Changing Standards

The media specialists were describing how the elementary schools are using technology. Because the first graders did a lot of work in Google last year, the second graders aren’t having any trouble at all with Google Classroom. They log right in, and can access the resources that their teachers are sharing with them. It took a couple days at the beginning of the year to work through the login and password issues, but after that, they were ready to go.

ipad-1126136_640Don’t get me wrong. The second graders aren’t taking online classes. They’re not doing most of their work online. They don’t have hours and hours of screen time at school. But when the tool is appropriate, they have no trouble using it.

In a different meeting the same week, we were discussing the rollout of our 1:1 program for the high school next year. It’ll be the first time we issue take-home devices to high school students. Up to this point, the high school has used classroom sets of devices, and we’ve been focusing on the take-home program at the middle school. There was a lot of talk about the Google ecosystem, and the need to get our teachers Google certified. They’d like to get more classes using Google Classroom.

A few years ago, we developed a technology skills graph based on the excellent work done by Joanna McNally and Janette Kane at Orange. It took quite a bit of time to weave together the ISTE standards, the information and media literacy pieces, the old Ohio technology standards, mandatory training on digital citizenship, online safety, and cyberbullying, and the need for so-called 21st century skills. We debated how and when and where each topic would be introduced, and when students should be expected to show competency. Part of this was driven by the need to apply that technology in other areas. If students are doing a research project in 7th grade, then they need to know how to evaluate and cite sources before they get to that project.

Now that we’ve grown into the skills chart, we’re going to spend some time this year amending it. There are new state learning standards for technology that will need to be considered. We can also take some time to assess what’s working and what’s not working at different grade levels, and make adjustments to make sure students have the right skills when they need them.

That’s getting more difficult. The first time we went through this process (in 1999), we said that we wanted the tech standards to be covered by the end of 8th grade, so students can apply them to their work in high school. We revised that to the end of 5th grade to accommodate 1:1 a few years ago. Now, it’s looking like we need to be doing a lot more in kindergarten and first grade, because our learners are digital almost before they’re literate.

The key, of course, is to embed the technology instruction when it’s needed for something else. That breaks it into small, manageable pieces while providing an immediate application for the new skills. We’re fortunate to have professionals to help our teaches with that process, as well as teachers who are willing to take risks to increase rigor, improve differentiation, and better meet the needs of their learners.

Photo credit: Pixabay.



The Change is Here

The change that is happening in the middle grades right now continues to astound me.

Eighteen months ago, our sixth grade teachers asked that we get rid of the carts of computers in their classrooms and just assign devices to the kids. It’s a small shift, really. Instead of having a set of computers in every classroom, we now have a computer in each student’s hands. But what a difference it makes.

DSC_0854-aWhen we say that we want technology to be ubiquitous, this is what we’re talking about. When it’s needed, it’s there. It starts up quickly, it has a great battery life, and technology problems are minimal. The students have them in study hall and at home and on the bus. When it’s not needed, it’s turned off and moved out of the way.

So, yes, students use their devices to access online resources. Some of those are the curated materials selected for them by their teachers and textbook publishers. Some are the results of Google searches and Wikipedia browsing. They’re learning how to evaluate the credibility of those sources. In most cases, they’re much better at it than their grandparents are.

But they’re also using the technology to take ownership of their learning. Teachers are giving more choice, but they’re also tailoring instruction to the needs of each learner. Quick formative assessments are used to assess the needs of the class, and plans are dynamically adjusted to best meet those needs. That’s the big challenge in the middle grades, and the biggest reason why middle school has traditionally been so awful for so many people.

Next, students are collaborating  on creative projects to show evidence of their learning. They’re not just writing essays and putting together PowerPoint presentations. They’re making videos and infographics and simulations using tools that I don’t understand. They’re discovering how to write for different audiences and how to use multimedia to best convey their message. They’re combining knowledge from different domains and applying it to real problems.

And while they’re doing all of this in their science social studies classes, they’re also improving their technology skills, working harder on schoolwork, and having fun in the process.

So when I asked 12-year-old students why they like the 1:1 program, they responded with things like this:

  • I can personalize my work they way I want it and it helps us become independent learners.
  • When I need assistance, my fellow students and teachers are there to assist me; whether it consists technology help, or homework help. The 1:1 program helped me with achieving my school goals.
  • It helps us learn about the digital world and helps us become independent learners.
  • It gives you a chance to learn more, and do what you can’t on paper at school, while with the 1:1 program, you can do both electronic learning and non-electronic learning
  • The learning is fit for me and I feel that I can learn more things in a shorter span of time than I could before.
  • I’m able to chat or video chat my friends to talk about homework problems that I’m confused on.

