Innovation: A tech director’s perspective

As I shared, in my previous post, innovation is one of my passions and I want to strengthen and improve my understanding of it to help our district  create a culture of innovation.   It just so happens, a new MOOC (#OSSEMOOC) was beginning this month  around George Couros’s Book – The Innovator’s Mindset.  I had lurked previous, MOOCs before – but never was an active participant AND have yet to see a MOOC through.   So, here is my shot, to elevate further develop my learning through new opportunities.

Image Credit – Bigthink.com

Innovation = First Different, Then Better.

What does innovation mean to you? What does Innovation look like, sound like in your role? 

As a technology director for 20 years, change is a constant in my job.  I think about innovation often.    While you don’t need technology to be innovative, technology certainly can be a catalyst for innovation.  My inbox (email/phone) is continually bombarded with vendors trying to sell me their latest and greatest.  Sell me things that could “Revolutionize Education”.   I will admit, I do love shiny things – and even I wind up getting immersed and excited about the NEW – but I also need to remember to ask – Is it Better?

As I am writing this, I am reflecting on our PD roll-out of 1:1 iPads 3 years ago.   We focused on the SAMR model of integration.  Focused first on the S – Substitution with the hopes within 3 years, the grades would be at the M/R – or transformation. Our  thinking then – was to get our staff “comfortable” with what they already knew. And now, as I reflect on it – I am not sure it was the right decision.  Presentations, word processing and workflow was a significant portion of the initial training.  While we focused on the new of the ipad.  We unfortunately did not focus as much on the better.  Sure it was better that every student had a device – as they wouldn’t need computer labs, had the internet at their fingertips… but our initial training should have focused on the better – specifically BETTER of harnessing the functionality of the iPad to support a deeper purpose…. A student – centered education.  I want to mention I own this failure, as I certainly could have steered us down a better path of PD.  But I know more about iPads, more about GOOD pedagogy, and more about PD than I did back then.

Since this rollout several years ago – PD has improved and I continually try to innovate within the system.   We have had Edcamps, created a DLC position,  created a personalized gamified PD program, and worked with a local highered institute to create the Innovative Instructional Leadership program.  I believe our PD programs should be an incubator of ideas/innovation (around student centered learning)  VS sit and get one-sized fits all death by powerpoint PD.  Don’t get me wrong, large group PD can be good – especially when modeling excellent pedagogy practices.  (Something I want to get better at!)   But, there also needs to be follow up.  PLEASE – no more 1 and done PD.

Image Credit – Unknown.

Many times when an idea doesn’t work (the first time) schools will drop it.  Many times schools will not put forth adequate resources and time for ideas/innovation/action to become better. Measurements need to be determined and evaluated.  While it’s good to have measures – sometimes we don’t know how to measure truly innovative ideas/actions without living it for awhile.  And be ready…. many times Traditional measures  won’t be able to measure innovation.   I also believe reflection and reiteration is just as important as the putting an innovative idea into action.  No matter if you are a student, a teacher, a principal or even a “veteran” tech director – failure should be permitted and opportunities to revise – given.

So what does innovation mean to me? Because of my role in the district, both information and instructional technology – I believe that student-centered thinking and innovation (as in the definition of innovation) should be at the forefront of what I do.    Do I like these new tools/concepts because they are shiny or do they make things better?  They need to have both.   BUT, sometimes the “better” is not so clear and I have to be open to ideas that don’t necessarily seem to be student centered at first.  Have we given sites like Vine and Snapchat a fair shake?  Teachers throwing out grades?   I am always appreciative of divergent educators and will always leave MY DOOR open to new pilots in tackling these innovations  and will work to the Nth degree to help remove roadblocks vs being the roadblock (which unfortunately is the view of many folks in my position).

And finally, I have been participating in the Voxer Group for this Mooc.  One question was raised – Does innovation decrease the further up the ladder one  goes?  IE – From Teacher, to Principal, to Superintendent?  Absolutely NOT.  If anything – the further you move up the ladder – the MORE we should be innovating AND being very transparent of these innovations, actions, reflections, and reiterations….. It is my belief that transparent modeling might just be some of the best PD in a pursuing a culture of innovation.

