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Eye-Opening Reflections on the #Student4aDay Challenge

My pre-requisite teenage selfie before I start the day

My pre-requisite selfie (with hoodie) before I started the day.

I’ve been blessed to experience amazing professional development from around the world.  I’ve had incredible, powerful conversations with people in my PLN via social media that help me learn and grow.  All that said, yesterday’s #Student4aDay Challenge was the most eye-opening and possibly most life-altering experience for me as an administrator in a public school.  What follows is my reflection on the day and some major “Aha’s” that I hope will guide both the future of professional development for our teachers but also the lives of our students. For those of you that want a play-by-play recap of the day, check out the hashtag #Student4aDay on twitter.

About the challenge:

I blogged out my predictions and a little bit of the background for this challenge in this post, but the gist is I wanted to “be” a 10th grade student for a day.  My main goal was to see what student life is like in this 1:1 mobile world at a highly successful place like Westlake High School.  I was also curious about how they interacted with the teacher and each other, the desks they had to sit in, how they used technology, and generally, what their day felt like.

My Schedule:Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 12.47.37 PM

I “borrowed” this schedule from one particular student who agreed to let me shadow her. However, because we had a pre-scheduled site visit, I needed to do take both 4th and 5th period off.  It worked out well since World History had a sub and were going to just watch a video. I also had a AP US History teacher request I visit her class at 7th period instead of going to choir.  Since I was feeling under the weather and my singing voice was not up to snuff, I took advantage of the opportunity to see her Humanities course in action.

Predictions Recap:

I made 5 predictions (or hypotheses) about how the day would go.  Here’s how they turned out:

1. Kids will be on their phones between classes – SOMEWHAT TRUE – There were a few kids texting or listening to music or even talking on their phones (rarely), but for the most part, kids were talking to each other.  They were having conversations about a certain class, a movie, a game, or what they were doing after school.  I assume some talked about relationships too, but they tended to quiet down when I got close.

2. My lack of a healthy singing voice will hurt me in choir – FALSE – Since I swapped out Choir for US History, this one never came to pass.


Desks not meant for large humans

3. The desks will hurt my back- TRUE – I suffer from mild back issues, but sitting in these torture contraptions was getting to be down right painful by the end of the day.  I found myself fidgeting in them, turning to the side, slouching over, and generally just constantly shifting from one “cheek” to the other.

4. Technology use will be a mixed bag – TRUE – In the English class it was extremely hands on, with the teacher using Nearpod to engage student questions about Catcher in the Rye and even have us draw what we thought Holden Caulfield looked like.  Of course, the two computer lab courses heavily used technology as well. Most classes used the projector at a minimum, however one class, Geometry, had a long term sub and so he was relegated to only using the dry erase board.  No technology (except for calculators) were allowed out in that class.

5. My “real job” will affect my job as a student – I did miss 5th period for a meeting and during US History I was asked to help trouble-shoot with a Nearpod issue.  I tried to claim I was just a regular high school kid, but the class cleverly remarked that most kids could help troubleshoot technology, so I should too. Well-played…..

Class I was best at:

FullSizeRenderInteractive Media – of course!  The class was at the end of a Photoshop project designing a an advertising poster for the college of their choice to recruit students.  I observed several students working collaboratively on their posters (and some procrastinating). I came up with my Matthew McConaughey -University of Texas concept (pictured left) and nearly finished it within the 50 minute class period.  One of the quotes of the day came when a fellow-student called out another student for procrastinating to which she responded with “I’m not a ne’er-do-well!”

Class I was worst at:

Chemistry – This was a mixture of style and content. I’ve always been a big fan of science and when I think about my favorite high school teachers, science usually comes to mind because it’s so hands-on.  However, this particular class on this day was a review class, so it was very direct-teach over concepts I haven’t had to remember since…frankly….the last time I was in high school chemistry. (Quick! What’s Avogadro’s number?)  The students had been over this more recently, but my memory was shaky.  So much so that I failed the 2-question quiz over a couple of simple molecular concepts. 😦

Outcomes (or “AHAs”):

I could probably write a blog post on each class I was in and the overall student life.  However, I’m going to try and summarize what I discovered during this day in four major “AHA” moments.

AHA #1 – The schedule is overwhelming 

From the amount of time you have (50 minutes) in class to the amount of time you have in passing period (6 minutes), the day flew by without much time for deep thought or reflection.  I realize that giving teenagers too much transition could spell trouble, but I barely had a second to digest what I had learned before abruptly moving to the next subject. And in the classes (like English and US History) where we were starting to have a good, deep discussion on a topic, we were interrupted by the bell.  I can really see the benefits of having some sort of hybrid block-schedule after a day like today.  In the end, I was completely exhausted at the end of the day and, strangely enough, just wanted to go home and play video games.

