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).
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:
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!
Relationships are always a work in progress. Kayne and Kim. Will and Jada. Beyonce and Jay-Z. Carl and Renee. The list goes on and on. Some couples make it, others end in divorce. While every couple has its own unique circumstances and situation, there are some common tips to make their marriage more successful.
Over the last few years, more and more, I feel like a marriage counselor when it comes to the couple known as “IT & Curriculum.” This relationship is a tricky one, because there is no way to opt out. While my district has what I would call a very healthy relationship between the two, it wasn’t always that way. And when I go out and speak with other districts, there seems to be some common problems that arise between curriculum and IT.
Last week at #TLTechLive event in Boston, I had the honor of being the opening keynote to address this topic head on. And while I won’t recap the entire presentation, I found some interesting insights over the course of our one hour “counseling session” that I thought I would share here.
Like any marriage, there need to be a set of agreed upon vows or standards. During my session last week, I donned some preacher robes (actually a graduation gown) to deliver the vows between IT and Curriculum. Here’s an abbreviated version:
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate this thing called….Learning.
Curriculum – Do you solemnly swear to check interoperability standards before purchasing an application?
IT – Do you solemnly swear to being open to new ideas, as long as it furthers the learning of our kids?
….in sickness and health, through printer errors and slow wifi, until death or the end of public education do us part….may I have the ringtone?”
As I recited the vows on stage, I realized that wedding vows sound an awful lot like Acceptable Use Policies.
Patient #1 – Dealing with Insecurity
With all the new applications or online textbooks being purchased almost daily it seems, our schools have many points of vulnerability when it comes to data. The IT side of the relationship wants to be open to these new programs and applications, but also is concerned about security and data privacy.
While there is no magic bullet answer to this relationship issue, many districts and states are moving toward a standard agreement when it comes to the use of student data. In fact, in Massachusetts, there is a Student Privacy Alliance which connects districts across the state to leverage the collective power in getting companies to agree to their student data privacy agreement.
With all the recent news with the Zuckerberg testimony to Congress and the subsequent avalanche of companies changing their terms of service when it comes to user data, this issue in the relationship between IT and Curriculum could soon be going away, allowing the happy couple to finally go on the honeymoon they’ve always wanted.
Patient #2 – Spicing things up…in the classroom
If you’ve ever been a teacher and attended some state-wide or national ed tech conference, there is almost always some app or tool that you learn about that you want to try. However, when you get back home, IT says “no” before you even attempt to pilot it with your students.
The truth is, there is more than just IT that needs to vet new tools. I’ve seen many an app out there that is really just students mindlessly tapping on screens and not vetting in any type of research. In our district we have a workflow for requesting new apps for students (the app store isn’t on their iPads) as well as our League of Innovators – a group of early adopters that are willing to try and test new software or hardware. What mechanisms does your district have in place for trying new applications or tools? Is there a process for piloting new ideas?
These questions can sting an unstable relationship as it gives IT the impression that you are happy with what they are offering and your eye is starting to wander. However, a stable relationship has an open dialogue and a process for getting new ideas, if effective, into the hands of students.
Patient #3 – Feeling out of sync
After the honeymoon phase, typically a couple decides to purchase their first house. In the case of IT & Curriculum that could be in the form of a Learning Management System (LMS) or perhaps a large online textbook adoption. This new purchase has many needs and requires the attention of both sides of the relationship.
For IT, there is nothing more frustrating than finding out that Curriculum has purchased a new adoption that either doesn’t work on the district’s existing devices OR requires a lot of heavy lifting to get student data into the system. The good news is, there are more and more platforms moving to a Single-Sign On (SSO) approach and with the One Roster standard from IMS Global becoming more widely adopted, the issues of data uploads via .csv files may soon go away.
Patient #4 – Worried about our kids
At some point in a relationship, kids enter the picture. With IT & Curriculum, they are there on day one. The focus of both ‘parents’ in this marriage should ultimately be the students. Many times, districts purchase expensive software or applications in the hopes of enhancing student learning. But how do we know if that’s actually happening? How do we measure the effectiveness of the programs we are using?
For me, it means pulling up usage statistics of over 40 applications or online resources. This process can take more than a week and the data comes in a variety of formats which is rarely longitudinal in terms of usage. Again, the good news here is that there are now tools in development to help with this efficacy of use and ultimately, learning. One company I’ve been advising with over the past year that does this very thing is CatchOn. Their motto is simple – “Simplify the evaluation of Ed Tech usage.”
