Response to: Five Ways to Damage a Good School

There are just some posts you have to read. Last week, I came upon this post by Greg Ashman, Five ways to damage a good school. As a former school principal, I am a sucker for lines like that.

His ‘five things’ were really interesting, and if I can, I will try to comment on some of these factors because, from my experience, he makes lots of good sense.

The first one is not something that you would think would make a top five list, but it is interesting.

Focus on the furniture

I admit that this is a bit of a pet peeve, but I think Greg is on to something here.

The most efficient physical arrangement is to have individual classrooms with tables that are laid out, or at least can be laid out, in rows, yet you will struggle to find a consultant or architect who will recommend this.

It might even be politically incorrect to agree with this point, but as a principal, I got so tired of ‘experts’ telling me how terrible it was that some teachers still had their students in rows. How terrible, how lacking in creativity how 1920’s!
To me, it was important to remember that this supposed expert had not taught in a regular classroom for at least a decade.

Another consultant whose feet were a bit more firmly planted in the classroom noted that rows were important for kids. Sometimes a student needed to know that they had their own safe space in the classroom, something they would be able to count on. This makes lots of sense and as a principal, I never told any teacher how to arrange their classroom and never made any judgement on the quality of instruction based on the design of the room.

Educational orthodoxy these days seems to be firmly planted in the ‘flexible seating’ mode. Take this article in Edutopia – Flexible Seating and Student-Centered Classroom Redesign by Kayla Delzer:

Our classroom environments should be conducive to open collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. This simply cannot be done when kids are sitting in rows of desks all day.

When I returned to the classroom a few years ago, I had rows. I was able to create this flexible seating arrangement simply by asking the kids to move their desks – they were quite capable of doing this, allowing for some increase in physical activity, another benefit of going to flexible seating.

Here’s the thing. Too often, educators get caught up in the latest fad – flexible seating and the expense that comes with this is one of the newest things. In schools with limited resources (I would say most schools in Canada), the purchase of new furniture means that something else will not be bought.

I one school that I had worked in, the new administration decided to purchase flexible seating rather than provide computers for kids. How can that be seen as a good thing? In many schools, the arrival of a new principal means that new office furniture is in order – how can we justify these expenses when we still rarely see 1:1 schools in Canada? Where are our priorities?

Thank-you Greg Ashman for making such an interesting observation. Let’s try to keep our focus on empowering our students, not the latest edufad.

 

A Coding Robot in Every School

Students should have access to free education

Coding and Robotics is a necessary 21st-century skill

If everyone does a little together we can have robots in every school

from CodeMyRobot.ca

 

Here is a really interesting initiative you certainly want to consider if you are interested in bringing coding to your school. A group of educators in the Ottawa area have come up with the idea of supplying every school in Canada with a robotics kit for students and teachers. There is no cost for the kit which is incredible when you consider how much it can cost to bring coding technology into your school.

To receive your kit, all you need to do is register on the website.

This project has the potential of opening up coding and robotics to students and communities throughout the country. Coding certainly qualifies as a true 21st-Century skill and all students can benefit from learning about and creating their own programmable robot.

The next big step in this project is getting the word out. If you are interested in getting kits for your schools, simply complete the registration form and your students can begin to learn about coding and robotics. After this, the sky is the limit!

http://codemyrobot.ca/

 

 

Digital Implementation in School: How are we doing?

digital-implementation-in-schools-how-are-we-doing-google-docs-clipular

Implementation of digital content seems to be widely misunderstood.  You can’t just drop in a sophisticated digital program without a really good implementation program.  Like with everything in education, it comes down to the person.  If teachers are ill-equipped to use new programs, they will fall back on traditional teaching methods.

Implementation is a long game.  To successfully introduce a program, you need a multi-year plan for professional development and support for your teachers.  If we use the SAMR Model as a measuring stick, I think that most teachers are still at the Substitution level.  At this stage, with all the technology available, we should at least be working at Modification – ‘Tech allows for significant redesign’.  I don’t think this is happening mainly because teachers do not have sufficient time during the day to explore the tools already out there that would allow them to transform their use of technology.

