Monday, December 21, 2015

Teaching Integer Rules with Google Sheets - Addition

Integer operations confound middle schoolers everywhere. And understandably so. After all, imagine that everything you thought you knew about addition was suddenly turned on its head: numbers start moving the "wrong" way on the number line, adding two negatives gives you a smaller sum, and combining two integers with different signs can look a lot like what your teacher use to call subtraction.

A lot of the issue stems from students being given rules and memorizing them instead of discovering and making sense of them. Since math is the study of patterns, students need space to explore the patterns that happen when you combine positive and negative numbers.

Manipulatives like two-color counters and number lines are a pre-requisite to working with naked numbers. So after those experiences, I think Google Sheets provides some interesting possibilities.

I'm still working through the best way to do this, but a spreadsheet with pre-formatted functions seems like a good space for students to experiment with plugging in numbers, seeing the outcome, and deriving the patterns. It's sort of like a science lab for math: students input, observe, tweak, generalize, and then make meaning of their discoveries. In other words, they think like mathematicians.

Take a look at the Sheet below and let me know how it could be changed to help students understand integer addition. And if you'd like, make a copy for your Drive and mess around with it on your own.

How To Use It
  1. If you're using Google Classroom, attach the Sheet to an assignment and set to "Every student gets a copy."

  2. Students enter positive or negative integers in row 2, columns A and C. Anything positive will format green, negative as red to emphasize patterns. The sum will calculate automatically.

    Enter integers

  3. Next they'll use the dropdowns in columns G-J to answer the questions about the signs of the addends. This emphasizes two things: first, if addends have the same sign, the sum will have the same sign as well. Secondly, if addends have different signs, the sum will have the sign of the number with the greater absolute value.

    Answer questions about equation

  4. If the addends have different signs, columns K-M will be populated with the absolute value of the addends and the sum. Students need to think about how the absolute values of the addends are related to the absolute value of the sum, then select their answer from column N.

  5. Absolute value relationships

  6. Repeat steps 2-4 and fill in the remaining equations.

  7. When students have completed the Sheet, have them discuss the patterns they observe with a partner (try these Accountable Talk posters from Education to the Core to get the conversation started).

  8. Finally, have students go to the "Questions" sheet and explain their discoveries.

  9. Reflection questions

Again, this is totally a work in progress and feedback would be great. I just think there's great potential in Sheets to help students experiment with math concepts and start thinking like mathematicians. It's definitely worth exploring.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Using Google Sheets to Track Student Progress

A teacher came to me last week looking for a way to quickly see the changes in her weekly student assessment data. She had been scoring each quiz, giving feedback to students, then calculating the percentage increase/decrease for each student by hand.

Clearly, the answer here is a spreadsheet. (Thanks, Alice Keeler, for burning that into my brain.)

The Google Sheet I created for her calculates the student's percent change from one week to the next, then highlights increases in green and decreases in red. It's a simple way to see how students are doing without having to bust out the calculator every Friday afternoon.

Enter scores, percent change automatically calculates

If you're interested in peeking under the hood at the functions and conditional formatting that make it run, I've listed them below the embedded Sheet.

Want to use it? Make your own copy and add it to your Drive by clicking here. Happy tracking!

Under the Hood
  1. Finding the percent change
    In the Change column, the formula for finding the percentage is to take the current week minus the previous week, then divide it by the previous week. I used =sum(-C2,E2)/E2 to make that happen. I made the previous week's score negative so that if the second week's score is lower, it will return a negative value and show a decrease in the form of a negative percent change (as in a larger negative plus a smaller positive equals a negative). In retrospect, there's probably an easier way, but I'm still pretty new to spreadsheets and that's the integer rule that came to me in the moment.

  2. Getting rid of "#DIV/0!"
    When there's no score for the previous week, the function above returns the ever-so-irritating "#DIV/0!" to remind you of what you've known since 2nd grade: you can't divide by zero. I didn't want that showing up in the change column for the weeks that hadn't happened yet, so I used the IFERROR function.

    IFERROR let's you decide what shows up in a cell if there is an error (clever, right?). To use it, surround the original function inside IFERROR parentheses, then after the comma in quotation marks, put what you want to show up instead of the error message. In this case, I wanted it to show up as "N/A". So the function in the Change column ends up looking like this: =IFERROR(sum(-C2,E2)/C2,"N/A"). In other words, if there's an error when the Sheet runs the sum function, just stick an "N/A" in that cell instead.

  3. Conditional Formatting
    Finally, after the change in score is calculated, there needed to be a quick way to see if a student increased or decreased from the week before. Enter conditional formatting, which is located under Format > Conditional Formatting in the toolbar. Each cell in the change column has four conditional formats applied to it, in this order (conditional formatting is applied sequentially, so order matters):

    If the value is greater than or equal to 0, green background, black text
    Emphasizes, in green, an increase from the previous week to the current week.

    If the value is equal to -100%, white background, white text
    This hides an unfortunate byproduct of the function in the Change column which returns "-100%" if there isn't a value in the current week. The only way this formatting could be a problem is if a student gets a 100 one week and a 0 the next, the change won't show up. If you know another way around this, let me know.

    If the value is less than 0, red background, black text
    Emphasizes, in red, a decrease from the previous week to the current week.

    If the text contains "N/A", white background, grey text
    This makes the "N/A" from the IFERROR function less obtrusive when you're looking at the entire sheet and lets you focus more clearly on the data.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The 10 Characteristics of Effective #Edtech PD

We all know that school districts often purchase technology with no real plan in place for teacher professional development. Those of us in the Edtech community beg for more time to train and support our teachers, but even then those trainings end up taking the form of one-time, sit-and-get workshops with little to no follow-up.

As I conducted research for Master's thesis, I focused on the components of effective edtech professional development. After organizing notes from a multitude of peer-reviewed articles, I synthesized the top 10 characteristics of effective PD based on their mentions in the literature.

I offer them below so we can pursue more impactful forms of professional development for our teachers (and if you're desperately interested in the reference list and full literature review, you can find it here.)

