Friday, November 8, 2013

CCSD's Chromebook Infusion: Thinking About the Why

Photo Courtesy of +Jay Vean-CCSD's Google+ Post
This week marks the beginning of an exciting time in Cherry Creek Schools.  We began receiving our shipment of over 18,000 Samsung Series 3 Chromebooks on November 8th. Staggered over a 3 week time frame, our 60 schools are getting machines based on student enrollment (grades 2 - 5 will be 4:1 and 6 - 12 will be 2:1).

While we couldn't pull off a 1:1 initiative due to the budget, we are infusing our schools and classrooms with more technology than has ever been available for students on a district-wide scale.  Because these will not be going home (at least at this phase), Spectrum's Cloud 32 Chromebook carts have also been delivered, and our schools received those prior to the Chromebooks.

As we've started sharing images & posts on Twitter and Google+ (thanks mostly to +Jay Vean-CCSD and +Nanci Meza-CCSD), we've naturally been getting questions about what we're doing and why. Good opportunity for me to reflect, then . . .

State of Overall School Technology
Prior to this year, budget cuts and an expired bond (which had been the source of past technology dollars) put our schools in a serious bind as any student technology purchases had to come out of building budgets, PTO donations, or grant funding.  In addition, we lost staffing that supported technology (and librarians) at many of our buildings as priorities shifted.  This, of course, led to disparity and equity gaps on a large scale.  Student-based technology was outdated in the majority of our schools, and in some cases, non-existent; instructional technology support was present in some buildings but totally absent in others.  

Spending Plan for 2012 Bond Money
We were very fortunate to pass a bond in 2012, and part of that money was designated for classroom or student technology.  Our challenge was to find a solution that would not only dramatically increase access to much-needed technology in our schools but also support our larger vision for anytime, anywhere learning that was device agnostic.  Because the bond money didn't address our staffing issues, though, we also had to explore something that could be sustained without additional staffing and IT support.  <Side note: we also determined that if we could reduce our paper & textbooks by half annually, we could go 1:1; however, we had a chicken & egg situation as we couldn't reduce paper & book costs without increasing access but we couldn't increase access without reducing paper costs.>

Leveraging Web-based Learning
Enter the Chromebook.  A GoogleApps for Education district since 2008, we had been using GoogleApps
Photo Courtesy of  +Jay Vean-CCSD 
(minus GMail), and the lack of technology funding meant that many of our teachers and technology coordinators were already using free, web-based solutions rather than fee-based, installed software.  Online solutions like GoogleDocs removed platform and location from the learning equation, and the increase of viable web-based apps made some of our software obsolete.  And, in looking at what our students spent most of their time doing in a digital learning environment, we determined that about 90% of what students do on a daily basis could be accomplished on the Internet.  For free.

Support & Set-up
The ease of set-up, maintenance, and management was also a major plus for us.  We won't need to worry about software or major OS updates, and we won't need to tax our IT staff with viruses and other issues we see on other devices.  Being able to designate school-based admins for managing Chrome settings means that schools can customize the learning experience and change them on the fly without advanced training or a significant time investment.  The lack of software and imaging also means that we could get devices into the hands of students easily & quickly (minus the 10 minute OS update, we could take a Chromebook out of the box and have it ready for a student within minutes).  

Professional Development
Finally, having a device that runs on a browser (and one that is available on any platform) made planning for staff development a bit easier.  We were able to make sure that all new images for teacher and student computers included the Chrome browser, and we encouraged teachers to use Chrome and install the Chrome Web Launcher for Windows.  The browser world is a relatively comfortable one for most people, regardless of technology background or OS preference.  We'll still provide Tier 1 training, of course, but having existing skills that easily transfer should allow us to move into the most important aspect of professional development: impacting student learning.

By Umut159 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0
 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)],
via Wikimedia Commons
A Continued Mixed Environment
So what about the 10% of things that require more than a browser?  What about existing technology at the building level?  In addition to the Chromebook solution, we also built lab replacement into our spending plan.  Each elementary school got 30 Dell laptops for a lab, the middle schools received 2 Dell desktop labs, and high schools received 4 PC desktop labs, specifically for those classes or learning needs that went beyond the web.  Also, some schools already had iOS devices, some had Android devices, some had PCs, some had Macs, and most had a mixture of the above.  Regardless, all of them have the web, and all of them can use Chrome and GoogleApps.  That means that anything done on a Chromebook can be accessed elsewhere (even at home).  The low cost of the Chromebook also means that schools can purchase their own more easily with an existing budget, should they choose to do so.

As we continue with our deployment of Chromebooks in CCSD, we'll be sharing how it goes (the good, the bad, and the not-so-pretty), and we'll be relying heavily on the incredible community of people who have already put Chromebooks & GoogleApps into their students' & teachers' hands.  Mostly though, we will look forward to seeing and experiencing the amazing things kids can do when they have access to the tools they need to collaborate, create, and contribute.

