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Friday, December 18, 2015

Putting in a Work Ticket for Schoology

Last school day of 2015!  As we prepare for our winter break, I wanted to share instructions for Shelby County staff who encounter problems with Schoology.   We now have a system in place for Schoology issues to be addressed in the same way as other edtech problems: via the work ticket system.

The troubleshooting tips and work ticket directions below were created by Yasmine Fleming, one of our Digital Learning Coaches.  It's also available here as a PDF.

Please note that TEACHERS should be putting in work tickets on behalf of their students.

Before completing a work ticket, the main thing to remember for logging in issues (especially for students) is this:
1)  Do you know your email address and password?  Your local IT can quickly get you the student's email address.  If they don't know their password, get the IT to reset it.
2)  Can you log into your GAFE account or email?  Since it's a single sign-in system that ties Schoology info to your other accounts, if you can log into one, you should be able to log into all.  (If you can't log into GAFE or email, chances are you have the wrong email address or password.  See #1.)

However, if you know the email and password is correct and you still can't get in, or you have another problem (for example, you are a teacher and can log in, but there are no rosters of students) it's time for a work ticket.

Special thanks to Yasmine for the graphic!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Hour of Code 2015

This week (Dec. 7-11), Shelby County again celebrated the #HourOfCode!  In my entry last year,  I went into detail what the Hour of Code is.   In short, students are encouraged to try programming and coding for at least one hour.

Teachers and librarians across the district have been facilitating student coding all this week.  Here are some highlights!

Beth Jones (LMS at Collins High School) was ready to receive Mrs. Terhune's students:

Vicki Stoltz (LMS at Clear Creek Elementary, who made a Symbaloo last year listing some great coding resources) captured some fifth grade students Minecrafting via the website.  She particularly praised how these students, like many, worked collaboratively side by side to problem solve their way through the modules:

When I emailed out to the district to talk up the Hour of Code, several other teachers replied with their own pledge to give students this learning opportunity: Tina Eden (East Middle), Teresa Walther (Talented and Gifted), Tyler Harris (SCHS), Julie Webb (LMS at SCHS), Sarah Smith and Meredith Morrison (both from Southside Elementary).

One particular partnership, between Wright Elementary's LMS Sarah Price and our Area Technology Center (ATC) teacher Valerie Ricchio, really caught my attention.  Every day this week, Ms. Price took on a huge challenge of making sure that all of Wright's K-5 students got an hour of code -- as far as I know, the first time in Shelby County that one of our schools got 100% student participation in coding.  In addition, Ms. Ricchio arranged for students in her technical computer program (from Collins and Shelby County High School) to come over to Wright as mentor-helpers.  Using iPads, the Wright students interacted with both (besides Minecraft, the Star Wars modules were particularly popular!) and the app Lightbot.

And others in our state noticed!

It was wonderful to see our younger and older students have such meaningful interaction (as well as such valuable teamwork between a librarian and a teacher from two different schools).  But cross-collaboration and compassion are not limited to technical assistance in Shelby County.  It's part of our mission statement to "embrace social responsibility."  It's part of our Strategic Leadership strands: globally effective, healthy and responsible students.   So whether it is intermediate elementary students being readers for primary students....or high school students purchasing holiday gifts for elementary students who are less fortunate, or helping them code....or our plans for student-run help desks as our 1:1 initiative simply becomes another part of our daily learning culture....helping is just another day in the district.

What have you done for Hour of Code this year?  Please tell us in the Comments below.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Before discussing today's topic, a special announcement!  Our 1:1 deployment of Chromebooks has already been accomplished for our high school students.  The next group of middle schoolers were going to get their devices this summer . . . but thanks to the generous support of our Board, the timetable has been moved up!  Chromebooks for our 6th to 8th graders have been purchased, and we hope to deploy them next month in January.   So I now will be spending a majority of my time floating between our two middle schools for support.

And now, to the topic of the day: makerspaces!

Makerspaces are "free play" areas often, but not exclusively, found in libraries.  (For some schools that enthusiastically embrace the concept, the makerspace is the library.)  The materials to inspire creativity and critical thinking are varied, but the key thing is that students have choice and freedom.  There is nothing to prevent teachers from creating lesson plans or project-based learning around these areas and materials, of course.

Here in Shelby County, several of our librarians are well on their way to populating our school libraries with makerspaces.  In order to build and collaborate on makerspace ideas, we have created a Google Doc.   Feel free to view and share with others!

One of our most active and prominent Kentucky educators is Heidi Neltner.  She was kind enough to respond to an interview request to share her knowledge of makerspaces and how she transformed her school library.

Welcome to Edtech Elixirs!  Please introduce yourself to our readers.

Hello! This is my 15th year in education. My undergraduate work was in Psychology, English and Secondary Education.  I completed my Master’s in Library Science at the University of Kentucky and a Rank I in Instructional Leadership from Northern Kentucky University. Currently I am the teacher librarian at Robert D. Johnson Elementary in Fort Thomas, Kentucky.  In my previous education life I taught high school English for 10 years, with six of those years being at Highlands High School in Fort Thomas, Kentucky.  In 2015 I was awarded a Golden Apple Award for excellence in teaching  and the A.D. Albright Outstanding Teacher in Northern Kentucky.

You identify yourself as a “teacher librarian,” as opposed to a LMS or something else.  Why is the title “teacher librarian” important to you?

