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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.

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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: http://www.statesman.com/news/news/local/administrator-spends-eye-opening-day-as-student/nkHWG/

What If We Said “NO” to 1:1?

Last night, I had the opportunity to present in front of our School Board on the state of technology in our district.  We reflected on the first three years of our LEAP initiative that brought 1:1 iPads to hands of every student at Eanes ISD.  We talked about successes and we talked about mistakes and how we’ve fixed them. While we are still far from where we would like to be, I am blessed to have such a supportive staff, community and board that have helped make this program a success.  In the coming months there will be discussions about what to do with future technology funding.  While I made a strong case to continue the program, we know it costs money and that money has to come from somewhere.

As I slept last night, a vision came to me in the form of a dream.  It was a vision of an alternate universe that would have been my life and the life of this school district if we decided in 2011 not to pilot this innovative idea of 1:1 iPads.

In this dream my life was pretty boring.  I was doing a lot of training on Powerpoint.  We were constantly struggling to buy enough digital cameras for classes.  My budget was getting burned up on licensing Adobe software for film-producing and photo-editing. But as boring as my life was, it was worse for kids.

As I visited classrooms, there was no technology except for the A/V equipment and the teacher’s desktop. The computer labs were still there, but they were now 7-8 year old machines that barely worked.  Teachers fought for 45-minute time periods in the lab when they could, but ultimately, many decided it was better not to even go. We had mobile technology in the form of netbooks (maybe this was more of a nightmare than a dream) that were really nothing more than expensive paper weights.

When I woke up this morning, the dream/nightmare stuck with me.  I started thinking…what if we didn’t go 1:1? What if we took the easy way out?  What would be different?  What would be lost? Here’s just a few things that came to mind:

Apps would disappear

ASL App Not_edited-1

ASL App no longer exists…

When we first bought the iPads, the common perception was these were solely consumptive devices.  You could read books with them and that was about it. I couldn’t disagree more. I’ve seen students creating amazing works of art, publish books and produce movies because they had the power to do all of that at their fingertips.  One very creative example came from Westlake High School Student Michael Bartmess. He was in need of an app to help himself and classmates with ASL finger spelling.  When he couldn’t find one in the App Store, he decided to make his own.  Where would his motivation to create this have come from without these devices?  In this alternate universe, his app wouldn’t exist and thousands of kids would struggle with finger spelling in ASL classes around the world.

The library would just be a library

One of the most inspirational spaces in our district is the “Juice Bar” at Westlake High School.  It’s a unique mix of Starbucks cafe and Apple Genius bar all-in-one. Digital librarian Carolyn Foote’s vision for this space was transformative and ahead of its time.  It provides students with a place to plan, collaborate and troubleshoot. In the world without 1:1, this area of the library would just be a sleepy corner that exists for 10-year old reference books to collect dust.

The iVengers would just be computer lab teachers

I am blessed with the best team of Educational Technologists on the planet (a.k.a. the “iVengers”). In a 1:1 environment, the role of a Ed Tech as technology integrator is vital to success. Prior to our 1:1, this position was based primarily in a computer lab (because that’s where the technology was) and was centered mainly around delivering 45-minute lessons once a week. Now they are truly coaches working to collaborate, co-teach, and design lessons with teachers in the classrooms.  In this alternate world, I think this position and the highly successful rock-stars holding the Ed Tech title would be long gone from this district and our teachers and students would suffer as a result.

Sir Ken at iPadpalooza in 2013

Sir Ken at iPadpalooza in 2013

A Global Learning Festival Would Not Exist

iPadpalooza was born out of the idea that we need to gather as a group and share our successes. While it’s turned into a global event, at it’s core it’s still based on that idea that learning and sharing can be engaging and fun. In my bizarro world, this festival wouldn’t exist and the thousands that attended would have missed the inspiring words of a Sir Ken Robinson, the creative madness of a Kevin Honeycutt, and the thought-provoking questions of Sugata Mitra and the creative conversations amongst colleagues.  After all, who would want to attend “Netbook-a-palooza?”

Parents would be in the dark about digital footprints

Having a 1:1 means having continual and ongoing conversations with parents about their role in the lives of our digital kids. I’ve spent hundreds of hours talking with parents, working with parents, and now teaching parents online about what it means to raise a kid in the 21st century.  While I’d like to think that would have happened regardless of our 1:1, the reality is, in a world where every kid doesn’t have a device, what is the motivation for a district to support parents in this realm?  We blurred the line between school and home, so we need to be the ones helping in both fronts. Without this initiative, the parents of our 8000 students would be left on their own to figure out how to navigate the world of social media, how to balance screen time, and how to help their children build a positive digital footprint for themselves.

There would be a few less trees in the world

We are far from a paperless district.  However, we have more and more content being moved digitally across our network then ever before.  Pulling up our Google Drive stats today reveals that we have have more than 170,000 files, docs, sheets, and forms that have been uploaded or created digitally since 2011. Moreover, we just had our 50,000th document shared.  That’s a lot of collaboration that doesn’t take place if everyone doesn’t have a device.   If you take into account that many of those files would have likely been photo-copied and distributed and that a typical tree is made of about 80,000 pieces of paper, think about how many trees would not be here now if we said “no” way back when?

