food

Lunch places are always changing year to year so check Yelp for some good options. Prices do vary and “rush hour” is generally between 11:30-1:00. Some newer places downtown include Cafe Blue and one of the BEST pizza food trailers down Rainey street behind Craft Pride called Via313 (Detroit-style pizza). One of my favorite burger joints continues to be Casino El Camino on 6th street. Of course, if you are looking for BBQ and don’t want to wait too long in line at IronWorks, I’d highly recommend LaBarbecue (order the rib, it’s pricey, but worth EVERY penny!).

Events

SXSWedu has several events that happen in the evening. There are multiple movie screenings happening throughout the week. One of note is a screening of the movie “Hidden Figures” on Monday from 7-9pm at the Stateside Theater (with a Q&A panel with @RafranzDavis and others to follow).  Another event that I am personally involved in is the CatchOn Launch Party on Tuesday at 7:30pm-11pm at Cedar Street Courtyard. It’s a start-up company I’ve been advising on and we have all sorts of fun stuff planned for that evening including a little live band karaoke! Your SXSWedu badge will get you into all of these events.

Scheduling Quirks

SXSWedu doesn’t follow traditional conference schedules (1 hour sessions repeating throughout). There are variety of sessions from 15-minute talks, to Think tanks, to meet-ups, to Future 20s, to longer workshops. Be sure to create a log-in before arriving and ‘star’ the sessions you are interested in but also note the start and end times as many overlap.  Also, note that with the exception of keynotes, most of the sessions Monday through Wednesday run from 11am-6pm and on Thursday they are from 9:30am-2pm with a closing party to follow. (you can sleep in!)

Sessions that intrigue me

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My interactive panel session at SXSWedu

I’m super pumped to see Tim Ferriss keynote on Wednesday at 9:30am. I’ve been a fan of his podcast and books for the last couple of years and I’m excited to hear what he has to say about learning and mastery. Sessions that focus on design thinking, student empowerment, and artificial intelligence tend to draw my interest this year. I’m also all-in on the Breakout EDU concept and I’m excited to see good friend and super-engaging speaker Adam Bellow at this year’s event. This year, not only am I attending, but I’m also moderating an interactive panel called “#AppOverkill: Going Beyond the Buzzwords”.  I’m excited to hear from the panel of experts we have assembled and we are also going to be doing some different activities to engage audience in the conversation. Come be a part of the conversation and fun at Tuesday at 11am!

Takeaways and Reflections

Attending an event like this can be incredibly rewarding and energizing to those of us in education. However, it’s important that those that attend also bring back and share their learning with others on campus.

Here is a list of questions to keep in the back of your mind as you attend sessions and look for things to bring back. (Thanks to Lisa Johnson @TechChef4U for curating this!)

  1. What are the top sessions/topics that you liked?
  2. What are the top sessions/topics that you would like to take back to your campus to impact change?
  3. What are the top sessions/topics that challenged your beliefs?
  4. Who was someone you connected with that impacted you?
  5. Who are the top people that engaged you?
  6. What are the top resources you found most impactful?
  7. What are the top pieces of research or studies you feel are most impactful for our students and/or teachers?
  8. How will I share my new discoveries from this event with my staff?

While there are many other questions you are thinking about than the ones above, keeping these in the back of your mind while attending SXSWedu allows you time to reflect when it’s all over and also think about ways to share your new discoveries with others when you return.

Happy learning!

 

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!

“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.

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

 

We’re Bringing Boutique Back…

…..and all those mega-conferences don’t know how to act.

There’s a movement afoot in the Ed Tech world. It started with Ed Camps and has evolved into something even bigger.

It’s the “boutique” conference.

A couple of years ago I was chatting with good friend and fellow “boutiquer” Felix Jacomino (head cheese of Miami Device). We were chatting about iPadpalooza and his (then) upcoming first event.  We were talking about ISTE, the preeminent Ed Tech conference in the United States when he said something both profound and prophetic.

“ISTE is like the Walmart of Ed Tech conferences.”

That phrase resonated in my brain like a Taylor Swift ear worm. I couldn’t escape it or put my finger on it but Felix was dead on.

At ISTE you have thousands upon thousands of people attending for any variety of reasons and from any variety of places. Some come to learn about interactive white boards (still). Others come to learn about Microsoft Office. Others iPads. Others Chromebooks. Windows. Mac. Apps. GAFE. CCSS. PDFs. Gifs. Etc.

