A Visit to Harrison

Posted by Michael Simkins on May 6, 2018

Last week’s TICAL cadre retreat afforded me my second opportunity this year to visit a district and glimpse firsthand some examples of what Arkansas teachers and kids are doing with educational technology. I chose Harrison because it was in a part of the state I’d not visited before and it’s home to Susan Gilley, one of our brilliant and indefatigable cadre members.

Located in the heart of the Ozarks near the Missouri border, the city of Harrison has a population of 13,000 and is the seat of Boone County.  Indians were the first inhabitants of the area, the first probably being the “Bluff Dweller”, who lived in caves in the bluffs along the rivers. Today, Harrison is home to Buffalo River National Park, a long, narrow park with over 100 maintained trails. Something I learned, in fact, is that there is such a thing as a “national river” and that the Buffalo was the first one!

Harrison Public Schools serve approximately 2,600 students. The district spends $9,453 per pupil, has a graduation rate of 90%, and a student-to-teacher ratio of 12:1. 48% of the student body is classified as low income, the percentage of English learners is less than 1%, and 9% of students are eligible for special education services.

Harrison Public Schools mascot
Go Goblins!

Tuesday morning, I reported to Dr. Aaron Hosman’s office. Aaron and I go way back. He was a founding member of the TICAL Arkansas cadre in 2002! Aaron has been a superintendent of schools for many years. Most recently, Harrison asked him to be interim superintendent and then stay on for a year to help the new person—new to both the role and to Arkansas—get oriented. It was great to see Aaron again after many years.

Aaron put me in the able hands of Adam Archer, the district’s manager of information technology. Our first stop was Harrison High School. Last summer, the school underwent a major renovation as well as the addition of two beautiful new facilities: a new gym and a performing arts center.

The highlight of my visit to the high school was the EAST lab where Kelly Regan shared some of the projects underway. For those not familiar with EAST, the acronym stands of Environmental and Spacial Technology. The program combines project-based learning with state-of-the-art technology. Students identify needs or issues that matter to them and then use the technology resources of the EAST lab to create solutions.

Kelly is completing her first year as the program’s facilitator. It was great to see both her enthusiasm and expertise as she shared some of the current projects, many of which involve virtual reality and 3D printing. For example, one group of students is working to promote one of the excellent but lesser known nearby hiking trails. To stir up interest, they are creating virtual “teasers,” each of which represents a certain place on the trail. You can literally see what you’re missing by not getting out and hiking the whole trail.

Two other projects combine VR with 3D printing. In one, students are creating a small bust of a student with the hope that it can be held by the student’s parent and serve as a comfort while undergoing some serious medical treatments. In another, students are designing a custom support attachment for use by a wheelchair-bound student to prevent the student’s arm from slipping off the chair’s armrest.

The next stop was the middle school, where there is also an EAST program.  It provided another example of 3D printing at work. In this case, students had designed a prosthetic arm for a kindergarten student in Rogers, Arkansas—over 80 miles away!

While I got to visit all four elementary schools, it is that time of year and “TESTING: Do not disturb” signs were on many classroom doors. At Skyline Heights, however, I was in luck. Second grade teacher Hannah Campbell’s students were just leaving, and she was kind enough to give up some of her prep period to tell me about how she was using technology with her students. All elementary classrooms, starting at first grade, have classroom sets of Chromebooks and Hannah puts them to good use. Clearly an organized person, she has set up systems to make it very fast, easy, and efficient for the kids to get their computer, get logged into the Google account, and get to work. She has also created custom menus for her students with just the resources and apps she wants them to have available, and no more!

Thank you to Aaron for welcoming me to the district (and for knowing where to find the best chicken salad sandwich you could ever eat) and to Adam for taking the time to be my tour guide. Once again, I’m impressed with public education in Arkansas and, in particular, how technology is being put to work in the service of learning.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

Technology and Visible Learning

Posted by Phoebe Bailey on April 16, 2018

Visible Learning decorative imageHave you ever agreed to do something only to wonder later, why did they ask me? Recently I was asked to co-present on technology resources for a group of curriculum leaders. My co-presenter had great technology skills. What would I add to the mix? I decided to start with John Hattie’s work on visible learning. My goal would be to share some technology resources that could be paired with influences that recorded a high effect. Here’s what I found and included in my part of the presentation.

