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May 7, 2020
This month's post is brought to you courtesy of Robert Williams, Director of Technology for the Nye County School District. You can follow him on Twitter at @mrWsTweets.
District Challenges and Successes in the Age of COVID-19
Education in the Age of COVID-19 has brought a great number of challenges but offers opportunities as well. We’ve had our fair share of frustration and anger as we’ve worked to address the new technology-driven reality of learning-at-a-distance, but we’ve also been able to celebrate quite a few successes.
I became the Director of Technology for the Nye County School District through an unusual route. I’m a geek for sure, but my degree is in English. From English teacher, to TOSA, to principal to tech guy is a bit unconventional, meaning that I don’t necessarily have the expertise one would expect for my title. I learned early on as a leader to surround myself with folks smarter than me, and my team is remarkable.
Our biggest employee challenge has been professional development. The NCSD does not have any positions dedicated to technology professional development, no tech coaches or in-school dedicated technology support; and we tossed every teacher into a digital swimming pool without floaties. Of course, we have quite a few tech-savvy teachers who have stepped up to support their colleagues who are less-comfortable with technology.
For example, our Cabinet and Furniture Making teacher, Mr. S, doesn’t even have a computer in his home, but after 30 years of professional woodworking he does have a design and building shop at home. He’s been working with Mr. W., the school’s technology teacher. Mr. S. uses his phone to record short instructional videos of himself making a cabinet, and then he sends those to Mr. W. who posts them for Mr. S’s students. It’s a good partnership, and all of the Cabinet and Furniture students still receive instruction from their teacher.
Mr. W. also created a spreadsheet of the various requests for help he’s received from his peers and he’s shared the list with everyone in the district. Most requests came in during the first couple of weeks of the closure, and you can click here to see what Mr. W. put together.
Mrs. Steele, a district instructional coordinator who normally works with elementary curriculum and teachers focusing on reading, saw the need to support teachers with the basics of instructional technology, and she’s partnered with a variety of teachers to schedule several short online PDs via Zoom to cover the basics of Google Classroom, Hangouts/Meet, Slides, Dojo, and others. Her classes have been attended by as many as 70 teachers at one time.
I could go on. When I say that teachers have stepped up to help their peers as well as their students, I’m understating the amazing work happening under these unexpected conditions. As we move into planning for next year, technology professional development is definitely on the agenda.
This crisis has also brought the digital divide into stark relief. We are fortunate enough in Nye County to have enough Chromebooks to be able to check out a device to any student who needs one. However, only Round Mountain High School had actually done an annual check-out program issuing Chromebooks like textbooks. All of our other schools have implemented their one-to-one program through classroom carts. The initial closure created a furious amount of learning for administrators and support staff regarding the best methods to check out and track devices to students. My team fielded lots of questions, but in the end, students were provided Chromebooks upon request; some were even delivered to kids at home. We also created a method to track these check-outs in Infinite Campus (IC), giving schools a common place and method for keeping the information.
The other side of the digital divide issue is home internet access, and this problem has been two-fold. First, we had no clear way to identify families without internet, and then we had to find a solution to provide internet access. To date, this is still a huge struggle. We created a method for teachers to report when they spoke with a student who couldn’t access the internet at home, but it’s hit and miss. I know we aren’t getting every family.
Then we worked with one of our internet service providers, The Valley Electric Association (VEA). Valley Electric has been amazing. We told them our needs, and they invested their own money to test and then purchase hotspot wireless routers that we’ve tried to distribute to families who need them. Unfortunately, we finally had a few routers programmed and ready to go for a small fraction of the families the same week the Governor closed buildings for the rest of the school year, and with only four weeks left in our year, interest waned. That said, we are ready in case we need to support families next year, and the federal government is reworking the eRate grant to allow districts to use those monies to support this specific need, and we are speaking with our eRate consultant about these options. (I’m reluctant to become a de facto ISP but, in the short term, this appears to be our best option.)
The IT department is chiefly operational, not instructional in our school district. While we do prepare and repair devices for student use, our main purpose centers around making sure teachers can do their jobs as efficiently as possible. We work to make sure technology is a tool, not a barrier to the work. To that end, our Technology and Information teams have also shifted gears to support our district and lift some of the new weight off the shoulders of teachers.
Our first response was to simplify taking attendance and adding comments about two-way-communication in Infinite Campus (IC). The information team reviewed several different options before settling on an in-house integration between the normal attendance system and the contact log in IC. This integration (click here for details) minimized the amount of time teachers had to record information in IC. It took about two weeks to get all of the details, instructions, and questions worked out. The feedback from teachers was very helpful.
At the same time we were adjusting attendance in IC, the technology team worked on creating IP phone solutions so teachers could call students from any device and have the call appear to be from the school. Many teachers were already using *67, but this provided them with options.
We’ve also worked through several methods to support teacher technology needs at home. Since teachers no longer had easy access to the school office, we had to redesign a new work order system so teachers could request assistance and ask questions directly of the department. We accomplished this through email and BaseCamp, and our teachers have been gracious about using it and not overwhelming our ability to help them.
Our normal remote access tools are limited by our district network, so we’ve experimented with other tools like LogMeIn and TeamViewer with limited success. However, we also discovered that Zoom provides a remote control option between hosts, so we’ve also used our licensed Zoom accounts to help fix teacher personal computers remotely.