This year's theme: "Summer Blockbuster"

This year’s theme: “Summer Blockbuster”

If you are an event like ISTE you have no choice but to go the “Walmart route” when it comes to sessions to ensure your customers have access to everything even if it might taste a little bland. While I think there will always be a time and a place for that, districts are also looking for something more meaningful. They are looking for something more tailored for their staff and their Ed tech goals. In the past, like Walmart, the attendee was forced to sort through the hundreds of isles of products (sessions) looking for that one specific item (learning) and try not to get lost or end up on stage at EdTech Karaoke (guilty as charged).

As we formerly launch the registration for our 5th annual iPadpalooza, there is a growing abundance of options available to educators and leaders. iPadpalooza started as a learning festival to share and grow in the realm of iPads but it’s now grown into something more than that (we welcome all devices!). While at its heart it’s meant to inspire and make learning fun, it’s also meant to be an experience. No not some sort of Burning Man in the desert experience (do they have wifi out there?), but more like you are a part of the learning experience and not just an attendee.

This year’s theme is “Summer Blockbuster” and is centered around the explosive potential of mobile learning but also the movie stars we have in and around education.  Because this is a “boutique” event, we can offer flexibility in terms of when you can come (we have single-day passes this year) and a little extra for those wanting to dive even deeper (this year we have added some “Pre-Palooza” workshops in addition to our iLead Academy).

While my heart belongs to the mothership event here in Austin, I love the fact that these are now starting to spread into other states (not unlike TEDx events) including Indiana, Minnesota and now Louisiana.  Each one is unique in that it brings in local talent and flavor into the festival-like atmosphere.  At iPadpaloozaSouthTX they even created their own theme of “Day of the Tech” based on the “Dia de los muertos” holiday.

Pic courtesy ‏@LaChinaAndrea

Pic courtesy ‏@LaChinaAndrea

What I love most about these spin-off events is the ownership taken by districts and educators as part of the mobile learning movement.  It’s not just seeing someone experience the stress and joy of hosting an event that MUST have a level of fun and local spirit, but also seeing them experience the smiles on the faces of attendees. It’s about the tweets of minds being blown and passion being ignited. It’s about discovering something they haven’t seen or thought of before and rethinking how learning can change in their classroom.

Ultimately, that is why you go to a boutique conference. Not necessarily to look for a specific thing, but to have a specific thing find you.

Who’s ready to go shopping?

The Benefits of a 1:1 Learning Environment

[the below information is excerpted from this white paper]

When Eanes ISD began this quest into 1:1 four years ago, there was some early research that showed the advantages to running such a program in K-12 schools.  In this white paper, we’ll review our initiative, highlight national and global findings around 1:1 initiatives, compare/contrast a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) environment vs. a School Provided 1:1 environment, and finally outline some thoughts on the future of K-12 education and technology.

LEAP Initiative

The Eanes ISD LEAP Initiative (Learning and Engaging through Access and Personalization) aims specifically at increasing student engagement and shifting towards a personalized learning model that is student-centered and authentic. This aligns with our district-wide goal of creating student-centered authentic learning experiences that educate the whole child. We want students to go beyond being content consumers to constructing their own understanding and moving to a level of content creation to show evidence of learning. In reviewing student and teacher survey data as well as anecdotal evidence, we are well on our way to achieving these goals. The effects of the LEAP initiative have impacted three major “user” groups in our schools: students, teachers, and parents.

Students

A review of survey data from 2011-2014 shows that students consistently reported feeling more engaged in class when iPads were used at Westlake High School.  Those students indicated mild to significant increases in engagement ranged from 80.9% to 87.2% over the three years of the study.  A full 100% of students reported that they noticed an increase of communication between teacher and student since the introduction of iPads. Distraction was a major concern at the outset of the program as data from the spring 2012 survey showed that 54% of students felt like the device was a source of distraction.  Survey data from the spring of 2014 showed that number decreased by almost 20%.

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 8.03.49 AMIn the area of creativity (creating movies, art, presentations, animations or other unique content), the data showed an overall increase of 11.8% from the 2011 data to the 2014 data.

When asked, “Overall, having the iPad has enhanced my learning experience.” The three-year range showed that 83.5% to 87.9% of students responded with 3 (moderate) to 5 (extreme).