Assessment-Capable Learners

As stated in Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, research on strategies for struggling students shows computer- assisted instruction contributes to the learning of at-risk students because it is nonjudgmental and motivational, provides frequent and immediate feedback, and can individualize learning to meet students’ needs. Technology can help teachers develop assessment-capable learners. Technology provides teachers with access to resources that can help them to identify and refine standards and objectives. It also helps students to organize, clarify, and communicate learning objectives. Educators can create Google Forms for students to assess their learning on a checklist. Student ePortfolios created with tools such as Evernote, LiveBinder, Weebly, or Seesaw can also engage students in self-assessment.

Feedback

Feedback includes feedback to students as well as from students in terms of what students know, what they understand, and when they have misconceptions. Technology is especially effective when it comes to providing this kind of feedback. Games and simulations, for example, allow teachers and students to get near-instantaneous feedback during the learning process. That allows for immediate redirection. Socrative, Kahoot, Educreation and Explain Everything are just a few of the tech tools that can provide effective feedback.

Reciprocal Teaching

Another of Hattie’s influences that has a great effect size is reciprocal teaching. This type of teaching operates around the principles of predicting, questioning, clarifying and summarizing. Technology tools can be used here as well. One example is EdPuzzle; you load a video from the web, add your voice and questions within the video and enable self-paced learning. Another resource is Actively Learn where teachers are allowed to use pre-loaded texts or import their own texts and embedded questions or reflections in the texts.

Caveat

Though the three topics covered have a positive effect size, educators must remember that not every website or app is appropriate for students at all grade levels. Teachers need to have researched the app well enough to know if it will be appropriate for their particular students. Learning outcomes should always be the first thing addressed when deciding to include technology in instruction. Remember the assignment, not the tool or device decides the level of rigor.

The classroom’s climate and the motivation that the students have for using technology play a big part in use of different technologies in the classroom. If a teacher is comfortable with the technology, then the classroom will be more technology savvy and students will be more open to try new things.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

How Tech Can Help Align Systems

Posted by Aaron Palm on March 25, 2018

arrows in alignmentRecently we have been hearing a lot in education about “aligning our systems.” Sounds good, but how do we define alignment?  How to achieve alignment?  Are there technology tools at our disposal to get alignment?

The California Department of Education, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Education and representatives of Future Ready Schools, hosted a webinar on this very topic.  We were told that we have to align all of our systems, but there are so many systems in education. It’s like drinking out of a fire hose!  The webinar tried to paint a path to alignment for a school and/or district, and the system they recommended to align all of the different systems is called “The Coherence Framework.”

In his book Coherence: The Right Drivers in Action for Schools, Districts, and SystemsMichael Fullan has created a mental model for aligning everything from our Single Plans, to LCAP plans, district goals, schools goals and everything in between. After reading about alignment for years and watching the CDE webinar, it became apparent to me that aligning our systems was absolutely critical to the success of any educational organization.  But I also understood that even using a framework such as Coherence left the user juggling a lot of balls in the air.  For example, After ensuring that your organization is aligned with the Feds, the State and your local institutions, you still have to align all of the elements of your school—in my case a high school.

Mr. Fullan speaks about every entity on campus needing to do four things:

  • Focus its direction
  • Cultivate collaborative cultures
  • Secure accountability
  • Deepen the learning at all levels.
Diagram of Fullan's Coherence Framework
Fullan’s Coherence Framework

Each of those topics comes with a set of elements that need to be addressed.  As I sat in my office one day trying to map it out I realized that I did not have the tools necessary to organize the task.

As I started to research how other schools and businesses organized and tracked their progress I stumbled across a resource that is common yet unfamiliar to many of us in education: project management tools.  Project management portals in and of themselves are straightforward and fairly simple to use.  But they are capable of building upon themselves and mapping out incredibly detailed plans.  When comparing my old SMART goal sheet to project management plans, it is like comparing two dimensional drawings to three dimensional virtual tours.  Let me provide an example from our school.

Using the Fullan Coherence Framework one is asked to look at any initiative in two major ways from the start. The first asks you to ensure that the initiative, whatever it is, aligns with your Single Plan, District LCAP, District Strategic Goals and School Goals.  If it doesn’t, it is not a priority and should not be taken on school-wide.  Second, if it does align, consider how it will address each of the four areas.