So with no further ado, effective edtech professional development needs to include...
  1. Clear, content-specific connections to classroom practice
    The most frequently mentioned characteristic of effective PD is that it has a clear link to a teacher's content area and their classroom practice. To accomplish this, we may need to restructure the way we present PD so that teachers can be clustered together based on content areas. We may also need to consider blending our PD so we present a whole group, face-to-face session on the general functions of a digital tool, then allow teachers to choose an online pathway that walks them through the applications of the tool in their content area. Whatever route we choose, the adult learner is focused on practical application and learns to solve problems, so we need to make sure we provide clear connections to their daily context.

  2. Time for collaboration and reflection
    Without reflection, there's a danger that the teacher's PD experience could be misunderstood and misapplied in the classroom. For example, if a teacher walks away with plans for implementing at only the lowest levels of integration, they've missed a chance to increase rigor and engage students. Reflection and collaboration provides time for teachers to develop plans and for us as facilitators to make sure that our intended takeaways are actually taken away...

  3. Extended duration
    The duration of effective PD includes both an extended span of time to implement the new learning as well as a high number of contact hours outside of the initial session. One-time workshops are ineffective in changing teacher practice, especially when there is little to no follow up outside of the training. Positioning our training in the context of regularly scheduled Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) or other forms of job-embedded PD allow us to extend the contact time we have with teachers and support them in their new learning.

  4. Non-threatening support and follow up
    The teacher's support shouldn't also be the teacher's evaluator. This is where the role of coaches comes  into play. The teacher has to feel that they have a partner in implementation who will respect their need for confidentiality as they incubate new ideas and attempt to execute new plans in their classroom. 

  5. An engaging and active format
    Often, if we were the teachers in our own PD, we'd be checking Facebook too. If we're not doing our part to model active learning and engaging instruction, we have no one to blame but ourselves for the slack-jawed faces staring back at us. Teachers need "sandbox time" to experiment and play with new technology, and it should happen during our sessions where we can provide structure, guidance and support.

  6. The same technology teachers will use in the classroom
    With our current Chromebook pilot, we made assumptions early on that teachers would understand how to use the devices. Based on that assumption, we moved to quickly into digital tools without making sure teachers could navigate their way around a different interface than what they were use to. Teachers need to experience the actual classroom technology to understand what student's will experience as they use the tools. Additionally, greater learning transfer will happen if what teachers experience in training matches what they will be using in the classroom.

  7.  Modeling by colleagues
    I've been out of the classroom 8 months (and here are some lessons I've learned). In the eyes of a teacher, I'm out of touch. Whether that's true or not, perception can quickly become reality. The more we can get classroom teachers presenting the PD and sharing what they do with real live students, the more buy-in we'll have from the teachers we're training. 

  8. Institutional support
    How does your campus or district show support for your early adopters? Do they allow them to take risks, make mistakes, and blaze a new trail? Or do they flog them at the first sign of a data dip, blame the devices, and remove the technology from the classroom? For PD to be effective, teachers must feel they have the support of the broader institution to take the often uncertain path of pushing through to new and higher levels of learning.

  9. Processes for evaluating teacher learning
    Exit surveys are an awful way to evaluate professional development, but that seems to be our default method to determine if PD has been effective. To truly evaluate and refine our PD, we need to find ways to see if what teachers have learned is reaching the classroom, changing teacher practice, and impacting students. How do we do that? I'm not sure. There are so many variables that go into effective teaching that it becomes difficult to tease out exactly what is making an impact. If anyone is using metrics to measure PD that are working, I'd love to hear about it in the comments section.

  10. The feeling that the time invested is outweighed by the benefits gained
    We've all walked out of training sessions that were a complete waste of our lives. So for PD to be effective, the teacher has to feel like the time they just put in will result in positive changes in their classroom. It's incumbent on us as facilitators to make sure that connection is clear, so that when teachers leave our initial face-to-face, they have plans for immediate implementation with their students.

That's what the literature says. What would you add to the list?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Techie Holidays Lunch-and-Learn

One of the issues I'm finding when it comes to training teachers in technology is the priority of other content areas. Having taught a state-tested subject and grade level, I get it: there's an immense amount of pressure to keep the data where it should be and develop teachers in their core area. However, this crowds out the time that's necessary to develop teachers in how they use technology.

One of the solutions I'm exploring is voluntary Lunch-and-Learns. Inspired by this "Innovation in Action" column by Rick Czyz, I'm calling this first run "Techie Holidays," and I'm pleased with it so far. I start by posting invitations on the door of every classroom in the building the day before, followed by an email invite. The day of the Lunch-and-Learn, I set up in the campus conference room (with snacks and gift card giveaways) and teachers come to learn a few new tech tools in about 10 minutes.

The turnout has been strong, with 70%-80% of teachers attending on each campus. I plan to do two more of these this year, as it seems to be a workable solution to getting teachers trained in the midst of all their other campus and classroom requirements.

This form of PD isn't about in-depth conversations over edtech philosophies or the finer points of SAMR, it's about relationship-building and some "quick-win" tech tools. And I've learned quite a bit about what teachers need just by sitting and talking with them over some cookies and cider.

If you're interested in using the "Techie Holidays" resources, the link to my Drive folder with handouts, etc. is below.

"Techie Holidays" Resource Folder

Techie Holidays Training Website

Sunday, November 22, 2015

12 Reflections on #EdTech Leadership

I moved from classroom teacher to district-level campus support in May of 2015, and in July, my current partner came on board. In our positions as Blended Learning Specialists (brand new positions in our district), we've been responsible for the logistics of our 1:1 pilot, conducting trainings, writing grants, planning and modeling lessons, co-teaching, coordinating big events, and all the other random time-sapping things that come with being a district specialist.

I've been forced to reflect on, rethink, and relearn things that I've been doing for the last 11 years that either no longer work in their current form or now don't work at all. Taking time to put on paper what I've learned about leadership, mistakes, and myself is important, so here, in no particular order, are my 12 reflections on learning to lead in edtech.

  1. My network is just as important as my knowledge.
    I am an introvert by nature. When I go to conferences, I sit by myself, take notes, then run out the door right as the session finishes. When I come back from a workshop, I start sentences by saying "Guess what I learned at..." By contrast, my partner actively seeks out new people to meet and talk to (shudder) and leverages what they know to enhance what she's doing. When she comes back from a workshop, she starts sentences with "Guess who I met at...?"

