It is hard to believe that summer is almost over. Like most districts in California, ours has been under intense fiscal pressure due to ongoing budget cuts. This influence, coupled with increasing expectations for student achievement, led us to redesign our summer school options. We now have an opportunity to reflect and evaluate the merits of our decisions.
The silver lining in the current financial crisis has been the relaxation of rules for programs like summer school. In the past, our revenue would have been linked to the number of hours of attendance for students that qualified for varying rates of reimbursement. Now that the supplemental hourly programs such as summer school are flexible, we asked ourselves what the needs of our students were and how we could best use existing resources to address those areas. As a result, we decided to offer a distance learning program for students in need of credit recovery at the high school level and an English Learner academy for all grades. Thanks to recent funding from the Education Technology K-12 Voucher Program, we had some iPads and iPod touch devices that we decided to deploy as part of our EL academy.
How did it work?
Our district sits on the edge of the Pacific Ocean about 35 miles north of San Diego. I mention this because the first thing we noticed was that attendance, which usually drops off during the summer, held steady in spite of the lure of our coastal diversions. Student engagement, which typically is not at its peak during summer interventions, was remarkably different than in the past. Teacher enthusiasm—also subject to variation during the summer—was off the charts in a positive direction. Grades and local assessments also showed higher levels of success than we previously have seen in the summer.
Here are a few recommendations based on this experience:
Take advantage of the existing options to be creative with program design.
As always, consider multiple funding streams to support your plans. We used Voucher funding for the hardware, Title III dollars for the EL academy instruction, and some Tier III revenues to provide for distance learning resources. Much of the planning was supported by a one-time, ARRA Technology grant.
Remember that many technology resources—hardware and software—are unused during summer. For us, having the iPads sit in storage would not have served our students. The distance learning licenses we purchased earlier in the year were “annual” subscriptions that also were viable for use in the summer without any additional expenses.
Use student achievement data to guide your areas in need of attention.
Empower teachers and staff to best use the technology resources. Our teachers discovered new and creative ways to motivate and instruct students that we would not have been able to anticipate had we provided too much of a script for their plans.
As educational leaders, my hope is that we find ways to turn our challenges into opportunities for improvement. Strategic and novel deployment of existing technology resources is one strategy that will help us to best serve our students and communities. If we can make it work during the summer, what is to stop us from doing the same throughout the year?
Bored by tedious PowerPoint presentations? Recently, I learned about two alternatives worth your consideration.
I was working with a team to plan a technology conference for 100 technology teacher leaders in our state when our keynote speaker, Tony Vincent, introduced us to “Pecha Kucha.” To me it sounded like a character from a video game, and my two technology geek friends were clueless as well. In fact, Pecha Kucha is a presentation format that restricts each presenter to 20 slides, each shown for 20 seconds. The slides are set to advance automatically to ensure the time limit is honored. Ultimately, each presenter has just 6 minutes 40 seconds to explain ideas.
Yet even with that short time frame, we realized we would not have enough time for everyone to create and show a Pecha Kucha. Mr. Vincent had an immediate answer: Ignite. In this even briefer format, participants are given five minutes to speak accompanied by 20 slides. Each slide is displayed for 15 seconds, and slides are advanced automatically. We agreed to give it a try and have an Ignite showcase the final day of the conference. After all, how hard could this be, right?
We built time into the conference for participants to work on their presentations—either alone or with a group. On showcase day we drew names to see who would have the opportunity to take the stage and share. We allowed time for 18 presentations. Sounds long until you do the math and see it’s only 90 minutes of total presentation time! We had a variety of topics that ranged from parent involvement to Wikispaces in education to the impact your skin color has on others’ perceptions of you. Using wiffiti, participants gave feedback on each presentation, which kept everyone engaged during transitions between speakers.
The overall feeling of the group was that preparing to give this type of presentation is not as easy as it looks! It takes a lot of thoughtful planning to get the timing down and to get your message across in your allotted time. However, the benefits are great. (If fact, if teachers adopted this style of information sharing it might capture some of that the much-discussed shrinking attention span of students who are not being engaged in their learning and are bored in class!)
Research shows that language development up to the age of five impacts a child’s success in school throughout his or her academic career. Children who spend these critical years in language rich environments are far more likely to be successful students than are children who do not. But with 20 children in a class, how can teachers insure that all children have ample opportunity to be exposed to high-quality language experiences? And how can teachers increase the likelihood that children will have similar experiences at home?