 

My Growth Plan: Goal 1 – Evaluation of iPads in Instruction

Goal vs Wish

Image Credit – http://www.prettydesigns.com/25-inspirational-success-quotes/

I have decided to blog about my professional growth goals and plans for the 2015-16 school year.   This will be a series of posts over the next week or so.  it’s important for me to be completely transparent  on what I am working on and what I hope to accomplish this year.   I know all of my ideas will not work.  Some may fail miserably. Others will be successful!  I need to have a place for my ideas and thoughts to go back to reference and reflect on. I am going to use this space as an opportunity to talk about things that work, things that do not work and professional successes and struggles.  We can all certainly learn from each other! And because this blog is public there is also opportunity for others to provide me feedback.  While I might be able to take all feedback into consideration – I do appreciate it – especially feedback that makes me think!

All of the items within these posts are highlighted in our district’s Technology Plan that was approved this past June (2015).  While technology plans are no longer a requirement for MN Schools receiving erate – I happen to actually like our plan.  It is Board approved, aligned to our strategic plan, and will assist my department on keeping focus of goals and action plans.

Below are a few more goals I will be working on this year!
  • Goal 2 – Create, implement and monitor a personalized model of pd that align to strategic plan and district initiatives
  • Goal 3 -Plan/create/monitor Makerspace learning environments in our K-12 media centers
  • Goal 4 – Technology planning for new PK-2 building – Byron Primary School
  • Goal 5 – What do I want to be when I grow up: My own professional growth needs to be a better technology leader

Goal 1: Evaluate the effectiveness of technology in our schools/classrooms including 1:1 classrooms

This is year 3 of our 1:1 iPad  initiative.  (I am wondering when I can get rid of the words 1:1 iPad initiative? Maybe when we are full 1:1 and its just how we do business in our schools??)  When we started our journey, we created a 4 year plan with dreams of considerable transformation in our classrooms.  Some classrooms have really moved the needle.  Our “pockets of innovation” have grown considerably.  Yet these are only the classrooms I know about.

I have been evaluating my surveys.  They are mediocre at best.  I have some great questions while others are not so great. We all should know by now, that a shiny new tool isn’t what improves/transforms instruction. While I do have some links to pedagogy in the  survey – there is GAPING holes where improvements can be made.    I know changing the questions is not usually good practice, especially for longterm goals, but if I am not receiving good data – its not effective anyways.

I know more today than I did yesterday.
How did I come to this conclusion?  Over the last couple of years I have grown professionally in the area of understanding what good instruction looks like in the digital age.  There are reasons for this:

  1. I have a seat at the cabinet level and we have many conversations about instruction. Some  discussions with the full group, others small group or 1 on 1.
  2. I have been able to see good instruction with (and without) devices in action.  I love to be invited into classrooms to observe learning and am fortunate I get an occasional invite from teachers to be witness to this!
  3. Because this is an area I want to grow, this year I have done “walk-abouts” with principals.  The dialog I have with principals afterwards is very rich in helping with understanding (more to come later)
  4. I have done my own self-directed learning  in this area too.  I am reading books about it, discussing with colleagues, peers, and coaches,  joining twitter chats about topics, subscribing to blogs and periscopes (my new fav) and voxer chats.
  5. I am trying to get better at modeling what I have learned.
  6. I try to talk/share more about learning than I do about the device or digital learning.

SO, I have some work to do and need to create a plan to rework surveys and communicate results.  Of course, the input we receive from our surveys are invaluable and will help with future action plans.    We need to compare where we were and where we are today with our implementation/progress. This is a difficult task because it could continue to evolve as we learn about these new environments. I do have some reservations because right now, this is still putting iPads and digital learning as “separate”.  One day, I have dreams where this is not separate – instead part of our overall strategic planning surveys.   But I do understand the need to provide data to show we are making progress.   Below is a proposed timeline to get this goal completed with the end result being reported to school board by January board meeting

  • Evaluate/Redesign Surveys for Parents, Students, Teachers – Drafts complete by 11/30
  • Chat with building principals and create survey timelines (for parents, students, teachers) 12/2
  • Complete Surveys by 12/15
  • Data Analysis complete by 12/22
  • Develop presentation and potential new action plans (include visible samples of classroom transformation)
  • Present to the board in January –  1/19
Move the needle

Move the Needle towards success Image Credit – http://www.tribridge.com/knowledge-center/tribridge/posts/p2/2013/06/11/crm-moving-the-needle-in-healthcare

Beyond the evaluation – thoughts on change leadership

It is important that we need to continue to evaluate whether or not we are making progress towards the goals we set out to accomplish with the integration of these devices/environments- (or lets face it any transformational change we intend to make in or organizations)  As I reflect on the original goals of our program, we certainly were going down the right path towards the vision of our district!

