Thursday, February 18, 2010

Statewide Project Manager

A quick tidbit: last Friday I accepted a position as the AEA Project Manager for Online Learning. I will be working with all the AEAs in the state to develop online learning and professional development opportunities. This is a great opportunity for me and my family.

The subject matter of this blog won't change much. It will still focus on the same blend of topics: leadership and school change for the 21st century, online learning, 1:1 initiatives, 21st century skills, and of course, the Iowa Core Curriculum. If anything, I should have more access to highlight great things that are happening in Iowa schools right now.

In the meantime, if you have a chance, you can complete the survey below. The information gathered from the survey, though informal, will help serve as a datapoint for my future work.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Moodle Uses for Professional Development

I mentioned in an earlier post how Moodle can be used for a continuum of ways in a K-12 classroom, and that teachers could use Moodle without being fully immersed in teaching an online course. The flexibility of the platform makes it useful for a variety of purposes.

Ditto for professional development, be it from an AEA or from the district level. As the swiss-army knife of online tools, you can use the pieces of Moodle that serve your purpose. Here are some of the main purposes for professional development that people use Moodle:

This is often what you think of. Moodle allows you a space where you can not only place your content, but you can group students, have them submit their work, and meet to discuss and get information. The built-in forums, assignments, and gradebook make this the natural tool for online courses, for which teachers can get licensure renewal credit (or graduate credit).

AEAs aren't the only ones using Moodle for online professional development, however. Districts, such as Ankeny CSD, have used Moodle to host their own courses. Ankeny has offered courses to their staff members, such as Web 2.0 technology, Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning, Differentiated Instruction, and Mentoring and Induction. The courses are hosted on their own Moodle server and are offered by Ankeny staff.

Dianne Peterson, the district coordinator for curriculum and mentoring, mentioned there are many benefits. In a large district like Ankeny, it can target specific needs of teachers and get them connected with each other, even if they are in different buildings. It also allows teachers the flexibility to work with content over the course of a semester. Working over that period of time allows teachers to implement and get coaching/feedback in ways that face-to-face professional development cannot. In this way, online courses are an essential tool in line with the Iowa Professional Development Model.

Also referred to as blended courses, this is a blend of asynchronous learning (learning when the classmates are not meeting together) and synchronous learning (when they are together). That synchronous component is often face-to-face, but with the use of Adobe Connect Pro, those meetings can be virtual.

One consultant I've had the privilege of working with is Brad Niebling, Heartland's alignment consultant. Suffice it to say that Brad's knowledge of alignment in curriculum isn't matched in the state. To connect Brad with other consultants so they could learn principles of alignment, we looked into online options. Brad found a hybrid environment to be the best of both worlds: allowing a synchronous discussion of some difficult abstract terms, and some online asynchronous work to integrate the principles into your own profession. What's more, since it is online, it is set up to be delivered to consultants and educators across the state.

Hybrid is an excellent stepping stone; for teachers who haven't had an online environment, this type of course is a safe way to wade into online professional development.

Not every form of professional development has to have a direct teacher involved. At a base level, you can use Moodle as a house to store files and resources.

When Susen Schirmer conducted counselor academies for area school counselors, she would regularly distribute handouts and links to websites to counselors. When some counselors were unable to attend (or had lost the files), this meant extra work with sending attachments. That's not to mention the amount of paper that was involved.

She now uses Moodle to hold the Iowa School Counselor networking site. Files and links can be easily updated, and any time a participant misses out on a meeting, they know where to go. And again, since it is online, it has the capability to be used by counselors across the state.

A step up from a repository would be a module. While you still don't have a teacher directly instructing in the class, you have set outcomes and a learning sequence in a module.

We have used other tools to develop modules for subjects such as the mandatory reporting of child abuse or bloodborne pathogens. Moodle is another way to put that material together. Heartland ed tech consultant Denise Krefting has created a number of these. Two of her most recent are modules on Google Sketchup and Adobe Connect Pro. In both, the module takes you through the learning in sequential order, building your knowledge of the subject.

I wouldn't recommend using Moodle solely for the purpose of having teachers network with other teachers... there are many other social networking tools like Ning that are simpler to use and more user friendly.

On the other hand, if you want to couple social networking with another purpose on this list, Moodle is exactly what you want. Moodle has forums and choices that allow participants to share ideas and thought easily, just like a Ning. But Moodle makes it much easier to share documents and other resources. When the Iowa School Counselors networking site was created, Susen wanted not only a repository for files, but also a chance for counselors to meet and converse with other counselors. Moodle even has a social group format expressly for this purpose.

