Sunday, October 15, 2017

Student Portfolios- More than Just a Test Score

A great debate within public education is the importance placed on standardized tests. Some say that this is THE way to measure student growth. Others say that students, teachers and schools should not be judged on one day of testing alone. The one thing that most agree on is that student growth should be measured, but we struggle with better options. 

One way to show student growth, in a way that also offers opportunity for reflection, would be to work with students to create digital portfolios. In the book, Students at the Center: Personalized Learning with Habits of Mind by Bena Kallick and Allison Zmuda, digital portfolios are suggested as a way to address the four attributes of personalized learning: voice, co-creation, social construction and self-discovery. You can read more about student portfolios on their blog post, Student Portfolios: the Narrative of Learning.

There are some obstacles to creating and using digital portfolios that will need to be addressed before implementation. One obstacle is the lack of reliable access to devices. To create meaningful digital portfolios, students must have regular access to devices to use for creating digital products and reflecting on learning. Without regular access students and teachers will struggle with seeing the value of digital portfolios or even what products to add.

Another obstacle to creating and using digital portfolios is creating opportunities for critiquing and reflecting on learning. Students will need teachers to model this as well as coach them through the process. In the beginning, students might struggle with honest reflection of their work. Teachers will want to support students as they recognize early attempts at learning and the value this has in a portfolio. Portfolios will be more meaningful if they show growth and not just refined, polished products.

Finding the right tool is one more obstacle to overcome when implementing digital portfolios. With younger students, some teachers have found success using a tool like SeeSaw. This allows for students to easily add their work and share with families. Parents are only able to see their student's portfolio, which is important when considering student privacy and safety. For older students, Google Sites or an ePortfolio component of your LMS are great options. We use Canvas LMS in our district and each student is provided an ePortfolio (digital portfolio) that they can use to easily add products that have been turned in through Canvas. These portfolios remain private until students choose to share them. Each year, students can continue to add to their portfolios, which could be a powerful resource for the scholarship & college application process. George Couros references this in his blog post "3 Things Students Should Have Before They Leave High School."

Lastly, finding an audience for students is another obstacle. As mentioned before, care needs to be given to student privacy and safety, so finding authentic audiences while still maintaining privacy and safety creates a challenge. I would be interested in learning how others are overcoming this obstacle. What ideas have worked for you and your students?

Student learning should not be measured by standardized test scores alone, but unless we create more relevant, authentic avenues, this is what we are left with. My goal this year is to work with a few brave teachers in our district to pilot this approach to measuring student growth. With the teacher's support, students can co-create a digital portfolio that will offer opportunities to showcase learning, as well as provide a space for reflection on their learning. 

Have you had success with digital portfolios? Please share your experiences with us.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

Several years ago, a very wise friend was listening to me bemoan the fact that I was so far behind with all of the little tasks that I needed to get done as a librarian. There were books that needed to be repaired and book carts were full of books to be shelved.  She gave me probably the best advice I have been given as an educator, she said we have to "Keep the main thing the MAIN THING." She reminded me in my role as a librarian, students and teachers were my main thing and as long as I  kept that as my focus, I was good.

Fast forward to mid August this year and I was again in need of this reminder. In my current role, I work a 12 month calendar, so during the summer months we can sometimes get bogged down by the "little things" and forget our true reason for doing what we do. But come late August, when students walk back through the doors, our purpose comes back into focus and it is a great feeling!

First Day of School! Breakout EDU & boxes of Kleenex!
As an extra "Back to School" bonus, I was invited to co-teach a lesson during the first week of school with one of our 6th grade social studies teachers. She wanted support as she tried a lesson using Canvas LMS, Google Drive and Google Earth, a lesson that we created during a one-on-one session before school began. Having spent the last year or so helping teachers become more comfortable using technology in their classrooms,  I was thrilled to be invited! Honestly, there is no better feeling than being in a classroom with students and seeing them excited about learning! 

Students exploring Google Earth during a World Cultures class
My MAIN THING may look a little different in the role I am in, since I am working more with teachers than directly with students, but this work is important, as it has the potential to positively impact students and learning. 