Once you have the data you need at the touch of your finger, the next challenge becomes those hard conversations in the relationship around budget. Maybe curriculum is spending too much or IT is too much of a penny-pincher, whatever the case, once you have the usage data you can make better decisions for your “family” around whether to cut a program or keep it and provide more professional learning around it.
How do we save this marriage?
Through all of the issues between this couple, the keys to an effective relationship sound eerily similar to that of an actual marriage:
- Better communication
- Empathy and understanding of both sides
- Being open to new ideas
- Working together, not separate
And ultimately…we need to stay together…for the kids.
Editor’s note: Looking to learn more? Check out my book Mobile Learning Mindset: The IT Professional’s Guide to Implementation which includes an entire chapter dedicated to the marriage between IT and Curriculum.
During his mini-keynote, Derrick Brown (@DAB427) claimed that we were all “just living in a Hooker’s dream.” While I’m honored by his statement, I can tell you this entire experience has far exceeded any dream I could have dreamt. I can also tell you that this dream wasn’t just mine, but a shared dream amongst teams of dedicated educators that I’ve had the pleasure of working with because of this event.
This past week at the ending of our 6th annual learning festival, I announced that it would be the last iPadpalooza main event. This decision was not made in haste and has involved countless of hours of discussion, counseling, and, in my case, even some tears. But, before we dive into what comes next, I decided to write this post as part explanation, part reflection, part appreciation, part therapy (for me), and part teaser (for what’s next).
First…a little history
In 2011, we had launched our iPad 1:1 and wanted to hold an event that would bring teachers together to share and learn from each other. Since other districts in the area were doing it, we decided we could open it up to outside educators as well. The thought of holding an “iConference” was kicked around but sounded boring and overdone. One of my amazing iVengers (Marianna Ricketson) said at a meeting in early 2012 that we should name it iPadpalooza as a way of making it sound more fun. So we bought the domain and set a date without any clue as to what we were going to actually do. (Hey, sometimes, you just have to take a risk and put it out there)
Also at that point, I added the tagline that “It’s not a conference…it’s a learning festival” to make attendees aware of what they were attending would not be a normal educational conference. So, on June 19, 2012, we partnered with TCEA to host our single-day event and even had some film students create this promotional video (below). As a fun side note, I had to reach out and chat with Norman Greenbaum to get his permission to use his song in the video. He’s a groovy dude.
The truth behind the lieFollowing a successful first year, we wanted to make the next year even bigger and expand it to two days. So I hopped on the phone with Sir Ken Robinson’s people to try and convince him that he needed to come to our learning festival. When he said he’d never heard of it, I lied. I told him that it’s a global event that is attended by 1000 educators from all over the country and the world. He and his people agreed to do the keynote, and even though in the first year we only had 400 attendees, when he showed up, so did 1000 people from all over the country and the world. So….it wasn’t necessarily a lie, it just wasn’t true…yet.
The “Learning Festival” ideology
Getting educators to attend professional learning during their off-time can be extremely tricky. While ideally, people would just come to improve their craft, there is also some pressure on those providing the learning to make sure it’s worth their time. When I was a classroom teacher, I always thought the best trainings I attended gave me some choice and allowed time to collaborate and be hands-on with activities rather than sitting in a room for several hours being talked at. When I attended conferences, I took notes of the parts I liked, and the ones I didn’t. Cramming sessions in with 5 minute breaks left no time for reflection and collaborating. Also, as I attended events like TEDx, SXSW, and even ACLFest (a music festival), the idea to create a festival atmosphere kept creeping into my head and those on my team.
The learning festival ideology is centered around the concept that learning can be fun (even for adults) and that learning should be an event…an experience if you will. From the moment you walk in until the moment you leave, you should be a part of the experience. Taking the traditional conference concept and shaking it up with live music, food trucks, t-shirts, contests, film festivals, and unique session types helps make the learning more festival-like.
It’s more than just a name
We knew when we named the event “iPadpalooza” that the name immediately excluded certain groups of educators (those without iPads). While we began the event as a way for teachers to share iPad resources, education, devices and technology integration has evolved. Indeed, our session titles in the early days were also centered around the device rather than learning. Sessions like “50 apps in 50 minutes” were popular when we began, but as the festival evolved, we noticed a stronger push to focus deeper on learning strategies with and without technology. Whatever our next iteration will be, we want to make sure that all adults (and students) have an opportunity to experience the Learning Festival-feel regardless of what device their district may have purchased.
