Digital Sandbox

This Blog is designed to provide the reader with information on how to adopt technology into the classroom by relooking at traditional classroom tools and transitioning into new ways of teaching and learning. The Digital Sandbox explores the future of learning through the recreation of 21st Century learning environments.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

IT Student Support Team Plays an Important Role in 1:1

Dodge City Middle School will go to a 1:1 initiative starting in January. This 1:1 initiative changes the way students receive assignments, access information, create material for their classes. To help us get off to a good start our school established a student help desk made up of 10 eighth grade students who provide IT support for both students and teachers. The help desk is staffed for every period to respond to online work order request and student walk-ins. 

Mike King the school principal organized the IT Student Support Team. The IT Student Support Team is trained every other Tuesday by technology consultants Mr. Tom Barnes and Mrs. Gina Tyler on how to address student iPad issues. The IT Student help desk is located in the library and is overseen by Mrs. Schaffer the school's library media specialist. Training started in September and occurs every other Tuesday starting at 7:30 A.M and runs through advisory.

Responsibilities for the IT Student Support Team will be to troubleshoot problems, answer questions and refer more complicated problems to the district's IT Department through teachers. Additionally the student support team will develop a website that mirrors instructional technology applications for both students and teachers. The website will serve as a resource for our school, and that is accessed by students, parents and teachers. Plans for the website includes, help desk work orders, online questions generated by students and teachers, instructional videos explaining different applications that blend well with digital learning. 

Assignments for the construction of the website are sent by out by g-mail/work order form and Mrs. Herndon the 8th Grade connect teacher makes the assignments. Students receive their assignments, save their work in draft form for approval before posting digital content to the website. Students selected for the IT Student Support Team are required to sign a student pledge that holds them to high behavioral ethics and academic standards.

To get teachers prepared to use the devices in class, the district has established an every other Tuesday training session through Southwest Plains Regional Service Center. This plan allows our teacher teams to experience first a instructional app and then use the technology that supports explicit instruction. The district distributed to teachers iPads one year prior to using them in the classroom accompanied by every other Tuesday one hour in-services. Additional in-services are offered after school for power users to learn how to create digital content through the use of iTunes U, and iBooks through iAuthor. Teachers also learn how to develop video productions and podcast using both garage band and iMovie. 

To protect the schools iPad investments our school requires parents to attend a Digital Parent Night to sign a "user agreement form, that states that students will abide by district policy while the iPads, are in their possession.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Infusing 21st Century Skills Into Authentic Learning

Due to the advancement of new technologies 21st Century educators will soon be exploring ways to personalize education that promote student center learning formats. These new personal learning environments are not necessarily about the incorporation of technology into a daily lesson but more about teaching students how to collaborate, aggregate and create content into repositories of knowledge. To integrate technology means that teachers must have a deep understanding on how accessing information and creating content is inclusive with digital tools.

This leads us to the essential question, "How well do you have to understand the technology to use it in your classroom?"  To answer the question, it is not about understanding how to use a computer, it is about understanding how to access information, and use digital tools to create new forms of digital content. As educators, we desire to personalize education for a new generation in a global world - teaching students 21st century skills to empower them in their learning is the paramount task for great educators.

A misconception of 21st Century skills is the incorporation of technology into learning, but 21st Century skills is much more than just technology. 21st Century skills is about learning material in a new manner that incorporates collaboration, creativity, innovation in creating new knowledge and understanding of material. The incorporation of technology is an important piece of this learning, but is much more than a stand-alone issue. 

To successfully transition to a 1:1 iPad or any 1:1 technology program, a school district must take into account several items: hardware, network, training, applications, functions, support, and professional development planning over time. But most importantly can teachers become designers of learning. Will they be able to facilitate the learning process in order for students to create content through deep learning experiences. This in essence becomes the shift in instructional thinking as teachers begin to recognize that they are no longer the holders of content but the designers of learning.  The digital tools then become the constructive elements of content by the students as teachers become designers and facilitators of the learning process.

Teachers who are designers of learning realign their teaching strategies that are constructed on the use of multiple disciplines as they apply specific design features for a unit. These are the design features that focus on framing multiple standards to the rigor and relevance of complex task. They are teachers who can create lessons and units of study into a workable model. They have the acquired skill sets on how to specify the elements of rigor and secondly apply learning relevance that hover around the central theme of a unit or an essential question. They know how to construct these units as a mainframe of each daily lesson as it relates to the context for developing real world authentic task.