    I'm starting to see the value of blending the two approaches. In fact, I even intentionally talked to random strangers (gasp!) at iNACOL this year. I'm realizing that if I don't have a robust network, I'm going to end up doing a lot of work that someone, somewhere has already done. And networking isn't just about personal benefit either. It's about knowing the strengths and knowledge other people have so I can help them reach their goals too.

    So I'm working on my networking, and I'm starting by looking for things I have that I can offer to others and help them solve their problems. I doubt I'll ever be as good at it as my partner is, but I can learn a lot from seeing how she does it and adapting it to my personality. 

  2. Effective leadership includes effective partnerships.
    When I was in the classroom, it wasn't really essential to learn to work with others. Yes, I was a part of a team, but when I went back into my classroom and closed the door, I could teach the way I wanted to. In leadership, that way of thinking no longer works.

    When there are two of you in the same role, leadership includes shared decision making. I learned this the hard way when I replied to an email on behalf of myself and my partner and spoke for both of us. Oops. She was very polite about it, but the message was clear that I needed to consult with her first before I committed both of us to anything. And she was right. I was still operating in the unilateral mindset I had when it was just me in my classroom.

    I'm seeing now that when we function as partners, amazing things happen. From the Google Expeditions visit to the Blended Learning grant we just submitted, her perspective and insights have been invaluable. When she pushes my ideas or probes my thinking, it helps me to find errors before they're too big to fix. I appreciate that she's willing to do that, and she's taught me a lot about respecting the opinions and experience of others. A good partner goes a long way toward doing great things.

  3. I have to shift from tactical to strategic thinking.
    I was a short design-loop, fast failing, rapid prototyper when it came to ideas in my classroom. I'd roll out something new first period, and by third period, it wouldn't even be recognizable. And if it didn't work like I thought it would, I just learned from it, tossed it out, and moved on to something else.

    That type of tactical thinking served me well then. But now, I have to think far more strategically than I ever have before. The work I'm doing as a leader affects too many people for me to fling out half an idea and ask people to act on it. I need to step back and think long-term about time, resources and the place of my plan in the entire system before I even consider rolling it out.

    Ultimately, I need to leverage both kinds of thinking: strategic and systems-oriented with tactical and operational. In order to counteract my natural propensity for rapid-fire decision making, I've started forcing myself to take a step back and examine an idea from the desired outcome backwards before I start to think about how to do it. Novel idea, right? Which brings me to my next point...

  4. Objectives and metrics come first, then planning and implementation.
    This sounds a lot like number three, but it's worth mentioning separately. When we were first planning for our 1:1 pilot, we had a pretty short time frame, so our goal was just to get devices in classrooms. Once that happened, then we worked on nailing down what exactly we wanted students and teachers to accomplish and how we were going to measure it. And although it's worked out alright, clearly this is backwards from the way we should have been thinking.

    For every project or plan, now I realize I need to know two things before I get started: the instructional objectives and the metrics we're going to use to assess them. It seems obvious, but it goes back to thinking strategically: my natural bent is to jump straight to thinking about what we're going to do and how we're going to do it, when I really need to think first about why we're doing it at all.

    Going through the Raising Blended Learners grant process really helped me with that. They had us start with an academic SMART goal first, and technology is kept out of the process until the very end. Now I'm trying to approach everything else the same way. For example, as we work on revamping edtech professional learning in our district, we're developing a profile of specific skills graduates should have when they leave us first. From there, we can identify what a student should able to do at each grade level to get there, then plan for what skills teachers need to make that happen. Objectives first, then planning.  

  5. Technology simply enhances what a teacher already is.
    Anyone who thinks that putting technology in a classroom will magically improve teacher quality is an idiot. Technology magnifies whatever traits a teacher already has. If they're lecture-driven, they will turn a student's device into a way to get their lecture onto 30 screens instead of just one big one at the front of the room. If the teacher is looking for ways to give responsibility to their students, technology simply becomes the conduit to a world of knowledge so that the teacher can start facilitating instead of monopolizing attention for themselves.

    This is something I knew in theory, but now as a coach and trainer, I realize how true it really is. There has to be a mindset shift before technology is added to the mix. I've been very impressed by the teachers I've worked with who were traditional lecturers, but this year have taken great strides to teach their students to think for themselves. It's tough to change what you've always done, but they've shown great willingness to do things in a new way for the sake of their students.

  6. Teacher choice is essential to teacher buy-in.
    No one wants things done to them, and that includes plans initiated from above. If people feel powerless, they aren't going to fully commit themselves to an idea they have no control over. That's why we've tried to give teachers choices in the tools they use and how they use them in their classroom.

    Teachers are professionals, and they need to be treated as such. As coaches, we've tried to partner with our teachers and offer them choices, and it's had very positive results. The teachers who fully buy-in have created some amazing things we never would have thought of. And they've done so by combining their knowledge with what we've taught them about ways to integrate technology. If we had just prescribed exactly how to use the tech, those ideas never would have happened. They might have been compliant, but they never would have been creative.

  7. Professional learning is not a one-time event.
    This is one idea that was clear to me from the beginning. Getting teachers to where they're comfortable letting their students use technology is a big step. By being in classrooms, modeling instruction, being on call 24-7, and essentially living the highs and lows right along with teachers, they feel safe to try out new things. If we had simply done a workshop at the beginning of the year and stopped, we wouldn't have the same level of teacher initiative in the pilot that we have now.

    If professional learning is going to be ongoing, it requires understanding what individual teachers need. The process of triaging teachers into groups based on ability has helped me think about what level of support they need. Some teachers need intensive, in-class support and guidance. Other teachers just need some time to discuss lessons and activities and they're comfortable implementing on their own. Then there are a few teachers who just need me to point them toward digital resources then they really don't need me after that. Grouping teachers this way has helped me spend my limited time effectively, but I think I can be even more intentional about the process as I move into the next half of the year.

  8. Assume positive intent.
    In leadership, you have to deal with a lot of different people. I heard someone say this phrase earlier in the year and it stuck with me. If something can be interpreted for good or for ill, I should assume positive intent. It saves a lot of needless personal offense and keeps me from damaging relationships when they may have simply sent a poorly worded email or text.