Fall 2011 Survey Results

Spring 2012 Senior Survey Results

Spring 2014 Survey Results

Our students are creating more digital artifacts than ever before. Students are writing blogs, publishing online portfolios, creating award winning videos and even coding in Kindergarten. All of this content has allowed students to create their own positive “digital footprint” which will help them procure enrollment or employment in their future post-graduation. Application processes for career and college now reach far beyond the transcript and extracurricular interests.The degree to which both businesses and universities investigate a prospective student/employee’s “digital footprint” has increased exponentially the past 5 years. According to a Kaplan of 2014 study, 35% of college admissions officers say they look at applicants’ social media profiles, an increase of 5% from the previous year. A 2014 Career Builder survey showed that 45% of employers use search engines like Google to research job candidates, continuing an upward trend amongst businesses.

Teachers

In the area of teacher to student communication, 96.8% of teachers reported “moderate” to “greatly improved” communication with students because of the iPad. A large majority (90.3%) also reported the iPad made student assessment “easier” and were able to get real-time feedback to gauge students’ learning. Teachers that utilize the iPads regularly spend less time grading paper quizzes (which means less time at the copy machine) and are able to get and give instant feedback on how students are meeting learning objectives.  While distraction was an initial concern, classrooms that have shifted to a more personalized, student-centered approach generally report less distraction and behavior issues than in a traditional, stand-and-deliver instructional model.

Spring 2012 Teacher survey

Parents

While not an intentional outcome of the LEAP Initiative, having mobile devices in the hands of students has increased parental awareness around their children’s digital lives.  Eanes ISD has extended the learning beyond the school walls into the homes, and with that comes a learning curve for parents too.  What initially started as “Digital Safety Night” has grown into full-fledged semester-long online courses where hundreds of district parents keep up to date with the latest trends in social media, screen time, and the phenomenon of digital footprints. Eanes ISD now provides regular parent workshops and resources throughout the school year for parents at every level.

Savings Realized as a Result of 1:1

Prior to 1:1 iPads, Eanes ISD purchased many technology items which performed different functions to facilitate learning in the classroom.  Whether it be a Smart Airliner to control the classroom computer or a cassette recorder to record students’ reading, the following items represent a list of technology purchased by the district prior to the LEAP Initiative.  Most of the items, unless otherwise noted, were purchased for each classroom. One major advantage of an iPad 1:1, is that now all of these items are replaced with free or inexpensive apps with access for every student.

(approximate cost in parentheses)

Previously purchased item

Replacement on iPad

Digital Camera ($150 – one per grade level & a class set per campus) Camera app (Free)
Document Camera ($600) Camera app (Free)
Smart Slate or Airliner ($300) Splashtop App ($4.99)
Student Response Systems ($1500 -class set) Socrative (Free), Kahoot (Free), or Nearpod (Free)
Video Camera ($250) + Editing software ($99) Camera app (Free) + iMovie App (Free)
DVD/VHS Player ($100) Video app (Free), YouTube (Free), MediaCore ($2/student)
CD Players ($75) iTunes Music App (Free)
Atlas, Globe, Classroom map ($25) Map App (Free), Google Earth (Free)
Microsoft Office Licenses ($75 per computer) Microsoft Office Suite of Apps (Free), iWorks Suite of Apps (Free)
Thesaurus ($22) Thesaurus app (Free), built in thesaurus (Free)
Polycom Video Conference System ($2000) Facetime app (Free)
Scanner ($75) JotNot App(Free) or Genius Scanner App(Free)
Cassette Recorder System ($150) or iPod/Mp3 recorder ($100) Garageband App (Free) or Audio Notes app ($4.99)
Kurzweil screen reading software/hardware ($995 – for special education) Dragon Dictation app (Free) or built in iOS feature

Some other items that we see trending toward obsolescence because of 1:1:

Dictionaries (still required by state to purchase), TI-84 calculator (piloting replacement with free Desmos app), Textbooks (see note in closing section), and paper costs (continuing to decrease with integration of iPads, Google and Learning Management Systems).