We are also looking at options and possible grants to provide teachers with touchscreen Chromebooks, so they don’t have to use their personal devices while working from home.
Finally, I send a weekly update to all of our teachers and administrators every weekend, and I’ve tried to adjust the format to help all of our educators with information they can use at the moment. In the beginning of the closure I added tech tips and information galore, but as the reality of our end of the year distance has settled in, I’ve focused more on things to make us smile.
The whole of education has experimented to find solutions to problems we never thought we’d have. It’s been both crazy-busy and oddly-slow at times. Sometimes our efforts go well, and other times we have to step back and start from scratch. It seems that while all the days are one now, every hour provides a new challenge. And, every challenge is a learning opportunity. Educators were made for this.
February 10, 2020
This month's post is brought to you courtesy of Sarah DeSart, CUE-NV Vice President, who is a middle school social studies teacher and Technology Integration Coach at Adobe Middle School in Elko, Nevada. Sarah is currently working on her master's degree in Technology Leadership.
STEAM and Makerspaces
Throughout my research, I found overwhelming support and positive results if teachers use project-based learning and makerspaces. First, project-based learning research has seen an increase in student achievement, “a recent collaborative study conducted by the University and Michigan and Michigan State University suggests the implementation of project-based learning correlated positively with student achievement, particularly in schools serving high-poverty communities” (Schuetz, 2018, para. 18). Furthermore, another study found when compared to traditional teaching (the control group), “gains were 63 percent higher for social studies and 23 percent higher for informational reading than in the control group” (Duke & Halvorsen, 2017, para. 6). Project-based learning does more than increase student achievement “because of its focus on 21st-century skills; the PBL model also enhances students’ technology abilities” (Schuetz, 2018, para. 19). Jennifer Gonzalez (as cited in Schuetz, 2018) noted, “project-based learning helps students develop teamwork and problem-solving skills, along with the ability to communicate effectively with others. The collaborative nature of projects also reinforces the social-emotional learning (SEL) programs being implemented at progressive schools around the world” (para. 19). Although not as heavily researched as project-based learning, makerspaces are making a significant impact on education and changing the way students are taught. “What we do know right now is that if makerspaces provide opportunities for students to understand and implement design thinking, service learning, and 21st-century skills, those students are going to be more prepared for a future workforce” (Busch, 2017, para. 9). Makerspaces not only includes technology but makes the focus of the project about the technology, “the Maker Movement sees tools and technology as essential elements for solving unsolvable problems” (WeAreTeachers, 2013, para. 19).
The reduction in interest and retention in STEAM education is not only sad but scary for our country’s future job force. As the testing company ACT (2017) explained:
- FACT: Workers in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are in high demand.
- FACT: The number of STEM occupations in the U.S. will grow by 8.9 percent between 2014 and 2024.
- FACT: Policymakers at all levels of government are emphasizing the importance of educating students for STEM-related jobs, including federal Department of Education grant prioritization to STEM-related proposals. (p. 1)
However, the same report by ACT (2017) also found alarming results “FACT: According to ACT data, not enough U.S. students are equipped for STEM opportunities—now or in the future” (para. 1). The ACT is not the only research that supports this saddening data about the STEAM/STEM fields of education and jobs. “A total of 48 percent of bachelor’s degree students and 69 percent of associate’s degree students who entered STEM fields between 2003 and 2009 had left these fields by spring 2009” (Chen & Soldner, 2013, p. iv). The rate of loss of interest and retention amongst girls and minority groups is extremely alarming, “74% of middle school girls express an interest in engineering, science, and math… But only 0.3% chose computer science as a major when they get to college” (Barone, 2019, para. 11). However, makerspaces may be able to combat these statistics, “The breadth of options and the ‘can-do’ attitude espoused by the movement is exactly what students need, especially girls who tend to opt out of science and math in middle and high school” (WeAreTeachers, 2013, para. 7). U.S. News (as cited in Barone, 2019) describes the state of STEM amongst minority groups, “African-American and Latino workers also now represent 29 percent of the general workforce population… But just 16 percent of the advanced manufacturing workforce, 15 percent of the computing workforce, and 12 percent of the engineering workforce” (para. 14). Ramierz (2014) explains some ways to get more girls and minorities into the STEM/STEAM education areas:
One approach to address the leaks is more mentoring, and by tuning the culture so that students don't feel excluded, or feel like impostors, or have to find the relevance of hard topics on their own. We need to do a better job of selling STEM -- and then be brave enough to make STEM classes irresistible. (para. 8)
As a non-STEAM discipline, I can help in many different ways to incorporate the skills needed for STEAM fields in social studies content. These skills can be used in all non-STEAM disciplines, first taking a project-based learning approach can teach many skills necessary for STEAM jobs. In one study found that project-based learning not only found “growth in collaboration, communication, and critical thinking,” but also reported an “increase in student engagement and inquiry” and “creating products excitement in learning, fun, did not realize it was math or science” (Speziale, n.d., para. 7). Next, increasing the use of using statistics in social studies, throughout history, there are many statistics students can study. “If I were to choose one specific discipline for students to study, it would be statistics, a course that can be applied across all STEM fields” (Adams, 2017, para. 4). Non-STEAM disciplines can also use more problem-solving and creativity in their curriculum, “what binds together the STEM movement is the notion of modern skills. Employers talk about problem-solving… We don’t always teach to think outside of the box. You’ve got to look at a problem from a different perspective sometimes” (Adams, 2017, para. 5). Other ways to promote STEAM skills in Non-STEAM disciplines would include teaching argumentation, intellectual curiosity, data-driven decision-making, and flexibility (Adams, 2017).