Monday, April 29, 2013

PBL Idea: Using WeVideo in the Social Studies Classroom

As part of the Blended Schools Network MOOC coursework, one of our options was to share a lesson plan involving PBL and elements of blended learning.  As I thought about various projects I've helped with over the past couple of years, the one that came immediately to mind was using WeVideo as a culminating project for our 9th grade World Geography classes.

Typically, the students in the World Geography classes at our high school would complete some sort of culminating research paper -- the topic would need to include several elements of the topics covered throughout the year, and it would need to connect them in a meaningful way.  Last year, we decided to take a different approach and make it a multi-media project connected to conflict.

Product & Tool
After quite a bit of brainstorming, discussion, and collaborating, our group (which was comprised of the librarians, the World Geo teachers, and myself) landed on having the students create a short newscast using WeVideo about a real conflict (either current or historical).  In the spirit of the original research idea, the newscast would need to explain how different aspects of world geography studied throughout the year (place, population, resources, politics, religion, etc.) contributed or played a part in the conflict.  The World Geo teachers pulled the objectives and standards that they wanted to see addressed, and the librarians contributed information literacy standards that they wanted to include in the project.

Essential Questions
The World Geo teachers solidified the essential questions for the project:  given the various aspects or themes of world geography studied, in what ways do you think we could avoid conflict between groups or countries? What elements contribute to conflict between peoples, races, or countries?  After meeting with the librarians, they contributed their own essential questions, specific to the research part of the project:  which resources (online or print) provide the best information about the aspects chosen to explore and what is the best way in which to represent that information for your viewers?

Rubrics
After looking at different rubric options in the Intel Project Rubrics database as a group, we decided that we would divide the assessment:  librarians would help assess the portions related to the research process, and the teachers would assess the final projects with the portions related to content/product.  This helped divide up the workload -- the librarians could provide guidance based on the rubric during the research portion of the project while the World Geo teachers could assess the portions related to content, analysis, and presentation (100 points total, with different areas weighted more heavily, based on objective focus).

Media
14-15 pts 10-13 pts 5-9 pts 0-4 pts
I appropriately used other media, such as maps, images, and/or other effects, to enhance the content. Everything I included supported the tone or ideas in the video.
I included or used other media, such as maps, images, and/or other effects. They mostly supported the tone or ideas in the video.
I tried to use other media in my video, but I needed more images or maps or effects. Sometimes they didn't support the tone or the ideas in the video.
I did not use other media in my video, or the media didn't match the ideas in the video or the tone.
Sound
14-15 pts 10-13 pts 5-9 pts 0-4 pts
Every spoken word in my video can be clearly heard and understood. The music levels were appropriate and not louder than the voice.
All the important spoken words in my video can be clearly heard and understood. The music levels were mostly set correctly.
Several parts of my video are unclear or hard to hear, or one portion is unclear. The music interferes sometimes with the voice.
Many parts of my video are unclear or hard to hear. The music is too distracting or the levels are too loud.
Citations
9-10 pts 7-8 pts 5-6 pts. 0-4 pts
I carefully observed all copyright laws, cited text sources, and cited images appropriately. I carefully observed all copyright laws, but I made some minor errors when citing text sources or citing images. I sometimes violated copyright laws, or I made some errors when citing text sources or citing images. My video violated copyright laws, and/or I did not cite text or image sources.
Content
9-10 pts. 7-8 pts 5-6 pts 0-4 pts
My video’s information was thorough, well-researched, and accurate. I chose strong examples or details and they supported my ideas well. My video’s information was mostly well-researched and accurate. I included good examples or details that mostly supported my ideas. My video’s information was researched and generally accurate. I could have included more details or examples to support my ideas. My video’s information was inaccurate. I did not have enough examples or details.
Organization
9 -10 pts. 7-8 pts 5-6 pts 0-4 pts
My script was well-organized and I had smooth transitions between concepts or ideas. I had a strong beginning, middle, and end. My script was mostly well-organized. I had clear transitions between concepts or ideas, and a clear beginning, middle, and end. My script had a few problems with organization, and some transitions were missing. The beginning, middle and end were not always clear. My script wasn't organized or easy to follow, there were no transitions, and it was hard to tell where the beginning, middle, and end were.
Interconnectedness (Analysis) – 20 points
19-20 16-18 pts 14-15 pts 0-13 pts
My video’s information made insightful connections between different topics and clearly analyzed how the ideas connected. My video’s information mostly made clear connections between topics and analyzed how the ideas connected. My video’s information had different topics but they didn't always connect to each other, nor did it analyze how the ideas connected. My video’s information didn't include enough topics and/or there wasn't much of a connection between ideas.
Research Process
9-10 pts 7-8 pts 5-6 pts 0-4 pts
I used credible sources (databases) for my research. I extracted relevant information and correctly paraphrased the information on my EasyBib notecards. I have a suitable number of notecards. I used credible sources (databases) for my research. I extracted relevant information and most information is correclty paraphrased on my EasyBib notecards.  I have an adiquate number of notecards. I used credible sources (databases) for my research.Information on my EasyBib notecards is not paraphrased accurately.  I have some notecards. I did not use credible sources (databases) for my research. Information on my Easyib notecards is not paraphrased (missing). I have very few notecards.
Participation
9-10 pts 7-8 pts 5-6 pts 0-4 pts
I worked really hard and didn't get off task or off topic. I listened well, followed directions the first time, and helped those around me. I mostly stayed on topic and on task. I listened and followed directions and did not distract others. I got off topic or off task and sometimes had difficulty listening or following directions. I sometimes distracted others. I didn't stay on task and I didn't focus or listen when instructions were given. I distracted others around me.

Process
At that time, we were using Moodle as our LMS, so we decided to put all rubrics, checklists, directions, links, and self-assessments in our course shell for World Geo.  This was a really good way to organize the different aspects of the assignment -- not only did it cut down on the "what are we supposed to do again?" question, but it also helped provide a structure for feedback and assessment.  Student were given a schedule of expectations that either the librarians for the teachers would check off as the project progressed.

Online Tools
In addition to the databases that we subscribed to as a school, students relied upon GoogleDocs for their storyboarding, GoogleDocs for their script drafts, and WeVideo for the final project.  Each student was responsible for finding still images for their newscast (using a Creative Commons search, if no images were found in the databases), as well as doing a short intro video with built-in webcams.

WeVideo ended up being a great choice for this project.  Not only did it have the kinds of themes, background music, and transitions that enhanced the newscast, but because it is web-based, students could work on their projects from anywhere, collaborate with each other, and finally share their projects digitally with their teachers and the librarians.

Reflection
When the project concluded, we got together to reflect on how things went with the project.  Overall, it was a big success.  The teachers were very enthusiastic about the quality of the projects that the students submitted, and one of them even started a similar project with her other classes because she thought it went so well.  For next time, we discussed tightening up our daily expectations and restructuring the time (perhaps extending a day or two).  Also, we discussed using some of higher quality newscasts as exemplars for the next group.  And now that WeVideo is part of GoogleDrive, some of the logistics of the assignment will become a bit easier.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Blended Learning: School as a Learning Station

My goal this school year has been to dive more into the concept of blended learning.  I've been really fortunate with timing: I was able to attend a blended learning design workshop in Denver last month, eNet Colorado started offering Intel's Blended Learning course this month, and the Blended Schools Network offered a MOOC on blended learning as well (which started 2 weeks ago, as of this post).  Of course, I've been able to dig around on my own, but having some structured opportunities has also been helpful.

From the Innosight Institute
I've seen various definitions for blended learning, but I found the one from the Innosight Institute useful in talking with folks who are just starting to hear this term: a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online delivery of content and instruction with some element of student control {emphasis mine} over time, place, path, and/or pace and at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home {emphasis mine, again}. 

In our district-level discussions, we've tried to bring blended learning into the conversation whenever possible.  Our long-term goal is to have time, place, and age-agnostic learning for all students and teachers.  That can happen, if we start to look at the brick & mortal school as one part of an overall "learning station."

The school "learning station" idea plays into the student control aspect and is where we have to take a close look at our own practice.  We have had technology-rich environments for some time (with either labs, carts, or learning stations), but rarely have I seen situations where students control any of those elements (time, place, path, and/or pace).  This part of the definition could assist in explaining how to transform a technology-rich learning environment into an environment that is approaching or fully implementing a blending learning model.

Identifying levels of student control over those elements might also help us figure out some thoughtful ways to measure impact on their learning.  What happens when there is control solely over time? place? path? pace? Which of those are key for different learners? Which elements need to remain under teacher direction for specific learners?  Do students who need credit recovery benefit more than others with control over place or path?  Does path help us get away from putting students into certain classes based purely on age?  How do these help us get to time, place, and age-agnostic learning?  How can the school become 1 learning station in a much broader and varied learning process?

Because teachers may be familiar with the idea of learning stations, starting to ask how we can make the physical classroom or school only 1 part of a learning station might push the view of learning experiences and teacher/learner roles into a different light.  If we truly want time, place, and age-agnostic learning, we need to think about being a critical part of the learning process but certainly not the only part.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Rethinking the Technology "Special"

cc photo courtesy of Extra Ketchup
I attended a meeting yesterday with other district technology coordinators in our state (CO), and one of our neighboring metro area districts talked about their recent shift from having a librarian in their elementary schools to having a 21st century learning coach (some of whom are librarians).  I thought this was an intriguing idea because we've been wrestling with how to rethink staffing and technology, especially at the K-5 level.

We've been seeing librarian positions cut in our district at all levels, but we've also seen our elementary technology teachers cut, which has always struck me as backwards (only half of our K-5 schools currently have dedicated staffing for a librarian or a technology teacher).  Our need to help students gain critical information and technology literacy skills is more necessary than ever; yet, we're severing the positions for those folks who can be the greatest resources in this area.