National and Global Findings on 1:1 initiatives

Since our initiative started in 2011, there has been a steady stream of data around 1:1 initiatives and their impact on student learning.  One of the largest studies recently released included over 3 decades of research with technology integration. In the concluding summary, it states:

“Technology that supports instruction has a marginally but significantly higher average effect compared to technology applications that provide direct instruction. Lastly, it was found that the effect size was greater when applications of computer technology were for K-12, rather than computer applications being introduced in postsecondary classrooms.”  

chartThis means that using technology by effectively integrating into a lesson (“supporting instruction”) versus just allowing students to play a learning game (“providing direct instruction”) is more meaningful and impactful for students.  At Eanes ISD, the most effective 1:1 classrooms use the iPad in a manner that enhances and amplifies learning outcomes.

The chart above highlights the names of the studies, year of the study, number of case studies, and the Mean ES (Effect Size).  The Mean ES measures the average effect of technology integration on student learning.  The data from these studies (with one exception) shows a positive influence of technology with learning. Unfortunately, this study is not published for circulation, but with a little digging you can find this data. In addition, here are some individual studies specifically about iPads in the last 2-3 years:

iPad improves Kindergartners literacy scores – Students with iPads outscore those without on all literacy measures in a 9-week study of kindergarten students in Maine.

Pearson Foundation Research: Survey on Students and Tablets 2012 – More than 6 out of 10 of college and high school students study more effectively and perform better in class with tablets.

iPad a solid education tool, study reports – a Houghton Mifflin Harcourt study in California showed a 20% increase on math test scores in just one year.

Oklahoma State University – More than 75% of students claimed the iPad “enhanced” their learning experience in college.

Survey: 9 in 10 Students Say Tablets Will Change How They Learn – A survey of 2,252 students in grades 4-12. 83% said tablets help them learn in a way that’s best for them.

iPads in Medical School – Students with iPads scored 23% higher on exams in University of California Irvine’s iMedEd Program.

While this research may indicate that just handing students an iPad will help them learn better, looking deeper into the results and implications of three decades of research on technology integration shows that the pedagogy and application of learning technology and accompanying apps play a significant role in this success.

1:1 vs. BYOD

It’s been debated that having students bring their own devices (BYOD) would achieve similar results to our 1:1 in terms of student learning, engagement, and achievement. While having students provide their own devices does allow the district some initial cost savings, the district would incur some costs when trying to provide equity for those without devices. If students could bring in any device they wanted, even with minimum specifications, we would still have to subsidize those students who do not have a qualifying device. In addition, there would be a significant increase in costs when trying to provide timely instructional support for a non-standard device.  Those costs would be amplified by more time teachers spend training on a variety of platforms to achieve the same results.  When arguing a 1:1 environment vs a BYOD environment, consider the following three areas of concern:

Teacher Experience in 1:1 vs BYOD –

Dr. Ruben Puentedura is an educational researcher who has more than three decades worth of research around 1:1 device programs.  When asked about the differences between 1:1 and BYOD, he stated the following:

“If you want teachers to make the best use of the devices and come up with rich and engaging learning experiences, they need to have:

– Well-supported, reliable devices and software for themselves and their students;

– A known palette of tools that represents a reasonable spectrum of the EdTech Quintet (Social, Mobility, Visualization, Storytelling, Gaming);

– Reasonable consistency in how these tools operate.

BYOD can very easily fail to meet all three conditions.”

Having a variety of devices like those in a BYOD classroom means a teacher would need to spend time each class period doing all of the following in order for the students to accomplish a learning objective with technology:

– Insure that all the devices could connect to our network.

– Make sure each device had the appropriate app or tool needed to accomplish the learning objective

-Provide a subsidized device for those students that do not have a device.

– Be knowledgeable in the multiple operating systems for troubleshooting.

This all takes away valuable instructional time and ultimately means that a teacher is limited in teaching critical thinking and creativity. The challenge of getting devices with different operating systems to communicate with each other directly influences our emphasis on collaboration and communication.

Professional Learning in 1:1 vs BYOD –

If every device is the same, then training can be standardized. When all students have the same devices, then the variability of learning on the devices falls into the hands of the teacher and students. Creating personalized learning paths for students means that our teachers need to have familiarity with the devices and the resources available to their students (as Dr. Puentedura states above) and strategies for higher-level integration of learning aligned to state standards. In a 1:1 environment, more time can be spent during professional development on the integration of pedagogy and technology to meet standards in the classroom rather than spending time on learning the multitude of operating systems in a BYOD environment.

