Next-Gen Assessments: It’s about more than devices

Posted by Geoff Belleau on April 27, 2014

Students looking at computer screens
It’s about more than devices!

Across the state of California and the whole country, purchase orders have been filled out and new devices are arriving in warehouses. Why? Because our students will be participating in the field test of the SBAC and PAARC “next generation” assessments. Gone are the days of fill-in-the-bubble answer sheets and boxes of standardized test booklets. The SBAC and PAARC assessments are all completed on computers. Here are four critical questions to consider before, during and after this field test.

Four Big Questions

First, has the network been updated? Is there the capacity to deliver the assessments. Think of it like a freeway. How many lanes are going out from your district. District administrators, here’s a practical experiment to try: for your next two district-wide principals meetings, hold one at a middle school and the other at an elementary school. Check how it is for everyone to get online with the iPads, laptops, and smartphones.  Compare the level of connectivity in each case to what you experience in central office.

Second, what is the inventory plan for the devices students will use to take the tests? Are they going to be checked out to the school, to the teacher, to the students? Something else to put on the list is what is the replacement plan? These devices may be purchased with one time money at this point.  Do you know their anticipated life expectancy?  Are they insured?

Third, what’s the quality of digital citizenship in the district, not only that of the students, but of the staff as well?  What are the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use? Staff, parents and students are all really concerned about online life. Clear, accurate information for each of these groups will go a long way to alleviate concerns.

Fourth, where is your staff in terms of their readiness to implement new pedagogy, new standards, and new technology?   This almost should be the first question. What professional development have teachers had that addresses the new standards but also the appropriate integration of technology? Getting ready for SBAC is just the first step; developing TPACK is the journey ahead.

Bonus Round

OK, that’s the promised four, but here’s a bonus:  Has your LEA considered BYOD? Bring your own device (BYOD) is not requiring students to bring their own devices; it’s allowing students to use their own devices. Have relevant policies been updated to protect the district and the students?

This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but by answering questions like these, we have an opportunity for significant shifts to occur.  As educational leaders, we must be good stewards of the resources in our care. Having plans that thoughtfully address questions like those above is a great first step toward 21st century education.

 

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Using Technology to Build Community Involvement

Posted by Janice Delagrammatikas on March 30, 2014

Come Back Kids logo and Twitter handleI confess.  As a parent, I was one who signed up for school site council and then didn’t participate.  I would find parent surveys at the bottom of my children’s backpacks long after they were due or I would just forget to send them back.  I had the best intentions and I was certainly pleased to be asked, but when it came down to it, I couldn’t afford to take the time off work.  I had class on the night meetings were scheduled, or it would just slip my mind.  Years later, as an administrator, I struggle to find the right mix of stakeholder involvement activities so all parents and community members have the opportunity to be involved and contribute to the discussion.  Fortunately, I have many more tools at my disposal than school leaders in the 1980’s and 90’s.

Twitter

Telephone calls and mail just don’t produce the turnout I need to meet mandated parent involvement.  I do use them and email also, but my Twitter feed is quickly becoming the go-to tool that lets my school community know what is happening on our campuses.  I use my tweets to remind parents and partners about meetings and I post links to current information. I tweet pictures and links to short videos to keep my feed fun and engaging. My tweets remind my school community that we are hard at work teaching and learning; and having fun too. Using Twitter engages reluctant technology users, makes students think you’re cool, and provides anytime-anywhere communication.

Google Forms

Remember the ten page survey sent to all parents, the cost of mailing it, and then getting only a handful back?  I still have my paper survey, and I hand it out to anyone who prefers it, but I also create the survey in Google Forms and  send out the link by email, Twitter, and on note cards.  Staff and students promote it too.  Google Form responses populate to a Google spreadsheet. and a summary of responses with charts is available underneath the form tab.  I began using Google Forms this year to prepare for an upcoming WASC visit and to gather community input for our LCAP.  My response rate has increased from 32 responses last year to 237 so far this year.  I also saved a small fortune on mailing and paying someone to tabulate the results—enough to pay for several teachers to attend the CUE conference this spring.

