Thursday, January 15, 2015

Differentiating in a 1:1 Setting

Over the past few months, I have been sitting in on some focus groups comprised of teachers who have worked in a 1:1 setting for more than a year. A constant theme has been rising out of these conversations: differentiation works in a 1:1 environment. This goes against the reasoning of a recent EdWeek article that claims that a “mixture of students with varying abilities in one classroom causes even the most experienced and conscientious teachers to flinch, as they know the task of reaching each child is an impossible one.” I hate to think that we would give up on kids so easily. I believe today’s tools make understanding and providing support for each student possible. Our teachers use tools like Google Forms, PearDeckSocrative, and EduCanon for quick formative assessments that show where their students' skills are so they can adjust lessons as needed. The combination of the device and assessment tools provides the pathway to differentiation that allows our teachers to reach every one of their students, no matter how big the challenge.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Response: Technology Doesn't Belong in the Classroom?

An insightful post by Dominic Manola on a disturbing meeting of individuals that were discussing "the impact of social media during a school crisis". It isn't just disturbing that we have to have meetings about school crisis, it is the fact that it turned into another one of those "the problem with kids today is technology so ban it and the problems will go away" meetings.

Here is what history has taught us:

1. Once a modern invention/idea/convenience has taken hold in common culture (indoor plumbing, books, electricity, radio, TV, credit cards, Internet) and as displaces, enhances, or fills a void that was there before schools must eventually respond to its arrival.
2. Schools, which were built to resist change, will resist the change - driven by paranoid adults and experts (and those invested in the old) - usually by discrediting, banning, and citing that the innovation is doomed to fail (see inkwells vs. ballpoint pens 1815-1950).
3. Society will quickly demand the new skill in the workplace, to respond to consumer demand or efficiency, or both. Parent and Business will wonder why schools are not preparing kids for society.
4. Schools will change, slowly, as a result of external pressure. Kids will wonder why their school is so far behind their real life and why the adults can't do things they take for granted. In the meantime, kids will do amazing things outside of school - which they will turn into multi-national influential companies that come back to tell schools how to do their business with pressure from the politicians they fund (see the Gates Foundation).

These steps repeat themselves for each new modern invention/idea/convenience that takes hold.

Should we be cautious, responsible, and caring of how new things will impact our kids? - YES

Should we fear-monger and blame innovation for all of the woes of today? - NO

We should responsibly teach kids how to use whatever will come along in their life, how to evaluate the pros and cons of any new innovation, to look for ways to integrate any resource to do good work, and with an expectation that they will use anything at their disposal to improve the world around them - for themselves - for those around them - and for those that follow them.

None of that can happen in our schools when we ignore, ban, blame, or hide from innovation.

So - How do we break the cycle?

Start sharing the stories of success. Share in your school, share outside your school, and share with the world. We need people to see evidence that kids can do great things - they need to know that today kids are more intelligent, powerful, and inventive with access to more information than any other time before in human history. They are capable of understanding how to use that power for good as the leaders of today and the leaders of tomorrow. Let's be part of preparing them to harness that power for good.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Crazy ideas or just a different point of view?

Recently, my 8-year-old and I had a conversation about his recent trip to the school library where he was shocked to learn that there was a special section of books that he could not check out and take home. The conversation went something like this:

Son: “What is an encyclopedia and why is it so special that we can’t
borrow one?”
Me: “They are books that contain information and facts about things
you might be interested in. You go there to get started
learning about something”
Son: “Like Wikipedia”
Me: “Exactly!”
Son: “Who would be crazy enough to print out all of Wikipedia?”

After I recovered from my dumbfounded look, I was reminded how perspective and experience define our understanding of the world. From the view of a child today, a printed encyclopedia is crazy. When I was a kid, the encyclopedia was an amazing book where you could learn about “anything.” Same book, two interpretations of value based on experience. When was the last time you took a look at the world form someone else's perspective? Teachers: consider sitting in on a class as a student. Administrators: visit a staff development session and participate as a teacher. Perhaps changing our view will prevent us from doing something so crazy as printing out the Internet.

