What is a Powerful Learning Environment?
Over the next several weeks, the team and I are taking an edX course on "Launching Innovation in Schools." This course is sponsored by Microsoft and is great thought leadership course designed to create a focus around the change needed for innovation to occur in the classroom.
This first unit we were challenged to define what a powerful learning environment was to us. I decided to post my sketch-notes on this:
The experience I chose to share was around a Holocaust project based learning activity with my previous district in Andover. The wonderful Dyane Smokorowski setup a skype in the classroom session with a Holocaust survivor and classes of middle school students. Her story was incredible. She was born on a train leaving Moscow as the invasion was happening. Even today, Aiyana my middle daughter, remembers that experience in detail. In addition, the students participated in creating paper butterflies that would line up around Houston stadium. Here is a link to the lesson: https://www.hmh.org/ed_butterfly%20Lesson.shtml
Defining a Problem of Practice
Our second assignment was to define a problem of practice. This will be a problem I tackle throughout the length of this course. It was important to me to find a problem that was closest to my work here at Omaha Public Schools. My leading message was "Students Experience with Technology is Currently Circumstantial." This lead to the creation of my problem. How do we prepare teachers for when access to devices isn't an issue? Here are my sketch-notes:
Our Beginnings for Instructional Technology
Particularly in recent years, technology has changed from being a peripheral factor to becoming more central in all forms of teaching. Until 2014, this realization hadn't moved into practice for Omaha Public Schools. There were two positions at the time, both traditional trainers, with one of these retiring upon my introduction into the District. Eileen Heller had just started as a trainer in 2013, having previously served as an elementary teacher at Kellom Elementary. As she would find out, it would be a long year ahead of her. There would be an aggressive plan moving forward, driven by the newly developed Strategic Plan.
Eileen's role would expand significantly over the next 6 months. Upon arrival in May 2014, many significant decisions had to be made and actions taken to ensure alignment with our Strategic Plan initiatives. The first decision was choosing a collaboration platform. Up until that point, the district had utilized on-opremise solutions with traditional email-like collaboration functionality. A huge advantage of working in the cloud is the collaboration possibilities it provides. The District made the decision to move forward with Microsoft Office 365, a decision that would lay a foundation of collaboration and change in learning and utilization for each student, staff, and leadership.
The timeline for this was a bit aggressive. The District's previous solution had been in place for twelve years; resulting in ingrained practices and an incredible amount of data, much of it not used or important. In August 2014, the decision was made to begin the implementation with a flash-cut to email in October; we wouldn't move any email over for users - we would start anew.
Our Microsoft Relationship and MIE Program
Through previous contacts I had made, we saw an opportunity to do something different. Microsoft had had a focus to K-12 around the use of Office 365 becoming that central part of teaching and learning. Omaha Public Schools was undergoing a significant shift toward introducing technology into everyday practice. Microsoft and Omaha Public Schools had began discussion around how we could make this implementation purposeful. Much of this is outlined in an Edsurge 50 State Project Book:
Professional Development would be foundational in this adoption. Eileen, being in a 10-month position, came back in August with the task to support the largest technology initiative the district had ever been tasked with. A professional development cohort was designed at the time, by Eileen, to bring our teachers on board with the new tool-set that Office 365 delivered. Helen Gooch, a Microsoft Fellow, was introduced to us as a resource for how we could approach the sessions in a gradual release model, as to not overwhelm our cohort. Eileen would reach out to every building Principal and gather participants for this initial cohort. The cohort sessions would start in October, the same as the move to Office 365, with 6 sessions total that first year. Each session would instroduce a new toolset to the 100 teachers selected.
The Second Year
I am not sure if Eileen believed me when I would continuously tell her the instructional technology staff would grow; it didn't grow at all in year one of the cohort. However, in the start of year two, we added 3 positions to fuel the work needed.