Google Hangouts

The last new tech tool in my community involvement tool belt is Google Hangouts.   With Google Hangouts, I can have a meeting at a physical location, but other participants can join us remotely.   Our school has classrooms at 14 different geographical locations and  using Google Hangouts means that staff, students, and parents from separate sites can meet in a virtual space, share documents and work together.  One EL student shared with me that she liked the Hangout because normally she would be too shy to speak in a meeting,  but in this format she felt comfortable contributing.  Busy parents and community members can join from work.  It has taken some practice to learn how to use Hangouts for these meetings, and we are still getting better at developing the procedures that make our collaboration smoother.  Lessons learned include being patient as everyone learns to sign on, having someone on the phone to assist those having technical difficulties,  keeping our mics muted  except for the person who is speaking, having a moderator recognizing the next speaker, using the chat section to record comments and questions, and developing procedures for taking and recording votes.  Despite this learning curve, we still have more participation from a diverse set of participants and we are not paying staff for time and mileage to travel to a meeting.

Accomplishing multiple goals

As a site leader these tools serve more than one purpose.  First, I use these tools to facilitate and document meaningful engagement of parents, students, and other stakeholders, including those representing the subgroups for developing our LCAP.  Second, it gives me an opportunity to lead and promote the use of technology in our school.  Third, it’s always fun to try new things!

 

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New Year’s Challenge: Jump In!

Posted by Geoff Belleau on January 1, 2014

Logos in mortar boards: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, RSSMost of us entered a career in education because of the students.  The rapidly changing, technology-driven, mobile world is changing those students. They are still children—or young adults—but they have access to an unprecedented amount of information, and their social interactions have changed. In addition to Facebook, they use social tools like Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Tumblr, Kik, and Vine among others. Gone are the days when schools could easily restrict access to such tools; now they’re as close as the mobile device in each student’s pocket. Our challenge is to model appropriate social interaction using tools most educators are just plain unfamiliar with.

How?  Just jump in.  For starters, if you haven’t joined Twitter, do it. Twitter can be used to log into and share on many of the tools listed above. Next, as you make your way around your school building or district every day, make at least one day a “follow me” day. When you see an amazing lesson, snap a picture and post it along with a short note for your followers to see (yep, that’s called tweeting). If you see an orderly lunch line with a smiling food service employee, tweet it. Follow the good example of Kris Corey (@coreykrisc), superintendent in Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District. Those stakeholders who follow her on Twitter know when she’s visiting schools because she is sharing lessons, student work, special events and even the Chipotle fundraiser flyer. Several of her administrators have followed her example and share the daily activities of their schools:(@kristenwitt13, @crystalmiddleca, @annakyleelem, @principal439).

Recently, Twitter launched Vine. Like Twitter, Vine is microblogging (140 character limit), but with an added feature: 6 second videos that loop. Create a Vine video by simply touching the screen. Then add a short description and post. Since Twitter is used to create the Vine account, your post goes to both Vine and Twitter automatically. Many have said a picture is worth a thousand words; a video could be worth a million words!

Outside your office post your Twitter, Vine, and Instagram username, plus any others you may have such as Facebook and Pinterest. Next add these usernames to email signatures and newsletters going home. Let your followers build naturally and don’t worry if the count only goes up slowly.

If you are more inclined to share graphically, use Instagram to share the amazing things going on at your building or district. Instagram is a favorite because it makes those artistic looking square pictures with filters and borders. By linking your Twitter account on setup, you can automatically share on twitter whenever you post to Instagram.

One common element across all of this social sharing is use of hashtags(#) to code posts and call them out for attention from a specific audience.  Start using hashtags as part of your New Year’s challenge.  You could start with one I use: #makingheroes. When you post, add #makingheroes to your tweet, Vine video, Instagram picture or other post. Also start using a hashtag that relates to your building or district. That way when you click on those #hashtags you will start to see all of the sharing that is going on!

It’s easier than you think! Take this 5 minute challenge (modified from @digitalroberto).

  1. Take a picture of student work and post it on Instagram (Twitter). (1 minute)
  2. Shoot a Vine video showing active learning or a special event and post it on Twitter. (1 minute)
  3. Tweet about something amazing going on by describing it (1 minute)
  4. Share one of your colleagues posts from one of their schools with your followers on Twitter (2 minutes) If you at a site try to do this once a day, if you are a central office, try to get out and do this once a week. Set a reminder on your calendar.

Unlike our students who are digital natives, we are digital immigrants.  We need to become digital colonists and model good digital citizenship. If we are to help students be great digital citizens, we must be citizens in the same digital world.  Jump in!