Cross Posted in the Tech and Learning Newsletter October 8th 2014

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Google Spreadsheets - What you really need to know

I have been working on the next presentation in my Technology Learning for Leaders Series and this session focuses on Google Forms and Sheets to Power Up Data

In my preparation for this session I made five documents that I am quite please with how they turned out. My goal was everything someone would need to know to really work with spreadsheets and data in schools, from basic to advanced, to make sense of data (short of Google Scripts).

Here are the initial documents

Basic Spreadsheet Terminology

Basic Google Spreadsheet Formulas Everyone Will Want Know

Text Google Spreadsheet Formulas Everyone Will Want Know

Intermediate Google Spreadsheet Formulas Everyone Should Want Know

Advanced Google Spreadsheet Formulas Someone Might Want to Know

I am sure these will grow over time. Let me know if you think I should add anything in the comments.


Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Personalization starts with Person

 For Tech&Learning's Newsletter 10/8/2013

I continue to hear a lot about personalization in education and what that ultimately looks like in our classrooms. It is strange how ideas can mean such different things to different people (just watch how two separate news channels cover the same story to see a demonstration). However, personalization to me is pretty simple: it starts just as the word does, with “person.” So often we are looking for that magic piece of data to describe a student, or some rating to categorize a teacher, that we forget that each person is a unique individual. We have to learn to trust that people know more about themselves than we can ever distill from an assessment. We need to hear each person’s perspective and listen to his stories. Take the time to walk across the hall, chat up a student, start a conversation with someone new. You might find a person there waiting to be discovered.

Image From:

Monday, July 29, 2013

Managing Sign Off Documents Using Google Forms and Spreadsheets

One of my tasks each year is to track who has signed off on our acceptable use agreements across the district. To do this for over 1000 people I use a google form and spreadsheet. Employees sign off on a form that automatically collects their username:

That data is cross referenced in a spreadsheet using a couple of formulas against a pre-populated list of users to "cross them off the list". A couple of pivot tables keeps everything straight. You can see it in this spreadsheet. For those wanting more features I have combined it with formMule to kick out emails as well to those that have or have not completed their requirement - which can be seen in this spreadsheet. The video below outlines the whole process.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Living Chrome

As the person in our district that is ultimately responsible for technology I often end up making the decision for what devices a student or staff member will be using on a daily basis. One of my common practices is to live with a device before purchasing it or recommending it for someone else.  With the lead up to 1:1 and chromebooks in our district this year I have been "living chrome" for the past year and have been primarily chrome since September 2012. This is what my desk looks like:

The chromebox is my primary desktop device. I have it rocking dual 24" monitors with a webcam, speakers, and a wireless keyboard and mouse. It is awesome to just sit down and work each day when the day starts or to come back in from being out and about and jumping right back into whatever I was doing. I use cloud printing (when I must print) that allows me to access multiple copier/printers in the office.

On the desk you will notice two chromebooks. One is the Samsung 550, which became my primary computing device last summer. I can make it though a full day's work on a single charge - and I push my computers. It has also become the computer I use when presenting outside of school. The other device is the $249 Samsung Chromebook, which is the computer nearly 4,000 freshman and sophomore students will be using next year in Maine 207. As I said, I try to live like I expect others will have to in the future.

Why not pick one of the two chromebooks and live with it? I have been proving the fact that it doesn't matter which chrome device you use. I randomly pick one and run with it and have the same computing experience no matter what.  Next year when a student has an issue we will "hot swap" a spare and expect them to keep working. I do that everyday.

There are obviously some differences in the devices. The 550 is the fastest of the three, but you really don't notice until you are working with a massive spreadsheet or have dozens (yes dozens) of tabs open. The chromebox has the advantage of the dual monitor set-up, which makes me much more productive. The $249 model is actually my favorite. It is lightweight and is perfect for taking off throughout the buildings.

I do still have a windows laptop available, but I rarely use it now. Sometimes I have a legacy office document to retrieve (although I am moving most of my documents to drive now) or if I want to make a quality screencast (an area where chromebooks are still lacking) that causes me to fire up the laptop. I usually have to do this several times, because as it is starting up I go back to work on a chromebook. By the time I remember the laptop was starting up it has already gone back to sleep.  Just as my students will next year I am living chrome. If someone in my role and running a technology department can live chrome, I am confident my students can thrive in this environment as well.