6 years – by the numbers
Here’s a look at a few numbers of iPadpalooza over the the last 6 years:
Before Sir Ken, Tony Vincent took a chance and decided to open up our inaugural event in 2012. (I was actually the closer for that event). Without Tony, our event wouldn’t have had the initial credibility to get off the ground. I’m forever grateful to him and the work he brings to education. Other featured keynotes included Sugata Mitra, Guy Kawasaki, Adam Bellow, “iPad Magician” Simon Pierro, Cathy Hunt, Eric Whitacre, Kevin Honeycutt , Austin Kleon and Jason Silva. Also, in 2014, just to be a little different (and to make @techchef4u happy), we had the band Blue October close out our event.
Besides the above, we’ve hosted nearly a hundred “celebrities” from the education world, many of whom have been roped into doing a mini-keynote over the years. Here’s just a few names that have generously given us some of their educational expertise over the years: Tom Murray, Christian Long, David Jakes, George Couros, Kerry Gallagher, Dan Ryder, Amy Burvall, Dean Shareski (and his daughter this year!), Audrey O’Clair, Wes Fryer & Shelly Fryer, Felix & Judy Jacomino, Adam Phyall, Amy Mayer, Greg Kulowiec, Andrew Wallace, Cathy Yenca & Tim Yenca, Lisa Johnson, Greg Garner, Don Goble, Kyle Pace, Phil Hintz, Kyle Pierce, Leo Brehm, Chris Parker, Michelle Cordy, Jennie Magiera, Scott Meech, Tracy Clark, Cori Coburn, Rafranz Davis, Kathy Schrock, Monica Burns, Derrick Brown, Todd Nesloney, Jon Samuelson, Matt Gomez, Reshan Richards, Julie Willcott, Richard Wells, Rabbi Michael Cohen, Brianna Hodges, Carolyn Foote, Brett Salakas, Jona Nalder, Matt Miller, Holly Moore, Joan Gore, Janet Corder, Kacy Mitchell, Steve Dembo, Lucas Loughmiller, and Chris Coleman just to name a few. (Apologies if I left anyone off this list!) So much talent has graced the halls of Westlake High School over the years and I can honestly say you would be lucky to have any of the above as keynote speakers at your event. There were also countless other rock-star teachers that have been a part of the 509 presenters that have shared their wisdom at our events. Check out the last couple of mini-keynotathons and other featured speakers on the iPadpalooza YouTube channel .
Events around the event
One of the things that really makes our festival different is the thought, time, and energy put into events happening during and around the main event. The APPMazing Race and Youth Film Festival both kicked off in 2013. In 2014 we added the iLead Academy and in 2015 the Prepalooza Learnshops. This final year, we also added our first ever Ed Tech Poetry Slam at the Spider House in Austin (Shout-out to Lisa Johnson for the idea!) These events around the event really make it a nearly 24/7 experience in learning, connection, fun, and collaboration.
Other ‘paloozas and the Learning Festival Network
In 2014 I was approached by Kari Gerhart and Caroline Little about the possibility of bringing iPadpalooza to Minnesota. And thus, the iPadpalooza spin-off events were born. A little bonus history here, it was around this time that someone, either Caroline or possibly Reshan Richards coined the term “Godfather” for me – owing to my Sicilian background.
All told there have been over a dozen spin-off events with Minnesota, East Texas, and South Texas being the longest running. In 2016, we went international and became the first iPadpalooza in Australia. While the main event is over, we still support our spin-off events and hope many more will pop up over the years.
Speaking of spin-offs, there were several events created that were “inspired by” the spirit of iPadpalooza. Events like iEngage-Berwyn, Miami Device and others took pieces and parts of iPadpalooza to spice up their own event. In the coming years, we hope to fold these and other spin-off events, into our Learning Festival Network to support them in any way we can.
Making sponsor “thank you’s” fun
In 2014, I decided that instead of doing the traditional sponsor thank you speech at the beginning and end of the event, that I would turn it into a rap song. I also tried to set the Guinness World Record of “most synchronized light show” in history by turning off the lights and controlling everyone’s iPads with Nearpod as I sang my version of LMFAO’s “Party Rock”. While it worked, Guinness sadly failed to show to recognize the achievement.
The following year, I tried my hand at a parody of Eminem with “iPadpalooza Yourself” (sang to “Lose Yourself”) but realized that this was becoming a one-trick pony and I needed to push myself.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, a lot of my inspiration comes from talking and collaborating with others.