Classroom Management in 1:1 vs BYOD –

In a district-supported 1:1 environment, mechanisms can be put in place to manage all the devices. These Mobile Device Management (MDM) systems enable a district to restrict apps, filter the internet, and lock-down devices when necessary for student focus or testing. In a BYOD scenario, students can bypass our network and download inappropriate apps and possibly access inappropriate websites. The district has no authority or level of control over their devices.  In addition to the lack of control for classroom management, the district would  not be able to lock-down student-owned devices for online testing (a requirement from the state).  Our increase in the use of online textbooks also requires certain types of devices (like iPads) in order to view the content.  In a BYOD environment, some students would not be able to view their textbook if they do not own a device with the minimum requirements from the textbooks provider.

A broader look at trends in BYOD and 1:1 –

According to Project Tomorrow’s 2014 report: The New Digital Learning Playbook, 33% of high school students have access to a school issued device. That number has grown significantly from the less than 10% who had access in 2011 when the LEAP initiative began. The research also points out the 41% of districts now allowed students to bring their own devices (an increase of 19% from three years prior).  Both state and national data point to upward trends in both areas.  The data also supports the Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 8.04.09 AMassumptions that, like Eanes ISD, most districts start out with a Bring Your Own Device policy before implementing a school-provided device.  There are very few national instances where a program with a 1:1 implementation went toward a BYOD approach.  Eanes ISD supports a spectrum of school-issued 1:1 devices, a BYOD approach, and multiple computer labs or carts, because different tools may be needed based on the learning objective.

The Digital Future of Education

It’s difficult to predict the future of anything, much less technology.  Most predictions are based on data and long-term prognostications based on research. The New Media Consortium’s yearly K-12 Horizon Report is a robust report that has had a high level of accuracy over the years when it comes to predicting educational technology.  This past year’s report makes predictions such as cloud computing being on the “One Year or Less” horizon and items like the Internet of Things and Wearable Technology entering schools in the next four to five years. Locally, we also look at national and state trends with legislative direction to guide our thinking.

With the national and state demands to increase the use of assessments online, districts will need to supply devices during those testing windows since rotating through computer labs isn’t feasible. This year Eanes will be one of the first districts to pilot test the use of the iPad as a calculator (with our 8th Grade STAAR math exam). We have also started conversations around pilot testing the Pearson TestNav 8 app for ACT Aspire tests on the iPad.

The textbook market is also at the tipping point transitioning into a period of more digital text vs. hard copy.  The federal government and publishers see the shift to mobile devices and tablets and are planning accordingly.  In 2-3 years, there will be limited options in the “non-digital” market meaning that our students will need some device to access content. The FCC estimates a $3 billion dollar savings in education once that shift happens completely (and the cost of tablets continues to drop).  States like Florida have adopted legislation that requires all districts to spend at least half of their instructional materials budget on digital content by 2015-16.

Eanes has started to realize a some of these savings, but textbook companies are still charging close to the same price for their e-versions. In terms of adoptions, the majority of our textbook adoptions have an online/digital version as an accompaniment. Some of our adoptions (e.g., like science) offer only a digital option, a growing trend among providers.  We are piloting a project for our teachers to create their own textbooks, which will be owned by Eanes. This option will help us realize both more significant savings and more rigorous learning tasks for our students.

The future world that our students walk into will be immersed in technology and heavily influenced by social media. Besides just creating those “digital footprints” mentioned earlier, it’s imperative that schools educate students in the area of digital responsibility and give them essential skills in order to be a good digital citizen.

The future job market for our children is also expanding, especially in the realm of computer science.  With the projected growth of jobs in Texas requiring some level of computer science education, it’s predicted that only 31% of jobs will be fillable with current educational models by the year 2018.

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 8.04.25 AM

In the fall of 2014, Pearson released a report titled “The Learning Curve”. It represented global data about test-taking and job skills that students are learning in various countries around the world.  In one section they listed the above graphic called “Beyond the 3Rs”.  It represents the new skills the world is looking for when it comes to the global economy and skills we need to prepare our students for in their future.

After all, as John Dewey said, “We need to prepare kids for their future, not our past.”