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Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Initiatives—Increasing the Odds for Success

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on December 1, 2013

Cartoon hands with many tech devices
See “Security Amidst The Mobile Chaos” for a business perspective on the BYOD issue.

Unimaginable not all that long ago, growing numbers of schools and districts are launching programs where students are permitted to bring their own mobile devices to school for classroom use. The work I do makes it possible for me to spend time in schools and districts across the country. In the last two years I’ve had numerous opportunities to see several different manifestations of BYOD in action. It’s probably no surprise that some approaches to BYOD are more effective than others. However, I’m learning that irrespective of overall program design there are five specific issues that must be addressed to lay the groundwork for successful BYOD programs.  They are described here.

1. Infrastructure: The state of your network matters—a lot. I’m not a technician, but from what I’ve seen and been told at multiple schools struggling with network problems, a common problem is that folks who design the infrastructure typically underestimate the amount of traffic that will be generated by a BYOD program. As a result, teachers and students can’t get online, become discouraged, and abandon BYOD altogether.

Schools and districts must have a realistic understanding of what their infrastructure needs to support BYOD. Until the network is at the point where it can handle the amount of traffic that will be generated by students using their own devices (and then some), limit the scope of the rollout to what the network actually can support. This may mean initially planning a small pilot that can be expanded as the network becomes more robust. While a staged approach may not please everyone, it is preferable to a situation where the network isn’t functioning reliably for anyone.

2. Hardware specs: BYOD does not mean that students must be allowed to bring to school any mobile device they happen to have on hand. It’s important to take time to identify the kinds of learning activities the technology needs to be able to support and then establish minimum specifications for the devices students may bring based on identified uses. When students’ devices meet a pre-determined baseline, it’s easier to for teachers to plan lessons and for students to fully engage in classroom activities.

3. Policies and procedures: I’m surprised at the number of schools I visit that launch BYOD programs having given little or no thought to how they will handle a range of issues from devices that are lost or broken to students who circumvent the school network using their device’s 3g or 4g connection (not to mention procedures for downloading apps, troubleshooting student-owned hardware, charging batteries, and much more). Of course it’s not possible, or even desirable, to craft policies and procedures that attempt to cover every possible circumstance, but a few clearly stated, reasonable expectations shared with students ahead of time and then enforced will set the stage for success.

4. Professional development: Incorporating effective use of student-owned technology into classroom activities requires far more than a mandate. Few teachers have expertise in use of multiple mobile platforms or are comfortable designing learning activities that require use of mobile devices to support collaboration or critical thinking. Yet it’s common for teachers to be asked to participate in BYOD initiatives with little or no professional development. Even teachers who embrace more traditional technology use benefit from training focused on strategies and tools for addressing academic content in mobile environments. Ongoing professional development that includes a coaching component is an effective model, but requires a significant commitment of time and financial resources.

5. Parent involvement: The importance of parent support for BYOD programs cannot be over-emphasized. Educators must include parent representatives in BYOD planning as early in the process as possible. In addition to garnering support for the initiative within the community, parent representatives can provide very useful information when determining minimum specifications for mobile devices that may be brought to school and as school officials design BYOD policies and procedures. Recent Speak-Up Survey reports indicate strong parental support for BYOD initiatives nationally. Capitalize on this to shore up local support for local programs.

Take the time to work through these five issues. Your teachers, IT staff, students, and parents will thank you.

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All STEM’d Up!

Posted by Skip Johnson on November 17, 2013

All STEM'd Up with man on motorcycle at left(to the tune of Elvis’ All Shook Up)

A well we done our plan
What’s right with us?
We’re working really hard and creatin’ no fuss
Our peers say we’re actin’ wild and smug
We’re a determined clan
We’re all STEM’d Up!
Mm mm oh, oh, yeah, yeah!

Our plans aren’t shaky and our minds aren’t weak
We are standin’, standin’ on our own two feet
We can thank ourselves to have such luck
We’re a determined clan
We’re all STEM’d Up!
Mm mm oh, oh, yeah, yeah!

Please don’t figure to read our minds
We might look shook up but we are feelin’ fine
When we present those lessons we love best
Our students so engage, it scares us to death

When we touch their minds, it’s a chill we got
Now let’s study a volcano that’s hot-hot-hot
We are proud to say this is our loving cup
We’re a determined clan
We’re all STEM’d Up!
Mm mm oh, oh, yeah, yeah!

