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LearnFestATX – A Learning Event From The Future

Let me paint a picture for you.

You spend a lot of money to attend a conference for professional learning. You get flights lined up, hotel, transportation, etc. Then you go to the event. You spend the first hour trying to find the registration desk.  You wait in line for a half-hour to get your badge. Then you plop down on the floor and start looking over the schedule guide to see what sessions you’ll attend.

There’s so many choices, it’s almost overwhelming. It’s like walking into Costco without a shopping list. You go in wanting one thing, and you come out owning a 3-lb lobster claw that you didn’t know you needed. Once you do decide on a session, you stand in line for 15 minutes hoping to get in. Others are over capacity and you can’t get in, which causes you to speed walk 1.2 miles down the convention hall only to walk in late to a session and find the dreaded seat in the very middle of everyone.

After several hours of this, you are ready for an early happy hour. You see people laughing and having fun, but you’re not sure what they are laughing about and if they are in fact having fun. At about 2pm, you find a local watering hole with fellow attendees trying to hide their badge of shame around their necks as you are all clearly failures.

Or are you?

I would argue that you are not the failure, but instead that the conference event failed you. In its desire to pack the house with thousands of people, the large conference has lost focus on what’s most important: the attendee experience. Sure there are amazing speakers from all over and great content, but the UX (user experience) is severely lacking. Why go stand in line for a movie you might not want to watch?

On day 2, you wake up with a headache both from the early happy hour and the brain fog that comes from being overwhelmed. You go to the keynote, hoping for some inspiration. However, you are now “cattled” in and out of a 5000-seat arena where you end up skipping sitting down because you forgot to charge your laptop. So, you find a spot on the floor next to one of the 4 plugs in the 30,000 sq. ft. room. The keynote speaker is good (they usually are, to be fair) but now what? Do you engage in conversation with someone? Do you rush out the door before the closing remarks in the hopes of not being a part of the herd?

All of these above scenarios have been part of my experiences attending large conferences in the past. I feel like I spend much of my time being shepherded around or looking for the next session, but rarely walk away with my money’s worth in terms of knowledge and experiences. In fact, the best learning usually happens in conversations and dialogues with colleagues or things posted on the conference hashtag.

With all this in mind, in 2012, we created an event called iPadpalooza. We didn’t want to call it an “iConference” because we really wanted it to be something quite different. We wanted it to be a learning festival. A place to experience something different as an attendee. A place where the things that matter the most, the interactions, discussions, and collaboration are the focal point of the event.

Flash forward to present day.

Taking all past experiences, both good and bad, when it comes to professional learning, we are attempting something, well…different. The event formerly known as iPadpalooza is now LearnFestATX (after all, it’s about the learning, not a device). Last year, rather than just changing the name and moving on, we decided to beta test some new concepts in professional learning with a much smaller audience. Following that beta test, we discovered what worked and what didn’t. Taking just the parts that worked and adding in some of our own magic, we have created what we feel will be an event from the future, for the future.

Our motto this year is “Ready Learner One” along with a retro video game theme (sometimes the past can best prepare us for the future, right?). Many of the things we are trying are still top-secret, but here’s just a few highlights of things you could experience as an attendee this summer:

Three Different Perspectives to Learning:

As someone attending, you’ll experience learning in three different ways.  The first way is the most traditional in terms of learning as part of a large group (during opening and closing events) or a medium-sized group (during interactive and make-n-take sessions). The second way is learning as part of a collaborative team either with our Teacher Shark Tank or the APPmazing Race. The third way is learning as an individual by reflecting in our Mindfulness Lounge, participating in our digital petting zoo, lunchtime interactions, or attempting to win our massive easter egg hunt (details revealed at event).

Featured Speakers:

While the traditional conference puts featured speakers in certain rooms and only for certain times, we want our featured speakers to be much more part of the event. They should be learners too. As an attendee, you should have multiple opportunities to interact with them as well. Sure, there will be some scheduled sessions, but now with our new Mindfulness Lounge and Expert’s Lounge, you’ll have opportunities to sit, relax and reflect with some of the top educational experts around. Our featured speakers will also be playing multiple roles in some of the experiences that are taking place, from Impractical EdTechsters to the Ed Tech Family Feud to a Poetry Slam, you’ll see these folks in roles that stretch their thinking and yours.

A Different Kind of Keynote:

I can’t give away too much here, but for those that attended our beta-test last year with the “Silent Disco” presentation style, we’ll be doing that on a much larger scale during our opening session on June 12. Also, we’ll be bringing back our “What’s HOT in Ed Tech” challenge for the closing ceremonies. Let’s just say it involves some new ways to “spice” up a talk to a large crowd. We’re also super-pumped to have Manoush Zomorodi as our day 2 Keynote speaker. These large groups events will have tons of audience engagement as well as boat-loads of door prizes.

Dive Deeper Before the Madness:

While the main LearnFestATX runs on June 12th & 13th, we will also be having our 3-hour deep dive PreFest LearnShops on June 11th. No more fighting for a spot or a seat. Just buy your ticket, select your sessions, and you are guaranteed a seat.

In summary, I’ve always been of the belief that learning is an active sport. Sometimes that’s a team sport, sometimes it’s an individual sport. But the bottom line is, you get out of it what you put into it. This is true of either a traditional conference or our event. The biggest difference is, at our event, you don’t have to try to seek out those learning opportunities. At our event, they seek you out.

I hope that you’ll join us this summer at LearnFestATX. We do believe that learning as a team can be powerful too, so we offer great group discounts if you want to come hang out with colleagues or meet new ones. With our event, you have the ultimate level of voice & choice. Something we want our students to have as well, so why not model it in a professional learning environment?

Come see what all the fuss is about this summer in Austin:

LearnFestATX Registration

Hint for those of you that read all the way to the bottom of this page. Try and reach out to a featured speaker to get a 20% off discount!

Editor’s note: LearnFestATX was recently listed as one of EdSurge’s top Ed Tech events to attend in 2019!

 

Apple Classroom and iOS 9.3 in a 1:1

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

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

1. Eanes App Store

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

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 8.32.47 AM

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

New Apple Management

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

Apple Classroom

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

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

 

Infographic New Eanes App Store

 

A Whole New World of Apps (for the Under 13 Generation)

Green PG-13_Hv_CS3As students fill the hallways of our schools on their first day back, there is a major change afoot for those kids under the age of 13.  Students in the pre-teen realm have always had less options when it came to personalization and use of certain websites/social media.  While some of those rules still apply when it comes to the web, Apple’s new system of allowing districts to issue Apple IDs for those students under the age of 13 (with parental consent) means that the days of every elementary students having the same standardized iPad are in the past.  Combining that with the new deployment system and (in our case) an MDM like Casper, and we are finally starting to see some of the real powerful potential of the 1:1 iPad platform.  While I know there will be some glitches (there always are in technology), I’m looking forward to the improvements listed here this year for our K-6 students.

App Provisioning

For the past 2 years, our elementary students have been living in the 1:1 world when it comes to devices, but haven’t really gotten the full-fledged personalized experience of their older counter-parts when it comes to apps.  Because we couldn’t have individual Apple IDs on each iPad, we used Apple Configurator to provision “images” to sets of iPads at every grade level. This was a painfully arduous process that entailed having a Support Tech go classroom to classroom with a Macbook and provision the images to each iPad.  With the amount of time and man-power it took to accomplish this, we basically had time for one app-refresh cycle every year.  Besides the inefficiency of this model, we also had several times when iPads would get “hung up” during app refresh and have to be completely wiped, losing important student work that hadn’t been backed up.  Now that every student will have an Apple ID, we can “push” apps out to students over the air (OTA).  If a classroom wants an app, they contact our MDM campus manager who loads the app and pushes it out to the class overnight.  If it’s a free app, the kids can even download it themselves!

App Personalization

Since we basically had two groups (K-2 and 3-5), that meant front-loading the images with pretty much every app we would think to use for the school year.  The resulting images were somewhat heavy (taking up over 6GB of the 16GB space) and many were unnecessary depending on your grade.  Here’s our example list of apps for elementary last year. You could have 3rd graders looking at 5th grade apps that they didn’t even need. While we’ve really focused on productive apps vs. consumptive ones, we at least knew that all kids would have the tools they needed to create a finished product.  Now that we can now push apps over the air, that means starting with a much leaner set of core apps to start (nearly all “productive” apps) and adding those content or grade-level based consumptive apps as needed.  One drawback of not having a set image on them is that iPads are essentially naked to begin the year until the students have their Apple IDs set up.  Enter the always clever Janet Couvillion. She’s an Ed Tech at one of our elementary campuses and she created this tremendous Thinglink about all things you can do on an iPad with only basic apps:

Content Distribution

We utilize eBackpack as our web-based and app-based content distribution system.  However, we’ve also found some successes using iTunesU at the upper grades when it comes to quickly creating courses for students.  Now that our students under the age of 13 have Apple IDs, we can have them enroll in a class course at the beginning of the year that a teacher can use to push out content as it becomes relevant. We can also provision specific iBooks or class sets of iBooks to students based on their Apple IDs, something not possible in the past.

Time to Focus

Another potential bonus of all of this is the new Casper Focus feature we had a kindergarten teacher test for us last year.  With all iPads in this new system and each student with an Apple ID, a teacher can now “control” or “lock-down” all the iPads in his/her class into a specific app.  While I’m not a big fan of the lock-down control model when it comes to teaching and learning, I do know there is a time and place when this might need to happen from time to time.  With state and national testing moving to an online platform, we’ll need to have this ability going forward.  This year we’ll be pilot testing the ACT Aspire test on iPads for students in grades 4-9 and we’ll also be piloting using a Desmos Calculator app during our 8th Grade Algebra State assessment.  None of this would be possible without this new system in place without individually going to each iPad and enabling Guided Access.

Parent Involvement

In order to make this system work, we have to really rely on parent support.  They have to go through the online consent and Apple ID creation process for us to be able to utilize all the advantages listed above.  As a parent, the advantages to this program versus making your own Apple ID are many (here’s a Parent Guide from Apple).  They’ll be able see what apps their students are purchasing.  With their students being in the Under 13 program they’ll have less advertisements and data mining to worry about.  As a parent of a new kindergarten student, I was excited to not only set up her Apple ID because we can now mirror the apps she’s getting at school and put them on our devices at home to help with her learning.  I’ve always been a believer in the concept of a village raising the child and in our ever-increasing online world, the lines between home and school are no longer clearly defined.  This process gives us as a district another opportunity to communicate about the education of their child, which can in the end only be a good thing.

To help introduce parents to this process I made this somewhat silly 3.5 minute video (below) along with some instructions for them on their end.

 The future is bright and no longer just for those born before 2001!

5 Apps That I’d Like Invented in 2012

I’m always running across people saying, “don’t you wish there was an app for that”.  Sometimes I’m surprised to find that actually is an app for “that”.  With over 500,000 apps in the iOS marketplace, it’s hard to imagine that we could even need any more.  So as the new year begins, here are some I think should be created this year.  Some of these are very pie-in-the-sky and require quite a bit of other things to happen in order to be used effectively, but hey! It’s the New Year!  Anything is possible right?
1.  RefriderMinder – Just in time for those New Year’s weight-loss resolutions out there! Ever wonder what’s in your fridge but your at the store already?  Ever get surprised by that old tub of sour cream that’s gone green earlier than you thought?  That’s where “RefridgerMinder” app comes in handy. This app can actually detect what’s in your fridge! (Note: “SmartFridge” and optional bar code scanner readers and weight sensors not included) Imagine it, when you put food in your fridge it instantly scans it and let’s you know the expiration date. Enable push notifications to warn you when something is reaching expiration or running out (via weight sensors). With an optional upgrade, you could even have the nutritional information fed to your favorite weight-loss app. If you purchase accompanying  tupperware with an electric date/time diode on the lid, your left-overs could communicate to you as well.  Finally, if you really wanted to go all out, mini-cams could be installed on fridge shelves that let you actually look at what’s in your fridge via this app.  There will also be a companion app called “PantryMinder” coming out not too long after this.

2. BreadCrumbs – During our recent visit to the Big Island of Hawaii, my wife commented to me while we were driving by landmarks, “wouldn’t it be nice if we could have an audio tour happening right now that tells us what significant stuff is around us?”.  With the geo-location feature on iDevices, it would be easy enough to enable audio to come on based on your location and the direction your are facing. In fact, there are already a couple apps out there already that already do that. This app would take it even a step further.  Users could input their own images, videos, and audio based and geo-tag the location where they are for other users to experience what they experienced.  Volcano not erupting the day your are there? No problem! Click on a user-video from the exact spot your are standing and experience an augmented reality version of the volcano erupting.

3. YouTube Ed Edition – This one is exactly what it sounds like.  There are a lot of “filtered” apps out there like Kideos, which will categorize some YouTube videos by age level.  However, with the recent release of Youtube.com/education, I hope it’s only a matter of time before a separate YouTube Ed Edition app appears on our devices.

4. GreenLightGo – I know we are not supposed to check email or text in our cars.  In fact, many states are outlawing the use of any cell phone while the car is in motion.  Playing by the rules means we are stuck reading or responding to as much as we can in the 2 minutes it takes for a traffic light to cycle through.  Often times, I’m so into my response or research that I don’t notice the light has changed until I’m gently reminded via a driver’s honk to my rear.  This app solves that problem.  Simply run this app in the background of your device, then when the light you are facing turns green, the screen flashes and sends a small audio alert letting you know it’s time to move.  Sounds simple enough right?  The trick would be getting the highway department to let this app access their traffic signal cycles.

5. URL in a Flash – The one GIANT roadblock/question I get when talking about iDevices in school or anywhere else is the “yeah, but it doesn’t run flash” response.  There are currently several apps that claim to enable some sort of flash integration on the iPad. (Photon being the best, albeit a little clunky and not cheap.  Rover is a more limited free option.)  With the recent openess of Adobe towards Apple I think a true everything app that runs flash will be out there soon, only in all reality it likely won’t look like this.  It will probably be blue with a compass on it and be called “Safari”.