Using an iPad as a Calculator on a State Assessment: Dreams Do Come True

ipad scantronToday marked a hallmark day in the Eanes Independent School District when it comes to high-stakes testing. After some back and forth with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the commissioner, last spring we were granted the ability to pilot using iPads as graphing calculators during the state assessment.  Following months of planning and prep, the dreams of using iPads on actual state assessments became a reality today as 600+ students took their 8th Grade Math STAAR assessment.  This decision and process encompassed many hours of careful planning and practice before today’s big test.  As far as I know from colleagues around the country, we were the first district to try this approach. As such, I’m writing this post to not only document our process but also to help others that may try this in the future.

Why calculators?

For years (and decades) our students have had the ability to purchase an expensive graphing calculator like the TI-84 plus to help them with higher level math problems and classes.  This calculator retails at around $180 (roughly half the cost of our iPad2s) and is purchased by either the campus or the parents to support their students taking these courses.  With the constant financial pressure and underfunding from our state and the fact that every student has an iPad, we decided to formally request that we be allowed to use the Desmos Test Mode app (FREE) on the 8th Grade Math assessment.  With the successful completion of this pilot, we may even look at other areas (dictionaries?) where we can save money and provide a better experience for our students.

What kind of technical expertise do you need to pull this off?

Our district utilizes a Mobile Device Management (MDM) system known as Casper Suite by JAMF software. Casper includes a feature called “Focus” which allows teachers to lock students into a certain app.  Students are not able to use the camera, take a screen shot or even get out of the app until the teacher releases them from focus. With the assistance of our technology department and Mobile Integration Specialist Tim Yenca, we have been piloting this feature in individual classrooms throughout the fall and spring.  However, on testing day we knew it would mean putting all 600 of the students into one giant class and then locking them down.  Needless to say, there’s a lot that can go wrong technically with that so we decided to test it a couple of times before the actual testing date.

How did we prepare for this?

This plan would have never been possible without the support of our tremendously talented campus Educational Technologists (Ed Techs).  Running two tests simultaneously with a 12-mile gap in between campuses meant that there needed to be a point person on the ground that coordinated everything. Kacy Mitchell at WRMS and Jennifer Flood  at HCMS provided plans, organized teachers, communicated with students and supported the administration during this entire process.  When I asked Kacy how she thought the day went this was her reaction:

“We knew there were going to be issues. There are always issues. Pioneering the concept of locking down district-issued student iPads was pretty scary for most of us at first. My principal even wondered aloud what my heart-rate was about 5 minutes after the bell rang today. In the end, everything turned out just fine. A successful execution of plans A, B and sometimes C was due to careful planning and LOTS of patience from our teachers. “

Jennifer added this insight into the planning process:

“Leading up to today we held two tests of the system in as close to “day of” testing environments as possible.  Having WRMS attempt at the same time gave us more room to experiment with start times and classroom processes than we would have normally had. Between the tests at both campuses, and many conversations walking through all possibilities, our plans reflected every possible outcome that we had some control over.”

I honestly don’t think we could have pulled this off without these two Ed Techs providing daily support on their campuses.  We are lucky to have them here at Eanes ISD.

What about the app?

When the TEA released their revised policy in spring of 2014, they didn’t specify which device or app was required.  Their main concerns were that whatever device used has to be locked down so that students can’t get on the internet or take photos of the test.  The graphing calculator app needed to be a non-CAS (Computer Algebra Systems) calculator and could not contain tutorials or places for storing formulas (which can be a problem with TI calculators).

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 5.14.17 PM

Graphing Calculator TEST mode app by Desmos

With the help and advice of resident math guru Cathy Yenca (aka Mathy Cathy), we had been looking into the original Desmos graphing calculator app.  The only problem was the app has CAS capability and stores some examples that students could potentially use.  Cathy and Tim (aka “the Flying Yencas”) were able to work with Eli from Desmos on some feature requests and changes that would be necessary to make the app acceptable for state testing.  Desmos was extremely responsive and open to the changes and after working on some test pilots of the app, released the “Test Mode” version of their app free to the public.  Much like the support of Kacy and Jennifer, this wouldn’t have been possible without the Yencas and Desmos working together to make it happen.

TESTING DAY 

With the support of the team, the administration, the teachers and the technology department, we set forth today to make this plan a reality.  Through all the collaboration and discussion with the team it was determined that we should have both a few regular calculator back-ups on hand and a few iPad back-ups on hand already locked into the app.