It should be noted that the skill sets to specifying elements of rigor provide higher levels of understanding and specifying elements of relevance provides evidence of real life applications. Teachers who think of the end product of a lesson as an element of learning design are  in the quest for an authentic task. They understand that the world of work provides many contexts for authentic tasks. Their goal in lesson design is to require students to solve a real-world problems. 

According to Melinda Kolk, "The creation of an authentic task is a bridge between the content learned in the classroom and why this knowledge is important in the world outside of it. The authentic, or real-world, nature of the task frames student work in a relevant and interesting way. Much of what we ask students to complete in the classroom is contrived. Life in the real world doesn't usually ask you to choose from provided options A, B, C, or D. An authentic task can help teachers make classroom work relevant to students by asking them to make these real-world decisions." To accomplish this task teachers must become the designers of learning as they facilitate the digital tools that allow students to create their own deep learning experiences.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Augmented Reality - ePubGeneration

Through innovative programming, Aurasma has developed a user interface constructed around “auras,” which are object “markers” used to trigger digital content like the Mark Twain image posted on this page. Developers of "auras" can use various multimedia information sources like videos, images or sound files to render content to mobile devices in and around a school campus . Augmented reality applications for mobile devices like Aurasma are destined to provide new avenues for ways to share digital content in these new learning environments. Augmented Reality - ePubGeneration

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Professional Development; A Key To Transparency

The greatest challenge for me as a school principal is to develop a cohesive staff in which each teacher performs optimally in his or her assigned role while supporting others in theirs. It has been my experience that mutual trust, shared vision, good internal communication, being non-judgmental, and adherence to goals are the keys to transparency.  Over the years our teachers had to learn how to manage change, by embracing the challenges of Common Core standards, student centered learning, new assessments and teaching digitally, while focusing on improved instructional strategies designed to enhance student literacy. In all cases, professional development has been the proven way for our school to increase individual readiness levels for managing these changes as we viewed these changes as opportunities to improve student learning.

I believe that the transparency to professional development is in the vision. To be transparent a vision-based professional development for us includes three key components (1) Collaborative Leadership Through Non-Judgmental Idea Sharing , (2) Making a Commitment and Avoiding Pitfalls, and (3) Providing Feedback on Results. I believe that our professional development practices have been successful at the site level due to these three key components.  But most of all we first had to establish our vision of what we wanted to accomplish in terms of student success.

As a school we define vision based professional development as not being about individual perceptions of the future but about an improved future for everyone involved. We had to consider that our professional development plan would undergo some roadblocks and established these obstacles as obtainable to a cause of action. We knew that our new vision had to introduce a change into action as it relates to a shift in practices. These are the recognizable changes that are occurring today in our school as technology continues to advance by changing our learning culture.

Collaborative Leadership Through Non-Judgmental Idea Sharing
Non-judgmental idea sharing and collaboration is formulated through consensus of our talking points. At the end of each year we determine our talking points. Talking points are about what we failed to accomplish due to the lack of focus. These talking points give us a reference to setting our long term goals and are formulated from a vision statement. Each year our vision statement changes and long term goals are created to form a strategic plan that includes specific short-term goals. This year's vision statement is "Opening new worlds for personalized and purposeful learning." Our strategic plan includes clear descriptions and directions for integration and implementation of all goals at all levels.  This approach provides us with avenues to change in a gradual and organized fashion.

As a school we have found that professional development has to involve teams of stakeholders working together. Working in teams allows the workload to be shared and enhances the quality of the work produced, since the participants can share perspectives and work cooperatively to find solutions. We have several layers of professional development teams led by teachers. Each team has a specific goal to meet that is aligned to our building goals. These teams are specified by purpose and include; the Building literacy team, the 21st Century Learning team, and the student advocacy team.

The Building Literacy Team
The Building Literacy team chose writing as our targeted literacy skill. The committee identified 7 components or sub-skills for all students to master in ALL content areas. The sub-skills were rank ordered.  Each month the team chooses a different strategy or technique that is taught to ALL students in ALL contents. The team’s primary resource for improving instruction is “Teach Like a Champion.” Once a literacy skill is chosen each staff member is trained by a teacher expert within our building. We believe that if we focus on the adults who teach our students and we all do it the same way, we will see great results in student learning. And because we now have the power of a strong culture, we are asking teachers to participate 100% at their level of understanding, realizing that other teachers will offer support within teams and trainings.  It’s all about the accountability. Teachers are given many opportunities to share out in teams and that information is then brought to the Literacy Planning Committee.

