Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Technology is to…

 I asked around to the teachers at my school and got a few similes that reflect their thoughts on technology. 

Here they are…
GIF is to PNG as pixel is to megapixel
Technology is to children as air is to all of us!
Tech is to teaching as icing is to cake
iPads are to student engagement as parties are to birthdays

While I liked many of the responses what I found interesting is that despite this being in the heart of our schools testing window not one of the similes referred to assessment, or data collection.  In fact all of the answers were a positive look at technology in schools. Yet, so often this is where we get bogged down with technology.  Our school has recently purchased laptops for assessment and by next year we have to have 90 laptops up and working for the assessments our students will be taking in the coming year. We are using massive amounts of our school tech bond budget to support this need and yet assessment isn’t even mentioned when staff members are asked what technology is bringing to education. 

Technology in assessment is a reality however and something we will be facing ever more pressingly in the future.  So how do we take our investment and make it fit the rest of our values with technology?  How do we prepare our schools to use the technology for more than a testing device? 

My hope would be that each day the various technologies that are in our building are being used in inventive ways to push students further.  My hope is that when assessment comes up on the screen it is a welcome break from the rigorous inventive ways that teachers are using the devices any other given day. 

What that looks like I believe at my school is still being discovered but I hope that we will continue to acknowledge the usefulness of technology in assessment and data collection but will never stop exploring the more!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

"Aha!" - Words to Live By

Another month has come and gone and I again find myself a bit (read: extremely) behind with my post. This theme felt like a big request, partly because I kept thinking that a "Eureka!" needed to be something that once mystified me then suddenly became clear, and I think partly because I had so many amazing "Eureka!"- feeling moments this year. After a while I began to realize that maybe it is hard to see much of what we do as sudden "Aha!" moments because a lot of the most exciting learning happens gradually over time. There are acquired skills we're proud to have learned, and finite moments in time that excite us during a learning experience, but isn't it the frustrating, messy experience that we often learn the most from? Those challenging, sometimes frustrating situations are the experiences I want to help create for my kiddos because they are extending the learning far beyond content knowledge, which I think is one of the most important takeaways in (personalized) learning.

At the beginning of each year instead of making a list of rules - "We will do this, we won't do that" - my students pick their Words to Live By. We talk extensively about Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development, discussing what motivates our behaviors and why we make certain choices, and we determine what our own personal code of behavior is. Through establishing this code for ourselves we acknowledge that each member of our classroom community is unique and comes through the door with different strengths and challenges for us to embrace together throughout the year. We come to realize that no two people in our community are the same, and that means our code and motivations are different. We talk about how fair is not always equal, and that our neighbors sometimes need our guidance to stick to their personal code or to push themselves towards higher stages of our Kohlberg "mountain" (the visualization we use for the 6 stages). I remind the kids that getting to the top of the mountain alone is not the most important thing ("What if you had the stove but your neighbor had the food?") and they have a choice as to whether they are helping each other up the mountain or pulling each other down. This is how I've approached behavior and classroom management since I started teaching, and though it manifests itself differently depending on the school culture, population, and group of kiddos it always brings us together and creates a strong community of learners who support and challenge each other.

This year was slightly different, though. With our technology enabled classroom of 1:1 Chromebooks I witnessed some of the most powerful student experiences of my career. This year my kids truly embraced our Words to Live By and learned not just what those words meant, but what they felt like every day. Perseverance, honesty, kindness, leadership, generosity, bravery... These concepts are not easy to grasp, especially at the age of 9, but having the ability to personalize the learning for each student meant they were able to find their learning "sweet spot" and take ownership over process and product. They attempted academic material that was matched to their ability and, therefore, felt ridiculously hard at times. When we started using TenMarks, for example, most of the kids were overwhelmed by the intensity of the CCSS aligned math problems because they required a great deal of critical thinking and problem solving. I became concerned about the gap between their math (and technology) skills and what was being asked of them, wondering if this hurdle could be overcome or if the data would only continue to show their deficits.

But then one morning my sweet S brought me one of the most memorable moments of my career. She had struggled since the first weeks of school to attempt even the lowest level of tasks without shutting down and refusing to do anything but give up, cry, and exclaim, "I can't do this! I am dumb. I don't get it and I can't learn it." After working diligently that morning on 10 problems in an algebraic thinking standard, headphones in and whiteboard being filled and erased in a frenzy of math work, she raised her hand to share her score with me. Beaming ear to ear she looked up as she pointed at the screen: "100%". Without thinking twice I pulled her up from the carpet, stood her on the table, and announced her triumph to the class. "Guess what?! S just got a 100!!" I didn't tell them to clap, I had never had a class discussion about what to do when celebrating a classmate, but without hesitation the class burst into cheers and claps and comments of congratulations. S had persevered, shown humility to accept help and leadership all morning from her classmates when she struggled with tech and math alike, and she took risks and showed bravery in attempting something that felt unattainable. Her classmates had lived that struggle alongside her, not just that morning but since the first day of school, and they felt so invested in her success that they knew this was an accomplishment to be proud of. I wish I could capture the energy in the room at that moment - to bottle it up and share with passionate educators and naysayers alike. Why personalized learning? Why technology-enabled classrooms? Why students empowered with so much choice and ownership of learning? That is why - that moment, multiplied by classrooms full of students and day after day of other, similar moments which all lead to independent learners being prepared for their future.

