Creating Intelligent Classrooms

Posted by Tim Landeck on January 15, 2016

Word cloud created from post testA couple years ago, prior to going for a school bond, my district completed a Facilities Master Plan. The district was successful in passing the bond and, although it was not enough money to address all the needs outlined in the master plan, the bond funds have offered a significant shot in the arm for classroom instructional technology tools. We’ve installed a variety of resources to better support the instructional practices in the classroom.

Pajaro Valley Unified has 32 schools and 20,000 students. 76% of our students qualify for the National School Lunch Program which also makes us eligible for significant E-rate funding for network infrastructure over the past 20 years. With a robust network (both Wide Area and Local Area Networks) and continued E-rate funding to support increased speeds and bandwidth as needed, we were able to focus a significant amount of the bond technology funding on classroom instructional tools.

Intelligent Classroom

The District’s Technology Services Department brought together a group of district, site and community stakeholders to preview the available technology tools to support instruction in the classroom. This group, called the iTAC for Instructional Technology Advisory Committee, balanced the available funding with the wish list of instructional technology tools available and identified three items that were integrated into one system to be installed in almost every classroom in the district.

Audio Distribution Systems

We chose an audio distribution system (the Juno by FrontRow) that would help all students to hear the teacher, no matter where in the room the student was seated. The Juno is a simple installation because it requires mounting the integrated unit in the front of the classroom and the teacher uses an infrared microphone around their neck to connect to the system. The technology behind this system is quite impressive because it does not blast the students in the front row with a high volume projection of the teacher’s voice but at the same time the student in the back of the room can hear the teacher as though they are speaking softly right next to the student. This is very helpful for all students but English Language Learners benefit the most due to the clarity and volume of the teacher’s voice in every area of the classroom. The teacher no longer needs to project their voice throughout the room which imparts a more calm and restful tone in the classroom, frequently changing the demeanor of the classroom environment.

The Juno also comes with a student microphone that can be used when presenting a report; in group discussions or for whenever a student would like to share with the class. The use of this device helps students to perfect their skill and ease with public speaking because their voice is clearly heard by all in the room. The audio distribution system demands an audience so nobody can hide behind a soft voice or a shy persona.

Document Camera

We have found that the document camera is one of the easiest tools for a teacher to integrate into their daily lessons because it works very simply and is reminiscent of the old overhead projector. Today’s document camera offers many additional features that make it even more valuable as an instructional tool, including snapping an image of a document or item, flipping the camera 90 degrees to take pictures or video of classroom activities or even to use in a video conference activity such as with Google Hangouts. These document cameras are also used for scoring benchmark tests which are stored in our assessment database.

Projectors vs. 70” Flat Panel Displays

Prior to the bond funding we purchased interactive white boards in our district which included an integrated short throw projector. Although very popular among the teaching staff, we found that the total cost of ownership (TCO) of these interactive white boards and projectors was very high. Not only was the initial cost and installation of the system very expensive, but the lengthy training requirements for the bundled interactive software were rarely met and 90% of our teachers were using the interactive white board solely as a projection device. Some teachers marveled at the ability to use their finger as a mouse while touching the interactive white board but this frequently anchored the teacher at the front of the room which is contrary to a modern pedagogical approach of teachers moving around the classroom among the students as opposed to teaching from the front of the room.

In addition to training, the other factor to significantly contribute to the high TCO is the maintenance of the projector. We have experienced a life span of about 4-6 years for the projector which includes annual cleaning and the replacement of a new ($150-$300) bulb every 1-1.5 years. When a projector receives a new bulb, it is usually quite bright and functions well for instruction. However, within the first month or so you notice the dimming of the bulb which continues to dim until the unit is un-usable in the classroom…and that is when the bulb usually gets changed, thereby requiring the teacher to endure months of a dim and almost unusable projection device.

We chose to not continue to purchase interactive white boards and projectors but instead to purchase flat panel displays. The price point for 70” flat panel LCD displays had come down close to the $1000 range, thereby making it feasible to provide one large display for the front of almost every classroom in the district. The flat panel display was brighter and offered finer resolution than a projector. Smaller than 70” just isn’t large enough but we performed some classroom tests and determined that 70” is large enough for students in the classroom to clearly see images and text.

System Integration

We wanted to be sure that all three tools worked together in a seamless manner, making it easier for the teacher to use the tools with a classroom of students. We ran surface raceway between the devices and provided the teacher with two HDMI ports under the Flat Panel Display. One HDMI port is for the document camera and the other is for the teacher to connect their computer (Desktop computer, laptop or Chromebook) to project on the flat panel display. The flat panel display and the teacher’s computer all connect to the Juno to provide audio amplification for all devices connected to the system.

Planning and Installation

It is important that these new devices are used with students so we placed all flat panel displays and audio distribution systems in the front of the room. We consider the flat panel display as the “new white board” for many teachers but still left almost all white board exposed, mounting the flat panel displays as high above the existing white boards as possible. We took pictures of each classroom and provided a mocked up image of where the flat panel display was to be mounted in each classroom, thereby providing an opportunity for placement feedback and preparing the teacher for the pending installation.
The round 1 installation in about 750 classrooms is almost complete with our round 2 about to begin where we will be replacing existing interactive white boards with the 70” flat panel displays in most of the remaining classrooms.

