Category Archives: Parents
It’s been interesting to watch the world react to the COVID-19 pandemic, also known as the “Coronavirus”. In the age of social media and instant notifications on our mobile devices, it’s made this pandemic seem like the worst on record when in fact, it’s not even close. That said, as with any disaster or pandemic, there comes an increased awareness to how schools and districts respond to it. Many schools are on alert, creating plans and awaiting guidance. While others, like this school in Seattle, are shutting down as a precaution.
Last week I posted the question of how schools prepared for a long-term closure using Facebook, Twitter, and group texts as ways to crowd-source responses. Those responses varied from “packets, we’ll just give them lots of packets” to “we’ll use Google Classroom to hand out assignments.” Neither of these responses are inherently good or bad, but it does open the door to a slew of questions schools and districts need to be asking themselves when it comes to continuing the learning even when the building is closed to students.
This post is a cumulation of those responses crowd-sourced from school administrators across the globe. As every district is different, it’s impossible to come up with a one-size-fits-all approach to long-term closure. However, I do hope these questions can help guide you as you see what kind of plan you have in place should the unfortunate happen. Being from Texas, I know that weather can cause long-term closure as well (see Hurricane Harvey). For the purposes of the following questions, I’m going to assume that it’s a pandemic and that it’s affecting the entire community and surrounding districts. I will also post some ideas and solutions that were shared with me in the hopes of sparking an idea for your school or community.
1. How will you deliver learning to your students?
I purposefully put “learning” instead of “content” as too often times we default to what we know. Learning online looks a lot different than learning in a physical classroom. Some mentioned using LMS platforms like Schoology or Google Classroom to deliver the learning to their students but this assumes that A) they have devices and B) they have internet access (see next question). Also, most of the responses pertained to students in grades 6 and up. Some had some measures for 3-5 students while most had no plans for online learning when it came to K-2 students.
Ideas/Solutions: As mentioned, using LMS platforms seemed to be the most common response to this question, with Google Classroom being mentioned the most. Sometimes these can be online assignments, digital worksheets, or journal prompts. Some mentioned using live chats, YouTube, and Google Hangouts as a way to supplement the learning, including having “office hours” where teachers take 10-15 minutes to check in virtually with each of their students. A couple of districts mentioned their teachers creating lessons on Nearpod and using the “student-paced” option to send work home as it tracks their answers and allows them to upload work. Andrew Wallace from South Portland Maine Schools shared another creative solution. In his district, they send home a “one page cheat sheet” with passwords and usernames for online resources like Newsela, Tumble Books, Overdrive, and BrainPop (which already has a new lesson on the CoronaVirus – see below) In Grapevine-Colleyville ISD, Kyle Berger deploys a Classlink portal for all teachers, parents and students to access resources. Of course, this all still assumes that all kids have devices and internet at home which leads me to my second question.
2. How many of your students DO NOT have online access at home and how do you deliver learning to them?
This is a question many schools may already know the answer to. Online survey tools like Survey Monkey and Bright Bytes can help collect this data (ironically, you have to be online to take the survey) or you could collect this information during school registration. Regardless of how you collect it, you’ll likely have a percentage of students without access that you’ll have to plan for.
Ideas/Solutions: There were a WIDE variety of ideas and solutions for this question. Bonnie Blan from Southwest Christian School was able to leverage discounted internet access for families in need using Kajeet and the BroadbandNow initiative. Others mentioned giving out hotspots as it would be likely that students wouldn’t be able to go to places like McDonald’s or Starbucks during a quarantine (although some adults might risk it for coffee :). With either of these solutions, you would need to set these up well before disaster strikes, but I like that schools are solving this issue regardless. In general, the responses from educators seemed to indicate that you should be prepared to have some analog mixed with digital. Writing in journals and reading are easy enough for ELA, but having prompts for writing helps. Some schools mentioned having students check out extra books out of the library just in case.
3. How prepared are staff and what is their role?
Like Jennifer mentioned, setting up a bunch of brand new tools during a stressful time like a long-term closure wouldn’t be wise. Staff will be worried about their own families as well as their students. Anything that is implemented would either need to be put in place before hand or easily deliverable to a teacher’s existing curriculum and instruction. While not ideal, this could mean just sending home paper or digital worksheets, but even that can be a challenge.