But here's the thing.  I think part of our district's readiness to cut those positions at the K-5 level stems from the flawed perception that information literacy and "technology" is a "special."  It's in a rotation (if it exists at all), which means that it is often removed from the learning context.  But it also stems from lack of student access.  If you only have 25 computers or devices at a school, a rotation may be the only way to manage access.  That lack of student access goes back to district leadership: if it's seen as a special, its funding for both staffing and equipment is also "special," and special means vulnerable.

The other casualty in this "special" mindset is teacher competency in using technology tools effectively for learning.  If rotation time = planning time, the primary teacher often just drops the students off and is not part of whatever learning is happening during the special.  This means that collaboration and co-teaching isn't happening, and this is to the detriment of both students and teachers.

So how do we rethink this?  I have mixed feelings about the Common Core, but at least it's common.  Technology skills are now embedded into the standards - they aren't treated as special standards.   And in our state, part of our teacher evaluation is based on using technology effectively for learning.  Here are some things we could perhaps explore in our district:

  • re-allocate staffing for learning coaches that can provide job-embedded and peer-supported professional development for information literacy and technology skills
  • rethink the technology rotation: maybe the technology teacher can move away from basic skills that are now integrated into core curriculum and start exploring specialized learning opportunities (like programming or robotics or advanced digital media)
  • explore more mobile technology for classroom learning and dedicate "fixed" labs for specialized technologies
  • provide opportunities for librarians to co-teach in classrooms rather keeping information literacy instruction restricted to the library (maybe use para staffing for book check out and clerical duties)

Perhaps we're the only district struggling with this, and if so, I'd love to hear from those who have successfully shifted the thinking in the K-5 arena.  Having spent my career at the secondary level, I am out of my comfort zone here, but I feel pretty strongly that we must change our approach.  Our neighboring district shared that having a 21st century learning coach has had more impact on instruction and learning than anything else they've attempted.   Maybe getting ideas from others and hearing about their successes can help us rethink, re-imagine, and redesign.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Hooked on Hangouts: I heart Google+

Google+ was enabled for K-12 domains in the fall, and I am now thinking about how Google+ could fit into our district for both students and staff, especially in light of Skype's recent offer for group video chat for teachers.

There is something in me (maybe it's my English teacher background) that prefers the flexibility to share ideas in more than 140 characters. I've obviously gotten around it as a Twitter user, but I find myself frustrated by that limitation more often than I feel freed by it.  I wish I was better about blogging regularly, but it's challenging to carve out time.  Google+ seems to be a great middle ground for me.  I can share more than 140 characters, interact in threaded conversations, and only share with certain groups (which I really like).  And for whatever reason, I find Google+ streams more enjoyable to peruse than Twitter feeds.  But, beyond that, how can this be used in our K-12 environment?

Enter Hangouts.  I made it a personal goal to test out Hangouts during 2nd semester, and I managed to squeeze in 4 in the last two weeks, all with positive results.  If there's anything that will push me more into the Google+ arena, it's Google Hangouts.  So far, Hangouts could prove useful in the following situations:

  1. Online Collaborative Meetings:  I had a conversation with other colleagues about where we are headed with changing Learning Management Systems.  We talked for almost an hour, and normally, we would have met face to face. I can honestly say that meeting together online yielded a rich discussion and collaboration.  All of us felt like it was an effective way to work together, and I don't think that meeting face to face would have resulted in anything better.
  2. Make-up Sessions:  I held a "make-up" session for folks who missed a meeting.  This could have been accomplished using screencasting software, and I still might do that for meeting make-ups, but having the option for folks to ask questions (even via the chat window) and record to YouTube has potential. Timing is pretty key, so I think this could have been even better had I chosen a different time for the Hangout.  And, I need to work more with the YouTube process.
  3. Technology Troubleshooting:  I had a quick 1:1 Hangout with +Christine Archer-Davison to try to troubleshoot how to use our GoogleApps control panel for Chromebooks at a school level.  This is one situation where being able to screenshare was critical.  We happened to be online at the same time, and we started a Google Hangout in seconds and were able to work through the issue.
  4. Guest Speakers:  I had the opportunity to speak with a college class remotely using a Google Hangout.  The one snag I encountered was some audio feedback (likely due to the speakers in the classroom).  But, I was able to "co-speak" with a colleague, and it worked remarkably well.  We adjusted to the delays due to feedback, but being able to bring in other voices into a lesson has incredible potential.
  5. "Sub Days":  I have a colleague at one of our high schools who (unfortunately) had to take some leave time to take care of some family health issues.  Because the course she teaches is an AP course, being gone caused some stress at this point in the semester.  However, she was able to work with the school technology coordinator to teach the class remotely.  The tech coordinator set up a Google Hangout with her class, and she was able to teach the course despite being geographically away from the building.
  6. Interviews:  We have quite a few applicants who don't live in our state, and while we have used Skype in the past for people who needed to interview remotely, Google Hangouts would also help our interview committees.  We have folks who would like to be on a committee but can't be physically present during the interview.  Google Hangouts might become a great solution for connecting with applicants and hiring committees for a "face to face" feel with the flexibility of remote access.
  7. Remote Coaching:  One of our instructional coaches can't physically visit classrooms because of health issues, but she can now "hang out" with the teachers at her elementary school and still provide some of the coaching benefits without having to physically be in the room.  This usage (while a good idea) would definitely need some planning since a good classroom observation involves a picture of the whole classroom, not just the teacher. 
  8. Writing Conferences:  Admittedly, we haven't yet delved too deeply into Google+ with students because we had it turned off for kids until recently, but one of the challenges with doing writing conferences is finding time to meet with students.  At one of our high schools, one of the teachers has been using Hangouts to meet with students outside of the school day to have student conferences.  The ability to include a GoogleDoc as part of a Hangout makes this a really good solution for working with students.
  9. Back to School Nights:  We seem to be struggling more and more to see higher turn-outs at Back-to-School Nights in my district.  Granted, we offer them once a year, and if a parent has something else going on, they miss the opportunity to connect with teachers.  Hangouts could provide an interesting solution to that, in that a teacher could offer either a "make-up Hangout" for the Back to School night stuff, or even monthly Hangouts (even Hangouts on Air for asynchronous viewing) for more regular class updates.  For schools who have teams (like at our middle schools), the team could offer a Hangout so that all teachers can contribute to the conversation.
  10. Parent Conferences:  As an extension to the idea above, it might be more feasible to have a conference with a parent remotely, along with the other teachers who are working with a student.  Because you can have a hangout using a telephone number, the parent would not necessarily have to have a web cam or laptop to take part in the conference.  It might be a good way to have student-led conferences as well, since the student could be an active participant in the Hangout.
  11. Study Sessions:  This is obviously more germane to the high school level, but we have quite a few teachers who offer study sessions prior to exams, or we have students who decide to study together before exams or assessments.  Hangouts could meet this need, especially with the ability to screenshare or share GoogleDocs.  These could either be done with a teacher as the leader of the hangout (which would take some planning, depending upon numbers) or it could organically result from students who simply want to work together.   Rarely do we have student student groups who exceed 15, so this could be a good fit for those numbers.
All in all, I am really looking forward to seeing where Hangouts fit into our learning ecosystem.  I'm sure we'll have some things to iron out along the way, but this is one area where I feel like we could do some very cool things with other peers, our students, and our parent community.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Management: Chromebook Style

In our current Chromebook testing phase, we are also exploring what the management console offers.  I've had experience managing machines with both Open Directory & Active Directory, so I had questions about what we could manage, especially in regards to online testing. Here are our early impressions of the management console as it relates to Chromebooks.

As you probably know, Chromebooks are made to work in a GoogleApps environment, and we have been a GAFE district since 2007.  (We didn't have much of a learning curve since we are fairly used to working in the GAFE console.)  As soon as we purchased 2 licenses (we got ours through Promevo), a new choice appeared in our GoogleApps management console under Settings: Chrome OS.

Even though we had already logged into our Chromebooks, we did a factory reset and enrolled them into our domain using the directions we found online.  I did notice that it took a while for them to appear.  I kept thinking I was doing something wrong as I got an error message, but they just appeared after a few minutes.  One downside: there doesn't seem to be a way to remove a device from the control panel yet (but that is supposed to be added in the future).

Like other settings in the GoogleApps control panel, the Chrome OS settings can be adjusted based on OU or organizational unit but cannot be adjusted for individual users (unless I missed that somehow).  One thing that's nice is that you can set most of these to "allow user to configure," if you choose.

For me, most of the really useful management options can be found under the "User Settings" tab.  This is helpful since you could potentially install the Chrome OS on other machines (like Windows or Mac computers), and you could manage some user settings on those machines using this console, provided you purchased licenses for those computers (although some settings are hardware dependent).  I got verification from our Chromebook EDU rep at Google that this could be done, but we haven't attempted it yet.

User Settings:  Explanations of the different user settings can be found on the help page for Chrome OS management, but the ones I think we would use the most would be audio & video input, screenshots, homepage and "Pages to load on start-up."  If sending Chromebooks home, we would have to use the proxy settings as we have a state law that mandates internet filtering on district-owned devices from outside our network.

Device Settings:  There are fewer options under this tab (explanations can be found here), but we would probably use the login page settings the most (especially if we had a generic test user that we wanted to manage).  Elementary school folks might like the option to restrict logins so that it's easier for younger kids to log into the Chromebooks.  I liked only having to enter the password on the login screen -- our full email address is rather long (and often incorrectly typed by our students and staff).

Network Settings:  This tab (detailed here) allows you to configure WiFi settings, VPN, and upload certificates needed for configuration.  As I mentioned before, I had difficulty with our 802.1X network working consistently, but I didn't attempt to manage it via the console.  However, if we were deploying hundreds or even thousands of machines, network management would be a feature that we would definitely utilize.  This device is obviously heavily dependent upon a network connection, so anything we could do to minimize connection issues would be very helpful.