Consider this scenario. You would like your district staff to spend your day-long inservice looking at the district's standards and benchmarks. Your staff will be accessing the AEA online resources and finding examples that support the curriculum. Once they do so, they will need to share their findings with other teachers in the district, and write an implementation plan. You will gather those plans at the end of the day to look at and set up observation times. What's more, since your district doesn't have a computer lab with 200 computers in it, or has a big geographic area to cover, you can't have all your teachers (and you!!!) in one space.

Even though none of this is asynchronous professional development, Moodle works great here. You can create a "course" in Moodle and label it for that day. You can post the directions for teachers in the course. You can also upload the standards and benchmarks (if they are a pdf) or link to them (if on the web). And of course, you can link to the online resources as well.

In the course, you can use a forum for teachers to pose questions or share examples of the resources with other teachers. And as the teacher work teams finish their implementation plans, they can submit them to you through a Moodle assignment. Moodle is the structure that allows all these tasks to be brought together into one place. Woodward-Granger is one district in the Heartland area that uses Moodle in this method.

The idea of teacher collaboration in professional development has gained roots in the concept of professional learning communities, as well as teacher quality learning teams or balanced leadership workteams. With any of these, teachers are collaborating with other teachers and driving their own professional development, instead of passively receiving it in a traditional top-down method.

PLCs and other collaborative teams are most limited by time. Bill Ferriter, a big proponent of PLCs recently reminded me via Twitter:

One of the struggles I have is that I just don't have the time--as a classroom teacher---to collaborate. They want us to collaborate---and we'd do a GREAT job---but between planning, grading, parent conferences, there's nothing left. I think many people beyond the classroom forget the crush of tasks that we have to do beyond collaborating with them!"

He's right... I was guilty of that as an administrator, and my administrators were guilty of that as well. The time set aside for PLC collaboration gets eaten up by other issues of the day.

Online learning allows you to converse when you have time and energy, because with forums and wikis, you can have an ongoing asynchronous conversation with your colleagues. Moodle can provide you a space for your group to focus on improving student learning, and in that space, you can hold conversation, resources, a calendar, and more.

The benefits that Moodle brings for online courses--a place for common content distribution and sharing files/resources, a place for participant conversation, and a place for individuals to submit their own work--are also benefits it brings for any district implementation.

Several districts do this with individual professional development plans. Moodle can serve as the portal where you post directions for the yearly process. If a district is pushing a specific initative, such as Second Chance Reading or Handwriting Without Tears, you can provide a secure space to share digital resources (check copyright restrictions of a publisher before posting).

Teachers can then post their plans, be it individually with the supervisor through an assignment, or for all to see. Moodle can help you schedule meetings or announce deadlines. Best of all, once the structure is developed, it can be re-used the next year.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Youtube Safety Mode

Quick-hitter this morning:

From their blog, Google announced they have a safety mode for Youtube. It is an opt-in feature, sort of like "safe search" on Google images. This safety mode will not only filter out some questionable content (which Youtube already does), but will filter out profanity in the comment section (which it hadn't done before).

This is not perfect. First, it isn't permanent. You could log in to an account and keep the feature permanently on within that account. But it won't take a student long to log out. Sarah Perez from the ReadWriteWeb mentioned that it would have been better to have created an entirely safe site, which would have allowed an easier go of it for filtering at the district level.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Planning for a 1:1 Initiative

More from Livingston's 1:1 Learning - Laptop Programs That Work:

Planning for a 1:1 initiative is obviously critical, but it is complex as well. Livingston uses the phrase "not driven by nuts and bolts, but a vision of what to accomplish." Which is well said. Often schools become too focused on which type of computer and applications instead of the reason why you are going 1:1 in the first place.

Planning starts with a committee, and the committee must have a strong leader. The leader is one who is passionate about the move, dedicated to see it work effectively even if that means she will be doing the heavy lifting herself, and most importantly have the trust of the teachers. In the schools Livingston highlights in the book, that leader has always had one foot in education and one foot in technology. The lack of a strong leader (at least one dedicated to a 1:1 initiative) will be what keeps most schools from making the leap.

Next, the committee should be determined. Many schools make the mistake of putting only the tech-savvy go-getters on this committee. The committee should see representation from all viewpoints, with the possible exception of outright naysayers. One school included a teacher near retirement on the committee. She wasn't objecting to the movement, but she did raise concerns, such as "You're asking teachers to have students save their work on the server. I don't know how to do that." Having that voice on the committee allowed the committee to make sure it addressed those concerns, and it gained a lot more credence during conversations with the whole staff. And in addition to teachers, the committee should have representation from parents, community members, and most importantly, students as well. Whatever the committee is, it should not be the old tech committee.

Livingston mentions the committee will meet "to provide vision, formulate, decide, detail, market, implement, oversee, and assess." Everything the committee plans or discusses should be documented.

