Friday, February 27, 2015

Blizzard Busting with Chromebooks

This week, we here in central North Carolina were told to brace for a blizzard.  The hot cocoa was simmering, the sleds pulled out, and the schools were closed as we got ready for the storm.

Since all our 6th-12th graders have Chromebooks that they take home with them, I thought it might be fun to put some optional, engaging activities together for our students while they were out of school (and make no mistake, when it snows in North Carolina we miss a LOT of school).  I reached out to our DIF team for help with ideas and got started.

Here is what I came up with:  MCS SNOWMAGEDDON 2015.  This site includes 3 fun, cross age-level ideas that I was ready to add to, depending on the number of missed school days.  I was nerdily excited to see all the fun stuff the kids would come up with and how far they would take it!

So......the plan was to push this site out to all student Chromebooks via the Google Admin Console, once the snow started falling.  But, alas, the snow did not fall!

See, those of us that have lived in central NC for any amount of time know we routinely fall on the "freezing line" during these storms- the line of 32 degrees, where just north of it gets hammered with snow/ice and just south gets nothing but a cold rain.  For this storm in particular our weather forecasters were confidently predicting anywhere between 0-12 inches of snow (this is how our winter weather forecast rolls in Moore County).  Well, I'm sure you can guess the rest of the story...

So, I was never able to push the site out.  But, on the bright side, we have it for next winter already in the chute, ready to go- oh, and we still get to have spring break!

Happy Chromeing, all- stay warm.  =)
-Steve J

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Tower Building Challenge with Mrs. Early

   At Westmoore Elementary, collaboration is encouraged with the integration of technology in the classroom. It was arduous to pick only one teacher at Westmoore Elementary to highlight for the blog this month, since so many enjoy using technology in the classroom. Mrs. Dawn Early is a fifth grade teacher at Westmoore, who teaches math and science. When asked if she wanted to participate in the Marshmallow Tower Building challenge, as a way to incorporate STEM, she immediately jumped on the opportunity. 
   Together we mapped out the initial lessons to the students on how to plan their tower design. Mrs. Early was wanting to have a large emphasis on the engineering design process and promoting the use of chromebooks to aid in this activity. Students were encouraged to use Educreations, 3DTin, and Google Drawing to assist with the design and planning of their tower. It was impressive to see the level of focus and dedication the students gave to this project. Some students even researched famous towers and looked at the digital blue prints of the structures to gain insight on how to build a strong frame.
Using Google Drawing to design the base of the tower structure.

   After two days of researching and planning their design, students were able to build their towers. Students worked in teams of three to four and were limited to the following materials: 1 box of spaghetti, 8 linguine noodles, 1 lasagna noodle, 8 regular marshmallows, and 100 mini marshmallows. Some teams struggled at first, but quickly remembered that redesigning is sometimes a critical component in the engineering design process. It was evident that Mrs. Early has spent significant time on teamwork skills, as most teams cooperatively worked together to build their tower. Also it was encouraging to see students using measurement to ensure precise length of their noodles. 

  This project was an excellent, fun, and unique learning experience for students. It allowed Mrs. Early's class to practically use information they had learned in science and math to complete a task. The response from students was overwhelmingly positive and most wanted to try this project again, using the information they gleaned from this first experience. Mrs. Early did a fantastic job in leading this activity and inspired other teachers to promote inquiry within their classrooms at Westmoore. 

~Deanna Boesch

Monday, February 9, 2015

Teacher Feature - Stacey Rillo

As you walk the halls of Highfalls Elementary, you will see a lot of big things happening in this small school.  I would like to highlight one teacher that is doing lots of big things with her fifth grade students. Stacey Rillo is a seasoned vet when it comes to using technology in her classroom.  Last year, her sixth graders were part of the Chromebook roll-out at Highfalls when the middle schoolers received their 1:1 devices. This year, she has moved to fifth grade and was chosen to take part in the elementary device pilot.  At the beginning of the year, Rillo said it was a big adjustment to going from having Chromebooks in the classroom to having only four desktop computers.  In one year she had grown accustomed to having them and had to re-think the way she was going to teach her students without them.  She likes having devices in her classroom because she feels she is able to eliminate a lot of her paper copies and is able to communicate with her students and parents more effectively than before. When you walk into her classroom, you can see that in the three months her students have been working with their ASUS Transformers, they have become a natural extension into their daily lessons.  

I had the pleasure of hanging out with Mrs. Rillo’s class last week during a Social Studies lesson.  As students began, they signed on to Google Classroom.  Mrs. Rillo uses this platform as the hub of her lessons.  Here, they immediately access an article and a Discovery Education video about inventors to kick off their project on modern inventions.   Mrs. Rillo uses project based learning to get deep into the content with her students.  She says that using devices in her classroom has highly motivated her students and allows her to create projects that are engaging and meaningful for her students.  She finds them to be more engaged and says that it is easier to ‘hook’ her students on to what she is doing because they are excited for the opportunity to use technology in the classroom.

Mrs. Rillo likes being part of the elementary device pilot because she feels she is able to have a voice in the decision making for students across Moore County.   Her advice for the elementary teacher that have not yet started using devices in their classrooms is: “‘Once you get your hands on it, play around with it or hook up with another teacher and have them give you lessons on using the device. Choose an app a week or month and gradually start using it in your classroom. Take baby steps to make sure you are comfortable and your students will run with it.  We need to embrace technology because it is here, and it is the world we live in and the only world our students have ever known.”

Monday, February 2, 2015

How can One-to-One Chromebooks Transform a Classroom?

I've been lucky to have had contact with some great educational technology thinkers over the last 6 years or so.  One of the leaders I have heard speak many times, to rooms large and small, is Chris Lehmann.  Chris is the practical, down-to-Earth principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia as well as the founder of Educon.

For Christmas, my good pal Amanda Bullard got me a book titled "What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media", which was edited by Mr. Lehmann and Scott McLeod (another leader I've been honored to meet and talk with in the past).  The chapter in the book that spoke deeply to me was Chapter 7, entitled "One-to-One Computing", co-written by Chris Lehmann and Pamela Livingston.

It spoke deeply to me because it rings loudly with what we are working so hard to accomplish in Moore County Schools, where I work.  A great synopsis of what One-to-One computing in schools is all about is found on page 77 (emphasis mine):

"One way to think about the pedagogical change is that a 1:1 program should allow schools to make technology ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible.  In a 1:1 environment, students have the technology with them at all times.  It does not require a special trip to a lab or signing out a cart.  This means that students can have constant access to the world around them.  Resources for creating, synthesizing, researching, writing, presenting, and publishing are solidly in the hands of the learner, not distributed by the teacher.  Teachers have to learn how to work this potential into their planning and classroom management.  Students have to learn how to manage the productivity potential of the device as well as the distractibility potential.  Used purposefully, 1:1 creates classrooms where teachers are facilitators and mentors, guiding students through learning and creation in powerful ways.  In this model, students can be empowered creators and synthesizers of learning artifacts...When all embrace their new roles, it stops being about the technology and becomes about the work.  When students and teachers stop talking about their laptops and instead use them in an authentic way toward common educational goals, a shared learning vision has been achieved."

This is the vision we have for our 1:1 Chromebook deployment and it has been from the very start.  We know the challenge is great and it feels great to be a part of a team that not only recognizes the challenges but works hard to overcome them for the benefit of students.

One-to-One Chromebooks can transform a classroom (and an entire district) by providing an equitable platform for ALL students to become expert collaborators, powerful creators, and empowered publishers.  Now that our students have Chromebooks at their fingertips both at school and at home, the world is open to them to chase down their passions and interests, grab them by the collar, and get to work fulfilling them.

The path to fulfilling our vision is long and filled with obstacles and challenges.  As a  member of an outstanding team, we can make this vision a reality together.  As a leader, the questions that drive me are:

  • What obstacles are in our way to fulfilling this vision for students?  What obstacles face our teachers?  Our students?  Our parents?  Our admin teams?  Our DIF team?  How can I purposefully identify and help eliminate them?  
  • In what ways can I continue to "say yes" when someone asks to try something new?  How can I focus on creating an environment where people are comfortable enough to share their innovative ideas?
  • How can we continue to make sure our efforts are focused squarely on student learning and opportunity?
  • In what ways can I continue to work directly with and gain valuable insight from students across grades K-12?  How can I help steer us toward an environment that truly values student choice and voice, instead of pay it lip service?
Together, with our heads and hearts in the right places, we can truly arrive at the transformative potential that One-to-One provides us.  Here's to the ongoing journey!