Goals from original plan in 2013

  • Improve the efficiency and efficacy of classroom instruction
  • Prepare thoughtful, collaborative, and creative students who problem solve and think critically about global issues
  • Develop customized, individualized content to meet each student’s unique learning needs
  • Increase student engagement
  • Utilize innovative strategies for the delivery of rigorous and relevant curricula

But we must face facts.  Just putting ipads in the hands of our students will not make our goals come to life!  Our original plan had a great year 1 plan.  While there is always area for improvement, we did very well on the preparation of  implementation.  We had supports in place to continually revisit and support our teachers.

Where I fell short was continuing to make connections to this initiative with other district initiatives and state mandates. This is no easy task.  I am sure there are many districts that feel “over – initiated”. Year 2 was a struggle.  State mandates had taken up all district PD time. Because teachers had so much to learn about our new evaluation process I made the decision to “take a back seat” with digital learning for at least the 1st semester.  Not a wise decision and now unfortunately 1:1 iPads /digital learning was viewed as “one more thing to do”.  I had plenty of opportunities to intervene but I did not have the confidence I have today about the process. Why the confidence today?  See I know more today than I did yesterday above.

Lesson learned.

So here it is – Year 3 and time for my wakeup call.  (see graphic below) We are trying some things this year that appear to be working.  (at least that is what the data is telling us).  I will plan on sharing those ideas in the next post –  Goal 2 – Create, implement and monitor a personalized model of pd that align to strategic plan and district initiatives

 

Transformational Change - Beware of pitfalls

 

Linking my goals to national competencies and district plans. What am I missing?

MARZANO District Leadership Competency

Data driven progress monitoring – The district leader ensures data are analyzed, interpreted, and used to regularly monitor the progress toward district, school, and individual student goals

COSN Competencies

Data Management – Manage the establishment and maintenance of systems and tools for gathering, mining, integrating, and reporting data in usable and meaningful ways to produce an information culture in which data management is critical to strategic planning

Strategic Planning – Have a high-level view across the school system and work with instructional and technical teams to identify steps needed to transform the technology vision into a long-range plan, complete with specific goals, objectives, and action plans.

Byron Strategic Plan: Maintain excellence in resource management

Byron Technology Plan: Harness the power of technology to support, enhance, and amplify student centered learning.


Personalizing PD with digital learning coaches

Situation: Effective use of technology is essential for teaching and learning in a global, digital age.
Problem: Many teachers do not know how to design and support technology-rich learning environments.
Solution: Coaching, combined with communities of learning, is a highly effective job-embedded PD model.

(ISTE, Technology Coaching and Community June 2012 –pdf)

 

Byron Public Schools had a problem.  Most technology integration professional development at BPS was organized around the preparation or introduction of a technology.

Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 10.28.42 AM.png

The district had been very good at introducing technology opportunities.  The majority of these “opportunities” were either shared as a “How to use this technology” or “Look at what happened in my classroom because of technology” in a one-size fits all workshop or assembly.  So many times our teachers were excited and eager to try something new – but by the time they got back to their classrooms, the realities set in, and the time to focus on the new idea was gone. Some teachers also had difficulties in aligning and integrating technology to support and enhance current student learning objectives. After the workshop was done, there was no support available for teachers throughout the integration process.  While some teachers were able to take the tech idea and do amazing things, the majority of the teachers were left to their own resources and the gap between transformative learning environments and the traditional learning environments were widening at a very rapid pace.We needed to transform the current model of tech PD to not only support the preparation of technology integration, but the active implementation and evaluation phases as well.

