The Beatles Nailed IT

Posted by George Lieux on June 9, 2014

The long and winding road that leads to your door
Will never disappear
I’ve seen that road before it always leads me here
Leads me to your door

Technology was probably not on the Beatles’ minds when they composed “The Long and Winding Road.” As a technology coach focused on maximizing learning, my job is a long and winding adventure. It’s long because technology is constantly changing. It’s winding because I keep searching around for new and better ways to provide meaningful professional development.

One useful discovery on my winding path is Ruben R. Puentedura’s “SAMR” model. The relatively simple terms—substitution, augmentation, modification and redefinition—seem to resonate with administrators and teachers.

SAMR Model
SAMR model. Click photo for explanation by Dr. Puentedura.

The simple explanations of each level provide opportunities for discussing why certain technology tools can or should be used. The references to enhancement and transformation keep the focus on learning content, not just learning technology. As Bill Ferriter writes in his blog The Tempered Radical, “Technology is a Tool, not a Learning Outcome.”

Poster of
Copyright 2013 by Bill Ferriter. Used by permission.

Taking another curve along my path, I participated in a “coaching cycle” with two high school instructional facilitators. In this approach, one or more teachers work together with an academic coach to create a plan for teaching a unit, concept or standard(s). The important twist here is that I provided ideas for using technology only after the goals and objectives of the learning were in place.  Two good resources on coaching are Jim Knight’s book Instructional Coaching and Diane Sweeny’s books and materials on student-centered coaching. Another excellent resource in this work is the TPACK model which maps the “complex interplay” of content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and technology knowledge.

Diagram of TPACK Model
Image © 2012 by tpack.org. Reproduced by permission.

I am convinced that teachers, specialists and administrators can work with the SMAR and TPACK models along with coaching cycles to provide rigorous and engaging teaching and learning. That’s the plan I have for enjoying the challenge found in the “Long and Winding Road” of Ed Tech in the 21st Century.

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eTextbooks: Blunder or Bonanza?

Posted by George Lieux on January 18, 2012

Providing students with eTextbooks could positively impact teaching and learning in ways we may have never thought possible.  However, broad-scale initiatives to do so could backfire and setback the use of technology in our schools for years to come.

The eTextbook blunder could occur if digital copies of traditional textbooks are purchased along with traditional ancillaries that are part of the textbook package.  With the same textbook in digital format and the same worksheets with the same approach to teaching, no improvements in learning are likely.  The cost for providing textbooks would increase because students would need some kind of a device to access the digital textbook content.  In this scenario, maintaining the status quo simply comes with a higher price tag. It would not take school board members long to notice that more money is being spent and nothing has improved.

On the other hand, if the personal learning device purchased to access eTextbooks also provides Internet access, students and their teachers could access a variety of free online learning tools.  With Internet access, a teacher could learn from an innovative educator like Naomi Harm, who has several excellent online publications that provide easy access to hundreds of tools and proven ideas. One of Naomi’s online publications that stands out for me is her Web 2.0 NETS Aligned Tools 2010. Here a teacher can easily connect content standards to ISTE’s technology standards with appropriate tools for achieving both content and technology standards.

Textbooks created by teachers

For those who are embracing standards-based approaches to learning, content standards could be the outline for a course’s content. The textbook could then be a digital document created by teachers.  A Moodle, or other learning management system, could become the “home” of the teacher-created textbooks.

While content standards provide an outline for a course’s content, the real lessons, activities, projects and assessments remain for the teacher to develop in lieu of a textbook.

Another educator who provides the best tech resources is Tony Vincent.  His Learning in Hand website consistently provides educators with the latest and greatest in the mobile education world. His detailed explanations about completing a specific project provides an excellent how-to book for any teacher focused on project-based learning.

Numerous online resources like Thinkfinity , teAchnology, TeachersFirst.com and Curriki provide thousands of  free  lesson plans, student interactives, games and tools.

Technology and the Internet have made it possible for teachers to create online textbooks that challenge students and provide learning possibilities that develop 21st Century Skills. Textbook money could be used to purchase personal learning devices for students to access their eTextbooks.  Everything is in place for dedicated teachers who are willing to embrace the challenge of creating textbooks collaboratively to positively impact teaching.  Students could come to love learning during their entire thirteen years in our classrooms!