  9. If it feeds my ego, it probably won't scale.
    I can enlarge my ego and make myself feel irreplaceable by forcing people to come to me for everything they need, whether it's new ideas or reset passwords. But I'm realizing that structure is unsustainable and unscalable. The more I can send teachers to others who can provide what they need, the more I make it possible for creative classroom technology use to grow without me at the center. Ultimately, that's the goal.

    I'm still working on figuring out how to make this happen, but I'd love to see a decentralized network of teachers pushing creative technology use in our district. This type of network would let them create and share resources and ideas, as well as push each other to try new things with their students. It may not make me feel special, but that's not the point. The point is teacher-driven, scalable, sustainable growth no matter who comes and goes at the district level.

  10. Manage By Wandering Around (MBWA)
    I learn more in 10 minutes of walking through classrooms than I do sending out 10 emails asking what teachers need. When something goes wrong or teachers need something, they typically just have to think on their feet and work around it to keep the lesson going. By the end of the day, they've either forgotten about what happened or have too much to do to let me know what's going on.

    But when I'm in classrooms on a regular basis, a thirty-second side conversation helps me know that someone's audio isn't working, the camera on a Chromebook has gone out, or that a bilingual teacher would like Google Translate on her students' devices. Being available and around is the best way to get the pulse of a project from the trenches.

  11. It's too easy to forget what it's like to be a teacher.
    I'm concerned that I'll forget how difficult it is to be a teacher. I try to get around that by MBWA, but it's not the same. Modeling lessons in classrooms helps some, but they're not my students with my routines and the stress that comes with managing a hodgepodge of distinct personalities day in and day out.

    I think about it every day, and I'm not sure what the solution is. But I know that if I forget what it's like to teach, I'll start weighing teachers down with irrelevancies instead of supporting them as they are doing the real work. And if that happens, I've failed the people I'm supposed to be serving.

  12. Edtech leadership is less about apps and tools than it is about philosophy, psychology, motivation, and support.
    I spent all summer learning about digital tools, made sure I became a GAFE expert, and bookmarked my way to a toolbox full of Web 2.0 goodness. And those things are important. But now I see the need to have (1) a detailed philosophy of how technology should be used in the classroom, (2) an understanding of what's developmentally appropriate for students of certain ages, (3) knowledge of how to motivate professionals to change longstanding practices, and (4) awareness of the research on supporting teacher growth.

    All these things underpin a more robust way of thinking about the roles of teachers and students in our classrooms. They also support the hard work of planning for how to get them to where that vision is realized. So while tools are essential, deep thinking is fundamental because it dictates the framework for how the tools will be used.

After seven months, this is where I am, and I feel like I'm just starting to know what questions I need to be asking. The current lesson I'm learning is to enjoy the journey and the people I meet as I'm on it. In the classroom, I focused on my work at the expense of relationships with my co-workers and colleagues. That was a mistake, and I regret it.

I'm trying to remember to take the time to get to know the people around me and find out what makes them tick. If I can understand that, I can learn something from them. If I can learn from them, then I'll have another list like this in June (another seven months), full of the lessons they've taught me about continuing to learn to lead.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

15 Takeaways from #iNACOL15

Sometimes you just have to take one for the team and go to a conference in Disney World. And although my love for Disney and Imagineering knows no bounds, I'll save that for another post. This one is focused on iNACOL.

The 2015 iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium is (and I quote) "the industry’s leading event for K-12 online, blended and competency-based learning. Experts, practitioners, educators, policymakers, and researchers gather and work to transform education." (Edtech Buzzword Bingo, anyone?)

Standard conference hyperbole aside, there were over 3,000 folks in Disney's Dolphin conference center, all of whom were interested in, concerned over, monitoring closely, proselytizing the unitiated about, or just trying to get a handle on the realm of blended and online learning.

Here are my 3 big takeaways from the conference, and there are 12 more useful resources you may enjoy listed at the bottom of this post. (Thus, 15.)

  1. The HACK Model of Innovative Instruction
    HACK is a systematic way for teachers to release control to students when using technology in the classroom. It comes from Northwest Nazarene University's Doceo Center and gives a framework for moving from highly structured teacher control to knowledge (and learner) centered use.

    During the session, our presenter used a great, simple visual that I've included below. But if you go to the HACK website, all of the images there include apps and programs for every step. I'm not a big fan of that approach because it implies that using a particular tool magically transports your students to a certain level of thought. This is a falsehood that should not be propagated. (update: see the clarifying comment below from the Doceo Institute)

    The way they should always present HACK

    But the visual above is what drew me to HACK, where the framework is clear and not crowded out by forcing apps into categories. First, the teacher begins with Highly Structured activities in which students get use to using one system in a guided way. Then the next move is to Allowed Choices, where instead of being guided explicitly in one tool, choices are opened up to solve more complex problems with choices of digital tools.

    Consistent Application is the next level, where strategic reasoning and planning by the student is involved, and the technology is a transparent part of the environment. Finally, Knowledge Centered activities involve the teacher creating explorations where students are fully in control of their learning. (For a "From the Field" example of HACK, check out this ASCD article).

    Since this was a blended learning conference, HACK also seems like a solid path for teachers to move from simply being "technology-rich" to enabling students to learn at their own pace. It's aligned with Bloom's Taxonomy and Webb's Depth of Knowledge, and is a good conversation starter (along with SAMR and TPACK) to discuss with teachers increasing the rigor of their lessons and making the shift from lecture to facilitation. I'll definitely be exploring how to include it in our professional learning in the future.

  2. Sustaining a Culture of Innovation
    If you've never heard Bryan Setser, founder of 2Revolutions, add it to your bucket list. This man has done basically everything there is to do in education, and now runs an "education design lab" focused on innovative solutions for educational institutions.

    Along with The Learning Accelerator, 2Revolutions is responsible for So You Think You Want To Innovate?, an incredible tool for assessing your organization and determining if you're ready to take the leap into deeper waters of innovation. It helps you put everything on the table and start some very honest discussions about how you'll work to remove barriers to innovation in your district.

    Bryan's presentation riffed on the themes in the guide, but like any good jazz musician, he played well to the room, responding to questions with examples from the field and providing an understanding of organizational change that only comes from being in the trenches. He reminded me again that to have creative, sustainable change, a focus on innovation must be a priority of the system.

