Classroom Visits Inform and Inspire

Posted by Devin Vodicka on November 22, 2012

After 13 wonderful years with the Carlsbad Unified School District, I made the leap to neighboring Vista Unified as the new Superintendent in July.  Vista Unified is the fourth-largest district in San Diego County with over 22,000 students (25,000 when charters are included) and 32 school sites.  To help me to understand the new setting I made it a goal to visit every classroom within the first two months of the school year.  While I still have a few to see, I have managed to see hundreds of classrooms within that timeframe.

Though the duration of each visit was relatively brief, I saw amazing consistency in many respects and I also observed some unique and innovative practices.  In all, it has been a tremendous learning opportunity and I wish that I could share the experience in great detail.  In the spirit of brevity, here are three examples I doubt I would have seen even a few years ago.

High School

At Rancho Buena Vista High School the students in an English class had worked in small groups to create posters with content that would be used in an upcoming test.  In lieu of having each student copy the documents, the teacher invited students to take photos using their smartphones and then share the images with peers.  Brilliant!

 

High school students using cellphone in English class.
Rancho Buena Vista High School student uses phone to capture image of documents in English class.

Elementary School

In a primary classroom at Beaumont Elementary School, one teacher asked students to compose messages that could fit in a 140-character Twitter post to share their impressions of the classroom with me.  This was a great cross-disciplinary idea that required students to use a sentence frame and their writing skills.  Counting the characters required some number sense and application of mathematics.  Who knew that a Twitter assignment could be used as a prompt for first-grade students?

 

Twitter messages to the new superintendent.
Twitter messages to the new superintendent.

 

Tablets absolutely are  beginning to transform the educational experience for students.  In this photo from Temple Heights Elementary School the teacher was able to replay the work that a student had done on a particular math problem to better understand their reasoning and problem-solving approach.  The ease of use, portability, and flexibility of the tablets seem to be leading to higher levels of use than the computers that have all-too-frequently been left alone in the corners of the classroom.  I saw tablets being used for independent work, guided activities, and direct instruction in conjunction with LCD projectors.  I suspect that what I saw was simply the tip of the iceberg.

 

Elementary student using a tablet computer.
Elementary student using a tablet computer.

Insights

In reflecting on this experience, here are two quick insights:

  1. This is an amazing time to be in education.  New and innovative options for teaching and learning are emerging daily.
  2. Any educator in need of inspiration should find a way to visit classrooms.  The enthusiasm of the students—and the adults—is absolutely contagious.

I am already looking forward to the next round of visits!

Stay connected and follow our progress ….

Editor’s note: Here’s one of Devin’s recent Twitter posts.

 

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What Technology Do Students Want?

Posted by Sandra Miller on May 2, 2011

Boy with smart phoneResults from the latest Project Tomorrow Speak Up Survey suggest today’s  students are looking at a different paradigm in their learning experiences.

Students today are inseparable from their mobile technologies; instant messaging and texting is a way of life.  And they want to use their technology at school.

It’s tempting to dismiss that idea out of hand, but actually,  I’m impressed with the answers kids give when asked, “How would you use your mobile technologies for help with your school work?”  Older students—those in 9th–12th grades— would use them in ways we would describe as traditional.

  • 74% would check grades.
  • 59% would take notes in class.
  • 50% would use the calendar.
  • 44% would access online textbooks.

Younger students—those in 6th–8th grades—want to leverage emerging technologies in different ways to help with their schoolwork.

  • 68% would do Internet research, anytime, anywhere.
  • 53% would collaborate with peers and teachers.
  • 37% would create and share documents.
  • 35% would record lectures/labs to review again later.

While their teachers may cite lack of preparation, antiquated equipment or slow networks as impeding the use of technology in the classroom, 53%t of middle and high school students say the largest obstacle they face in using technology in their school today is their inability to use their own devices!

While many teachers and administrators have begun to approach new ways of using technology in classrooms, this latest Speak Up research says there is more than a gap between what many schools offer and students want—there’s a chasm!  When administrators were asked, “How likely are you to let students use their cell phones?” only 22% said likely; 63% said NOT likely.

By contrast, 67% of parents said they would buy a cell phone for their student to use at school, and 54% would also buy a data plan to support their student’s work.  And we’re not talking only affluent parents.  The Speak Up Survey results did not find significant differences among parents responses for any of the demographics that were tracked.

In fact, parents’ pressure on schools may just be the next trend in moving technology forward in our schools.  Today’s parents use technology daily in their work as well as in their social lives.  The Speak Up survey showed 57% of parents today consider instructional technology to be “extremely important” for their child’s success.  Only 37% of teachers see technology as that important.  Indeed, for leaders wanting to integrate technology in their schools, this is a challenge!

Students definitely have a clear vision of the potential of mobile learning to enable, engage, and empower them as 21st century learners.  Their parents see technology’s value.  As educational leaders we must spread this vision to our teachers and help them acquire the skills and technology needed to teach in more meaningful ways that match the tech-intensive lives of today’s students.

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Sanctioned Snooping

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on June 28, 2010

Does your district provide cell phones to employees?  A ruling by the U.S. Supreme on June 17, 2010 may impact you.  The court agreed unanimously that governmental agencies may access and read an employee’s text messages under certain circumstances.

The case that was brought to the Supreme Court involved a police officer in Ontario, California whose text messages were reviewed when department officials became concerned that SWAT team officers were using department-issued pagers for too many personal text messages.  And sure enough, in one month alone, of the 456 text messages sent or received by the officer in question, 400 were personal.

The city does have a policy stating that employees have no guaranteed right of privacy when using communication devices provided by the department, but officers had been told informally that their messages would not be audited as long as they paid for additional charges.  So the officer and three others sued the department for violating their constitutional right to privacy.  A lower court ruled in the officer’s favor, but the Supreme Court reversed that decision on the premise that the search itself was reasonable.

The decision is the court’s first related to Digital Age technologies and 4th amendment guards against unreasonable search and seizure.  While the court did not provide broad guidance on employees’ privacy rights, the decision did identify conditions that must be met before government agency may review an employee’s personal texts.  They are:
• The cell phone must be provided by the agency.
• The employee must be told in advance that any messages sent using the device may be monitored by management.
• There must be a legitimate work-related reason for reviewing the messages.

As increasing numbers of education agencies provide cell phones to some employees, it is critical that policies be created that outline acceptable use and privacy expectations.  It is equally important that these policies be enforced in an even-handed, consistent way.

How does your agency handle this issue?

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