We also desired to develop new teacher leadership models in Byron.  Feedback from our 2011 Baldridge feedback report indicated that this was one of our SIGNIFICANT areas of improvement:

Alignment of Workforce Development. While the district encourages workforce development and allows staff to attend training sessions and suggests training topics, there is not a systematic process to ensure that workforce and leadership development is fully aligned with the district’s core competencies, Aims, and Goals. (2011 Minnesota Quality Award – Feedback Report for Byron Public Schools)

Many districts had begun to hire full time or part time integrationalists to help with the tech integration challenges.  There clearly are benefits to this, but Byron also wanted the ability to spread this leadership around and have edtech leaders available and present in each of our buildings. (PK, ES, MS, HS)  Fiscally, for a district our size, full time integrationalists in each of our buildings was not doable.  We already had pockets of innovators/early adopters in our district. Was it possible to capture and utilize the strengths of our current staff to:

  • Support the needs of technology integration/PD in our district?

  • Develop edtech leaders at a district level to provide input/feedback into district level decisions relating to edtech goals, purchases, and support systems?

  • Develop edtech leaders at a regional/state/global level to learn and share from others to bring fresh ideas back to the district while sharing great transformations in our own classrooms?

It seemed if there was a way to harness the talent we had, it could really prove to be a win win for all.  And so, a plan was formulated to develop a cohort of Byron leaders…called the Digital Learning Coaches (DLCs).

 Digital Learning Coach Skill Requirements – Several skills became apparent as a need.  We needed coaches who were tech savvy, or even more importantly, had already taken risks with new ideas in their classrooms.  Teachers who displayed a passion around technology and learning were a plus as they were already self motivated to engage their learners and transform their classrooms.

We needed coaches who were empathetic. Empathy was an extremely important skill as these were going to be coaches who would need to recognize and celebrate the wins of our staff no matter how big or small the effort.   This leadership role was not to build up the leaders while leaving the rest behind.  This role was to build leaders who will help inspire and support other teachers to take risks in transforming learning in their classrooms.

And finally, we needed coaches to have a deep understanding of the teaching and learning process (pedagogy).  It was critical that we have coaches that understand the purposeful use of technology – not to try new things for the sake of the technology, but to understand when and where technology could have a significant impact on instruction.

 After coaching skills were identified, and discussions with district administration about the initial process was approved the all call to district staff went out.  (Please note –  this concept was not accepted the first time it was shared.  It had to go back to the drawing board several times over several months before receiving administrative approval)

Coaches were selected in a partnership with district principals.  Then, we needed time to learn and develop the process as a DLC cohort.  The first item on the agenda was to develop and align coaches to the ISTE Coach standards,  and the second item was to  develop a process for all Byron teachers.   A 2 day retreat in August was created and the district was fortunate to be to collaborate with  Stillwater tech integrationalists Kristin Daniels and Wayne Feller and learn about coaching as well as the the flipped PD process they had developed in their school district.  The final process was to share with district administration to ensure 100% participation in the process.

Benefits for coaches include:

  • $1500 yearly stipend

  • DLCs generally are the first to get/try/review new gadgets.

  • 2 days to the TIES conference  – Please note, while this was originally thought of as a great place to go and learn from others – we soon realized this was a great RETREAT for the DLC cohort to connect and gather ideas to implement in the district.  This is an invaluable time together for team building as well as strategic visioning for the district!

The coaching process

 DLCs visited and presented the process to each building (as a team) to discuss the process and answer questions.  Time was allotted by building administrators during opening workshops.

  1. Teachers would self create goals using a template via Google Docs. (year 1, year 2)  Year 1 we focused on several key areas – Online Learning, Digital Devices, Global Views, Communication and Collaboration, Year 2 we focused on 21st Century Pedagogy.Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 4.54.06 PM.png

  2. Teachers would meet with DLCs for approx 1.5 hours each month.  This time would be used to provide coaching on their goals.  If teachers did not need coaching, this was time that was given for teachers to further develop and work on their goals.  Subs would be hired to allow the DLC to come out of the classroom for the entire day AND allow teachers to come out of their classrooms to receive coaching.  Subs for teachers would be rotated through the system so that every 1.5-2 hours a new small group of teachers to come out and receive coaching or work on goals.  This allowed DLCs to differentiate teachers by task, by skill, or by subject area.  (we have tried all)

  3. We wanted this process to be very reflective.  Both for the coach as well as the teachers.  The learning plan docs had a space for teacher reflection after each coaching session.  For coaches we wanted a reflective process for each to reflect about the coaching process after each monthly meeting.  These reflections could be then discussed with each other during monthly DLC cohort meetings.  This was also a great way to learn from each other and determine potential needs/roadblocks to the district.