  3. Eminence - School on FIRE
    When I heard someone say Eminence wants to be the "Disney World of Schools," I rolled my eyes. But when Superintendent Buddy Berry got up on the big stage and started sharing his (intense) passion for how every lesson should include "surprise and delight," I actually found myself leaning in to make sure I didn't miss anything.

    Eminence completely redesigned their district a few years back, focusing on personalized and authentic instruction, the central role of technology, and a focus on college-and-career readiness starting in Kindergarten. The district leverages everything in their power to get their students engaged and ready for college, from their "Exemplars of Eminence Excellence" to free college courses for students in high school two days a week. (And if you've seen the WiFi buses, that's them too...).

    Berry also highlighted the importance of "Best Practice + Next Practice." In other words, you don't leave behind best practice in instruction just because you're including new practices. It's a concept I've been trying to put into words this school year and he helped me to do it.

    Like with Bryan, it's impossible to summarize all the great things that came from Berry's speech, but the most important takeaway is that solving the problems of our children is going to take an innovative approach, not business as usual.
Those were my three big ideas, but there was plenty of other good stuff that I'll list here for you to peruse at your leisure. Enjoy.
  1. The Blended Learning Research Clearinghouse
  2. Data from the Speak Up survey
  3. Baltimore County Public Schools Blueprint 2.0
  4. Continued Progress: Promising Evidence on Personalized Learning (RAND/Gates Foundation)
  5. Wendy Oliver's Blended Practice Framework
  6. BetterLesson BlendedMTP (videos)
  7. Afton Partners (school financing for blended learning initiatives)
  8. CCSD Open Book (Clark County School District's transparency website - brilliant idea)
  9. "WE Day" (founder Craig Kielburger keynoted on Monday)
  10. "WE Day" - WE Schools Framework (service learning)
  11. Relay/GSE Learn (free blended learning professional learning modules)
  12. iNACOL Blended Learning Competencies framework

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Our Day with the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program

After successfully stalking the Expeditions Pioneer program for the last 6 months, my partner and I were able to get signed up in time to be one of a limited number of stops on their internationl tour. This last Friday, the Expeditions SUV (driven by my new friend John) rolled up to our 6th grade campus and rolled out 3 travel cases with 90 Google Cardboards and the same number of ASUS phones to slip inside.

Google recommends having three dedicated classrooms to keep the Expeditions in all day, so we decided to run them through our three Social Studies classes, which meant every one of our 503 sixth graders would get a chance to take an Expedition. They're wrapping up a unit on South America, so what better way to take a virtual field trip than to take them to the 2014 World Cup?

We planned our Social Studies lesson with a focus on how customs, traditions and events (like the World Cup) can unite diverse cultures in a multicultural society. We started with a quick video on the World Cup, then led into a discussion about how sports can bring people together. There was some great sharing going on as kids made the connection that even though sports are competitive, the World Cup brings together people who would typically not be together to celebrate.

After that conversation, it was time to take our Expedition. We passed out the Cardboards and gave a quick set of directions. Then the kids put them on.

Bam. Totally hooked.

Our day with Google Expeditions

I have never seen students so engaged in my 12 years in education. Once they realized that they were actually in Brazil, they were tapping each other on the shoulder and pointing, sharing goggles with other students to try and show them what they were seeing, and (loudly) narrating what they saw as they toured stadiums and streets during the World Cup.

With Expeditions, the teacher uses a tablet that's linked to all 30 goggles to control what students are looking at. They takes students through various scenes, and within those scenes, students can explore by looking around, up and down through the panorama. Another nice characteristic of the teacher side is the information that you can pull up on the right-hand side and let students knows exactly what they're looking at (just in case you're not intimately familiar with the names of the native Brazilian artists who created works for Estádio do Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro).

When it was time to come back together and put up the goggles, there was a palpable sense of disappointment. They wanted to go to other places, see other cities, and talk about what they saw. Students who had glazed over in days previous were vigorously tapping the person next to them to talk about how cool the experience was. It was awesome.

Of course, anything that's a prototype is going to have its hiccups: the World Cup Expedition wasn't on two of the routers, a few of the phones kept dropping their connection, and Google's Cardboard has a slight design flaw where the phone you put in will just slide right out the side when you pick it up.

But our awesome Social Studies team rolled with it. They took students on another Brazil Expedition that worked equally as well with our lesson (if not better). We got the phones reconnected. And starting second period, we just showed the kids how to hold their Goggles so as not to lose the phone (in fact, the only person who had a phone hit the floor was a teacher who had stopped in to try it out).

It was an amazing, chaotic day, and totally worth it. It's experiences like this that students never forget. A huge thank you to Google for giving our students (many of whom have never been outside of South Dallas) the chance to travel 5,220 miles away and have their eyes opened to an entirely different world than what they've ever seen before.

Friday, October 30, 2015

5 Creative Tools to Use with Google Classroom: Storybird (5 of 5)

Storybird picked this up as part of their Google Classroom case study. Check out their post. 

As the final installation in the 5 Creative Tools series, Storybird truly gets imaginations going. Essentially, it's a way for students to create their own book and publish it online. Storybird lets student choose the set of artwork they like, then write their story based on the images.

My kindergartener published her first book in about 30 minutes, so I know from experience this is an incredible tool for even the youngest budding author.

Check out how it works with Google Classroom in the screencast below.

Check out the rest of this series:

Monday, October 26, 2015

5 Creative Tools to Use with Google Classroom: MoveNote (4 of 5)

We're continuing to look at tools for student creativity that work great with Google Classroom. MoveNote is a fantastic web app that lets students record themselves presenting anything they've created and stored in Drive. They create their product, pull it into MoveNote, hit record, then publish their presentation. Final step? Submit that link in Google Classroom so you can give them feedback on their work.

Think of MoveNote like a global show-and-tell. It's an amazing way to give your students an authentic audience where they can practice those critical communication skills.

Friday, October 23, 2015

5 Creative Tools to Use with Google Classroom: Vocaroo (3 of 5)

When I was a kid, my cousins and I spent an entire summer entranced by the tape recorder my dad gave us to play with. It amazed us to hear the sound of our own voice coming out of that little box, so we wrote scripts, acted out books, and basically made stuff up just to see what it sounded like.