Keeping the main thing the MAIN THING this year is the goal. What this will look like is getting in to classrooms, working one on one with teachers to support them as they create student-centered learning environments using a blended learning approach.  We will be supporting teachers as they try things outside their comfort zone, with the ultimate goal to see students actively engaged in learning. THIS is the MAIN THING.

As we prepare a new group of teachers this year for a 1:1 learning environment, it is exciting to see them already start to shift their thinking about teaching and learning. It is sure to be a great year!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Roos Go 1:World - Lessons Learned

This week, after 18 months of planning, organizing, purchasing & preparing, we were able to deploy approximately 700 Chromebooks to our 7th graders. It was an exciting week, with happy students who are now equipped for a blended learning environment.

This idea began with a conversation between our superintendent, secondary curriculum and technology departments. The plan involved making sure the professional development was in place to support the teachers who would facilitate these classrooms, as well as making sure the infrastructure was in place to support the devices. 

I won't even pretend to know or understand the infrastructure, but I know it involved rewiring buildings, researching filters, and exploring single sign on options.

What I do know about is working with teachers to get ready for a 1:1 learning environment and the lessons we learned along the way, so I'll share this!

Lesson #1- Relationships matter!! Build them, foster them & listen!  

Relationships, whether you are working with little people or big people, matter! Once the decision was made to begin the process, we purchased a similar device for all teachers who would be piloting this program and in a fun & festive event, we kicked off #RoosGo1toWorld!  The group gathered together and talked about this exciting journey (and stressed just a bit about what this would mean!) There were many times when we needed to talk, vent, and then get back to the work at hand. It was important to take that time to listen and problem solve.  Building relationships was important so that we could support & encourage each other during this journey. **Side note- chocolate is a NECESSITY when meeting!**

Lesson #2 - It is never too early to begin!

A year from the date of deployment, we started working with teachers to learn about Canvas LMS & other digital tools. We also started the process of a mindset shift.  The 7th grade teachers met throughout the fall and spring semester to work on effective technology integration, creating engaging content in Canvas, and continuing to think about this new learning environment where each student had their own device every day. The teacher also gave input on the type of device the students should get, eventually choosing a Lenovo n22 touchscreen. This year we will begin working with 6th & 8th grade teachers to prepare them for the possibility of being 1:1 next year. 

Lesson #3 - Provide ongoing support!

The support we offer teachers should be ongoing. In addition to training on specific tools throughout this year, we have also provided "work days" where teachers could work on creating content for their course with support. These days brought campuses together so that they could share resources and ideas with others who teach the same content. Teachers experienced face to face professional learning as well as blended learning through the Canvas course created for them, which allowed them to experience Canvas as a student. This support will continue throughout this year, because when things get stressful we oftentimes will go back to what we are comfortable with. This year we will be in classrooms, supporting teachers as they continue to learn and try new things. 

Lesson #4 - Celebrate!

We have now deployed almost 700 Chromebooks to our incoming 7th graders, who are ready to go on Day 1. During our device distribution, our WHS SLED group (students in grades 9-11) created and presented information to families about the 1:1 program. This presentation included digital citizenship, Google Drive, Canvas LMS & taking care of the device. They did an exceptional job and we celebrate that! Our two middle school campuses had strong teams in place to assist with the distribution of devices. This is cause for celebration! Students arrive on campuses tomorrow and there are sure to be many reasons to celebrate this year! This is something we will focus on - celebrating our successes and remembering those when things don't go quite as planned.

If all goes as expected, this program will grow and we will work with 6th and 8th grade teachers this year. We started small, making sure that we could support the teachers before students were given devices. Research shows that just putting a device into a student's hands is not enough, and preparing teachers to effectively use technology in the classroom is necessary to impact student success. We will provide this support in face to face training as well as through blended learning using our #RoosGo1toWorld Canvas course. 

