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.

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Print books are still da bomb!

Posted by Lisa Marie Gonzales on June 16, 2015

With the expansion of technology and the social media world accessible to our youngest of generations, it’s no wonder Kindles, Nooks, and iBooks are growing in popularity. In our household, iPads have been the norm for years. But like the emerging trends of the 13–17 year olds in households and schools, our nine-year-old twins prefer…you guessed it…print books!

Girl on couch reading a book.

Recent statistics report that, despite being tech savvy, the 13-17 age group aren’t big e-book consumers. While 20% of teens report purchasing e-books, 25% of 30–44 year olds and 23% of 18–29 year olds buy digital copies.1 While younger readers are open to e-books as a format, the age group continues to express a preference for print that may seem to be at odds with their perceived level of digital savvy.

Are my twingles any different than their older counterparts? It’s doubtful. Several factors play a role in the preference of teens toward print publications, and they are similar to what my mini-me’s have in play.

First of all, their mother still prefers print, be it the traditional get-your-fingers-a-bit-dirty newspaper each morning, the paperback novel that welcomes a dog-ear, or the ability to share a book with a sibling, a friend, a parent. Or maybe it’s the giddy role model I provide when, traipsing around the country, I find a used bookstore full of treasures!

Secondly, the word of mouth power of print books or magazines is much greater than their electronic counterparts, as I recently witnessed with a group of little girls after a football tailgate party. “Oh, I loved that book,” exclaimed one of seven, when looking at a paperback copy of one of the recent Goddess Girls books strewn on a bedroom floor. “Me too!” exclaimed another. My twins watched, and I couldn’t help but ask, “Have you read one?” I would have been stunned if my dirty pant-kneed tomboys had said yes, as the others, clearly girlie girls, headed toward the makeup and music. Yet two days later, having picked up one copy at a used bookstore and coerced one of my daughters to read “just the first fifty pages,” the Little Blonde One admitted the rest were going on her list to Santa.

Finally, my daughters aren’t very visible on social media like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or blogs unless I’m closely supervising their use on my accounts. However, the teens out there benefit from the bandwagon effect that social media can create around reading resources, especially series. If an author can gather a following with just a couple of books, sales of more are soon to follow.

Guess a screen can’t replace everything.

_______________

1“Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover: Tech-Savvy Teens Remain Fans of Print Books.” Newswire. Nielsen, 9 Dec. 2014. Web. 16 June 2015. <http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2014/dont-judge-a-book-by-its-cover-tech-savvy-teens-remain-fans-of-print-books.html>.

 

 

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Education Technology Guidance

Posted by Michael Simkins on April 22, 2013

GPS screenYesterday, I received an email from an aspiring administrator with the subject line “Education technology guidance.”  He wrote that as the “closest thing my school currently has to an Education Technologist,” he’s been tasked with writing a grant proposal for funding to help his school implement a blended learning environment.  He described his dilemma as follows:

As part of the application, I am being asked to forecast the annual costs for digital content licenses, learning management systems, and data management systems. I am unsure as to whether I understand the difference between all three, never mind how to estimate a cost. As I understand it, the digital content license would be for programs like Aleks’ math program. A learning management system would be something like Edmodo or Moodle, where a teacher could deliver other content and communicate with students. I am unclear as to what a data management system would be. Could you please help clarify these three terms or guide me in the right direction. Examples of each would help.

Bless his heart.  He’s been handed a task with the expectation, apparently, that he’ll do it alone when, in fact, it should be a team effort informed by thoughtful discussion with all stakeholders.  Of course, grant proposals are rarely developed methodically. Typically, one of two things happens.  Some money is dangled in front of us and we go after it, regardless of how it fits our strategic plan; or, we find money in the offing that actually matches our plan but the window for submitting a proposal is so short we have to slap something together in a huge rush and get it out the door.

Well, we have to work in the real world and this fellow wanted guidance now, so here is what I wrote.

You’re on the right track.  Content licenses are any fees you pay to make online content available to teachers and students (e.g. NBC Learn, Discovery Education, ProQuest K-12).  Moodle is one example of a learning management system; Blackboard is another.  A data management system would be something you use to collect, house and analyze information such as student demographics, tests scores, e-portfolios, etc. (e.g. TestingWerks).  Some, like SchoolNet or ObaWorld, are hybrids and combine features.

Before you can forecast costs, you need to determine what tools you need and what you are going to use them for.  What does your school already have?  How does it keep track of student information?  What curricular materials do you use already and will still use in this new program?  How does the school track student data now?  Do you need a different system because of this program or will the one in use serve the purpose?  Basically, you can’t work on a budget until you know what you want to do and what you’ll need to do it.

That’s how I responded; how would you?

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Gaining Perspective with LinkedIn

Posted by Lisa Marie Gonzales on July 24, 2012

Charlie Rose interviews LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman and Jeff Weiner.

I’ll admit it. I’m a LinkedIn convert.

As of this summer, my time spent on LinkedIn has surpassed my use of Facebook. My colleagues would be proud but, until now, I haven’t come out of the closet to share my newfound interest.