I can only imagine what we would have been like with Vocaroo.

Vocaroo is the simplest way I know of to record online audio. Your students can use this for simple podcasts, reading fluency, dramatizations, or anything else their creative hearts desire, then submit the link to their recording through Classroom. Check out both the teacher and student side in the screencast below.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

5 Creative Tools to Use with Google Classroom: Storyboard That (2 of 5)

In the first post in this series, we looked at the simple and straightforward Coggle, a fantastic mind-mapping tool that lets students create connections between ideas.

Now we'll turn our attention to Storyboard That. There are countless blogs out there extolling the virtues and possibilities of this tool (like here, here, here, and here), so this screencast focuses on the specifics of getting in, signing up, the basics of storyboard creation, and how to submit published work using Classroom.

Check out the rest of this series:

Saturday, October 17, 2015

5 Creative Tools to Use with Google Classroom: Coggle (1 of 5)

We recently conducted a professional development session for the teachers in our 1:1 pilot, and the focus was "From Consumers to Creators." The goal was to give teachers tools they could use for students to create products, not just consume content.

Honestly, not every teacher is at this point in their comfort level with technology, but we're trying to create a vision of what technology use can be in the classroom. Teachers were able to choose their own path during the session: they could go back and review the tools we explored during our August Institute, or they could go on and investigate these new tools for their teaching toolbox.

For each tool, we wanted to be explicit about how students would create an account, create their product, then submit their work in Classroom. In most of the videos, teachers saw both their own teacher view as well as the student view. De-mystifying the process from both sides goes a long way toward helping teachers take the leap to student creation.

Coggle is up first. Possibly the most straightforward mind-mapping tool ever, it integrates with Google Drive and allow students to make all kinds of connections about what they're learning. Whether it's vocabulary, concepts, or events, Coggle lets you make thinking visual.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

ReadReflect: Blended by Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker

As part of a team vying for a part of the $2.5 million dollar Raising Blended Learners grant initiative, I recently spent two very intense days in a San Antonio ballroom fleshing out what blended learning could look like in our district.

These grant workshops (this was one of four) were coordinated by Raise Your Hand Texas with the goal of taking a focused, immersive approach to planning our district strategy. We huddled, whole-grouped, blended, small-grouped, discussed, imagined, broke-out and strategized about the needs our students have that could be better served by blending our approach to instructional design.

And while the workshop organizers worked hard to address everything we need to know about blended learning, it was challenging to find time for reflection. This made it doubly hard for me, because I know this about myself: I need a quiet, uninterrupted space to make sense of information, and I couldn't find one anywhere.

With that in mind, the best part of the workshop actually happened over the last three days (a week after getting back from the Alamo City) when I sat down with Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker's book Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools. Staker led our workshop, and the material she presented has its origins in the book. But it took having time to just sit down and read with my precious yellow highlighter in hand for me to think deeply about what we want to do with blended learning, as well as what problems it could solve for our students.

Here are my abridged reflections on the book. I highly recommend it for anyone planning blended learning at any level, you'll definitely find something in the book that's useful to you.

  1. Blended learning is not, by itself, "disruptive innovation." It depends on the model of blended learning you use as to whether or not you are sustaining an innovation or truly disrupting the incumbent educational system. (Good article from Horn and Staker on that here)

  2. "Time-in-seat" is really a ridiculous way to measure student mastery, but that's what most of us are doing. On the other hand, though, how do we start to integrate a competency-based model in our psychotically test-driven educational universe? This is a problem I don't think we have an answer for (yet), but that doesn't mean we should shy away from trying to solve it.

  3. Disruptive models are best suited to address areas of non-consumption: in other words, areas where "schools cannot provide a learning experience" and "they have no easy option other than to do without it" (p. 105). This could be credit recovery, advanced courses, or dropout prevention. Sustaining models are best suited for core problems, where the traditional classroom services students, but that service could be improved by being personalized.

  4. The discussion about types of teams in chapter 4 was completely eye-opening to me. We all know from experience that institutions need different types of teams to affect different levels of change. What I didn't know was the continuum: functional, lightweight, heavyweight and autonomous.

  5. The "jobs-to-be-done" theory and how it relates to students' view of school. Since students essentially have two "jobs" they want to accomplish, when we redesign the learning environment we should start with those jobs in mind. If students want to (1) feel successful and (2) have fun with friends, we should be leveraging this natural motivation to make school a place they want to come every day. Does our current educational system address these jobs well? I think you know the answer to that.

  6. From my own experience teaching in a blended setting, it's clear that the role of the teacher changes dramatically. Going to from lecturer to facilitator is no easy task, but once you start to understand how well you can get to know students and start talking with them instead of at them, you start to understand the power of blending. In chapter 6, the authors offer a vision of what the teacher's role can become in a blended setting, and I think it has great potential for creating mentors and guides for the students we serve in my district.

  7. An online content strategy is, of course, a massive decision to make about blended implementation. The spectrum ranges from building your own content to using a facilitated network where user-generated content can be developed, shared and curated in "modular bites." I lean towards the latter, but I'm still looking to find the ideal platform to do this. How can we guarantee high-quality content in an open-source, open-API type platform? Who is the gatekeeper? I like the theoretical appeal of a meritocratic, crowd-sourced, "may-the-best-content-win" platform, but is it actually possible in real-life? Not sure yet, but for blended to work, the content has to be excellent and rigorous, not mediocre.

  8. Finally, the discussion of culture in chapter 8 makes me realize how intentional schools and districts must be about communicating the priorities of the organization as well as the processes used to execute them. I don't think institutions give as much attention to this as they should, and if we are working to transform the very essence of what the role of school is, we would do well to consider our culture carefully.
With these thoughts in mind, now we get down to the nitty-gritty of writing this grant. I'm excited for the opportunity and for the potential it has to positively impact our students for years to come. The deadline is November 20th, and we'll know if we're on to the round of 10 in early 2016. Here we go...

Monday, October 12, 2015

Geek in the House: Two Minute Tech - PDFSplit & PDFMerge

No matter how interactive and tech-rich our classrooms get, it doesn't look like the formidable PDF is going anywhere soon. Whether it's lesson plans, online curriculum, OERs or other resources, being able to merge and split PDFs is becoming an every day necessity. These Two Minute Tech videos focus on  two free-and-easy ways to do just that.