AHA #2 – The technology may have changed, but the kids haven’t

Sure they were on their phones during passing periods and occasionally they’d listen to music when done with an assignment, but for the most part, the kids were kids.  Typical teenagers with angst and hopes and dreams (channeling my inner-Caulfield here).  In the chemistry class, there were one or two students that tended to answer every question, while the rest of us (including me) blankly stared at the board. In between classes I even got into a spirited conversation with a 16-year old about how good the latest Tell Tale Walking Dead game is. The girls giggled and the boys sighed at times, but in general, the kids were respectful and attentive no matter what the subject. (save for a couple of girls I noticed texting under their desks during Geometry). One kid did try to use his camera on his phone to take a picture of notes on the board to which another kid called him lazy.  His response was priceless – “That’s not being lazy, it’s being efficient.”

AHA #3 – How much of this content will be relevant in later life?

My Chem1 Quiz results

My Chem1 Quiz results

I can understand that taking courses like Geometry and Chemistry and Business Infrastructure Management give you the ground work for some basic life skills.  However, I can honestly say I’ve NEVER used Avogadro’s number (6.02×1023 for those of you dying to know) in my real life. In fact the last time I used it was 24 years ago when I was a sophomore taking Chemistry.  Why do we feel compelled to still teach the “4 core” subject areas every year in high school?  Is it because this is what we’ve always done?  I can see it being useful to those with a real interest in Chemistry or Calculus or Poetry but why force it on every student?

AHA #4 – It’s still really all about the teacher (and their style)

I’ve written in the past that technology is the “Great Amplifier” when it comes to teaching.  It can make a good teacher great and a bad teacher terrible.  In the classes I felt most engaged were the ones where technology was “invisible” in a sense and the focus was on the content and the discussion. I can tell you almost verbatim things I learned about Thomas Nast political cartoons based on the student discussion but I can barely remember what mathematical equation I was told in Geometry.  The biggest difference in those classes was both the style in which the teacher facilitated discussion but also the physical configuration of the classroom.  Desks in rows tends to imply that it’s all about focusing on the teacher (always exceptions to this too, as I discovered in the tremendously engaging English class).  Desks with the ability to turn or face each other made the center of the room the focus, a place where ideas could be shared and discussed without judgment.

All in all, I have learned a lot from this day, much of which I hope to apply and help steer changes in the classrooms and schools for kids in the coming years to make it more about student-centered, personalized learning. It’s been an eye-opening experience that I hope others in my district (and in other districts) will attempt.  I even reached out to some law-makers on Twitter to invite them in to do the same.  It was both a humbling and frustrating experience that I was honored to be able to attempt and it will live with me forever.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go home and play some video games.

How I looked (and felt) at the end of the day

How I looked (and felt) at the end of the day

Editor’s note: Tracie Simetal took on the #student4aday challenge as well and live-blogged her results on this Google Doc.  Kudos to Tracie and any other administrators willing to take this on!

Update: The Austin American-Statemen ran a report on this experiment and posted it here:

Top 10 Things NOT to do in a 1:1 iPad Initiative

Part of the benefit of jumping forward with a 1:1 iPad deployment like we have tried is that we get the opportunity to impart knowledge to other districts looking to do a similar initiative. While that might not seem like a benefit, it actually also means we can make some mistakes because there is not a long history of this type of deployment in the world. Many districts have had 1:1 Laptop projects, which we have benefited from and could easily be applied to this list I’m about to share. However, for the sake of our specific district, and the questions I get from other districts on a daily basis, I’m going to break down the ten things you should NOT do when implementing a 1:1 iPad program.

1. Do NOT wait until the last minute to give them to staff.
Due to the timing of our bond package and when funds could become available, we didn’t actually have iPads in hand and branded until mid-July. That means many teachers only got to experience the iPads in their hands for one month or less. Not ideal when trying to make your staff comfortable. Perfect world they could have them a year to a semester ahead of time. Or at least before the summer starts.

2. Do NOT expect it to go perfectly on the first day students get them.
We planned the launch day as perfectly as we could have, but there are always a couple of issues to deal with. We had iPad cases held up in customs at DFW airport, so we had to fill a last-minute order of 1500 cases the night before. We crashed our Casper server 3 hours into the first day as hundreds of kids were downloading their apps at the same time. Both of those issues are fixable, but you can’t always anticipate those things during planning.

3. Do NOT roll out all your apps at the same time on the same day.
See item #2 above. If you are doing a 1:1 model like ours, where the end-user gets the apps, you don’t want to force-feed all your apps down on the same day. This is especially true with larger apps like Garageband, which we left off the initial day list and released it on the weekend, when kids could download it from their own bandwidth at home. This spreads the downloads out over time so you don’t have 1500 kids downloading a 1.7 GB app during 3rd period.