This year I attempted to follow it up with my version of Car pool karaoke, which was fun…but the slow jam will always be my favorite. And their ending of this year’s event with the “Ed Tech Musical Review” will go down in history as an epically funny way to look at trends in Ed Tech.
iVengers & Volunteers
These events can’t happen without dedicated staff willing to do the dirty work from running around fixing projectors to handling prima dona keynote speakers. I’ve been blessed with an amazing team here at Eanes ISD. They work their tail off year after year for this event and always with a smile on their face. Without my amazing team of Ed Techs, a.k.a. iVengers, none of this would be even remotely possible. The ideas for this event come from the collective brain power of this group, not just me. I’m excited to have them on board for what comes next….
While iPadpalooza sails off into the sunset, I can promise you there will be something else coming. We are already cooking up ideas for a prototype event next summer with our internal staff that will keep some of the same features of iPadpalooza but also open up some other thoughts and ideas. But why stop at just one event? There are also plans for a SUPER SECRET idea (my BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal) that I can promise you will be a one-of-a-kind experience.
Thank you all for being on board this voyage for learning over the past six years.
Here’s to the next dream!
Do you ever have that moment where there is something you have to do, but you don’t want to do it? Maybe it’s just a menial task like putting away laundry or doing the dishes. In your job it may be something like entering grades or uploading data via .csv files. Those moments happen throughout life unless you are lucky enough to have a butler and not have to work.
But what about those times when there is something you have to do that troubles you because you know it pushes you out of your comfort zone?
Now I’ll stop here and say that the phrase “have to do” would really be more apropos if replaced with “should do.” It’s those uncomfortable moments when you have an opportunity to do something that has some potential benefit, but because it pushes your comfort zone a bit, you decide not to do it. You end up circling back later usually with some regret, expressing how you should have done whatever it was. You end up “should-ing” yourself out of doing things. (Great video here detailing this concept)
A couple of weeks ago my wife and I got to travel to Australia to present and MC the amazing iPadpaloozaGC event taking place there. We decided to make a mini-vacation out of it as I was taking time off to travel anyway and go up a few days early. After traveling 26 hours, we landed in Gold Coast with really only 2 and 1/2 days to explore, the 1/2 day being the Sunday we landed.
My wife had done some research and discovered a place called “O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat” which had a great viewing platform that over-looked the rainforest. The only problem was, it was too far for an Uber ride so we had to rent a car. Now, as you may know, in Australia they drive on the left side of the road with the car seat in the right side of the car. We decided rental was the way to go and as we landed I noticed something strange….I was nervous.
I say strange, because nervousness is not usually a trait I possess. Even before public speaking, you can often find me laughing and dancing off-stage (probably as a way to combat the onset of nervousness mind you). My hands were clammy, my stomach began to ache, and I began to imagine that scene in European Vacation where Chevy Chase is running into everyone in the parking lot as he learns to drive.
I began to frantically look at the cost of an Uber ride. It would be about $300 round-trip, but that cost might be worth it if for no other reason than to overcome the anxiety I was now experiencing. Without really thinking though, we walked up to rental counter to “hire a car” as they say it down under. And so, despite being exhausted and jetlagged, I found myself behind the right side of a car driving on the wrong side of the road. We were off.
We picked up our friends, Scott and Lisa on the way up to O’Reilly’s to share in the horror/experience of me learning to drive all over again at the age of 41. Of course, being a male, I had to hide my fear, but anyone looking at my knuckles on the steering wheel would have noticed they were stark white. As we traveled up the mountain the road began to get narrower and narrower. Eventually, it turned into a one-lane, two-way road that didn’t have any guard rails and a deadly cliff on one side. Here’s a little time-lapse of what that looked like from the passenger seat on the left side:
Needless to say, I was now completely terrified. Every time a car was traveling down the road, I would have to pull off onto a non-existent shoulder with the car teetering on the edge. My wife would dig her nails into my leg as she had a bird’s eye view on what would be our eventual demise. At some point on the drive (which lasted about 45 minutes), I began to have a sense of euphoria overtake me. Had we died and I didn’t notice? Was this what adrenaline junkies refer to as an adrenaline high?
This euphoria I was experiencing was from learning something new. That change and discomfort I was feeling went hand in hand with learning something new. Now, I know this isn’t a break-through in science as many blogs and articles have discussed how you can grow through discomfort, but this experience was extremely visceral for me. I started thinking about my own career and the education of our students. I started thinking about our teachers who we ask to take out of their comfort zones at times with the integration of technology.
