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):
Meetings have become part of the necessary evil woven within the fabric of business and education. Some meetings are fruitful, others are a complete time-suck. Many books have been written about how to get the most “meeting” out of your meeting. Having norms, creating agendas, sharing ideas, these are all important parts of making a meeting more productive, but do we ever think about what we could be doing instead of being in that meeting? I’ve started to look into the book Boring Meetings Suck and will try to use some of the ideas within that book to get more out of the meetings I attend. However, that still doesn’t help with the question, should we be doing something else as administrators rather than being in a meeting?
The last couple of years I’ve tried to “give up” something for Lent. Two years ago it was email in my #NoEmail4Lent challenge (that lasted 19 days). Last year I tried to give up search engines. That lasted for 2 days. My first inclination this year was to give up meetings for Lent. While that would be drastic and interesting, I don’t think it actually provides much challenge for me to just not go to a meeting. Also, with some major decisions around devices in our schools, summer professional learning, plus general team-building, I think it would hurt myself and future plans if I just didn’t show up.
So I can’t give up meetings completely, but I also noticed within my tenure as an administrator that I spend less and less time on campuses. It’s true that the old adage of the longer you have been removed from a classroom, the less connected you become. I know it’s an issue when I walk onto a campus and I hear phrases like, “Wow! What brings you here?” or “I haven’t seen you in forever.” These are both statements meant to make me feel missed, but I also hear the subliminal message being conveyed….I am not present on their campuses enough. To make this better I’ve tried tricks like being a Student for a day, subbing for a teacher, and this year giving each Ed Tech a free day off on their birthday while I sub for them.
But it’s still not enough.
When I am on a campus I feel refreshed and re-energized. Sure, I’ll also discover technical problems or falsely assumed intentions that tend to float around when someone isn’t there, but I also feel more a part of the learning community.
So I have two problems here:
- I spend a lot of time in meetings
- I don’t spend enough time on campuses
And a single solution to help with both scenarios. For the next 40 days, for every minute I spend in a meeting, I will spend an equal amount on a campus. This means I’ll be working remotely more often (this is when it helps to be paperless), but also that I will be physically present on each of our 9 campuses much more than in the past. Being a bit of a data guy, I’ve been tracking my time on campuses and in meetings nightly since the beginning of this semester. Here’s what I found out:
Out of 225 hours working, I have spent 26.4% (59.25 hours) of it in meetings. I have spent 8.9% (20 hours) on a campus.
Starting tomorrow, my goal every week will be to balance that equation. Many of my meetings are pre-scheduled (approximately 8-10 hours a week) so that means that I’ll need to make sure I’m not just waiting until Friday to go hang out on a couple of campuses. To make this work, every time that I schedule a meeting, I’m going to schedule the same amount of time on a campus.
What do I hope to gain from this experiment?
- Be more connected with staff on campuses.
- Work more with our amazing students.
- Share stories from campuses to the meetings I attend.
- Be more cognizant of my time spent away from campuses.
- Be more productive during my meeting time.
I’m excited to begin this challenge and I’m hoping that by doing this other administrators around the country will also reflect on the value of their presence on campus. I also hope that a part of this will stick with me going forward even after Easter Sunday and I’ll continue to be more proactive about being on campuses for the rest of my time as an administrator.
The beginning of a new year brings with it hope and eternal optimism. We set resolutions that we hope to keep and dream about what possibilities lie ahead for us in the coming year. Over the last several years, I’ve written a blog post predicting a few things I think might be possible both in and out of education. Some of these I feel fairly certain about and others…well….there is the word “BOLD” in the title right? In looking back at my past predictions (here are 2013, 2014, and 2015 for point of reference), I think I’m hitting at around 50% on some of these. Some notable favorites were last year’s prediction that the state of Texas would drop out of its contract with Pearson and my 2014 prediction that wearable technology would start making its way into the classroom. That said, I also predicted that at some point we would ban the all-in-one classroom desk and that my “Giving Up Google For Lent” experiment would be the stuff of legends (I made it all of 2 days). But hey, they can’t all be gems right?