In Canada, teachers spend an average of 800 hours in the classroom per year.  In contrast, Japanese teachers spend 600 hours in the classroom (Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators).  The Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education suggests that teachers need at least 10 days a year be set aside for in-school teacher training supported by coaches and mentors.  In Sweden, teachers are allocated 15 days or 6% of a teacher’s total working time to professional development (How High-Achieving Countries Develop Great Teachers, August 2010).

Timely, well-supported PD might help us to move towards Modification and eventually, Redefinition.

digital-implementation-in-schools-how-are-we-doing-google-docs-clipular-1

As part of this process, it is really important your staff with excellent digital training resources. We are in the second year of a partnership with Atomic Learning.  I consider this a great investment.  You cannot ask your teachers to rely on YouTube or Google when they have questions on a variety of digital programs.  They need sources of curated material delivered by professionals who are used to working with teachers.  Atomic is not the only source for this professional learning, but for us, it’s works really well.

Discovery Education, especially in the United States and Great Britain is also providing excellent on-line and person-to-person PD.  The personal touch, in my opinion is really important.  Discovery spends a significant amount of time encouraging teachers to meet and share ideas.  They also feature innovative teachers on their blogs through the DEN- Discovery Educators Network.  The element of ‘teacher voice’ is a very important aspect of their approach to professional development.

digital-implementation-in-schools-how-are-we-doing-google-docs-clipular-2Discovery Education puts a great emphasis on connecting with other educators

Pockets of innovation certainly do exist, but to me, the implementation of digital technology has been painfully slow.  We seem to still be willing to invest in text and print resources rather than make the leap to digital texts and resources that allow for greater innovation and creativity.

The tools are certainly out there.  They do require a significant financial commitment, but we need to move in a more deliberate fashion towards the adoption of these tools at a much more meaningful level.

Implementing Digital resources at your school some points to consider.

adobe-spark-clipular

Today I learned that we will be losing two really important digital programs at our school.  This is a real blow for us as we are trying very hard to supply our teachers and students with excellent digital content to support the use of chromebooks in the classroom – all students from grades 3 to 6 have their own computer and the juniors (4-6) are expected to bring their machines home every night.

There are two important factors that seem to be influencing decisions about access to digital resources.  One is the expense, the other is implementation – not enough teachers across the school board are using these costly programs.  I would like to focus on implementation.

Implementation of digital content seems to be widely misunderstood.  You can’t just drop in a sophisticated digital program without a really good implementation program.  Like with everything in education, it comes down to the person.  If teachers are ill-equipped to use new programs, they will fall back on traditional teaching methods.

So what can we do?  Here are a few ideas.

  • Implementation is a long game – to successfully introduce a program, you need a full-year plan of PD and support for your teachers.  Some of this training has to be driven by the principal or someone else who is available to put on demonstrations and workshops during the day.
  • Webinars are good, but people are better.  We have found that while webinars are easier to arrange, teachers prefer to meet with a representative of the company producing the content.  When we have been able to arrange this, implementation has gone up dramatically.
  • Teachers need in-school time to experiment with the programs.  Last year, after the introductory workshops, all teachers were given release time to experiment with the programs.  They could choose what program they wanted to experiment with and many times they were able to contact the service provider to get just-in-time solutions to their problems.
  • Provide your staff with a good on-line PD resource.  We are in the second year of a partnership with Atomic Learning.  I consider this a great investment.  You cannot ask your teachers to rely on YouTube or Google when they have questions on a variety of digital programs.  They need a source for curated material delivered by professionals who are used to working with teachers.  Atomic is not the only source for this professional learning, but for us, its works really well.
  • People need to understand the importance of curated resources. Richard Byrne of Free Technology for Teachers states that he rarely uses Google as a way to locate material for teachers.  This is a really important point.  If you want really good content, it has to be curated.  Discovery Education, for example, does an excellent job of bringing educational resources together in math, science and social studies.  Other tools like unroll.me and Scoop.it are wonderful ways to collect information of interest to you. You choose the content and receive (in the case of Scoop.it) suggestions from your personal learning community.  The important point is – curated resources can cost money.  You can’t sustain your school just using Google and YouTube.  You need to make sure the materials you are using with your students are excellent and have been selected by professionals – you can’t guarantee this with uncurated sites like Google.

