Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tech Savvy in 4K (Guest Post)

Guest Blogger: Ryan Alderson (@aldersonr)

Even the youngest students at Cashton Elementary have learned first-hand the value of technology assisted learning. Over the course of a couple days, I visited just a few classrooms to see how teachers have continued to leverage digital tools to further engage students in learning. For this post, the focus is on our four year old kindergarten class with Mrs. Kramer, a veteran teacher who is eager to find innovative means to reach all students.

Three and four year old students in this classroom have access to a set of iPad2(s), a SMART table, a SMART board, and a couple of aging desktop computers daily as part of digital centers. Students explore a wide variety of apps and programs both collaboratively and independently based on their individual strengths and struggles. During this snapshot in time, students were working on alphabet sequence, listening to interactive digital stories, studying US geography, and using a modified ten-frame to improve number sense. Best of all, each of the activities was occurring at the same time. As I observed the students in action, I was impressed with the level of engagement and individualized instruction. Take a look, you will be too.

Ipad 2: US Geography

SMART Table: Number Sense

Desktop Computers:  Digital Storybooks

SMART board: Alphabet sequence

This is crossposted at Ryan's blog, here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Digital PLCs for Administrators

Many administrators in the state of Wisconsin are dealing with a simple reality: Technology has grown significantly faster than our skills in using it. In an age of hyperinterconnectedness and augmented reality, some of us have faltered in technology competence and need to polish our skills.
Traditional methods of development have helped, but we need more. We need a systematic way to improve our skills as a community of administrators both learning about digital-age learning tools and supporting one another as we learn. We need to amplify our skills, our ability to support one another, and our ability to support and lead initiatives of powerful learning with digital-age tools for students.
Most of us are acutely aware of the powerful effect that a PLC can have on an educational community. For administrators, setting up the conditions under which PLCs thrive is different from participating in, and making significant contributions to, a meaningful PLC.  Although we have many opportunities to interact with other  principals and district administrators, we don’t often actually get the chance to play a part, especially relating to as important a topic as technology integration.
How do we connect the dots? How do we learn about digitally-oriented learning tools, and support one another as we implement best practice, collaborate to solve problems, and work to continuously improve the state of education in Wisconsin? The answer: We must develop a digitally-oriented, association-endorsed Professional Learning Community for administrators to learn, share, grow, and lead. This PLC must afford administrators in Wisconsin the ability to attain technology skills in an accommodating, hands-on environment, the ability to share their progress and work through obstacles, and the ability to vet results for powerful student learning. We need to amplify our community into a digitally-oriented PLC.
The idea of a digitally-oriented, certification-based PLC is not unheard of. Pioneers like Scott McLeod (CASTLE) and Jeff Utecht (COETAIL) worked to develop systematic ways to improve technology skills ahead of almost everyone. The significant work that they have done to pave the way for leaders to support leaders is prized and iconic.
This blog entry is crossposted at Amplified Administrators

An #edtech fieldtrip (Guest Post)

Guest Blogger: David Bell (@dtbell22)

Over the past week, I took a little time to go on a technology integration field trip through our building.  My goal was to identify ways our staff leverages technology to guide, expand, and enhance learning objectives. Below are the results of my trip:

A pencast on Mrs. Lundeen's Website

For important lectures Mrs. Lundeen selects one student to create a pencast.  The student uses a Smart Pen to take notes.  The smart pen records Mrs. Lundeen's lecture as the student takes notes.  At the end of class Mrs. Lundeen posts the pencast on her website.  Students can access the pencasts if they were absent or to review for assessments.  Watch the entire pencast on Mrs. Lundeen's website:

Enhanced research tools in Mr. Bakke's 8th grade Social Studies 

Students are using Diigo, Weebly, Google Docs, free video/audio converters, the Library of Congress primary resources for teachers website, and other web 2.0 tools to conduct research for their 2012 National History Day Project.  The theme for 2012 is Revolution, Reaction, and Reform in History.

Blogging in Mrs. Wallace's High School English Class
Blog Activity

Students are creating blogs to track their reading projects throughout the semester.  In each post students summarize, reflect, and make prediction.  All students are required to review and post comments on other students blogs.  Mrs. Wallace uses a Doc to help student access each others blogs.

Online tests in Mr. Hundt's room.
Mr. Hundt's Website

Students in Mr. Hundt's classes take most of their tests online.  Students who need their test read to them go directly to his website.  Mr. Hundt uploads each test on youtube.  Students use an iPod or an iPad to listen to the test.  If they need a question re-read they can simply back up the youtube clip.

