Tag Archive for isedchat

A Paradox of Plenty

Interviewing a teacher candidate last year, I asked how she felt about collaborating with me to integrate my technology periods with her classroom periods. She replied, “It would be fine. I have been teaching technology to my students all year.” Of course. Not all schools are lucky enough to have a technology specialist provide students with dedicated instructional time. It is quite usual for homeroom teachers to both teach technology skills to students and determine how to use new technologies to support instruction.

Specialist instructors are a hallmark of independent schools. Tuition payments supply generous budgets, funding teaching positions in the arts, technology, and co-curricular programs: instrumental music, vocal music, painting and drawing, drama, ceramics, film, graphic design, animation, technology, library, outdoor education, global education, urban studies, community service, diversity studies, and more. Students experience a wide array of course work in many disciplines, enriching their education and broadening their horizons.

Schools with many specialist classes must work especially hard to achieve program coherence. Homeroom and specialist teachers must form strong grade level teams so that students experience a reasonable degree of consistency in purpose, values, instruction, and assessment, or else risk confusing students with contradictory expectations and rules. Teachers must regularly exchange information about students, so that each teacher understands the whole view of each child. Administrators must take care to maintain equal emphasis among programs, as specialist teachers work hard to develop events, seek community recognition, and justify their positions.

Specialist courses can only be good for students, right? Not necessarily. Providing students with such a number of classes and teachers can shortchange the development of core skills and fragment the student experience. The demands of scheduling specialist classes reduces homeroom instructional time for younger students and encourages older students to carry a heavy course load. Passing periods fragment the weekly schedule, as students travel from one building or classroom to another.

Most importantly, teachers in all disciplines must teach reading, writing, math, and higher-order thinking skills. If they do not, then students in the best-funded schools will receive less instruction in these foundational skills than their public school counterparts.

The school that does these things can create the ultimate instructional program, rich in a full range of intellectual pursuits while also intently focused on the child’s development of essential skills and habits of lifelong learning.

New Student Newspapers Online

By coincidence, sister schools Catlin Gabel and Maru-a-Pula just launched their inaugural online issues just a week apart. It’s great to see both schools embracing an online format.

CatlinSpeak: speak.catlin.edu

MAP Voices: mapvoices.org

I worked a bit with the CatlinSpeak staff, and a few thought-provoking questions came up.

What is an “issue” in an online format?

The staff plans to publish four paper issues and some additional number of online issues. To simulate an “issue” on the website, the initially planned to schedule all of the posts to publish on a specific date. In reality, it was too difficult to troubleshoot design and layout without publishing the first batch of articles immediately.

The online format forces some shifts in thinking. When breaking news happens, why not publish it to the site immediately? Major news websites no longer publish issues but rather post articles continuously as they are written. Can a school newspaper generate enough traffic without announcing new issues? Can students devote focused attention to writing and editing amongst their other school commitments?

How can we get students to read more serious articles?

CatlinSpeak had a terrific launch day as measured by site traffic, nearly 2,000 hits in a single day. However, look how steeply traffic dropped off after the home page.

Serious articles about global travel, the presidential election, etc. only received low double-digit hits. How many of those read the articles all the way through?

How much technical website expertise should a journalism class develop?

The CatlinSpeak staff had high standards for layout and design but was not able to take on the CSS customization required to make the necessary changes. Given that the design is likely to stay relatively static now that the site is launched, how important is it for the staff to develop CSS skills, compared to spending time on journalism and publicity skills? Is it okay for adults to do most of the CSS work at the start of this project, to help the staff achieve a good launch?

What collaboration is possible between Maru-a-Pula and Catlin Gabel students?

We have two student newspaper staffs writing serious articles about their schools and communities. How should they collaborate together in ways that will be worth the effort required? What could students learn from the similarities and differences in their journalistic priorities and methods?

What is the role of social media in these online papers?