Implementation is not easy.  It is much harder than simply buying machines for everyone in your school.  It is something that requires a great deal of thought and yes, sometimes, financial resources.

Why do we fear 1:1??

1-1

I find it very common to hear all the reasons why moving towards 1:1 in our schools will not work.

We don’t have the funds, the teachers won’t use them, I don’t understand how to use them, collaboration is better – the list can go on and on.  In my mind, these are all just excuses for not taking the creative leap to provide a computer for each student.

We work at a school in a high poverty area.  Every student from grade 3 to 6 has their own laptop.  The grade 4’s are expected to bring their machine home every day and work on various programs to supplement their in-school learning.

The prevailing wisdom seems to be BYOD (Bring your own device) which makes no sense.  While this allows schools off the hook for paying for computers, it creates an opportunity gap between rich and poor schools.  Our parents don’t have the money to buy a computer for their child. We, therefore, are obliged to find the money to invest in machines.

The main reason I am so keen on 1:1 is because the daily use of computers has really revolutionized the teaching and learning at our school.  Teachers have been open to learning new programs like Mathletics, Prodigy Math, the Discovery Education Science Techbook, Google apps and Hapara as a learning management tool.  They are getting into coding and robotics and our kids are very keen on makerspaces.

I can’t claim that all of this is because of the fact that we moved to 1:1, but it did change how we do things here.  The teacher is no longer the sole provider of information.  The teacher is a co-learner with the student.  Teachers are more apt to encourage students to find their own answers to their inquiries rather than depend on one adult.

If these are just some of the benefits we have seen over the space of our first full year as a 1:1 school, why are others so hesitant?

I have no good answer for that question, but for us there will be no going back.

 

The Innovator’s Mindset: Powerful Learning First, Technology Second

couros

What I really like about this book are the provocations that are put out there in every chapter.  In chapter 9, George Couros writes about the importance of the appropriate technology being introduced into schools, but more importantly, he writes about the mindset that needs to go along with that.

We are trying to implement 21st-century technology with management systems that sometimes seem to harken back to the 19th century.

Our management systems have not caught up to the terrific learning opportunities, assisted by technology that are out there.  Couros quotes Seymour Papert in this chapter and I have to add part of the quote in this post because it defines the bind we are in as we try to revolutionize our inflexible education structures:

So if I want to be a better learner, I’ll go find somebody who’s a good learner and with this person do some learning.  But this is the opposite of what we do in our schools.  We don’t allow the teacher to do any learning.  We don’t allow the kids to have the experience of learning with the teacher because that’s incompatible with the concept of the curriculum where what is being taught is what’s already known.

Seymour Papert, Seymour Papert: Project-based Learning,” Edutopia, November 1, 2001.

What is really needed is a change of course (pg 146) when it comes to the application of educational technology in our schools.

George quotes Tom Murray from the Alliance for Excellence in Education and an article he wrote on “10 steps Technology Directors Can Take to Stay Relevant.” Based on this article, George poses  four questions that focus on the intelligent implementation of technology:

  • What is best for kids?
  • How does it improve learning?
  • If we do ______, what is the balance of risk vs. reward?
  • Is this serving the few or the majority?

These are essential questions – how often are these questions asked when it comes to the implementation of technology?  I believe, in my experience, these questions are asked by technology departments, but too often their way is barred by system decision makers who do not have as clear a vision on how to answer these questions.