Don’t Ctrl

4. Do NOT try and control everything about the iPad.
There are several models out there for deployment of apps – A personal model, an institutional model, and a layered model being the most common. The beauty and educational relevance of these devices is the personalization of learning that can happen. That is null and void the second you turn this into just another “system” to manage through your technology department. These are NOT PC’s. Do NOT try and manage them as such. You destroy the value-add by doing that. Because of age restrictions with Apple IDs, you can only have students 13+ manage those accounts. I encourage you to do that (this is the personal model). Students under 13, you’re likely to be forced to use some version of the other two models. In the personal model, the worst thing that can happen is they walk away with an app like Keynote. God forbid they actually want to use an educational tool to make presentations after they graduate.

5. Do NOT expect teaching to change immediately.
I have long been preaching the SAMR model by Dr. Ruben Puentedura as how teaching should progress in a 1:1 (or any) environment. Apple has also relied heavily on this model and I figure they know what they are talking about. Teachers can’t be expected to change the way they teach overnight. However, most of the tools we’ve given them in the past (Smartboards, document cameras, etc) were teaching tools. This tool is in the hands of kids, which means it’s student-driven. Teachers and students will lean heavily on substitution in the SAMR model to start, but have patience. Redefinition of teaching and learning does NOT happen overnight.

6. Do NOT assume the entire community will be on board.
As great as the idea behind personalized learning can be, it can be a pretty severe mind-shift for those lay-people in the community. Add on top of that, budget cuts with staff time, and you can see how this can quickly turn into a no-win scenario. It’s important to stress what the goals are in all of this and also to get both parents and teachers working with you to find solutions to little problems. However, that doesn’t mean you give them the option to not participate. The most successful 1:1 programs have a universal understanding and expectation across the district about what can and should be accomplished. In the community, there is a common misconception that an iPad isn’t a computer. If you pass a bond to buy computers, you need to make sure they understand that these are in fact tablet computers. The other item to stress is that this is a powerful classroom tool that now takes the place of the textbook, calculator, dictionary, etc. It might not do everything, but for the cost and what it will do, it’s well worth the investment.

It’s not all about scores kids…heh heh!

7. Do NOT evaluate the program solely with test scores.

It may be the easiest and most publicized metric to measure kids with, but it’s far from the most accurate when you are talking about changing the culture of learning and customizing a student’s school experience through a 1:1 program. Engagement, motivation, collaboration, communication and the desire to dig deeper into subjects were all items we measured through anonymous student and teacher surveys. With all of those improvements, it’s what happens next when the student goes on to college and post-college life, that’s a thousand times more important than how they did on a random test. This item is closely tied to item 6 above when talking to the community about how the program is going.
8. Do NOT limit staff training to the summer.
Due to budgetary cuts, our high school teachers lost an extra planning period which was considered “PLC time”. This time was framed around Dufour’s Professional Learning Communities and allowed for same-subject area teachers to have a common planning time to grow and learn. On top of that, we cut back our instructional technologists across the district. Both of these factors could have killed the program and definitely kept us from transforming teaching and learning as much as we would have liked. The research of Robert Marzano and the findings in Project Red talk about how one of the key traits to successful implementation of 1:1 is a monthly training at minimum lead by the Principal and key leaders to give teachers the tools they need. Research also suggests that teachers will ultimately determine the success of the program, so it’s worth investing in them. We have seen the error in our ways and will implement back some PLC Time next year as well as add some support staff.

Teachers without a CMS

9. Do NOT expect email to be the best option for submitting work
Being paperless has been a great cost savings for us. We’ve cut back on paper use by 22% in the first few months and that’s only with 2 grade levels having 1:1 technology. While that’s a great cost-savings, management of all those digital files can be an issue for teachers. They no longer have to tote 187 papers back and forth to school, but now all of those papers will crowd their inbox of their email. Teachers at our high school have figured out how to use Gmail’s filtering to help with this organization, but ultimately, a good content management system is needed. We just purchased our system (eBackPack) to put in place for next year, and hope that not only will paper be saved, but also time.
10. Do NOT let fear overcome your mission
Everyone will go through a point in time where they doubt the idea of a 1:1 iPad program working. They’ll think it’s a fad. They’ll think it’s a waste of money. They’ll complain about having to change. All of these and hundreds of other concerns will be raised throughout the implementation process. It is easy to get dismayed by the loud minority of critics out there. If there is any hope of your program being successful, the core team of administrators, teachers and students need to be on the same page, speaking the same message. That message is plain and simple: This is not a technology expense, it’s an investment in our students and their future.

This blog is cross-posted at
Note: A follow-up of this post was written in December of 2012: 10 MORE things NOT to do