Category Archives: Techy
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.
For generations, the main areas of learning in the classroom have been the same. Reading, Writing, Math, Science, and Social Studies. These “core” subject areas of curriculum have been a focus of American learners since the mid-20th century. These subject areas were thought to be the essential curriculum necessary to prepare the youth for success in college and the workplace. The manner in which these subject areas were taught mirrored the factory model method in which they were delivered. Content was passed back, row-by-row, as students repeated tasks and built skills over time.
While both traditional teaching styles and core subject areas have been slow to change to the modern world, the new area of mobile devices in classrooms is disrupting all of our previous ideologies around these sacred pillars of education. Repetitive tasks can now be gamified into forms that create critical thinking. Fact-based content can now easily be searched, opening up time to work on association and application of that information. Science and Math have given way to STEM. Reading and writing are now being embedded throughout the curriculum in a more project-based approach.
As these changes collide in a classroom that now welcome mobile devices, the modern teacher needs to think about how this affects change in their classroom in multiple areas. In Book #4 of the Mobile Learning Mindset, I represent this transition in a concept I call the Mobile Learning Quadrant (MLQ).
The four areas of the MLQ are Content, Space, Interaction and Time. Here’s a brief overview of how these four quadrants can change in a mobile learning environment:
While much of the content in education is still based on the core subject areas (driven mostly by traditionalism and standardized testing), it now begins to take on a much more interactive form with mobile devices. Initial iterations of content on mobile devices meant glorified PDFs in the form of online textbooks. Still, at the beginning, mobile learning meant consuming content on a screen rather than in a book. In the new mobile learning environment, content must shift from consumption to creation. Rather than reading the textbook online, students can create their own textbook to demonstrate learning.
The days of having desks in rows are over. It’s time to write an obituary to the student desk. Obviously the word “mobile” applies to much more than just devices. However, in many classrooms this isn’t the case. Devices are distributed to engage learners, yet really all they do is replace their paper notebook as students sit in rows and take notes on their Chromebooks. The mobile learning environment should contain flexible spaces that encourage interaction and collaboration with others in the room and online. It doesn’t always have to be an expensive new modern chair either. Many teachers are hacking their spaces with bean bag chairs, exercise balls and pub tables. Learning doesn’t even have to be contained within the classroom walls anymore. Teachers assessing their space in the MLQ should determine how much of their students’ time is spent in static spaces versus dynamic ones.
With more flexible space comes more meaningful interaction amongst students. When I took part in the #Student4aDay Challenge, in the classrooms where the space was static, there was little to know interaction between student to student. In fact, most of the interaction was uni-directional (teacher to student). However, in the classrooms with more flexible space and student created content, interaction becomes much more collaborative in nature rather than isolated.
All of the above quadrants can still happen without technology or mobile devices. While mobile devices make them all much more possible and dynamic, much of it depends on how the teacher integrates them. The ability to shift learning from a set-time every day to more on-demand can only happen with technology. Remember only a couple of decades ago when in order to watch the next great episode of the Facts of Life, it meant that you had to sit in front of the television at 7:30 on Thursday night? If you missed it, you missed it. In our schools you could apply that same rule to the class schedule. If you are the type of person that learns math best in the afternoon but have to take math at 9:30 in the morning, you also “miss” it. Now with flipped classrooms and blended learning in a mobile environment, we can “bend” time to make the necessary content much more available on demand.
Infusing mobile learning into a classroom where students consume content in isolation in a desk at a set time of day is a waste in some ways. Creating flexible spaces that encourage collaboration to create content and an environment where learning can happen 24/7 is truly a thing to behold. Leveraging the MLQ in this way can really begin to move the needle when it comes to efficiency of learning with mobile devices.
Now, if we can just do something about those standardized tests…
Editor’s note: This post is based on the book series Mobile Learning Mindset. This 6-book series explores how each key stakeholder can best support a mobile learning initiative. The first two books are already out and can be purchased here. Books 3 (focused on coaches and professional learning) and book 4 (focused on the teacher and classroom environment) are set to be published at the end of September.
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”.
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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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):
Recently, it’s been reported that U.S. “Millennials” are not making the mark when it comes to technology proficiency and problem solving when compared to counterparts in other countries (19th out of 21). Say what you will about the assessment and measure of this, but I do think it gives us a chance to reflect on ideas for integrating problem solving strategies into the everyday classroom.
Last year, I wrote this post on 21 Things Every 21st-Century Teacher should do and it became an instant hit (with the help of Sean Junkin’s Infographic). As tech tools come and go, I felt the need to update and refresh it for this school year. However, I ran into a problem. When I got done with my updated list (removing a couple of ideas, adding several more) I was up to 36 different ideas. As luck would have it there are 36 weeks in a standard school calendar so this actually works out wonderfully. While these aren’t necessarily listed in the order you should do them, they are listed from least difficult (#1 – Selfies) to the most difficult (#36 – Creating an in-class incubator). The last few challenges are especially geared toward real-world problem solving and will hopefully make a dent in those “Tech Problem-solving” stats in the future.