With PDFMerge, upload the individual PDFs that you'd like to combine and PDFMerge will smash them together into one, easy to manage file.


When you have a massive document but you only need a few pages, use PDFSplit. With a couple of easily customizable options, you can extract each page into it's own file, or pull out only the page ranges that you need.

The PDF is going to be around for a while, so when you have to work with them, it helps to have the right tools for the job.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Geek in the House: Two Minute Tech - Watchkin

This year I've been working one-on-one lesson planning, support and reflection with teachers in our 1:1 pilot. Our goal is to increase their capacity and get students creating and publishing using the devices.

However, I also have a secondary goal of  getting all teachers in our district more aware of what they can do with technology. We know that if the teacher isn't comfortable using tech, the research says it's highly unlikely to end up in the hands of students (which is, of course, our ultimate goal).

So I'm creating "Two Minute Tech" videos that teachers can view at their leisure. These screencasts focus on quick and easy "wins" for folks who could use some simple tools for their digital toolbox. 

This week, we'll take a look at Watchkin, the quick and easy way to clean up YouTube so you can use video safely with your students.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Teachers: We Are Not Center of the Universe

As I work on wrapping up my master's degree, I have a class this semester that lasts for three hours, on a weeknight, and it gets out at 10:00 p.m. This is unfortunate.

On the bright side, this course gives me plenty of time to think and reflect (and write this post), because I'm able to sit in the back and only tune in when my professor moves to the next slide in his PowerPoint. Being allowed to sit through this extraordinary learning opportunity (#snark), I find myself thinking back on my time in the classroom. And I'm not all that pleased with what I see.

When I taught, too many days I just stood and delivered (in a non-Jaime Escalante kind of way), thinking that my students were engaged with what I was saying simply because I was saying it. I had an over inflated sense of how important I was in my own classroom.

I thought I was the center of the universe.

In retrospect, I'm lucky my students learned anything at all. They were compliant, fighting through the haze like the one I'm in right now. It's the fogginess that sets in when you know the authority in control of your situation is in love with the sound of their own voice. And once you figure out that the person who's talking isn't stopping, there's not much of a reason to stay mentally present.

Moving backwards on my own personal timeline is impossible, so I can't do anything about the past. But I can take a look at the people I coach now and consider the way I work with them.

Basically, I need to shut up more.

I am the center of my own universe, not anyone else's. Learning, regardless of your age, is only as important to you as it has relevance to your life. And since I can't possibly know what's relevant to every person I'm training, the only way I can find that out is to be quiet and listen, then try to connect.

People have to engage with ideas and figure out what it means in their situation. That's because most of us are only interested in knowledge as it relates to us and our world. The research tells us that adults approach professional development with a problem-solving mentality: if you can't show them how it meets a need, they won't engage with it, and they haven't learned. They've sat.

They've done what I'm doing right now in this class.

So I'm training a group of administrators in the morning, and I hope I can remember this eyes-glazing-over, motivation-sapping feeling I have right now if I start to talk too much. I think it'll keep me in check.

Because if I really want people to learn, I have to teach with the understanding that everyone thinks that the planets orbit around them. The question is simply this: am I willing to give up being the center of my universe to try and understand theirs for a bit? If so, this teaching thing just might work out for me.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

26 Keyboard Shortcuts Every Teacher Should Know

No one in education has enough time do everything they need to do. This includes chasing a mouse hundreds of times a day.

Teachers have to be efficient, and it's not efficient to highlight your text, click on the font size box, change the size from the dropdown menu, then have to keep adjusting it until it's the size you want. There's an easier way...

So in the interest of saving time and sanity, here are the 26 keyboard shortcuts I use pretty much every day, including the one to simplify that time-sucking process I just mentioned. They are entirely self-selected and grounded in the tools I use to run my digital life.

Pick a few that impact the tasks you do every day, and you may just start to find yourself with a few extra minutes left at the end of your conference period. And for a teacher, a few minutes is enough time to eat a sandwich, make 50 sets of collated copies, and take a restroom break. Now, doesn't that sound nice? You're welcome.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

6 Lessons Learned Rolling Out Chromebooks

This last week has been the focus of my last 5 months: finally, students are going to start using Chromebooks in the classroom. As part of our 1:1 pilot, the fully stocked carts are in fourteen classrooms across our districts' seven elementary schools, and will be used by about 900 students this year.

I spent Labor Day thinking about the next day, but Tuesday didn't start out looking pretty: I woke up to an early morning, district-wide email saying that we had experienced a massive outage in our main server room and certain services were still down, including the wireless. Turns out the A/C had gone out in our network operations hub and we had managed to reach about 140 degrees. Thankfully, the heat of Hades didn't take everything down, but the WiFi was victimized by the inferno.

Sure. Why not?

After giving myself texting thumb, we determined that the wireless was kind of up, but since they were continuing to work on it, there were no guarantees about it's stability for that day. With that in mind, we let our pilot teachers know that they should push back a day, so Wednesday ended up being our launch day.

So from Wednesday to Friday, here are the six lessons I learned about rolling out a whole bunch of Chromebooks with a whole bunch of kids.

  1. Verify your GAFE accounts.
    We're working on setting up the sync between Active Directory and Google Apps. Until that's up and running, we just did a mass creation of student accounts using CSV files pulled from our student information system. Google has a limit on creating 500 users at a time, but the company we've been working with has a script they use to do mass uploads with no user limit.

    There was only one problem: somehow in the upload process, 610 students were left out (to be specific, row 2594 to row 3204 in our spreadsheet).

    The only way we found it was because one of our teachers decided to brave the WiFi chaos and try rolling out on Tuesday anyway. It was her campus that had been missed, so none of her students had accounts.

    To the credit of our vendor, when I called them they fixed it quickly. Then they re-verified all the created accounts against what we had originally given them to make sure every student could log in the next day.

    All's well that ends well, but the moral of the story? Download a report from GAFE and verify your accounts before day one.

  2. Have a support person at every campus.
    We planned a staggered rollout with different campuses logging in on different days throughout the week. Even though our initial schedule was messed up by melted servers, we were still able to work it to where we had someone on hand to help every teacher who was logging in for the first time.