After the committee is created and starts their discussion, the next critical step is to survey other 1:1 schools. Livingston recommended one way of defusing the anxiety over which computer to choose is to ask current 1:1 districts a) why they chose their platform, and b) would they do it again.

Livingston's book goes into good detail about each of the next steps in planning, which we'll look at more in future posts:
  • Professional Development
  • Implementation Logistics
  • Pedagogical Theory
  • Classroom Management & Policies
  • Communication with the Public

Some other items for the committee to consider:
  • Keep in mind the educational age and SES of the students who will receive the laptops. One of the most common questions is whether students would have internet access outside of school, a must to fully tap the potential of a 1:1 environment.
  • Think about how technology integration has worked or not worked in the past. Those mistakes will be magnified when every student has a laptop.
  • Consider how other change initiatives were addressed, and why they were successful or not.

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Tale of Two Teachers

Ran across an old backup disk of mine from when I was in a previous district (its a bit like Christmas for me). In there, I found copies of some emails when we asked for teacher feedback on our districts' standards/benchmarks work (which was back then in preparation for the Model Core Curriculum). There were some very interesting perspectives as you can guess. I thought two emails were worth pointing out.

...I'm not saying that standards and benchmarks are unimportant. However, we spent quite a bit of time three years ago working in our committees on standards and benchmarks. And before that, we spent quite a bit of time developing standards and benchmarks 6 years ago. Now, you are having us examine them again. Will this ever end, or will we be working on the same standards and benchmarks forever? When will we actually have time to work on our classes and what we are doing in our classroom right now? This is not the best use of professional development time."

Keep in mind, this individual is a good teacher. And certainly the feeling that spending time over and over again on something without any end in sight is frustrating. So I understand where this teacher is coming from. And since I was in my second year in the district, I don't know the whole story. Perhaps the work that was done in the past was completely ignored.

However, what upset me then still upsets me today. There is this perception with the teacher that the standards/benchmarks you teach... the "what" you teach... doesn't have to be looked at. Once you have it determined, you shouldn't every have to re-visit it.

Teaching is a profession requiring a professional attitude. Imagine a doctor saying, "I know everything there is to need to know about the human body. I don't need to improve my knowledge of it." Or a lawyer who says, "I know the law inside and out. I'm going to spend all of my time in the courtroom as opposed to the library, because that's just a waste of time."

It is frustrating to have to continuously improve, to continuously have to look at how you do things and continue to tweak them. But you have to do it. The world changes. Schools need to change too, even if what you had worked find.

This is the similar anxiety I see among many teachers regarding the Iowa Core. They will say "here is the latest round of the same ol' stuff we've had, forcing us to adopt new standards and benchmarks (and now I hear there are national standards coming down the pike)." And I understand the frustration. But the attitude that we have to wait for the department of education (or for any body of authority for that matter), before we will actively look at what we teach will only lead to acting out of compulsion. And if you are acting out of compulsion and not because it is the right thing to do, of course it will have no effect on your teaching.

Another email that was compelling:

...I'm not sure looking at our standards and benchmarks is what we should be doing now. Maybe there are some things we need to change on them. But, what we really need to do is look at how well we are actually teaching those things. You and I both know there are teachers who list off they do everything in that list, but are doing a crappy job at it. That's really where we should start."

This teacher, like the first, is not a "change agent" in the school and tends to look pessimistically at professional development, despite doing a good job in the classroom. Teacher B's complaint is typical of the other set of complaints that I receive with the Iowa Core. I really can't argue with what this individual said... I think it is spot on. It is looking for fidelity in what we teach. We say we teach the standards and benchmarks, but do we really? And how thoroughly? This is the heavy lifting of the Iowa Core's alignment process.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Two Good Reasons to Go 1:1

From the introduction of Livingston's 1:1 Learning - Laptop Programs That Work:

Because we've long known that students need to work at their own pace and in their own way, both school and at home, no one expects students to stand in line or adhere to a schedule for using technologies such as books, pencils, or calculators. However, that's precisely what we've asking them to do with computers."
- Mark Weiser

How effective is a classroom set of textbooks, that students couldn't take home or to study hall to read? That had to remain in the room so that the next class could use the same resources? It isn't, other than to save money. It interrupts the learning process so much, we can't call it a learning process anymore. Leaving the books behind would be a workflow.

We have no problem making sure we are 1:1 with textbooks (in all subject areas, nonetheless), but isn't it just as absurd to leave the access to computers behind?

We need to get past the fear factor that is associated with the web, and I'm not just talking about the safety issue. We're scared of bad information and that children will plagiarize and cheat and that people will lead them astray, and so our reaction is to block it all. That doesn't protect them. It makes them less safe and more ignorant."
- Will Richardson.