As if perfectly timed, the next week I was back in the states (now re-learning how to drive on the right side of the road) and preparing for our first ever iLeap Academy for internal staff. iLeap Academy is an immersive learning expedition of sorts. Tim Yenca (@mryenca) and I train teachers over several days on effective and meaningful ways to integrate technology. We also visit many of our classrooms and let the teachers take on the role of the observer to see 1:1 in action.
This academy isn’t for the tech savvy teachers. It’s for the teachers that have sound pedagogy and content knowledge that are just looking for a way to improve their practice with the integration of technology. Over the course of four days, 36 brave teachers sat down in their seats and prepared to drive down the wrong side of the road and get out of their comfort zone.
They were introduced to boundary-pushing concepts, forced to competitively collaborate in a series of challenges and an Appmazing Race, and even had to endure some of my most difficult brain break challenges on top of learning new tools and ways to integrate them. Like my drive up to O’Reilly’s, I could sense that many in the crowd had some fears or discomfort to some of the concepts and ideas being discussed, but decided to take the ride anyway.
When the week ended, Tim and I went back to review some of the comments from the exit survey. We have done iLeap Academies for other districts, (next one is November 8-10, register here!) but never our own staff. We were both floored by the responses:
Wonderful experience, I feel I am walking away as if I went through a technology boot camp and going to try some of these things next week. Very excited to try all of this in the classroom and can’t wait to see my kids reactions to some of the ideas!
It was excellent, I would recommend it to every teacher I know!
I really enjoyed the opportunity to come and learn about technology even in my 33rd year in education.
One teacher, who was in his 30th year of education, even took the time to write our superintendent to tell him that this was the best professional learning experience of his career. Many of the teachers in side conversations expressed initial hesitation for attending and being a part of this. It was a couple of days out of their classroom which means sub plans, playing catch-up, etc. and it also meant learning about some new ideas. But after the experience and stretching them out of their comfort zone, they went forward with confidence and ready to take a risk.
As Tim and I visited campuses the following day, we saw many of our “iLeapers” proudly wearing their iLeap shirts and more importantly, putting into practice immediately some of the things they had learned.
That sense of euphoria from learning something new can come in many different ways. It comes from trying new things and getting out of your comfort zone. It comes from sharing an experience with friends or colleagues as you travel down a narrow road. It comes from not “should-ing” on yourself and being brave. While the peril that exists on the other side of our choice may not always be a deadly cliff, taking a risk or changing a mindset is still an extremely uncomfortable thing for our brains to do.
I applaud all those teachers out there that continue to try and improve their craft.
So take a chance and drive on the wrong side of the road every so often when it comes to your teaching craft. The pay-off for student learning can be spectacular. Much like the view from the top of a rainforest.
In the spring of 2015, our district passed a bond which included over $5 million for a line item called “Student Mobile Device Initiative.” For the past 4 and 1/2 years we’ve been a 1:1 district K-12 using the 16GB iPad2 as our device of choice. With the passing of the bond, we now had an opportunity to not only reflect on the first few years of the program but also to garner input from a variety of sources. This post is an inside look at the process we used and the ultimate results of that process. It’s my hope that other districts will do the same when investing money into devices and also realize that purchasing the device is the easiest thing, it’s changing pedagogy and creating meaningful learning with technology that is the hard thing.
Formation of the Digital Learning Task Force
With opportunity comes great responsibility. Ok, so maybe that wasn’t the exact Spiderman line, but we knew that going forward we needed to make sure we had several voices represented in choosing our next device. Rather than just form a “Technology Committee”, we decided to create a “Digital Learning Task Force” (DLTF). The name was symbolic in that this was much more than just a selection of a device. The task force would be made up of teachers, students, parents, community members and administrators.
In the summer, we publicly posted an application for members of the district community to apply to be a part of a newly formed task force that would ultimately recommend the final device. (Here’s a copy of the application) In September, we gathered some board members and administrators to look through the applications in an attempt to bring a diversified group of parents from different schools in our community. We then did the same thing in choosing our teachers, students and administrators to be a part of this team.
In our first meeting we discussed the two goals of this group:
- Look at what our current reality is when it comes to integration of technology AND
- What do we want our preferred future to be?
The task force then constructed multiple ways to not only gather input from the district community but also to learn and investigate the current state of devices in schools.
