Personal Learning Devices – Letter to Parents

Its been a whirlwind of a week and we have received quite a bit of press from our decision to lift the ban on personal learning devices in the classroom at our high school.  The following letter was created by Mike Duffy (BHS principal), Jen Green (BHS Math/English teachers) and myself.  It was distributed to all parents as well as posted on our district website.  I think it has some value and feel that if other districts are considering the same… maybe it will help them in their journey.  I would love to hear your feedback!

Dear Parents,
On Monday, May 16th, the school board unanimously decided to support policy changes that would allow students to use personal learning devices (PLDs) at Byron High School at the discretion of the classroom teacher.  Personal learning devices are defined as Smart Phones, Laptops, Netbooks, Tablets, MP3 Players (like iPod touches), or any other Internet enabled device.  After a five month pilot in four of our classrooms, we quickly recognized the potential for these tools to be used as learning devices.

We would like to share with you a some of the reasons, as well as expectations, for students before we start the 2011-12 school year.

1. We believe that these expanded opportunities of PLDs in the classroom will lead to increased learning, engagement, and collaboration among our students in a real world environment.
2. Using PLDs is an efficient way for students to access the Internet, as well as many other applications they already have installed and are familiar with on their devices.
3. We can not continue to ignore the power of these devices, as some of the PLDs have just as much, if not more, computing power than the ones in our computer labs.
4. PLDs are only to be used for educational purposes when directed by the classroom teacher.  Classroom teachers will determine when to use, how to use,  and appropriate access to PLDs for their individual classrooms.  Rules teachers establish will be supported by the district.
5. This innovation was researched by our high school teachers and staff.  We are not the first in the state to begin incorporating PLDs into the classroom, and many other progressive districts, like Delano and Osseo, have already done the same.
6. Having a blanketed school-wide BAN policy does not allow teachers who are ready to incorporate PLDs in their classrooms the opportunity to do so.
7. We are not requiring parents to purchase new equipment or change current cell phone/data plans. We are just seeking the opportunity to utilize what their students already own and use. The district will continue to provide guest wireless for students who have devices like Netbooks, Laptops, or iPod touches.
8. We will continue to use district-owned devices (like labs and mobile laptop carts) when the students don’t have access to PLDs or when the learning activity or lesson requires it.
9. Teachers will add safeguards in their classrooms to monitor for inappropriate use.
10. Students using PLDs must comply with the Byron School District Acceptable Use Policy (524).  This policy is available on the district website.

It is our belief that this policy change will continue to support our students’ academic success and preparation for the 21st century workforce.

Lifting the ban on personal learning devices

Student using a PLD in Math Class

I am pleased to announce, that after the board meeting tonight, Byron High School will be lifting the Ban on Personal Learning Devices (PLDs) in our school. We have defined PLD’s as Smart Phones, iPod Touches, Tablets, Laptops, Netbooks or any other Internet enabled device. It has been a year of discussion, pilots, more discussion, and policy edits.  I am absolutely thrilled at the opportunities students will have in our classrooms!

The journey began in November with a high school email discussion about Osseo Public Schools – Project Copernicus Pilot in which Osseo teachers, in the project,  encouraged students to bring in wireless devices to use in the classroom.  We decided to add PLD Questions  to OUR annual student survey – results indicated that approx 75% of Byron students in grades 9 and 11 have personal devices and 33% have SMART phones with data plans. The idea gained momentum, and Osseo CTO Tim Wilson, graciously met with our District Technology Committee via Skype to talk more in depth of the project and answer stakeholder questions.  After the skype session, several teachers expressed interest in also trying a pilot of their own.  Our HS principal organized a HS staff meeting about the topic and by 3rd quarter, our Pilot was underway.

After the quarter was over, it was time to discuss the pilot, and any pro’s and con’s the teachers came across.