Application Settings:  This is the last tab available in the management console, and this area is one we would use frequently, particularly if we were setting up Chromebooks for different schools or grade levels that wanted tailored content.  (This is what I wish iOS management could do, especially tied to OU).  

Not only can you determine which apps are on devices "by default," but you can also suggest apps for your organization in the Chrome store.  You can also allow users to publish their own Chrome apps privately to the domain, but we haven't had a chance to really play with that yet.  We also haven't yet experimented with purchased apps (we have found plenty of good free ones to use on our CBs).

From a management perspective, the console is super easy to use (especially compared to Active Directory). I don't have a good grasp on how long it takes to actually propagate changes across a domain (it says that it might take up to 24 hours), but I've yet to clock it.

For those folks planning for or thinking about PARCC compliance (like us), the only things that I didn't see in the console (yet) are bluetooth management options and white list options.  You can blacklist sites, but I didn't see a way to restrict the web experience to a single site.  However, I imagine there's a workaround that I haven't yet discovered (or maybe someone out there has a good solution for this).  When I asked our Chromebook EDU rep at Google, he assured me that any and all security specifications would be in place for PARCC.  I also didn't see a setting for printer management, but I'd be okay if we stopped printing altogether. . .

As mentioned earlier, this is our (admittedly) early look at the console as we've only had it for a couple of weeks.  My initial impressions, though, are very positive.  I can't imagine an easier way to manage devices in a school or district setting.    I'm really looking forward to seeing what features get added as Chromebooks become more prevalent in classrooms.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Structuring PD Around Change: Frameworks for Making Change the Constant

I recently worked with a group of people who were moving to GoogleApps, and as we talked about how GoogleApps services work differently than MS Office applications, it struck me (yet again) that almost everything I do anymore revolves around change.  I work with technology, of course, but with the Common Core implementation, our new state assessments (PARCC and online tests for science & social studies), our work on equity and the achievement gap, and our new evaluation process by the CDE, almost every facet of our PD involves change.

I'm starting to wonder:  would we be better off using change as our structural constant in our approaches to PD, regardless of the topic?  Would being consistent and transparent about change not only help tie together our various initiatives but also help people adapt to change in a more effective way?  Here are a couple of frameworks about change that may be worth exploring as foundations for our PD efforts.

1.  Managing complex change.  I wish I could give proper credit to whomever created the graphic here (I originally found it on Educational Origami but can't find it now).  I like how this breaks down what happens when a key component of change isn't addressed.

I decided to try using this as a structural foundation last week, so I used this graphic and structured parts of PD session for each component: vision, skills, incentives, resources, and action plan.  After the session, I had people specifically mention how helpful using that approach was for them.  This could also be helpful for follow-up sessions or conversations.

From EdTechDebate.org
2.  CBAM.  Another change model that I've seen used well is CBAM or Concerns-based Adoption Model.   Edutechdebate.org has a great explanation of this, but the premise is that people typically experience three stages during the change process (0-2 is "me," 3-4 is "it," and 5-6 is "us").

The nice thing about using CBAM as a foundational structure is that we could be transparent about what different components of PD are designed to address.  This type of structure could also help people decide if a specific session is going to meet his/her needs.  One option would be to categorize sessions using this numbered scale to match content/topic to concern level.

3.  Adaptive Solution vs. Technical Solution (adapted from Ronald Heifetz).  I first came across this framework during our district's Beyond Diversity training, and I really liked the idea of differentiating between a technical solution (e.g. something that addresses items or process or procedures) and an adaptive solution (e.g. something that involves changing behavior, attitudes, and emotions).  This isn't as clean in its presentation as the aforementioned models, but change isn't clean, either.

This graphic does a good job identifying discomfort or disequilibrium over time.  A technical solution (e.g. providing time in a schedule for PLC work) is typically something that is not ongoing.  Once the solution is in place, that's it.  However, too many times we stop there.  The adaptive solution (e.g. using that time effectively for growth, reflection, and learning) is ongoing and will likely have highs and lows as people adapt to the change.  Finally, this graphic also addresses the "this too shall pass" mentality many of us experience in education (work avoidance).  As far as a PD structure, I could imagine using color coding to help people see which things are more closely aligned with a technical solution and which items are more targeted towards the adaptive solution.

All three of these have been useful for me to think about, and they all have their place in PD planning.  However, I think I want to experiment with approaching our different initiatives with a consistent or constant structure related to change.  It might be organizing PD topics around the idea of managing complex change, it might be categorizing PD topics based on CBAM, or it might be color-coding technical aspects and adaptive aspects.  Regardless, I think that if we can openly rely upon a repeatedly used framework as an underlying structure for PD, it might help people feel more comfortable with what we will inevitably continue to tackle: the constant of change.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Early Thoughts on the Chromebook

Like many other districts and schools across the nation, we live in a state (CO) that has chosen PARCC as an assessment tool for CCSS. As we've been exploring what kinds of hardware we need to have in place for PARCC, we decided to test drive a few Chromebooks to see if those would fit not only our assessment needs but our instructional needs as well.