Yes, I am one of those who joined LinkedIn years ago, as did my non-techie husband (he was member number 1,060 but the first 1,000 were Beta and according to him “didn’t really count”).  I never really saw the application in education until this summer when I spent a little time with a true LinkedIn believer who just happens to be one of the company’s vice presidents.

Before, when asked by colleagues in education, “Should I join LinkedIn?” my response was consistent: “It doesn’t hurt but it’s really designed for use in the non-education, business world.”

Shows what little I knew.

Robust World of Discussions

A robust world of discussions from education leaders all over the country exists in “groups” on LinkedIn, with the periodic international educator jumping in with a global perspective that often makes me sit back and think a little deeper.   Take, for example, the group established by the American Association of School Administrators.  The 6,000 members in its LinkedIn group have been exploring conversations about reform efforts like K-12 grouping structures, recommended professional reads for professional learning communities, and incentives for behavior programs. I spent this morning joining in the discussion about K-12 multi-age groupings, and within an hour had taken the conversation offline and now have research and three PowerPoint presentations from different leaders in the conversation on how they implemented multi-age classrooms, plus longitudinal data on its impact.

ASCD has another rich conversation network, thanks to its 3,700-member group.  Looking for a resource?  Perhaps 7-12th grade student-centered math projects?  This is a great place to ask for help as the breadth of members allows for a broader perspective and analysis of resources and best practices that we might not be as familiar with here in California.

One of my favorites is the Technology Integration in Education group, now close to 16,000 members strong. The discussions progress quickly, though you do have to sort through those initiated by vendors. I have a tech presentation I was asked to present to our countywide Library Camp next month. While I know what tech tools and web resources may be valuable for teachers and administrators, I struggled with the newly changing librarian perspective.  Two days after my query in this group, I had enough resources to double the length of my presentation.

Customized Suggestions

This morning I made the mistake of clicking on “Groups You Might Like.”  Thanks to its analytical tools, LinkedIn has figured out my preferences, dislikes, and what I most desire for dinner tonight. I selected a few more groups than I think I can handle monitoring on a regular basis, including the 5,300 member strong STEM Connections for K-12 Education (can I get them to consider adding the “A” to STEM for the arts?). Not surprising that 57 of my LinkedIn friends, known as “connections,” are already members of this group. Great minds think alike. Or maybe I have too many connections.  The International Society for Technology in Education was my second choice. It’s got close to 17,000 members!  I am confident I will have more to share with TICAL colleagues and other tech leaders after a little time in this group.

CUE, Inc. has a group on LinkedIn (thanks to Mike Lawrence who clearly realized the value of LinkedIn before I did). So does ACSA, but its moving much more slowly than others. We’ll see what we can do about that.

Jobs, too!

I guess it would be irresponsible for me not to also share that LinkedIn is great for networking to find jobs all over the country. The more information you put in your profile, including links to Slideshare presentations, articles published and volunteer work, the more views  your profile will have and the more connections you can make. And you never know when you might need a contact in El Paso, Texas.

I’ll stalk you, er, I mean “see” you on LinkedIn!

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Everything is Amazing and Nobody’s Happy

Posted by James Scoolis on February 29, 2012

The school district I work in just offered a sizable cash retirement incentive for teachers and administrators age 55 or older with at least ten years of district service.  About a third of the district’s teaching and administrative staff was eligible for the incentive, and that includes me, an older digital immigrant.  So of course I looked into it.  What I found was that despite being a twenty-eight year retirement system veteran, for me, even a $50,000 incentive (the amount offered if forty or more teachers agreed to retire), wasn’t enough to make up the difference in annual retirement payments two more years of service would provide.  So, here I will be for two more years.

Am I ready to retire?  Psychologically, yes.  I do love being around these children, now our second or third generation of digital natives.  But frankly I can’t seem to deflect the stresses and pressures—and the tragic aspects of some of their lives—as well as I used to.   Or perhaps it is true, as many of my generation are saying, that it just is getting to be ever more sad and tragic out there.

We just marked the 50th anniversary of John Glenn’s wild ride.  I was alive then, not quite yet in kindergarten.  I remember sitting in front of the black and white console in my jammies watching the blast off.   It has been fifty years since Bob Dylan recorded his first album.  John F. Kennedy was president, but he didn’t survive through my first grade year.  Telephones had curly cords and sat on tables and desks, and you had to walk over to them and stand there to use them.  Television had three channels and all our news came from Walter Cronkite or the newspaper that was actually printed on paper that made your fingers black.   The majority of music was printed on 45 RPM discs but the primary way to hear music was on a transistor radio.

I may be an older digital immigrant, but at least I was one of the first pioneers.  When I was a young inexperienced teacher, I helped unpack Apple II computers in an inner city Los Angeles school with another teacher who knew how to set up a lab.  I learned how to use LOGO.  I have seen the Mac and Windows wars won and lost and then won again—and that argument now rendered basically irrelevant.  And now behold the flat-out amazing handheld computer.   Thank you and may you rest in peace Mr. Jobs.  What an amazing fifty-five years it has been.

I agree with the insightful and hilarious Louis C.K.  who posits that we live in a time where everything is amazing and no one cares.

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