Category Archives: Education – general

COVID-19 and School Re-opening

What will “school” look like in the Fall?

This question has been in the minds of administrators, teachers, staff, and students. Will schools be able to go back to the way they were before (and should we?), will we still be operating under “remote learning”, or will we have some combination?

If the current (Ohio) Department of Health recommendations hold until school resumes for the 2020-2021 school year, here are my thoughts on how to best make use of available resources while taking steps to provide a safe environment for all.

— Some of your students will do just fine under “remote learning”. They have the skill, the means, and the support to achieve expected outcomes without setting foot in the building. Let those students stay home and learn with remote feedback and support.

— Take the rest of your students, and put them in 3 or 4 groups. No, don’t “ability group” or “level” them. Mix them up. Let’s say you have 3 groups, and we’ll call them “A”, “B”, and “C”. Bring Group A in for the first week of school. All day, all week. The “core” subject teachers should expose the students to new material, and preview what they will learn for the next two weeks. Arts and other specialized subjects should be a big part of students’ experience. Groups B and C will stay home this week and participate in online instruction. For Week 2, Group B comes to the building and Groups A and C participate in online instruction.

— For a small percentage of your students, uninterrupted daily presence in the building is essential. These students need the most support, and depend on many specialized services they receive at school. These students should be scheduled to be in school every day. Every. Day. Scheduling them for two days a week while scheduling the gifted honors dual-credit senior two days a week sounds “equal”, but it is by no means equitable or fair.

— Allow students to have more than whatever the minimum state requirement is for lunch.

— Forget the seven or eight equal-timed class periods. Divide the day into twenty-minute segments and have a different small group of students moving at those twenty-minute intervals. Some classes may only meet for 40 minutes (two twenty-minute segments). Some may meet for three or four. Just don’t put all of your students in the hallway at the same time. Teachers in “departmentalized” schedules shouldn’t have to be in class with students for more than half of the school day under this system. The rest of their day can be used to provide feedback and assistance to remote learners. Students in self-contained classrooms should still have about half of their day in specialized courses, recess, literacy/library support,

— Most of all, remember that the system is supposed to be there to support the students. The students aren’t there to support our system. We must not try to force our comfortable routines to fit an extraordinary situation, and then complain that the job can’t be done when we find that we can’t do things the way we’ve always done them.

We can do this. We can do things we’ve never been able to do before, if we are willing to make the best use possible of what we have available.

Active Learning

My role as a Technology Integration Specialist with Forward Edge has taken a twist this school year. I am supporting teachers in the Felicity-Franklin Local School District for the third year in a row. Two years ago, I was there two days a week. Last year, I was there three days a week. This year, I will be there every day they have school!

So, here’s the twist: I will still be supporting their implementation of educational technology, K-12. But this year, Felicity-Franklin is implementing a new makerspace, and I have been so fortunate to see it grow from an idea to a reality.

Our first two projects in the Active Learning Center are complete, and they were a great way to get started.

Student green screen video, standing at a crime scene.The Forensic Science high school class researched careers in the field, and created brief informational videos about them. They recorded their videos in front of a green screen, and used OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) to superimpose their videos on backgrounds that matched each topic.

Students build their prototype catapult.Several Agricultural Education classes participated in a Catapult Challenge. In this project, students had to design and build a device that would perform three different tasks.

Design Thinking and Learning-by-Making is built upon exploring questions that do not have a “one right answer”, and students get plenty of opportunity to brainstorm, build, test, refine, as many times as they need.

I heard students say, several times, “Let’s try both ways and see what works better.” “Can we try again?” “What if we…?” I never heard one student speculate about what their grade might be. They weren’t worried about a grade.

It was a little noisy. It looked a little chaotic at times. But, we had zero behavior problems.  Our makerspace is a little under 900 square feet, and our biggest class was 27 students.  It felt a little crowded at the “build space” when four or more teams wanted to use it, but we weren’t stepping all over each other.

Some students had the idea of using their school-issued Chromebooks (or their personal phones!) to research catapult designs to get ideas for where to start or where to improve their designs.  They were a little nervous to let the adults see them doing this.  They’ve grown up to believe that looking up an answer is against the rules.  But, when the question is constructed properly, looking things up is “research”, not “cheating.”