If you want to see all of the results, including responses from parents and many colorful and encouraging graphs, they’re here.

So this week, we’ll collect the Chromebooks for the summer. When the students come back in August, we’ll give them back. We’ve been working with the seventh grade teachers for most of the school year to get them ready for this. For the most part, I think they’re ready. Then, we’re going to start working with the eighth grade teachers.

But the high school has no idea what’s coming.

Fostering Independence

“The purpose of teaching a child is to enable the child to get along without the teacher.”

In elementary school, we have a lot of structure. We line up a lot. We go to the restroom and to art and to the cafeteria as a group. Academically, we do a lot of things together. Even in centers, most students move through the whole rotation, so everyone does the same thing more-or-less within the same time period.

A big part of this approach is practical. We need to keep track of the students and make sure everyone is safe. We have to make sure all students have a basic foundation of literacy and general knowledge. Schools can be cultures of anxiety for young students who may have never been away from home for so long, so often. So routine and predictability are key components of school that put them at ease.

8722487167_94ac5118b6_zAs students get older, they gain autonomy. They may have different teachers for reading and math. They use hall passes to independently use the restroom when necessary. They do more work at home. In middle school, they start to have choices about the classes they take, adding instrumental music or a world language. Once they get to high school, they’re largely on their own. We still have bell schedules and keep students accountable, but it’s a far cry from the “line up to visit the drinking fountain” days.

As a school district, we’ve had a lot of conversations over the last few years about what our student technology model should look like. As technology has become more powerful, less expensive, and more mobile, the conventional wisdom about school technology has become less conventional. For more than a decade, our model was to have a computer in every classroom, and (roughly) a computer lab for every 200-300 students. A few years ago, this changed as we started adding classroom sets of laptops to support new curriculum adoptions. The computers were suddenly in the classroom, where the learning was happening. They were more flexible and more mobile. Since 2012, we’ve nearly tripled the number of computers in the district, and moved from a model that was 20% mobile to one that’s 80% mobile.

We knew when we started that we would eventually reach the point where the number of computers exceeded the number of students, and have long debated about what to do at that point. Do we embrace a 1:1 model and issue a device to each student? Do we move to a BYOD approach, where each student is responsible for bringing his or her own technology? Do we keep classroom sets of devices in every classroom? It wasn’t until this year that we finally figured it out.

At the elementary level, school is very structured. The technology should reflect that. Computers are maintained in every classroom. Everyone has the same device, configured the same way. The standardized, predictable approach reduces the teachers’ and students’ anxiety about using the technology. It helps them move on quickly to the learning without spending so much time focusing on the tech.

As students get older, they gain greater autonomy. Now, instead of having a set of computers in every classroom, the computer is issued to the student. As they enter middle school, they take responsibility for the device. It’s still a computer purchased and supported by the school. There’s still a consistency in the hardware and software platform that allows us to reasonably support it. Teachers know what their students’ devices can and cannot do. But now the student can take the device home. They can work on school projects and pursue personal interests with it. They have some control over their computing environment, but the much of the structure is still in place.

As the students move into high school, they gain even more independence. They’re more aware of their learning and technology needs. They have a better idea of which technologies work for them, and they’ve developed their own preferences and tastes. This is the point at which they bring their technology to their learning. They take responsibility for the tech, and the school simply provides the necessary infrastructure to help them use it for learning. At this point, their technology use has become fully independent.

So that’s the plan. We’re doing classroom sets of computers at the elementary level. The computers stay in the classroom. Media specialists address information literacy and technology skills with the students, and they work with the teachers on technology integration and professional development. As the students move into middle school, they’re issued a device through our 1:1 program, which they keep as long as they’re in middle school. The technology integration coach works with the teachers, and technology skills are embedded in classroom instruction. Classes increasingly use blended methodologies that extend learning and foster collaboration. When students move to high school, they bring their own technology to their learning. Their technology use is independent, and they’re comfortable moving between online and face to face environments. They’ve become independent learners and independent technology users.

And they don’t need their teachers anymore.

Photo credit: Lucélia Ribeiro on Flickr.