Marsha Daniels, Director of the South Central Services Cooperative (SCSC) in Camden, AR presented this challenge to staff early in 2009. As a result, 22 Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) preschool teachers and paraprofessionals representing 11 classrooms across SCSC’s service area are leveraging the fact that preschoolers are one of the fastest growing groups of technology users and ready availability of inexpensive mobile technologies such as iPods and Flip cameras to extend their accessibility to youngsters in the classroom and to the children’s parents.
Launched in July 2009, participants have received equipment and training designed to increase children’s language experiences in the classroom and extend the school day by engaging parents in activities they can do with their children at home. The focus for year 1 has been to get the initiative up and running. Each classroom received an iMac desktop computer, an iPod Classic, and a Flip camera. Five days of training scheduled across the 2009-2010 school year and provided by an outside consultant, classroom visitations by the consultant and director, an on-going support provided by SCSC staff have resulted in teachers and paraprofessionals creating monthly podcasts and videos for children and their parents. Participants also each created a classroom wiki site where parents can access these files along with other online resources and news.
The results for year 1 are very positive. Every teacher and paraprofessional has exceeded original expectations. The children are regularly accessing short language-rich podcasts and videos. Parents are slowly, but surely coming to the wiki to use these files with their children at home. The focus in year 2 will be on innovative use of these technologies in lesson design and in helping the children become more independent in their use of the technology.
This project is listed as an exemplary case of blended in- and out of- school learning on the new National Education Technology site. Read more about it!
Having slashed our budgets by a whopping 20% already this year, California’s adult schools continue to seek innovative ways to stretch our education dollars. Distance learning has been a growing delivery system for us during recent years, and we will continue to explore new ways in which we can educate students who are unable to meet face-to-face in a convenient and cost-effective manner.
The California Technology Innovation Challenge Grant began with the goal of extending learning beyond the classroom for students in English as a Second Language (ESL) programs. Previously “low tech” in delivery, this project has evolved into online delivery methods such as the recently launched U.S.A. Learns—an Internet-based instructional software program. A joint venture of the U.S. Department of Education (ED), Office of Vocational and Adult Education, Division of Adult Education and Literacy (DAEL), core funding for U.S.A. Learns was provided by ED. Additional funding for U.S.A. Learns was made available by the California Department of Education, Office of Adult Education. U.S.A. Learns has helped adult educators to facilitate a centrally manageable, entirely online, truly innovative distance learning program for English learners.
The California Distance Learning Project continues to support expanding options for Career Technical Education Citizenship, GED Test Preparation, High School Diploma subjects, Older Adult, and Parent Education programs. Visit your local adult school today to learn more about distance learning programs in addition to a full array of traditional face to face and blended, i.e. combination of distance learning and traditional class meetings. Your local adult school is your community resource for full technology integration into all curricular areas. A list is available on the Outreach and Technical Assistance Network for Adult Educators (OTAN) website. Access to OTAN is free of charge with registration.
When Amazon released its second generation Kindle in February 2009, there was speculation that the enhancements in this new device would make it a natural for storing and accessing textbooks. But the limited number of textbooks and other instructional materials available in Kindle format made this seem like a pipe dream. Now, as the true impact of the recent fiscal crisis continues to make itself felt nationwide, there appears to be increased serious interest in schools making a switch to electronic textbooks or ebooks to save money.
Just this month, ABC News and several other news organizations reported on a document released on July 14 by the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). Titled “A Kindle in Every Backpack,” this report suggests that the government could purchase a Kindle or other ebook reading device for every student in the U.S. so that textbooks could be distributed and updated electronically and to enable teachers to customize instructions for students. The proposal still needs a lot of work, and the initial cost would be high ($9 billion the first four years), but members of the DLC predict that schools would save hundreds of millions of dollars in subsequent years.
Amazon is not the only business looking at this market. There are a number of ebook reading devices currently available as shown in this table. And there are websites like Shortcovers that allow users to purchase and download ebooks onto a variety of devices ranging from ebook readers to laptops, MP3 players and smartphones. In other words, it might be possible for students to shift to use of some electronic texts right away by using devices they already own!
With states scrambling to cover huge deficits, it may be time to serious consider ways this technology could be used to reduce costs and make sure students have access to up-to-date instructional materials in a variety of formats. What are the questions you would ask?