Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Allowing for Choice in the Classroom

In Weatherford ISD, we are making steps to move from a traditional teacher-led instructional environment to a more student-centered learning environment. This shift is less about tools and more about mindset, which is sometimes a bit more challenging. And while our goal would be to create a more personalized approach to learning, some of our first steps are working on providing opportunities for choice and voice
In the last few weeks, there have been some good examples of this seen in middle school science classrooms. In 8th grade science at Hall Middle School, Coach Kerfoot offered his students the choice of demonstrating their mastery of the learning by either a traditional test or through other means. In an effort to build a tool box for students, Kerfoot has pre-selected some choices for the first couple of units. Eventually, students will have free choice, but for this unit they were able to choose a traditional test, create a comic, or write a poem or rap to show that they had learned the content presented. In addition, Kerfoot worked with students to create a rubric based on standards for this unit. As background, this classroom is equipped with a Chromebook cart, so students have access to technology while in the classroom. These devices are not checked out to students, so time is provided in class for students to work on their projects, including work sessions on Fridays.  At this time, many of the learning components are digital, using STEMScopes and Google ClassroomEven with technology available, many students chose to create on paper. A few students tried Powtoon and one or two turned in a recording of their rap or poem.  When students were asked their thoughts on having choice, one student said that they like that they are able to be creative. Another student talked about how they look forward to working on the project and liked having options. In the next unit, students will be using some type of video to show their mastery, which this will lend itself to being a perfect opportunity to discuss digital portfolios with the students!

Across town at Tison Middle School, Ms. Harris's 7th grade science class is also being provided choice in how they demonstrate their knowledge. Through our Roos Go 1:World initiative, students in 7th grade are issued a Chromebook that they bring to school each day.  Students are studying the human body systems in Harris's class and are working in groups to show what they have learned. Harris uses Canvas LMS regularly in her classroom, so when students walk in there is a routine set to log in to Canvas for the day's assignment. In this classroom, students were not provided a list of options for how to show their knowledge, but some tools were suggested. Walking around the room, you could see that several groups have chosen Google Slides, and a few others had selected Emaze and Prezi.

In both classrooms, in addition to choice, the 4 C's were also included! Students were able to work in groups, which allows for collaboration and communication. Creating these products also encourages creativity, which many of the students seem to enjoy. It will be interesting to watch the progression of choice and the development of a set of tools students can use to show their mastery of concepts being taught.  An individual reflection piece built into the group presentations would give good insight for the teachers as to the level of understanding and engagement of each of the students. This would be easy to incorporate into a Canvas course, which is the direction we are headed with our secondary classrooms.

These are all steps in the right direction for creating student centered classrooms! 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Personalized PD with a Twist of Pineapple

Improving our craft, learning new skills, staying current on trends, modeling "life-long learning" -- these are all things teachers want to do, but finding the time is a whole other story. The days are long, the work-load never ending, the expectations are high, and then to add professional learning in the mix, well, many teachers feel that there are just not enough hours in the day. To meet this need, we must get creative. The professional learning must be relevant, personalized and timely. 

One way to accomplish this is through some version of the "Pineapple Chart", which I learned about last spring from Cult of Pedagogy's Jennifer Gonzalez. (I am thankful people re-post popular blog posts, as timing is everything!) Jennifer shares the idea of teachers opening up their classroom to visitors to observe specific things. Teachers write on a chart, located in a prominent place in the school, something they are teaching that other teachers might be interested in seeing in action. 

While learning about the Pineapple Chart, I also came across #observeme on Twitter. Teachers place a sign outside their classroom, listing a few goals that they want feedback on and inviting others into their classroom. Robert Kaplinsky wrote a post about #observeme and the benefits of opening your classroom to others for feedback.

Both of these ideas were shared with teachers and administrators in our district, as one of our goals is to create "model classrooms" where teachers can see innovative ideas in action.
As Austin Kleon has said in his book, Steal Like an Artist, "Nothing is completely original." He explains that we take ideas and "remix" them to find something that works for us. 

In this spirit, one of our elementary campuses, who was interested in trying this out this school year, decided to merge the two ideas. Teachers at Austin Elementary have boards with pineapples on them (a sign of welcome) with an #observeme sign. It was suggested that teachers make this a "team" effort in the classroom, making goals with their students. In discussing this with the administrators on the campus, they felt this would be a way to make it a goal for all learners in the classroom to grow each day. As I visited the campus one day recently, I snapped some pictures of #observeme signs and goals.

One of the teachers on the campus said that she likes the concept, but they are finding it a challenge to get teachers to come in, as conference periods are packed full of other responsibilities. To help with this, campus administrators will have classrooms covered for teachers who want to visit another classroom to learn. They are hopeful that this will get the ball rolling and feedback will come in to help them all learn and grow. 

Twitter, always a go-to for quick learning, provided another option for teachers who are not quite ready to jump on a Pineapple chart or are a little intimidated by #observeme. Teacher2Teacher saw the pictures above that I tweeted out and reached out to me. They teamed up with Melissa White and Lacey Snyder  who are inviting teachers to participate in #onesmallthing. Read this post about #OneSmallThing and decide if starting small might just be the best fit for you. Not sure where to begin with your #OneSmallThing? Check out the #OneSmallThing generator at the end of the post!

All of this ties in nicely with my reading of  Students at the Center: Personalized Learning with Habits of Mind by Bena Kallick and Allison Zmuda. Through this book, I became familiar with  The 16 Habits of Mind by Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick. As I read through the habits, I reflected on how each of these relates to learners of ALL ages, not just our students in the classroom. An important one for educators is to remember to be a learner. You've heard it before, no longer are we the keepers of the knowledge but are more facilitators of learning. To make this shift, we must first be learners and so importantly, "resist complacency". 

Making time for learning is as important for adults as it is for our young learners!  Whether it is a 15 minute visit to a classroom, a 30 minute Twitter chat in your PJs, or a weekend edcamp, finding the learning that is just right for you has never been easier or more accessible. And for a quick way to grow your #PLN (personal learning network) follow the people mentioned above!

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.