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
Here was the initial drawing:
Recently, I had a coworker of mine suggest I explain an infographic that I have posted several times. That infographic, shown below, is a 2014 visual representation of several meetings and brainstorm sessions. It represents change. Meaningful change has and always will begin at the individual level. For me, individually this represents organization; for you it might look like chaos.
The District has always had a Tech Standards Committee. It was a representation of Information Management Systems Team and Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment. As we have progressed forward as a District both with the Strategic Plan and Technology, we wanted to expand representation. Currently this committee is busy overseeing the approval of Apps and Hardware processed through our new tool. As you can see by the connection to the Innovation Academy, the thought was to create an "innovation loop" that allows new tools to be introduced and provide a mechinism for effectively vetting solutions in the classroom.
Professional Development is one of the most important supports a district invests in. We are producing life-long learners. We should as educators, parents, and community members model this self improvement throughout our walk. Initially the purpose of the cohort displayed above as the "Innovation Academy" was to provide the supports for our implementation of Office 365. As we have progressed, this cohort has expanded in members and the solutions we have introduced.
This term has now moved more towards "Innovation Librarians". I can't think of a more important role in the change effort to introduce project based learning activities, understand content, and the importance of inquiry in student learning. This video explains it perfectly:
Librarians are a central hub to every school. Movement to the Maker-space, 1:1 initiatives, and digital literacy all play an important part of libraries across the country.
As learning environments change, the need for systemic technology cycles for devices and other technologies becomes increasingly important. As digital equity becomes more important to all educational environments, the acquisition of technologies also becomes important. We started this process focusing on data. Introducing Brightbytes into this process was an important step to gather where we were at, and how to effectively measure where we want to go.
We are currently in Year 2 of our planned obsolescence of device strategy. In Year 1, we delivered Surface Pro tablets with wireless display adapters to every secondary teacher in the district. This year is focused on secondary students. Below is a Microsoft in Education video highlighting our Surface Pro initiative.
Year 3 and 4 will be focused on elementary schools. The emphasis of our "Innovation Acadmy" cohort will evolve into focusing on the importance of teaching digital responsibility, citizenship, and the creation of positive footprints online. This shared vision is meant to provide the necessary supports to transform classrooms and expand learning to make global connections, visualize data, expand inquiry, and engage students using technology.
I hope this post brings clarity to the infographic and an awareness to our initiatives here at Omaha Public Schools.
In today's world, we constantly create information. Whether posting something to social media, or watching our favorite Netflix show, we generate information at a high rate. Buzz words like Big Data, Machine Learning, and Artificial Intelligence scour our landscape today. If you shop on Amazon like I do, you are provided with countless recommendations based upon your interests, clicks, and buying history. Much of this is what we want, there is a level of comfort knowing we can easily click and have something delivered in a couple of days. When we think about our kids, our students, and even ourselves - we need to be thoughtful of the digital footprint we are creating. This post isn't about compliance, but in the next section I will briefly discuss it.
When we talk about data privacy from a district perspective, most of the time it is aligned with compliance. Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of personally identifiable information from student education records. This as well as other data privacy protected initiatives such as:
Personal Data - My Example
Now let's take a look at my family. This picture, shown above, was around 4-5 years ago in Kansas. This picture was taken as I was walking down the hallway and noticed everyone on devices, with the exception of our dog MJ. If you notice, everyone is engaged. Engaged with social media, the cloud, and even engaged with each other. I do remember Emily (far left) was playing "Words With Friends" with Aiyana (just to her right). I am sure this type of picture is common among families across the country. We document our lives via social media on a daily basis:
With this type of exponential growth, we need to think about our digital footprint and the story that is being told. On one side, digital citizenship is extremely important. If your digital footprint isn't a positive one, you could lose opportunities for future careers and post secondary admittance. This outlines just the personal data that is generated by our use of technology. Let's talk now about the business and enterprise landscape.
A Changing Enterprise Environment
Gone are the days of on-premise solutions and collaborating while you are in the office. In today's world, we increasingly integrate our office work with our mobile devices, extending outside of our offices as well as our work day. Businesses that have shifted to the cloud are now looking at a new landscape, the multi-cloud. In this article below as a study done by Microsoft, "nearly a third of organizations work with four or more cloud vendors."
This produces several challenges. First of all, how do we secure the data, and secondly, how do we keep data "sprawl" from happening. Below is a graphic of our current environment at Omaha Public Schools. As you can see, it is becoming increasingly complicated. It is important to note, many solutions don't require student data outside of the typical directory information outlined in FERPA. But over time, data that is generated can be identifiable and become necessary to protect.
As this environment becomes more complicated, we are putting things into place that will ensure the data privacy recommendations we want to enforce. First, in a previous blog post, I outlined our creation of an App Approval Tool. This process gives the ability to vet an app both for data privacy and security, as well as instructional use. Secondly, we have put together a Student Data Privacy Agreement that is being implemented with each of our cloud providers and outlines our expectations for data privacy through their system.