Our world in now open to our students; through the portal of the internet, they can connect to people around the globe to learn from and share with. Never before have we had this learning potential before. And yet, we use fear of the world as a reason to shield them from technology. What favors are we doing them? If we don't give them ubiquitous access--if by denying them access, we deny them the opportunity to learn--then we aren't doing everything we can to help them.

Friday, February 5, 2010

1:1 Learning - Laptop Programs That Work

I mentioned one of the best resources we have on 1:1 computing is a book in our professional library by Pamela Livingston. Pamela Livingston, who has served in many technology roles both in schools and the private sector, was the technology coordinator of the Peck School in Morristown, NJ, one of the first school districts to roll out a 1:1 initiative.

Livingston puts together not only her experience, but also the existing research and experiences of other pioneering schools, and statewide initiatives. I'll highlight some of my favorite sections of the book in some upcoming posts.

Section 1 gives a narrative of the process Peck used to roll it out, from idea, to common vision, to logistics and budgeting, to implementation, and then to evaluation. She also compares it to the work in San Francisco's Urban school, St. Louis' Whitfield school, Denver School of Science and Technology, Henrico County (VA)'s initiative, and the statewide middle school initiative in Maine.

Section 2 gives more details on the aspects of leadership. Specifically, it shows what worked and what did not with planning, professional development, and implementation logistics.

And section 3 delves into the teaching pedagogical differences that ubiquitous computing affords a school. Livingston does a nice job of touching on the differences in learning theory and some important aspects to remember about use of web 2.0 tools. She also provides a model lesson and classroom management advice.

Finally, there are excellent resources in the appendices, including Peck's sample policies, a collection of FAQs from students, current research and resources, as well as a scenario-starter for how you would implement different technologies into language arts, math, science, and social studies classes.

By the way, Livingston also guest blogs on the 1:1 blog run by CASTLE.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Heartland AEA 1:1 Resources

I am at the Heartland area superintendents' monthly meeting this morning, where there will be a large focus on 1:1 schools and the process involved. Van Meter's superintendent John Carver and high school principal Deron Durflinger will be presenting about their district's initiative, and later Jeff Dicks, superintendent from Newell-Fonda, will be discussing some of the growing pains involved with a district going 1:1.

For those in the Heartland area, or in Iowa for that matter, here is a quick look at the best resources we offer for schools looking to go 1:1.

  • is a blog coordinated by Scott McLeod, director of Iowa State's CASTLE institute
  • CASTLE is partnering with the AEAs to put a wiki of information on the 1:1 process
  • On that wiki, there is a listing of other 1:1 schools in Iowa with contact information
  • Also on that wiki is some information about the upcoming spring conference for Iowa 1:1 schools
  • The Digital Curriculum (pdf) is a framework for how to teach with ubiquitous access
  • From our professional library, Pamela Livingston's 1-to-1 Learning: Laptop Programs that Work (2nd edition) is a must read, detailing not only the necessary steps for schools, but also highlighting some of the pioneers in 1:1 use.
  • SAI is in its second year of offering leadership training in transitioning schools to the 21st century. Heartland also offers leadership training in the form of an online course/community on how to lead schools in a 21st century tech-infused school.
Those interested in knowing more about 1:1 implementation, access and integration are encouraged to visit with either me or one of Heartland's educational technology consultants, Denise Krefting, Toy Waterman, Steve Linduska, or Wade Andersen.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Data points that maybe only I'm interested in

My kids point out that we would have been at the 100th day if it hadn't been for snow days (which I believe means we are in the mid-60s now...). Good time to look at some data and draw some conclusions.

Here's a couple data points for you to consider:
  • How many times this year has your principal been in your room to observe a lesson, other than formal district-mandated observations?
  • How many times this year has your technology coordinator observed your lessons? Or curriculum director? Or department head?
  • How many times have you observed another teacher teach this year?
  • How many other educators in your district know what you are currently looking at in your curriculum? And, how many of those only know because they have children who are your students?
  • How many times this year have you had a discussion with another educator about student data, not including the ITBS/ITEDs? How many of those led to you altering your teaching?
  • How many articles, books, or blog posts have you read this year that have transformed your teaching? How many of those did you share with your colleagues?

With the exception of a few schools who truly value collaboration, we live more isolated than any other profession. Professional development does not work in isolation.

Tony Wagner, in his visit to Iowa, used the analogy of the tennis player who was trying to improve her game by only email interaction with a coach. The coach was not allowed to see her practice or play, but could only offer vague advice on the fundamentals of the game. The player was also not allowed to see herself via videotape or to watch other players for comparison. And she wasn't allowed to discuss the score of any match to measure the effects of any efforts she made.

How well would the tennis player improve in that isolated of a situation? How well do you?