Is It Worth The Time Invested?

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Teachers, both new and experienced are always on the lookout for ways to make learning and productivity as streamlined, effective, and efficient as possible. Many teachers are masters at having systems in place to maximize student achievement. Yet as experienced as some educators are- the beginning of the school year always requires a multitude of hours when preparing for students to arrive. And once students are finally in classrooms, lessons tend to take longer than anticipated, activities aren’t completed, and daily plans get pushed to the following day. This happens primarily because routines have yet to be established with the new group of students. What used to be completed in 30 seconds at the end of the previous year- now takes 5 minutes. Yet teachers persevere and take time to establish routines and expectations because of the long term benefits they will have on student learning. The result is worth the time invested.

Time is the operative word here. A common question teachers ask themselves is- “Is it worth the time invested” to complete a particular task? Hours are spent preparing the physical classroom for students, creating the most productive learning space possible, because it is worth the time invested as the year progresses. Additional time is spent creating grade books, labeling student names, establishing routines, creating and revising lesson plans, and numerous other tasks because they make the school year function more seamlessly.

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When it comes to the digital world, the same “time investment” question should still be considered. Yet this doesn’t seem to happen as often as it does in the physical world. With technology, we are so accustomed to quick fixes, workarounds and efficiency, that it can be frustrating when there is not or quick trick for something we want to accomplish. Tasks such as creating email groups with all parent emails, organizing files in Google Drive, or creating content on a learning management system can sometimes seem daunting when it can’t happen as quickly as one may prefer. These tasks may be left incomplete or refrain from getting traction at all because they seem so laborious. This is where it’s time to ask, “Is it worth the time invested?” Like many physical world tasks, digital undertakings at the beginning of the year may take some extra time, yet they can make the life of a teacher more efficient- which leads to greater student achievement. For example, while it would be great to have a way to import all parent emails into an email group with two clicks, the functionality may not quite be there yet. A task that could take 4 clicks and 10 seconds, might take a greater amount of typing or copying and pasting and about 20 minutes. Consider the following questions; Is it worth my time invested? How many times will I email all the parents in my class? Is 20 minutes at the beginning of the year worth the amount of times I will benefit from having all parents in one email group throughout the school year? Does this make me a more efficient and effective teacher? Answering these questions might help make the decision regarding whether it is worth your invested time.

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As another school year is underway and time is of the essence, whether working in the physical or digital world, I encourage you to consider, “Is it worth the time invested?”

Innovation Project Summary 2015-16

Co-written with Cory Austin

One of the projects the tech integration department worked on this year was based on innovation. We began by brainstorming and categorizing items into Covey’s Time Management Grid: Important/Unimportant and Urgent/Non-Urgent quadrants. Then, depending on whether the initiative was school-wide or campus specific we tackled the different projects. Below you can get a glimpse of the top 6 innovative practices intentionally developed and supported by the TI team throughout the 2015/16 school year at ASFM.

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1. Innovation @ Live Curious Go Beyond Conference: 4/5 This year there were many pockets of innovative things happening at the Live Curious, Go Beyond Conference.  In the ‘Tech Playground’ you could find students leading the way, showing teachers how to innovate with MakeyMakey kits, Google Cardboard, 3Doodlers, drones and robotics.  The ‘2.5%/True Innovation’ strand offered workshops such as: ‘Virtual Field Trips with Google Cardboard’, ‘Mindfulness for Teachers and Students’, ‘Developing Moonshot Mentality’ and Learning Spaces that Inspire’.

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2. Breakout Edu: 4/5 The ELEM campus ran team building Breakout Edu sessions for the entire grade 3 generation and are currently preparing for 4th grade. The MSHS is currently running Breakout sessions with students who have finished AP exams. Breakout games were run during every session at the Live Curious, Go Beyond Conference, in addition to a session developed and run at the U-erre Conference for local teachers. Next year the plan is to continue to run Breakout sessions, working to reach a wider audience and personally creating more games.