  • Focusing direction—everyone in the organization must know the purpose of the initiative, the impact if the goal is achieved, be clear in the plan and understand the need for change.
  • Cultivating collaborative cultures—the initiative must be taken on collaboratively.  An organization must have a collaborative culture that can pick up the initiative and run with it.
  • Securing accountabilityhow will the staff develop internal accountability around reaching the goals and what is the external accountability from the outside.
  • Deepening learning—we have to learn about the initiative and acquire the skills and content necessary to implement it.

If all of that feels overwhelming you are not alone.  This is where the project management portal comes into play.  On our campus we wanted to strengthen our formative assessment and remediate struggling students during class time instead of referring them to after school programs.  We created a project around formative assessment for remediation. The next step in the project management process is to define your team.  Everyone on the team has a log in to the online portal.  When they log in they can see a lot of information.  But the two most critical pieces of information are: the progress of each project they are a part of, and the parts of the plan they are responsible for with deadlines.  This has the ability to focus everything you are working on and put it on one, simple dashboard.

Screenshot of Trello dashboard
Screen shot of our dashboard – click to enlarge

The first project box under the topic was the first section of the Coherence Framework, Focusing Direction.  We detailed the data that identified this as a school-wide problem.  We stated the purpose of the initiative.  Then we defined the measurable goals we needed to achieve.  We then addressed how we would achieve the change, what change strategy we would use. Every member of the team has access to this project box.

With each element of the Coherence Framework we created a project box.  In each box, the necessary elements to complete the project are listed.  For example, under “Capacity Building” we identified the training we needed to send our teachers to.  Then each administrator was assigned a task.  They were responsible for working with the departments they supervised and finding two teachers to attend each training.  They were given a deadline for each. As principal, I could sit in my office and see the task being completed.  As each administrator checked their task complete the progress bar for that task got closer and closer to being 100% complete. For some tasks multiple people are responsible for completing it.

For Clarity of Learning Goals we had planned a presentation.  Different members of the team had different parts they were responsible for.  Our Google Drive integrates with our Project Management tool, Trello.  The presentation was in this project box and everyone on that particular part of the project could work on it in real time together.  As they completed their part they would check the completion box and we all could view how close the presentation was to being completed.

In our management meetings we bring up the school project dashboard.  The first thing we do in our meeting is run through all of the projects and check on their status.  This allows the whole team to see the whole picture of what we are working on and how it all aligns.  The power of the project management portal is in its plethora of tools.  A good project management tool syncs with tools such as Google Docs and your calendar. It has messaging in it to discuss shared tasks.  It is a storehouse for all related documents and media. It will also have a variety of permission levels that are very granular.  And the final feature is the ability to transfer tasks. We use the project management portal to do annual tasks like build our master schedule.  If a new person needs to take over the task you can just insert them in the project and now they have a checklist of what the job entails.  In an industry that does not cross train, this feature is crucial.

Education has always had an overwhelming amount of information and projects to manage.  But now we are being asked to align all of them in our overall system. Project management portals are what some organizations are using to make sense of it all.  I would suggest picking a very small project and giving it a try with different products to see which one works for you.  Once you find one that fits your culture show it to your team and bring order to your lives.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

Leveraging Social Media in Times of Crisis

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on February 25, 2018

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft a-gley.

magnifying glass over social media collageI’d planned to hunker down the first week of February and write a post about using social media for good. However, life intervened and it didn’t get done. In retrospect, that was good because things happened that led me to think about social media in a different way.

The first event had to do with an education technology conference in Seattle. I attended a concurrent session presented by Conn McQuinn who has recently devoted a good chunk of his professional time to studying neuroscience in learning. The title of his session was “Being a Well-Adjusted Cyborg.” One of the first things he said was, “Neuroscience and research can help us make better and more intentional choices about using technologies.” He went on to say, “We (educators) often adopt new technologies and/or use them without truly reflecting on their impact.” I was hooked.

Key Points

Here are two points he made that deserve consideration.

Point #1: confronted with all the outside stimuli constantly bombarding us, our brains sort out what we need to pay attention to using three criteria:

  • novelty
  • things/people we care about
  • dangerous things.

Point #2: Maslow’s hierarchy identified physiological and safety needs as people’s highest priorities. Not so. Conn says our need for love or belonging supersedes our need for food, clothing, security, et cetera.

What does this have to do with technology in general and social media specifically? Let me frame this question more clearly with a few additional questions.