Digital Learning Symposiums
In an effort to create more discussions around digital learning, we decided to host several symposiums open to the community as a launching point for these conversations. Each of these were captured via Livestream for those parents that couldn’t make it in person or wanted to watch at a later date. The first one was an expert panel made up of industry experts, university professors and people from the local start-up community. The second was a panel of teachers from across grade-levels and disciplines and included some round-table discussions as well as the panel discussion. The final symposium was made up of students from 1st grade to 12th grade and also included some round table discussions. During the teacher and student symposiums, we asked students to submit their questions via video to the staff. We also had a different person moderate each symposium.
Also the symposiums, feedback posters were placed around the room that correlated with online feedback walls. The four posters asked the following questions (links to virtual walls included)
- What are some things we are doing well with technology?
- What are some things that we need to improve?
- What other things do we need to consider when it comes to tech? What’s next?
- What future ready skills do our students need?
One of the first assumptions from the public community was that iPads were not really being used much at the K-2 area. There was a feeling that we could provide laptops or higher end devices to the high school students if we just took away the devices from the lower grades or went to a shared model. Before any decisions were made on that front, it was decided that the task force visit an elementary, middle and high school campus first.
Though those visits, the task force saw that the in fact some of the most meaningful uses of the devices were happening at the lower levels of elementary. While they had the devices the least amount of time, they actually had integrated them much more fully than even some of the upper level high school classes. It was through these site visits that another recommendation would come in that we need to do a better job of communicating what’s happening in the classroom and which apps are being used district-wide.
As the symposiums were very public, it makes it difficult sometimes for people to share honestly what they were feeling or concerns they had. As a result, we hosted focus groups for students, parents and teachers at each of our campuses and even hosted a central one just for parents. These focus groups provided some great qualitative data as well. It’s through the focus groups where we heard the most about the day-to-day issues with distraction and the need to occasionally have access to other devices when needed. One other outcome as a result of this is the idea that even though we’ve made our final device recommendation (skip to the end to see that), we want to continue to have these focus groups yearly so we can make necessary adjustments on the initiative.
As many on the task force mentioned, not everyone can get to a physical meeting or symposium. We all live busy lives and it only seemed to make sense that since this was all about digital learning that we have an online component. So besides the symposiums being posted online and the interactive feedback posters (via Padlet.com), we also created a Google Community. The community was a place where anyone could join and post questions or resources when it comes to digital learning. We also used the #EanesDLTF hashtag whenever information was shared or posted as a way to gather data. This hashtag would also be used as a way to curate questions for the panels at the symposium.
Survey, survey, then survey again
One of the final methods of data gathering was the use of many surveys. Each survey focused on a different segment of our population and were focused on gathering information on both the current reality and our preferred future. Here are copies of our surveys that your are free to look at and remix for your own purposes.
The results of the surveys were very diverse and gave us a wide range of feedback. We saw a general tendency that the older the students were, the more they wanted to have a physical keyboard or laptop. Here’s an example of some of the data we shared with the school board on that first survey.
As a result of this and a discrepancy at the high school in terms of what students and teachers preferred, we decided to send a follow-up survey once we had narrowed down the device choices. Many of the students and teachers that preferred laptops wanted a high-end MacBook as their preferred machine of choice. As budget for the program wouldn’t allow for a $1200 device and for the uses they had outlined being so varied based on class, we needed to land on a base-level device to use for all classes. We then took the final three devices (Macbook Air 11″, Dell 3350, and an iPad Air 2 64GB w/keyboard case) and made them available for viewing a week prior to sending the final high school survey.
We sent out follow-up surveys to both the students and staff of the high school to land on our final decision.
One thing for certain, was that no matter what the selection, there would be some groups happy and some upset with the choice. After 600 hours of focus groups, discussions, meetings, presentations and symposiums as well as over 6000 survey responses, the task force voted unanimously for the option that gave us the most flexibility, with the best support model as well as ease of integration. In choosing the iPad Air 2 (64GB) for all levels, we are giving students and staff a model of iPad that goes 12 times faster, holds 4 times as much memory and now allows for split-screen multitasking. We also added a keyboard component for upper grades and some options for keyboards at the lower grades. This also honors the work of many teachers who have utilized the iPad to improve student learning in their classrooms for the past 4-5 years. It also reinforces the work we have been doing on the horizontal and vertical alignment of tools and curriculum within our district.