  • Increased classroom research opportunities – instantly.
  • Frees up computer lab – which is at a premium even with a 1.8 student to computer ratio!
  • Benefits students in Math classrooms where e-curriculum has replaced textbooks
  • Students can rewatch lecture (Math) videos or look up answers in solutions manual
  • Current discipline tracking of current cell phone policy is extensive/exhaustive (approx. 90% of discipline issues are attributed to phones/ipods)
  • Assess student learning and provide peer review feedback by using tools like Poll Everywhere
  • Create/archive student work with use of cameras and video recorders
  • Students know how to use their devices
  • Students take care of their devices


  • Bandwidth and wireless access needs to be considered – we will be adding access points to accommodate the increase in wireless devices
  • Policing what students are looking at can be difficult (games, texting, Facebook, ect) – Note – We decided that time on task can be an issue on any computer, the screens are just smaller with these devices! 🙂


  • Students are fully aware of what they should be doing when they are allowed to use their PLD
  • Students appreciate being able to use their PLD since they know how their device works
  • There has not been an issue with “have nots”.  Students who do not have a device, collaborate with students who do OR make arrangements to get a classroom loaner device.

In a very short time, our school has become open to the idea of letting these devices in the classroom.  Teachers who are still  apprehensive about the use of PLDs, can opt out by indicating their choice within their course syllabus.  But for teachers who DO want to incorporate devices in their classrooms, the school wide ban has been lifted to support their  ideas and new learning opportunities!

Computerized State Tests – Is Paper Better?

Photo credit - Guilford School Watch Blog

Photo credit - Guilford School Watch Blog

Last year, we were given an option. Go with the traditional paper/pencil Math MCA’s (Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments) or go with the computerized MCA’s from Pearson Access . (grades 3-8) Seeing the writing on the wall, and knowing that eventually all MCA’s will be electronic, we decided to opt in for the computer based testing.

My Rant:
While it was good to test our infrastructure and of our testing processes, I am amazed at how much TIME we (staff and students) have invested in this  getting this 1 computerized test to successfully work in our schools.

  • We are very fortunate that we have several labs in our buildings, and  while our district computer:student ratio is better than most (3:1) , We basically will not be doing any technology/Internet-based classroom projects during the month of April and half of May due to testing. The Paper Test is generally done in 2 days and does not require any other resources than a pencil and/or paper.
  • The hand rostering of students is extremely tedious. In each school database, we are given access to all the students, you then need to hand roster them to their appropriate teachers or groups.  Student missing or sick that day?  You will have to move them from 1 roster, and re-roster them into another makeup session.  While, I understand the process is similar to what you have to do “the paper way” we went from 3, 4, 5 people (in each building) being able to put the paper in the right piles to 1 person with the computer access and know how – to be able to do this.  Making what use to take several people a few hours, to one person  that can take several days.  Oh, and you HOPE there is not a tech support call anywhere in between.  I guess I find this frustrating because I am very aware of other testing vendors that allow schools to somewhat automate the process of  rostering students by using exports from their student information system (Hint – Not What Everyone Assumes)
  • Yesterday when I asked one of my Proctors – “How did everything go?”  She said, “Good, we fished at 11:00”   They started at 8:15. These are 5th Graders. I guess I am very surprised that the electronic testing systems in this day and age, don’t have the sophistication to figure out where these kiddo’s academically are – without having to have have them sit 2-3hours through mind numbing assessments.  (paper or computerized)
  • The time to get our results.  When is that?  Since this is computerized – why cant we get them within a day, week, or month?  However – more than likely – the computerized results will come the same day as those paper-based results.

With every rant, I have to also mention some improvements.  It is nice that there is some interaction with these tests.  The sample test had the typical multiple choice questions as well as the ability to drag lines on a graph or drop numbers in appropriate areas. I also can’t deny that it is nice that students can opt to have the tests read to them. (we have headsets and sound on all of our computers)  I am also happy with the tech support we receive when there are issues or even during the prepping.

I guess, my main complaint is the process we have to go through to provide computerized MCA’s.  Because of the exuberant amounts of time we spend prepping and testing and the fact that we do not get access to our results any faster – Is this system any better than paper?

What do you see in your crystal ball?

Flickr photo by Kikishua

Flickr Photo by Kikishua

Currently our district is in the process of technology planning for the next 3 years.  As part of the process I made site visits to each of our schools to seek input from our teachers.  I shared with them videos as well as the 2010 Horizon Report (2011 just came out!).

Then I asked teachers to think and respond to the following questions:

  1. What technology ideas do you have that would enhance/support your student’s learning IN and OUTSIDE your classroom?
  2. What technology ideas do you have that would enhance/support  YOUR learning IN and OUTSIDE your classroom?
  3. What technology ideas do you have that could help you do a better job at teaching or help you be more productive?
  4. What technology ideas do you have that could help our district save money?