So, with an eye on a hopeful future, here are my predictions for 2016:
A School will try a Self-Driving Bus
I’ve gone on record for saying that I want to own the first legal self-driving car in Texas. Not only do I think that it would help me multi-task, I think it would be a great hand-me-down car for my daughter when she becomes legal driving age in 2024. Believe it or not, there’s actually hope for this as Google started testing their self-driving “Art Cars” here in Austin last fall. But this isn’t about me, it’s about education. So here’s a BOLD prediction that actually makes sense if it’s safe enough: Self-driving school buses. Think about it, there are tons of accidents with buses already and the driver is constantly distracted by what the kids are doing. So why not turn the driver into a monitor and let the computer do the driving? You may laugh but people are already using the Uber-like service called “Shuttle” to take kids to and from school, this just seems like the necessary next step.
MYOT – Make Your Own Textbook Becomes a Reality
Many have dabbled on the fringes of this idea whether it be creating their own iBook or online course, but I think the time is ripe for us to eschew the major textbook companies and begin to design our own. Our own government is promoting more and more free OER content which could really help make this prediction a reality. I know I ranted about how the textbook should go extinct in this post, but think about it. We’ve evolved in so many ways with technology, so why are we still trying to make our textbooks fit inside virtual brown-paper bag covers? (remember those?!)
A “Teen Social Media Prediction” app will be invented
With some of the latest news about apps like Brighten and After School making the rounds before the holiday break, parents are exasperated. They want to know how to stay ahead of the kids to keep up to date on where they are “hanging out” virtually. The truth is, I’m not sure there will ever be a way to do this, but since data privacy and big data seem to be converging, it would make sense that a clever coder somewhere would be able to use some predictive analytics that would show us where teens are going next. Take those analytics and put them together into a snazzy little app that notifies parents and Kazaam! You have a million dollar idea right in your pocket. It couldn’t hurt to try at least right?
An app will be invented to combat the above “Teen Social Media Prediction” app
And the second that app is invented, another app will be invented that falsly tells parents which platform they think their teens will go next just to throw them off the scent. However, along the way, some will discover that parenting is still parenting regardless of social media, devices, or even the great 21st century debate about “when should my child get a smartphone?”
In a district far, far away….someone will develop Star Wars school.
It’s happened with teaching like a pirate and even to some extent with zombies, so why not a school based on the popular film series? After all, Richard Wells (@eduWells) already designed these 10 awesome posters integrating Star Wars legos and education. If you had a school that used a project-based design, you could have the students answer the really important questions like: How fast is 12 parsecs? (I know, technically, it’s a length of measure not time) What is the mass of the Death Star? Why does Darth Vader need that mask to breath biologically? Did Greedo shoot first? These and many more questions can be dissected over several interdisciplinary units of study. And even better…when you graduate you go from Padawan to Jedi master!
Speaking of Star Wars…the Learning will awaken at iPadpalooza this summer
If you can’t tell by our 2016 logo, this year’s iPadpalooza will be a summer blockbuster of epic proportions. I’m not allowed to say much more than that, but do know that one keynote will be absolutely magical (Simon Pierro, the “iPad Magician” of Ellen fame) and that we’ll likely be the only educational event you attend this year where people dress up like their favorite science fiction characters. (Queue geeky Wookie roars here)
The Election Will Be Televised…via Periscope
With major presidential elections happening in the U.S. every four years, it’s kind of cool to see how much has changed in the technology field over that time. President Obama was known as one of the first to embrace social media as a means of connecting. Much like JFK and television, that connection really came in handy on election day. This year, with major news organizations already promoting their own agenda and affiliates, I really think using platforms like Periscope, SnapChat and the like will help individualize what we want to learn and hear about the candidates. Or at the very least it will provide some fun reality TV-like media fodder when a candidate uses the social media tool incorrectly. (you paying attention Rick Perry!)
The “Undead” learning movement will happen!
At last year’s iPadpalooza event I gave a mini-keynote about how the only days where learning doesn’t happen in schools is during mandatory state testing days. I called it “Undead” learning because in an essence, our students’ brains are much like those of zombies in terms of which synapsis are firing during this time of year. What we learn from their testing data is kind of like an autopsy too since we don’t actually discover what they learned until they’ve left the school year. While, I do think there are good ways to measure student growth, this year I’m asking that we start a mini-revolution by simply snapping a #2 pencil in half during testing season and posting it to social media with the hashtag #UndeadLearning. My BOLD prediction: Hundreds of educators will participate!
A School will go 1:1 cardboard
Virtual reality is becoming more and more of the rage in the business world. With Microsoft’s Hololens as well as other players already entering, leaving, and potentially re-entering the market (Hello, Google Glass), it makes sense that schools will want to embrace some of this technology too. The truth of the matter is that schools can’t afford a HoloLens for every student to make virtual a reality. (See what I did there?) Enter the Google Cardboard Expedition. Google’s latest low-cost gadget leverages schools already using a BYOD or 1:1 device to takes students on virtual field trips all over the world. Many schools are experimenting with this technology now and I’d bet this year, a school officially becomes a “1:1 cardboard” school.
I’ll Write a Children’s Book
With my 6-part book series on Mobile Learning Mindset completing at some point this calendar year, I might actually try my hand at a modernized, mobile-friendly children’s book. Think zombies meets Star Wars meets Harry Potter…ok, so it might need some work. Oh, and I while I’m at it, I might also need a pen name. Especially if there’s any hope of getting it onto the shelves of schools around the country. 🙂
Making predictions can be a messy game. I mean not all of us can have a Miss Cleo in our back pocket for getting things right. Part of why I do these predictions is to get me to think about the future direction of educational technology, including some likely absurd ideas. The other part is what I’m doing right now; reflecting on the year that has been and how many of these actually came true. In looking at 2014’s review, I hit on a few, missed on a few (giving up Google for lent? C’mon!) and sort of in between on others. In January of this year, I made a set of ten more predictions that I thought were sure to go wrong in 2015 (remember, “bold” is in the title). Now for the moment of truth, let’s see how I did.
1. Classrooms will become automated
Outcome: Not yet
I’ve seen more sessions at conferences around the idea of automated or “smart” classrooms, but the technology is still a far ways off. I think as beacon technology becomes more ubiquitous and more and more devices enter schools, this one will become a reality. I do think with the recent debates over student privacy, we will have to go through some legal loopholes before a truly automated classroom becomes a reality.
2. Pearson will lose its testing contract in Texas
I am actually still in a state of shock that Texas would go a different direction, but with the exception of a few hold over assessments, we essentially dropped our contract with Pearson. While I’m still not sure that replacement system ETS is much better, one thing is for certain, those people looking for jobs scoring 4th grade writing tests on Craigslist are surely going to be disappointed.
3. Wearables will take over the world…and then regress
Outcome: Getting warmer
I made some jokes about the soon-to-be-formed P.A.W. (“People Against Wearables”) but in reality wearables came on like gang-busters in 2015, especially early in the year. After the Apple Watch hit the market, it became commonplace to see people checking their wrists for cute emoji-based text messages. While I heard some rumors of a school in Australia going 1:1 with Apple Watches (for health data research), I think the fervor over wearables, coupled with the afore mentioned data privacy has slowed down the wearable market. It still didn’t stop me from wearing this cool Matrix-like light up shirt at iPadpaloozaSouthTx this past summer!
4. A human battery level app will be invented
So we haven’t entered cyborg-level yet, but I can tell you this partially came true this week when my dad went in to replace the battery on his heart defibrillator. That’s close right?
5. This year’s iPadpalooza APPmazing Race will bend the mind.
Outcome: Not quite, but it was a blast!
We ramped up the challenges to over 30 in the 3 days of iPadpalooza and dozens of teams rose to the challenge. We had people doing “jumper” pics into swimming pools, putting bunny ears on Felix Jacomino, and tearing up the stage at lunch-time karaoke. The winning team each walked away with their own Apple Watch! All of this sets up for a crazy 2016 race as we continue to raise the bar and up the ante. Check out the highlight video here and be sure to register now as the early bird rates are going on through the holidays!