Thanks to Promevo (they've been great to work with), we were able to get some loaner Samsung models for a couple of weeks, and we were able to purchase a couple of Acer models.  Here's some things we've found in the short time we've had them.  No surprise -- this one goes to 11.

  1. Great for web-based workflow.  It's amazing how much you can do on a Chromebook.  I've been using one exclusively since I got it, and I am impressed.  Disclosure:  I'm a heavy GoogleApps user, and I rely on web-based applications for almost everything (even movie editing with WeVideo). I was   emailed PowerPoints and Word documents from Office users, and the browser displayed them easily.  Obviously I couldn't edit them, but I could have converted them into GoogleApps versions, if needed.  I've been able use it for about 90% of my workload.
  2. Not great for Java-based or Shockwave content.  What about the other 10%?  Unfortunately for us, we still rely on Java for things like our gradebook and some of our educational content.  And, we use Everyday Math at our K-5 level, which relies upon Macromedia's Shockwave Player.  However, we use computer labs or laptop carts for students now, and there's no reason why we couldn't continue to use them for specialized things. Hopefully more and more vendors are looking at making the switch to HTML5, which would solve many problems for us.
  3. Display hinge seems a bit flimsy (Samsung).  I'm a little worried about how much wear and tear this part of the machine could take, especially when used by students.  I saw some blog posts from other schools using the Samsung, and they brought up the hinge as a problem they've experienced (even with careful students and cases).  However, the Acer seemed like it had a sturdier component for the hinge.
  4. It's easy to use.  The overall user experience is comfortable, very quick, and user-friendly.  It starts up and shuts down in seconds, which is pretty key if you're in a classroom with antsy students (or adults).  We constantly battle kids shutting lids before a machine completely shuts down, and the Chromebook would definitely cut down on that problem.
  5. Battery life is pretty decent.  Battery life on the Samsung was very good (on both models I tried).  The Acer rang in at about 4 hours for me, so the Samsung felt like it had more stamina (I got 6.25 hours out of the Samsung 330).  The power supply on the Acer is oddly shaped and is a problem when try to plug it into a power strip.  The Samsung didn't have that issue, though.
  6. Projector mirroring not available on Samsung 330 .  The Acer has a VGA port, and it worked as expected when connected to a projector.  The Samsung 330 has an HDMI port, but when I hooked it into our wall panel, it would not mirror.  Either the image was on the Chromebook display or it was on the projector -- not both.  I did some searching, and this seems to be a reported issue with the 330. Maybe not a deal killer for a kid machine, but it would be nice if mirroring was not dependent upon model.
  7. Wireless access isn't WPA2 Enterprise friendly.  We've had trouble with iOS devices on this front as well, but I had trouble with the Chromebook (at least the ones I've tried) with our WPA2 Enterprise wireless networks.  It connected very easily to our other networks and was a cinch to use in various locations.  
  8. Lightweight and easy to carry.  The Samsung in particular is a really nice looking machine and is surprisingly light.  It's easy to carry, but the Macbook Air-esque finish also makes it a bit slippery.  The Acer isn't that much heavier, but isn't as thin as the Samsung.  I haven't gotten to see the rugged Lenovo version, but that looks heavier (but tougher).  Either way, it was a nice change from the HP laptop I've been lugging around.
  9. Couldn't find a way to screencast.  This could be user error on my part, but I couldn't find an app for screencasting.  I had no problems taking stills or using the webcam for a Hangout, but I didn't see how to actually capture what I was doing on the device.  I suppose I could use Chrome's Remote Desktop from a machine with capturing capabilities, so there are workarounds; however, I hope that feature (or app) becomes available.
  10. USB devices seemed to work fine.  I didn't have a chance to do extensive testing here, but I tried thumb drives, mice, keyboards, and USB headsets.  Everything worked without a hitch.  I didn't have a USB document camera to test, but the usual USB suspects played nicely.
  11. Management through the GoogleApps control panel is great.  We got two licenses, just to test it out, and I was pretty impressed with what you can control, both at the user and at the device level.  They'll need to figure out a way to turn off the camera and Bluetooth for the Samsungs to be PARCC compliant, but it looked to me like you could set policy and have things running smoothly with little technical background (unlike AD, which does require a bit of expertise when it comes to policy).  The only snag I saw was that it could take 24 hours to propagate changes to managed devices.  You'd have to plan ahead. . . .
I think these have a lot of potential, especially at the price point.  I'm not sure we'll be able to adopt them widely at this point since our state's online tests for both science & social studies require Java, but if Java was removed from the equation, I'd have a hard time arguing against them.  They work well for the majority of things our students do on a daily basis for learning (web research, multimedia creation using web-based tools, GoogleApps for writing, web apps for math & science, etc.).  We won't be able to get away from computer labs for high end use (at least not in the near future), but Chromebooks would be a great way to increase access without seriously depleting a budget.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Text Complexity on the Web: 5+ Tools for Quantitative Evaluation of Online Text

3 Factors for measuring text
complextity
(taken from corestandards.org)
This is cross-posted on TeachThought.com, where I wrote guest blog post. 