How do you feel about your smartphone? Where do you keep it at night—in another room or on the nightstand next to your bed? Have you ever retraced your steps to retrieve your phone after leaving it at home? Do you find yourself surreptitiously (or even openly) checking social media sites and email while attending meetings, during meals with family or friends, while watching a movie or engaging in some other recreational activity? If so, does this mean you are addicted to your phone or to social media? Perhaps. But it may also indicate that you have unwittingly fallen for triggers intentionally incorporated into the design of mobile devices and online apps—behavior you can change through awareness.

Remember, our brains are wired to pay attention to novelty, people and things we care about, and danger. Mobile devices offer us ready access to all three of these attention grabbers via the apps we use. We never have to be bored, or feel isolated and while we may not enjoy things that feel threatening, negative attention online is nearly impossible for targets of such vitriol to ignore. Does understanding what’s behind our compulsion to check Facebook or Twitter help check that behavior? I think it can, if we make more thoughtful decisions about what technologies we use and when we use them as opposed to just going with the initial impulse to see who has ‘liked’ our latest posts or to watch the latest video gone viral.

Social media in a crisis

At precisely the same time I was listening to Conn’s presentation, a 19-year-old former student walked onto his high school campus in Parkland, Florida, pulled a fire alarm, and started shooting students as they evacuated the building. As has been the case since the early days of social media, students and teachers used their smartphones throughout this disaster. Some were reaching out to friends and family members. Others were posting photos and video to social media. It was reported that a few teachers used email to coordinate with one another to try to figure out what was happening and help insure student safety. All these behaviors mirror the points Conn made.

We’ve read and heard stories about such behavior before. I remember that in 2008 during terrorist attacks in Mumbai, police feared that terrorists would monitor social media posts to keep tabs on police activity as they prepared to rescue hostages. I thought about the millions of people who turned to social media in the hours and days following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and how the friends, family members, and neighbors of people stranded during Hurricane Harvey in 2017 came to their rescue thanks to messages posted online when more traditional emergency response teams were overwhelmed by the number of calls they were receiving. Closer to home, I know two school administrators who have dealt with campus shootings in their own districts.

In the wake of the Parkland shooting, some pundits opined that students with smartphones endangered themselves and others because they were distracted as they posted messages (so they weren’t getting to safe places) or they were making noise that could have alerted the shooter to hiding places (e.g., notification sounds, talking). However, building on what Conn said about neuroscience and social media, I wondered what might happen if we had serious conversations about effective use of social media during disasters, both man-made and natural. I don’t want to give the impression that school shootings are a given that we cannot prevent because I do not believe that’s true. But there are plenty of other crises where thoughtful use of smartphones could be extremely helpful as well.

Being prepared should include social media strategies

My suggestion is to take the three things that capture our attention and sort out ways social media could be used to get critical information where it needs to go in safe, timely ways. We teach adults and students how to evacuate buildings during a fire or ways to protect themselves physically during an earthquake or lock down. Why not think ahead of time about social media strategies they can use during emergencies that would be beneficial. Take the idea a Parkland teacher had to use email and text to connect with fellow teachers and students and turn that into a plan. Or instill in students the need to silence their phones and wait to contact parents and friends until they are in a safe(r) place so they aren’t distracted during critical moments. Discuss when sharing specific information about specific locations or events via social media is helpful and when it might be a dangerous thing to do (and why).

Parents and students already view smartphones as lifelines and have since the events of 9/11. Perhaps it’s time to have frank discussions about ways to make these lifelines as safe and effective as possible.

Burns was right. “The best laid schemes” may still go awry, but it’s better—especially in times of catastrophe—to have a plan than not.


Resources for follow-up

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

A visit to Mena

Posted by Michael Simkins on January 22, 2018

Mena Station today
Mena Station today

The first train arrived in Mena, Arkansas in August 1896 with the goal of connecting Kansas City, Missouri to Port Arthur, Texas. I arrived in January 2018 with the goal of visiting the Mena Public Schools and, in particular, seeing how students and teachers were using technology.

Mena is a rural town of 5,700 people in the southwest of Arkansas, quite near the Oklahoma border. Originally a railroad town, the economy is now diverse   Health care and social assistance, retail trade, construction, educational services, and manufacturing are the top five occupational groups, in that order, and account for 72% of jobs. The median household income is $27,491.

