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A Love Letter to the Teachers of Eanes ISD


“All good things must come to an end.”

Who said that? Do they really have to end? Does it always have to be the good things that end?

I’ve spent the past 21 years of my life in public education and the past 13 at this amazing district known as the Eanes Independent School District. During my time here, I’ve had three incredible children enter the world and the schools here. I’ve made connections and friendships with families, the community, legislators, business leaders and beyond.

To say it’s been an incredible journey is a gross understatement. While I am somewhat torn emotionally at the fact that this will be my final year at Eanes ISD, I’m also excited for what the next chapter in my life will bring and where this ride will take me. As I often do, lately I have been reflecting on my time here and all that WE accomplished. Without a doubt, the highlight of my career has been working with the incredible teachers in this district. You inspire me, make me laugh, make me grow, and push my beliefs. We’ve shared thoughts, ideas, tears, and struggles.

To the teachers of Eanes ISD, I cannot thank you enough for all that you’ve given me and my family.  So, before I go, I wanted to write you this love letter.

Have confidence in yourself. You have one of the hardest jobs on the planet, helping young humans learn. Know that this is EXTREMELY hard, but you pull it off with ease. Continue to have confidence in yourself and it will translate into even better experiences for you, your students and those around you.

Do the right thing, even when it’s hard. It’s much easier to just do the bare minimum or to not try something new. When I started in my current role here in 2010, integrating technology meant something COMPLETELY different than it does today. That said, the mindset around technology, while ripe with challenges, shouldn’t change our mission. The mission is NOT to raise kids, but to raise ADULTS ready for the world in front of them. Sometimes that means struggling with new things or trying a new idea that may fail, but remember to keep your confidence and your chin up through those times of struggle.

Change is inevitable and constant. When I started in this district, I always had a 3-year plan. Every 3 years I’d change schools or jobs. It took me 13 years to enact on my 3-year plan, largely due to the amazing community here. I changed my belief that I needed to constantly be changing jobs. My new goal was to see all three of my kids graduate from Westlake High School.

But now, that plan has also changed.

There will be many people that come in and out of your life here. There will be new standards to teach. New rules and policies to follow. And yes, technology will change (in fact, quite rapidly). You can either fear the change or embrace it. That sounds easy enough to do, “embrace change”. However I’m going to challenge you to also think about and question change when it happens. Understanding the “why” behind something is an important step in owning whatever the change is.

Have an opinion and don’t be afraid to express it. In fact, you are obligated to express it. We can’t continue to grow as a society or district or organization if everyone nods their head and moves on. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind. A couple of years ago we started a “League of Innovators” with this purpose. These teachers applied to be a part of group with the ultimate goal of improving the district as a whole, not just around technology. I cherish my time with those in the league and the impact they had on our program. Please continue to express your opinion, even when it’s scary.

Whenever possible, be transparent. Trust is built around communication and transparency. Be open to letting others come into your classroom and growing from their feedback. Expect the same transparency from your leaders, as it will also help them and the school grow as a result of having open conversations.

The struggle is real, but move past it. We all have things that we bring to work with us. From personal issues to family health, stress and struggle are a part of all of our lives. It’s how we handle it that makes the difference, not only to ourselves, but our students. We are humans teaching humans. We are in this for the outcome, not the income. Don’t let your bad days get the better of you and don’t let your best days go to your head. Try your best to keep your #EnergyForward.

There will be days when you feel like you are on an island. You close your door with a single goal of teaching the kids in the room in front of you. Never forget how amazing it is to help kids learn, but also never forget that even if you feel alone, you are not. Lean on your colleagues. Lean on your friends. Lean on your family. After all, learning is better when played as a team sport.

Know there’s a bigger picture and it’s not just about making people comfortable. With transparency and openness comes discomfort. Humans are built to avoid conflict. Since the early days of life, if we sense danger, we either fight it or flee from it. This evolutionary trait will not change overnight, but we can try and overcome it to engage in meaningful discourse. We can’t progress as a society if we spend all of our time either being compliant or having well thought out arguments typed on a Facebook thread. Disagreement and discomfort can be a good thing if it takes us all to a better place.