Kelly Means, Melissa Cleaver, and Wendy Loewenstein brought the capacities needed for our year two cohort, where we planned to keep the first 100 and add another cohort of 100 teachers to the mix. The focus was to begin to look at 21st Century Skills and Technology Integration. As you can see below, this cohort is central to our abilities to adopt new tools and devices, model the best practice, and standardize solutions with student, staff, and parent involvement.
This "Innovation Academy" would also introduce digital citizenship with Common Sense Media. Wendy would lead the way as this change in the cohort. It is important to note that more than 100 applied for the second cohort but we decided to keep it at 100. Also, this would be the year we would introduce 21st Century Skills into the Best Instructional Practices Handbook (see below).
The Third Year
For year three, instead of adding to the existing 200 teachers in the cohort, we decided to gain some depth. We began by incorporating a requirement for Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship Certification to this as a vehicle to getting the entire district certified. This would allow us to be aligned with our Planned Obsolescence strategy for introducing more mobile devices into the classroom. Again, the team has evolved:
A focus of building vision and capacity for integration within schools, this team is bringing an evolving trend to the cohort. Minecraft in Education and Creative Coding Through Games and Apps has been introduced, as well as many other technology rich learning trends.
As we begin to look at what next year brings, the cohort will continue to transform. First-year participants will have the ability to re-apply as well as new participants having the opportunity to participate in the cohort community.
If you would like to follow the team:
Instructional Technology Group
Omaha Virtual School Prinicpal
Cards we were dealt...
Change is difficult. Most of the time when this kind of shift happens from a change in leadership, it causes the entire organization to reflect. At the core of every change initiative is the desire to breathe new life into the organization―to revitalize ways of thinking, behaving and working. Nearly four years ago, Mr. Mark A. Evans was brought in as Superintendent to institute change processes that resulted from a needs assessment. This led to the creation of a five-year strategic plan as well as passing the largest bond issue in Nebraska history. Technology was set as a priority as the district hadn't focused in this area in some time. Professional development and planned obsolescence for devices were outlined in the strategic plan as prioritized strategies. This post outlines how Omaha Public Schools placed an emphasis on digital citizenship through professional learning and the development of a device deployment.
For nearly a decade, the district has partnered with Common Sense Media to provide a half-time position funded through the Sherwood Foundation that provided some form of digital citizenship functions with the district and the state. Being a half-time position and dual enrollment the other half, it was difficult to focus time and needed resources for the district's strategic plan priorities.
The Position Shift
The decision was made to move the position from the Curriculum and Instruction Support to Information Management Services. This move would also expand the position to full time and would be housed under the instructional technology umbrella. The importance of this position to our initiatives was so much that it is also the only position in instructional technology that I personally supervise. It is a great fit for the district since we were beginning to introduce 21st Century Skills into our Best Instructional Practices Handbook. Keegan Korf was selected for the position and has done a remarkable job at defining much of this plan moving forward.
In October 2014, the district implemented Microsoft Office 365 as a collaboration platform and in the process created a unique relationship in their fast track and early adopter programs. Through this relationship, Eileen Heller (see above) and Connie Wickham (also above) worked on creating an Innovation Academy comprised of a cohort initially with around 100 educators throughout the district. In the second year, we added another 100 educators. The cohort was further enhanced by leadership from Wendy Loewenstein. At the start of this year, the addition of Keegan's role, as well as this year's focus on devices for secondary students, it was determined we wanted to get to depth of knowledge of digital citizenship. The challenge was brought to Keegan to have the entire district completely Common Sense Media certified by using the Innovation Academy program as shown below.
It was important to become purposeful in our deployment of devices in the district. Before last year, the district had never had a planned obsolescence cycle for devices. We had some questions to ask our schools and ourselves:
We could not be happier with the outcomes so far. This year we were one of three districts nationwide to be selected as a Common Sense Showcase District. Also through meshing this strategy of intertwining digital citizenship with our planned obsolescence of device deployment, we have discovered a need. With the introduction of the App Store across many types of platforms, coupled with the push to cloud based solutions, our data is becoming fragmented across multiple systems. This is causing many districts throughout the nation to reflect and adjust their student data privacy workflows to meet the demand. We wanted to take this one step further with the introduction of an App Approval Tool. This tool, developed through our relationship with Microsoft and Common Sense Media, allows applications, websites, and hardware to be introduced by teachers. The newly entered solutions flow through a series of privacy rubrics as well as the vetting of the application or hardware (see below).