Mena Schools Bearcat logoMena public schools enroll 1,750 students in grades K-12. The average class size is 15 and the district spends $9,200 per pupil. 92% of students are white, 68% are low income, and just 1% are limited English proficient.

My guide for the morning was TICAL cadre member Clifton Sherrer. I could not have been in better, more knowledgeable hands. Raised in Mena, Clifton attended all the schools we would visit and, after leaving for college, returned to coach and teach science for 15 years. Following that he was assistant principal at Mena Middle School a number of years before moving into the principal’s office two years ago. Clifton knows Mena.

My tour began at Louise Durham Elementary, a building currently undergoing major renovation. As we walked down one hall, we were passed by a class of kindergarten students, following the “red line” in single file fashion, each holding an index card with his or her username and password. No doubt on the way to the computer lab, we concluded, and I decided I’d like to see what they’d be up to when they got there.

The goal was for the students to play some games that teach early literacy skills, but first they had to get logged into their individual accounts. That was quite a process. At least four adults were going from student to student, helping with the chore, trying to get everyone to the same place so instructions could begin. Due to my tight schedule, we had to leave before that was accomplished. My hunch is this process was new to the kids and with a little practice, logging in will happen quickly.

Holly Harshman, a grades three to five school, was the next stop. Recently, every classroom got a set of Chromebooks, and the school also has Google Classroom. I spent most of my time talking with two teachers during their planning period.  Hollie, a fifth grade teacher, was clearly excited, if yet a bit nervous, about finally having the technology available to support the projects her class would be doing. Jill—an “early adopter” I suspect—was giving Hollie pointers and reassurance. It was a pleasure to see their enthusiasm.

Next on the itinerary was Mena High. Opened in 2011, it’s a striking building with great features that include open spaces, a huge library, playing fields, and a beautiful auditorium and performance space.

As we walked down one of the wide, bright halls, my attention was caught by the furniture in one classroom, so we ducked in to take a closer look. Instead of the typical “chair desk,” this room had a mix of flexible, movable furniture. I learned from the teacher that is was very new and she was experimenting with it.  So far, she likes it, despite the fact some of it arrived mismatched—stools intended for higher tables. In true educator-innovator fashion, she solved that problem with bed risers!

Alternative education is one program at the school that makes extensive use of technology. This program used to be housed elsewhere but when the new school was designed, the decision was made to dedicate space for it in the main building. Use of tutorial and other online educational resources make it possible to tailor both content and schedule to the individual needs of these students. However, my favorite part of this stop on the tour was meeting—and petting—Ellie, the therapy dog.

Photo of Ellie the therapy dog
Ellie, the therapy dog

I intentionally asked to save Clifton’s own school, Mena Middle, for last. Walking down the main hall, we passed a display of student art with a banner proclaiming, “MMS can Be the Good.” I asked Clifton about it. “It’s something started by one of our 6th grade teachers where students make positive comments about their peers each month and nominate them for being good. I asked her to put this display up before we presented the project to the school board.”

As for technology, the middle school now has a set of Chromebooks in each core classroom, which enables a 1-to-1 setting for those key subjects. The school chose this approach rather than issuing the devices to individual students for several reasons. It keeps the Chromebooks secure, onsite, and ready to use. Students store their work in the cloud, so they can access their files regardless of which Chromebook they are using, plus many students do not have Internet access at home. Also, having the Chromebooks available in each classroom frees the school’s computer labs for other uses.

Our visit to the cafeteria was an eye-opener for me. In 2016-17, the district outsourced food services.  The result is far more choice for students. There are different entree choices each day.  There’s a salad bar. There’s always pizza! No more lunch counts or teachers collecting lunch money to keep it safe till lunchtime. Technology is enabling personalization in the cafeteria, not just the classroom.

Besides the things I’ve described specific to each school I visited, I came away with some general observations and impressions as well.

  • Everywhere, I saw happy, well-behaved kids and friendly, dedicated adults.
  • From sayings on the wall to pictures of students in the hallways, the feeling tone in every school was uniformly positive.
  • Technology was being implemented thoughtfully, with attention to both its potential and practicality—no rush to adopt any technology for technology’s sake.

My half-day visit afforded only a glimpse, of course, but it was time well spent!

Quotation on the wall at Mena Middle School: "Every child is a story yet to be told."
On the wall at Mena Middle School. The picture says it all!
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblr