Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Want More Technology? Do the math on paper.

We're got a problem in our district.  Thanks to voter approval of a 2012 bond, we've been able to get close to a 2:1 student to Chromebook ratio in our schools (technically, it will be a 2.1:1 ratio in grades 1-5 starting this month).

So what's the problem?  People now want more.  And they want to know what will happen when the bond expires.

On one level, this is a good problem to have.  We have technology that is being used, teachers see the value in what it provides, and they're frustrated that they don't have access for every student, every day.  When it comes to sustainability, though, it's a bad problem to have.  Bond money is not the ideal way to equitably fund and maintain technology in a district, and it certainly isn't possible to increase it when needs exceed the fixed budget given.

cc photo courtesy of Ray
What about grants, PTO funds, Donors Choose, and other ways to get more funding for classroom technology?  Those are all options, but they don't alleviate the issue with equity or sustainability.  If we want to provide more technology for all students and sustain that technology, we need to do the math.  Where do we spend money and where can we reallocate?  Let's start with paper.

If we could (as a district) cut our paper costs just in half, we'd be 1:1.  Right now.  Here are some ways to think about adjusting paper costs to fund more technology.
  1. Start posting "reference" items for students electronically instead of providing hard copies.   Do students need a hard copy of a syllabus or the rubric?  Do they need the printed list of vocabulary terms?  If you found an article online, could they access it electronically?  The pedagogy about worksheets is another conversation, but posting documents that students need for reference vs. interaction is a step to reducing paper in the classroom.
  2. Look for free online resources for learning vs. using hard copy resources or text books.  We'll be posting some suggestions for this in an upcoming post, but there is a ton of free stuff we can use digitally.  Primary documents, electronic databases provided by our school and/or local libraries, and free eBooks are all worth exploring before relying solely on hard copies.  
  3. When you need to print, use class sets that can be re-used or shared (across sections for even departments).  We're in the habit of printing in 1:1 ratios, but what if we made an effort to print in 2:1 ratios (1 copy for every two students)?   Often, we can have students working in groups or pairs, and we don't necessarily need 1 for every student.  Sometimes paper is the best option, but it doesn't always have to be for every single student.
  4. Let teachers know that they need to print their own copies (IF needed) prior to training/staff development workshops.  I think we sometimes assume that every teacher needs or wants hard copies when we do workshops -- and we see a lot of printed PowerPoints.  In our district, every teacher has a laptop, and most have mobile devices.  We are a 1:1 staff, so maybe we should shift our practice to providing electronic versions and setting the expectation that we don't print anymore.
  5. Provide parents with electronic options for newsletters or other posted information instead of sending it home by default.  We started doing electronic parent forms two years ago, which was a huge savings for our district.  However, we could be smarter about things like newsletters and schedules for Back to School nights and conference nights.  Parents can be emailed directly out of Schoology, our Learning Management System, or the PowerSchool gradebook.  For parents who don't have access, we could provide hard copies on request or have print stations at the schools for conference nights,  
Bottom line: purposeful paper isn't the problem -- pointless printing is the problem.  Thinking before we print will not only save natural resources and cut down on consumption, but it will open up budget dollars that can go to something else -- like technology for our kids.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Moving Forward with Schoology: Thinking About the Why

Last year, I posted about our district's Chromebook implementation, looking at the reasons why our district decided to put those devices into our schools & classrooms (CCSD's Chromebook Infusion: Thinking About the Why).  We were getting quite a few questions about why we made the choice we did, so I decided that a post about our rationale was in order.

This year, having had Schoology's Enterprise Learning Management System (LMS) in place for a little over a full school year, we're also getting many questions about why we made that choice over the other options out there (we looked at Edu2.0, Edmodo, Canvas, Haiku, and Moodle).  So, in the same spirit as the previous post, here are the 5 factors that pushed us to move forward with Schoology.  Bottom line: it was a really good choice for us in CCSD.

cc image from
1.  Online, Blended, Hybrid Learning Opportunities for All Learners (including K-5)
When we started exploring adoption and implementation of digital learning environments at the classroom level back in 2013, we had basically no adoption at the elementary levels and we had a very small percentage of teachers doing anything beyond basic file uploads.  With increased access becoming a reality for all schools with the Chromebook initiative and a district vision that included online learning as an expectation, we needed something that could be easily used by all grade levels and all levels of technology comfort.  We also needed something that would help our classroom teachers gather their own data to support learning, both for state standards and for personal learning outcomes.  Of the systems we explored, Schoology's interface was most intuitive and could help us measure what we value.