The result is a solution that gives clarity and transparency to our life-cycle adoption of hardware and software, tied to instructional strategies. This produces data that can help drive our decisions when a solution is working well and when we need to find a replacement aligned to a particular instructional use.
Still in its infancy, we hope to share this tool and many other best practices out as we develop our policies and practices around this adoption life-cycle. The development of the tool should be complete by February of this year, pushing both existing solutions and new solutions through as fast as our Privacy Committee and Tech Standards Committee can work through them. In addition, Keegan and I will be presenting this tool at ISTE this summer. Come and join us!
Love this article. I love sports, and this reinforces the hard work it takes to be the best you can be. I have the same morning routine every week day:
21st Century Skills needed to succeed
These skills are so very critical:
I heard Andy Stanley talk about clarity in one of his speeches and its importance. Communication is critical in leadership and in the day to day operations of a district, school, or classroom. Five things leaders can do to ensure that their organization's vision really sticks:
This is what stuck out: Two words: don't assume. Take the time to think about your audience--what they know, what they care about, and what they want from you.
The Future Workforce
You can either be scared of this information or embrace it.
From the article: History can help soothe some concerns, when we see that in 1900, 41% of the US workforce worked in farming. By 2000, that had sunk to just 2%, mostly as a result of the arrival of machines. While the developed world has shifted from agriculture to manufacturing and then to services, the number of jobs has always climbed.
That is quite a significant difference in just a 100 years. So how are we preparing students for a changing work environment like this?
Here is an article with some amazing quotes to start your day. I have included some that resonate with me:
A Different View of How Schools Could Operate
Summit Schools are interesting. The base-camp model is one that focuses on mastery and begins to develop into competency based education. Truly if we could remove grade levels and move into that direction in public education, it might be for the better. You can really see the effects that personalized learning can bring - as well as understand that you are meeting students where they are at, not by the average. Only time will tell how this model prepares students for a job market that is unpredictable.
If you know me, you do know that I do love to tinker around with gadgets. This next article encourages us to tinker with some inexpensive open sourced materials to build things. Cool things. I am going to encourage some of our educators to do this.
We didn’t all learn to drive the same car. In many school districts, technology is pushing forward into every school, classroom and home. Many choose the route of one-to-one computing, some chose BYOD and some are still finding it a challenge to choose between the two. It is important to start the process with a focus on students, without it there can be no real change. It is not about the device, and in the end, the technology should be invisible.
Implementing a project should begin with a vision. Technology shouldn’t be the main focus but a vein running through a strategic plan touching every objective and outcome, providing the highway to efficiencies and collaboration. Every district is different across the country, with different views, demographics, policies and procedures.
Adopting technology at its lowest level means asking the fundamental question to measure, “Is it making a difference in student learning?” The route of technology you decide upon can bring major benefits beyond this question. It will always be important to keep your focus on what your outcomes should be as you progress. Technology has the ability to level the playing field for all students as it gives them the tools to access content across subject and grade levels — anytime, anywhere by pushing learning beyond the confines of the school building.
Always begin with Instructional Technology rather than Systems approach.
It is no surprise that one of my main focuses at Omaha Public Schools was this importance. The major support for assisting in the ability to change culture is professional development. As you can see below in the graphic, the importance to our strategy is hinged on Instructional Technology and the Innovation Academy.
Many teachers do not have the technical knowledge or skills to recognize the potential for technology in teaching and learning. Just knowing how to use a computer is not enough. Instead, teachers must become knowledgeable about technology and self-confident enough to integrate it effectively in the classroom. It doesn’t end there. District and school leaders need professional development to lead by example, giving weight to technology initiatives driving this change.
As with any technology initiative, it is important to discuss infrastructure. Many times a different pair of eyes are needed to look at the current state of technology infrastructure in a district. This allows the ability to remove bias towards specific solutions or procedures and allows many districts to focus on “what’s best for the classroom” thinking. Infrastructure can make or break the learning experience and frustrate staff.
The Digital Gap
People work longer. They also live longer. There is an age and digital gap. It is important to understand that your end user might move faster than you are willing to put policies and procedures in place. With the “consumerization” of cloud services, many times students and teachers are utilizing technology tools and placing data into places you have no administration over. By creating a “ring of innovation,” a controlled avenue for those fast movers to explore and expand their classroom experiences, you can steer alignment to the vision your district wants to create. These can come in the form of technology standards advisory and innovation academies.
Nearly every staff member has a smartphone, and most students come to school with one. Building capacity for each and every staff and student can help shape the services you deliver. With the growing infiltration of technology in our daily lives, our technology literacy has grown dramatically. However, it is important to know the measure of technology literacy everyone is at and provide the resources necessary in a single pane of glass to where you expect them to be. Keep in mind the larger the district and deeper the implementation, the greater the need to release features purposefully to not reach implementation fatigue.
Starting your implementation with a vision tied to your strategic plan and getting the key stakeholders at your table lays the critical foundation and scaffolding for your initiative. Professional development for teachers makes the foundation stronger, adding bricks and mortar to your framework and the infrastructure serves as the cornerstones, ensuring stability and reliability in your rollout. Your rings of innovation ensure no one is trapped inside the framework and allows for growth, expansion and creativity not yet reflected on the road map. The technology devices and software are merely decorations that change over time and with the seasons; they are not a part of the foundation.
Using these methods, we have been able to successfully implement changes in our Omaha Public Schools, most recently an multi-year relationship with Microsoft to embed Office 365 throughout our district. In all of these changes, it is important to understand that our technology changes are cultural as well. Organizational change is complex, and there are many issues underlying what helps or hinders success. Much attention is focused on what to manage, such as goals, strategies, action plans or project plans. What is often ignored or downplayed is how to lead people through transition, especially involving rapid change through technology. There is an important difference between change and transition. I will leave off with a quote that sparked my thoughts for this post:
“You can't teach people everything they need to know. The best you can do is position them where they can find what they need to know when they need to know it.” - Seymour Papert
by: Jeremiah Owyang
Content that sparked my interest:
Eric Sheninger. UnCommon Learning. N.p.: Learning Forward, n.d. Print.
by: Chris Danilo
Content that sparked my interest:
How to Create Experiences and Scale Environments That Change Lives
By Tom Vander Ark
What Successful People (Who Are Actually Happy) Do Differently
Dr. Travis Bradberry
Here is what struck me:
The researchers found that people who were both successful and happy over the long term intentionally structured their activities around four major needs:
“To be normal is the ideal aim of the unsuccessful.”
- Carl Jung
Here are the articles today that brought some value to my thoughts:
Love this Lego Boost from CES this week.
What are colleges looking for? Grit. To get things done. Why?
Student Centered Instructional Methods
Great infographic on how to engage students
Future of Education
I currently use a Surface Pro 4 for my primary device. I love it for the portability, battery life, and power. One negative is the keyboard. Today at CES, this was shown. It has some promise
As you can see, it is the only keyboard that removes the need for the kickstand.
One of the topics of change for OPS will be finding a solution for our website. It really has to be a focus of a communication system. With that in mind, I read this article this morning that is thoughtful about the approach.
By John Jantsch
Content of interest:
And finally, a quote from Simon Sinek:
“What good is an idea if it remains an idea? Try. Experiment. Iterate. Fail. Try again. Change the world.” – Simon Sinek
As I have been thinking about creating a blog and expanding my network from consumption to creating and sharing, I wanted to share some articles and notes that have influenced my decision making process.
Global Literacy and Documenting Learning
By: Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano
Content that stood out:
Network Literacy and Documenting Learning
By: Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano
Content that stood out:
Blogs - Do they Serve Any Real Purpose
By: Tom Whitby
Content that stood out:
As a part of our 5 year Strategic Plan, the district wanted to change the approach of our persistently low achieving schools. Through Mr. Evans leadership, the decision was made to look at high technology strategies to engage teachers, students, and community. Below are two aligned approaches of how we addressed two turn around school programs. First, we will highlight Wakonda Elementary with community engagement involving a high technology mobile learning unit, and the second post highlighting Kennedy Elementary.
Wakonda Elementary is located in North Omaha and provides learning opportunities to around 300 students. In 2015, the district made the decision to apply for a federal school improvement grant. That grant, totaling $1.6 million, provided additional supports in staffing, professional development, and technology. The school hired three coaches to work with teachers on technology, student data and student behavior issues. The mission for change includes a technology initiative and a longer school day. Wakonda students will attend school from 8:20 a.m. to 4 p.m., 25 minutes longer than most OPS elementary students. This provided the time for teachers to participate in much needed development activities like Professional Learning Communities (PLC). Our approach to PLCs with Wakonda was to take that high technology aspect to bring teacher needs, data, and feedback to the next level. Partnering with Microsoft, we developed with them PLCs in Modern Groups inside of Office 365. Much of their experience is highlighted in the video below:
Teachers worked through this newly defined environment for a whole semester before beginning to introduce the 1:1 student deployment program. Each teacher was provided a Surface Pro and a wireless display adapter that provided:
The selection process for student devices for me was unique. We decided to take a student centered approach, giving students the opportunity to demo and select the device that best fits their learning environment. That process is outlined in the Sway below and was also highlighted in a Microsoft Blog:
The introduction of these devices into the classroom was unique. Our district instructional technology trainers began working with Rebecca Chambers, the building's instructional tech, to develop a gradual release model. This model allowed a slow implementation that provided the necessary training and classroom management both for the teacher and the students. The effectiveness of these initiatives has resulted in Wakonda being named aMicrosoft Showcase School.
Community and Access
A big piece of Wakonda's journey is community engagement. As a part of our journey to move to a digital curriculum strategy, access has been on the forefront of needs. This year, we have partnered with both Cox (Access) and Discovery ED (Digital Curriculum) to do just that. Cox has been immensely valuable in both working with providing access to families in our high poverty areas with low cost internet, and looking at innovative ways we can engage students. In early 2016, we discussed a joint application for a grant that would allow students to access WiFi throughout Omaha, but would also renovate a bus to become an engaging experience in the community. Through our work with Common Sense Media, we would provide digital citizenship and digital parenting learning opportunities to both the communities of Wakonda and Kennedy students. In September 2016, we were awarded the grant and work has begun on the mobile learning unit. As you can see, it has been designed as a flexible learning space that signifies the 21st Century learning every student needs:
By providing both access via Cox's public WiFi, as well as targeting the areas that don't have a signal via the mobile learning unit, the result is providing access where it is needed. The renovation is scheduled to be completed sometime in Spring 2017.
The next post will be about Kennedy Elementary and their journey to turn around a school that is a part of a much larger community engagement program.
I recently read an article referencing First Principles Thinking paralleled with my reading of the LAUNCH Cycle -
Chapter 7 - Navigating Ideas
Elon Musk and Bill Thurston on the Power of Thinking for Yourself
What I found interesting was the notion that we should brainstorm many times individually before coming together to brainstorm. I particularly loved these quotes:
Quotes from the article:
In Chapter 7 of LAUNCH, it talks about the loudest shouters gets the most ideas on the board. It is so true. How do we get every student to have a voice. I think that is a building a foundation for student-centered learning.
Think of it this way: you wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint.
These posts are personal. They are not reflective of the Omaha Public Schools District.