It's funny when someone makes the suggestion on a blog idea. This one is important though. I can't think of a time in my life when so many changes were happening at one time, both locally and nationally. Many of these changes are driven by political views, not about what really matters, our future. I am not here to display my views, but to emphasize why it's important to tell our story.
My Favorite Story Teller
I grew up in a small town in Missouri and the old saying "it takes a village" was very much my story. Raised by a single mom that had to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, many people stepped in to help out. My Grandpa Bradley has always been there as a father figure, as well as my Uncle Randy; the two of them truly helped shape my personality are paramount in the foundation of who I am as a person. One of my favorite things about my Grandpa is that he always has a story, and usually one that involves groups of people laughing uncontrollably.
One particular story he likes to share was the time he took me to Colorado when I was 10 years old. Let me point out that I was his only grandson, and therefore pretty spoiled. We had just passed the Air Force Academy as a gnarly gang of motorcyclists passed. Grandpa said, "Roll down that window and tell them boys, do you know who I am? The only grandson of Bradley Burr, that's who!" So I did it - to every motorcyclist that drove by - must have been 30 of them.
Grandpa tells important stories too; since my mom, his daughter, passed away almost 2 years ago, he's been good to tell me stories I've never heard before about her. He talks about how she would take risks - I won't share what those were - but I think I got that skill from her. She would have turned 63 today.
My Grandpa continues to teach me how important it is to pass meaningful stories down the line. I want to make sure my kids understand these same values. What does this have to do with education you may ask? Next I'll discuss why it is important in education to tell your stories; otherwise someone will tell it for you.
You read it everywhere - stories that attack public education. The appointment of Betsy DeVos to education secretary, an avid supporter of the school choice and charter schools, has caused concern across the United States when it comes to funding and the direction the federal government want to take public education. While many of us are aware of the countless hours of dedication and service happening for our kids everyday, our community may not always be as aware. As educators, each of us have a role to play in helping our external audiences understand the contributions made inside our classrooms each day. Now more than ever, we have an opportunity to inform people about the innovation, the magic happening at our schools.
Importance Of Teaching Students How To Storytell
Several years ago, I had the amazing opportunity to work with Dyane Smokorowski and Shannon Fisher. Dyane, through digital storytelling, showed me how students make connections to interdisciplinary skills. Shannon, did the same, but through a unique way of producing stop motion videos. Both examples can have a magical effect -- moving, enlightening, or entertaining audiences of any size. Think of movies you adore, movies you could watch again and again - those are meaningful when they showcase their learning. This is a really good vehicle to introduce project based learning into your classroom. It allows students to build context to content.
Things to keep in mind:
A great tool to showcasing student work is Sway. It’s a new way for you to create a beautiful, interactive, web-based visual of your ideas, from a mobile device or browser. It is easy to share your creation and its modern design forms itself to look great on any screen. Our Transformation Site that I reference below utilizes Sway to display much of the content displayed.
Announcing our Transformation Site
At Omaha Public Schools, we have worked tirelessly to transform learning through our work with our 5 year Strategic Plan. Much of this work has technology purposefully embedded as a priority. Through this Strategic Plan and the passing of the largest bond issue in Nebraska history, we have accomplished much in the last 3 years. Today I would like to share with you our Transformation Site. This site was produced by our instructional technology team and helps us tell our story on how we have:
So whether it's listening to amazing stories from family and friends, teaching students to create stories to make learning authentic, or as educators telling our story so that someone doesn't tell it for us, the activity of storytelling engages every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation and instilling moral values. What will you do today that will make for a great story tomorrow in education?
We all have them. Devices. You carry your laptop to meetings, might watch a movie on a tablet, and let's not forget how attached we are to our smartphones. Those aren't just the only computing devices either. Now we have smart watches, fitness trackers, and other wearables that are constantly informing us, alerting us when we have something to take care of and/or monitoring our activity to tell us how much we should move throughout the day.
In education, we mostly identify devices in our learning experience as "Bring Your Own Device" strategies or District provided technology.
Recently, Omaha South High School moved to a Bring Your Own Device model. BYOD (bring your own device) is where students and staff are allowed to use personal mobile devices on the school wireless network. There’s a lot to consider when determining if implementing BYOD in your school is the right move.
Here are some considerations:
These are a few considerations; however, the benefits can outweigh these factors. BYOD can be used to promote digital citizenship. In addition, students take control of ensuring that their device is working, instilling a sense of responsibility. Also, costs can be saved but keep in mind, you may be shifting costs to infrastructure for role based wireless such as Cisco's Identity Services Engine to provision and secure network resources.
When it comes to digital equity and digital curriculum deployments, providing the device makes most sense. The number of schools and districts moving to 1:1 is accelerating, and the there are many lessons we can learn from the pioneers. Technology is only effective as a learning tool when educators have the skills to use it in an instructionally sound and effective way. Through introducing instructional technology into our Best Instructional Practices Handbook, providing effective professional development through our Microsoft Innovative Educator Program and Instructional Technology Leadership Cohort, we have been preparing for the massive introduction of devices through our planned obsolescence strategy.
There are some considerations though:
To keep students safe online and guide the appropriate use of technology, I cannot express enough the need to develop support policies that provide a framework for effective operation and application, both in BYOD and District provided strategies. These should address all aspects of technology use across all stakeholder groups, from high-level policies governing web filtering and access to low-level policies around digital citizenship and acceptable use agreements.
This is the challenge. Do you allow the proliferation of multiple devices through BYOD, or standardize devices through district purchasing decisions? I think it is both. Yep. Both. In the end, I think we will all move to allowing devices to be brought in while also standardizing on the experience. It is what's best for students. It's all about learning. When you need just-in-time, quick feedback, have the students use their smart phones. When you want each student to experience the exact same learning environment, hand out the device. Soon, both will happen in the classroom through technology. The challenge will be how we prepare and grow teachers' digital literacy to make this possible through classroom management strategies.
This week has been a big week. Interviews for a new Superintendent, approval of an $8 million purchase of devices, and let's not forget the bond initiatives. Successful technology implementation takes much more than just getting devices into the hands of students. Staff buy-in, quality training and ongoing support are all essential to creating a digital district here in Omaha Public Schools.
Start With Why
Everyday we see technology so frequently that we don’t even think of it as technology. It seems to be more accessible than ever before. With the proliferation of digital devices, we now have the ability to connect to the world anywhere at any time. Take for instance, Skype in the Classroom. You can choose to engage students in virtual field trips, participate in mystery Skype sessions, and work on Skype lessons. Skype lessons are an amazing opportunity for students to get connected with hundreds of global professionals and experts on a variety of topics.
When we decided to make these types of decisions for students here in Omaha, it was important to gather information and make it purposeful. It makes sense to start with empathy. We talked to teachers and students about what they needed. We didn’t ask what device they wanted. Many districts across the nation drive this decision making process from the top down.
However, choosing the right devices can be daunting. In our case, the district has made significant investments in IT infrastructure through the bond issue, but access to devices has been limited due to a lack of planned obsolescence strategy. No district in the land has succeeded with a full-on transformation to digital curriculum without first grappling with its “underbelly”— the network infrastructure that sustains 1-to-1 and bring-your-own device usage in the classroom.
To create a fair and equitable environment for all students, ask these questions before implementing new devices:
Omaha Public Schools hasn't had a district strategy before for the life cycle of devices. As you can see from the above infographic made by Kelly Means, this shows that over half of district devices are four years old or older. Also without a district life cycle plan, it becomes a school's leadership initiative whether to emphasize technology and its use or not. This makes a student's experience with technology circumstantial. How does that prepare them for the future?
The influence of Kelly Mean's leadership through this initiative was powerful. She brought a level of understanding that I could not provide. She brought institutional knowledge, content knowledge, and working relationships with school leaders that moved this initiative forward.
Also as a initial requirement for each building, and knowing digital citizenship/literacy had to be built at the teacher and student level, it was decided that as the influx of devices was introduced, we would require each building to become Common Sense Media Certified.
Build A Set Of Requirements
Below shows our process of information gathering. The Planned Obolescence interview group consisted of:
We designed the process so that there were several touch points with two interviews to make sure we gathered requirements for the classroom and gather a vision of where they wanted to be. Below are examples of our data gathering and how we organized it in OneNote.
After gathering the information we then used the monster wall on our floor to write the entire plan and quantify what the project scope would look like.
Professional development for teachers is critical to the successful use of technology to improve the quality of learning in the classroom. A spring 2015 survey by Samsung Electronics America and GfK found that:
Professional development should be an integral part of a school or district technology plan and should provide for ongoing and integrated technology training for teachers. Our process for this involved several layers:
As OPS moves down this digital direction, it is important to define and scaffold an approach to teaching and learning that fuses the tenets of rigorous and relevant instruction with an exceptional, discerning application of digital tools. Initially for us, this was the introduction of our new ecosystem, Office 365. As we move forward with access, this will continue to evolve with digital curriculum and content strategies. We should allow students to use the digital-age tools that they are using on a routine basis outside their walls, which is different than OPS has practiced, but the outcomes make student learning experiences more relevant and meaningful. Our Instructional Technology Team is pushing technology with purpose and aligned to our Best Instructional Practices Handbook, and which will help our students gain the 21st Century skills needed to compete in the real world.
Microsoft in Education Video on our Surface Pro Deployment
Another great resource is the Center for Digital Education. They have a great Guide to Devices whitepaper that is linked below.
What Is Digital Inking?
Digital Inking isn't new. I remember in the mid 90's messing with an Apple Newton that had a stylus and a program called Calligrapher that introduced hand writing recognition. Later when Personal Device Assistant popularity rose, I carried everything from a Palm Pilot to HP's iPaq with Windows CE. All of these devices incorporated a stylus with some form of interaction, but was lacking in quality. Today, I carry a Surface Pro 4 and I wouldn't change much of my experience that I receive. The digitizer in the Surface Pen is pretty amazing. The result is an experience that feels like true pen on paper in terms of accuracy, sensitivity with zero latency. A normal touch-screen tablet only allows for 'finger painting' type inking. I hadn't always used or considered using digital inking on a primary device.
My Past Device Experiences
For years I have been a mac geek. I have had every iPhone, just about every iPad, and until recently sported a Macbook Pro since the Powerbook G3 black days. I remember when imaging a Mac was as easy as dragging the hard drive over to another hard drive and copying it over. I have had the luxury (or not) of working on every OS X version released. So it might surprise you that a mac doesn't sit on my desk anymore. I would have to say it began with empathy. When we decided to deploy a Surface Pro 3 to every secondary teacher, I thought it was good practice to experience the device myself. The first two years of my journey here with Omaha Public Schools has been with a Surface and a Macbook Pro. This year I have chosen to go solo with the Surface Pro 4. Most of my reasons are because of productivity. One reason in particular, I was finding myself touching my Macbook screen gesturing window resizing, much like I do on my Surface and iPhone. After my migration from Evernote to OneNote, digital inking has become a non-negotiable. I have always been one to draw my ideas and plans on a whiteboard. Below is a picture of my previous office in Andover, I was surrounded by whiteboarded walls.
My office in Omaha doesn't have this much white space, but the team uses OneNote as a staple for our progress. It acts as a repository for many different types of files and has unique organizational features to keep data on hand and easily retrieved. Whether inserting a PDF printout, a Sway, or checklist, it really has flexibility of file-types covered. The real power comes when you introduce digital inking. When you expand input by enabling the ability to annotate images, maps and graphs and to write symbols, take notes and draw straight onto your device, you gain context to content.
The Future Of Input
Today we ask Siri where the closest Starbucks is, or ask Alexa to set a timer for our meal in the oven. With the introduction of wearables, the Internet of Things, and personal assistants, we are blurring the lines of the traditional inputs of the past. The need to learn how to place your fingers on home row has really disappeared. What is next? As I see it now, the introduction of Artificial Intelligence and the increase of connected devices will see the rise of augmented reality. All of our inputs will be interfaced, not just typing, or gestures, or speaking. In the same way memorization has less meaning, and we place more meaning in the ability to filter and think critically about the influx of information at our hands, we need to evolve in our ability to understand input change as well.
Here are some examples of my sketchnotes