    In some classrooms we modeled the process and then turned it over to the teachers. In other places, we were just support as the teacher led their class through the process. Whatever they felt comfortable doing, that's what we did with them.

    Doing it this way made sure that no teacher was derailed by technical issues, and they knew they had someone to ask help if something went wrong. It always nice to know there's someone there with you when you're trying something new.

  3. Determine your password naming convention before you start.
    Our initial student log-ins are set to force a password change. That means this next part should be just common sense: figure out what students are going to change their passwords to the first time they sign-in. Nope. Not to this guy.

    Apparently I wasn't picturing actual 4th and 5th graders in my mind, because I thought we could just have the kids choose their own password. Ha! I laugh in the face of my naivete. Let's just say it was a mess.

    I'm not going to share our password convention here (for obvious reasons), but we established one that included all the requisite symbols, capitals, and numbers, but was still unique to each student that only they would know.

    It was much smoother once we got that established, but it could have been avoided if I'd been more realistic about the kind of structure we needed for our students.

  4. Be prepared for the Captcha.
    I had done countless test log-ins with student accounts so I knew what to prepare my teachers for. But we learned that the first time you try to sign-in en masse, Google thinks that your system is being attacked by bots. To counteract this, every student starts to get the most impossible-to-decipher Captcha I have ever seen and must enter it correctly. This never happened in the tests!

    I understand the need for security, but at the same time, there has to be a balance. Google, if I call and tell you that there's going to be a sudden surge in traffic on my domain (which I did), can you not find a way to turn this off? It brought the entire log-in process to a grinding halt as students (and teachers) squinted at wavy letters, took their best guesses, and then were told they were wrong and had to try again.

    What does this mean for you? If you're logging in a bunch of students, the Captcha is going to happen. At the secondary level it's probably not that big of a deal, but with elementary schoolers, you may want to have a paraprofessional or aide on hand to help students decrypt the incomprehensible proof-of-humanity letters.

  5. Learn from your elementary school teachers.
    One of the incredible strengths of our elementary teachers is their ability to manage small groups. They create them, pull them, design differentiated stations, and monitor multiple activities at a time. This should have played into our rollout plan from the beginning.

    We tried logging in the first few classes as a whole group. While that worked, it wasn't the most efficient. If one or two kids get stuck, pretty much everybody's stuck.

    I'm incredibly thankful for our resourceful teachers who scrapped that idea and started pulling groups of 4-5 back to their teacher table. There, they could work with a manageable cohort, make sure they could log-in, then rotated to the next group of students.

    This is the way we should have planned to do it from the beginning and definitely what I'd recommend for anyone doing the same thing, regardless of grade level. Whole group: no. Small group: yes.

  6. It's okay to tear up when the kids get excited.
    I am not an emotional guy. I also know that using technology in class shouldn't be an event. And we're working towards that. But at first, it is an event. And that's okay.

    So to see students get crazy excited about the device, the touch screen, their own username, their own profile realize that this is the only way many of them will get to use technology as something other than a consumer or a gamer. Many of them don't have a computer at home, so this is their only window to a world outside what they see day in and day out.

    And we also know from the research that there is a serious slide that starts in the demographic we serve around 4th grade. Many of our students, especially boys, start to disengage with school around that time. But I saw lights come on in eyes this week, and I think some of them started to consider that school just might be relevant to them again. I hope so, anyway.

    So, yes, my eyes glistened (a couple of times, actually) as I watched kids get excited about the new tool they're getting to use in school this year that's going to help them learn the way they live.

This is only the beginning, and there's a long way to go. Now we start teaching with the devices and not just being impressed by them. I want to see these Chromebooks in the same category as paper-and-pencil: tools we use seamlessly and can't imagine life without. Students should be making, creating, researching, practicing, and learning at the level that is perfectly appropriate to them, because that's what 1:1 allows us to do.

But for now, I will bask in the fact that they can log in, the wireless works, and week one is in the books.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Small Bytes: The NEW Google Forms

The Google folks have been very active lately, including a complete (and much needed) redesign of Forms, the classroom data-collection workhorse.

In case you're wondering where everything has gone in the new Forms, now you can try it out in Small Bytes.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Small Bytes: Google Classroom

Google Classroom is Google Drive management dressed in beautiful simplicity. Clean and straightforward, it's exceptionally intuitive in its workflow, and is the perfect hub for any digitally oriented classroom.

If you'd like to read more about the new features in Classroom, Alice Keeler has an excellent summary of them, as well as some more detailed opinions on always unchecking a certain box in Classroom (you'll have to read here to find out which one...).

If you want to see the features in action, please enjoy the latest edition of Small Bytes.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

I Serve Children Differently Now

For the past 11 years, my first day of school has been full of nervous anticipation, the kind that comes with any event that has a mix of the known and unknown. My room would be prepped, lessons planned, introductory activities ready, and I'd be standing at my door ready to greet a group of students shaking off the grogginess of their summer break.

But I serve children differently now.

To kick off year 12, I welcomed students outside one of our elementary schools (which I loved) while wearing a suit in 93% humidity (which I did not love), then headed to our technology building. I spent the next three days running the cables for chargers in 15 Spectrum Cloud32 Chromebook Carts.

I serve children differently now.

As a follow up, I worked with my partner to enroll almost 400 Chromebooks, then created a timeline of the next month to get all our 1:1 devices out on time. We had committee meetings about what paperwork is necessary to comply with the legalities of COPPA and FERPA, took a conference call with the folks at Amplified IT to make sure we'll have all our GAFE accounts and OUs created by September 8th, then stopped by a few classrooms to install drivers and software for our new Dell S520 interactive projectors.

I serve children differently now.

It's been strange not having my own students anymore, and there's a part of me that misses it. But I'm realizing that even though my name may not be on their schedule, I'm still making an imprint on their future.

If I can provide devices, coach teachers, model lessons, lead engaging PD, be a sounding board for my pilot program pioneers, offer creative ideas for integration, and quickly fix minor tech issues so there's no instructional downtime, then I'm providing a layer of support that will directly impact our students.

So I serve children differently now. And I'm becoming okay with that.

But I'm also okay with the fact that I'll be on campuses this week. Because honestly, that's where all the action really is...