Perhaps my favorite observation came from the class using the green screen.  They were fairly hesitant to get in front of the camera to record their first video.  I had visions of the students “ooh-ing” and “aah-ing” over the technology and the opportunity to do something different!  In reality, everyone wanted to go last.  Eventually, the teacher imposed a list of who would go when, and the students complied. However, when they came back the second day, it was a completely different story.  I posted the videos from their first day in their online course management system, so they had a chance to see them before coming back.  When they returned to the makerspace, they were all ready to have a chance to do their video again.  They saw what they had done, and they saw that it could be watched by everyone else in their class.  Now, they wanted to do it better, and they knew where they needed to make improvements.

Try. Review and reflect. Refine. Try again. That type of approach to learning results in remarkable achievement.

Book Creator Ambassador

I am not one to pile up professional endorsements “just because”.  But when there is an ed tech tool that I have found exceptionally valuable, and that tool conducts a program to recognize people who want to help others get the most out of that tool in helping students, I like to dig into it to see what else I can learn about my favorites.

Book Creator Ambassador badge.

My newest credential comes from one of my longest-running favorites in ed tech: Book Creator.

What started as one of my all-time favorite iPad apps is now a first-ballot hall of fame cross-platform application.  You and your students can become published authors and create your own high-quality multimedia electronic books.  The old excuses and barriers of self-publishing being too hard, too expensive, and too time-consuming are gone.  The world is your audience.

The newest iteration of Book Creator goes beyond the idea of you becoming your own publishing house, to connecting your classroom, your building, and your district in such a way that you can collaborate in ways that were not possible before.  A classroom, building, or district can publish entire libraries of self-created multimedia eBooks!

Book Creator is a great way for students to produce their own content-rich textbooks, create memento/souvenir eBooks of special events, get creative with project portfolios, and capture volumes of evidence of their learning with ease!

I have to thank Jon Smith and Mike Marotta for introducing me to the incredible power of Book Creator back in its early days, and for creating challenging ways to use it to help all (yes, ALL) students.  One of my professional goals this year is to help a group of students publish a book of their own original work, and Book Creator is going to be an important tool in making this happen.  As Rushton Hurley says, “When students know that others will see their work, they want it to be good. When it’s just for the teacher, they want it to be good enough.”  Book Creator helps students produce good work.

Check out bookcreator.com for the free version for Chrome, iPad, or Android – great for an individual teacher wanting to help their whole class become published authors.  Full versions can be a very affordable part of any building or district’s curriculum plan.

The Most Significant Barrier

The most significant barrier that many students with disabilities face in school is not their disability.

In actuality, the most significant barrier that many students with disabilities face in school is a lack of support from the system toward accomplishing greater things than they ever thought possible.

Sometimes, the system (that includes the teachers, the administration, and the family) just doesn’t have a basic belief that the student has a path to accomplish great things.  Sometimes, the belief is there that the student could achieve great things, but there is not adequate support (either in type or quantity) for the student to make it a reality.  Both of these situations perpetuate a longstanding myth that students with disabilities are unable to achieve the same curriculum goals that typical students are expected to reach.

This perspective becomes magnified when students are expected to “qualify” somehow, behaviorally or academically, before being given access to the very technology that could unlock a world of learning for them.

If you have a 1:1 program, but you don’t include the kids in a resource room or other placement besides the typical classroom, I’m sorry, but you don’t really have a 1:1 program.

Chrome logo with accessibility symbolIn my work as an instructional technology coach this school year, I have been supporting Felicity-Franklin Local Schools with rolling out Chromebooks to all students, grades 5-12.  Some of the students have difficulty (for various reasons) using the Chromebook in its typical setup.  Through a variety of accessibility features, students are using their Chromebooks in a variety of ways to accomplish tasks.  Here are some of the most useful for us:

