Wednesday, April 23, 2014

How Staying Uncomfortable Is The Key To Success

This post first appeared on Edudemic
Memorial 5th graders at New England Student SHowcase.png
Burlington students presenting at the recent New England 1:1 Summit 
As we near the completion of our third year of being a 1:1 tablet school in Burlington, I continue to ponder what is the next step. Glancing in the rearview mirror, it is hard to believe that nearly three years have passed since we distributed mobile devices to over 1,000 high school students in a school that had previously policies in place against mobile phones and MP3 players just two years earlier. In fact, the integration of iPads into classrooms went so well that we expanded down to our middle school the following year and added in half of our elementary grades this year. While I am excited that Burlington Public Schools will have iPads for students in all grades at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, I am also anxious about our continued growth as learners. A few years ago we were looked at as a progressive school for our work in deploying mobile devices and allowing our school environment to look more like the real world where access to online resources is ubiquitous. However, just providing access was really the starting point, and as I see other schools still struggle just to get the infrastructure in place to provide the same access I worry about stagnation.

How can we continue to move forward?

Looking at some of the work of Amy Edmondson recently has helped me to frame my thinking a bit. Edmondson, a Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, has written a great deal about organizational change. She describes four zones for organizations involved in change initiatives in her article titled The Competitive Imperative of Learning:
  1. Apathy Zone
  2. Anxiety Zone
  3. Comfort Zone
  4. Learning Zone
Although my descriptions of the four zones are be a bit different than Edmondson’s, I think that these four zones can be repurposed rather nicely for schools making the move to 1:1 environments.

Apathy Zone

This is where our school was back in 2008-2009 when we did not allow students to bring their cell phones and other mobile devices into our classrooms. Living in the Apathy Zone, means that you give little or no credence to the fact that having students access web-enabled devices could add any value to learning.

Anxiety Zone

There was certainly a sense of accomplishment as we moved beyond our state of denial and embraced the reality that we would be better preparing our students for what they would be facing if we allowed access to mobile devices. However, this move also moved us into the Anxiety Zone, a place where educators run the gamut from the apoplectic few who are still shocked that we would put these gadgets in the hands of every student, to the app-addicted staff members who want to learn about every new app that hits the app store. Of course, our continuous focus on a Professional Development model which focuses on a few foundational web-based resources that can provide easy wins, along with regular time for colleagues to share best practice, provided an exit route from the Anxiety Zone.

Comfort Zone

But there was still trouble ahead because the next stop, the Comfort Zone, is one that can breed complacency and a false sense of security. This is the place where a great deal of reflection is needed to be sure that momentum is not halted. This is our current reality in year three of 1:1 in Burlington. We have a seen many more examples of students being empowered and following their passions to do things that we would not have seen prior to our 1:1 implementation. This was evidenced during the recent New England Student Showcase during the New England 1:1 Summit. However, we still have a lot of work to do in establishing the learner-led environment that will make these types of experiences the reality for all students.

Learning Zone

This transition would put us into the Learning Zone, a place where collaboration and creation is the norm for all learners (both staff and students). This is the place where we stop asking questions like “How often do you integrate technology in the classroom?” and start focusing on the tools of differentiation that can foster endless opportunities for students to show their learning in ways that best suit their learning styles. Of course, the challenge here is allowing staff the same opportunities in their Professional Development so that they can make the connections as learners that will allow them to seek these same options for their students. We can clearly see the Learning Zone on the horizon, our challenge is not to become satisfied with our arrival in the comfort zone.

Stay uncomfortable my friends!

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Monday, April 21, 2014

A Rant On Reading Online vs. Reading Paper

ebook-vs-libros (Photo credit: melenita2012)

About a week back the Washington Post ran an article titled Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say.  Immediately, I saw a number of tweets from people touting the article as a groundbreaking piece of research.  (I'll provide my own hyperbole alert since this is online and the research says readers may just skim over this).

Anyway, just a close reading of the title would have tipped folks off that this article was nothing significant.  The keywords of course being "researchers say" in the headline which is a far cry from "researchers prove."  As I scanned and skimmed the article numerous times other phrases popped out at me, phrases like the following:
"I worry.."
"comprehension seems better...with paper" 
"Researchers say that the differences between text and screen reading should be studied more thoroughly..."
Why is it that as we seek the best way to accomplish a task, we cling to the false belief that we are going to find one right answer? Personally, I love reading online and the fact that I can click on hyperlinks, bookmark key points/articles, and interact with others interested in the same topic/novel. Am I distracted or adding a level of interaction to this task that was not possible for previous generations of readers?  

Of course, the answer here is that sometimes I am distracted and less productive and other times I am able to utilize the online resources in a way that adds greater depth to my experience.  My main problem with the alarmists who would prefer that all students read paperbound texts is that they deny these students opportunities to experience the power of Interactive reading, as well as the chance to find their own individual sense of balance in this area.  We need to embrace the struggle that is part of this and have meaningful conversations to guide our own learning and the learning of our children.

Denying these opportunities benefits no one! 

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

My Weekly Diigo Bookmarks (April 20, 2014)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Students Steal The Show At #NE1to1

This post first appeared on the Burlington Public Schools Blog

We held our third annual New England 1:1 Summit at Marshall Simonds Middle School this past Saturday. Part of the summit was the first New England Student Showcase, a session that highlighted student work from Burlington and other schools in the area. 

As attendees walked through the Marshall Simonds Middle School Learning Commons and spoke with students about their work, it quickly became clear that the students were stealing the show. But isn't this our ultimate goal as educators, setting our students up so that they can go out and "wow" people? 

For all of those who brought students to the showcase I say this: "Kudos and mission accomplished!" Check out the brief Storify I put together about the student showcase as well as the great post from Jenn Scheffer on the BHS Help Desk blog.

The following originally appeared on the BHS Help Desk blog.

“Fantastic to see student work and what better advocates to use a resource in class than to hear from the students who are using them. It’s a great learning experience for the students involved as well. I know the team from my school (Thornton Academy, Saco, ME) discussed that one of our goals for next year would be to bring a group of students to NESS.”
The New England Student Showcase
Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 8.54.45 PMI proposed the idea to place students in the spotlight at this year’s New England 1:1 Summit to Dennis Villano, Director of Instructional Technology of Burlington Public Schools, several months ago, when planning for this year’s conference began. Knowing what a huge advocate of student voice Dennis is, I was confident he would agree to add this new component to the Summit, and he did. Once he gave me the green light, I started to plan and organize. I decided to name this new initiative the New England Student Showcase and collaborated with two of my Help Desk students, Harsh and Amit, in the design of a NESS logo that was added to the New England 1:1 website. My vision for the event was to have students from all grade levels and content areas from all across New England attend the Summit along with their teachers, and showcase the work and projects they had completed using various technology tools. My intention in developing the event was not to just have students show off “cool” apps and web tools. The real purpose was to empower student voice and provide them with the opportunity to explain to attendees the skills and knowledge they had developed as a result of meaningful (and challenging) technology integration. Essentially, I wanted students to be the ones offering professional development to teachers. I think this type of PD is going to become a trend and perhaps over time, could align with the mission and vision of the Edcamp model.
Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 7.49.51 PMMy thought was that by offering this type of format, one in which teachers would be able to actually see a finished product created by a student and have one on one conversations with students about the learning and creation process, it would provide educators with a whole new level of inspiration and motivation to integrate technology into their own classrooms. We’ve all attended professional development conferences where educational theory and participant discussion is the focus. Sessions are led by educators, technology specialists, and educational administrators. 