Ideas/Solutions: Having a plan in place with deliverables to staff would be a smart thing to create and have on hand regardless of a global pandemic. These can range from having some one-page step-sets that show teachers how to deliver a variety of content on your LMS of choice to an internal website with a range of ideas for online learning. Schools can leverage tools like Microsoft Teams as a way to collaborate or have conversations or create Padlet walls that students can post ideas on. Any and all solutions should be web-based, device agnostic and able to work on a smartphone as that may be the only online access they have.
One bit of advice from Jennifer Pearson, a Tech Coordinator who works at the International School of Nanshan Shenzhen in China – “There should be a plan. The plan should be consistent and NOT introduce a bunch of new techy tools.”
4. Are these days recognized by your state or country as actual instructional days?
As you might imagine, each state and country has different rules around this. Here in Texas, we count instructional days based on the actual amount of minutes our students are physically in school. While there might be exemptions made, currently those days won’t count and schools would presumably have to extend the school year to make up for the loss of days and weeks while shut down which would likely push through the end of June. While I think learning should still continue even if your state or country doesn’t recognize it officially, this brings about many other questions, including contract lengths of your professional teaching staff.
Ideas/Solutions: Some states, like Illinois, recognizes a handful of “eLearning Days” that can often times come about due to poor weather. These days are counted as official instructional days and were recognized by the state, which means no make-up days at the end of the year. Phil Hintz from Gurnee D56 in the Chicago area was a part of a handful of districts that ran the pilot for eLearning days starting in 2016. While not a solution for weeks of closure, the framework they built was around giving students windows of time to complete assignments and using Title 1 funds to get those without access Kajeet Hotspots. Here’s a video of his school’s experience with eLearning day.
5. What role do other “non-classroom” professionals play?
In an average school building there are many professional, salaried staff working along side the classroom teachers. Some of these teach special area subjects like art, music and PE. Others include counselors, nurses, and campus administration. While the majority of the interaction of students will come from the teacher in an eLearning concept, these staff still have a role to play.
Ideas/Solutions: Principals are the go to source for school-to-home communication. They should be posting updates regularly to both parents but also to staff and help identify families that might not have online access at home. They also have to set expectations for teaching staff in making sure online instruction is consistent. Special area teachers should continue to serve students and provide instruction whether it be having students post a video of them doing push-ups on a FlipGrid or capture their art and reflect using a digital portfolio tool like Bulb. Counselors and nurses can provide support to families in need either through one-on-one at home visits or through online video chat tools.
6. What about itinerant and paraprofessional staff?
Those professional staff on salary can rest easy knowing that they are still getting their paycheck every month, even if the school is closed. Sure they may have to work some extra days, but they aren’t clocking in to work an hourly job. Custodians, administrative assistants, cafeteria workers and teacher aides don’t have that luxury. For them, a shut down could be a devastating hit to them financially if they aren’t working.
Ideas/Solutions: There are still roles for many of these staff to play even if the building is closed, but they may be very different compared to the normal school day. Custodial staff should do a deep cleaning of the building and prepare it for the eventual return of students. Admin assistants can help connect teachers with students and vice versa as they have access to parent contact information. Cafeteria workers can help provide and deliver meals to those families in need. Teacher aides can use tools like Google Hangouts to meet with those students they serve and check in or assist on the work that they have to do at home. In some cases, while human contact in masse is to be avoided, they can also make one-on-one home visits like the counselors and nurses. While the building may be closed, there is still plenty of work to be done and these staff are vital to keeping things running efficiently as well as helping our students with special needs.
In summary, there is a LOT to consider before shutting a school down for a few days or even a few weeks. The questions above are just the tip of the iceberg, but they come from a multitude of librarians, teachers, and administrators across the world that genuinely care about keeping the progress of learning happening despite the closure of a physical building.
What plans does your school or district have in place? Please post your ideas and solutions in the comments section below. If I’ve learned anything from this post, it’s that we all are better when we work and collaborate on ideas together.
Editor’s note: The following is a recreation of actual events that happened on January 16, 2018 in Austin, TX. No one was harmed as a result of the events, save for some emotional scarring.
This past weekend, I decided to install a new wireless router. While this seems like a fairly mundane task of the 21st century family, what follows is an actual account of the events that transpired as a result of this.
First, some back story.