Are we really asking what is best for the learner, or are we asking what is easiest, cheapest fastest in the short-term?  Are we really exploring what is best for all learners and do we really have a comprehensive plan to come up with the intelligent implementation that involves all learners – students and teachers alike.

 

Makerspaces in a box: An opportunity to create

The first day of FETC was great.  We had a chance to really focus on  important technical innovations that are changing the nature of education.  Google applications to make a paperless classroom, experiencing a makerspace and methods of film-making in the classroom.  A full day!

The three-hour format allowed us to try out some really interesting tools for the classroom.  The makerspace workshop had me totally engaged making circuits using play doh, metal tape and fabric.  Nothing that we were using cost more than $25.00 for a simple kit that uses play doh as a connector.  Other materials cost just pennies, but I really enjoyed having the opportunity to work with these materials to make different circuits.  This is a good lesson for me – you don’t need to have the latest technological gadget to create something new.

my paper circuit – a work in progress

I quickly got caught up in making my own inventions, lighting up diodes and connectiung buzzers.  Each station had a differnt challenge for us and what we created was our own.  What freedom – to simply use your imagination and succeed at making something new.  

Each kit was labeled with its own QR code linking to a website expanding on the activities in the box.

The three-hour workshop just flew by and I thought to myself what would it have been like to learn about circuits and innovation when I was a student, free to invent what I wanted to invent. I never understood circuits drawn on a caulk board.

Although I have understood for a long time the importance of makerspaces as a way to encourage innovation and creativity, I have never taken the time to actually sit and work through some of these tasks.  So simple, but so empowering.

The paper circuit website

The Squishy Circuits site – kits cost $25.00, but you can buy the parts separately 

When I return to school, I will look for ways to incorporate some of these great ideas into our makerspaces.  No need to look for the newest robotics kit – kids can create with some of the simplest materials available.  The key element in all this is simply to let kids create, don’t wait to amass a huge pile of wires and diodes, just get a few simple kits and get started!

 eTextile project – again, very simple materials that kids could use to innovate

Micro training: How do we organize effective PD? Four key points.

For those interested in better schools, another bomb dropped in August—though I’m not sure many of us heard it. TNTP, a teacher-training and advocacy group, published a report called “The Mirage,” a damning assessment of teacher professional development. Despite being an $18 billion industry, with costs for services of up to $18,000 per year, per teacher, professional development doesn’t appear to have much effect on teaching quality. As Education Week reported, TNTP found that “PD doesn’t seem to factor into why some teachers get better at their jobs and others don’t.” Said one observer quoted: “It just doesn’t look like we have any purchase on what works.”

But what if, in fact, we do know “what works”—but haven’t acted on it? If this were the case, the TNTP report might be the catalyst for a transformation in teacher preparation, training, and student outcomes that was not unlike the one undergone in medical training after the 1910 study known as the Flexner Report. That similarly damning assessment from the last century led to changes that, according to the historian Page Smith, may have saved more lives than any event in the history of medicine.

from

It’s Time to Restructure Teacher Professional Development

This is a really important article that warrants careful review.  How effective are our current models of teacher development and what can we do to change the way teachers receive effective PD?

To me this is a huge question these days, especially with the implementation of digital technology in our schools.  More than ever, we need to find effective ways to train our teachers on a regular basis so that they can use the tools that are becoming prevalent in the classroom.

For our school, going 1:1 using Chromebooks has been relatively easy – the machines are cheap and we have a small school population.  Every student from grade 4 to 6 has their own Chromebook and they are required to bring it home to continue their class work at home.