Challenges

#1 challenge = TIME.   The biggest problem we is the amount of time DLCs spend outside of the classroom to coach teachers.  In the 2013-14 school year, we added more coaches to increase support in our districts 1:1 while hopefully decreasing the amount of time coaches spend outside of the classroom.  An idea I have heard from other districts to  fix the issue:

  • Principals/counselors take group of students outside of classroom on a regular basis (Might do a unit of learning about digital citizenship or  digital footprint)  This would eliminate the need for coaches AND teachers having to create “sub plans”.

  • An idea that has been tossed around is further partnering with local universities so that new teacher interns could come in to allow the digital coach more time to go out of the classroom.  The challenge with this is that they are new teacher candidates.  Sometimes they are good, sometimes they are not.  Is it possible to always get the “good” ones?

  • Is there some flexible scheduling opportunities we have not tapped into?

  • Evaluate teacher leader model vs. full or even part time tech integrationalists.  As I said before, the thing I love about or model is that it spreads the leadership around.  These teachers also have quite a bit of respect by other teachers as they are all still in the teaching  trenches as their peers. Yet, if our coaches had more time, they would be able to develop more flipped resources and digital learning opportunities to companion face to face opportunities. (blended learning)

  • Other – What is working for you???  Ideas very welcome!

#2 Further personalize PD for teachers – How do we maximize learners of all levels?  Right now we require 100% participation in the program.  Some of our staff may not need coaching as they are already are very savvy, make the time to learn how to integrate tech / transform learning opportunities.  Some of our staff may need more coaching opportunities.  How do we better personalize learnings based on needs?

  • I believe more blended opportunities can help suffice these needs.  Little Falls schools has created PD opportunities in which teachers have approximately 15 minutes of online review and reading they do before meeting with their coach at 7:30 to further discuss.  Check out their Teacher Led – Learner Driven series currently underway in their district! (you should check out their learning walks too)

  • Osseo public schools (@lisasjorgen, @tombrandt) shared a couple of interesting opportunities they have created in their district.  Tap into Tech gives credit for participation in workshop sessions, but gives further credit of learning for reflective work.  (2-8 credits).   They also have developed another option in which their teachers. C4 Training differentiates the learning of their participates based on ISTE standards.

  • EDcamp.  Our staff loved our unconference this year.  Are there ways to create similar learning opportunities more often?

  • Does gamification have a role in professional development?  For some, it could.
  • Universal Design for Learning – I have been investigating this framework for some time in looking at better how we can better personalize learning for students.  I have to think – the same guidelines would work for teachers as well?

UDL

  • What is currently working for you?

Feedback from Staff – At our last district wide PD day a short survey was sent out to all teachers further asking questions on how the DLC process could better serve their needs.  We also asked them how we could better utilize the time during DLC meetings.  Below is the results of that survey.  Please note the survey asked for them to select all that apply.

How can we improve the DLC process to better support your needs? Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 8.25.56 PM.png

How could we make the DLC coach time more effective? Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 8.27.20 PM.png

 

Thanks to our DLCs! I can not express how proud I am of these individuals (we have 12!) and the work they do for our district.  I look forward to our retreat this summer as we consider all of these opportunities to better improve our process for next year.  I also look forward to learning from others how they further improve and personalize learning for all staff. This has been an awesome journey and I look forward to continuing it in the years to come!

My “this needs attention” response…

My district is going to be going through a new planning process to develop a strategic plan for our schools for the next 5 years.  Staff were asked to share several things the district was doing well – and several things we needed more attention.    Here is my “this needs attention” response;

The traditional idea of school needs to be thrown out and rebuilt from scratch based on today’s global economy. We focus TOO much on testing and not enough on cultivating our kid’s passions and talents. Our kids need real world problem-based interdisciplinary experiences vs. the Sit & Get and memorize what you have learned education. This would require a PD overhaul and time built into the system for our staff. Learning for our students and staff should be to be personalized and individualized based on their skill-set/goals. I would love to see a model that brings Google’s 80/20 into education where teachers have more freedom to explore new teaching strategies/innovation and students explore their passions. We should focus more on the mastery of competencies and less on grades. Our system of grade levels, summer’s off, and bells and schedules is not conducive to the real world! And finally we need to do more to ensure every child and BPS is not only healthy but happy.