So there you have it.  Just enough to wet your appetite to the possibilities. I know I might be giving away a ton of money in free ideas, but the reality is I just want to see these apps invented.  (I also didn’t share my top 3 ideas as I do actually hope to invent those 🙂  The scary thing is, I think we all have these rattling around in our heads.  I just chose to create fake app icons and put them on a blog.  What app have you thought of?  Please share via comments below or invent it and share it with me!

Without Steve

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In honor of Steve Jobs, I’m writing this post on my iPhone while holding my nearly asleep 7-week old in my arms. Think about that for a minute. I can create and publish in the palm of my hand while providing a much needed cushy shoulder to sleep on. Earlier this morning I had FaceTime between my wife’s iPod and my phone since I knew she had it in her hand Meanwhile, her 3-year old, ancient, non-smart phone lay dormant somewhere in the house. Why did she have the iPod on her at 6:35 in the morning? It has an app that let’s her know which side she breast-fed Baby Hooker 2.0 on last and how long she fed. Perfect app for a sleep-deprived mama.
The point of me telling you this story of our day is to point out that none of this would have been possible without the innovative mind of one of the world’s greatest tinkerers. Sure blogs would have existed, but holding a laptop on my lap while holding this baby would have been an exercise in futility. Yes, my wife could easily have held a notepad that tells her which side and when in terms of breastfeeding. And I suppose we could have strung together some sort video version of the cans with the string between them. But all this with something that fits in the palm of your hand? Ridiculous! Right?

Without Steve – kids would still be walking the streets listening to CD albums from bands that only put one or two good songs on their record so it will sell, since kids couldn’t buy just the song they wanted for 99 cents.

Without Steve – Toy Story would have been a flat, 2-D animated attempt of ripping off Disney.

Without Steve – We would all still be typing in Courier font.

Without Steve – The blue screen of death would just be a signal for another coffee break, since it would be an acceptable way of life.

Without Steve – We’d be making phone calls on something between the Zach Morris phone and the RaZr. Functional? Yes. Ability to do more than one thing? No way.

Without Steve – our one-to-one tablet pilot at the high school would have involved some cumbersome, windows based tablet. And it would have failed.

Without Steve – black turtlenecks and blue jeans would have been seen as some sort of beatnik halloween costume, not the uniform of an icon.

Without Steve – My job might still exist, but it wouldn’t be as fun.

Without Steve – The cool kids would rule instead of the nerds inheriting the earth.

Without Steve- “i” would just be a letter between h and j. .

Without Steve – We would live long fruitful lives, but would we truly be happy?

We’ll miss you Steve, but here’s hoping a little piece of you lives in all of us now.

I know it does with me…

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A journey

I’ve been on a journey to a magical land where the world is positive, the weather is always 72 degrees, and the food comes at you in loads that you don’t have to pay for. You may think- is this Heaven? Or is this a scene from Albert Brook’s underrated comedy “Defending Your Life”?

No Meryl, this isn't heaven, it's Cupertino

No. This is Cupertino, California. The words “yes, but” never enters their vocabulary. The phrase “you can’t do that” doesn’t ever weed it’s way into the vernacular here.
I was recently honored to be part of a select group of 15 administrators from 11 different states picked to be a part of “Apple Academy”. I know what your thinking – there goes Carl taking big gulps of the Apple Kool-aid again. Normally, I’d agree with you. Or worse – say “yes, but”. However the enlightening part about this trip has nothing to do with Apple products or their world of 350,000 apps (over 20,000 in education alone).
It’s in their attitude.
It’s in the people they hire.
It’s absolutely contagious.

I came away with greater knowledge of how Apple will improve our education, but more than anything else I wanted to bottle their “Yes, and” attitude and feed it to my staff.
While Apple didn’t develop the mantra “Yes, and”, it’s certainly a part of their life’s blood.
We in education become too hung up on the “Yes, but’s” in the world. We use as a way to scapegoat to avoid change.
Yes, but we have state testing to worry about.
Yes, but we have too much distraction in the classroom already.
Yes, but what will the community think about all of this change?

These are all things I heard upon return from my journey. While it grounded me quickly and forced reality on me in a way that almost made me hurl, I could now palpably taste the negativity in the air. We’ve grown so adapted to the extra burden of “yes, but” that we are accustomed to carrying the extra weight.

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

My journey to Apple-land freed me of those weights.

And while I will try my best not to put them back on again, I also want my co-workers to experience the freedom of living in a “yes, and” world. Life becomes so much more livable. Work becomes so much more enjoyable. You just have to commit to it.

And a journey to Cupertino wouldn’t hurt either. 🙂

Editor’s note: This article posted from my iPhone.