What do I see in my Educational crystal ball?

  • Education based on student inquiry, authentic assessments, social constructivism, and digital citizenship
  • Engaging learning/teaching environments in and outside our classrooms for all district stakeholders
  • Mobile devices – Student owned and district owned
  • Personal learning plans for all students/staff that indicate individual needs as well as talents

Above are just a few of the things I see coming to education in the near future.  What am I missing?  A template of this  Google Doc was created and shared with our schools and district technology committee as a way to seek input.  I would also ask that you share your ideas if interested!  Either use the Google doc or reply to this post….. What should we be considering for the next 3-4 years?

Making the case for Facebook in Education

DISCLAIMER – This post has links to  content that is on Facebook.  If you are reading this in a distinct who blocks Facebook you will not be able to view it without a filter bypass password!

During the MN State 2010 Memo conference, a media specialist announced to the group of a couple of hundred participants… “Osseo Public Schools has an opening for a Media Specialist. We filter, but we do not block content in our district. Wiki’s, Blogs, Youtube and Facebook are open and available to our staff and students”.

Youtube was open in my district only a year ago. Opening it up quickly moved Youtube from a “distraction” to innovation… and finally to a trans-formative classroom tool in less than 1 years time. Not only does it provide endless “just in time” video tutorials, curriculum support, it also has been used to showcase our students work. However, the transformation came when Math teachers decided to start posting SMART board lecture to it and use it as an integral part of their eCurriculum. (The Math department has decided to discontinue the use of expensive and antiquated textbooks and put all of their content online – but that is for another blog post!) Now, through the use of Moodle, Youtube, and other tools – students have access to learning resources 24/7. The cost for this tool = $0. The cost to support this tool = $0. The value of this tool in teaching, learning (including mlearning) = priceless!

Facebook, on the other hand, is blocked for students and staff in my district. In my own personal use of the tool, I am now recognizing that work and personal information are blurring. I subscribe to many educational Fan Pages, Groups, and have had some fantastic discussions with folks all over the world via Facebook! The comment by the Osseo media specialist resonated with me so much, that I decided I had to do something to start a conversation in my own district to consider opening Facebook to staff and students. If I were an innovative and talented teacher, who had a couple of job offers on the table:

  • District A: Great school district, great community, great kids, BLOCKS social media tools like Youtube, Twitter, and Facebook from staff and students.
  • District B: Great school district, great community, great kids, social media is OPEN to staff and students and teachers are encouraged to find educational use of the tool that all kids are using anyway.

Which one I would choose? To me its easy.   Sure, there may be those who would much prefer District A – but for district leaders – who do you want in your talent pool?

And so my journey began. The following presentation, Making the case for Facebook in education,  has been shared (f2f) with district leaders as well as our district technology committee.

While presenting, I spoke of the Osseo’s, the Mankato’s, and the District 287’s. All MN districts that I consider tech savvy, innovative, and have always been on the cutting edge in teaching and learning practices. (I also realize there are MORE MN schools than my short list!) At the request of my admin team, I developed a Google Form to find out if other schools block/don’t block Facebook and why. The form was dispersed to MEMO’s distribution list as well as other regional lists with the following questions:

Does your district currently block Facebook?

  • Yes – it is blocked for staff and students
  • Yes – it is blocked for students only
  • No – Facebook is OPEN for all students and staff

What is your district’s rationale for this decision?

I was very happy with the response. We had 67 people respond to the survey representing 59 MN districts. I decided to summarize the above questions and include the RATIONALE given by districts. View the full summary here (Google Doc).

Summary of information of the survey

Summary of respondents

My (UNOFFICIAL) analysis of the district’s rationale to block Facebook included these top 3 reasons:

  1. Safety/Content/CIPA
  2. No Educational Value
  3. Time Management/Distraction

My response to the top 3 reasons why MN schools block Facebook

Safety/Content/CIPA – In a district that blocks Facebook – most likely the only time those offices deal with Facebook is in the cases where there are discipline issues and cyberbulling. Because of this, It is hard for schools to recognize the value of something when a few of our students are not using the tool correctly. But when/where are we educating our kids on the proper use of these social tools? Many of our parents do not understand the technology nor the repercussions of posting inappropriate things on profiles. I truly feel it is our responsibility, as educational institutions, to be educating our students (as well as staff and communities) on the proper use of today’s social media – and first on the list should be Facebook. Why do we wait to have a Facebook discussion when the kid is in our office and in trouble?