What do you think? What else should I have added?

Headed to TIES

I am very excited to be able to go back to my TIES Conference this year.  As I reflect on my learning over the course of the last year, it is primarily made up of online resources like Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking/media.  Even though I have learned a tremendous amount from my PLN (Personal Learning Network), I also value the ability to connect face to face with colleagues out in the field.

Saturday

iPad in the Classroom
8:30-11:30

My PLN has been buzzing about this gadget for quite some time and I am looking forward to some hands-on training.  I am fortunate that I recently obtained access to one, and from personal standpoint – I LOVE IT.  I can do just about anything on this device as I can on a computer. Reading on it is amazing.  Even though I am a screen reader – I have found that the iPad seems a little easier on the eyes. I can watch videos, listen to music, and browse the web.  Some of the apps are absolutely fantastic.  So far, I am very impressed with the Music apps, children’s education apps, interactive simulations, and free books.  What I am hoping is to find out what others are using in their classrooms and figure out the best way to sift through the junk and get right to the good stuff.  I am also wondering what apps are worth paying for.  Right now, this device (as well as the iPod) is under consideration in our Early Ed classrooms.

Moodle Compact Design
12:30-3:30

I am very excited about this workshop!  I first witnessed this design back in October, while attending the Memo conference.   There is a new technique via Moodle that takes the “Moodle Scroll of Death” away and make it more compact. (Participants in online courses have to scroll up and down to get to their appropriate content.)  In January, I am teaching another 4 week “Facilitating Online Learning with Moodle” course to some of our teachers and I not only want to improve the experience for my participants but also teach them NEW design techniques.  I plan to apply what I have learned by actively working on my course @ this session.  I have also excited to meet and connect with other Moodlers!

Sunday

Google Apps for Education
8:30 – 3:30 –(all day – YEAH!)

Last January, our district transitioned to Google Apps for Education.  All of our teachers and students (grades 5-12) have an account and have access to Gmail, Calendar, Docs, and Sites.  It is simply amazing what we are doing in our district, schools, and classrooms because of Google Apps! It has transformed the way we create and share information and I truly believe we have different conversations because of this tool.  I am looking to learning new ideas of how we can further integrate Google Apps in our classrooms and of course networking with Google Apps users.  I am hoping I will learn about how other districts are using Google Sites for ePortfolios.  We had a couple of pilot projects this fall and any information I can bring back would be great.  I am a believer in ePortfolios as an assessment tool – not only is it authentic and meaningful to students, but it is also very relevant in today’s world!

Some highlights I am looking forward to on Monday and Tuesday!

Keynote – Monday AM: I am thrilled to be able to attend the opening keynote – Sir Ken Robinson, “Finding Students’ Passion” on Monday morning!  I have been following his work for some time and feel privileged I get to hear him speak.  Our district also is sending a team of teachers to the conference this day so I am really looking forward to how they react to his presentation and most of all, any follow-up discussions/ideas afterwards.

eLearning - FLickr photo by adesigna

eLearning - FLickr photo by adesigna

I am also looking forward to presenting at TIES this year.  On Monday, I will co-present with Blue Skunk Blogger, Doug Johnson – “A Guide for Teachers Using Social and Educational Networking Sites”.  Session is from 11:45 – 12:45.  Immediately following that session, I am presenting with our Math Department “Bidding Adieu to Textbooks” @ 1pm.  (Wow – is that going to be a tight schedule!)  I am very proud of the work these educators have done to discontinue the use of textbooks in our Math Curriculum and feel fortunate we get to share our story.

As for the other general sessions I plan on attending sessions that deal with:

  • Online learning
  • Effective assessment practices in the 21st Century
  • 1:1 Computing and/or Mobile Devices

After looking at my focus strands – I realize how they all related to one another.

I plan tweeting and blogging about my experiences during and after the conference.  If you can’t attend the conference but are interested in following the conversations, I suggest you follow the discussion via #ties10.