As I work on becoming a professional development specialist for my district and instructional technology coach, my job is to help teachers increase project-based learning, makerspaces, and STEAM curriculum. Although the data shows project-based learning and makerspaces enhance student achievement, teachers still struggle to put these practices into place in the classroom. “Teachers need to participate in meaningful professional development to be able to migrate from traditional teaching techniques to those used (i.e., inquiry and self-directed research) in a project-based classroom” (Speziale, n.d., para. 9). My job is to provide these types of professional developments that will increase the use of PBL. “Science and engineering is done through tinkering. We owe it to our children to give them the tools and experiences that actual scientists and engineers use, and now is the time to bring these tools and learning opportunities into classrooms” (WeAreTeachers, 2013, para. 9). Providing teachers with training in different makerspace tools should be another focus of professional development. Teachers are often reluctant to put a new tool into practice in the classroom if they are unfamiliar with that tool and can’t find time to explore the device. As a professional development coordinator it is my job to provide the training teachers need so they are comfortable and willing to try new technology and tools in their classroom.
Adams, C. (2017). The 7 Most Important STEM Skills We Should Be Teaching Our Kids. Retrieved from
ACT. (2017). STEM education in the U.S.: Where we are and what we can do [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/STEM/2017/STEM-Education-in-the-US-2017.pdf
Barone, R. (2019). The state of STEM education told through 12 stats. Retrieved from https://www.idtech.com/blog/stem-education-statistics
Busch, L. (2017). How should we measure the impact of makerspaces? Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2017-01-09-how-should-we-measure-the-impact-of-makerspaces
Chen, X. & Soldner, M. (2013). STEM attrition: College students’ paths into and out of STEM fields [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2014/2014001rev.pdf
Duke, N. K. & Halvorsen, A. (2017). New study shows the Impact of PBL on student achievement. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/new-study-shows-impact-pbl-student-achievement-nell-duke-anne-lise-halvorsen
Ramirez, A. (2014, September 24). Why students leave STEM. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/why-students-leave-stem-ainissa-ramirez
Schuetz, R. (2018). Project-based learning: benefits, examples, and resources. Retrieved from https://www.schoology.com/blog/project-based-learning-pbl-benefits-examples-and-resources
Speziale, K. (n.d.). Study confirms project-based learning has a positive impact on how students learn science and math. Retrieved from https://www.definedstem.com/blog/project-based-learning-research/
WeAreTeachers. (2013, November 5). The ultimate guide to bringing the maker movement to your classroom. Retrieved from https://www.weareteachers.com/making-matters-how-the-maker-movement-is-transforming-education/
November 11, 2019
This month's post is brought to you courtesy of Nate Waite, @tristodrico, who is a K-12 Innovations and Professional Learning Facilitator for Northwest Regional Professional Development Program and Churchill County School District as well as a Google for Education Certified Trainer.
Often when thinking about educational technology the focus is mainly on student engagement. It is true, digital platforms offer many solutions that help motivate and teach kids in a language that they can easily relate to, but...What about the teachers? Here are some ways that becoming proficient with digital tools pays off for teachers.
I have always felt that technology is a magnifier of talents or traits that already exist in the skillset of an instructor. These benefits that shouldn’t be overlooked when considering investing your time in a new digital tool.
Time is Money
When I started teaching some of the ‘super techy teachers’ purchased a basic digital grade book. Looking back, it was really just a fancy spreadsheet that gave averages, printed basic reports, and had colored cells which seemed pretty cool. I worked near a ‘seasoned veteran’ French teacher. Every few months at the end of the quarter, she would spend an extra 5 or 6 hours doing her grades with a pencil and calculator. We tried to convince her, but with no success.
This might seem like a no brainer, but how often are the phrases “I don’t have time to learn that.” or “I like the way I am doing things.” heard when we mention a new tool or digital method of doing things? In a time when we have data crunching, self grading, templates, automated feedback options, and international collaboration available every day, teachers are crazy if they don’t find ways to save tons of time through efficient and practical uses of technology. Time is valuable. Take advantage of these tools and use your time for something else that is important to you.
There is a reason that coffee mugs made specifically as teachers’ gifts is a thing. It takes a lot of energy to get through the day as a teacher. Using digital tools to save running around like a maniac is another no brainer when it comes to paydays every teacher should take advantage of.
Nobody has to run back into school anymore to get a copy of a file to work on. It is not needed to run down the hall to make another copy. Sorting through the drawer after drawer of file cabinets for an old favorite is an obsolete task. Finally, (yes I saw you) complaining about your chapped hands after washing overhead projector sheets can be remedied without your special bottle of lotion.
Come on friends, there are a lot of things to do with your energy. Let’s use it for more fun things.