6. 3D Printers will become common classroom (& household) items
Outcome: Still a ways off
We did see the price of 3D printers continue to drop and even got introduced to these snazzy $99 3D doodler pens, they are not quite common place yet. I do think in several years we will be at a place where we can truly “download” the parts we need to fix something, but for now I’ll just patiently wait for hours as this machine prints out a mini-bust of my own head.
7. Someone will complete the 21 things every 21st century educator should do
Outcome: Not yet
This blog post made the rounds for the past year and half as a list of things every teachers should try to do in their classroom. Many tried it, but I’ve yet to find one person who completed all of them. Rather than rest on my laurels, I decided to up the game and create this “36 Weeks of Innovation” post for teachers to try one thing in their classroom every week. As of this writing, I know of many that have done some, but none that have done them all.
8. Drones will make their way into education
This was sort of a joke when I wrote it last January, but it is actually now becoming a reality. Last week we completed our national “Hour of code” and I saw many posts on social media about kids programming and coding their own drones. In fact, amazingly enough, I may have predicted what iPadpalooza Keynote Adam Bellow would do this year during his presentation. During the middle of his keynote, he use the Tickle App to successfully program and fly a drone out into the crowd and then watch it turn around and come back. Check out his full keynote (post on YouTube for the first time today!) below and watch the magic happen:
9. Someone will complete the Billy Madison #Student4aDay Challenge….maybe me?
Outcome: Not even close
I had grand plans this past year to follow up my #Student4aDay challenge in 2014 with a gauntlet of going through every grade level as a student. While I’m not dismissing this one for myself, I did see more and more people trying the #Student4aDay challenge in their own schools. I think it’s one of the best ways to really experience what kids go through on a daily basis as well as seeing how administrative decisions (like 1:1 technology) impact the classroom.
10. Carl Hooker will FINALLY publish a book
Outcome: TRUE! (in 2016)
This was more of a way to blackmail myself then anything, but after searching for a publishing house in early 2015, ISTE Publishing came knocking on my virtual door. I am excited to announce that I will be creating a 6-book series titled “Mobile Learning Mindset” in 2016 & 2017. Each book will focus on a different area of the school environment. The first two books (focusing on district and campus leadership) will hit shelves in early March of 2016. The last four books will dive into mobile learning in the classroom, professional learning, technical support and the role of parents and community during a mobile learning initiative. While I’m extremely honored and blessed to be a published author, I can tell you that it is NOTHING like blog writing. I’m hopeful that these books will go a long way in helping schools on their own mobile learning journey and can’t wait to see them in print (both real print and virtual).
And that puts a bow on 2015. All in all, I was surprised by some of the results and not so much about others. I’m now going to start brainstorming for 2016 and will publish those after the New Year. What did you think about these predictions? What predictions do you have for 2016? Comment below, and if I use it in my next post (as a “guest prediction”) I’ll give you full credit!
My daughters love talking about dinosaurs. This summer we visited the dinosaur park in Cabazon, CA (made famous by Pee Wee’s Big Adventure) just so they could climb inside a dinosaur. I’ve shown my oldest the original Jurassic Park (not the scary parts) and she has begun to ask me, “Daddy, what happened to the dinosaurs? Are there still some around? Did they become birds?”
Lots of questions and lots of theories but it’s made me think about our own educational landscape and the changes that have been happening dramatically the last 5-7 years when it comes to mobility, social media and content creation. We still have a lot of dinosaurs walking the earth in education, namely the major textbook companies. What is going to happen to them? Will they go extinct or evolve?
Today, I attended a State Board of Education session on “Educating the Digital Generation.” I was pleased to see many educators like Scott Floyd (@woscholar) and superintendents like Randy Moczygemba (@rmocyzgembanb) present to share their frustrations and concerns around the digital textbook industry. (You can view their testimony here: http://www.house.state.tx.us/video-audio/) However, being that textbook publishing is a big business in education, the major textbook companies were also given time to not only defend their platforms, but also ask for more support. The SBOE in Texas has some progressive members that support digital learning in schools but they also have some that seem to be steeped in learning from prehistoric times. One such board member mentioned that “kids are stupid” when it comes to social media and that “using the slide rule is better for learning math than a graphing calculator.”