Our tongues are steady when we need to speak
Our insides are excited as a circuit that is tweaked
There is no cure for this STEM gold mine
We’re gonna keep this system ’cause it’s so fine

We’re a determined clan
We’re all STEM’d Up!
Mm mm oh, oh, yeah, yeah!
Mm mm oh, oh, yeah, yeah!
We’re all STEM’d Up!

Yes, at El Crystal Elementary School we are ALL STEM’d UP! On Wednesday, November 7, 2012, the governing board made El Crystal the first STEM Magnet School in the San Bruno Park School District,.  The next morning, we were full “STEM” ahead.  The 9 teachers and I have accomplished a lot since then:

  • Wrote the STEM Curriculum for grades Kindergarten through fifth grade.
  • Participated in three weeks of self-determined professional development.
  • Conducted four informational meetings for families from other schools in our district.
  • Generated an informational brochure that we distributed throughout our area.
  • Achieved two $20,000.00 grants.
  • Worked closely with the STEM Center at the San Mateo County Office of Education to fine tune our curriculum.
  • Gave three presentations to the governing board to share our progress.
  • Invited to share our program at the Orange County Office of Education.
  • Arranged a partnership through a  Memorandum of Understanding with Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California to provide us with academic support in science and math focused on creating a student-centered learning environment.
  • Created a partnership with Walmart, whose eCommerce headquarters are in San Bruno.
  • Created a partnership with Facebook who replaced twenty-two of our computers that were stolen.
  • Established an advisory committee composed of parents, community members and representatives from Intel, Facebook, Walmart, and Gilead Sciences.
  • Remodeled our media center to accommodate STEM activities.

Earlier this month, we took time out to reflect upon our progress to date:

What is going well?

  • Student engagement in learning has visibly increased.
  • Students are demonstrating a positive attitude towards all aspects of the school including behavior and attendance to learning.
  • Teacher collaboration in grade alike and across grades has been a very positive outcome of STEM.
  • There is a tremendous increase in hands-on learning activities at all grade levels.
  • Teachers believe they are creating a more student-centered learning environment.
  • Overall, staff believes they are achieving deeper levels or understanding and learning with their students.
  • In most classes, parents are eagerly helping with needed supplies for all types of STEM activities
  • Parents report that they are pleased with our new program; that their children come home excited about the daily activities in their classrooms; and that they really like the teaching staff 

What needs to improve?

  • Generally, parents from families that have transferred into our program from outside our attendance area display higher levels of participation than those for whom this is their home school.
  • We have discovered that implementing STEM activities takes much more time than anticipated (not that this can be changed).

What to do differently if we had a fresh start?

  • Not write any curriculum for science until the Next Generation Standards were posted in their final form.
  • Spend the first six weeks of the year assessing the levels of the students and their abilities to handle increased STEM activities.
  • Concentrate on putting more procedures into place such as learning how to function in small, collaborative groups.
  • Get to know all the students better before implementing the STEM curriculum even if it meant delaying STEM activities until October.
  • Teach students how to have collaborative conversations and how to behave and function in collaborative groups.
  • Implementing STEM activities in the three lower grades has been more difficult than the two upper grades. Plan for that through practice.
  • Establish the partnership with Notre Dame de Namur earlier. It would have been helpful to have their sage advice when we had our first professional development activities during the last two weeks of June 2013.
  • Figure out a way to allow for more collaboration time for staff members for planning purposes.
  • Provide constructive feedback by observing each other teach STEM activities.
  • Right now most activities are on a trial and error basis. Staff is coming to grips with that level of anxiety.

Principal’s perspective

From my perspective as principal, our implementation of our STEM program, for the most part is going smoothly. My thoughts and observations:

  • I have never seen teachers so hard-working and dedicated to making a program successful.
  • Collaboration is at an all-time high.
  • As principal, I need to get into classrooms more and observe and validate STEM efforts.
  • This program is clearly worth the effort due to observable increases in student engagement and enthusiasm.
  • This is going to take about three years to perfect.
  • The collaboration with Notre Dame is well worth the investment in time and finance.
  • The relationships I built with parents and community members to gather support for our program has improved not only our school culture but my relationship with the school community.
  • The staff and I agree that given the opportunity, we would do this over again.
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