cc photo courtesy of NJLibraryEvents
2.  Parent Community Involvement in Online, Blended, Hybrid Learning Environments
As a district, we strongly value our parent community as partners in learning.  If our students are engaging in digital learning, we need to make sure that our parents feel included in that aspect as well.  If students submit digital work, parents can see what they've done, in addition to being part of the digital classroom.  In addition, we wanted the potential to have parent groups using our LMS for their own communication, collaboration, and learning.   Our previous LMS was not meeting our needs with our parents -- Schoology provided ways to include parents as learners and participants.

cc photo courtesy of Tyler89
3. Anytime, Anywhere, Any Device
We have a lot of Chromebooks now.  But we also have a ton of other devices not only in our schools but also in our community.  Our district vision of anytime, anywhere learning required us to take a look at our options and find something that was device agnostic. Schoology's web platform works on all devices, but even better for us, the iOS and the Android app meant that we could leverage mobile devices for students, teachers, and parents.  Schoology provided the best fit for our mixed device reality -- and it took the device out of the equation.

4.  Collaboration & Sharing Across the District (and More) 
One of our district goals was to provide online collaborative environments for working smarter. We needed the ability for grade level teams, PLCs, and/or departments to work and share work with each other across schools. That could involve creating common assessments, having online discussions, debriefing and sharing video content from classroom observations, creating curriculum units, etc. While we wanted flexibility for small groups or large district-level groups, we also wanted the option to share and collaborate with teachers outside of our district.  Schoology lets us work and learn together in a larger arena.

cc photo courtesy of Kim Cofino
5.  Professional Development and Support Structures
As with anything that impacts learning, PD and ongoing support are major considerations.   Providing a district-wide solution meant that we could use varied approaches for PD.  It also allowed us to streamline our PD with a train-the-trainer model, provide systemic support across the board, and host content that could be easily shared and aligned with professional learning standards.  Another consideration for us was the ability for "non-district" folks to take part in learning.  Because Schoology has a free version, we could include people like student teachers, community members, and other guests in our sessions, even though they didn't have district accounts.

I've heard leaders from other districts talk about not having a district-wide LMS and letting teachers make that choice.  That might be a great choice for them; however, in our situation, we needed to be sensitive to our goals surrounding equity, opportunity, and access.  Ultimately, Schoology has provided a way to meet those goals in our district.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Online Assessments: Embedding Google Presentations into Schoology

*This post originally appeared in the CCSD Tech Tips Blog and has been adapted for non-district readers.

Here in Colorado, April marked the beginning of online testing (our statewide tests were given electronically in science & social studies for grades 4, 5, 7, & 8). One question we got asked in the Office of Instructional Technology was how we could create assessments in Schoology that were not only engaging but that also reflected the kind of questions that students would see on our state tests & PARCC. For us, that meant embedding external content into a question to mimic the structure seen below.
example of a question on the Colorado Measure of Academic Success in Social Studies
Regardless of whether or not your students will be taking SBAC or PARCC assessments, this format provides the opportunity for students to analyze and connect multiple sources. Teachers can gather images, maps, primary sources, graphs, reading excerpts, Thinking Maps, tables, political cartoons, quotes, etc. and add them as separate sources connected to a common theme.  

Here is an example of a question with multiple sources (notice the embedded Google Presentation):

You and your friends are getting together to go to a Rockies game. Sadly, one of your friends has an injured leg. Using sources 1 and 4 determine where you would go for pregame activities that would minimize the walk to the stadium.

  (If you answered the Falling Rock Tap House would be the place to go, you are correct!)

Want to know how to create this type of question in Schoology? Here’s how it can be done in 7 steps.  Follow these steps to create the presentation, publish and grab the embed code and paste it into Schoology.

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  1. Teachers can ask several questions based on one Google Presentation with multiple sources.
  2. Teachers can create and embed their own Google presentation. It does not have to have sources on the top. However, we created templates for 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 sources.
  3. If you're using a Chromebook or a machine with a smaller screen, make sure you change the size of your presentation to so it fits. (We like 760 x 456.)
  4. You can embed YouTube videos and Google Maps into Google Presentations as well.

Happy embedding!