Bidding adieu to textbooks…

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Andrew Wertheimer

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Andrew Wertheimer

This summer our high school math department will be leaving their old, heavy, dusty textbooks behind and will be developing and moving their curriculum online.  While this may seem like a considerable charge (for a team of five) there are several reasons why they decided – Now is the time to move!

  • Money talks – Especially when there is none.  Just like most districts in the state of MN, our district is facing budget reductions.  There is no money for new textbooks.
  • New Standards – The state of MN has been shifting and restructuring the math standards and many of the current HS math courses need adjusting to match those standards – starting in the 2010-11 school year.
  • Current textbook Use – The team has identified that the  majority of our students do not use textbook as learning resources but use them for homework assignments only. They are heavy, dated, and lack real world application.
  • Open Education – New open education resources like Hippocampus, Curriki, or Connexions are free online sites with organized learning modules so teachers do not have to reinvent the wheel. (many are multimedia rich)
  • Learning Styles – Textbooks only address a limited number of learning styles and are generally not for the visual or auditory learners.  They are not interactive, very impersonal, and lack the collaborative learning students today crave.
  • Access 24/7 – The math department has already made the decision to begin recording video SMART board lessons/lectures/demonstrations, storing them on Youtube, and organizing the content within Moodle.  Students will have 24/7 access to these resources, and can watch and (RE)watch the recordings as many times as it takes to understand the concepts.  (Many students will not ask questions in class in fear of looking  “stupid” in front of their peers)
  • Living Curriculum – Since the team will be creating the curriculum – they will also be able to adjust and improve upon the courses as needed.  Forever.
  • Future  Delivery of Public Education – Reports indicate that half of high school courses could be online by 2019.  Governor Pawlenty recently proposed to require every high school graduate, beginning in 2013, to take an online course, participate in an online experience or participate in online experiences.  Developing a blended curriculum in the math department will prepare our students AND teachers for the eminent shift in the delivery of public education.

There may be many more benefits than the ones I have identified above.  There will also be roadblocks that we will have to address. (like computer access)  We will tackle those problems as they occur.  I am looking forward to this new journey and the opportunities it will give our students!

The Rubber has Met the Road

The Long Road - Flickr photo by Ohad

The Long Road - Flickr photo by Ohad

Two weeks from today, schools in Minnesota will be in session.  Our homes  and schools are in a whirlwind preparing for the 09-10 school year.  Parents are hopefully finishing their school shopping while many of our teachers are beginning to get their classroom ready for their incoming students.

But – will all our classrooms truly ready for these learners?  For the past 3 years, Byron has been fortunate to have great thinkers share their thoughts during our summer’s professional growth academy. In 2007, Dr. Scott McLeod started his virtual keynote address s by quoting Bob Dylan’s phrase  “Times are a changing…”  The following summer, Doug Johnson described  Schools and Libraries for the Net Generation. This summer, David Warlick presented to a group of 50+ Byron educators about the need for Byron school district to Redefine Literacy for the 21st century and the importance of educators to develop their own personal learning networks!

Today…times are not only changing – they HAVE changed.  I began my journey with this district 13 years ago and as I reflect on how the world has evolved….it is astounding!  Back in 1996, the district installed its first LAN with 30 Windows 95 – Pentium 133 MHZ desktops.  Email was a luxury, gradebooks weren’t electronic, word processing wasn’t quite the norm, and no one had even heard of Google. Today, email is viewed as an archaic method of communication, students and parents have portal access to their teacher’s gradebook, desktop word processing is being replaced with cloud computing, and students come to class with Google in their pockets.

This year is pivotal. I have had many educators come to me with BRILLIANT ideas –  Blended learning, Wikis, Classroom Blogs, Video projects, podcasting,  and classrooms infused with Web2.0  tools to  assess their students’ learning.

So what is the worry?  I am fearful that there are still educators who are dusting of the curriculum and lesson plans that was utilized back in the days of the 133mhz Pentiums.   Furthermore, I am even more worried about the future of the students whom will sit (and get) the same education as students did 13 years ago.  As many of our educators are rising to the 21st century education challenge, taking risks,  continuously trying to improve and develop high quality, relevant courses and classrooms, there are still those whom are perfectly content teaching as they did in 1996.   Is this still acceptable?   Are these classrooms preparing our students to truly be lifelong learners in a global economy?