I posted back in 2011 B.C.C. (Before Common Core) about finding accessible online text, but a recent blog post from Eye on Education (How to Select Complex Text to Increase Rigor) made me think about revisiting the topic.  My original post was more about finding reading passages for differentiation purposes, but the Common Core's approach to measuring text complexity has now elevated that need to a whole new level.  This post specifically addresses one aspect of text complexity -- what the Common Core terms "quantitative evaluation."  Before delving in, though, it's important to note from the onset that other measures must be in place to adequately explore complexity.

Currently, there are many web-based tools that help with the quantitative evaluation of books and even textbook content (for example, you can use Barnes and Noble to search by Lexile measure); however, as our students will likely be reading a combination of print and digital materials (especially in states giving the PARCC test), tools that help identify scales for online or digital text are also necessary. Here are five (mostly free) web-based tools that might be helpful as we curate reading content for students.


1.  Online Databases.  These should probably be at the top of your list when when looking for online text.  Many schools, districts, and public libraries across the country pay subscription fees for online database collections like EBSCO and GALE.  These are mostly free tools for students and teachers -- they are paid subscriptions, but the costs are typically covered elsewhere. Included databases in those services vary depending upon subscription, but check the search options for either Lexile number or Lexile range.  (The image on the right is from one of our high school's EBSCO database searches.)  You can check the Lexile website for a list of database providers that include Lexile information as part of their service.

Even if your school or district doesn't pay for these types of databases, chances are good that your public library does.  And if you are lucky enough to have a certified librarian in your school, be sure to befriend him/her.  They are incredible resources for finding grade-appropriate material and assisting with anything related to information literacy. 


Taken from Russel's SearchResearch Blog
2.  GoogleSearch by Reading Level.  This is a decent starting point if you're using Google's search engine.  In any GoogleSearch, you can go into the "Advanced" search options and choose to filter by basic, intermediate, and/or advanced reading level.  Daniel Russel's blog post about this feature explains how they designed this filter: "We paid teachers to classify pages for different reading levels, and then took their classifications to build a model of the intrinsic complexity of the text. . . We also used data from Google Scholar, since most of the articles in Scholar are considered advanced."  

In Google's classification, "basic" equates to an elementary level while "intermediate" would apply more to the secondary or 6-12 grade level range. Advanced would indicate scholarly or post-secondary text.  Because these ranges are so broad though, it might help to start by limiting a search to either "basic" or "intermediate" and then use a tool below to gather more detailed information.

3.  JuicyStudio. If you have a URL and you'd like to check its readability scale, you can paste the URL into this website's readability test.  It will run the page through its algorithm to figure out the reading level. This free service also tabulates how many words & sentences are in the page, as well as counting how many words have 1, 2, 3, or 4 syllables. There are explanations for what the different reading indexes reveal.  Lexile numbers aren't specifically identified, but
other indexes are used (including Gunning-Fogg and Flesch-Kincaid).



4.  EditCentral.  Like JuicyStudio, EditCentral is a free tool that runs text through an algorithm for various readability indexes.  Instead of pasting in a URL, though, this site allows you to paste in text (up to 50,000 characters).  This one also doesn't provide Lexile information, but it does color code the results of the different reading scales, and it also underlines words that might be considered complex or difficult.  That is usually determined by number of syllables, but it could serve as a good way to anticipate words that may increase the level of difficulty.


5.  StoryToolz.  I came across this free tool, thanks to a post on the ESL Trail Blog.  Akin to EditCentral, you can paste in text (up to 5K without a login, up to 50K with a login), and it will generate several reports.  It uses similar indexes (not Lexile) for determining readability scores, but this site generates additional reports that could aid in writing instruction.  The "Word Usage" report gives statistics on items like "to be" verbs and prepositions while the "Sentence Beginnings" report identifies how many times different parts of speech start a sentence.

In addition to the tools listed above, you can also access the Lexile Analyzer.  If you create an account, you can upload a .txt document of up to 1000 words for free analysis.  Educators can request access to the professional version for longer documents.  Certain formatting and steps are required prior to upload (details are on the website).

I'm sure more tools are out there, but these are the web-based tools I've found that may help with quantitative evaluation, and you can even use a non web-based program like Microsoft Word to give you a basic Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level.  As mentioned at the beginning of this post, it’s important to keep in mind that this is only one facet of a reading selection and should never be used as the sole basis for determining complexity. It is, however, a good place to start, especially as we try to discover diverse, timely, and relevant web content for our learners.