36 Weeks of Innovation for the 2015-16 School Year:
1. All About Your Self(ie) Project
You know all those “getting to know you” activities that you start at the beginning of the year? Why not integrate selfies into those? You know kids (especially teens) have hundreds of these on their phones and it could be a creative way to tell the “their story” through selfies.
2. Have a class twitter account to post a tweet about the day’s learning
Just like a blog only smaller. Nominate a “guest tweeter” and have them summarize the day’s learning in 140 characters or less. Then ask parents to follow the account so they can also get a little insight into the happenings of the school day.
3. Create your own class hashtag
Tell your students and their parents about the hashtag and have them post ideas, photos, and questions to it. It’s a great way to get people from not only in your class but also around the world to contribute to your class conversation. You can also use this with your blog posts (#1) or classroom tweets (#2). Bonus points if you use something like VisibleTweets to display your posts in your class.
4. Create a Class Instagram Account
Spinning off of the twitter account you already created, why not have a photo-based summary of the learning in class as well? Have a daily student photographer who’s job is to post an example of something your class/students did that day. If you don’t want to mess with “do not publish” lists, you could ask that it be of an object or artifact, not a person. This would also be a good time to have a mini-digital citizenship lesson and talk about when and how to ask permission to take someone’s photo.
5. Create a comic of your class rules
Let’s face it, classroom rules are in need of a makeover. Do you still have that blown-up Word Doc with your 1995 clipart on it? Why not make your classroom rules into a graphic novel? Here’s just one example of classroom rules done up comic-style! BAM! BOP! BLAZAMO!
6. Periscope a “minute in the life” video
I wrote a few weeks ago about this newest social media trend called “digital broadcasting”. While that post went over some best practices for Periscope and Meerkat, I’ve since been exposed to a multitude of ideas from other ‘scopers. One idea is to capture a “minute in the life” video to post weekly. Whether this be a minute in the life of a 3rd grader or a Pre-Cal student, it opens up a window to parents and other educators to see what is happening in your class. I have a much longer post on this coming soon…but since we are early in the list, I’m keeping it simple.
7. Create a MEMEory –
I think meme’s are inherently evil. Some are so clever I almost get jealous, while others leave a lot to the imagination. With apps like Meme-Generator or an app like Skitch, you could have students make historical memes, favorite literary characters or even cats that like chemistry.
8. Brain Breaks
Kids (and adults) can really only sit and “work” for so long. The average adult can sit for about 20 minutes before their mind begins to wander. For kids, the younger they are the less than can sit still (just come watch me and my family at a restaurant for proof). Brain breaks should be a part of every class and every grade level. From Improv games to yoga to GoNoodle, make brain breaks a part of your classroom and watch their brains re-ignite!
9. Sketchnoting for reflection
I’ve been a big fan of sketchnoting before it was called that. Back in my day (now I sound like an old man) we called it doodling. However, the more I do it (either digitally or on an old school notebook) the more I realize that I actually remember what was said. Why not try this in a class? During a lecture or watching a short film, have students represent the talk in a sketchnote. Check out this massive sketchnote of my co-Keynote with Todd Nesloney at iPadpaloozaSouthTX.
10. Create a List.ly list to encourage democracy in your class.
It could be as simple as a list of choices for a project or something as grand as what is one thing you want to learn about this year? Whatever the choice, use List.ly to create a crowd-sourced voting list and let your students have some say in their learning! Let’s just hope they aren’t old enough to vote for Kanye in 2020.
11. Blog for reflection
Having introduced reflection with Sketchnoting (#9) you are now ready to have kids practice the art of not only reflection with words, but published words. Using sites like EduBlogs and Kidblog (no longer free) you can have your students reflect on their week of learning in a student blog. Crowd-source the topics for their writing from other classmates for those that are struggling with an idea.
12. Digital portfolio for projects and art
I’ve got a giant box full of art projects and my oldest is barely entering 1st grade. I can only imagine the size of the extra wing I’ll need to add to my house when all 3 of them are through school. While I love all their art, I would appreciate it even more if it was also digitized. Using a platform like Blub, have your students capture their best work and reflect on the process. For more advanced users, organize each into different categories, styles, or themes. Besides the student example here, check out Lisa Johnson’s (TechChef4U) multiple Bulb sites for staff and student iPad instructions.
13. Participate in a Mystery Hangout
This sounds a lot scarier than it is but essentially think of playing the game 20 questions with another classroom somewhere in the world. Here’s a link to a community page with more resources. It’s a great way to increase cultural and global awareness and you could event invite the other class to add to your Pinterest board (#10), vote on your List.ly (#8), comment on your blog (#1) or maybe co-collaborate on an eBook (#17).
14. Create a Fantasy league (where they keep track of the stats themselves)
It’s time to break the stereotypes of sports. What better way to do that than through fantasy sports and math? Have students “draft” a team in a particular sport and then track their stats manually to see who wins. For a more advanced challenge, create a “mega” league with multiple sports over the course of the year. Watch for heated trades taking place on the playground and Monday discussions livening up when football season starts!
15. Special Effects Science
With a ton of stop-motion apps and the new Slo-mo feature built into iOS, there are a ton of creative ways to watch a science experiment unfold. From the slow growth of a plant over a semester to the infamous erupting volcano experiment in super slo-mo, science really is part visual arts.
16. Infographic-ize your newsletter
Tired of sending home that same boring newsletter that nobody reads? Why not jazz it up with an infographic. Using a tool like Canva or even keynote (what I used to make mine for this post), you can create a visually pleasing and impactful message to your community. Just be sure to include links to your class Twitter(#2), Instagram (#4) and Periscope (#6) accounts!
17. Pinning for parents
In this new digital age, parents are always looking for some help when it comes to ways to help their kids manage it all and be successful for school. Rather than just send them tips here or there, why not have a Pinterest board for parents? Here’s one we did called “86-days of summer learning” for parents looking for learning ideas in the summer.
18. Green Screen a field trip to another land
Budget cuts mean no more field trip to the local zoo? Why not take a virtual one? Have you class research specific locations in our world (and even specific times in history) and then visit them via green screen technology. Students can discuss what they might see during their trip and reflect on challenges and discoveries they made (virtually of course).
19. Make a class weekly podcast
Busy parents mean no time to read a weekly newsletter or that note in the take home folder. One thing many parents due is subscribe to podcasts (remember the Serial craze last fall?!) so why not put your class highlights in their weekly feed? Have your students write and create segments for the weekly show and publish it to iTunes to make some instant memories and to let mom and dad listen to your week while working out.
20. Animated book reports
The video book report is so 2013. Why not ramp it up a notch and use some animation? Apps like Explain Everything, Puppet Pals, Tellagami, Toontastic, etc allow you to make your book reports a little more animated. Add in some green screen (#18) with some stop-motion (#15), throw in some legos, and your students could make their own Lego Movie as a book report! (as long as they don’t use that “Everything is Awesome” song as their soundtrack)
21. Instructables by Students
The Instructables DIY craze is a powerful one. From figuring out how to make your own bubble-machine to how to use chop sticks, these how-to guides for life hacks are quite handy. Since student’s learn best by teaching, why not flip the script and use a site like Bulb or Snapguide to have students make their own Instructable over the topic or subject area of their choice?
22. Let a kid take over
I know. This sounds dangerous. If you look at John Hattie’s research on visible learning, the number 1 way to help move the needle on student learning and retention is to let them drive their own learning and self-grade. While there are several different ways you can do this (Project Based Learning being the most widely accepted method), you could sprinkle in little bits of this in everyday curriculum. An app like Apollo allows the students to take over the teacher’s board and then send out their work to the entire class instantly! (bonus: check out the built-in random student picker for some extra fun)
23. Student-led Parent-teacher conference presentations
I first heard about this from Sandy Kleinman this past summer, but the concept is simple. Tell students on the first week of school that they will be collecting a portfolio of work and present what they have learned to their parents during parent-teacher conferences. This is a great way of having kids (even as young as kindergarten) own their learning (#22). This could be daunting if not planned well, but with built in reflection activities (#9, #11, #12) there are multiple ways to gather discoveries to share with mom and dad.
24. Augment an old Textbook
Textbooks are a way of life in education and though many are now digital, there are still tons of old adoptions laying around in classroom cabinets or school storage closets. Why not utilize these books to add a little Augmented reality to the classroom? Using an app like Aurasma or Daqri, create a special video message and “attach” it a picture in the textbook. So when the entire class turns to page 26 and holds their device over the image…they’ll get quite the surprise!
25. Go Paperless for a week (then track the data)
Depending on your grade level, this might be harder than you think. Even in a 1:1 district we still print or have need to print things from time to time. The idea behind this challenge is see if you can figure out ways to make things more digital. Maybe instead of a newsletter you print and send home, you write a blog (#11) or send an infographic (#16). Or instead of asking kids to write and peer-edit each other’s papers, you ask them to share a Google doc? If your students don’t have devices, then challenge yourself to try this personally for a month.
