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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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.

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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!
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The Homework Gap—Latest Wrinkle for Resolving the Digital Divide

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on December 16, 2017

cartoon of a chasmHistorically, the term digital divide referred to a lack of access to hardware and Internet connectivity. Basic technology access is less of an issue today; however, as we have increased the numbers of available devices and Internet-connected schools, we are discovering that solving the digital divide challenge is more complex than making ‘stuff’ available. We are discovering that, in addition to connectivity issues on campus, we also must address students’ use of technology outside the traditional school day, especially as technology-supported homework activities become increasingly common. Failure to attend to this challenge results in a phenomenon called the Homework Gap—a situation where, for a variety of reasons, students lack sufficient connectivity to complete assignments and then, in some instances, are penalized for not getting their homework done. What do mindful educators need to think about as they consider the current status of the digital divide off-campus and how it might be impacting teaching and learning?

False assumptions

It’s not uncommon for educators to form false assumptions about students’ access to technology at home based on information provided by parents and students themselves. This often happens when students and/or parents are asked questions in surveys or other data collection activities that fail to get at the information educators actually need. For example, it’s not enough to know that a student has home access to a tablet device that is used 30 minutes daily. It’s also necessary to know what type and model of tablet, what operating system it is running, how it connects to the internet, its screen size, if there are peripherals (e.g., a keyboard) and if the student is sharing the device with one or more other people as well as what the student is doing while using the device. The same is true for laptops, desktop computers, and smartphones. These specifics are needed to fully understand the quality of students’ off-campus connectivity.

There are similar concerns related to Internet connectivity. If there’s home access, what type and how robust is the network? If there’s no home access, where do students need to be to get online and is it possible for them to get there? If they are relying on a data plan for connectivity, can the plan support the required work and what is the monthly data allowance? Is the plan shared with other devices?

Equity concerns off campus often result in students not being able to complete homework as assigned or in them having to go to extreme lengths to keep up with their work. Students who are sharing a device with other family members or who have limited or no Internet connectivity at home may want to do their work, but not be able to due to circumstances beyond their control. Not only does this hurt them academically, but may have detrimental impacts on family relationships.

Quick fixes aren’t the solution

What can educators do to resolve Homework Gap concerns? Arriving at solutions requires effort and flexibility along with a recognition that quick fixes may take care of problems in the short-term, but are not ongoing solutions. For example, you may have heard about schools that enter partnerships with companies that will provide tablets with free 3G or 4G connectivity for one year or some type of WiFi hot spot. This is a generous offer that may immediately address lack of Internet access at home, but what happens at the end of the year? Typically, schools that take advantage of this kind of donation cannot afford to assume the cost of these accounts at the end of the year. With no back-up plan, users are reduced to relying on limited WiFi connections resulting in little or no use of the devices off campus.

Ongoing solutions require a lot of work and ingenuity. One way to begin might be to seek out agencies, organizations, and schools within the community that might be willing to partner with you to design long-term solutions. For example, Next Century Cities supports mayors and city leaders who are willing to partner with local businesses and schools to bring affordable Internet to local residents. Another possibility may be to work with local your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to learn about affordable options for families that cannot afford expensive Internet packages. It may be necessary to negotiate short-term immediate connectivity solutions such as access to WiFi networks at the public library or an after-school program, but if this is the case, be clear from the beginning that it is a temporary solution and plan for how you will follow-up with a more permanent solution.

Given the information above, how does the Homework Gap impact your students and what permanent solutions can you identify that could help your student bridge this new aspect of the digital divide?

N.B. The information provided above originally appeared as part of a longer article on digital divide issues in Today’s Catholic Teacher Magazine (Winter 2017).

 

 

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Is classroom technology good for learning or wasting time?

Posted by Michael Simkins on August 21, 2017

Elementary school students look at a tablet together.

In this article from the Dallas News, UT Austin professor Joan E. Hughes compares active and passive uses of technology.

Research has shown these passive uses of tablets are about as effective as a teacher’s lecture. Innovative, progressive teaching with tablet technology requires creative solutions.

She also highlights the issue of inequitable use—especially the tendency noted in some research for students of color, those from low-income families, or those who are low-achieving primarily to use technology in school to passively receive information while their more affluent, gifted, or advanced peers have more opportunity to use technology for active, creative and social learning activities.  Hughes encourages schools to take a look at how technology is being used in different classroom and instructional contexts and to be alert for such discrepancies.

This is a nice article to share in your school newsletter or with parent groups.

Source: Is classroom technology good for learning or wasting time? | Commentary | Dallas News

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