Our work through these measures will continue to evolve as we adopt and create meaningful experiences through the use of technology for our students.
I love information. I am an information junkie at best. I am writing this blog post as if LifeHacker invited me to share in their section "This Is How I Work". Enjoy.
Location: Omaha, Nebraska
Current Position: Executive Director
One word that best describes how you work:
Current mobile device: iPhone 7 Plus
Current Computer: Surface Pro 4
First of all, let me tell you a little about my background and how I got to where I am today.
I love what I do. From the moment I understood what goals I wanted to accomplish, it was clear what paths I should take. I didn't always understand technology nor did I grow up with it; it wasn't until I entered the military at age 18 when I was first introduced to networking and computing. At that time, I began building my passion for life long learning; technology is a great vehicle to get there. I have been fortunate enough to have been involved with technology audits for various K-12 institutions through work with GreyED Solutions, Gates Foundation, and BleGroup. These opportunities have broadened my knowledge on how educational organizations change or resist change.
What apps, software, tools can't you live without? Why?
My daily work is in OneNote; this is where I dump and organize all of my work. I consider myself a creative process engineer (I say "engineer" simply to make it sound better). OneNote houses the articles I snip, using the OneNote Clipper, and also houses my notes from every meeting I encounter. I haven't always used OneNote. Previously, I utilized Evernote religiously; I still love the insights it brings in at the bottom of the note that aligns it to other notes or articles I have clipped. I hope OneNote adds a similar feature as well as top level management of OneNote notebooks. Search has become my friend for organization.
Sway has become a favorite as well. Gone are my days of PowerPoint slides exported to JPGs so I can post them to a site for visual artifacts. Now, I can build the entire presentation in Sway, embed into a webpage with all types of devices supported. Another important tool I keep on the desktop is the Microsoft Garage Snip tool to annotate and clip screenshots.
Lastly, since I read countless articles, I use Flipboard. Flipboard understands my interests and brings me a set of articles that fit those interests. It saves a ton of time and integrates well with my social media interfaces.
What's your workspace setup like?
My office has two places I function from:
My home is less complex. It consists of the breakfast nook, cup of coffee, and my Surface Pro 4.
I haven't always been a PC guy, though. I sported a Mac since the black Powerbook G3 days. However, in the last 3 years, this has changed. I started to see the importance of digital inking, both in my daily work with OneNote and as Windows 10 was introduced. I now consider digital inking a non-negotiable in my computing device requirement.
What's your best time-saving shortcut life hack?
I love where location based awareness is going. Siri reminds me of things I need before leaving the house. This keeps me from forgetting items otherwise I would be turning around for.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can't you live without and why?
At this time, I would have to say Amazon Echo with Alexa. She plays music, she sets timers for the oven, and most of the time she answers many questions I have added skills for. I see this type of technology in the future bringing efficiency in the home. I have recently purchased an Ecoobee3 thermostat that can be connected to Alexa. The future is going to be cool, like Star Trek cool.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?
I am best at making connections - connections to people, connections between solutions, or a combination of the two. Connections has contributed to us creating solutions for our users and partners like Microsoft. Feeling connected as a team, we are able to bring more to the end user.
What do you listen to while you work?
This one is hard. I love all kinds of music. But here is a list in order of the genre's I love:
What are you currently reading? What’s something you’d recommend?
Just finished UnCommon Learning by Eric Sheninger. This book outlines how to transform a learning culture through sustainable and innovative initiatives. It moves straight to the heart of using innovations such as Makerspaces, Blended Learning and Microcredentials. I would recommend it as well as Launch: Design Thinking. Both of these books introduce different initiatives effecting K-12 education today. I like to go through books with someone else. This introduces accountability but also increases reflection.
How do you recharge? What do you do when you want to forget about work?
I love basketball. In March, the madness begins. The NCAA tournament allows me to focus on things that have nothing to do with work yet introduces fun stress. I think you have to have stress, it makes you grow as a person. Risk is important. I got the opportunity recently to hear Joe Maddon, coach of the World Series Champion Cubs speak. I took this video from my iPhone and here is what he said about risk:
What did I get out of this? You gotta be a little crazy and definitely fearless.
What’s your sleep routine like? Are you a night owl or early-riser?
I love my everyday process. I get up at 4:30, workout, then read articles for 15-20 minutes. The workout gets my mind refreshed and ready for my day, and the articles bring reflection to my daily walk. I also get to bed during the week early, 8:30. This daily process keeps my mind clear and ready to tackle the challenges brought to me.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Don't take work too seriously. I have worked and modeled much of my leadership from Mr. Evans for 12 years. He does a great job of being approachable and consistent.
I would give the same advice but with this addition:
Don't take life too seriously, and be willing to take some risks. You will feel like life is more fulfilling by taking those risks.