The Catlin Gabel staff chose Twitter for a very practical reason: the ease of posting links to external news articles and Catlin Gabel sports scores. They are not really using it for networking, but it is effective for presenting updates quickly and concisely.

Journalism and 21st Century Skills

This year, CatlinSpeak changed from a club to a half-credit lunch class. This promotion underscores the legitimacy of a journalism class within a classic academic program. That said, why not fully integrate the class within the English department’s elective or required course of study? Communication, presentation, and global citizenship are key 21st century skills. Why not five them full status in the school curriculum?

Co-curricular Innovation Council

We have launched a “Co-curricular Innovation Council” so that co-curricular program leaders can more easily consult with each other, work together on common projects, and build stronger partnerships with classroom teachers. The committee includes directors of the global education, urban studies, outdoor education, teaching and learning, athletics, robotics, community service, Knight Scholars, and instructional technology programs. These program directors have historically directed their programs mostly by themselves or in partnership with one or two other people. This committee creates a systematic way for program leaders to request feedback from each other and launch projects together.

As co-curricular programs have evolved from mere “activities” to fully-fledged experiential learning environments, it has become more important to coordinate these programs and build stronger connections between co-curricular programs and classroom teaching. Students often refer to outdoor trips, robotics projects, or urban planning presentations as their most memorable learning experiences. Why should they experience dramatically different teaching styles between classrooms with and without four walls?

Organizing program directors together allows us to strengthen what we have in common: a focus on 21st century content domains (global citizenship, environmental stewardship, technology, etc.) and skills (communication, collaboration, creativity, etc.). Facilitating ways from program directors to work more closely with classroom teachers creates potential for more experiential learning opportunities within classroom instruction. Our classroom teachers have been creating terrific experiential learning opportunities for years. Now they get more potential partners and conceptual support for their project work.

Director of Technology and Learning Innovation

I have changed my title to “director of technology and learning innovation.” Tech staff members are sometimes seen as just working with computers. My new title is intended to make it apparent to the school community that I also work on projects that involve technology tangentially or not at all. These have included leading global trips, revising curriculum mapping standards, and modeling collaboration fourth and fifth grade, among others.

What is in a title? An accurate job title helps clarify one’s role in the institution, especially to new employees, parents, and people outside of the school. While I generally abhor long titles, I felt that I had expanded sufficiently beyond a traditional technology director role to warrant the change.

I particularly want to emphasize learning innovation when presenting myself in order to strengthen partnerships with my many colleagues at school who are currently working hard to investigate and adopt new models of teaching and learning. I hope that this will lead to greater collaboration with colleagues on learning innovation projects throughout the school.

Always developing process improvements

If we add a responsibility to our plate, then we must remove a responsibility, right? It rarely works out that way. Not only do people expect us to continue to fulfill our existing responsibilities, but they also expect us to take on new responsibilities. Particularly for technology, current practice is always evolving, and new platforms and techniques appear at a rapid pace. Sometimes, we actually can let go of previous responsibilities that are now less important. More of the time, we must find a way to fit the new responsibilities into our existing, busy lives.

Perhaps a better way to make space for new work is to become more efficient at the old work. Each summer, our IT team performs routine maintenance and upgrades on all of the school and high school student computers. This is extremely time-consuming, but we have found it the best way to ensure that everyone has the correct settings and properly working machines for the start of the school year. We have given some consideration to doing away with summer maintenance completely but have consistently felt that this would cause more work during the school year, when people really need their computers to run smoothly.

Instead, we have worked each year to improve the summer maintenance process. We ask ourselves:

  • What summer maintenance tasks are essential?
  • How may we simplify our network systems to make annual maintenance easier?
  • How may we automate the summer maintenance process, so more happens automatically?
  • How may we get students involved in maintaining their own computers?

This year, the IT Team came up with a superb solution that accomplishes many of the above. We mailed a self-running DVD to each student. Over half of them ran the installer, performing the most easily automated and time-consuming tasks at home before bringing their computers into the office. The application is written in XCode using AppleScript, and the DVD includes the large installer files needed. This dramatically cut down maintenance time, allowed us to return machines to students quickly, and created more time for other IT summer work. As a result, we were more prepared for the start of school than ever before. Kudos to the whole team for inventing this process. Next year, we plan to make it entirely online and eliminate the DVD.

Visual Website Design

Our admission, website, and communication teams have worked together to reorganize the admission section of the school’s website. Not only did we want to simplify and clarify navigation, but we also wanted to present information in visual ways.

Our website is very text-heavy, much of it written eight years ago and only edited since then. In much of the site, we present all of the important content as text and then add some photos for aesthetic or emotional effect. In today’s media-rich culture, people have a lot of practice consuming information visually. We can actually communicate content, not just feelings, through photographic badges. This also forces us to distill the “landing page” message to three key ideas.

In recent years, affordability has become increasingly important to families. Our website statistics show a rise in page views in the tuition, financial aid, and scholarship pages. We respond by both providing easy access to the information people are seeking and by promoting the response that we wish to convey.



iPads at Lewis Elementary

At EdCampPDX today, Lewis Elementary fourth grade team Paul Colvin and Matt Marchyok took us through how they used 13 new iPads in the classroom this year. I took the following notes and screen captures. Thank you for helping us get a head start with our small iPad pilot this year!

I left the session with a better understanding of what iPad tools could facilitate the transition to a digital classroom. Less clear is whether this represents a digital version of time-honored paper activities or a new form of learning. Toward the end, we laid out some preliminary ideas for uses of iPads in an inquiry-based classroom.

Sharing documents
– DropDAV, WebDAV through DropBox
– iCloud a likely replacement
– Shared passcode between student partners
– DropBox good for sharing but not security
– Google Docs good for security but not for sharing and writing

Class Activities
– Assign an entry task each day, also
– BrainPop of the day available on iPad for free
– BrainPop also available through Google Apps & student accounts
– Reading AtoZ to get a bank of leveled books, fileshare those PDFs to reading groups
– Keyboarding problematic: some students preferred to use a regular keyboard
– Better to type in landscape mode

– Pages
– WritePad
– Dragon Dictation

– Khan Academy
– various apps
– http://easycbm.com (progress monitoring)
– Khan Academy uses Google Apps logins, for tracking student progress
– RocketMath, Fraction Factory, PizzaMath

Reading: RAZ Kids
– Leveled books  http://www.raz-kids.com
– Share PDFs
– Seeking a reader that supports annotation really well (goal for this year), save annotations into iBooks
– Secret Garden, in place of class set of books, public domain book

Social Studies
– Google Earth and Maps
– Oregon Trail
– This Day in History

– Brushes for freehand painting, Brushes Player for playing back brushstrokes on a Mac

BrainPOP: very relevant to daily events
– featured movie easy to access on iPad
– also available online + other free content but not as easy to access

Computers vs. iPads
–  you could argue for diversity of platforms
– iPads may better fit kid hands

EdModo — social network for the classroom

IdeaFlight: broadcast teacher iPad to student iPads in the classroom

Going paperless
– fewer stacks of paper
– writing submitted online
– quick prompts

I am beginning to think that nearly everyone can read successfully on a screen if they practice enough. An iPad may offer an easier transition to reading on the screen, because you can hold it in your lap, where a book traditionally goes. We do not read books directly in front of us like a computer screen!

“Not one time did I have a tech issue” — Matt on iPad ease of use

iPads in an inquiry-based classroom
– interview notes
– photos and video
– publishing
– writing

Which Google Apps Support Group Sharing?

We launched a Google Apps domain for our school with the promise that it would offer more value than using personal Google Apps accounts. In reality, some apps offer terrific collaboration features for domain users, and some apps operate no differently from personal accounts.