Although I love technology in the classroom just because it is fun and cool, that isn’t really the thing that makes it important. We have worked hard to become professionals, but that isn’t a one time thing. All professions require recertifications, staying up to date with the latest methods and tools, and improvement over time. Going to the doctor who hasn’t changed in 15 years would get a different result than one who is current in their practice. Teachers are the same.
As we move forward, we must realize that being efficient and effective in using digital platforms is not an option. The time has passed when this was a bonus trait or an extra talent that just some of the staff possessed. Teachers, administrators, and really everyone involved in helping kids learn, need to realize that using educational technology is a personal responsibility and a baseline ability that all much continue to develop.
The Big Payday
We have these tools, now our responsibility is to see how we can use them to construct personalized learning opportunities for all students. Innovations related to competency based education, blended learning, project and problem based learning, custom scheduling, and learning settings all offer great benefits that we are just beginning to develop here...but that is another set of paydays.
September 18, 2019
This month's post is brought to you courtesy of Sara Boucher, a K-5 technology teacher in Las Vegas. You can contact Sara through Twitter, twitter.com/MsGeekyTeach .
Building your PLN Offline
First time attending a big conference? An Edcamp? Perhaps a local CUE meet up?
All of these can be overwhelming to someone who is new to attending education events or even someone who has been to a ton of events like me! I used to always feel awkward and end up hanging out with the same people or sitting all alone if I didn’t know anyone. That makes conferences not so fun and will make it less likely that you will come back. Here are some simple tricks I have found:
Make Connections: I made one of my best friends with this one and now I get to work with her each day. I met Alyssa when I heard her talking about going to a teaching conference in Las Vegas. I went over and told her I live in Las Vegas and asked if she had ever been. After that, we were with one another the entire rest of the conference. She eventually came to Las Vegas, quit her job, moved in with me, and is one of my best friends. All I had to do was find a connection. Do they teach in the same area, grade level, or subject? Are they wearing a hat from your home state? Don’t be afraid to find that connection.
Make it About Them: The easiest way to get someone to talk is to make it about them. We all have stories we want to share and sometimes feel better when sharing it with someone we don’t really know. People are willing to open up if you ask a personal question. Some of my favorites to ask to include: Why did you decide to come to this conference/meetup/Edcamp? What has been the most exciting thing about being an educator? What was the last book that you read or listened to? These are not so personal questions that can lead to deeper conversations about work and life.
Give a Compliment: People like to get compliments and it is an easy way to spark a conversation with someone new. Did you enjoy the way the presenter interacted with the audience? Did you like the great idea the instructional coach had for reading? Is the backpack they are wearing the most interesting you have ever seen? Let them know and now you have opened up an easy way to talk with them and build your PLN.
Hopefully, these simple tips can help you step outside of your comfort zone and connect with someone else who will be part of your PLN for a long time.
August 11, 2019
This month's post is brought to you courtesy of Tika Epstein, a 4th/5th grade interventionist and teacher mentor in the Clark County School District. You can contact Tika through Twitter, twitter.com/tikaee or by email at email@example.com.
The days prior to the first day of school are filled with wonderment for students. Questions like, “Will I like my teacher? Who will be in my class? What will my classroom look like?” swirl around in their heads. Teachers spend hours organizing, planning, and decorating to make their learning space inviting for our new friends to grow academically and socially. Even though we rearrange desks and tables every which way for the perfect traffic flow and ponder over what fabric and boarder look best on our bulletin boards, the most important question lingering in our heads is, “How will I connect and build lasting relationships with my kids?”
There are literally dozens of educational books that focus on teachers building relationships with their students. Kids Deserve It, Be the One, Stories of EduInfluence, Wild Card, and Relentless are just a few of the best sellers that focus on the importance of getting to know your kids inside and out. The 2019 CUE-NV Silver State Technology Conference will have sessions focusing on how to continue to learn more about our students through @FlipGrid, #softstart, Podcasting, and a session called “The Power of Relationships.”
My life as a student in the 1980s was much like many of our students in 2019, transient. I attended eleven elementary schools (three in fourth grade), two middle schools, and one high school. Back then, time was not focused on learning about who I was deep down. Mrs. Shlekaway, was different, however. She had a way of making me feel like I mattered even though she had over a hundred students to teach throughout the day. Relationships...Mrs. Shlekaway spent time asking me questions about what made me happy and what I was worried about. She could have just sent me to the counselor, but she didn’t. This teacher changed the trajectory of my educational journey because of the time she spent building relationships.
Testing data is important. We cannot improve student achievement without data. However, we cannot improve student achievement without building relationships. If we spend the time learning about what our kids wonder about, worry about, and love, then we will reach them academically. #MaslowbeforeBloom is not just a hashtag, it is the way to make a difference in our students' lives for years to come.
On Monday, August 12th, I will begin my twenty-fifth school year greeting students with hugs, high fives, fist bumps, and/or handshakes. I look forward to learning about their inner souls, their wonderment of the here and now, and their dreams for the future. I look forward to building relationships that last a lifetime.
July 15, 2019
This month’s post is brought to you courtesy of Mark Kuniya (@mkuniya), a Professional Learning Specialist at Douglas County School District, Gardnerville-Minden, NV.
On the Road to Creative Confidence
This summer I’ve been inspired by author/visual artist Austin Kleon. His Steal Like an Artist is a must-read for educators as it provides concrete principles for unlocking creativity. (His other books and blog is worth checking out as well.) We are, after all, artists and makers of learning.
Since attending a CUE-NV sponsored Makey Makey Educators Workshop last fall, I’ve been on a pretty intense Maker journey. After the Makey Makey workshop I kicked off an Invention Literacy class in my district. In April I attended an Invent to Learn workshop with Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez and learned about the subtlety of prompt setting. More recently, I attended Piacademy, an intense two days of digital making and computing. The latter experiences were totally outside my comfort zone, but that’s what deep learning is all about. As I continue to develop creative confidence and learn more about the maker movement, I keep coming back to this quote from Steal Like an Artist:
“Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.” -Jim Jamusch
It’s the power of networks like CUE-NV that inspire us to learn and steal from each other. At Edcamp Carson City last April I had the pleasure of meeting Jackie Tan (@stmsmakerlab). A discussion about invention literacy at the Edcamp got the embers burning and eventually led to visiting her maker lab at South Lake Tahoe Middle School. This was incredibly eye opening experience, and it has inspired plans for a starting a maker lab at Douglas County School District. Jackie and I have met a couple times this summer to tinker with Micro:Bits and discuss the role of computational thinking in our schools. Thanks to CUE-NV, I’ve met some amazing educators to steal from.
In Lifelong Kindergarten, Mitchel Resnick reminds us that “the children who grow up making, creating, and inventing are the ones who will be better prepared for life in tomorrow’s society.” We have departed from the information age and have entered the conceptual age where creativity and problem-solving is king. Reports about the future of classrooms, like this one, confirm this.
Inventing and making is a mindset--the best way to cultivate this mindset is by observing kids tinker and learn with few constraints.
A couple of weeks ago, my family visited the Leonardo Museum in Salt Lake City. My kids and I were immediately drawn to the green screen. Making is an opportunity to navigate another world.
We spent most of our visit upstairs at Alive!, an exhibit about the human experience. I stole this idea for a future maker lesson or prompt.
I know I have much to learn from teachers and makers who have been leading and learning in this movement longer than I have. Since entering the world of maker education, I have a renewed sense of my why as an educator and instructional coach. I have learned that stealing from others and asking a lot of questions is essential to driving change and transforming our schools. I have learned that being curious is, perhaps, the most important skill for adapting in this fast-paced world. We have only one wild and precious life. And to make the most of our time, we must keep learning like kindergartners.
June 18, 2019
This month's post is brought to you courtesy of Snehal Bhakta who is a CTE Administrator for the Clark County School District. He has worked on projects related to increasing student and community participation with National Job Shadow Day, started an Annual Student Workforce & Innovation Summit, promotion and growth of Career & Technical Student Organizations, and leading CCSD’s #GirlsinSTEM and #GirlsinTECH Initiative as well as supporting STEM programs across 59 middle and 47 high schools for all students and especially those underserved and underrepresented students. In April of 2019, the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity awarded Snehal the 2019 Rising Star award at their National Summit for Educational Equity in Washington, D.C. You can find Snehal at @Snehalstocks.
We all have those rectangular devices we use on a regular basis called cellular phone or mobile phones. The other day I overheard a conversation of educators discussing whether to update to the latest software on the phones or wait a week or two.
One thing was clear...they were going to make the change-update their software. Whether they liked it or not, it was clear that eventually it would have to be done, and it would be for the better with regards to functionality and security. Something as simple as updating software on our devices has become accepted as an eventuality. It’s not something we really fight, write letters to higher ups, or even cause a huge “big deal” about...why?
I believe that we understand that it is for the “better” that software or specifically technology changes, moves forward, and hopefully gets “better”. I'm guessing most educators would agree that since moving from the chalkboard to digital, touch-screen devices has provided “education” or more specifically students and teachers a more engaging experience in learning.
So I ask you the question, if we have accepted this related to “technology”, then why in some cases, are educators unwilling to make the latest “software update” when it comes to how they teach students?
Last year, I walked into a teacher's classroom and noticed that the students were working on a worksheet while a classroom set of chromebooks were sitting in the corner charging. Quietly, I took a look at the worksheet, and it was a vocab sheet in a format that I remembered doing many, many moons ago. Then, I glanced at the bottom and saw the copyright date...©1999.
I could not believe that since 1999, there was not a better way to engage students in learning vocabulary??? Really? After speaking with the educator, it became clear...no “software update” had been done. I suggested some PD and attending various local conferences like Nevada CUE’s Silver State events offered.
One of the biggest reasons why I wanted this educator to make a “software update” is because the students have changed and been “updated”! If we as educators are unwilling to update ourselves, then just like some of our old devices, we will become not as valuable.
May 13, 2019
This month's post is brought to you courtesy of Ben Dickson, Assistant Principal in the Washoe County School District. You can contact Ben through Twitter, @BDicksonNV or @The BeerEDU Podcast, his blog, or you can listen to his podcast The BeerEDU Podcast with Kyle Anderson.