That traditional model of PD can be valuable, it’s often necessary and helpful, but for me personally, there’s nothing like gaining the perspective of a student to help me improve. I get a great deal of inspiration when I am able to actually see student work and when I interact with and hear from my students. When I want to try a new app, web tool, activity, or project, often times before I even start, I share my ideas with my students and ask for their feedback. I tend to get better results, and my students end up learning more, when there is collaboration and when my students feel a sense of ownership over their learning. And learning is the key word here. A major takeaway from the Summit is that the focus in Burlington is on learning, content, and skills versus apps and devices. That was the consistent message throughout the duration of the Summit, along with the need for constant support and professional development before, during and after an initial 1:1 rollout.
Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 8.23.46 PMEmpowering Student Voice
Many colleagues I’ve talked with in and outside of the Burlington district agree that student voice is powerful and necessary. It’s exciting that more and more educators and administrators are adopting this philosophy, are taking strategic risks, aren’t afraid to fail and try again, and are giving students the chance to “teach the teachers.” On both days of the Summit, all who attended had the chance to see this in action. On Friday, during the Burlington school visits, there were students from our elementary, middle, and high school providing visitors with information about our 1:1 environment and the technology that they were using in their classrooms. On Saturday, during the Showcase, this happened on an even larger scale.
Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 7.58.46 PM
A Special Thank You

I knew that New England Showcase was going to be a success. The number of teachers and students who agreed to take time out of their Saturday to showcase their work gave me confidence that the NESS had the potential to be the highlight of the day, and based on the feedback we’ve received, many thought that it was. In the weeks and days leading up to the NESS I corresponded via email with the teachers and students who were attending and it was evident they were excited to take part in this unique opportunity. On Saturday morning, I watched the students and teachers arrive and set up their booths. I watched as many parents gathered to take pictures prior to the official start of the NESS and my confidence that it was going to be a great event grew even stronger. When the participants arrived and began interacting with the students, you could sense the excitement in the air and that’s when I was able to just sit back and let the students run the show. My expectations had officially been exceeded.
Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 8.13.26 PM

My colleague and friend, Johnathan Warner, captured the excitement of the NESS via Vine!

Thanks to the students and teachers from Burlington, Lynnfield, Duxbury, and Mendon-Upton, the educators and administrators who attended the Summit will go back to their own school communities with ideas and resources to share. It’s safe to say that all who attended are motivated and energized to move their schools forward in terms of technology integration. A huge thank you goes out to all the teachers who brought their students to the NESS including:
  • Patrick Murphy, Cindy Dunn, Heather Wood, Fox Hill Elementary, Burlington, MAKelly Floyd, Paula Weldon, Rose Magliozzi, Heather Wood, Tara Olshaw, Val Burns Memorial Elementary, Burlington, MA
  • Kim Lynch, Francis Wyman Elementary, Burlington, MA
  • Christina Chang, Gina Bauer, Shannon Janovitz, Burlington High School, Burlington, MA
  • Nicole Kinney & Alex Caram, Summer Street Elementary School, Lynnfield, MA
  • Liane D’Alessandro, Gabriel Landau & Noah Dalton (students), Lynnfield High School, Lynnfield, MA
  • Katie Donovan & Ritamarie Benoit, Alden Elementary School, Duxbury, MA  
  • Alice Gentili, Miscoe Hill Middle School, Mendon-Upton, MA
  • A big thank you to my Help Desk and Web 2.0 students for assisting with the high school tours, attending the Showcase, assisting with creating the Aurasma augmented reality experience, and serving on the Help Desk student panel. 

Saturday’s Student Showcase was a first for Burlington and it’s possible the event will become a permanent part of the Summit. I am hopeful that if we offer the NESS again next year, that we will have schools from the rest of the New England states attend and continue to share and learn from each other. If you missed the conference, or want to revisit any part of the day, you can check out the archive on either the #NE1to1 Tagboard I created, or you can check out the much more detailed archive of the #NE1to1 that my colleague Tim Calvin curated. Finally, you can view the NESS Animoto below, curated from all the great pictures that were Tweeted during the event, and share it with your school community. And please, keep the conversation about technology integration in the classroom going and keep learning everyday! 

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

My Weekly Diigo Bookmarks (April 13, 2014)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Brief Survey for Parents regarding our 1:1 iPad Initiative

The survey below is for Burlington parents to provide feedback for our Technology Advisory Committee. We appreciate your responses regarding your feelings on our 1:1 learning initiative.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

My Weekly Diigo Bookmarks (April 6, 2014)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.