Training

There is not an extensive amount of training necessary to effectively utilize the three installed tools. The goal has been to provide teachers 5-20 minutes of training within two days from system installation. Some teachers took to the new technologies very easily and thereby needed very little instruction and others utilized the full twenty minutes to gain more comfort with the new tools. Although we were not able to get to every teacher within the two day window, almost all teachers have received the needed professional development and the systems are being used.

The response has been very positive and both teachers and students are pleased with their new tools. Unfortunately the tool that is receiving the least amount of attention and use is the audio distribution system. Teachers often pride themselves on their “teacher voice” and don’t see the need to use the Juno system. We are working to inform teachers about the value of the audio distribution system and are hopeful that we will see an increase in the use of this tool along with the others installed.

Hindsight

No large-scale implementation is 100% successful with no issues and complete adoption. However, this project has been very successful and has helped teachers to have equitable access to instructional technology tools to utilize in their daily instruction. We are moving forward with 1:1 Chromebook implementations at our secondary school sites which will dovetail well with these installed instructional tools.

 

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The Loss of Lost

Posted by Tim Landeck on October 10, 2014

Woods with snowWe were lost, I mean really lost! I was with my 17 year old son, and it was the second day of our 30 day backpack trip to conquer all 230 miles of the John Muir Trail. The first day had been smooth but when we left Yosemite Valley and hit snow, the trail disappeared, and so did our knowledge of exactly where we were. We saw plenty of trees and snow but no footprints or signs of any sort to follow. Should we turn back and find our way to where we first began the day, or follow our plan to find the next campsite?

When was the last time you were terribly lost—lost in such a way that you weren’t sure if you should go left, right, forward or backward? You may not have been in the woods. Perhaps you were standing on a street corner or speeding down a freeway. My guess is that it has been a while since you felt such a strong sense of being lost.

About a year ago I was walking the narrow streets of Venice, Italy, with my wife. We were looking for a particular restaurant for dinner when we came to a dark dead end. My wife turned to me and asked, “Now what?” Using my 21st century instincts, I whipped out my iPhone and launched Google Maps. “Look” I said, “We are here where the blue dot is pulsing and we just need to follow the map to here.” We did as I suggested, and within a few minutes we were seated at a table in a romantic paradise alongside a small canal filled with silent gondolas. What if we hadn’t had that jewel of a device to show us the way?

Later that night, as we were walking back to our hotel, we overheard a couple stressing out about being lost in Venice. “Aren’t you supposed to get lost in Venice and enjoy it?” one said to the other. “I have no idea where we are!” gasped the other. They folded up their paper map and apprehensively walked on. We have no idea how long it took to find their destination, but they did appear to experience the true feeling of lost.

As I watched the couple disappear around the corner, I began to reminisce about that second day on the John Muir Trail when the sun was setting and we still hadn’t found our campsite. The feeling of lost in the backcountry with snow all around and not knowing which way to turn is different than walking aimlessly with a belly full of wine through the streets of Venice, but both are on the “spectrum of lost.”

Personal GPS devices and satellite mapping of the earth have eliminated the ability to get lost. Give a GPS device to a person who would never want to admit to being lost, and lost will never happen again. Everyone wants to be “in the know” and to have the answer. Ask a factual question to a group of Google hipsters and watch as the smartphones come out and the answer is revealed within moments. It is no longer important to know the answer (where you are) but more importantly how to quickly find the answer (your destination). GPS has meant the loss of lost and the Internet has provided the mechanism to find whatever you seek. In education we need to work within this new reality and help students learn ways to access information instead of memorizing it. While there is still a place for memorization, because there is too much information (dead ends in Venice) available today, we have no option but to approach education differently.

That said, there is still an argument to be made that not knowing, or getting lost, is healthy and good for the brain. As Rebecca Solnit says in her book A Field Guide to Getting Lost, “…to be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery.” Being fully present is a goal that many of us seek daily but have trouble realizing on a regular basis. Maybe we just need to get lost more often.

With strong perseverance and a lot of luck, my son and I did finally reach our next campsite before complete darkness. The rest of the trip was successful with only map and compass. I admit, however, that—against my son’s wishes—I had tried twice to purchase a personal GPS gadget to guide us through the snow to our Mount Whitney destination, but as of two years ago, neither shops in Yosemite Valley nor Bishop had any for sale. Thank goodness, for we would have lost the opportunity to be lost!

 

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Hacked—It Stings!

Posted by Tim Landeck on July 14, 2013

Just when I thought it was OK to leave the safety of my district’s content filter and venture into the growing realm of social networking (SN), I was stung by the mighty SN wasps—my Twitter account was hacked! Before I knew it, I was advertising a weight loss program to all of my Twitter followers. To add to the confusion I actually had just lost some weight and won the “losers weight loss contest” at the district office. Many were aware of my improving health and thought I was endorsing a specific weight loss program! Even if you haven’t been hacked yet, find out how to prevent it.