Thank You Students
This last week was teacher appreciation week. Social media was filled with images and hashtags celebrating the hard work that teachers do, not only during that week but throughout the year. I read somewhere that teaching can best be described as cramming 365 days of work into 180 days, and for that, we need to celebrate all teachers, not just for a week but for those 365 days. But I also think we have some other people to thank, students.
This time of year can be an emotional and physical drain. We have testing, end of year events, and just the general craziness of the end of the year. We are often on edge due to various forces pulling us in all directions and can lose sight of the reason we are here, students. I can only speak for myself, but I often find that his time of year I have a bit less patience and a bit more stress. But if it weren’t for the kids in my building I wouldn’t have a purpose, a calling, a reason to get up in the morning.
As adults, we sometimes forget what it’s like to be eight, twelve, or seventeen years old. We’ve blocked out those worries about a new school year and a new teacher. We laugh off those teenage heartbreaks that seem like the end of the world. We forget that school may be the only constant in a child’s chaotic world.
I know this is hard to do sometimes especially when it seems that one kid has figured out your kryptonite and just keeps pushing it in your face. But we have to remember that these are kids. Often their reactions are not out of spite or to punish us but out of fear and lack of skills. But in those times we need to remember that we’re here to teach them and not just academic content. Sometimes it’s about learning to deal with one another and with our own fears and insecurities.
So my challenge to myself and to all of you is to find time to thank those students, and I mean all those students who you see every day. Those kids who show up even when their home situations would overwhelm the most resilient adult. Those kids who fly under our radar, who just do their job every single day. Those kids who cause us to question our career choices one minute and then hug us the next. Those kids who bring their A game 180 days a year and those kids who we know have an A game and we’re going to get them there, no matter what it takes.
Thanks, students, if it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t be here!
Personalized PD is VERY Personalized. Beyond the buzzwords, Personalized PD is about providing educators with the autonomy to lead their growth. The world has changed and so should our approach to empowering teachers to lead their professional growth.
From the leadership perspective, the balance between PROCESS (compliance) and CHOICE (Innovation) is a very delicate line to walk. On one end, we want teachers to choose whatever they believe works best for their unique situations and be creative in the implementation process. On the other hand, school leaders have to remain accountable to the state and district compliance requirements. Most teachers are not aware, simply because administrators try to shield teachers from the heavy compliance protocols school leaders have to endure. The most successful school leaders often make the compliance issues very visible to their school community. The successful schools empower teachers to share their expertise regarding various school or district compliance processes. It is essential to get teachers in the game as active participants aka Chief-Problem-Solvers.
For instance, the master schedule is a compliance task that must be accomplished, in order for a school run smoothly. When we opened the master scheduling process to include ALL teachers in the process, many opted-out of participating and a few really liked the process. A teacher said “for whatever reason, I can visualize the entire flow of the schedule.” As a school administrator, this was a load off my shoulders because I was able to maximize the level of hidden talent. Most importantly, teachers felt valued and owned the daily flow of the school day; the experts truly became “The Experts!”
In our teacher professional development/growth initiatives, we have to gain the best from teachers. We are fooling ourselves, if we believe professional growth only occurs three-times per year during designated Professional Development (PD) workshops. We can unleash exponential professional growth through the application of on-demand social media tools such as Wakelet, Flipgrid, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and more. Social media tools can help teachers gain additional perspective and tools from colleagues near and far. Through the use of social media, teacher PD has transformed into a sharing culture, not a telling culture. At the local level, balancing Process and Choice PD serve as the critical building blocks of a future ready learning culture.
Schools are consistently seeking to strike the balance between Process and Choice. Personalized PD helps schools focus on the fundamental notion that “Process is tight and Choice is loose.” Below is an example of how a school can unpack the Process and Choice proposition.
Schools and districts have many mandated processes, which are designed to create tight structure for district policies. Tight process can be manifested in the components of Reflect-Align-Implement. A tight process helps schools create orderly systems and common expectations. Below is a list of common professional educator processes:
- Build comprehensive lesson or unit objective(s).
- Obtain teacher licensure renewal.
- Provide rigorous instruction and assessments.
- Build a continuous improvement plan.
- Engage families in student learning.
- Produce student learning activities and use of materials.
- Provide differentiation based on the needs of students.
- Collection of formative and summative assessment data to demonstrate student learning.
Loose choice is manifested in the Capture-Curate-Share component of professional growth. Teachers can use social media tools such as Wakelet, Flipgrid, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and more. Through the use of social media tools, teachers have more options in choosing how they want to engage in their professional growth.
With choice, teachers will be able to:
- Capture the vibrant student learning tasks.
- Streamline the application of learning.
- Improve instructional technology knowledge and skills.
- Curate (portfolio) the student learning process.
- Improve decision-making, productivity, engagement and efficiency in the classroom.
- Improve equitable access to appropriate learning among all stakeholders.
- Sharing the digital archive of learning with parents and all stakeholders.
- Capture the application of learners' research and evaluation of academic content.
As a recap, Process is the "compliant what" and Choice is the "creative how.” Through the use of Process and Choice, schools and teachers will experience exponential growth and development. Student learning outcomes increase tremendously when educators have the autonomy to engage in self-directed growth. Most importantly, ALL stakeholders have an opportunity to contribute their unique skills sets in the design of a vibrant learning environment.