21st Century Learning Team
The 21st Century Learning team has invested time in exposing teachers and students to mobile learning devices. They also have defined the kinds of things that students will be doing with technology. Next year the team will invest time in developing online learning courses. These learning courses will span the horizon by experimenting and designing course work using various digital resources. These resources will integrate e-books, iTunes U, with Google Course Creator using various forms of Google apps. The idea is to create multiple forms of mobile learning opportunities as we venture forward in creating and sharing digital content. 

Student Advocacy
The Student Advocacy team provides knowledge resources for student centered learning that focuses on the development of student led conferencing and portfolio development. To address student advocacy the team is developing ways to help students set up their own personal learning environments. Some future ideas include instructional tools that will help students to reproduce data and images through digital manipulation, and to evaluate and apply new knowledge gained from digital environments. Curriculum for student advisory time will also be developed for all three grade levels that support digital literacy. These digital literacy skills for the 2013 - 2014 school year will include topics on Skills for the Digital Age. Themes for the month will support critical thinking skills, communications, collaboration and digital citizenship.

Making A Commitment And Avoiding Pitfalls
These are  incremental changes in the learning culture that is not about how students learn, or about the pencils, papers, and textbooks. It is about how people are working. People today work with laptops and word processing tools. It is not so much about going to the library or reading a textbook. It is about the workspaces; the work spaces that are changing as it becomes possible on media devices to research, not at the school library. It is how students can research the riches of the world as they're stored on the web. This is about the new libraries of consumable text. It is about the new workspaces that have created the possibility of sharing knowledge infinitely.

To avoid pitfalls we have viewed change both on an individual and an organizational level. This means that together we have sought to improve the skills and abilities of all of our staff. Since the teachers are the ones chiefly responsible for implementing the change, our professional development specifically addresses their needs and concerns. One factor I have realized as a building principal is that teachers are reluctant to adopt new ideas or practices if they doubt their abilities to make them work. Change requires the willingness to risk failure, and that can cause anxiety. As a principal I have also recognized that successful professional development seeks to improve the climate of the school. As a faculty we have placed ourselves in a growth mindset and have recognized that policies and practices can stand in the way of meaningful change, as can a debilitating school climate.

Providing Feedback On Results
We have also recognized that our professional development will not be successful unless we provide feedback. This feedback is then used to guide revisions or to showcase improvements. Successful professional development programs provide support systems for those involved in the process of implementation. In addition, professional development can serve as a support mechanism for both motivating those whose desire to improve and at the same time strengthen the opportunity for personalized learning. To continually check our professional development results we have developed multiple surveys using Google forms. Google forms are an easy way to collect data to measure both desired input and ideas for continual improvement. It is our plans in the near future to establish resource sites like Edmodo, Facebook, and Twitter where digital information can be stored shared and curated among teachers to enhance professional learning opportunities.

"If professional development programs are to continue in our public educational system, then professional development practices must undergo a change-a change that would meet the needs of the individual practitioner as well as those of the school as a whole. No professional development program could ever be deemed successful unless the plan itself addresses the needs of the students and stipulates how their learning will improve." Michael D. King

Saturday, February 2, 2013

My Ten Golden Rules; as an instructional leader"

Over the past few days I have been working on a presentation about success. During this time I reflected on what my golden rules have been as a principal. I asked myself, "What rules did I  follow as I provided leadership within the schools where I have worked?" What were the consistent elements of my decision making when working with people within the change process?" "What did I require of others when working on school improvement projects that subject the school to change?" Below is what I believe to be

"My Ten Golden Rules"  as an instructional leader.

  1. do not break the rules, recognize what you have control over and what you do not have control over,
  2. be resourceful and look for doors of opportunity,
  3. think outside the box and make adjustments to fit the situation,
  4. involve teachers in the decision making process allowing them to construct universally what can be accomplished by the majority,
  5. established strong communications and protocol prior to each initiative,
  6. keep it simple,
  7. prioritize and establishes one initiative at a time,
  8. never be judgmental and approach every situation with the idea of support,
  9. always operate with an open agenda, never work behind the scenes to push a personal agenda,
  10. and always keep the welfare of every student at the forethought of every decision.