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Critical Issues for 1:1 Programs

Posted by George Lieux on March 21, 2011

Looking to move to 1:1?  Learn from the experience of this Arkansas district.

Educators who promote the use of technology to improve learning almost always have visions of students engaged in exciting projects and solving challenging problems by collaborating and researching via the Internet. We in the Fort Smith (Arkansas) Public Schools have definitely had such visions in mind over the last six years as we have continued to expand our 1:1 Netbook Initiative.  In our excitement of putting new laptops in the hands of each child, however, we have realized that there are critical issues involved in making 1:1 initiatives successful.

Selection of hardware is surely a critical issue, but sometimes this is the easiest decision to make because budgets, bandwidth, and battery power limit and control our choices.  We have found the ASUS Eee PC best meets our needs and resources.

Choosing teachers

Since limited funds have not allowed us to make our 1:1 initiative a district-wide program, a more complicated issue has been the selection of teachers, grades and schools to participate. We began our 1:1 effort with the introduction of Palm handheld computers in selected elementary schools.  In our first year, we selected one elementary school for our maiden voyage.  We based our choice mainly on the number of faculty members who viewed technology as a learning aid and not an obstacle.

The following year we received a grant to continue our handheld initiative and tried having vertical teams in schools apply to participate.  We created an application process and selected teams based on the strength of their applications. We were not totally satisfied with this method of selection.

In the third and final year in our handheld program, we expanded to individual teachers based on the strength of their individual applications. We scored applications with a rubric that included points for the number of technology workshops the applicant had attended and a description of the applicant’s favorite tech tools and how each was used. Also, the applicant’s principal was required to rate the applicant on scales related to innovation, self-motivation, problem-solving, collaboration, and “doer.”

After the third year of our handheld computer program, we shifted to netbooks for the expansion of our 1:1 initiative. We have continued to select teacher participants based on individual applications. We find this method results in the best use of our funds.

Professional development

Perhaps the most critical issue with our 1:1 initiative has been the required professional development we provide. Our teachers agree to five days of training and monthly participation in district-led webinars during their first year in the program. Those aspects of our training have remained the same; however, the method and content of our 1:1 professional development continue to evolve with each group. Four days of the training focus on pedagogy and one day on technical troubleshooting, accessioning and imaging their laptops.

As stated earlier, our goal for our 1:1 classrooms was to transform worksheet and end-of-the-chapter-question classrooms to project-based learning environments. Since our first group of netbook teachers were all high-risk takers, everything we promoted in our trainings was understood and adapted by the participants. As we have moved beyond high-risk takers to more minimal-risk takers, we have adjusted our trainings.

We now design our professional development to reflect the levels described by Bernajean Porter in Grappling’s Technology and Learning Spectrum.  We introduce a tool and have the participants use the tool as if they were a student. They learn how to use the tool and then create a simple activity for their classroom using the particular tool. The number of tools used is determined by the speed our teachers learn to use and adapt the tool. We are now working on more advanced professional development for our 1:1 netbook teachers that will focus on the Transforming Uses described by Porter.

Technical support

Technical support has been a critical issue.  As we have moved to netbooks, our 1:1 program has almost doubled the number of computers in the district.  For our program to work, teachers are required to do almost all troubleshooting themselves. We use training time to teach teachers appropriate techniques for solving technical issues. Technology specialists are the next level of support.  Only when these procedures have not resulted in a resolution to the problem are the technicians in the Technology Department contacted.

Informing the community

As in all effective educational initiatives, the public must understand why and how a new program is implemented. We have met that challenge by providing a Learning and Technology Showcase each year. Each teacher in our program selects a project for one to four students to display in a fashion similar to a science fair. The Showcase is held on the campus of the University of Arkansas Fort Smith and for many who visit the Showcase, this is the first time they see K-12 students use a computer for something other than for games and texting.

As is indicated in our showcase title, learning is the true focus of our 1:1 initiative. We promote learning over the use of technology for the sake of technology. We stress that how technology is used is more important than if technology is used. Our program continues to grow and evolve as we continue to address all of the critical issues involved in such an initiative.

For copies of our application, scoring rubric, showcase forms, or training agenda write George Lieux.

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