Don’t be stifled by fear. There will be times when you are afraid to try something new. While there are always consequences for actions, that doesn’t mean you should be afraid to try something. Fear can be suffocating to innovation and creativity. Take well-thought out risks that help improve learning and engagement for your students. Mistakes may happen, but modeling how you learn from those mistakes makes a lasting impression on the students in your classroom.

Creativity is born out of struggle. There will always be some roadblocks on the path to success. Time. Money. Resources. Restrictive filters. When embarking on a new idea or project with your kids, embrace the failures and learn from them. Don’t give up. Roadblocks are there to slow you down, not stop you.

You are a rockstar. You are the front line. Students will graduate. Families move out. Administrators will come and go. Change happens. Roadblocks will try to slow you down. You have to be the one to set an example for your students. You have to show them how to struggle and how to persevere. You have to put a smile on your face when an angry parent misunderstands what their 6-year-old told them you said. You have to grin and bear it when a new policy or directive from the state is passed into your classroom. These things are not easy. But you didn’t get into this profession for easy.  You go into this profession to make a difference.

Know that you have made a tremendous difference on one individual and his family. I thank you all for making these last 13 years amongst the best in my life. I will miss the day-to-day friendships. I will miss the philosophical debates. I will miss a teacher running up to me inspired with a crazy idea to improve learning in their class and then helping them achieve it. I will miss leading professional learning for you in a multitude of forms (online, workshops, LearnFestATX, etc). Most regrettably, I’ll miss being able to work alongside you.

As I head into the my next chapter as a full-time consultant and speaker, know that I carry with me the collective passion and knowledge of the incredible teachers I’ve worked with during my time here. I don’t know where this next chapter of my life we ultimately take me, but, because of your support, I do know this….it will KICK ASS.

With love from your colleague,

Carl

 

What’s the BEST Model to Support Technology Integration?

On a recent OnEducation Podcast episode (embedded at the bottom of this post), the hosts Mike and Glen got into a debate about what exactly is the “right” model of support when it comes to technology integration in schools? As they called out my name in particular, I felt it best to write this post in response.

Make no bones about it…Technology is a gift with a tail. It’s predicted that schools will spend $19 Billion dollars on technology in schools. This can range from a variety of devices, apps, software and various “STEM” tools but not necessarily servers, wires, and all that stuff in the closet.  Despite this large amount of money invested in technology, the amount of money to support and integrate these tools dwarfs the amount spent on the hardware and software. I’d also wager that a majority of that “support” money is primarily for personnel needed to repair and keep the technology running, not to integrate it into learning.

I’ve been integrating technology in some form or fashion during my entire 20 years in education. A few years ago I wrote this post about how funding support in both I.T. and instruction can affect the level of integration. From that research as well as my work with districts around the country, I’ve seen a wide variety of models when it comes to support. With most models, the two largest determining factors are budget and vision. What follows are the various models I’ve seen employed by districts around the country. Each model is followed by a letter grade that is completely subjective, because, hey, this is for education right?

The “Tech Support Only” Model

In this model, staff and funding for support go solely towards keeping everything up and running. That means at a bare minimum, the technology will work. Will it be integrated thoughtfully? That depends largely on the teacher and the goals and expectation of the principal. I would say a majority of districts and schools across the country use this model.

Grade= C- 

While it’s great that the technology can turn on and off, there’s really no way to know if it’s making a difference educationally without some intense expectations, strategies and vision from leadership.

The “Pay and Pray” Model

No tech support. No Instructional support. Just spend the money on devices and see what happens. Whenever you read research about how technology in schools doesn’t really help, it largely comes from schools that employ either the previous model or this one. Often times you’ll hear phrases like “well, some tech is better than no tech” but in terms of this model, you could almost make the case that this could be worse for students (not to mention the tax payers funding the bill).

Grade= F

No support at all is not an advisable model.