The last time I changed our home wireless router was 2012. I remember it well. It was a much more peaceful time then. Wireless connectivity was really only needed for my laptop and phone on occasion to save on data. We frolicked in the fields, played video games and watched cable television.
As what happened next will prove, present times are not so innocent and simple.
10:06AM – I started the morning by unplugging my gerbil-wheel-powered first-gen Netgear router that I bought at Radio Shack.
10:07AM – I began to look through the manual for my new, fancier, ultra-strong bandwidth system that’s all but guaranteed to make your skin tingle when you walk by it (It’s called something like the RoBoWiFi 3000 or the like).
10:19AM – A cold chill began to fill our home as I fumbled through the various cables and plugs under my desk.
10:22AM – The chattering teeth of my family alerted me to a major problem. You see, we use a Nest thermostat to control our house temperature. Without wifi, it had gone off-line and in “away” mode thus shutting off our heater during the coldest day in Austin since 1884. Suddenly, I knew the pressure was one to get this new router set up.
10:27AM – I went to turn on the lamp near my desk to get some better light and nothing happened. Last year, I had installed a Twist speaker bulb that was controlled by my phone through our wireless. It turns out I didn’t set it into an off-line mode, essentially, making the bulb useless.
10:31AM – I hear a tremendous shriek from our living room. We had cut cable a couple of months ago, which has been great, but also meant that any type of TV watching experience was now reliant on a combination of Chromecast, FireStick, AppleTV and aluminum foil antenna. My kids plans for snow-day of watching every episode of “Dragon’s Edge” was now interrupted.
10:33AM – Shortly after scrambling for something to distract them under their heavy blankets, I mindlessly hand them their iPad. One problem, their favorite Animal Jam app required network access. This was getting serious.
10:35AM – “Alexa, add firewood to the shopping list.”
10:35:08 AM – Alexa’s response, “Sorry, I can’t connect to the network right now and are therefor a useless black monolith sitting on your kitchen counter.”
10:37AM (or so I thought) – I checked my watch to see how long we had been without Wifi. As chilly breath became visible out of my mouth, I realized my Smart watch no longer had connectivity.
The world was ending in the Hooker household in little less than an hour.
I saw my life flashing before my eyes but realized it was only the flashing amber light of the new router attempting to connect. Years later, when they become adults, I imagine my kids will be telling their families how hard life was for them. They’ll tell them about the time their father nearly killed them when he pulled the wifi during a snow storm. The struggle was real.
Back to reality.
10:55AM – I got the wifi back online and quickly connected all our mobile devices, laptops, Nest, security systems, Alexa, light bulbs and even our Crockpot. (Yes, our Crockpot has wifi, don’t judge!) The whole scene played out like that scene in Jurassic Park where Samuel Jackson was frantically trying to get systems back online. (see side bar)
This whole experience made me reflect at how quickly we have slow-boiled ourselves into a world where we rely on constant connection. My family owns a lake cabin and have recently been debating whether or not to put wireless access there. Currently it’s equipped with all the essentials of life: An Atari, board games, a campfire, and woods. Life seems different there.
Not better or worse…just different.
Today I came across a short story by Ray Bradbury called The Veldt. He wrote this story in 1950 and essentially outlines a future world where our homes are uber-automated with virtual walls, virtual smells and experiences that feed off of our thoughts. Our bathtubs bathe us, our toothbrushes work automatically, and we don’t have to life a finger to fold laundry. (cue the Laundry-folding robot from last week’s CES event). I won’t give away the ending, but let’s just say, life takes an unexpected turn for this family. (here’s the cheesy 80’s video version for those of you non-readers)
In a curious turn of events, I remembered one of my favorite Deadmau5 songs is called “The Veldt” and discovered the video is essentially a shout out to this Ray Bradbury short story. After you read the story, watch the video below.
I would love you to leave your comments below and hear your thoughts on what this all means for us as parents, as humans, and as a society. I don’t see this future getting any slower for us, but I think an awareness of the pros and cons of automaticity should happen as we connect more appliances to our homes.
Hold on to your butts!
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:
- Look at what our current reality is when it comes to integration of technology AND
- 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)
- What are some things we are doing well with technology?
- What are some things that we need to improve?
- What other things do we need to consider when it comes to tech? What’s next?
- What future ready skills do our students need?
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.
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.
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.
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.
We sent out follow-up surveys to both the students and staff of the high school to land on our final decision.
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):