Gizmos in Mr. Kaus's 7th grade Math class

Students in Mr. Kaus's math class use Gizmos to deepen their understanding of the concepts of area, volume, and surface area.  Gizmos are online simulations that allow students to inquire and explore concepts at their own pace.  In the lesson I had the opportunity to observe, Mr. Kaus used one of our COW Labs  (Computer on Wheels).  Using the COW allowed each student to use these online manipulatives at their own pace.

Using Google Docs to coordinate extra-help passes for EBLOCK and to track tier II interventions.
EBLOCK is an opportunity for students to receive additional instructional support during the school day.   Twice a week we run an alternative schedule that allows for a 25-minute block of time for students who are struggling in a class to get extra help.  Class advisers access student grades via Skyward Family Access.  Student in need of support are assigned to specific teachers via a shared Google Doc.   Enrichment opportunities are provided for students demonstrating good grades and behavior in all classes.  Every three weeks teachers document the Tier II interventions they are providing students at-risk for failure in their classes.   The Intervention Log is a shared Google Doc monitored by RtI coaches who assure students in need are getting intervention support.

Students taking online exams via Skyward Mrs. Morrison's 7th grade Language Arts

Two fixtures that anchor Mrs.Morrison's grammar instruction are grammar challenges and grammar quizzes Quizzes are completed on the computer using Skyward’s Online Assignment Templates.  The grammar challenges, a formative assessment,  are posted on Monday; students have until Friday midnight to complete their challenge, and using their notes is encouraged.  Throughout the week,  Mrs. Morrison is able to observe the questions in which students are struggling and address their needs to increase understanding throughout the week.  Thursday is a day dedicated to review and take the on-line grammar quiz.  Similar to the challenge, feedback is immediate.  Students see their grades and are able to peruse the grammar quiz to observe the incorrect questions and what they should have marked. 

QR code review scavenger hunt in Mrs. Mosley's and Mrs. Wallace's Language Arts 9 class
The 9th grade Language Arts classes went on an Animal Farm Review Scavenger Hunt using QR codes.  The class was split into groups of 4, each with a different set of questions.  The groups started with a question, which was displayed on an iPad.  The students then had to hunt throughout the school for the correct answer.  Once the answer was found, students scanned the next question.  After 10 questions, all students found their way back to the classroom to do a final vocabulary exercise.

IPOD translation activity in Ms. Glaze's Spanish class

Students worked in pairs to translate information at different stations throughout the room.  iPod's are used to help students find meanings and words they do not know.

Student created yearbook in Ms. Curtis's Desktop Publishing class.

Sttudents in Desktop Publishing class are currently producing the school annual completely online.  Using Jostens Yearbook Avenue, students create a username and password that allows them to log in and work on their pages anywhere there is internet access.  Last year was the first year the annual was produced online.  Many upperclassmen have had the opportunity to produce the book both ways.  Overall, students prefer designing the yearbook online.  Senior Amber Dahl, said "Yearbook Avenue is more user friendly compared to the old way the yearbook was produced."  Senior Kelli Schmitz added, "Online you have all the necessary tools to complete the page in one spot." Mrs. Curtis reports using this technology has saved the yearbook club time and money.

This list is by no means comprehensive, I didn't include the musical composition projects in Mrs. Miller's class, the collaborative virtual zoo in Mr. Hanley's class, How-to videos in the in Mrs. Mosley's innovations lab, a blended learning environment through Quia in Mr. Heinberg's Agriculture classes, or interactive Smart board activities in Mrs. Huntzicker's room.  It is exciting to work with teachers and support staff who are continually reflecting, researching, and refining their practices in an effort to improve student achievement.  These opportunities would not be possible without the support from Cashton community.

This is crossposted at his blog here.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

More and Less

I love Jamie Vollmer's list. I think of it often, especially in times like these. I know he works to add items to the list as they arise. I have some suggestions: Common Core Standards, RTI, PBIS, SBAC, GOALS, STEM, Google Apps, Early Learning, Creativity, Global Literacy, Environmental Literacy, ELL and SIOP, ISTE NETS, MAP, EHCY, ISES, CCLCs, and the list goes on.

While we add high-cost, labor-hour intense items to Jamie's list at a lighting speed (No, wait. At the speed of special interest lobbying), schools are the targets of the biggest cuts in the history of education. Is it any wonder schools are struggling? We have myopic special interest groups dividing our precious human and financial resources into a cacophonous tune of impending collapse. Argh. We are being asked to implement more initiatives than we have the capacity to execute. We are being asked to do more while doing so with less. And then we are audited.

There are so many public schools where leadership, fiscal, and human resources are already stretched and overextended, where there is little margin for error. Rural schools and urban schools with high transiency and poverty just don't have the capacity to undertake another massive initiative, much less the list above; consequently, those schools are more exposed to difficulty in acceptable implementation of new initiatives, or sheer non-compliance.

While each initiative isn't unreasonable without considering any other initiative, the overall networked-effect of Jamie's growing list is detrimental and pedagogically divisive. I think of this often when sitting at an education service agency listening to the details of a forthcoming federally-driven initiative. Earlier this week I had the strong urge to challenge some well-meaning consultants trying to "help" our school district implement "best practice" in our school wellness policy. After taking the self-assessment, I found that the guidelines for foods from vending machines, concession stands, or parents for special occasions are not up to par. To align ourselves to current nutritional thinking, all foods must "be less than 35% sugar by weight, less than 35% calories from fat, less than 600mg of sodium, less than 200 calories, with at least 50% whole grains, but less than 2 grams of saturated or trans-fat, individually sold of only one serving size per individually wrapped package, and if liquid less than 12oz." See how helpful that was. We can add Wellness Policy Policing of Best Practice to the list above. As for the healthy consultants, I suppressed my urge to scream and merely nodded as they lectured.

So what do we do? How do we cope? How can we advocate for balance? How do we determine the most salient initiatives on which to focus? Indeed, with the great people we have, we push forward. With the PLCs we've developed, we cope and filter. With the associations to which we belong, we advocate. And tomorrow, we will have another new initiative to add to Jamie's List. So it goes.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Do Digital Natives Prefer Tablets?

A couple of weeks ago, I was on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus for a meeting and had some time to wander around during lunch. While walking through the lobbies of campus buildings, past lecture halls and classrooms, and throughout cafeteria areas, I noticed an interesting phenomenon: At a place with a dense population of digital natives working in an environment of intense academic workload, I saw high usage of digital devices, none of which were tablets. This runs counter to the beloved features that make tablets great: longer battery life, seamless syncing with online stores, fun apps, easy use, and the list goes on. Yet, digital natives--at least in this environment--are turning to laptops.

The interesting ingredient in this observation is that these digital natives have the liberty to choose the device to fit their needs and tasks with minimal interference from adults, teachers, administrators, and technology directors--most of whom have high device bias. My guess is that the choice of laptops over tablets is based on two instinctive functionality needs: First, digital natives are under the stresses of collegiate academic rigor (e.g., remote access to library databases, citation managers, research papers, Moodle, etc.), which may better align to laptops functions. Second, they are constantly in the modality of hyperinterconnectedness (e.g., running multiple tabs, multiple windows, and several chat boxes, all while running simultaneous applications including Facebook, Spotify, Twitter, etc.). Laptops may currently complement digital natives' prerequisite functions

This is not to say that tablets don't have the possible functions that may better align to hyperconnectedness and adult-level academic rigor. Tablets, however, require extra effort and commitment to configuring them in such a way that replicates the functions of a laptop. If natives don't want to exert the effort and don't have the device commitment, the laptop may just be easier.

This also is not to say that there aren't ancillary elements of partiality to Windows-based laptops within network active directories, high-use/university-level web applications such as "Blackboard," or software such as "Solidworks."

To get back on point, if digital natives at UW-Madison are not using tablets, who is ? Do an image search on Google for iPad + user. What do you see? Adults who would widely characterize themselves as digital immigrants, and very young users. Both of these populations struggle to conceptualize the use of digital-age tools. What conclusions can we draw from these observations?

Here are some jackknife thoughts: 
  • Tablets are entry-level technology devices to be used as a springboard into devices with more capacity. 
  • Tablets may be great for elementary or recreational learning environments, but they may not be as compatible for heavier academic workloads.
  • Tablets are more difficult to use within the hyperinterconnected technology ecosystem of digital natives.

Now, what inferences can we take from this for application within the field of #edtech integration, platform management, active/virtual directory administration, resource allocation per developmental level, LMS selection and evaluation, and/or staff development? Any reflections? 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Now, You're Talking

I may be the last person on the earth to view this, but it is completely worthy of a post. With outright concern for district administrators on presentation effectiveness, I've posted before about effective presentation methodology. I am also given to comedy as a way to illustrate important lessons. After watching this video, reflect for a moment. How many times have you been subjected to poorly designed presentations? How did you react to the presenter's ideas? How many times have we seen (or actually perpetrated ourselves) the mistakes seen within this comedian's observations? How would our messages be better received if we paid attention to how the messages where presented?