As for CIPA, that is not a valid excuse. Please take note – CIPA only requires that schools (who apply for erate funds for Internet) block sites that are: obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors (for computers that are accessed by minors). If Facebook were “harmful” to minors do you think President Obama or even the MN Department of Education would have a Facebook Fan page?

No Educational Value – There is educational value with Facebook. We all need to do our homework. Besides what you already know or what you have learned from this post – here are other resources you can use to get the conversation started:

After doing your own investigations…. Start following educational entities and learn how they are using Facebook to share information as well as receive input from stakeholders.  Share what you learn/know with district leaders and staff. You should be having the same conversation in your district as we are in ours.

Time Management/Distraction – I realize that Facebook can be distracting to students and teachers. I realize that time management is always a concern and students and staff should be taught to use Facebook appropriately. If the rules are not followed, then we need policies to be put in place to address those issues. BUT, I also know that Facebook is distracting my personal time with learning. Excellent learning opportunities continue to occur for me while surfing my Facebook family and friends status updates. The potential for informal or incidental learning is tremendous and we need to figure out how we can tap into this!

I would like to complete my thoughts and say that if we continue to block Facebook in our district’s, especially for our teachers and staff, we may never realize the educational value Facebook has. As of today, my district is still blocking Facebook. But we are having the conversation! According to my results from a little survey of MN schools we are part of the NORM. Is this NORMAL good enough?

Picasa and Google Apps – Me likey!

I posted this tweet earlier today “Today I have come to appreciate how powerful Picasa and Picasa Web albums are within Google Apps. Me Likey!”

I received a tweet back from @smbeaverson – “details?”

I decided to create a little blogpost about my first encounter with Picasa within my Google Apps domain and share some advantages of the application.


  1. I can share and give access to users within my domain to Web Albums. This includes distribution groups I have created using Google Groups OR contact lists I have created in Gmail.  For instance, we had an event yesterday (Blue Ribbon Award Ceremony – YEAH!) and I had taken quite a few pictures.  However, I also knew that other teachers\staff also had pictures too.  Giving them web album access, they can upload their own pictures vs emailing them to ME and having ME upload them to the web album.  It is as simple as sending an email! (See image below)

Note the people on the right are contact lists that I have created.  As soon as I type any email, it automatically loads from my personal AND district contacts!  Simple!  I can also decide who gets to add photos (group of people?) or just View photos.  We also have distribution lists we have created via Google Groups which allows me to instantly share an album with a single group email. (Teachers, Buildings, District)

2. What I also noted, was that we can tag people within albums, just like facebook, and I can begin associating specific people with pictures.  This is all associated with my contacts and district contact list.

3.  Picasa also has some basic photo editing features too! AND I note – Picnik is now a feature and even listed as a Google App.

4.   With the Picasa App, You can also synchronize folders on your computer.  So, as you add pics, it just sends them to the web.  (Is this good – not sure, but its doable!)

5.  You can easily create and embed slideshow widgets based on your albums.

Possible Problems

1.  Not a long term solution as you only get a 1 gb folder.  You will have to do housecleaning and teach staff/students how to conserve space by resizing images.

2.  It took me a little while to figure out how to integrate the Picasa App with the Picasa Web albums.  Training (or learning time)  is going to be needed.

3.  I havent transitioned my domain to the new Google Apps.  Right now, only very few people have access to these tools (within our domain).

From banning to embracing – my thoughts on allowing student owned devices in our schools

Right now there is a GREAT discussion happening in my highschool regarding allowing/banning students to bring in student owned devices.   Our high school principal sent an email to our staff inviting them respond/discuss their thoughts of the following video showing a student owned device pilot project in Osseo Schools.

The following is my response to our staff:

Dear Staff,
I appreciate the responses from this thread and value all of your ideas and concerns.  In my honest opinion, I truly feel that we can no longer ignore these Internet enabled devices.   Students are walking into your classrooms with Google in their pockets – we should harness this opportunity – not ban it.

