Learning from our peer schools

I spent a day and a half in Seattle to visit Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences and attend the PNAIS Teacher Conference. I got to spend a good chunk of time with Vicki Butler, who graciously toured us through the Seattle Academy campus and gave us an in-depth look into their Moodle installation.

Seattle Academy has deeply leveraged Moodle to organize assignments and track student progress. Every teacher maintains homework assignments for every course. Teachers and students thereby benefit from Moodle’s aggregation features — each person has a meta-calendar that shows all of their outstanding work program-wide. In additon to built-in features, staff have installed optional modules and written custom code to more effectively track student progress. On their course home pages, teachers can easily view what assignment submissions remain to be graded and advisees who are falling behind on their homework. Advisors can quickly view overall course progress of their students. The school is experimenting with Mahara e-portfolio integration. I hope to learn from their use of roles and permissions in order to create a way for our parents to view course content without having to enroll in each one.

I am most interested in using Moodle to create immersive, social learning environments for students. Vicki showed me several examples of students maintaining glossaries, posting science videos, and holding discussions using Moodle’s activity modules.

After checking Michael Thompson‘s keynote on boy education, I soon settled in with my colleagues from Lakeside, Billings, Meridian, Evergreen, and Seattle Academy to plan the PNAIS TechShare conference, scheduled for June 28-30, 2009 in Welches, Oregon. We selected a theme, “Small World,” an exploration of global education and social technologies. This should lead to sessions on GIS, trip planning, international collaborations, global education, Skype, Drupal, uStream, and more. We are also hoping to walk the talk by coordinating live, international participation in the conference through uStream and Skype.

We speculated that it might be particularly effective to put a single person in charge of the remote participants in each session. Instead of occasionally reading out remote contributions, the backchannel facilitator could arrange Skype connections with remote participants and pull them into the discussion.

I also added Billings and Meridian to my list of schools with Drupal-powered public-facing web sites.

Can you imagine how much richer our daily professional life would be if the staff from all of these schools blogged?


  1. Ben Chun says:

    Wow, that Seattle Academy installation is really impressive. I’ve always felt (just from using it myself) that Moodle is a bit clunky. But they really make it shine, and the student benefits of using it across the whole school are clear.

    Right now out of 100 teachers at my school, 3 of us are using Moodle. The longer I do this, the more obvious it seems that people don’t all get on the same technology page unless someone leads them there. So what I see at Seattle Academy is not just good technology but also good leadership.

  2. Richard says:

    Thanks for the comment, Ben, and nice work with your blog. How’s it going at Galileo? I lived and taught in San Francisco as recently as three years ago.

    At times when standardization and individualization conflict with each other, I wonder which has greater value. At our school, I have not pushed for each teacher to have a Moodle site, and therefore only a fraction do. However, our teachers feel empowered to devote time to the pursuits that they feel have bring the greatest value to their practice. While Seattle Academy benefits from meta-calendaring because they post all of their assignments online, they have relatively few examples of rich learning environments in Moodle than I would have expected.

    Do your teachers have access to high-quality examples of teachers using new social technologies in their disciplines? I have found exposure to good examples to be a powerful motivator.



  3. Vicki Butler says:

    Hi Richard,
    I enjoyed your time here at SAAS and at PNAIS! Thanks for sharing the ‘in-line’ comment piece – can’t wait to show that little box!
    May just have to jump into blogging to share what we are doing – at the moment I have 12 ms students exploring multi-media fusion and creating Halloween games. Hope to put their end products on Moodle in the next few weeks! I’ll keep you posted.

  4. Richard says:

    Thanks, Vicki. A whole lot of people would love to read your stories online. Thanks again for showing us around.


  5. Ben Chun says:

    Where did you teach when you were in SF? Things at Galileo are good now. We’re using WordPress schoolwide now, and in rolling that out I encountered the same question firsthand: Is it worth trying to push teachers to do things they don’t want to do? I agree that examples are the best motivator — they show what is possible and help remove people’s stumbling blocks. The other problem I see is that some folks always want training, and feel that they can’t approach any technology at all without a special training on that specific tool. But there just isn’t time for that in our schedules, or lives.

    I also think that sometimes when we see a scarcity of rich learning environments in online spaces, its a reflection of the overall trends in classrooms. I realize that sounds terribly cynical. I just think that the true master teachers (of whatever medium or subject) are few and far between.