Blended and personalized learning isn't all about the technology. It isn't kids sitting behind computer screens and plugging along without interacting with the kids sitting right next to them. It certainly isn't easy for teachers who have to spend hours crafting impeccable, data-informed lessons and precise classroom routines while being ready to relinquish control to students in a moment's notice to adjust and go down a path they could never have anticipated. At its best it is the complete opposite of these things. It is taking a strong philosophy, pedagogy, classroom culture and enhancing it with technology tools. It is being willing to put students in the driver's seat and embrace the structured chaos and confusion along the way. When my kiddos started 4th grade some were tentative, waiting for the learning to be provided to them and trying to provide the "right" response only when prompted. Now they go after learning, asking the questions and not waiting for permission to go find the answers. There isn't 1 teacher who they go to for help, there are 29, and every voice is valued equally. My students are learning to embrace the struggle and frustration, recognizing that taking risks and continuing to try and try again often provides much greater rewards than staying in the comfortable place where we know we can succeed fairly easily. +Ben Wilkoff often says, "Learning isn't an event, it is something that happens over time", and I think my kids have started to understand this for themselves because we had the tools they needed to take control of their experience. Jumping in with blended and personalized learning hasn't been easy, and it certainly hasn't always been pretty. But through the frequent mess and frustration it has been a privilege to learn alongside these brilliant young people and to watch them experience their own "Eureka!" moments every day. I'm extremely proud of their flexibility, perseverance, and excitement this year and cannot wait to see how they continue to grow and share their learning and expertise with the world.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Eureka! Teachers like "choice" just like students!

Recently, the Blended Learning Team at my school took some concrete steps to differentiate our professional development for the whole staff. It was an experiment, and for the most part, it has been a step towards the direction we want our own students to experience.


We had our first “official” technology PD back in January, and we collected some data from teachers through a survey regarding wants/needs. The next step was to use that data to plan our upcoming PDs. Thanks to just how things worked out with the weather and schedule changes, the Blended Learning Team was on the PD calendar for three fairly close dates:  Thursday 2/27, the following Thursday 3/6, and the third one on Thursday April 10th.

Before the first whole staff session, we brainstormed with + Kevin Croghan, and we came up with the idea to use the first two back to back sessions as “learn something new/ask for help/ work on something” sessions. Then for the third session, everyone will convene as a large group to share something that we learned/implemented/what worked/what didn’t work etc in triads. This format would partially address the issues of time constraints in learning new technology, vertical collaboration, and building on what we’ve learned. Our objective was to keep teachers thinking about how they could use technology in the classroom or in a professional capacity.

Using the data we collected from the wants/needs survey, we decided to provide four options for our 45 minute meetings, repeating the same offerings from session 1 for session 2:
1. Ipads
2. Google Apps for Education/Digital experiences (Safari Montage, Brainpop etc.)
3. Interactive whiteboards (Promethean & Mimios)
4. Technology Lab (Work time/Ask for help)

We divided up the pilot teachers so that two to three pilot teachers facilitated each session, and other than the overarching theme, we left the content up to them. All we asked was that while it was important to show the attending teachers something to spark their creativity, we wanted teachers to have most of the time to collaborate, work, and ask questions.

Teachers will choose one topic for the first week and decide afterwards where to go the second week (stay with the same topic or learn something different). Then during the third PD day, they can choose to share anything with two of their peers.  Prior to the first session, we sent out reminder emails regarding location, equipment, and session topics. How did we do?

Thursday February 27, 2014: Day 1 of 3


Unaware of what we were going to ask of them, teachers started trickling in and sitting down. We started with a few business announcements and then preceded to explain what we were going to be doing with the next three technology PD and why we were doing it. The staff was receptive, and in a matter of minutes, all of them dispersed to the sessions they were interested in.


That was probably the shortest “whole group” meeting I’ve ever attended. Other than our "Technology Lab", the other three sessions all had a specific theme. Our “lab” room was the room for everything else outside of those themes, and we actually had some people. Several teachers took care of technology stuff they couldn't do during the school day: move desktop computers from the lab to their classrooms, worked on getting their students their correct Google sign ins, fix ______ (insert document camera, projector, laptop, printer etc.) and more. Other people stayed in the lab to get one on one help (myself included from +Jessica Raleigh!). It was thrilling to see teachers talking and learning from each other.  