My job as administrator now is more difficult.  I need to provide excellent digital content and make sure teachers have the time to learn how these systems work.  We now have access to Mathletics, Raz Kids, Discovery Edu, Dreambox and as a supporting application, Atomic Learning.

teachers from three schools taking part on a Mathletics webinar during the school day

Mathletics and Atomic are entirely new to our staff and Discovery is a huge program that needs time to learn and use properly in the classroom.  I am developing a micro training model to give teachers the resources to use these tools in the classroom.  There are a few key points in this model:

1.  Time – make sure that digital integration is central to your PD plan.  Teachers need blocks of time embedded into the regular day  to absorb the various features of these programs.  I use the term ‘micro teaching’ because you have to be realistic on how much staff members can take in at any one time.  So far, all our training sessions have been no more than a half-day and we have never looked at more than two programs during a session.

2.  Connect to people working with the programs you are using.  I have found that it is essential to make personal connections with staff responsible for professional development at the various companies we are working with.  In the case of Discovery, Mathletics and Atomic, people have been very happy to set up training webinars for our teachers that can outline in detail how the programs work. Discovery goes the extra mile by offering a series of training sessions through their Discovery Ambassador Program that will allow you as the lead learner to help teachers to better understand the many features of Discovery.

3.  Connect to a learning resource that teachers can go to when they need to learn more.  We have purchased licenses with Atomic Learning for all our teachers for the year.  Once they have had an introductory webinar on how the program is structured they will be able to sign up for modules on their own and learn at their own pace.  I am hoping that by January, we will be able to give teachers release time so they can work on the Atomic modules that are most important for them.

4.  Take the long view – a digital integration plan can take years to implement.  Teachers are not going to learn everything they need to know in just a few sessions.  My plan for this year is to offer them three webinars – one each from Discovery, Atomic and Mathletics and three lessons from Discovery and that’s it.  I hope to have all the structured lessons done by Christmas so that teachers can choose what else they want to learn starting in January.  Next year, we will continue to focus on digital integration, but will  look for additional webinars and lessons teachers need to continue their professional growth.

Right now these seem to be the key points.  I think it is next to impossible for a district to organize training for all of its members on all the new technologies.  It is up to school leaders (principals and lead teachers), to come up with plans that will work for their own staff.  If this is not done, staff will not adopt the new programs our district is offering them.  Their implementation of technology will remain superficial and BYOD or 1:1 plans will not be successful.

The key point here is not to wait for someone to do the training for you.  Schools need to take the initiative to get the training that they need for their teachers.  Stop thinking about system-wide training and think more about micro training.

Remember, getting the machines into your building is relatively simple, training people to use them effectively is not.

How to keep up the momentum on 1:1 implementation

We are soon to enter the first full year of 1:1 at our school.  We will be using a combination of chromebooks, iPads and iPods and every student will have access to a device every day.  Our junior students (grades 4-6) will be required to bring their devices home every night.
We started with some training last year in preparation for 1:1.  We worked on Google tools and our staff is now comfortable with Google Drive, Docs, Groups and a number of important apps like Read and Write.  We connected to Discovery Education and we really hope to have access to the Science Techbook for all our students this year.  
My main concern as the principal is to continue to offer high quality training and support for all staff so that it is easy to make a complete switch to using devices every day in meaningful ways throughout the year.  
It is one thing – pretty easy – to supply every child with a device.  It is a far more difficult thing to provide the individualized training each staff member needs to make implementation effective.  Wherever staff start the year on the SAMR scale, it will be important to see movement as the year progresses.
So, how do we meet this challenge?
Our School Improvement Plan emphasis is digital integration, but teachers need direction on how to find  resources.  We need a resource that is flexible and allows teachers to continue learning at their own pace throughout the year.  We need a system that respects the adult learner and allows easy access to excellent material.
One service we are considering is Simple K-12.  The good thing about Simple K – 12 is that so many good resources are collected in one spot and I recognize many of the presenters from Twitter.  It is a credible resource.
I think there is an argument for making services available that offer excellent customer service and good content in one easy to find location. Discovery Education  is another important service.  I went to their principals’ conference in Washington this summer (DENSI 2015) and it was excellent.  
The problem with these services is that they can be expensive.  We could easily spend our entire school budget on these two services.
Relying on ‘free resources’ is not the answer.  We need access to resources that are credible and designed specifically for educators.  We also can’t afford to waste teachers’ searching on their own for good services to use.
To be fair, everyone is busy and it takes time to find  resources that are capable of offering excellent professional development and customer service.  Once the resources are found, administrators need to be trained on them first before they are introduced to staff.
This means that there needs to be a plan that starts with the administrator and focuses on professional development first.  Individual schools should not be left to fend for themselves when it comes to searching for the best resources.
We also need to find solutions that do not focus on training one or two staff members.  To expect that training a few people with the hope that their experiences will translate to an entire staff are simply not realistic.
So, what is an administrator to do?  To be honest, I am not sure.  I think really good professional development is expensive and if we expect 1:1 initiatives to work we will have to make greater investments in excellent services.
As an illustration of what is possible, I have listed a few webinars I will take part in through Simple K-12 in the next few weeks.  What is the solution for our school?  I’m still working on that.