The 2010 Horizon Report indicates we have 1 year or less to adopt these technologies in our schools.  It is coming, it is here, its not going away.  As I think of my own use of my smart phone – it is an integral part of my business communications. As we think of preparing students for their future – these devices are going to be the primary way students are connected to people (family, friends, coworkers) as well as personal/professional email, calendars, social media applications.  In the 21st century being connected also means using these devices to create, learn and share  information.  If interested, the new term coined for this type of learning is mlearning.  (Let me Google it for you!)

Budget.  I can honestly say for the past 10 years the term 1:1 has been discussed numerous times in various committees.  But, to develop a budget to support an initiative as well as SUSTAIN it is very complex and fiscally not possible… at least not yet.  Financially, it makes sense for students to bring in their personal devices.

Access.  Did you know that our HS has less than a 2:1 ratio?  For every 2 students we have 1 computer/laptop. We have added labs this summer and added computers to address class sizes.  It is still not enough.  As you continue to integrate technology into your classes the demand for access is rising.  I realize their may be concerns of have/and have nots. However, I really have to wonder how many have nots we have? I just purchased an iPod touch for my youngest for Christmas for about $200. It has full Internet capabilities – including access to Google Apps, Moodle, as well as a wealth of other useful tools(aka APPS).

As for obstacles I see three issues when moving in this direction.

  • Current Policy.  Right now our policy bans this technology in our classrooms. Here is an etiquette guide to give an example  of what other schools are looking at. There may be new discipline issues that will come with these devices too, but look at the amount of discipline time we are spending just trying implementing our “Ban” policy.  I would like to take an uneducated guess and say that 90% of our detention, parent calls, frustrated students, incident record keeping could disappear if we allowed these devices in our schools.  We should be teaching students how to appropriately use them – not ban them.  This is a skill that will be very important for them, when they graduate and go to college/workforce.
  • Bandwidth/Wireless.  Adding an additional 300 devices might affect our Internet bandwidth.  We will need adjust it and it will cost $.  We also need to think about increasing the wireless access (add more access points) this is also an added cost.
  • Teaching will need to change – Teachers are going to need to create lesson plans that are endpoint independent.  If you have a classroom of Smartphones, iPods, iPads, netbooks and laptops – how you will have your students complete the lessons will change. At this point, We will still need our labs for writing, specialized programs, and testing – but is the lab necessary for research and other web-based applications?  Teacher will also need to think about how they assess student learning.  If students are given tests that can be easily Googled, is it a relevant assessment to their learning? Cheating is always a concern, but if teachers develop more authentic assessments and/or project based lessons – cheating  can decrease immensely. An added benefit will be that students will know the content better and it will be more meaningful to them.

I look forward to continuing this conversation with you.  I think easing into this environment is a great idea and I think a pilot is very appropriate. I will also be willing to serve on any HS committee/group that are wiling to look at this further.

I would like to leave you with an excerpt from Doug Johnson’s Blue Skunk blog post Rules for Pod People and a Proposal for Banning Pencils, in which he compares the reasons for banning iPods with banning pencils:

  1. A student might poke out the eye of another student.
  2. A student might write a dirty word with one. Or even write a whole harassing note and pass it to another student.
  3. One student might have a mechanical pencil making those with wooden ones feel bad.
  4. The pencil might get stolen or lost.
  5. Kids might be doodling instead of working on their assignments.

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.


iPad in the Classroom

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

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!


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.

Synthesizing #memo10 – Ideas to take home

Reflections from Memo

Day 1 of the Memo conference, and I have been completely energized.  The day started out with an excellent keynote by Buffy Hamilton (@buffyjhamilton), the Unquiet Librarian.  Her message – “Beyond Balance; participatory librarianship for creating , connecting, conversing, and contributing” was highly engaging and motivating. (I tried embedding -didnt work..sniff)

Even though her target audience was media specialists, I found that much, or I should say most, of what she shared could be incorporated in any classroom, school, or district.  “Where does the library live? What are the physical and virtual spaces like?” – led me to think about our classrooms  and schools.  How do we build effective virtual spaces and more importantly how do we cultivate participatory learning in these spaces?  In her library, there is a sense of shared ownership of learning between her students and staff. Her goal – build on passions. Shouldn’t we also be cultivating this in our schools?