The “Vanguard Teacher” Stipend Model

When I started as a classroom teacher, this was the widely used model I saw for technology integration. The way it works is you have I.T. staff to make sure the technology is running and you add some stipend or an extra amount to a group of teachers or a single “rock star” teacher to help with the integration on campus.

Grade=B-

While the district saves money by not paying for a full-time staff member to support integration, this model puts a lot of pressure on the Vanguard Teacher to not only do their full-time teaching duties, but also support staff on a variety of issues. As someone who lived this role for several years, eventually the vanguard teacher also gets roped into helping with printer issues, projector issues, and everything in between.

The Ed Tech Consultant Model

This model seems to be on the rise as many districts that can’t support a full-time staff member. Having a consultant who’s an expert in technology integration can help build vision, support the Vanguard Teachers and converse with IT staff can be a huge benefit at a fraction of the cost of a full-time administrator.

Grade=B+

This model works best when school and district leadership are on board and match the vision for technology integration with campus-wide expectations. Also, having those Vanguard Teachers or to work with gives insight and boots on the ground so to speak. As someone who consults with schools and districts from time-to-time, I’ve seen first-hand the benefits of this model when done right.

The Full-Time Coordinator/Director Model

While far from ubiquitous, many districts districts land on this model of support by hiring a full-time administrator to help guide the integration of technology in schools. On top of helping with the vision and expectations, this person (also the role I’m currently in) works with all teachers, the community, leadership, and IT to makes sure all stakeholders are on the same page. While it does cost a district a little more, having a full time person coordinating the integration of technology came make a huge difference in learning and usage, especially when compared with the “Tech support only” models.

Grade = A-

The only reason this wouldn’t grade out higher depends on two factors – the amount of campuses to support and how they work with the I.T. Department. If an Instructional Technology Director has too many campuses to support, their impact is minimized as they can really only take a shotgun approach to integration. If they have an over-bearing or controlling IT department, it limits the amount of progress they can accomplish.

The 1:1 Coaching Model

This model involves putting a highly qualified, instructionally-focused staff member on each campus to support the integration of technology. Some schools have used current staff (instructional coaches or library media specialists) to sort of “hack” this model as it does cost the most money of all the models listed above. Others may not be able to have a person on each campus but have a centralized team. Both of those methods are helpful with integration and would grade out highly. However, having a dedicated ITS or EdTech on each campus to coach, co-teach, and lead innovation with technology on campuses can be EXTREMELY powerful. When coupled with well-communicated expectations from campus leadership and vision from the district, I’ve yet to ever see a more beneficial model of integrating technology into the classroom.

Grade = A+

Note: I may be a little biased as this is the model my district currently employs. That said, as someone who has been in the “Director” role for the past 8 years, I can tell you maintaining the A+ Coaching model isn’t necessarily easy. Whenever budget cuts come, as they often do in public education, it’s often the first position to come under the knife which can cause disruption and uncertainness to those in the position. Also, it’s important to coordinate these positions across the district to guarantee some level of fidelity or else risk the role being used differently from campus to campus.

Summary:

You can get various levels of technology integration depending on the vision, goals and budget of a district. I’ve lived through 3 different iterations of our “Ed Tech” position in my tenure and am now going through another “evolution” of sorts. As we’ve had a high level of support for years, we are evolving the position from someone who supports the integration of technology to someone who supports high quality teaching and learning with technology as an embedded part of that.

While it seems subtle, it does change the ideology around support. Removing the word “technology” or “digital learning” from a title implies that this person supports all learning, which is a good thing. That also implies that they don’t exist solely to repair printer issues or help a principal make a newsletter.

Regardless of roles, position titles, and support, without a well-communicated vision and expectation, technology usage will continue to be only substitutive in nature with the exception of a few outliers. If you have a moment, give the OnEducation Podcast below a listen. They start to get into the debate around the coaching and support models right around the 27 minute mark. Drop a comment below too if you have feedback on the models I’ve shared or maybe some I’ve left off.

OnEducation Podcast Episode “Let’s Bring the Weird”

Interested in bringing me to your district? Reach out here.

Trashbots: How Some Students Are Helping Educate the World in Robotics

Trashbot Co-founders Sidharth and Rohit Srinivasan with Paul Austin

I am lucky enough to work with amazing students every day in my district. That said, every now and then, some of them really stand out as change-makers in the world. This post is about a pair of brothers and their inspiration approach to educating the world in the realm of robotics using a low-cost way that “up-cycles” existing everyday materials to build their creations. Please enjoy and share the information below so we can help these guys make their dream come true!

I first met Rohit and his brother Sidharth a couple of years ago after they won the Student Start-up Competition at SXSWedu. They are both Westlake High School students and, for the past several years, taken their love of robotics and combined it with an altruistic desire to help educate youth all over the world in a low-cost way. My first impression was that these boys seem wise well beyond their years and I had to keep reminding myself I was speaking to teenagers, not adults.

For more information about their company, I asked co-founder Rohit Srinivasan to give me an overview on his company’s philosophy and mission:

Trashbots is a low-cost robotics kit with an artistic twist. Our vision has developed from multiple years of teaching STEM in the US,  Mexico, Congo and India where its founders have taught 1000+ students ranging from 1st grade to 12th grade. We observed kids need better problem-solving and creativity skills. STEM kits have been seen as a solution, but have limited impact because they require major infrastructure, and are expensive.

Right away, I love the way he his tackling a problem that isn’t unique to just schools in the U.S., but around the world. Here’s how he’s doing that in an affordable way:

To tackle this problem, we founded Trashbots. The company’s platform we have created is distinctive – first, it maximizes creativity by allowing kids to use commonly found materials such as popsicle sticks and straws. Second, it’s less than $100 and one-tenth the total cost of ownership of alternatives because it also requires minimal infrastructure – no active electricity or Internet, just a Bluetooth-compatible device. Third it is scalable – the same platform can serve curriculum needs of kids from K through 12th grade by facilitating from basic building through mechatronics, 3D-printing exploration and programming with Python / Javascript.

A student in Peru program’s her first Trashbot.

Did I mention these are students? They have been doing this for many years on a volunteer basis mainly using their vacation time to travel to India and help teach kids in orphanages learn how to create and program robots.  And by the looks of things, they are just getting started…

Since its founding, Trashbots has spent the last 18 months developing the platform and seen strong validation from students, teachers and education administrators. We have taught 1000+ kids across Peru (at the invitation of Education Ministry), Indian orphanages, Mexican colonias, and in schools in the US in urban and rural settings.  We have conducted teacher workshops at TCEA, ISTE, and SXSWedu. Solely from word-of-mouth marketing we have pre-orders for 750 kits from 60 schools in 5 continents. In recognition of this traction, we were honored to be selected as a top 10 2017 Edtech startup by the Global Edtech Startup Association, named one of top 15 innovators reshaping Texas by Texas Monthly, and featured in the Statesman, Austin Inno and Silicon Hills News.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a lot of student ideas and pitches in our student entrepreneur course at Westlake. This is different. These young men came up with this on their own several years ago and have been growing with a grass-roots style of marketing and engaging leaders from all over the world.  Their company is driven by three tenets:

 

  • Build differentiated products in terms of affordability and ability to enhance problem solving and creativity
  • Be community minded by embracing openness and enable makers to submit creative designs on our website and open CAD designs of key building blocks for self-serve and printing by our users.
  • Support all 1.3 billion kids, particularly in under-provided communities to have better access to our platform. We intend to donate kits and enable our more fortunate users to sponsor kits for students in such communities.

As they are tackling this global challenge in non-traditional ways, it’s appropriate that they are securing funding via crowd-sourcing. They are kicking off a campaign on Indiegogo to officially capture the interest in their platform.

Here’s where you come in. The way crowd-sourcing works, the more people they can get “interested” via email, the more likely they will get featured on Indiegogo and get funding. Do me a favor and sign-up (for free) to support these kids and their very impactful dream of providing all students with access to learning robotics and coding.