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3. Makerspace: 4/5 The elementary campus began its first year with the Open Mind Zone, combining trends in creation and social emotional development. It was a successful year as the space continues to change and mold to its users. The MSHS TI office had success with students exploring different maker kits. The MakeyMakey was put to use by creating different types of unique controllers for interactive digital games. The 3D printers on both campuses continue to be run by designers and hackers alike. MSHS also piloted a Maker Pod which flexibly stores different materials to be used for Design Thinking and maker challenges. Next year the spaces on both campuses will continue to evolve and engage students in the art of creating and repurposing.

4. Design Thinking: 4/5 This year the Design Thinking process has really taken off at ASFM.  In the elementary the 5th grade team went through the Design Thinking process with the whole generation.  In high school, the entire ninth grade generation went through a Design Thinking crash course to get them ready for their projectile launching project for science.  In the middle school, both the Leadership and GIN classes experienced the Design Thinking crash course to help them brainstorm and design sustainable action projects to improve some aspect of their community.  Design Thinking was even made its own strand at the Live Curious, Go Beyond Conference where various teachers led workshops.  Next year, TI is already booked to deliver Design Thinking teacher crash courses to kick off the school year. TI looks forward to offering  these workshops to both teachers and students.  Check out the time lapse video of middle school students during one of their sessions.

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5. Innovative Learning Spaces:  3/5 This was a new initiative that began on both campuses this year, thanks in part to the visit of David Jakes. Jake’s visit had administrators and teachers looking at the purposeful (re)design of learning spaces by finding tensions and solutions through different design drivers. There was a PLC in the MSHS dedicated to creative and innovative learning spaces that held moderate success. After David Jake’s visit, a 4th grade class and the librarian have taken initiative to intentionally increase the functionality of their learning spaces. Next year MSHS is looking at going through the design process to adapt the shape of the learning commons,  library staff room and TI office. Due to the visit of David Jakes being later in the school year, the Innovative Learning Spaces is a project that has been recently gaining momentum and will likely continue through next year.

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6. Student Tech and Innovation Club: 3.5/5 This year was the first official year for the Student Tech and Innovation Club. The club has gained a lot of interest within the first year of existence (just drop by the TI office during any break).  The students goal is clearly defined in their goal statement, ‘How might we make ASFM a more innovative and technology advanced place?’.  So far the team has explored website development, 3D design and printing, robotics, MakeyMakey, drone technology and technology support.  The team is looking forward to really getting the club on its feet and innovating next school year.  Plans are already getting started with getting the club involved with FIRST Robotics competitions, summer programing/robotics courses and much more.  The student tech and innovation club looks to expand to the elementary grades in the 2016/17 school year as well.

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Google Certified Educator Levels 1 & 2

 

Google for Education did a great thing this year by revamping some of their certification training and exams. The previous “Google Educator” training and exam, while informative and worth while, focused primarily on the “how to” aspects within the Google Apps for Education (GAFE) Suite. The course relied heavily on reading and experimenting independently through lengthy tutorials that provided participants with basic to advanced content knowledge of the features in each individual app. There were some scenarios and case studies provided regarding the use of GAFE in an educational setting, however a majority of the content was tool oriented.

The new (and what I consider improved) training and exams have education and the application of Google tools at the forefront. The tutorials and support for the technical components are still ever-present, but Google bumped up the focus on pedagogy. The training is a bit more reflective and contains some audio files of how practicing educators are intentionally integrating with technology, which are helpful in breaking up the still heavy reading elements. Participants are prompted to take notes and share ideas in Google docs, as well as consider teacher predicaments and how one might use GAFE as a means to address them and improve student achievement.

With the new training modules came a new certification procedure and exams. Rather than the previous process of completing numerous tests based specifically on particular Google tools, you now have the opportunity to take 2 separate leveled exams. Google Certified Educator Level 1, indicates an educator who is proficient with Google tools in the classroom, while Level 2 is described as “… an educator who is a super user and enthusiast of Google tools in the classroom, this certification proves your expertise.” The Level 1 exam is not a predecessor for Level 2, it is based on the desire of the user as to which exams are taken. Regardless of which level you take, the testing format is the same for both exams. Upon registering for the exam, it can take 24-48 hours to be issued and ready. I recommend registering a day before or the morning of the day you would like to take the test. Once issued, you have 7 days to take the test in 1 timed session.