Her ideas to get started – map out your vision – literally. (please note learning environments on her map – thumbs up!)  I think I would like to try this technique with our district technology committee to assist with technology planning.  However, why stop there? This technique could be done in any classroom, department, committee, school, or district.  As we develop our plans, goals, vision – it is the follow thru that has the planning worthwhile.  “DOING vs. PLANNING” is taking your vision, your plan, and putting it into action.  Make sure your planning and visioning has plenty of input/approval from stakeholders (shared conversations)  – because when it is time to “walk the talk” it’s those folks that will need to help you deliver the vision.


Next on my schedule… demonstration and discussion about eBooks by Dawn Nelson (@dawnrnelson) and Lin Salisbury.  I have to admit I am behind in understanding the opportunities with this technology and this was a great session to get me up to speed.  My take aways… library’s can purchase an ebook and share it simultaneously with up to 6 devices. (Barnes and Noble Nook or Amazon Kindle)  You then check out the device to the student. Within these books you can annotate, search, and even add audio (at a fee). There are a considerable amount of FREE ebooks and nooks are compatible with ePub.  Prices for Nooks start at $149.

What gets a little “muddy” is managing this.  Problems = 1 login account per 6 devices. Having 30 devices would require 5 separate accounts. Purchasing books is also a challenge.  BN only accepts credit cards and this has caused some issues in business offices.  One alternative is gift cards – but this is also a problem with school auditors.  The SCARIEST problem shared, (that left me shaking in my shoes) was that the Nooks are directly linked to your account and credit card AND as of right now, there is no password protection! OUCH! The workaround… librarians will put the nook in airplane mode which will not give the nook access to the internet.  However – how long before the student figures out how to take to turn the Internet back on? Hello Shopping Spree!   Management and security seem to be a problem right now but I am sure BN will eventually figure out a way to make it work better. I really like the idea so that leads me to wonder about the iPad?  From what I understand  – there are apps for BN or Amazon or a bazillion other useful programs.  I don’t have an iPad yet – I think its time.  Still waiting on the Google Pad. Hurry up already!

Another session with Buffy

“Strategies for Keeping Up with (Almost Everything)”. It was a no brainer…after the excellent keynote in the morning, that I was going to attend a session with Buffy Hamilton.  One of my goals this year is to help our staff develop their own personal learning networks (PLNs).  This session was perfect timing!  I love the title “Strategies for Keeping Up” ! Instead of a title like “Creating a PLN”, which can appear to be another new thing, and extra… this title makes developing a PLN to be more helpful to organize and manage information.  Some takeaways…” “Walk before you Run”.

Looking or explaining my PLN may look very scary for staff.

However, starting small and  “cultivating their passions” is key.  It is also beneficial to show the tools to help them organize information. Google Reader, iGoogle, Netvibes, ect…(personal note – I need to master iGoogle!)  Even if they do not want to share their thoughts publicly (tweet, blog) in this case…it is OK to be a “lurker”.

Presenting with Doug

Next I was privileged to co Present “To Friend or Not to Friend: A guide for Teachers Using Social and Educational Networking Sites” with the  Blue Skunk Blogger Doug Johnson (@BlueSkunkBlog).  Even though I was extremely nervous, the audience made me feel very comfortable. They were receptive to our presentation and there was a great exchange of dialog/ideas. Yeah – I learned too!   My take away from this experience/presentation.  First of all – Doug is a master presenter. He has a great talent in engaging conversation with the audience, and making it interactive.  This is something I need to continue to work on – instead of “showering the crowd” with information, it is more influential to guide them into conclusions based on ideas and information. (guide on the side vs sage on the stage)

My other take away…is that districts still continue to have problems with sites being blocked in their districts. Youtube is blocked, Wikis are blocked, Blogs are blocked, Social Networks are blocked. Sometimes it is the settings on the filter, but most seem to blame the  “Network Gestapo”.  CIPA is usually the excuse given to block sites. But take note – CIPA only requires that schools (who apply for erate funds for Internet) require schools to block sites that are: obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors (for computers that are accessed by minors).  Creating a classroom blog, wiki, or youtube channel is NOT HARMFUL TO MINORS.  Blocking these sites is a DETRIMENT to education and your students learning is being hampered.  Classroom innovation and transformation will never happen without access to these tools.  My advice, devise a team (include students), and a plan targeting the educational value (include baby steps). Showcase the innovation in other districts aka…what is NOT happening in your district.  Don’t stop at the Gestapo if you get turned down. Your administration and board may be much more receptive.  Booster Clubs and PTA can be also be effective.  Please do not give up the battle!