March 11, 2019
This month's post is brought to you courtesy of CUE-NV member Sara Stewart-Lediard (@EdTechMuse) who is a National Board Certified Teacher librarian and the teacher librarian at Traner Middle School in Reno, NV.
Future Ready Librarians- It’s About Digital Equity!
School libraries have changed. They have evolved. It is time we put the misconception that libraries are quiet and subdued places to rest. The school libraries of the 21st Century are alive, loud, and teaming with learning. Yes, libraries support literacy- always have and always will… but they have evolved to meet the demands of the 21st Century learner. Today’s school libraries are so much more!
School libraries led by certified teacher librarians provide both informal and formal learning opportunities. As Susie Goodin notes in her article, Steps Towards Unifying LIteracy Theory and Librarianship, “The school library provides a wealth of curriculum-based resources as well as opportunities to learn at a personal level of inquiry, outside the assigned curriculum.” There is no other location in a school that supports students who desire to follow personal passions and lines of inquiry. School libraries make this possible because they support equitable access. Students have access to resources that are available to everyone in the school- not reserved for just “certain classes” or “certain groups of kids”. The school library supports all students, all staff, and the community.
At Traner Middle School, students have access to Rasbperry Pi computers, robots, microbits, maker supplies, and more. Having equitable access in the school library is critical. In the past, students wouldn’t have had access to these type of resources unless enrolled in a technology or STEM class- a small percentage of the total school population. Having access in the library opens up availability and allows any student in the school who is interested to tinker and learn through play. The librarian is available to support their learning- not take control over it. The librarian helps students learn how to research and find resources to facilitate their learning journey. Some recent projects Traner students have tackled include creating a giant Makey Makey controller, coding geometric shapes using Python, coding LED lights on the Raspberry Pi, and making messages on Microbits. These projects were chosen by students, researched by students, and created by students. With the support and open learning culture that a school library provides- they became reality.
Unfortunately, budget cuts over the past decade have crippled and devastated many school libraries. This again raises the issue of equity- why do some schools have access, while others have none? If this issue is important to you, reach out to your local school board and state legislators to share your opinions. Nevada legislators have introduced two bills in support of school libraries and they need to hear your voice. It matters and makes a difference.
December 19, 2018
This month's post is brought to you courtesy of CUE-NV member Mark Thomas, coding teacher at Lomie Heard Elementary School in Las Vegas.
Computer Science Education Week was held December 3-7 this year. It was started several years ago as a way to showcase the importance of learning computer science. It is held annually in December in honor of Admiral Grace Hopper, who was born on Dec. 9, 1906. Grace was a fantastic woman who accomplished much in the field of computing during her time with the Navy.
Code.org was asked to help out with CSEdWeek and introduced the concept of Hour of Code, relatively short coding activities anyone can do to learn code, even if they’ve never had any coding experience before.
At Lomie Heard Elementary School, A Marzano Academy, I teach coding to all students in all grade levels from 1st through 5th grade. Our school is a STEAM+Coding magnet school, so we embrace CS Ed Week and Hour of Code in a big way. Which is actually funny, because if I teach coding to all students every week anyway, why would we focus on Hour of Code?
To answer that question I met with @mstechie17 and @carr_8, two very supportive and creative facilitators at my school. We recognized that even at our school not all facilitators are comfortable with or even knowledgeable about coding. Not only that, but since I am the coding facilitator and already do coding with every single class, it’s easy for them to dismiss any coding activities as already covered by my classes. If all facilitators weren’t involved in some way, then coding would become a “side job” that learners continued to do in the silo of my class.
To achieve our first goal of getting everyone involved we decided to model our Hour of Code after a favorite National Reading Week activity called Drop Everything And Read, or DEAR. DEAR involves selecting a specific time each day of the week when everyone in the entire building stops anything they are doing and reads for a designated amount of time. Everyone is involved: administrators, office staff, facilitators, etc. This activity creates a sense of community because everyone knows everyone else is involved in the same activity. It also highlights the importance of reading and the fact that everyone can do it.
The acronym we came up with for our coding version of DEAR is SNAC, which stands for Stop Now And Code (and snacks are kind of like small bites, which is a homonym for byte, which is related to coding - get it?). After selecting the designated times each day we created a list of resources teachers could choose from for their SNAC activity.
Facilitators were provided 3 options: unplugged activities, online options such as those found on the Hour of Code website, or have a guest speaker, which I’ll talk about in the next section. We gave facilitators time to explore the resources and choose what they wanted to do each day. These were recorded in a shared document for accountability reasons and so they could see what other classes were doing.
At the designated time each day an announcement was given over the PA system and then the magic happened! As learners came to me throughout the week for their regular classes, they were eager to share what they did in class.
Our second goal was to inspire our learners and let them see what real jobs in coding look like. To accomplish that we needed programmers and game developers on campus. We reached out to a local developer Meetup group and asked any willing developers to sign up for a time to visit our classes. We provided a link to a Google Form to let us know when they were available, their area of focus, and to make sure we had any equipment ready for them.
As developers signed up we added their available days and times to another shared doc that facilitators used to sign up. In the end we had at least 6 different developers sign up to visit classrooms. Some developers spent several mornings visiting classes, others came only once or twice as their regular jobs allowed, and one even Skyped with a class instead of a physical visit.