  • Zoom – Native to Chrome OS (and the Chrome browser) is the Zoom feature.  Press [Ctrl] + [=] to zoom in (make things bigger).  Press [Ctrl] + [-] to zoom out (make things smaller).  And when you get lost playing with that, press [Ctrl] + [0] to return the browser to the default zoom. [Pro tip: Use [Cmd] instead of [Ctrl] for Chrome on a Mac.]
  • Speech-to-text in Google Docs – Google Docs has a built-in speech-to-text tool called “Voice Typing” that lets you talk to your word processor instead of typing!  This is a great help for students who struggle with keyboarding speed, and students who struggle with spelling.    In a Google Doc, click “Tools” → “Voice Typing” (or use the keyboard shortcut [Ctrl] + [Shift] + [s]).  A guide to input by dictation and voice commands is available at https://support.google.com/docs/answer/4492226.
  • Text-to-speech with texthelp’s Read&Write – Some students greatly benefit from having on-screen text read aloud as they follow along visually.  Far from being a “crutch” that permits students to consume content without developing decoding skill, text-to-speech supports developing readers by highlighting individual words as it “reads”, giving students a multi-modal experience. Get the Read&Write Chrome extension.
  • Closed Captions in YouTube – Many typical students prefer video to reading, especially for longer passages of material.  For students with hearing loss, video can be a huge barrier.  Make sure the videos you provide for your class have accurate captions, or at least an accurate transcript, available.  YouTube will try to auto-generate captions for a video that does not have them provided, but these can be woefully inaccurate. [Pro tip: In YouTube, click the “More” (three dots) button below the right edge of the video, then click on “Open transcript”.  Click on any line in the transcript, and the video will jump to that timestamp! Great for searching for a particular word or phrase in the video!] 

All of these tools, and many more that are used for more specific circumstances, have one great thing in common: they address learner variability by “adding to” rather than “taking away”.  Strategies like removing access to technology and reducing academic expectations do more harm than good for students who struggle with typical curriculum (even in electronic formats!).

When a student struggles with the technology we are making available to every student, we must remember that the barrier is not in the student, but in the technology.  The first best question we can ask is, “What can we add to this situation to reduce or eliminate the negative effects of this barrier for this student?”

STREAM? Why not STREAMMSSFLPE?

The following article was originally published by Daniel Mares at https://www.mrmares.com/stream-why-not-streammssflpe/.  It is re-published here with his permission.


Full disclosure. I am a former social studies teacher. I have also taught math and engineering. I dabble in computer science with my students as well.

Textbook with highlighter and glassesI recently was invited to a webinar that was focused on STREAM education. Many are familiar with STEM and STEAM. But STREAM was new to me. The second part of the title of the webinar was “R for reading.” Reading. We have to add reading to acronyms for education. When did reading leave the classroom? Did we start to focus so much on science, technology, engineering, and math that reading was left out of our schools!

I understand the initiative to bring more focus to the science, technology, engineering, and math curriculum. Especially when we are forecasting jobs of the future to be reliant on those skills, along with problem-solving, creativity, collaboration, and communication. Reading should be baked into everything that we are doing in our classroom and our schools. It is fundamental to achieving everything else in our classrooms.

Math Equations on Chalk BoardIf we are going to add reading to our STEM or STEAM initiatives, then why not add music, social studies, foreign language, physical education, and everything else that we teach in our schools? STEAMMSSFLPE. Even with a focus on stem education, reading should not have gone away from our classrooms.

I understand with the A in STEAM, but if we continue to add letters to STEM it will lose its purpose. If we are to really begin to focus on bringing awareness to our STEM skills, we need to ensure that we keep it simple with acronyms. STEM is fine the way it is. STEM does not say, “do away with all other subjects.” STEM is just a focus. We can’t lose sight of the other subjects as we want to have well-rounded students that really can read, write, communicate, create, think critically, and collaborate to be successful in the economy we believe is coming.


Daniel Mares is an Instructional Technology Coach in Coloma, Michigan.   He blogs at http://www.mrmares.com He is on the short list of “people I have never met face to face but would love to sometime.”

“The Chickens**t Club”

The July 11, 2017, morning Marketplace radio program featured an interview with journalist Jesse Eisinger, promoting his new book “The Chickens**t Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives.” [Amazon link: No affiliation]

I listen to the Marketplace Morning Report because, well, because it happens during NPR’s Morning Edition during my drive to work.  I don’t typically find myself enthralled by the Morning Report content.

This one caught my attention – not because of the content, but because of the story that Mr. Eisinger told about where the NSFW title came from.

Go listen to the Marketplace interview.  (Mr. Eisinger was also the featured guest on the July 11, 2017, episode of NPR’s “Fresh Air”.)

Back in 2002, when former FBI Director James Comey was named US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, he gathered his corps of bright, talented, young attorneys.  He asked them to raise their hand if they had never lost a trial.  Numerous confident hands went up.

“My friends and I have a name for you,” Mr. Comey informed them, “you’re the ‘Chickens**t Club.'”  In blistering fashion, Mr. Comey pointed out that the best measure of their job was not about whether they were always winning, but about whether they were standing up for the right causes.

As educators, we have a parallel experience.

I have never met a good teacher who never had a lesson fall flat on its face.  I have never met a good teacher whose students didn’t misbehave sometimes.  I have never met a good teacher who didn’t have a student who failed an assignment, a quiz, a test.

Why?  Because they were willing to try something beyond what they were already comfortable with, something afield of what they had done every year before, something they didn’t already know would succeed.

Those are the best teachers I ever met.  Those are the best teachers I’ve ever had.  Those are the teachers who are willing to try whatever it takes to help all of their students learn to define and achieve what the highest level of success means for them – not just to pass a test or earn a credit.

Teachers: if everything you do in class works just the way you expect it to, it’s time to resign from The Chickens**t Club.

 

Product vs. Process

Do you know who these two guys are?Norm Abram and Roy Underhill

 

The man on the left is Norm Abram, host of PBS’ “The New Yankee Workshop” and “This Old House“.  Norm is a master carpenter.  Norm also has a penchant for using a wide range of common and exotic power tools to create masterpieces.  It is not unusual to see him use a variety of tools, bits, and jigs in his projects.

The man on the right is Roy Underhill, host of PBS’ “The Woodwright’s Shop“.   Roy is a master housewright.  Roy focuses his efforts on time-tested, traditional woodworking methods.  Roy uses no power tools at all, sticking to hand tools and human-powered machines.

If I offered you a piece of furniture that had been made by one of these two master craftsmen, would you care which one made it before accepting it?

No?

Neither would I.  And that’s the beauty of how technology should work in education.  When “use of technology” is seen as the product of our educational efforts, we get unnecessarily distracted from what the real goal should be.  When “use of technology” is part of the learning process, then we are better able to decide when and where it makes the most sense, to support what we are truly trying to accomplish.

For example, “creating a Google Slides presentation” shouldn’t be the goal.  “Deliver a presentation to convince an audience to fund your project” is a much better goal – and if the student can use Google Slides to support that work, so much the better.

Technology can help us do some things faster.  Technology can help us do some things easier.  Technology can help us do some things better.  But, technology should not be the “end game”.

When you consider infusing technology into your instruction, do it for one of the following reasons: 1) technology makes a task possible that wasn’t possible otherwise, or  2) technology makes the task more engaging and results in a better product.   Anything else is just a distraction from the real end product.

It’s an old axiom in marketing: “When you buy a drill, you don’t really want a drill.  You want a hole.”  A great drill can help you make an exceptional hole, much faster and more accurately than a hand-drill would.  But, a great drill is not the goal.

When you start with a great real-world authentic learning goal, infusing technology to support that goal stands far less chance of being a roadblock to real learning!

 

The Opposite of Tech Integration

“Technology Integration Specialist” is the title on my business card.  I like it.  It speaks directly to what the primary focus of my job is – how to use technology to intentionally increase achievement for all learners and close gaps for historically underserved subgroups.

Explaining what that looks like can be difficult.  It’s as difficult as explaining what “good teaching” really looks like, especially once you get beyond definitions that are all about compliance (“students are quiet”, “desks are in neat rows”, “assigned work is turned in on time”) and get to definitions that actually reflect learning (intellectual, emotional, and behavioral advances made by the students).

Sometimes, we can get a clearer picture of what something is by defining what it isn’t.  So, what would be the opposite of Tech Integration?

How about “Tech Segregation”?

“Tech Segregation” separates the technology from the learning process, or relegates it to its own learning path.  Learning to use technology becomes a separate subject, like English, math, social studies, or science.  Or maybe even more like a foreign language.  And anytime learning in one field helps a student make advances in another field, the effect is a happy accident instead of an intentional outcome.  We are misusing students’ time when students in a Technology class learn to create PowerPoint presentations about topics with no explicit connection to the curriculum, and then type or hand-write a book report for Language Arts.

“Tech Segregation” relegates technology to extension activities, only for students who have already achieved the day’s academic goal.  Or, the technology becomes a reward for compliance – something students get to do after they finish the stuff they don’t want to do.  In that system, students have to find a way to perform without the technology before they can use it.  It’s as senseless as making kids prove they can walk all the way to school before they’re allowed to get on a bus.

“Tech Segregation” makes kids achieve a standard or pre-qualify before they can have access.  Access to technology is seen as inherently motivational for students, but that attribute is used as the carrot on a stick to get kids to do things the old way, instead of transforming the way we teach to take fuller advantage of the way we learn.

“Tech Segregation” preserves the rank-and-sort, label-and-identify system that has resulted in significant gaps for students who don’t fit typical socio-economic and cultural norms.  Kids who are “good at school” get the bells and whistles.  Kids who don’t are told to try harder, while we turn away and suck our teeth at the sad state of their homes and families.

Conversely, Tech Integration acknowledges that quality tools in the hands of practiced learners makes amazing things possible.  When that position is paired with the belief that every student can learn, then it becomes unconscionable to keep those tools out of the hands of the very students who need the most support when it comes to accessing the general curriculum.

End Tech Segregation.

 

Supreme Court Renders Decision in Special Education Case

The current eight-member Supreme Court has handed down a unanimous decision in the case of Endrew F. v Douglas County (Colorado) School District.  The decision vacated the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling.  The Tenth Circuit had decided in favor of the school district,  ruling that “the child received some educational benefit while in the District’s care and that is enough to satisfy the District’s obligation to provide a free appropriate public education.”

As the case was argued before the Supreme Court, that standard of “some educational benefit” was a central issue.  Had the district in fact done enough to provide Endrew the legally-mandated free and appropriate public education (FAPE)?  If not, the parents would be able to recoup the cost of tuition for the private school Endrew began attending.

The Supreme Court’s opinion establishes that merely providing “some educational benefit” for a student does not meet the district’s obligation under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

My thoughts…

  • How on earth did every lower court rule in favor of the school district?  This fact shows me that we still face a great number of people, in and out of the education world, who believe “every kid deserves a good education… well, but not THOSE kids.  They can’t handle it.”
  • Even in ruling for the student in this case, the Court left plenty of indication that it’s perfectly acceptable to settle for a lesser level of achievement for students who have a disability solely on that basis.  This is flat wrong.  If the student’s label were one of race, religion, or socio-economic status, there would be outrage about low expectations for the student.  Presence of a disability should be no different.
  • In its opinion, the Court holds that “[t]o meet its substantive obligation under the IDEA, a school must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”  That last phrase will be taken as permission to greatly reduce expectations for students with disabilities, but doing so violates the first part of the statement.  Defining “appropriate” progress is the core of any IEP meeting for any student with a disability.  But, wholly discarding the state’s regular academic standards is not required for developing an IEP.  In fact, the IEP should outline the steps that will be taken to permit the student to reach those standards, not what the student will do instead of them.
  • Even the NEA filed an amicus brief in support of the student, against the district.  Bravo, NEA.  In a case where many typically-vocal proponents of high-quality public education have remained strangely silent, the NEA stood for the student over the system.  I appreciate the political volatility of speaking up in this case (either speaking against a public school district, or speaking in favor of low academic expectations), but silence cannot improve this struggle.
  • The Supreme Court’s opinion in Rowley was that students with disabilities must be offered educational opportunities that are “substantially equal to the opportunities afforded children without disabilities,” and that standard has not been changed.

The conclusion of the opinion of the Court states, “At that point, a reviewing court may fairly expect those authorities to be able to offer a cogent and responsive explanation for their decisions that shows the IEP is reasonably calculated to enable the child to make progress appropriate in light of his circumstances.”  And because the Court didn’t (and shouldn’t) define appropriate progress, it is imperative that every parent and every educator strongly advocate for appropriate progress towards the same standard every student is expected to achieve, and not a barely-more-than-minimum substitute.

Ten Best Math Instruction Tools

In his excellent TEDx talk, “Math Class Needs a Makeover”, Dan Meyer affirms some basic truths about math class: 1) anyone can learn to be successful in math, 2) traditional approaches to math instruction have poorly served a large number of our students, and 3) making math instruction practical is the key to making it “stick”.  He never uses the term “UDL” in his talk, but the changes he proposes are all about changing how we represent material, how we express our conclusions, and how we engage with the curriculum – the three principles of Universal Design for Learning.

Here are my ten eleven twelve favorite sites to use to support math instruction.  None of them are procedural guides or electronic worksheets.  They all involve building an environment that the student can manipulate and get immediate feedback on their efforts.  Some of them can be done quickly.  Some take longer.  But, they all make effective use of the “problem-based learning” model.

  1. NLVMhttp://nlvm.usu.edu
    A vast array of math manipulatives, indexed by grade band and by sub-topic (Number & Operations, Algebra, Geometry, Measurement, and Data Analysis & Probability). This is a long-time favorite of mine.  Most of the applications are built on the Java platform, which unfortunately means they will not work on a Chromebook.  If you have a teacher station with a browser that still runs Java, some of the manipulatives work extremely well with an interactive whiteboard.
  2. iSolveIthttp://isolveit.cast.org/home
    CAST provides two iOS apps that keep the goal of developing logic and reasoning skill at the focus, beyond simply providing a right answer.
  3. Interactivatehttp://www.shodor.org/interactivate/
    Interactivate includes the standard fare of manipulative activities and stock lessons, but goes the extra step of providing ideas and material for Class Discussions.  Also has an associated iOS app.
  4. Illuminationshttps://illuminations.nctm.org/
    The National Council on Teaching Mathematics provides this set of manipulatives, titled “Illuminations”.  Searchable by grade band and sub-topic.  Includes Common Core and NCTM standards.
  5. PhET Interactive Simulationshttps://phet.colorado.edu/
    Colorado University provides this set of modern HTML5-based manipulatives.  Math is the basis for some, and is a strong undercurrent for many of the science activities.  Because of the modern platform, these work well on just about any device or screen size.
  6. NRichhttps://nrich.maths.org/students
    Includes printable support materials for class and teachers.  And, it gives you a chance to explain to the class why the word “maths” shows up all over the place!  Don’t get thrown off by the UK terminology, the activities are indexed for US grade levels as well.
  7. SolveMe Math Mobileshttps://solveme.edc.org/
    Without using the words “equation” or “algebra”, this interactive puzzle game provides a great introduction to those concepts, while reinforcing number sense and application of basic operations.
  8. Cargo Bridge from Limex Games – http://limexgames.com/games/cargo_bridge/
    The guy has to push the box home.  But, there’s a chasm in the way!  Build a bridge to support the guy and the box, with the limited supplies you have available.  You’ll never hear the question, “When am I ever gonna need to know about triangles in real life?”
  9. “Full Steam Ahead” gamehttp://www.ssgreatbritain.org/full-steam-ahead
    Math abounds in a set of physics and engineering problems based on the real-life advances designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.  As you progress through the early tasks, more types of challenges are unlocked.  Build, Test, Tweak, Repeat.
  10. Math Playgroundhttp://www.mathplayground.com/math_manipulatives.html
    Somewhat limited set of resources, but the ones that are available are very useful.  Geared more for upper elementary.  Should work well with modern browsers.
  11. Desmos Graphing Calculatorhttps://www.desmos.com/
    A graphing calculator for your browser!  Powerful save, overlay, and editing tools.
  12. Geogebrahttps://www.geogebra.org/
    Online graphing calculator, and a host of additional tools for math instruction, including geometry, algebra, calculus, statistics, and more.  Downloadable materials as well as online activities.