Docs: +++
Docs has the most powerful network features. It is fully group-aware: share a doc with a group, and the system sends each user a group invitation. Edits are marked with usernames in real time. Revisions show who wrote what. Group members can participate in chat and discussions about the document. One may share a collection just once and then place documents within it, rather than sharing each document separately. One may also make a document available to everyone at one’s school but not visible to the world.

Chat: +
Administrators may assign Chat privileges to different organizational units in the domain. Authentication appears to work, and directory search will find people within one’s organization. Otherwise, there’s not much to report here for this one-to-one communication tool.

Calendar: – – –
According to Google’s documentation(1, 2, 3), one can easily share a calendar with a contact group, organizational group, or Google Group. The only problem is that email notifications for group sharing do not work, meaning that you actually have to send your group members instructions to manually add an incredibly long calendar email address to their calendars list. Do you think that all group members will do it? Me, neither. This problem is acknowledged on Google’s “known issues” page.

Video: –
Video may contain group sharing features, but it does not much matter, because only faculty and staff may upload video, the number of uploaders is limited to 100, and an administrator needs to individually specify who can upload. Go figure. Video staff should go talk to the people who own YouTube.

Sites: + +
Sites gets high marks for network features: you can make a site private, share with a network group for presentation or collaborative editing, publish it to the school community, or make it public. School users can browse sites made available to everyone at the school, but most sites end up in “uncategorized.” The most serious limitation is the Sites tool itself, whose editing features and templates feel dated compared to other freely available tools.

Blogger: + +
Better blogging systems exist, but none have such easily usable network group features as Blogger. One user can create multiple blogs without administrator assistance and invite others as contributors to create a group blog. The blog owner can limit the visibility of the blog to the authors or to specific people or groups. The group selection tool is itself not network group aware, but click “select from contacts” to gain access to network groups.

Maps: + + +
This should be a big winner in schools. Maps is a multimedia authoring environment. Click on a placemark, and you get a mini WYSIWYG editor that can insert text, links, and photos. Maps supports group features, so you can share a group with others for the purpose of presentation or collaboration. Combine these two feature sets, and you get a powerful geographic multimedia authoring tool for your class. Maps distributes sharing privileges by URL, which is not technically full network group support but  is still functionally sound.

YouTube: – – –
YouTube is hardly integrated with Google Apps for Education at all. YouTube requires a dedicated username linked to one’s Google account — you cannot just log in with your domain credentials. Once you are logged in, YouTube in an education domain functions just like an individual YouTube account. I was hoping for network-specific features such as listing favorite videos within our school and collaborative playlists.

Reader: – –
Items you add to Reader are private by default. You can mark specific items “shared.” It is easy to share items publicly, difficult to share items with built-in Google Contacts groups, and very difficult to share with network groups.

Bookmarks: – !
Google Bookmarks appears to be network group aware. Items you bookmark are private by default, but you can create lists and then share them with individuals, your own groups, or school network groups. You can even grant editing privileges so that others may add to shared bookmark lists.

The only problem is that the group sharing feature appears to be broken! Share with a network group email address, and you get the following error. You cannot even share with custom groups in your contacts list. Is this feature finished?

If this works, the bookmarks feature may become a better tool for documenting research sources than we have had before. Students could create bookmark lists and share them with teachers to assess their progress. A class could build a list of shared resources together for a research unit. Teachers could set up shared lists with each other for professional development purposes. A school could build shared lists of resources together. The only feature missing is a way to search all of the shared bookmarks within the organization. Wouldn’t it be great if students first searched the school’s bookmark collection rather than heading straight to Google search?

Picasa Web Albums: + + +
Picasa offers working network features very similar to those in Bookmarks. One can set up a photo album and open it to others for the purpose of sharing or contribution. The only downer there is the 100 photo limit on each album. I also wish that one could conduct a search restricted to the photos shared within an organization.