For more information I created this infographic which was distributed along with a press release today. (blog coming later on how I made the infographic using Keynote):
…..and all those mega-conferences don’t know how to act.
There’s a movement afoot in the Ed Tech world. It started with Ed Camps and has evolved into something even bigger.
It’s the “boutique” conference.
A couple of years ago I was chatting with good friend and fellow “boutiquer” Felix Jacomino (head cheese of Miami Device). We were chatting about iPadpalooza and his (then) upcoming first event. We were talking about ISTE, the preeminent Ed Tech conference in the United States when he said something both profound and prophetic.
“ISTE is like the Walmart of Ed Tech conferences.”
That phrase resonated in my brain like a Taylor Swift ear worm. I couldn’t escape it or put my finger on it but Felix was dead on.
At ISTE you have thousands upon thousands of people attending for any variety of reasons and from any variety of places. Some come to learn about interactive white boards (still). Others come to learn about Microsoft Office. Others iPads. Others Chromebooks. Windows. Mac. Apps. GAFE. CCSS. PDFs. Gifs. Etc.
If you are an event like ISTE you have no choice but to go the “Walmart route” when it comes to sessions to ensure your customers have access to everything even if it might taste a little bland. While I think there will always be a time and a place for that, districts are also looking for something more meaningful. They are looking for something more tailored for their staff and their Ed tech goals. In the past, like Walmart, the attendee was forced to sort through the hundreds of isles of products (sessions) looking for that one specific item (learning) and try not to get lost or end up on stage at EdTech Karaoke (guilty as charged).
As we formerly launch the registration for our 5th annual iPadpalooza, there is a growing abundance of options available to educators and leaders. iPadpalooza started as a learning festival to share and grow in the realm of iPads but it’s now grown into something more than that (we welcome all devices!). While at its heart it’s meant to inspire and make learning fun, it’s also meant to be an experience. No not some sort of Burning Man in the desert experience (do they have wifi out there?), but more like you are a part of the learning experience and not just an attendee.
This year’s theme is “Summer Blockbuster” and is centered around the explosive potential of mobile learning but also the movie stars we have in and around education. Because this is a “boutique” event, we can offer flexibility in terms of when you can come (we have single-day passes this year) and a little extra for those wanting to dive even deeper (this year we have added some “Pre-Palooza” workshops in addition to our iLead Academy).
While my heart belongs to the mothership event here in Austin, I love the fact that these are now starting to spread into other states (not unlike TEDx events) including Indiana, Minnesota and now Louisiana. Each one is unique in that it brings in local talent and flavor into the festival-like atmosphere. At iPadpaloozaSouthTX they even created their own theme of “Day of the Tech” based on the “Dia de los muertos” holiday.
What I love most about these spin-off events is the ownership taken by districts and educators as part of the mobile learning movement. It’s not just seeing someone experience the stress and joy of hosting an event that MUST have a level of fun and local spirit, but also seeing them experience the smiles on the faces of attendees. It’s about the tweets of minds being blown and passion being ignited. It’s about discovering something they haven’t seen or thought of before and rethinking how learning can change in their classroom.
Ultimately, that is why you go to a boutique conference. Not necessarily to look for a specific thing, but to have a specific thing find you.
Who’s ready to go shopping?
[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.
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.
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%.
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).
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.
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.
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.”
This 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 assumptions 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.
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.”
Today marked a hallmark day in the Eanes Independent School District when it comes to high-stakes testing. After some back and forth with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the commissioner, last spring we were granted the ability to pilot using iPads as graphing calculators during the state assessment. Following months of planning and prep, the dreams of using iPads on actual state assessments became a reality today as 600+ students took their 8th Grade Math STAAR assessment. This decision and process encompassed many hours of careful planning and practice before today’s big test. As far as I know from colleagues around the country, we were the first district to try this approach. As such, I’m writing this post to not only document our process but also to help others that may try this in the future.
For years (and decades) our students have had the ability to purchase an expensive graphing calculator like the TI-84 plus to help them with higher level math problems and classes. This calculator retails at around $180 (roughly half the cost of our iPad2s) and is purchased by either the campus or the parents to support their students taking these courses. With the constant financial pressure and underfunding from our state and the fact that every student has an iPad, we decided to formally request that we be allowed to use the Desmos Test Mode app (FREE) on the 8th Grade Math assessment. With the successful completion of this pilot, we may even look at other areas (dictionaries?) where we can save money and provide a better experience for our students.