Wasp face on.
Photo credit: Wim van Egmond. Used by permission.

 

How I knew that I was hacked

One morning I began to receive emails from friends and colleagues asking if my Twitter and Facebook accounts had been hacked. When you receive multiple versions of these emails within a couple of hours, it’s time to check it out as quickly as possible. I looked on my Twitter account and sure enough, I was advertising for a new weight loss program. It’s embarrassing to have your account hacked, especially for a “techie” like me; I wanted to stop the unauthorized posts as soon as possible.

How to secure your Twitter account

  • Step 1: Change your password ASAP. Usually this is how your account was hacked so changing your password will bring the addition of new, unauthorized posts to a halt. You can increase security by making your password long and complex,  such as IhateGetting365Hacked!
  • Step 2: Disable unnecessary third party applications.  Log into your Twitter account and under settings (look for the gear in the top right hand side of your web browser window) click the Apps menu. Look through the applications that are presently authorized to post to your account and make sure that you truly need and want each of those applications to have access to your account.  Revoke access for all the apps that you don’t recognize.
  • Step 3: Remove any saved passwords to your Twitter account that you may have on various computers and mobile devices.
  • Step 4: Run an antiviral software program on all computers that you use regularly to be sure that you don’t have a virus or keyboard logger on any of your computers
  • Step 5: Reset your password again.

Although being hacked and sending unwarranted posts to hundreds of your followers is a horrible thought, don’t let it prevent you from utilizing social networks. Twitter, Facebook and other social network sites provide excellent tools for educators. Just play it safe by following the steps above.

For more information, visit Twitter’s Help Center.

 

 

 

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Update on a One-to-One iPad Implementation

Posted by Tim Landeck on October 17, 2012

Students with iPadsIt was last January when we distributed 35 used iPad1s to 35 eighth grade students in Mr Boggs’s class at Pajaro Middle School in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District.  Students were excited and enthusiastic to receive the iPads; teachers and parents were nervous.  Nine months later we have some experiences to share.

  • After four months of students taking the iPads home on a 24/7 basis, we had one iPad that developed an issue with the connector and one that had a broken screen.  All other iPads were returned in excellent condition and used again this fall for a new set of students.
  •  Each iPad was equipped with a copy of the HMH FUSE Algebra textbook which provided access to an abundance of online resources, videos and supplemental information.  The textbook came alive for the students and was used frequently throughout the year.  Each iPad also had a variety of other apps that were downloaded by the teacher prior to distribution or that the students downloaded with guidance from the teacher.
  • The teacher accepted the large challenge of integrating this new technology and textbook into his curriculum.  He began to flip his classroom, and the students adapted quickly.  He investigated and implemented new apps to use with his students.  He found that he had more time to work individually with students during class and that the students were enjoying the class time more than before.
  • This fall, Mr. Boggs’s algebra class was a commonly requested class by students.  The forward-thinking principal, Jean Gottlob, reported that Mr Boggs’s Algebra class was one of the most frequently requested classes of the year.  (Did you catch that? Algebra was one of the most commonly requested classes!

If engagement is a key factor to student learning, Mr. Boggs had the key to learning whenever he was using the iPads in his instruction.  The students were enthusiastically participating in a variety of ways.  It is with tools like these that creative and daring educators like Mr. Boggs and forward thinking leaders like Principal Gottlob can double the learning, triple the enjoyment, and maintain an outstanding instructional institution.

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The Professional Development Dilemma

Posted by Tim Landeck on September 27, 2011

All K-12 employees need to receive professional development in their field. Teachers need to learn about new and better ways to deliver instruction. Classified staff needs to learn about the new programs and district initiatives. Administrators need to learn about ways to manage their staff and facility in a more effective and efficient manner. Technical staff needs to learn about the new technology developments to select and implement the systems that will assist in making everyone’s life easier and more effective in education.

Can any of these job areas do without their trainings and if so, for how long? When will the lack of funding to support forward movement in professional development be felt by the students and community? It seems that professional development funds are usually cut soon after the funding for the district grant writer. In other words, it is one of the first items cut from the budget.

In these lean times in education the technical staff is faced with a large dilemma.  We need to keep up with the latest and greatest in technology for the K-12 arena; however, there are not funds available to send staff to trainings where they learn about ways to do more with less and improve the technical workings of the school site, district or county. These individuals are already highly skilled and trained personnel but we need to keep them this way. With limited, or no professional development funds available, how can we keep our staff up to speed with the ever changing world of technology?

The technology staff is expected to integrate the latest technical innovations as they are released.  It seems to me that the technical staff’s lack of continued professional growth would be felt sooner by their “clients” than the other groups. Everyone needs to continue to grow and model being lifelong learners, but when we cut the training to the technical staff, there is no opportunity for growth in the technical department and this equates to stagnant progress that affects everyone in the organization, from staff to students to community members.

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