“Creative Ways to Fund the Cash-Strapped Classroom”.

“Extend Your Impact on Students and Parents Using Mobile Technologies”.

“Implementing an iPad Pilot”.

“How Going 1:1 Can Transform Your Learning Environment”.

“Top 10 Mistakes Schools Make When Going 1:1 and How to Avoid Them”.

Our first school Maker Faire!

Our first Maker Faire will involve three schools. It is our attempt to bring together junior students from three schools along with a very innovative group of people interested in makerspaces.  We have never done this before, but the learning and collaboration will be great.

One of the great things about this project is that we have the assistance of a number of student teachers who are doing an amazing job of putting all this together.  From contacting resource people to take on demonstrations and workshops to organizing our grade 6 students to host the event, these students are pretty much doing everything.

 

The schedule calls for students around 10:00 to start off with some ice-breakers – the mix of students will be really interesting – one of the schools is coming from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation.  The University of Ottawa, a major partner in this project works closely with this school.  This should be the beginning of a very interesting partnership between our three schools.

 

We are asking our partners in this venture to supply demonstrations and workshops for the students.   Presenters will be asked to demonstrate the use of a piece of technology (i.e. 3D printer, Makey Makey, etc.) or prepare a very short interactive activity related to the chosen piece of technology. Activities should be no longer than 10 minutes and should be able to be carried out either on the table or on the floor close to the table. The demo booths should be able to accommodate 3 to 5 students. Clean up and preparation time should be minimal in order to prepare for the next group of students who will visit the demo booth.Demonstrations could include:

  • Raspberry Pi Minecraft Server ; a Virtual Reality headset that at the same time shows the inside of the Minecraft world or some other virtual world concurrently with the Raspberry Pi server.
  • a 3D scanner to scan busts of the kids and create a file that can be 3D printed or modified using 3D modelling software (eg. add cat ears, or pointy vulcan ears, long witch nose, etc.) 3D scan
  • playdoh creations that could then be 3D printed in plastic.
  • 3D image can also be
  • Use of a makey-makey as an interface to a Game or music program in processing.
  • a demo of programming in Scratch.
  • Run Scratch and Arduino/makey-makey demo in standalone instance on laptop or Raspberry Pi.

All of this has been suggested by just one member of our creative team!

Demonstrations would be followed by workshops that would be at least one hour in length.  This would give the students an opportunity to explore some aspect of maker culture in more depth.  For the workshops, the presenter will be asked to run the same activity station twice during the Maker Faire (11:15-12:15 and 12:50-1:50). Of the five activity stations to be scheduled, the students will have the option of choosing two. The student’s selections and the rotation schedule will be prepared prior to the actual event day. The activity stations will need to accommodate between 12 and 15 students.

Possible workshops include computer deconstruction, work with LittleBits, run by students, LED paper airplanes and robot building.

We still have a few weeks to put this all together, but this promises to be a really wonderful experience for everyone!

 

could we see these at our Maker Faire??