What kind of technical expertise do you need to pull this off?
Our district utilizes a Mobile Device Management (MDM) system known as Casper Suite by JAMF software. Casper includes a feature called “Focus” which allows teachers to lock students into a certain app. Students are not able to use the camera, take a screen shot or even get out of the app until the teacher releases them from focus. With the assistance of our technology department and Mobile Integration Specialist Tim Yenca, we have been piloting this feature in individual classrooms throughout the fall and spring. However, on testing day we knew it would mean putting all 600 of the students into one giant class and then locking them down. Needless to say, there’s a lot that can go wrong technically with that so we decided to test it a couple of times before the actual testing date.
How did we prepare for this?
This plan would have never been possible without the support of our tremendously talented campus Educational Technologists (Ed Techs). Running two tests simultaneously with a 12-mile gap in between campuses meant that there needed to be a point person on the ground that coordinated everything. Kacy Mitchell at WRMS and Jennifer Flood at HCMS provided plans, organized teachers, communicated with students and supported the administration during this entire process. When I asked Kacy how she thought the day went this was her reaction:
“We knew there were going to be issues. There are always issues. Pioneering the concept of locking down district-issued student iPads was pretty scary for most of us at first. My principal even wondered aloud what my heart-rate was about 5 minutes after the bell rang today. In the end, everything turned out just fine. A successful execution of plans A, B and sometimes C was due to careful planning and LOTS of patience from our teachers. “
Jennifer added this insight into the planning process:
“Leading up to today we held two tests of the system in as close to “day of” testing environments as possible. Having WRMS attempt at the same time gave us more room to experiment with start times and classroom processes than we would have normally had. Between the tests at both campuses, and many conversations walking through all possibilities, our plans reflected every possible outcome that we had some control over.”
I honestly don’t think we could have pulled this off without these two Ed Techs providing daily support on their campuses. We are lucky to have them here at Eanes ISD.
What about the app?
When the TEA released their revised policy in spring of 2014, they didn’t specify which device or app was required. Their main concerns were that whatever device used has to be locked down so that students can’t get on the internet or take photos of the test. The graphing calculator app needed to be a non-CAS (Computer Algebra Systems) calculator and could not contain tutorials or places for storing formulas (which can be a problem with TI calculators).
With the help and advice of resident math guru Cathy Yenca (aka Mathy Cathy), we had been looking into the original Desmos graphing calculator app. The only problem was the app has CAS capability and stores some examples that students could potentially use. Cathy and Tim (aka “the Flying Yencas”) were able to work with Eli from Desmos on some feature requests and changes that would be necessary to make the app acceptable for state testing. Desmos was extremely responsive and open to the changes and after working on some test pilots of the app, released the “Test Mode” version of their app free to the public. Much like the support of Kacy and Jennifer, this wouldn’t have been possible without the Yencas and Desmos working together to make it happen.
With the support of the team, the administration, the teachers and the technology department, we set forth today to make this plan a reality. Through all the collaboration and discussion with the team it was determined that we should have both a few regular calculator back-ups on hand and a few iPad back-ups on hand already locked into the app.
As with anything involving technology there are always problems. Those problems multiply when you try to lock down 600 devices over wireless on two separate campuses at the same time. Add to the mix a third campus (elementary) and four 5th grade students in advanced math taking this test too, and this process became even more complex. Thanks to our Ed Tech Margie Brown for helping get those elementary students set up on testing day as well.
Despite our best efforts, a handful of students showed up this morning and decided to update their iPad. A couple of others forgot to plug their iPad in over the weekend. The forethought and planning of our Ed Techs and technology department accounted for this and a few spare iPads were on hand in the hallways where the tests we being administrated. Students that couldn’t didn’t get locked down were given a locked down spare before the test. Students that brought their own iPad were put into Guided Access mode by the teacher prior to the test. Teachers in testing rooms were given a “blue card” that they could slide under their door if they had technical issues during the actual test (thankfully, none of them did).
As you can tell, it takes an entire team of thoughtful and prepared staff to pull this kind of a pilot off. I knew today was a success when I looked up at noon and noted how quiet the day had been. That’s a tribute to the hard working people in this district like Kacy, Tim, Jennifer, Margie, our technology department, our testing coordinators, teachers, STEM Director and those outside of the district like Eli from Desmos. Without their collaboration and planning this dream could have quickly turned into a nightmare.
Thank you all for your effort in taking on this monumental challenge! Now on to the next!