All of our visitors were very excited to share their craft with our students and they were certainly received very well by our learners! I don’t know how much time was spent in preparation, but they all did a fabulous job with the classes. All of them have agreed to return again next year.
Family </Coding> Night
Our final goal was to involve our families. One evening during the week we organized a Family </Coding> Night where we invited the families to visit the school and experience the same coding activities their learners experience and try their hand at coding. The idea was to make it as hands on as possible so the families could understand what their learners do each week.
We started the evening hearing from four different developers, who had 5 minutes each to share their story about coding. These developers signed up to present at our Family </Coding> Night by using the same Google Form. Each developer represented a different field and really showed learners and their families how successful developers could be. They excited and inspired the crowd.
Our presenters included Duana Malone, a mobile app developer, Zecharia, a 13-year-old game developer, Damond Pleasant, a web developer for lv.net, and Scott Stevens, an interactive specialist for Victory Hill Expeditions.
Families were then able to visit 6 rooms with different activities. During their weekly rotation to my coding class each grade level experiences a different coding environment from block based coding with Scratch, to text-based coding in HTML, to game development with Unreal Engine. We set up each room with a different coding activity representing each of these coding environments.
A teacher at the high school our school feeds into sent 3 of his students to our school to show how to use Unreal Engine. This is a coding platform our 5th graders are becoming familiar with.
In another room families could try out our Oculus Go headsets. Our 3rd graders are learning how to create VR environments and this was the perfect opportunity for families to see what that was like.
The fourth activity gave families the chance to code using Scratch, a block based coding language our 2nd graders are learning. We had Chromebooks available along with task cards with simple coding activities anybody could follow along and try.
A teacher at another local high school, Equipo Academy, heard about our event through the developer’s Meetup and asked if her high school students could help out. Since they had experience with Code.og we set them up in a computer lab where they ran several activities for families to try out.
In our final room families were able to try their hand at HTML, which our 4th graders are learning. We had a simple web page pulled up on each of the Chromebooks and families could change some of the values to see how that changed the web page.
Each of our CSEdWeek activities brought our focus of coding to the forefront. There was lots of buzz and excitement around the school all week and it helped students experience coding in a variety of ways. The success of the whole week could be summed up by the thoughts of one parent at our Family </Coding> Night.
Towards the end of our Family </Coding> Night our principal was talking to one of the fathers and his learner about the presenters. She pointed out that the learner could one day grow up to be just like those presenters - successfully doing what they love. In reply the father said, “That’s why I drive 2 hours every day to bring my son to your school.”
November 11, 2018
In 2015, I was invited by a colleague to attend an event in Las Vegas called CUERockstar. This colleague was armed with a promo code that not only gave me free admission to the event, but granted me a one-year membership to CUE. Naturally, as an educator, I was excited by my favorite four letter F word: FREE! He had given me a promo code to a Google Summit a few months prior and that event certainly did not disappoint. However, the key difference was I had heard of the Google Summits put on by EdTech Team previously. This CUERockstar and membership to the organization? What was this?
It turns out I was missing something I really needed in my life. I had always been confined to my colleagues at my school when it came to sharing ideas, creating engaging lessons, and geeking out on innovative new tools and strategies. CUE opened up an entire new world of opportunity to learn, to create, and to network with like minded educators from not just Las Vegas, but throughout Nevada, California, and beyond. Because of CUE, I have become a better educator, a more connected educator, and can count on an enormous network of educators that I can interact with remotely via Twitter, video chats, blogs, websites, and many more that have become friends over the years from face to face interactions at a host of CUE sponsored events.
Fast forward to the present, and I have served as vice president of CUE-NV since June 2016. In the two and a half years that I have served as vice president, and the several months prior serving as a board member, I have had the privilege and pleasure of working with a team of people that are incredibly passionate about education and are working to improve education. I have seen hundreds of faces as they are experiencing the “mind blown” moment when they discover a new tool or strategy they can take to their classroom. I have seen CUE-NV grow beyond my wildest expectations, expanding our affiliate membership, and the reach of the goal of our organization: empowering teachers to be better together through educational technology.
The greatest reason why CUE and CUE-NV are so amazing? It’s because of you, the members! And that is why we want to feature YOU in the CUE-NV Blog, a new monthly feature of cue-nv.org. We want to hear about how CUE has impacted you as an educator, the great things you are doing in your classroom, school, and district, and how you are sharing your passion and expertise with your colleagues and the world.
Want to be a featured blog author on the CUE-NV website? Complete the blog submission form and you may be selected to share your thoughts and experiences with your fellow CUE-NV members and the rest of the world.
We cannot wait to hear from you! In the meantime, stay in touch with CUE-NV via Twitter (@CUE-NV), Facebook (CUENV), Instagram (CUE-NV), and SnapChat (CUE-NV), and come learn with us at our events, including the Spring CUE Conference in Palm Springs, CA, coming up March 14-16, 2019. If you are not a member, visit CUE to join and be sure to select CUE-NV as your affiliate so you can receive news and updates from us! And while you are joining, consider becoming a Premium Member which grants discounted events, books, and other items, early access to event registration, secret events and sales, and voting privileges for board elections.
Vice President, CUE-NV