Many districts have taken this same journey. We would appreciate any tips or advice for successful 1:1 initiatives! 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Modeling Digital Citizenship

As we begin using more digital tools in our classrooms, it is important to remember the regulations put into place to protect young learners. While we may get excited about a new tool or app, we must abide by laws such as COPPA (Children's Online Privacy Protection Act) and CIPA (Children's Internet Protection Act) that are meant to protect our students. As outdated as they may seem at this time, they are the laws that guide our instructional use of digital tools in the classroom. 

I've created the graphic above to guide our teachers in using various social media platforms with students. Even if we might know students are using these, we will want to be mindful of these age requirements and not encourage the use of social media platforms that fall above the age of the students we teach. By doing this, we are modeling good digital citizenship for our students. 

On a related note, have you found the perfect digital tool or app for your class, only to realize you can't use it due to student information being requested? Although it might be tempting to find a "fix around" to use it, it is recommended that you model digital citizenship by going through the proper process to ensure student safety. Most districts have a process in place, so check with your Technology department or Curriculum & Instruction department if you are unsure of the process.

In our district, our Technology Department works with the Curriculum & Instruction department to determine appropriate digital tools and when to obtain parent permission.  

When a tool is requested for use in the classroom, teachers complete a form with pertinent information. The Technology Department first analyzes the digital tool to see if it complies with COPPA & CIPA. If the instructional purpose is in question, the request is sent to Curriculum & Instruction for additional vetting. Regardless of the tool, it will be important to get parent permission before using programs that require any type of student information such as NAME, AGE, GRADE, SCHOOL, etc. for your students who are younger than 13. 

Modeling digital citizenship will require open conversations with our students and their families and more than just a one time lesson. Using the ISTE Student Standards as a guide, we know that Digital Citizen is a life skill. We must teach our students to be aware of data collection and digital privacy, and modeling this with the tools we use is one way we can do that. 

In Weatherford ISD, we have access to Atomic Learning, which has modules on digital citizenship such as "What Do Students Need to Know About Internet Safety and Digital Citizenship?" These modules can be accessed by both teachers and students and will help reinforce the conversations that are taking place throughout the year on being good digital citizens. 

We will be talking more about Digital Citizenship and using digital tools in our classroom instruction in the future. A site I will be visiting more is my friend Nancy Watson's site CLICK which focuses on Digital Literacy through student created tech tips. There is a section devoted to Digital Citizenship, which student created videos & screencasts.

What tips do you have to ensure your students become good digital citizens?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Asking the Right Questions

Innovation... what is it? What does it look like in a classroom? In a district? And how do we become brave enough to innovate? To take a chance on doing things differently?
By definition, innovation is a new method, idea, product, etc.

So in an educational setting, innovation requires people to change their thinking about students and learning, to try new ideas. Yet, this seems more difficult in education and we get caught up in the way things have always been done. 

 I'm reading two books right now and they are both pushing my thinking about innovation. 

One of the books I am reading is A Beautiful Constraint by Adam Morgan & Mark Barden. Although it is not education specific, the thoughts & ideas presented are certainly applicable. The model is based on "constraint-led innovation" and constraints are something the education system and educators know all too well. Whether it is not having enough time, people, resources, etc, teachers are well versed in constraints. But are we looking at those constraints and saying, "yes, but"? In the book, we learn about asking propelling questions and the "Can-If" problem solving method.

 Our world is full of can'ts, but what if we instead approached these issues with a different mindset? "We can if" allows us to look at those constraints in a much more positive light, which opens the door to innovative ideas. This is a great approach as we look at how to create a more relevant learning experience for our students. There will never be enough time in the day, we will always be short of staff and resources, but WE CAN if... What is the "if" that we need? The solution is up to the individual situation and the brainstorming that must take place to come up with it. We just have to be willing to think differently and come up with innovative solutions.

The other book I am (re)reading is The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros. I'm participating in the #IMMOOC online through blogs & Twitter and am finding this is the perfect time to revisit this book. One of the things that I am glad to be reminded of is that innovation can come from something new or an iteration (a new version) of something. As with many districts, we have our "pockets of innovation" that we would love to spread. One of these areas is student-led learning environments. Several teachers do an exceptional job of turning the learning environment over to the students, and we are looking for ways to increase that mindset.

This past week our district participated in Digital Learning Day, with many classrooms & student groups engaging in digital learning which for some was just a normal day. We had classrooms participate last year, but this was the first year we had a student-led digital learning experience. Our high school student advocates created a "Lunch & Learn" for the high school teachers to share with them a digital tool and classroom application. 

These students were empowered to be teachers & learners through this experience. They planned, advertised, and created a presentation to share Canva with teachers on their campus. On the day of, several teachers came in to the computer lab in the library to learn the tool, even asking the students how they could use it in their classroom. It was inspiring to hear the students respond with ways the teacher could effectively use Canva "instead of all the worksheets you give us." :)

In talking with the students,  there might have been a little disappointment in the number of people that attended the session, but overall they were proud of this experience and, through the iteration process, will be able to make their next session even better! The plan right now is to offer the Lunch & Learn once a month, with a new tool being presented each month.

So how does this tie in with the purpose of education and why did I connect these two books? I believe that we are often caught up in constraints and fail to see the opportunities to innovate. That not recognizing what students are interested in creates a passive learning environment and does not instill a love of learning. The teacher (high school librarian, Katy Smith) who worked with these students recognized their desire to help teachers integrate technology and provided an opportunity for them to do this. These students gave up personal time and were motivated to learn a tool and prepare for a presentation for teachers because they feel that teachers need help integrating technology into classroom instruction. 

It all goes back to questioning what we are doing and why? Our why must include our students and "What is best for THIS learner?" (p.21, The Innovator's Mindset) Students must be given the opportunity to take control of their learning and, even the teaching at times, because if they are passively involved in the education process, we are surely failing them. Including our students in conversations & planning help to ensure that they are active participants in their learning. Including them in projects and initiatives help to promote ownership in the learning environment. Asking our students for feedback shows that we value their opinion and what they have to offer. 

I will be reading and participating in The Innovator's Mindset #IMMOOC for the next few weeks and hope to blog more about our focus on seeking innovative approaches to education. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Change- Where Do You Start?

I recently blogged about staying on course even when things seem uncertain(read about that HERE). Even when politicians seem to penalize schools and districts for embracing change. Even when teachers are wanting students to be prepared for more than just a one day test, but the one day test is how you are measured. That post and conversations recently made me think more about change.

According to Merriam -Webster, one definition of change is to undergo transformation, transition, or substitution. Our district spent the better part of last school year on our Strategic Plan. During this process, we used the Visioning Document to guide our focus. The Visioning Document is a collaborative effort of 35 public school superintendents who recognized that we needed a different vision for public education in Texas. They knew we needed to change. They created a document describing this change.

And yet, today, almost 10 years after this document was published, very little has changed. So the question is WHY? Is it because the way we measure students, as determined by lawmakers, hasn't changed much? Or is it because we aren't quite sure where the "change" has to start? At what point do we make a change that will create this transformation that we know is best for education? Do we have to change the whole system or can we start small?

Around this time last year, I was able to hear Sir Ken Robinson at an event called EdShift. I first learned of his work through my principal at the time, Racheal Rife, who shared with us "Changing Education Paradigms" which received many head nods while our campus watched it.

Ken Robinson's Ted Talk "Do Schools Kill Creativity?", is the most watched TedTalk of all time. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.

Hearing Robinson in person was very inspiring. One of my main takeaways from that day is that we might not be able to change the national education system/policy, or even our state education system/policy, but to our students, WE are the system and we have control over our classrooms and how we interact with our students. We can change what happens inside our classrooms. That was very powerful to hear and made "change" seem more manageable. Even writing this now, it lessens my stress of trying to change ALL of education and helps me focus just on what is in front of me... teachers & students in my district. That is manageable. An informative article with an excerpt from his book, Creative Schools reminded me of this day. In this article Robinson says, "But revolutions don’t wait for legislation. They emerge from what people do at the ground level."

So for this week, I will focus on and celebrate the innovation that is happening in our classrooms, and build upon that. I will focus on and celebrate the teachers who are taking risks to learn new skills and implementing those in their classrooms with and for their students, and build upon that. I will focus on leading a revolution of change within our district and finding those who are ready to join in. Our students deserve this effort and focus.

And I will be comfortable in losing sight of one shore as I focus on the horizon, knowing that change is scary, uncomfortable and oftentimes comes with unchartered territory. But I'm pushing off...

How are you changing things that are within your control? Do you have some ideas for encouraging and supporting change within a district or campus? I would love to hear ideas from those who are at the "ground level" and not in "committee rooms."

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Being Future Ready in an A-F World

This week, Texas public school districts were notified of "preliminary" results of the new A-F rating system that was created by the 84th Legislature. Although these results have been labeled a "work in progress" and ratings will not become effective until August 2018, it was required by the Legislature that they be presented in January 2017. These ratings take pages and pages of explanation to understand and rate campuses on four different domains at this time (there will be five in the final system) - Student Achievement, Student Progress, Closing Performance Gap and Post Secondary Readiness. There is information available on TEA's Webpage and on TASA's Webpage if you would like to read more about it. 

I will not try to explain this rating system, as it certainly seems like it has flaws and that it is far from easy to understand. My question though, is where does "preparing students for their future" fit in here? Where do the 4 C's (Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, & Creativity) fit in? Where do global connections fit in? Where does innovation & student-centered learning fit in? How can we move forward in the 21st century when our legislature keeps pulling us back into the 20th century? 

In our district, we are preparing for a 1:1 roll out at the 7th grade, a grade level that is responsible for preparing students for Reading, Math & Writing STAAR tests. During this school year, we have been working on integrating technology into classroom instruction, working through becoming proficient with our LMS (Canvas) and understanding how the 4 C's, SAMR & personalized learning all fit in. Every 7th grader will be issued a Chromebook for the 2017-2018 school year and learning should look different in these classrooms. Unfortunately, the new rating system will not take into account any of this. Much of the rating consists of how students perform on their standardized tests. So I wonder, will we lose momentum with this "preliminary" rating? Will educators and administrators become more focused on test prep and less focused on personalized learning for their students? As I read blogposts and letters from administrators all over Texas, I have come across people talking about "getting back to the basics" and "structured learning" for 4 year-olds.  Is this truly what is best for our students? Might this just be what is wrong and why we don't seem to be making the strides we should be making? We are 17 years into the 21st century... when will our education system catch up? 

I don't have answers to this right now, but I truly feel that it is TIME FOR CHANGE. I have not heard people in education arguing against accountability. That is not the change that we need, but should we be looking at different measures? Measures that ensure our students leave us with the skills that will help them be prepared for whatever their future holds? Can standardized tests be just ONE way that we look at our schools instead of the bulk of how we measure our schools? Can our Texas Legislators visit classrooms and talk to educators before they add another 50-60 pages to our already overloaded Texas Education Code (it has over 3,000 pages right now) this Legislative session?

Thankfully for the students of Texas and beyond, groups are working to make and support a shift in education. The Office of Educational Technology created Future Ready Schools. Here superintendents pledge to focus on digital learning, empowering educators, and supporting other district leaders as they embark on this journey. Hopefully the new administration will continue the forward progress made by this organization. In addition, Digital Promise is another group working to promote and support innovation in education. In Texas, we have Raise Your Hand Texas, an organization that "focuses on identifying breakthrough ideas to improve education, piloting them in our public schools and supporting the conditions and public policies that allow them to scale to reach all Texas students." Our district has used the Texas Visioning Document to create our belief statements and to focus our journey. There is certainly support for transformation in education, if educators are open to it and not penalized for moving in that direction.

Thinking about all of this, what comes to mind is that we must stay the course. The journey is sure to be rough, and we will want to turn back to safer shores, but we must continue to focus on transforming education. The Texas Legislature could focus on helping to bring our public education system into the 21st century and not slowing progress with 20th century accountability ratings. We owe it to our students, our families and our communities. 

Stay strong educators!