Students’ voices would be muted

iPadLess_edited-1

Blank screens instead of blank stares

While it’s nice to save paper, create an app, redesign a library and connect with community, this one to me is the most important. Students that are trusted with a device are also empowered.  Traditional schooling exists to teach kids how to answer questions rather than ask them.  Empowered students can amaze the world and we’ve been lucky enough to have multiple examples of this over and over again in our 1:1.  From an entire class of 3rd graders becoming published authors in the iBook Store to a student creating an entire website to help her nephew with his illness, when you give students an opportunity to express themselves, you’ll be amazed at what they produce.

In this no-student-device universe, their voices might not be heard.  A universe like that means that a teacher’s job might be a little easier because they don’t have to change anything about their practice.  It means a parent doesn’t have to even think about what their child is putting on-line.  It means that administrators don’t have to wrestle with Apple IDs or filters or restrictions.  It makes the lives of all of those people a little more easier and a little more boring.  But who are we forgetting in that scenario?

Students.

They are the reason schools exist, not the other way around.  We need to do everything we can to prepare them for an uncertain future and that means NOT taking the easy way out.

For me, it means never resting until that becomes a full-fledged reality for this world.

It means more work and less sleep.

But in reality, why do I need to sleep when I’m already living the dream?

The Best App For Monitoring Students

About a year ago, we decided after much input to open up YouTube Safe Search for students.  While there can be a lot of mind-numbing videos about squirrels on jet-skis, there is also a large amount of instructional content on there.  Want to learn how to do Photoshop?  Or maybe just the right way to carve a turkey? It’s all on there.

Being a 1:1 iPad school district means that anything we enable on the filter side, pretty much goes out to all students since it’s all at their finger tips.  It’s taken some time for teachers to adjust to this new student-centered focused on learning versus the teacher as “disseminator of all information” model.  One thing we’ve noticed throughout this initiative is that a lecture-based, teacher at the front, method of instruction lends itself to more distraction and less educational use of the devices.  As teachers have shifted the knowledge to the students, distraction has decreased and learning with iPads as tools has increased.  This may seem like a simple enough switch, but we are asking some of the best and brightest teachers to change everything they have been doing the past 20-25 years successfully. Which brings me to last January and the opening of YouTube.

Ten full minutes after announcing that YouTube would be open for students, I received the following email: (Name omitted)

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 8.19.37 AM

 

I knew the sender of this email very well and for the sake of this article we’ll just refer to him as Jim.  Being a very accomplished teacher, I realized the worry that Jim had with all the distraction and possible off-task behavior.  I had a list of apps that allow some sort of screen-sheltered management.  Apps like Nearpod or “Focus” by JAMF allow some form of screen control and embedded lock-down.  My gut reaction was to seek out one of these apps as a way to help this him with his teaching.  Knowing Jim well though, I decided on a different approach and response:

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 8.19.44 AM

 

I made sure to include the all important smiley face on my response so that Jim knew I was being somewhat tongue-in-cheek but also sincere when it came to thinking about shifting the pedagogical practice he was employing. I later regretted not adding the statement that you can also use your “iMouth” to enforce restrictions.

2EyesApp

The Infamous “2Eyes” app

While this was done to spark thinking and hopefully garner a bit of a laugh, the overall message has had some affect, even outside of Jim’s classroom.  I mentioned this to some colleagues shortly after this and word spread about the “2Eyes” app.  Before I knew it, people were actually sending me messages asking what the 2 Eyes app was because they couldn’t find it in the app store.  In fact, Jim even responded with “I know that Carl. In fact, any teacher worth their salt knows that.  It’s just that…this is hard!  Having all this distraction pulls their attention away from what I’m trying to teach them.”

We ended the email exchange and opted for a face to face conversation, at which point I offered some assistance.  While I couldn’t ask him to change his entire pedagogical practice, I made him a  promise to work with him on changing some of what he’s currently doing to a more student-centered approach.  A month later, Jim invited me into the classroom to watch an interactive lesson using formative assessment and Socrative.  While this wasn’t a complete shift to student-driven learning, it was a step in the right direction and helped solve two issues:

1. Students felt much more empowered and more engaged in the class and lesson. When I informally asked them what they thought of this new approach many mentioned it made learning fun again.  Some said that normally (even without an iPad), they would just check out and day-dream while the teacher asked the kids questions.  Now they felt like they needed to participate to be a part of the class.

2. The teacher also left feeling empowered.  Jim was able to walk around the room and send out the questions via the app and watch and listen as kids responded.  He was able to instantly show the class data on the screen and have discussion about which points the group did poorly on.  He was able to focus his direct instruction on those weaker areas in future lessons.

The moral of this story is that changing in teaching practice doesn’t happen overnight. You can put new devices in the hands of kids, but without some adjustments by the instructors, they are little more than expensive eReaders. I applaud teachers like Jim who have the courage to reach out and admit that this is hard.  His original email was a call for help and I could have taken the easy way out by just giving him some screen-controlling app and been on my merry way.

That would have benefitted me in terms of time and energy saved from having to work with him on those changes.  It would have benefitted Jim because he could have had a quick fix for teaching the kids.  There’s one group though that wouldn’t have benefitted, those students in Jim’s class.  They are the reason we are all here and sometimes it means taking the more difficult road if it’s for the betterment of learning.

If you are a teacher or administrator reading this, you will experience this exact scenario if you haven’t already when it comes to a “mobile device initiative” or BYOD.   While it may seem like that easiest answer is the best answer, take a moment to think to yourself and ask the question: Is this beneficial to student learning?