26. Google Cardboard
With Google’s release of “Expeditions” last May, students can now take a mobile phone or iPod and use Google Cardboard to take a virtual field trip anywhere around the world! This does take some prep, which is why it’s further down on the list, but the reactions of students experiencing the Great Wall of China is amazing!
27. No Tech Tuesday
Have your students not use any technology and live like it’s 1915. This is a great way to really investigate how much times have changed in the past decade and our reliance on technology. Of course when they are done, have them blog about their experience. (#11)
28. Cardboard Design challenges
Design challenges can be a great way to have students think differently and work together in teams. Whether it be creating a cardboard chair that can support your weight (like Mr. Lofgren did here with his middle school students) or creating your own arcade like Cane did, the only limits in these activities are supplies and your students’ imaginations. And sometimes, having limits like supplies and time can actually enhance the creativity of the teams. BONUS: Create an Instructable of your final project (#21)
29. Redesign your learning space
After having your class design their own cardboard chairs (#28), it’s time to look at your classroom space. How is it designed to facilitate learning? Have your students research what types of furniture work best for a diverse learning environment. From the color on the walls to the lighting, have students research the costs and practicality of a new classroom makeover. Need some inspiration? How about his “classroom diner” concept:
30. Make a class book
The ease with which you can publish books now is amazing. Using a tool like Book Creator or iBooks Author, you can publish to the iBooks store or Amazon. Don’t want to do something that intense? Keep it simple and make a book using Shutterfly and then have it printed as a keepsake.
31. Code a makey-makey Instrument
Music can be a great learning tool. Coding is like learning a second language. This challenge combines the two at a pretty inexpensive cost ($49 for a Makey-Makey, $2 for bananas). Have your students work in teams to create their own musical instruments using any classroom materials around them. Then when they are all done, have them put on a “Junkyard Musical” performance to wrap it up! (Which would be a great thing to Periscope (#6))
32. Appmazing Race
While the APPmazing Race got it’s humble beginnings from iPadpalooza 2014, it has since grown into a global phenomenon as a new strategy for delivering PD. Though built originally for adults, it’s perfect for students with mobile devices. Set up a series of challenges over a class period or a couple of weeks and have the kids team up and go to work! While the race itself doesn’t take a lot of work (except for reigning the kids back in), the prep before hand and the scoring afterwards will take quite a bit of time. Be sure to have a rubric to help students understand how they score on particular challenges and I would advise on using a tool like Padlet.com to curate all their finished discoveries. Here’s an example of one of the biggest races I’ve hosted using Thinglink and Padlet to curate.
33. LipDub to History
The ultimate form of flattery is imitation. The ultimate form of stardom is when Weird Al makes a parody of your song. Why not take that to another level and have students re-write lyrics to their favorite hit or a popular tune? The catch is they have to tie the lyrics into something historical like the video below. Who knows, maybe some student will remake “Chaka Khan” into “Genghis Khan”.
34. Design your own Rube Goldberg Machine
How great would it be to have teams of students design a Rube Goldberg machine? I once saw former 4th grade teacher Cody Spraberry facilitate a 2-week project where each group had a defined space in the classroom (marked by tape) and had to design, create, and test their Rube as well as record it. Not all the reactions were as priceless as this kid’s, but tying in reflection (#11), how-to instructions (#21) and some video effects (#15) can really make this a powerful lesson in teamwork, perseverance, problem-solving and organization.
35. Global Outreach GoFundMe
Teaching our students about generosity while giving them a wider perspective of world events can be powerful. Now with tools like GoFundMe, your class can strategize a way to help support a cause like this one for creating a School for the Deaf in Haiti. This is real, authentic, impactful learning that will make a difference in the lives of your students and those you are helping.
36. Create a start-up Incubator
To really tackle all of those “future-ready” skills, why not have teams of students create their own actual start-up company. Some high schools across the country have started this program (including our own Westlake High School) but it doesn’t have to be exclusive to high school. The key is to get business and industry leaders to work with the kids and talk about real world scenarios their companies will face. Kind of like “career day” on steroids. If you can get some local business or parents to participate with some funds, you can actually host a “Pitch night” to start the event and a “Shark tank” type activity to close it where students will get actual money to try and create their product. This is the most intensive of all the ideas on this list and can utilize parts of all the other 35 topics to make a team successful.
While I don’t expect any one classroom to do all of these ideas (I’d have to give them a prize if they did), I do think many of these are doable and possible on the cheap. I tried to design most of them without dependance on a particular type of technology, but having access to devices, even if not in a 1:1 environment, is helpful.
I hope you enjoy and be sure to give me some feedback below as to what you think. And to practice what I preach, I took Sean Junkin’s tutorial advice and created my own infographic out of Keynote for this post. See below:
Today 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.
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).
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.
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).
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!