Please visit their Indiegogo pre-launch page at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/trashbots-low-cost-stem-with-an-artistic-twist/coming_soon or their website at www.trashbots.org.  And if you could, share this article with other educators and colleagues that you know would support the great work they are doing (and tweet them at @trashbotsorg!)

From the minds of youth….comes our future. Show them some love my fellow educators!

Choosing the Next Device: A Method for Crowd-Sourcing Input

In the spring of 2015, our district passed a bond which included over $5 million for a line item called “Student Mobile Device Initiative.”  For the past 4 and 1/2 years we’ve been a 1:1 district K-12 using the 16GB iPad2 as our device of choice. With the passing of the bond, we now had an opportunity to not only reflect on the first few years of the program but also to garner input from a variety of sources. This post is an inside look at the process we used and the ultimate results of that process.  It’s my hope that other districts will do the same when investing money into devices and also realize that purchasing the device is the easiest thing, it’s changing pedagogy and creating meaningful learning with technology that is the hard thing.

Formation of the Digital Learning Task Force

With opportunity comes great responsibility.  Ok, so maybe that wasn’t the exact Spiderman line, but we knew that going forward we needed to make sure we had several voices represented in choosing our next device. Rather than just form a “Technology Committee”, we decided to create a “Digital Learning Task Force” (DLTF).  The name was symbolic in that this was much more than just a selection of a device. The task force would be made up of teachers, students, parents, community members and administrators.

In the summer, we publicly posted an application for members of the district community to apply to be a part of a newly formed task force that would ultimately recommend the final device. (Here’s a copy of the application) In September, we gathered some board members and administrators to look through the applications in an attempt to bring a diversified group of parents from different schools in our community.  We then did the same thing in choosing our teachers, students and administrators to be a part of this team.

In our first meeting we discussed the two goals of this group:

  1. Look at what our current reality is when it comes to integration of technology AND
  2. What do we want our preferred future to be?

The task force then constructed multiple ways to not only gather input from the district community but also to learn and investigate the current state of devices in schools.

Digital Learning Symposiums

In an effort to create more discussions around digital learning, we decided to host several symposiums open to the community as a launching point for these conversations.  Each of these were captured via Livestream for those parents that couldn’t make it in person or wanted to watch at a later date. The first one was an expert panel made up of industry experts, university professors and people from the local start-up community. The second was a panel of teachers from across grade-levels and disciplines and included some round-table discussions as well as the panel discussion. The final symposium was made up of students from 1st grade to 12th grade and also included some round table discussions.  During the teacher and student symposiums, we asked students to submit their questions via video to the staff.  We also had a different person moderate each symposium.

Also the symposiums, feedback posters were placed around the room that correlated with online feedback walls.  The four posters asked the following questions (links to virtual walls included)

  1. What are some things we are doing well with technology?
  2. What are some things that we need to improve?
  3. What other things do we need to consider when it comes to tech? What’s next?
  4. What future ready skills do our students need?

Site Visits

One of the first assumptions from the public community was that iPads were not really being used much at the K-2 area.  There was a feeling that we could provide laptops or higher end devices to the high school students if we just took away the devices from the lower grades or went to a shared model. Before any decisions were made on that front, it was decided that the task force visit an elementary, middle and high school campus first.

Though those visits, the task force saw that the in fact some of the most meaningful uses of the devices were happening at the lower levels of elementary.  While they had the devices the least amount of time, they actually had integrated them much more fully than even some of the upper level high school classes. It was through these site visits that another recommendation would come in that we need to do a better job of communicating what’s happening in the classroom and which apps are being used district-wide.

Focus Groups

As the symposiums were very public, it makes it difficult sometimes for people to share honestly what they were feeling or concerns they had. As a result, we hosted focus groups for students, parents and teachers at each of our campuses and even hosted a central one just for parents. These focus groups provided some great qualitative data as well.  It’s through the focus groups where we heard the most about the day-to-day issues with distraction and the need to occasionally have access to other devices when needed. One other outcome as a result of this is the idea that even though we’ve made our final device recommendation (skip to the end to see that), we want to continue to have these focus groups yearly so we can make necessary adjustments on the initiative.

Online Interactions

As many on the task force mentioned, not everyone can get to a physical meeting or symposium.  We all live busy lives and it only seemed to make sense that since this was all about digital learning that we have an online component.  So besides the symposiums being posted online and the interactive feedback posters (via Padlet.com), we also created a Google Community. The community was a place where anyone could join and post questions or resources when it comes to digital learning. We also used the #EanesDLTF hashtag whenever information was shared or posted as a way to gather data. This hashtag would also be used as a way to curate questions for the panels at the symposium.

Survey, survey, then survey again

One of the final methods of data gathering was the use of many surveys.  Each survey focused on a different segment of our population and were focused on gathering information on both the current reality and our preferred future.  Here are copies of our surveys that your are free to look at and remix for your own purposes.

The results of the surveys were very diverse and gave us a wide range of feedback.  We saw a general tendency that the older the students were, the more they wanted to have a physical keyboard or laptop. Here’s an example of some of the data we shared with the school board on that first survey.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 11.51.32 AM

As a result of this and a discrepancy at the high school in terms of what students and teachers preferred, we decided to send a follow-up survey once we had narrowed down the device choices. Many of the students and teachers that preferred laptops wanted a high-end MacBook as their preferred machine of choice.  As budget for the program wouldn’t allow for a $1200 device and for the uses they had outlined being so varied based on class, we needed to land on a base-level device to use for all classes. We then took the final three devices (Macbook Air 11″, Dell 3350, and an iPad Air 2 64GB w/keyboard case) and made them available for viewing a week prior to sending the final high school survey. Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 11.57.45 AM

We sent out follow-up surveys to both the students and staff of the high school to land on our final decision.

Final Recommendation:

One thing for certain, was that no matter what the selection, there would be some groups happy and some upset with the choice.  After 600 hours of focus groups, discussions, meetings, presentations and symposiums as well as over 6000 survey responses, the task force voted unanimously for the option that gave us the most flexibility, with the best support model as well as ease of integration. In choosing the iPad Air 2 (64GB) for all levels, we are giving students and staff a model of iPad that goes 12 times faster, holds 4 times as much memory and now allows for split-screen multitasking. We also added a keyboard component for upper grades and some options for keyboards at the lower grades. This also honors the work of many teachers who have utilized the iPad to improve student learning in their classrooms for the past 4-5 years. It also reinforces the work we have been doing on the horizontal and vertical alignment of tools and curriculum within our district.

For more information I created this infographic which was distributed along with a press release today. (blog coming later on how I made the infographic using Keynote):

DLTF recommendation infographic

 

The Benefits of a 1:1 Learning Environment

[the below information is excerpted from this white paper]

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

LEAP Initiative

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

Students

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

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

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

Fall 2011 Survey Results

Spring 2012 Senior Survey Results

Spring 2014 Survey Results

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

Teachers

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

Spring 2012 Teacher survey

Parents

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

Savings Realized as a Result of 1:1

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

(approximate cost in parentheses)

Previously purchased item

Replacement on iPad

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

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

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

National and Global Findings on 1:1 initiatives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1:1 vs. BYOD

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

Teacher Experience in 1:1 vs BYOD –

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

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

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

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

– Reasonable consistency in how these tools operate.

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

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

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

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

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

– Be knowledgeable in the multiple operating systems for troubleshooting.

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

Professional Learning in 1:1 vs BYOD –

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

Classroom Management in 1:1 vs BYOD –

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

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

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

The Digital Future of Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 8.04.25 AM

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

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

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

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

Why calculators?

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

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

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

How did we prepare for this?

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

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

Jennifer added this insight into the planning process:

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

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

What about the app?

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

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 5.14.17 PM

Graphing Calculator TEST mode app by Desmos

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

TESTING DAY 

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

Digital Parenting 101: An iTunesU Course For Parents

digitalparentlogo

Digital Parenting iTunesU course

Part of having any type of success in a school is to have the support of parents.  While some schools can overcome a lack of parent involvement or support, most depend on the idea that “it takes a village” to raise a child.  The same is true of any successful mobile device initiative.  I’ve had over 50 talks/discussions/trainings with community members and parents in our district since the launch of the LEAP iPad Initiative in Fall of 2011, and that’s still not enough.