 I identify myself as a “Teacher Librarian” as opposed to a Library Media Specialist because I think teacher librarian more fully describes what I do.  I am always a teacher first – whether I am working one on one with students, acting as a guide on the side with a large group, or working with a group of teachers on incorporating technology or research methods into their classwork.  Of course, I also function as the librarian in very traditional and nontraditional ways at my school where I work endlessly to encourage reading, maintain a library collection and connect stakeholders with the most current resources to support the learning community.  These resources can be anything from print and ebooks to apps for the iPads to green screening tools to circuit kits – whatever we need to inspire creativity and learning.

When do you remember starting to significantly integrate technology into student learning?

During my student teaching in spring of 2000, when I sat down with three versions of Romeo and Juliet and two VCRs and spliced together short clips of the same scene so students could compare and contrast how different directors might envision the scene and to see how different interpretations could change the tone or mood of a work.  It was pretty fascinating to see the students making complex connections.  Through the next few years I worked to encourage high school students to find ways to use tools such as PowerPoint and video clips in presentations to demonstrate connections.  Thanks to many incredible advancements, even my elementary students can do this seamlessly today.

The term “makerspace” has become popular these last few years.  How would you define what a makerspace is?

A makerspace is a physical or digital environment where learners (no matter the age) can come together to make.  In an educational capacity, a makerspace functions as a common area for students to access the tools, materials, or programming they need to learn from doing or demonstrate what they know.

What are some examples of makerspace activities and materials you currently have in your library? 

My school’s makerspace is evolving to meet the needs of my school community.  We have access to computers, iPads, art materials, circuit building kits (Snap Circuits, littleBits) a Makey-Makey, Raspberry Pi, green screen, Legos and a Lego table I converted from a donation.  I also have an online access point for students to access websites like, and coding sites like, Scratch, Tynker and Made with Code, and we have MinecraftEDU

I encourage the use of the makerspace weekly in “Maker Recess” where students in 3-5th grades can come in and “make”.  They build on the Lego table, work in Minecraft, build circuits, make rainbow loom or LoopdeDoo bracelets and experiment with different apps on iPads that they ordinarily might not get a chance to try out.  We having Minecraft mornings each Monday and I have 3 coding clubs that meet once a month. I also use a Maker Center approach to expose students to different ideas and processes.  Last year we had our first maker centers right before winter break, and I wrote about it in a post Maker Centers – a Learning Experience for all of Us”, I plan to do that again, and used a similar format already this year with kindergarten and first grade using the guiding question “How can we show what we know about Digital Citizenship?"

I find the most value in the  makerspace comes through project based learning.  Last year, for example, my first graders did an author study and when it came time for them to do their project, I asked them what they could do to show what they know?  They brainstormed things they had done and seen in makerspaces and came up with many excellent ideas.  I wrote about that experience in my blog post Using the Super 3 Research and Our Makerspace to Inspire 1st Grade PBL.”  I used a similar approach with 3rd and 5th graders who did Genius Hour research last year. I had 5th graders making how-to videos, building websites, models, and so much more. Currently, students in 3rd and 5th grades are researching Digital Citizenship issues and designing projects using makerspace materials in the same capacity.  While many students are making videos and posters, they are also making use of apps such as Aurasma and QR codes to make things more interactive. 

A few more projects that we have happening are just not beginning with 4th grade, and will likely expand to full school participation.  Students in 4th grade are being given the choice to work on a number of projects here at school that will benefit everyone including: building a butterfly garden, putting together an aquaponics garden, writing a program to turn our Raspberry Pi into a book tweeting station, and learning about and looking for ways to improve Google Cardboard. Thanks to the hard work of Julie Dashley, one of our Spanish teachers, we have been awarded a grant to build a butterfly garden.  With the help of the Campbell County Cooperative Extension, kids are going to have a real opportunity to build the garden.

What are some activities or materials you would like to include in the near future?

For the future I’m working on grants to purchase a variety of different kinds of robots – everything from Bee Bots to Sphero to Arduino based robots so that students can see in a more hands-on way how computer coding can work to affect something in the real world.  I would also love to have a 3D printer that we can use to prototype and possibly use with MinecraftEDU, a poster printer so kids can better apply principals of graphic design, a Dye Cutter and a variety of LEDs and more littleBits.  I would also like to plan more after school activities, designed around particular themes or showcasing different skills and teachers.

Why do makerspaces matter?

A makerspace matters because it provides learners with a common area where resources are shared in a way that allows for students to be inspired to learn or show what they know.  It can be an area where students can tap into skills they don’t often get to practice or learn about in a traditional classroom, but it is most importantly a place where everyone is a learner and can safely practice 21st century skills like collaboration, problem solving, creativity and innovation.  Many of the ways students can engage in the use of a makerspace will directly connect to standards students are working within the classroom environment – CCSS, NGSS and Program of Studies. For example, last year during our Maker Centers, students were exposed to a Raspberry Pi and when they learned about circuits in class they were able to identify what a circuit board was and make connections to other things in their class before their teacher could do it for them.  Students use the writing process to create, edit and revise video, they use math to make calculations in Minecraft when crafting things, and they use Engineering standards when they are creating models and making improvements.  In a makerspace you truly have a cross curricular experience where students are at the center of their learning.

I know you and James Allen founded KyGoPlay.  What inspired you to do so?  What is the purpose of KyGoPlay?  

James Allen and I were inspired to create a #KyGoPlay movement during a #KyEdChat side discussion with Marty Park and Chris Walsh.  We were talking about how teachers really need to be encouraged to “Play to Learn.”  One thing James and I noticed is that when people ask us how we learned something technology based, our response is typically “I played around with it."  Many teachers find that they simply don’t have the time to play around to learn things – but if you make that time, it can be really rewarding for you and your students.

The purpose of #KyGoPlay is to bring an awareness to the benefits of playing to learn as an adult and to encourage teachers to take an hour of their time during one week and "just try it."  We put together a video that included some research and explained the premise here

We also are encouraging people to host #KyGoPlay events at their school to bring colleagues together for Play Dates so they can learn together, increase collegiality and get a good laugh hopefully. 

We would love for you to take the “Pledge to Play” on!  Last year was our first year launching the challenge, and we’d love to see more participation.  We shared out ideas through the #KyGoPlay hashtag and we have a Twitter account @KyGoPlay.  You can get ideas there.

What advice or first steps would you give to librarians hoping to transform their library into a makerspace?

If you want to create a makerspace in your library – the first thing you need to do is assess the needs of your stakeholders.  Look at resources like your CSIP, your school mission and vision to identify priorities, ask your administrators, teachers and students what they’re missing and design materials and events that will help fulfill real needs in your school community.  You also have to consider budget and a sustaining budget so that you have a plan for maintaining expensive items and replacing consumables.  Making is an attitude and you can encourage a maker movement in your school with not much more than some makers and paper, so don’t feel pressured to have all those high dollar things right away. You can check out my more complete answer to that on “Makerspaces – Getting Started” and see some more resources on KyMakes, which will hopefully turn into a place for people in Kentucky schools to share maker ideas.  You can also tweet with the hashtag #KyMakes to share what you’re doing.

Thank you, Heidi, for your generosity and time!

What are your thoughts on makerspaces?  What materials or use of space currently happen in your library or classroom?  Please share your thoughts in the Comments below.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Blended and Personalized Learning

I recently returned from iNACOL 2015, an international annual conference that specifically looks at best practices for blended learning and digitizing classrooms.  I was privileged to present on a session about Shelby's multi-year technology integration plan, along with John Leeper (our Director of Innovation in College and Career Readiness), Maddie Meyer (teacher at Southside Elementary), and KDE's David Cook (Director of Innovation and Partner Engagement). We also attended some intriguing sessions with valuable information, but I was particularly taken by a pair of keynote addresses.  The first was a highly engaging, motivating, and moving presentation by Buddy Berry, the superintendent of Eminence (Shelby's district neighbor).  Mr. Berry challenged us to stop doing school the way it's always been --  because we can show how much we care about students and truly meet their needs by evolutionizing education with digital tools and old-fashioned compassion.  The second was by Craig Kielburger (one of the founders of, who talked about becoming a social activist at the age of 12.  Years later in Ecuador, he shared his story of a village chief who called a "minga" in order to finish building a school:

Isn't it time in education for us to call a minga?

An entire conference about blended learning made me reflect on what is happening here in Shelby County.   But first, some definitions.  I find the articulation of blended learning in Straker and Horn's Blended to be the most useful: "Blended learning is any formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path and/or pace.”  This focus on the student is what makes blended go hand in hand with personalized learning; although you could personalize without technology, it would be difficult to facilitate. (It should be noted that simply using or integrating technology does not guarantee a personalized experience.)  So how does one define personalized learning?  In short, unlike differentiation or individualization which is managed by the teacher, personalization is unique because it is truly driven by the student; the student has "voice and choice" what will be learned, and when.  (For a comprehensive chart comparing personalization, differentiation, and individualization, click here.)

Thanks in large part to Chromebooks, personalized and blended learning are proliferating side by side.  One example is at Martha Layne Collins High School.  Madelyn Sterrett is a math teacher who uses Blendspace as a way of digitally organizing unit materials and resources for her students.  As students combine analog and digital materials to track their progress, they take ownership of their own learning:

Another math example is at the other end of the age spectrum, in third grade at Heritage Elementary.  Julia Lyles had confidence that her students needed only a few days with their Chromebooks before they would get past "how to use the device" and get down to the business at hand: a personalized learning environment managed by Google Classroom.  Now the students' math learning is self-paced.  With daily exit slips and a large chart on the back wall, Ms. Lyles can see when skills are mastered and track their current stage of progress.

Julia Lyles in front of her students' exit slip packets and class progress chart.

In the past, these model examples of student personalized learning may have been silo'd or overlooked. Now, however, social media has amplified teacher voice and given instructors unprecedented access into each other's classrooms.  That's exactly what Shelby County High School math teacher Bart Roettger shared in a recent meeting of Shelby's "Guiding Coalition" (a group of educators and community partners willing to share our district's vision and successes outside of a school building's four walls).  Mr. Roettger explained that, thanks to Twitter, he heard about and was inspired by the personalization of learning occurring in Mrs. Sterrett's classroom.  Now that he knows a high school resource who is a click/tweet/email away, Bart will begin his own transformation of his classroom.  How powerful that we can find inspiration not only from outside our district, but also from within!

Blended learning takes a willingness to fail forward, a strong infrastructure, and patience.  Personalized learning takes teacher time for all the required front-loading of lessons and units in preparation for students that pre-assess themselves ahead of others, and the teacher's courage to loop back to more traditional structures if the class is not progressing as they should.  And yet, even though the moon has only grown full twice since our Chromebooks have been deployed, the future of education is already becoming the present for Shelby County.

Have Comments about blended and/or personalized learning?  Please share below.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Important Privacy Setting: Disabling Roster View in Schoology

Tomorrow morning, I fly to Orlando for iNACOL 2015 as part of a team of Shelby County & KDE presenters about our district's technology integration plan.  Tweets and blogging will surely follow.

Meanwhile, Shelby County is finally ready to roll out the enterprise version of Schoology.  I am definitely becoming a fan of the LMS and eager to see how teachers use it to facilitate learning for their students.  It's a critical piece not only for digital conversion, but to enable other pedagogy to succeed, such as PBL and personalized learning.

However, we have just discovered a critical privacy setting that needs to be changed.  Otherwise, students can see teacher rosters for each of their classes, including profile information on each student.

The steps are easy.  Teachers, please do this as soon as possible.  (Thanks to Gretchen Schell at Schoology for the directions and screenshots!)  Check to make sure you do this for each course you have attached to your account.

Step 1: Select the drop-down of Course Options (see screenshot below) and select “Edit Privacy/Course Settings”

Step 2: In the Permissions area select “No One” for Roster. This will only allow the Teacher (Course Admin) to view the members enrolled in a course. You must SAVE CHANGES to enable this setting.

On the far right side of "Privacy," in the "Roster" row, checkmark "No One."

If you have any questions, please reach out to your school's Instructional Coach or Digital Learning Coach.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Discovery Education

Discovery Education (DE) is a website that I always felt guilty for underutilizing.  While I long suspected it had some powerful resources (and, thanks to KDE, resources that are free!), I could not think past the idea that it was a great place to get shark videos and that's about it.

Boy, was I wrong.

From creating classes and sharing activities, to creating interactive posters ("Boards"), to having access to a library full of teacher professional development resources, Discovery Education is far from just a place for some angry marine life videos.

Once you have created a class, there are multiple ways you can provide material.  You can build an assignment to share (a collection of videos, texts, etc. to form an activity), create a quiz, or build a Board.  “Boards” are simple but interactive posters (a bit like Glogster) that you can share with students. Students can also make their own.  However, any Boards made by teachers or students can only be shared and seen within DE; they cannot be shared publicly outside the site.

Here was a surprising find: not only does DE help with information on how to navigate their site, but it also has a deep library of resources to help learn more about various teaching topics separate from their content-specific material.  For example, there is a series of materials on how to flip your classroom.  I highly recommend taking a peek at their S.O.S. (Spotlight on Strategies), which can quickly teach you general strategies on how to better manage and assess your students.

To help teachers get signed on, as well as give a quick tour of some of Discovery Education's resources, I created a Google Doc to help.  While the focus leans toward our Shelby County staff, I believe all educators interested in Discovery Education will benefit from the information -- especially ones in Kentucky.

Do you already use Discovery Education in your curriculum?  Share in the Comments below.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Our First Chromebook Deployment

I remember when Shelby County first hired me, in the summer of 2014.  "By the fall of 2015," the admin shared, "we will deploy devices to every high school student in our district.  And they will take them home."  It excited me and was one of the key elements in my decision to applying for the Technology Integration Coach position.  How could I resist being part of such a monumental change in how we can personalize and deliver learning?  So in a very real sense, all the months, weeks, days of work up to now have always pointed to this key moment of deployment, which was equal parts thrilling and terrifying.  But we studied other districts (particularly Mooresville, NC), planned, talked, and planned some more.  This summer I became the Digital Learning Coordinator, and the planning and talking continued.

And then . . . it finally happened.  We took a breath, and deployed.

For three nights and a Saturday morning (September 22-24, 26), principals, teachers, IT, and district staff manned both high schools.  In a carefully organized path, the students came.  They paid their usage fee, watched a digital citizenship video, got their device, and confirmed they could log in with their GAFE account before they left.  There was design input and hard work by many people to create a smooth delivery system, but special kudos must be given to our COO Eddie Oakley for quarterbacking the rollout to such success.

There were many memorable moments in the deployment.  The truck full of Chromebooks getting a police escort from central office to school.  The lines of students, waiting in a hallway to watch their digital citizenship video.  Piles of Chromebooks on a table, each waiting to come home to a student. The many happy, excited faces.

A photo posted by Adam Watson (@watsonedtech) on

The main concern, of course, was never the devices.  It was and continues to be: How will teachers transform learning?   How will students own their own learning? A few weeks into post-deployment, John Leeper and I visited our Digital Learning Coaches and stopped by several classrooms at both high schools.  There was exciting work already going on, but what struck me the most was the sense of normalcy.  Both students and teachers worked on Chromebooks as if they had been doing it for two months, not two weeks.  And whether it was collaboratively looking at texts and videos in social studies, or personalizing and self-pacing their learning in a math class, or blending offline and online notetaking while being assessed via Kahoot in science, students were learning.  You could feel it.

We will have technical hiccups and instructional growing pains as the school year continues.  Change can sometimes be unsettling or even painful.   But to already see transformation, and to know that there will be day a few years from now that the tech will have lost its novelty and merely becomes the vehicle upon which we make sure all students learn the way they need to, when they need to . . . it does the educational heart good, I tell ya.

In closing, I went to my first GAFE summit last weekend as presenter and attendee.   The opportunities and learning I experienced would be worthy of a full blog entry on its own, but for now I will end this entry with a quote that Ken Shelton shared as part of a keynote address:

If we want to build a ship full of lifelong learners, then let us be better at enticing them with the endless immensity of possibilities.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


We are on the verge of history!  In my last blog entry, I discussed our upcoming 1:1 Chromebook deployment to high school students.  Now, we have announced dates (Sept. 22-24, 26), which is just around the corner.  Expect some tweets on our device deployment nights.

Meanwhile, I want to discuss a new web-based tool called FieldTripZoom.  After they followed me on Twitter, I visited their site and was intrigued.  When I reached out with some questions, I was fortunate enough to speak with FieldTripZoom's founder and CEO, Michael Pfannenstiel.  The more I heard, the more excited I get about the possibility of how FieldTripZoom could impact student learning.

What is it?  It would be easy to call FieldTripZoom simply a "virtual field trip," but this is more than just another Skype session or Google Hangout. It is more accurate to call these programs "live interactive experiences." Most of the programs are not simply lectures, but have several planned activities that involve students learning on their feet and with their hands.  Some of the program's fees even include shipping a kit of materials to be used by students.  (One memorable program with the Alaska Sea Life Center involves "The Scoop on Poop," where you are shipped a collection of sea lion scat in order to analyze their feeding ecosystem.)  This short video trailer shows a class not just listening to a presenter but also applying their knowledge and skills.

The list of programs in their catalog (available for viewing once you sign up for a free account) is remarkably deep and diverse for a company that has only been around for half a year.  You can filter the options by category or just browse them A-Z.  I saw everything from the Baseball Hall of Fame to the Columbus Zoo to the Denver Art Museum to the International Spy Museum to the Royal Botanical Gardens.  The offerings are also targeted for a range of K-12 classrooms.

It should be noted that for an increasing number of programs, FieldTripZoom also are creating online interactives, which is perfect for our soon to be 1:1 district.   (Of course, teachers may want to develop their own digital pre- and post-formative assessments around the program as well.)

FieldTripZoom does have a screening process to make sure the programs are Core Content-aligned interactive experiences with educational value, from a presenter who is an expert in their field and can interact well with young people.

The technical requirements are easy: after creating an account on the site, you just need a computer, projector, and a webcam, and the teleconferencing software is simple to install.  Next, you choose a program, take care of the purchase price, make arrangements with the presenter on the day and time, and be ready to blow the minds of kids.

While these programs are often paid by individual teachers, Michael noted that if districts wanted to deposit a minimum amount in a fund, they could set up a "bank" where teachers could check out programs either freely (first come first served) or with administrative oversight.

How could you use it?  In a time when actual field trips are difficult to pay for or schedule, FieldTripZoom provides a viable and valuable alternative.

However, FieldTripZoom also could create a much deeper learning experience. For example,  it could be a part of a PBL where students can get authentic, real world interaction with experts in the field to drive their data collection (have students uncover content rather than a teacher "covering" it). It may even be a model where the student product of a PBL is to create their own "programs" for other students.  Think of the authentic payoff of high school seniors and juniors teaching a concept via Skype or Google Hangout to elementary students, which would include creating an interactive kit that involves their targeted audience.

Downsides?  There is obviously the cost of a program, which at first blush may sound prohibitive.  However, consider that if a class of 30 students each paid $5, you would cover the cost of an average program, and there are grants and other financial opportunities (including a handful of programs that are free).  Compare that to the cost of an actual field trip, not to mention the logistics of permission forms, student medical and allergic concerns, etc.  The other issue is not to forget the spatial and kinesthetic value of actually walking the halls and meadows on actual field trips.   Sometimes you have to just put down the technology and breathe life in.  It may be more Core Content-aligned to always quantify and spell the flowers, but we shouldn't forget to smell them too.

Shelby teachers, are you interested in FieldTripZoom?  Have any teachers out there already used one of their programs?  How did that impact student learning?  Let me know in the Comments below.

(Full disclosure: FieldTripZoom is a proud supporter of EdCamps around the nation, and will be one of our EdCampKy sponsors in October.)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Why Chromebooks?

Our fall deployment of take-home Chromebooks to all of our district's high school students (the first phase of an eventual 1:1 throughout Shelby County) is getting closer! The 2000+ devices are now imaged, and are currently being tagged for inventory.

Recently, a principal from another Kentucky county emailed and wanted to know about the advantages of Chromebooks over other devices.  They are certainly becoming a popular choice for educators; in the third quarter of 2014, Chromebooks outsold iPads (the previous lead selling device for education) for the first time in the U.S.  In the months since, that trend has continued, and widened. Of course, popularity alone shouldn't dictate your choices. But after reflecting on the principal's question, I realized I had an important topic for a blog entry.

I won't pretend that my reasons for why Chromebooks are a strong contender for your school or district’s digital conversion plan are terribly unique; just Google the question, and many of the following reasons will pop up. But I hope my thoughts on the subject and a few anecdotes will add something original to the discussion.

1. For writing and composition, a built-in keyboard trumps a touchscreen tablet.  Students find ways to “type” even on smartphones, and yes, Bluetooth keyboards can be purchased for tablets. However, Chromebooks (like other laptops) make long-form writing much easier right out of the box.

2.  The Chromebook naturally builds on the power of GAFE.  Since a Chromebook is in essence a plastic construction that surrounds and delivers a Chrome browser, the integration of Google Drive or Google Apps for Education (GAFE) should be a given. Creating Google Docs and using other Google web-based tools are naturally easy and intuitive on a Chromebook.

3.  The Chromebook will address 90% of the tasks your students want to accomplish.  When our district was exploring device options, we visited the Chicago Community Consolidated School District 59 (CCSD59) and spent time with Ross Vittore (Director of Innovative Learning) and the district’s Innovation Coaches.  Ross shared a great story that had a profound impact for us.  Early in CCSD59’s device decision process, they asked at a meeting of stakeholders (teachers, administrators, parents, and students) a simple question: “What do you want students to be able to do?”  When they compiled their list and reviewed it afterwards, they realized that with only a handful of exceptions (shoot HD video, run high-performance AutoCAD software), a typical Chromebook could do the job on a daily basis.  It is more important to look at devices from this end of the telescope than get mired in a “Mac versus Window,” "laptop versus tablet," or similarly unproductive discussion.  (Note that Chrome apps and extensions are always growing, and can even handle many traditionally program-based functions such as cloud-based video editing with WeVideo.) One last point to make: those existing iPad carts or desktop computers will still fulfill a need in a 1:1 Chromebook school, as they offer opportunity to access resources specific for limited-time projects.

4.  Under ten second bootup time!  The Chrome OS is extremely efficient, so when you turn on the power, the startup is quick.  This is different than, say,  a Windows laptop that can sometimes take a few minutes to get to the desktop which means you lose precious instructional time. If you don't have a 1:1 but want to use carts of Chromebooks, you can also set them up in "kiosk" mode which allows clean wiping of the hard drive as you quickly reset between users.

5.  The Chromebook does have offline capabilities.  The number one concern about Chromebooks is, unlike a typical laptop, “it can’t work without the Internet.”  It is true that Chromebooks are limited without the Internet -- but aren’t all laptops and tablets limited if there is no connection?  The bigger point is that the Chromebook does not become a brick if the Internet is unavailable. Once you allow the Google Drive to sync to your Chromebook, there are several functions you have even without Internet access, such as viewing and editing Google Docs, viewing PDF files, and accessing a thumb drive.  Remember also that edits of Docs will “update” to your cloud the moment your Chromebook hits the Internet again.  (For more about offline capabilities, visit this site.)

6.  Easy administration via an admin console.  With administrative privileges, districts can easily (with a few clicks of checking or unchecking boxes) change student permissions, push out apps and extensions, and other management functions.  For more information on Chromebook management, visit here.

7.  You can instantly swap out units as the Drive work is cloud-based.  If you had Windows, Macs, or tablets, work saved to their hard drives or personalized program configurations will be lost if the device “dies” or is lost.  On the other hand, since Chromebooks saves work to the Google Drive cloud, you will gain access to your work the moment you log in with another Chromebook.  (For that matter, you will have access to your files and folders once you log in with your Chrome browser on any device.)   Other personalized aspects, such as your Chrome apps and extensions, will re-install once you log in again.

8.  The cost of Chromebooks is lower than most devices.  I deliberately put this one last, since price concerns should not be the main factor when picking devices.  However, there is no denying this is an attractive feature of Chromebooks, which usually range from $200 to $300.  (The difference in price is mainly due to local hard drive storage space for downloaded files and the speed of the device’s processor.)  Also, Chromebooks choices are increasing; for example, a new model by Asus is a 10” touchscreen hybrid (Flip C100PA).

Before we leave this discussion, two final points to make.

First, be wary of thinking Chromebooks, or any one device, will be your "silver bullet." I briefly mentioned in #3 how Chromebooks can be a great complimentary device to existing edtech in your building. This is what I call "Garlic Necklace" thinking, and I expand on the concept in a previous blog entry.

Our superintendent Dr. Neihof believes strongly in the need for "deeper learning." In essence, deeper learning involves student self-directed mastery of multiple areas (content, collaboration, and communication) while maintaining an academic mindset. (It should be noted that education leaders need to be prepared for deeper learning as well.) This leads me to my second point. Technology is certainly a powerful means to this deeper learning, but is not the ends. We should be mindful as always that a Chromebook or iPad or access to GAFE is merely a vehicle on the pathway to deeper learning -- and without direction, a road map or intentionality, a vehicle might as well be in the garage.

Do you integrate Chromebooks prominently in your district or school? What are your thoughts on the device and its impact on student learning? Share in the Comments below.

Friday, August 7, 2015

How I've Spent my Summer Vacation 2015

Hello, my Edtech Elixirs readers!  Has it been over a month since I last blogged?  Blasphemy.  In my new position, I have been officially "back at work" since July 6, so I had a shortened summer.  But I'm not complaining.  I've had lots of opportunities and experiences these past four weeks; I'll briefly share some highlights below.

First, some personnel news!  Our Digital Learning Coaches have been hired.  Yasmine Fleming will start the year working closely with Collins High School, and Lindsay Ricke will begin with Shelby County High School.  I'm very excited to work with such talented teacher leaders.