Thursday March 6, 2014: Day 2 of 3

We met in another teacher’s classroom that was more centrally located to the not movable Promethean Board. This time, I made sure to write down the key points to cover during the introduction, so that everyone was on the same page for expectations. As they had already tried this the previous weeks, teachers  knew what to do and quickly left the main room and headed for their session. Also like last time, I was co-facilitating the “Technology Lab” and could peek in the other rooms as I was delivering the sign in form.

Things We Learned/ Changes We Made Between the First & Second Week

- Move rooms closer to each other

            Three of our four rooms were close to each other, but the fourth was all the way at the hall and couldn't be moved (Promethean board). The second week, we asked teachers to gather at the end of the hall closest to the Promethean board and clustered the four sessions around there instead. 

- PA Announcement to fill out surveys 10 minutes before the end

            Our goal was to get all participating teachers to share their thoughts through a quick exit survey, but we realized that from the first session that some of them didn’t have time to fill in their survey before picking up the students. By reminding them over the PA 10 minute before the end, we hoped to increase our response rate. How did we do?

Baseline: 25 teachers total, 9 of which are pilot teachers

Response rate for session 1: 9 teachers*
Response rate for session 2: 8 teachers**

*The initial response rate was two, not including pilot teachers. After there was talks of chocolate and special gift, it went up to 9.

** This was the response rate with principal making a PA announcement ten minutes before the end of the session.

Did it improve? Well, it depends on how you look at it. If you looked at the overall numbers, we didn’t improved that much. However, if you took a peek at the notes, you will notice that we only got two survey responses before we started using chocolates. For week 2, we got eight teachers with our PA announcement only. If we were able to follow up with chocolate reminders, I suspect there would have been more.

- Sign in at the sessions vs. at the whole group

Because of how the rooms were laid out the first week, we think we lost a few people as we broke out into the sessions. We glanced at the rooms and noticed that the numbers didn’t add up to our total of 25. Our principal also told us that when he went downstairs to take a phone call, he saw some people ducking away from him. To mitigate this, we met as a group, reviewed the expectations, and provided sign in sheets in each of the break out rooms. Attendance improved though it was still not 100%.

After some reflecting, we realized that what it all boils down to is that we are all adults, and we expect each other to be professional. Everyone will be expected to share something on April 10th, so if they chose not to use this time and use other times, that’s their choice.

-Sent out a reminder email about materials

During session 1, we noticed some people didn’t bring their hardware and had to go back to their room to get it. This time, in the reminder email, we made sure to include that as well as the location and time.

Parting Thoughts:

Everyone (the pilot teachers, administration, the BL field coaches etc.) came together as a team, and we successfully pulled off this new-to-us way of PD. Each facilitator brought their own knowledge to share, and people started making connections as to who they could go to for help on which topics. Many of the comments left on the survey referred to specific presenters and things that they had taught them. Everyone left with something they could use.

Next Steps:

Follow Up

            Several people have lamented that even though they liked this format, they felt that they needed some more one on one help on topics that was not covered. With this insight, we have started talking with our field managers about scheduling additional times for people to get some one on one technology help.       


            Our third PD in this series will be on April 10th. Our goal is to get everyone to share. The details of that haven’t been ironed out yet, so I’ll just have to keep you posted on that part of our journey in two months.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Eureka! I’ve got it

All to often I wish that was my response when doing something new but it seems the more I know the less I know.

For me this year has been about getting technology into children’s hands and seeing what they can do with it.  Like all areas of education different supports are needed for different students.  I find if I teach them one skill at a time (especially in smaller groups) and they have an interest in learning they can do it! 

So here are my 3 simple tips for working with small children and technology.

1)   Have one of the devices they are working on in your hands too, so you can model what they are doing and truly take it step by step rather than trying to work from memory or there screen.

2)   Start slow.  Decide what your goal is and just do that one part.  Then get them to an activity they enjoy so they are motivated to commit that step to memory. So next time you can build off of it.

3)   Have a place to keep all of their codes or passwords or any of those things so that they can access that information on their own.  I use color coded cards that are removable and can go with them where ever they are working.  I find there are to many codes and passwords for us to expect them to remember them all!  Then practice over and over again so the next time it is a little faster and a little smoother. 

Bouns* never underestimate what they can do.  I thought “control, alt, delete” would be to much for my kindergarten fingers but I have even trained them to do it!  After all logging on is the first step.

This is truly what come to mind for me with someone says Eureeka!