What else have you learned about group sharing in Google Apps? Is any of this information inaccurate or outdated? Please leave a comment below.

Assessing Group Work

Google Apps will make it easier for students together in groups. The Google Docs revisions feature will make it possible for a teacher to see each student’s contribution to the final work. That’s useful, but how else may we teach and assess collaboration?

Teaching the skill of collaboration and using varied assessment methods provides a more complete learning experience. Individual contributions tell only part of the story. What else should we consider? What expectations did we communicate for how they would work together? Did we teach collaboration or just put students together in groups? How did we structure the groups to maximize student success?

Preparing to work
What group norms did students establish before starting project work? Did each group member adopt a definable role? Did students identify a way to ensure equitable distribution of work?

Doing the work
How did students coordinate tasks and keep on schedule? How did they communicate with each other during the project? Did they do their work gradually over time or all at once? How did students resolve disagreements during the project?

After the project
Ask students to write about the project after completion. How did the experience go for them? Was each person’s input included? Did the group stick to the norms they chose at the start of the project?

Further Reading
Designing Groupwork (Elizabeth Cohen)
Enhancing Education (Carnegie Mellon University)
Assessing Learning in Australian Universities (Centre for the Study of Higher Education)

Implementing “A New Culture of Learning”

"Team Sisyphus," from Nichomachus on Flickr

Independent school staff recently gathered for an online chat about A New Culture of Learning, which addresses the growing gap between real-world and school-based learning and considers the implications for schools. In the first part of the chat, participants summarized some of the book’s recommendations: teaching 21st-century content domains, emphasizing play as a form of inquiry, and teaching and assessing creativity, communication, and collaboration. Individuals noted some positive, incremental curricular innovations at their institutions.

The conversation quickly turned to a popular topic among school technologists: how to facilitate  significant program change toward the ideal expressed in the book. Some participants expressed frustration at low teacher enthusiasm for change, lack of administrative support, and the difficulty of finding allies for change. Some characterized teacher reluctance as “fear.” We explored the concept of urgency and its relationship to the pace of change. One suggested that external factors were more likely to create urgency than internal factors.

Those who had experienced some success in facilitating change cited the following techniques: connecting innovators, forming critical friends groups and professional learning networks, sharing examples, building collectives. These methods have something in common: gathering professionals in highly personalized, trusting learning environments with a commitment to introspection and change. In other words, change occurs within individual, group, and schoolwide contexts.

Today, Pat Bassett, President of NAIS, published a view of school change titled “Change Agency Leadership.” Bassett plumbs family therapy and other sources to compile what I find a fairly pessimistic view of institutional change. He likens school change to stages of grief, including mourning and depression. While school staff may react to top-down, unexpected policy changes in this fashion, I do not think that school change must proceed through these steps.

The grief model for change presupposes that the change is external. Highly personal, inclusive school change vehicles such as critical friends groups and professional learning networks alter this equation. Internet connectivity provides more opportunities for individuals to find external affinity groups and other models for change.

School leadership has the greatest responsibility to help a faculty internalize change. Leaders can help define the essential questions and create the necessary time and space for school staff to adopt meaningful steps toward change. Leaders can facilitate the formation of affinity groups and sharing of their work so that school innovators can build the necessary momentum for meaningful change. Leaders can help prevent a few fearful individuals from blocking a proposed change that most staff find acceptable.

NAIS provides several case studies of schools making meaningful change in A Guide for Becoming a School of the Future. James Tracy and Cushing Academy are earning attention for their international studies and leadership programs and other student-centered partnerships. Jonathan Martin and St. Gregory School have molded their program around 21st century learning content and skills. I would like to add Catlin Gabel as we grow our innovative co-curricular programs and think seriously about what it means to call ourselves a progressive school.

It will be exciting to watch new CFGs and PLNs work together with school leaders on change projects. If they are successful, we may expand our set of great examples of effective school change.