The Decision Between Collaboration Platforms
In today’s world, we operate as a society outside of the walls of our schools, our businesses, and our homes. The access to mobile devices has expanded our social and professional lives, many times blurring the lines between work and home. Technology has been front of state in the lives of students born between 1982 and 2002. Skills such as the swipe, selfie, and snapping are being trained with our daily use of social media. Per the Center for Digital Education, “62% of working Americans use the internet as an integral part of their jobs. And nearly all industries today require at least some on-the-job interaction with a digital device – including sectors the general public often doesn’t consider technology dependent.” It is no surprise, then, when it comes to selecting a cloud based platform, we need to keep mobile first in mind.
In my first couple of months entering the district, it was clear selecting a cloud platform was the first step needed to mirror the environment and data outlined above. In my previous district, we had used Google Apps for Education for years. The rest of the districts around Nebraska widely use Google as well, so it seemed like this would be an easy decision, right? There are really two major players in the district cloud category, Google and Microsoft. In the end, we selected Microsoft, and the rest of this post will discuss the “why”.
Building a Set of Requirements
In the last 3 to 4 years, the district has been no stranger to large initiatives. As a result of creating a 5 year Strategic Plan, coupled with passing the largest bond issue in Nebraska history, large initiatives are common place. It was important to include future requirements in this changing landscape, as it was clear Omaha Public Schools would be a changing dynamic for years to come.
The first requirement is safety and security as it is foundational for student learning. When defining this requirement, it was important to understand what types of inquiries happen in a large, urban district. To follow are questions we thought of when determining what safety and security requirements were of upmost importance:
Another important requirement was collaboration. In today’s world, collaboration is everything. Historically, there were tons of meetings; sometimes meetings to plan meetings. A great collaboration platform allows for flexibility to communicate and work synchronously and asynchronously, continuously. This allows work to continue, not being limited to input from a point in time meeting. As a result, solutions such as Slack and Microsoft Teams are becoming increasingly popular. In addition, Skype in the Classroom has become an innovative way to expand student experiences outside of the traditional classroom walls. Skype in the Classroom enables:
These groups can be organic or federated. The Azure Active Directory environment allows us to sync our groups from on premise Active Directory into our cloud environment. This type of federation allows us to flow identities across different platforms, on premise and in the cloud. This is just one example of Modern Group use. Many tools in Office 365 use this foundation as well:
Once requirements were determined, we needed to create an implementation plan. When moving to Google Apps or Office 365, a vendor partner can assist in the process. In our situation, Microsoft had just released a new plan called FastTrack. FastTrack allowed us to work with Microsoft on an accelerated plan for rolling out Office 365. You can read more about that program here:
An important piece of implementation was professional development. In my previous blog post, I outlined our Microsoft Innovative Educator Cohort. 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. Our instructional technology team has taken this program to new levels in the last couple of years.
One of my key learnings when implementing Google Apps in Andover, was to not roll out an email client. Keeping everyone in web email was not a popular one initially; everyone was used to a client with on-premise solution FirstClass. The reason to keep everyone in the web client was to keep the Office 365 suite front and center in everyone’s experience. If one were to spend all day in a full client, they would not notice Sway, OneNote, Sites, Forms, PowerBi or OneDrive. Not only would they fail to notice these tools, but because of single sign-on with Azure AD, they would be less likely to recognize other platforms integrated into the waffle as well.
Building Processes and Tools
Early on in implementation, was the need to build workflows and tools. Instead of using FastTrack dollars to migrate email, we used them to build SharePoint Online Sites. These sites provided the needed intranet and added workflows that were previously paper based. One of the initiatives we were tasked with was building a coaching tool. We started this process with Microsoft Consulting in April 2015, and through our work with them, chose a product called PowerBi that would later be introduced to general availability in July, 2015. This tool allows Principals, Academic Coaches, Instructional Facilitators, and District Leadership to facilitate walkthroughs that produce data for coaching feedback. The online forms were customized to our Best Instructional Practices Handbook, providing the necessary common language that greatly assisted in its adoption. Also, we introduced the ability to insert artifacts into the tool such as pictures, video, and attachments. It aligned well with our implementation of Surface Pro tablets to secondary staff the same year. In the first year, the district produced over 23,000 coaching visits (see below).
This year, we continue to evolve the tool to meet the needs of our Curriculum and Instructional Support Staff. Recently, we redefined the dashboard as a result of feedback over the course of the last couple of semesters utilizing the tool. As a result, use has increased immensely. In just over half of the year, we produced nearly as many coaching visits as all of last year.
This is one example of producing effective tools to meet the needs of the classroom. Another example is outlined in a previous blog post about App and Hardware Lifecycle Management.
These tools have expanded our use of Office 365 and have brought purpose of our use to a new level. Moving forward, we will continue to expand these uses and present them in the web portal as “tile” experiences in the waffle.
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.