What does all of this mean for major textbook companies? I have an outlook for them, and judging by recent events, their future is bleak. Let’s look at some signs that spell the demise of the “Big 3” (Pearson, HMH, and McGraw Hill) as well as the massive educational asteroid that will ultimately wipe them out.
Open Educational Resources
With the government’s recent push for more Open Educational Resources (OER) and the already massively available “flexbooks” through sites like CK12.org, we no longer have to purchase an expensive, unreliable online textbook from a major company. Instead of spending millions upon millions of dollars on textbooks, districts can instead dedicate that money towards staffing, technology, and paid online resources that will actually help kids with learning. In Texas, we have our Instructional Materials Allotment (IMA) which allows for “local control” of funds so districts can choose what they want to purchase when it comes to instructional materials. However, the most recent statistics show that 93% of those dollars are spent on traditional textbook resources, mainly from the Big 3. Why is that the case if there is still local control? Primarily it’s the “safe” thing to do. No district wants to stick their neck out too far to purchase something not vetted or…*gasp*…perhaps even save that money for other instructional uses.
Crowd Sourced Content
In addition to the OER resources out there, teachers and schools are sharing more than ever before. Take a look at the hundreds of twitter chats happening online daily centered around education to see the explosion of sharing that is taking place. Some of this sharing comes in the form of “paid sharing” via a program like TeachersPayTeachers.com. I don’t begrudge an already underpaid teacher trying to make a buck (although profiting off other underpaid teachers is a slight concern), I do think the more open we are, the better the learning will be for our students. I recently listened to Tim Berners-Lee, the “Father of the world wide web”, on the TED stage talking about how if he had made the internet cost money, it would have never turned into the great collective network that it is today. I think if we freely share resources and best practices, that crowd sourced content will ultimately make the Textbook-destroying asteroid even bigger.
MYOT (Make Your Own Textbook)
Ok, so a bit of a play on words of the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) movement in Ed Tech, but when you take the OER resources and the crowd-sourced content being shared, why not just get the best teachers in the district or region and have them create their own book? It’s not about the book, it’s about the learning standards right? Paying teachers even HALF of what we pay textbook companies to make a better book, would not only save a district thousands, but also create a better product that is ultimately district-owned. We’ve started down this road with the Texas History adoption, and during today’s state testimony, many districts reported successfully building and deploying their own “textbooks”. I see this as the next evolution in content provision and can even see it further evolving to where kids start to create their own textbook. After all, teaching the material is the best way to learn right? The meteor is approaching….
Publishers vs. Programmers
Some of the dinosaurs did indeed evolve and survived. Those smaller mammals that were more nimble (i.e. smaller content publishers) survived and even thrived following the extinction level event. When working with the Big 3, you must realize that they are publishers, not programmers. I can’t begin to tell you the amount of man hours wasted with data uploads, failed ebook downloads, incorrect content, and massive lack of technical design when it comes to digital textbooks from the larger providers. While I won’t mention names I can tell you that one company even creates a “bridge” product to connect it’s multiple products and product teams. Another when asked directly about integration with our student information system (SIS), stated that they “never mentioned it would be seamless.”
While you would think an eTextbook would save money, in many cases, because of how they are bundled, these cost districts almost the same amount of money. In many ways these companies take fat checks from schools and districts all over the land to cover their massive bottom-lines, not to better serve districts. The smaller, more nimble companies, on the other hand, start with programming and build a better project based on client feedback (that client being the teachers and students).
The Final Explosion and Aftermath –
Several districts here in Texas have started to join forces to fight these behemoths and their poor practices and heavy costs. We’ve pleaded with them to join up with a company like Clever, which handles the automation of data from SIS to textbook company (at NO COST to the school or district). Two of the three major textbook companies have told me that we “don’t need that kind of integration” or “sure it’s free for you, but it costs us.” The fact that a company that gets millions of dollars from districts actually has the gall to say that is appalling.
And so, with this global killer approaching their industry, it’s obvious that the only thing keeping them alive is their sheer size and girth. But like the dinosaurs, those that don’t evolve will become extinct. And in some ways, maybe the educational world will be a better place because of it.
…..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.
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.
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?
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: