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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.