We’ve hosted panels of parents discussing their concerns and values with technology use.  We’ve brought in experts on cyber-bullying and internet safety.  We’ve even had back-to-school nights where we’ve invited parents to see and use the device as a child in the classroom would.

Knowledge is a powerful thing and lately, many parents are looking for more and more materials on what to avoid online, what to turn off and restrict, and how to help “stay ahead” of their kids digitally.  The hard truth is parents will never be able to stay ahead of their kids digitally.  Kids have more time and much less responsibility on their hands which means they can spend their free time trying to figure out ways to “game” the system and push limits.

As parents, our job has never been so important, but at the same time, so challenging.  We must now manage the lives of our actual kids and the virtual life they portray online.  One of my darkest moments during our 1:1 initiative was also one of my finest hours.  Following a highly attended parent orientation, I was encircled by about a dozen angry parents asking why we were “doing this to them.”  In their worlds, they (thought) they had control over screen-time, online behavior, obsessive gaming, etc.  Now the district has placed a device in the hand of every student and completely disrupted that well-maintained home life.

As the parents pointed their fingers angrily and voiced their frustrations over this disruption…a strange smile crept over my face.

“HOW CAN YOU BE SMILING?!?” they shouted.

My answer was simple, “I’m actually happy we are having this discussion right here, right now, when we can all do something about it.” I calmly stated. “In a few years, when your child has left for college, there is nothing I can do to help them with their digital lives.  But because they all have devices from our district, we can now join forces with parents to better educate our students.  After all, we aren’t raising children.  We are raising adults.”

Flash-forward a couple of years to this past spring.  While parent turn-out at “Digital Parent nights” and various other events were good, we were still missing a large chunk of parents who couldn’t attend due to their own schedule.  We decided to LiveStream several of these events, which helped with exposure, but I wasn’t sure we were really reaching those parents struggling to “keep up” with their kids.

After much bantering on my part, I finally decided to blackmail myself and set a date by which parents could sign up and be a part of an online course for digital parenting.  Publishing that date and sign up forced me to create the course, hence “blackmailing myself.”

I created the course in iTunesU and did so for a couple of reasons:

itunes U_edited-1

1. iTunesU is super-easy to manage.  The only time consuming part is gathering content and resources.

2. I wanted the parents to use their student’s iPad if possible to take the course. This helped model some of the educational expectations of the device at home.

So, on February 17th, I launched a 6-week iTunesU course titled: Digital Parenting 101.  I broke the course into 6 sections and rolled out content each week to parents that were enrolled in the course (I ended up with 43 parents enrolled). My sections were broken out into the following categories:

Week 1 – Digital Wellness in the 21st Century

Week 2 – Internet Safety, filters, restrictions & security

Week 3 – Screen time & the Brain

Week 4 – Social Media & Gaming

Week 5 – Guidelines for the Household

Week 6 – Building a Digital Footprint

At the end of each week’s content (designed to take 2-3 hours a week), I gave a brief 10-question quiz to check for understanding.  Parents that scored 80% or higher were emailed a ‘secret code’ that they would use to enter in the final exam to prove they completed each section.   In addition, I used a free platform called Moot.it to create a discussion forum for Q&A and to stimulate some discussion over the weekly topics.

All in all, the course went very well, but still needs some room for improvement.  I’ve asked the “students” in the course to email me feedback and will use that to craft the next course I offer in the fall.

That said, I’ve been asked by several colleagues to share the course with the public.  So, with a little iTunesU magic, I duplicated the course, removed the links to the private forums, and made it public for anyone to use.  I share this backstory and course with you in the hopes that you’ll continue to work with parents on educating them about their children’s digital future.  I also find a course like this strengthens the bond between school and parent in collectively raising their child.

Enjoy!

Eanes ISD Digital Parenting 101: iTunesU Course