Here are a couple of youtube channels for your Bag of Tricks

Hanging with District 287

I’ll be honest. Being it was almost 3pm and after a day of total engagement, I wasn’t sure that I was going to get much out of “Stimulate your district’s Online Courses” with John Fila and Mike Smart (@moodleshare).  I was soooo wrong. Talk about save the best for last!  Right now our district is at a pivotal transition.  Moodle has made an entry in our district and we are beginning to develop blended moodle courses as well as fully online courses.  The course design techniques shared as well as the FREE courses/units (aligned to MN or National standards) were AMAZING.  A little background…District 287 received an E2T2 grant and had around 80 teachers apply to develop courses and units (after being trained). These teachers were from all grade levels and subject areas. What is very nice about the free units/courses is that you can go in and preview the content and then decide to download what you like.  Eventually the plan is to make them available at the Minnesota Learning Commons.

As for the design techniques – I can’t explain how excited I was to see this.  We have all heard of Presentation Zen but I have never witnessed Moodle Zen.  Stunning graphics and visually appealing.  No scroll of death!  There is a trick to it –I think between working with labels and hiding topics, (moodle terms) is how they do it.  They also have a very good eye for media design. They are now developing Minnesota Licensure courses for their staff to take.  They have a wonderful orientation course required of all their students. (they believe their success rates have gone up because of this requirements).  Hey John and Mike – you guys need a whole day session OR an online class that I can enroll in to learn this.  It is very unique and needs to be shared!  Where do I sign up????? Oh by the way – in their district they have a position called “Innovation Coaches”.  This is like a duty for a teacher or a .1 position in every building.  What an empowering position that must be!

MDE Bridge Plan – Goals and Strategies

Flickr photo by Eggman

Flickr photo by Eggman

School districts that apply for Erate must have to have an approved technology plan ON File with the Minnesota Department of Education.  This year we are required to submit a bridge plan to share updates on the previous 2008-11 technology plans.    I decided to post the goals and related strategies of the plan to my blog as I am most definitely interested in feedback.  Many of these strategies are already underway while others will be a work in progress.

Goal: Ensure that all Byron students fully engage in a 21st century learning environment.

  • Investigate distance/online options for teaching and learning and develop a comprehensive e-Plan for district implementation.
  • Develop assessment model to determine district’s eReadiness
  • Pilot/Research mobile technologies and develop a mobile learning plan to extend student access as well as learning and teaching to Byron staff and students.
  • Work with district principals to develop a technology integration observation/assessment model for all K12 classrooms
  • Expand 24/7 access to student courses and learning materials (K-12)
  • Update district’s current technology assessment to include current technologies and transformative instructional practices.
  • Monitor the use of Google Apps for Education with staff and students

Goal: Centralize and strengthen support services

  • Implement a centralized support/ticket system
  • Investigate and implement a remote desktop support system

Goal: Expand professional development opportunities through online courses/resources

  • Expand the pool of certified Byron online teachers through participation of district’s 36 credit hour “Facilitating Online Learning” course.
  • Promote PLN’s (Personal Learning Networks) to all district staff
  • Expand BEARS PGA to include online opportunities
  • Explore and expand opportunities by collaborating with regional and statewide networks

Goal: Improve district hardware and infrastructure.

  • Research and develop a teacher laptop replacement plan for summer 2011 to include 2 options of laptops based on user needs. (power vs standard)
  • Implement district’s first virtual desktop lab.  Monitor the ROI of the
  • Investigate asset management technologies

Goal: Increase Communication between Staff, Students, and Community

  • Explore and increase the use of social media (Twitter, Facebook, Youtube) as a communication tool for the Byron Public Schools parents, students, and community.
  • Monitor and promote effective use of Infinite Campus and its parent portals K-12

I appreciate the state of MN publishing approved plans(pdf) online as it helps me to learn what others districts are planning and also gauge the technology vision of our district with other schools.  I have been told there can be up to 1 month turn around for approval.  MN Districts are advised to submit their plans soon – to ensure approval before the next erate cycle.