I was flattered to be asked to join the organizing committee for running EdCampKy, and presented/attended the July 9 event at the brand new Hardin County Early College and Career Center. It had the largest attendance numbers yet, and I won my first Demo Slam by narrowly beating Donnie Piercey by one vote.  My friends, we are living in historic times!  I can't wait for the next EdCamp on October 24 at Thomas Nelson High School.  Tickets are free, but be sure to get yours before they are gone!  (I love the animated GIF below of our committee: Donnie, Mike Paul, Wes Bradley, Heather Warrell, James Allen and Brooke Whitlow.)

Near the end of July, I went with some Shelby administrators to Mooresville, North Carolina to visit their Mooresville Greater School District (MGSD) and participate in their three day conference called Summer Connection.  The district has been lauded for its multi-year 1:1 program, but at least as equally impressive is its strong belief in cultivating a culture of "Every Child, Every Day."   It was an unbelievable opportunity, and while there our team spent many a late night debriefing what we learned and planning ahead for our own Chromebook 1:1 deployment to high school students in the fall.

Last but not least -- led by the hard work and planning of Shelby's Staff Developer Lora Shields -- our district had its first Personalized Learning PD on August 3.  We are working hard to model for our adult learners what we want to have for our students -- personalization of their education.  Enthusiasm was evident and smiles were abundant for both presenters and attendees.  I presented on Google Apps for Education, and I marveled how GAFE has changed our district in the two months since we rolled it out.  Registration and evaluations were done by Google Forms and the schedule was a Google Doc with descriptions linked to Google Slides. A year from now, I can't wait to reflect on how GAFE will impact student learning in Shelby!

And those Shelby students will be returning to school this coming Wednesday.   To all educators both inside and outside our district, my best hopes and well wishes is for you to start your 2015-2016 classroom adventure with enthusiasm, energy, and grace.  Help your students articulate their dreams and turn them into aspirations. Nourish yourself in the months ahead as you give your all to make a difference in so many people's lives -- students, parents, and each other!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

PBL and Eusessments

Last week, I attended professional development on Project-Based Learning, led by Drew Perkins (a former Shelby County teacher!) from the Buck Institute.  If you want proof I was there, here's a short video:

(Also pictured in the video from our attending Shelby County cohort: Jamie Mezin and Connie Putnam.)

The PD was crucial to help me understand PBL better.  Here are some highlights.

  • What is the difference between a traditional unit with a project, and an actual PBL? In short, a traditional unit may have a project as a final activity or assessment, but in PBL, the project is the unit.  For a great resource that breaks down the difference, review this New Tech Network's document.   The difference between problem-based learning and PBL is that the "problem" may not be authentic or relevant, nor is the audience (if one exists beyond the teacher) likely to be public or genuine.
  • In the same train of thought, make sure your PBL is a meaningful "main course," not a "dessert." 
  • PBL students need to uncover content, instead of the traditional approach of teachers covering content.
  • In the end, the PBL should have an authentic "publishing" moment to a genuine outside audience.  
  • You can't have PBL without a strong student questioning culture.  Drew discussed the Question Formulation Technique from the Right Question Institute, which is a process that starts with designing a question focus, followed by producing close- and open-ended questions, then prioritizing and planning next steps, and finally reflecting/refining before beginning again. For an overview, this ASCD Educational Leadership article can help. Or check out this tweeted pic:
  • Your "Driving Question" and "Need to Know's" should be on public display for students to interact with every day.  Google Docs might work if actually reviewed often by students; otherwise, a physical reminder (such as on a whiteboard or pad easel) might be better.
  • As always, rubrics help focus students on what needs to be mastered.  We were introduced to the "single point rubric" and could definitely see its potential in making feedback more effective. With it, you can ask the students: How are you below the standards ("Concerns")? How are you beyond them ("Advanced")?  (See the Cult of Pedagogy for a wonderful "Breakfast in Bed" rubric example.)
  • Consider a 80% individual mastery / 20% group presentation grade split as a way of avoiding a strong collaborative member unfairly propping up the skill/content deficiencies of the others.
  • Use calendars, contracts, and management logs to help keep the PBL organized and responsibilities clear.  For forms and other resources, visit BIE.
  • PBL should have assessments throughout the process, not just at the end.  Again, the New Tech Network has a great document that helps guide a teacher through this assessment process.
Last but not least, don't be overwhelmed when first implementing PBL in your classroom.  You may start small with a single unit at first.  While you are a PBL novice, consider the complexity of the task and how tightly you will manage it:

PBL clearly makes you think of assessments in a different way.  But something Drew said created an "aha" for me. He talked about the difference between distress (feelings perceived as negative that are unhealthy and unproductive) and eustress (feelings perceived as "good stress" caused from a "positive challenge" that spurs a person to grow).  The term eustress led me to consider the very etymology of "assessment", which contains "as-" (a directional tendency; toward) and "-ment" (a product).  Perhaps we as teachers have absorbed the meanings of this prefix and suffix more than we know.  Speaking for myself, there were certainly times as a classroom teacher that I was more worried that my academic unit was "working toward a product" than the value of what that product actually was.  Was it relevant?  Was the assessment shared outside of the classroom, or more importantly, did it lead to action to impact an authentic issue?  Was it simply the culmination of academic drudgery that let all of us know, "Thank goodness, we are finished"?  We should value an assessment that is more than mere compliance for completing an academic unit, and PBL can help us get there. "PBL is about student commitment," Drew reminded us, "not about student compliance."   If a student commits to an assessment, we should honor this by making the assessment have meaning.

With that in mind, I suggest a new word: eusessment.  The word is born of better parts, crucially replacing "as-" with "eu-" (good).   PBL can be full of these "good products," which engage with the outside world.  The best of these will seek to improve the lives of students and others.  As teachers, let us worry less about moving toward a product and more about working on products that are moving.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Digital Learning Coordinator announcement

Hello, my faithful Edtech Elixirs readers!  Hope you are enjoying your summer. Today I have a short entry for an announcement. While I originally planned to wait until next month to share the following information, it recently was published in the news . . . The Sentinel-News, that is.  (Click here for the article.) So, because it's now public record, I can talk about it in my blog.

As of July 1, I will officially be promoted to the new position of Digital Learning Coordinator.  Along with participating in district initiatives and projects, I will manage and train our (now two!) Digital Learning Coaches (the renamed position formerly known as "Technology Integration Coach").   The article incorrectly states that I will be reporting to our new Network Engineer, but I will actually be under John Leeper, the former principal of Collins High School and our new Director of Innovation.

I am honored to be given an increased opportunity to demonstrate leadership in the district, and I'm thrilled to continue working in a school system as dynamic and forward-thinking as Shelby County Public Schools!

Friday, June 5, 2015

End of 2014-2015 School Year

Students are now out of the building, and Shelby County teachers are spending the final week of their school year with some professional development.  (For example, at Wright Elementary, I have helped present on Google Apps for Education and the teachers are now learning about the writing program of Lucy Calkins from instructional coach Donna Siegel.)  With the days counting down, it naturally puts me in a reflective mood as I look back on my journey from last summer to today.

When I was hired as Shelby County's first District Technology Integration Coach, I relished the exciting but daunting challenge of leading our county into a digital conversion of classrooms.  I have been blessed with wonderful teachers and staff who have been kind hosts in my embedded tour around the district, and have been very open to the growth mindset required for my digital learning PD.  (Indeed, some were well on their way to digital supremacy before I got here!)

In the middle of the school year, I reflected on my impact in a quantitative way, and it seems useful to do so again to consider where I am in my journey.

Edtech Elixirs now has well over 10,000 views since its inception in August 2014.  (This includes visits to the main default page as well as clicks on specific entries.)   I had hoped to average a blog entry a week, but with 73 posts prior to this one, I actually have doubled that output. From the blog analytics, the most popular entries for this school year are:

1.  The Power of Positive Social Media #StartsWithUs (10/16/14, 822 views, +1)
2.  Rose/Bud/Thorn and Design Thinking (4/29/15, 452 views, +3)
6.  Game-Based Learning and Classcraft (1/12/15, 214 views, +1)
7.  The First Steps of 3D Printing (11/8/14, 186 views, +1)
8.  Garlic Necklace, Not a Silver Bullet (5/14/15, 175 views, +3)

Special mention (entry with most Google +1’s):

Flubaroo, Doctopus and Goobric (5/27/15, 125 views, +7) 

Speaking of Google+ . . . while I had not used that particular social media until this year, my Watsonedtech Google account now has 46 Followers and nearly 13,000 views of my Profile Page.

Our #ShelbyTUITshoutout hashtag has celebrated the accomplishments of 45 individual teachers from 11 different Shelby schools.

To put it mildly, I have been busy with Twitter.  While it took me 26 months to reach 1000 tweets sent, I had cleared 2000 tweets in the subsequent 9 months as of December 2014.  Five months later, I now have over 3,300 tweets. I began in August 2014 with 300 Followers, hit 500 by mid-December, and now have nearly 800.  (Within one year of starting Shelby last summer, I may triple my Followers!)  I have also had the privilege of leading #KyEdChat several times and have benefitted greatly from sharing with and learning from my Twitter PLN.

You have kept my YouTube channel hopping!  I now have almost 6000 views from this year, with two videos as standouts: Adjusting your Lenovo Yoga Microphone (1709 views) and How to use Plickers (Part One) (2364 views).

Last but not least, I have lead a lot of professional development hours on the ground.  In this school year alone, I have presented 75 large group PD's to over 500 Shelby staff members (totaling over 175 hours of instructional time), in addition to presenting at other sites and settings outside of our district.  I have observed, consulted or co-taught in person with nearly 100 Shelby staff members from 11 different schools (not counting the significant email virtual help to others).  Exhausting?  Somewhat.  Rewarding?  Absolutely.  Helpful to Shelby County personnel?  I certainly hope!

And so, as the school year ends, I look to the future.   As our digital conversion of classrooms continue next year in Shelby, we have a lot more work to do, and I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to continue my path alongside such a dedicated and growth-minded group.  I have also PD to present  (IFL in Lexington next week, a KDE Digital Symposium in Bowling Green) as well as PD to attend (looking forward to learning more about PBL from a Buck Institute trainer!) in the weeks to come.   But I also plan to rest and prepare for the challenges of 2015-2016, so forgive me if the blog output slows until August!

In closing: For all of the educators in Shelby County, or Kentucky, or beyond, enjoy your summer.  Thank you for being my readers, learning partners, and friends.