As with anything involving technology there are always problems.  Those problems multiply when you try to lock down 600 devices over wireless on two separate campuses at the same time.  Add to the mix a third campus (elementary) and four 5th grade students in advanced math taking this test too, and this process became even more complex.  Thanks to our Ed Tech Margie Brown for helping get those elementary students set up on testing day as well.

Despite our best efforts, a handful of students showed up this morning and decided to update their iPad.  A couple of others forgot to plug their iPad in over the weekend.  The forethought and planning of our Ed Techs and technology department accounted for this and a few spare iPads were on hand in the hallways where the tests we being administrated.  Students that couldn’t didn’t get locked down were given a locked down spare before the test. Students that brought their own iPad were put into Guided Access mode by the teacher prior to the test. Teachers in testing rooms were given a “blue card” that they could slide under their door if they had technical issues during the actual test (thankfully, none of them did).

Final Thoughts

As you can tell, it takes an entire team of thoughtful and prepared staff to pull this kind of a pilot off.  I knew today was a success when I looked up at noon and noted how quiet the day had been.  That’s a tribute to the hard working people in this district like Kacy, Tim, Jennifer, Margie, our technology department, our testing coordinators, teachers, STEM Director and those outside of the district like Eli from Desmos. Without their collaboration and planning this dream could have quickly turned into a nightmare.

Thank you all for your effort in taking on this monumental challenge!  Now on to the next!

How Does Staffing Affect Technology Integration & Support?

How does staffing affect technology integration and support? That was the question I sent out to districts across the state of Texas and twitter.  I asked those districts to fill out a survey and self-evaluate how well they support technology (Technology Services) and how well they integrate technology in the classroom and curriculum (Instructional Technology).  I also asked how many of those districts were involved in some level of 1:1 device program in their districts. (here’s a link to that original survey)

What follows are the results of that survey followed by an infographic that summarizes the findings:

Participating districts data:

There were 28 districts participating in the survey, primarily from Texas.  Of those the largest had a student enrollment of 45,000 and the smallest had just 362 students.  12 of the 28 districts surveyed (43%) had a 1:1 program on one or more of their campuses.  There was a combined student enrollment of 256,000 students with over 210,000 devices being supported.

Who filled out the survey:

The majority of those responding to the survey were either technology directors, CTOs, or instructional technology coordinators. I recognize there can be a level of bias when it comes to evaluating your own level of support or integration, but I found these answers to be extremely realistic and the outliers tended to cancel each other out.  In fact, taking that bias inflation out of the results actually make the findings even more impactful in some ways.

Staffing Ratios:

In general, districts fund two technology support technicians for every one of their  instructional technology specialists.  As the survey data revealed, this has a direct impact on how well they are supporting technology (most felt they did a strong job of supporting technology) to how well they are integrating it (most felt they did a weak or adequate job of integration).

Outcomes:

A majority of districts (69%) surveyed felt they had adequate to excellent level of support for technology. By contrast, only 41% of districts felt they were integrating technology at least adequately with only one stating they were doing an excellent job integrating technology.

Those districts that scored the highest on integration of technology into classroom and curriculum had either one full-time staff member on a campus dedicated to that role or a full-time staff member that shared multiple campuses. Those with only one full-time district person to support the entire district or no person dedicated to this role scored the lowest.

Almost all (96%) stated that turnaround time on a technology work order was expected to be 5 days or less.

Only 28% of districts surveyed felt that they had “Strong” or “Exceptional” professional development around the area of technology integration on their campuses.  Those campuses that rated high in professional development also had more staff members dedicated to integration of technology.

Conclusion:

More people equals better support and integration of technology.  While that seems like a no-brainer, digging into the data revealed the a level of disparity between “support” and “integration” in these districts.  The ratio of technicians (1 per 999 students) vs that of instructional technology specialists (1 per 1910 students) seems to be the highest contributing factor to this.  If the technology doesn’t work, then you can’t integrate it.  That seems to be the mantra districts are following with these staffing ratios (we follow a similar ratio at Eanes). However, if districts truly want to utilize these tools for learning, it would appear the next step is figuring out a way to fund that professional support person to help integrate the technology, whether it be at one campus (ideally) or at multiple campuses.

Thank you to all the districts that participated in this survey.  I’ve conducted a similar internal survey with our own staff and would love another district to do the same so we can compare internal data.  If you are interested, comment below and I’ll send you the link.

Here’s the infographic:

K-12 Tech Staffing Infographic (1)