As a previous Google Educator, I found the new process more digestible, engaging, and educationally focused. If you are looking for professional development and growth within the Google Apps for Education department, I recommend stopping by the Google for Education Training Center and checking out the different opportunities Google has to offer.

 

 

Innovative and Creative Learning Spaces

Recently, a team of various staff members from the American School Foundation of Monterrey had the opportunity to explore innovative and creative schools and spaces in the Bay Area. Within the three days of learning walks to multiple campuses, we witnessed a wide variety of physical spaces, pedagogical practices, and core values. While each of these attributes looked different in practice at each site, what stood out between these eight locations were the consistencies between them. Passion, flexibility, a willingness to grow, a sense of community, and student centeredness were easily visible during each visit. (Schools and work spaces are listed in the order we visited them.)

1. Gunn High School, Palo Alto, CA

With a robotics team 20 years old, this was the heart of passion, sense of community, and student centered learning that were visible at Gunn High School. Students work collaboratively on creating a robot that will maneuver through a challenge or set of obstacles in a competition put on by FIRST Robotics. The learning space (which might also be referred to as a Maker Space, though it is used most heavily in the robotics field) is equipped with materials you would find in a professional wood shop or mechanical garage. Students have full privileges to use the equipment and space as they see fit in order to complete the challenge. Local businesses and parents also contribute their assistance to the team by providing guidance to students throughout the process, as well as setting up the mock obstacle course based on the theme of the robotics challenge that year. Students in this facility are in a “real life” scenario- working with professional equipment with professionals practitioners, applying knowledge and learning in the moment.

 

2. Everest Summit School, Redwood City, CA

Blended learning was the highlight of student centered learning at Everest Summit School. Working with programmers from Facebook, Everest has a Learning Management System that is original to the school itself. High school students work through a personalized learning plan and monitor their own learning, with guidance from their teachers as mentors. In math, they are bordering on a system that would eliminate grade levels completely- as students would move at a pace based on their skills and benchmarks, no matter their formal grade level or age.

3. The d.school at Stanford University, Stanford, CA

Everything at the d.school encourages flexibility, creativity and collaboration. Just walking into the building gets you excited to begin creating. In a space well known for its use of Design Thinking it is easy to see why students at Stanford University flock to the building to work, redesign, and learn. The learning space can be made into any type of model the user desires. Whiteboard walls are moveable and nearly every table, storage device and seating arrangement is on wheels, which allows the transformation of an open space to be altered into sectioned off, more private work spaces within a matter of seconds. To assist in keeping organization among rooms that promote chaos, reset displays are posted so users can put the room back together after using it.

 

4. Google Merchandise Store, Mountain View, CA

Since we couldn’t get into the Google offices, we did the next best thing and headed to their flagship merchandise store. Biking around the headquarters, playing around in the Android playground, taking pictures of a Google maps Street View car, and purchasing some Google merchandise was a fun way to end the day.

 

5. Brightworks, San Francisco, CA

Gever Tulley himself, co-creator of Brightworks school provided us with a tour and description of how things work at this “extraordinary school.” With five years in its history and approximately sixty students in total, Brightworks offers a unique learning experience where passion, flexibility, a sense of community and student centeredness are definitely present. Teachers are referred to as “collaborators,” and students advance, and sometimes move back, through “bands,” versus traditional grade levels- depending on their skill set and maturity. Students have a large amount of autonomy over the direction their learning will take them. The physical space in Brightworks is just as unique- it resembles a maker space and indeed there are multiple tools to be used for making. It has an open concept which encourages collaboration among bands, while smaller, more private work spaces are also incorporated. Students learning in Brightworks will without a doubt feel comfortable moving into a creative professional working environment.

 

6. Double Robotics, San Francisco, CA

The office at Double Robotics is another unique and creative space. We had the opportunity to test out a Double and have a conversation around how the robots might be used in an educational setting. Another young company, just five years in making, Double Robotics provides employees with a physically open concept with smaller workspaces also available. It is easy to witness flexibility, collaboration, and a sense of community.

7. New Technology High School, Napa, CA

Student Centeredness and community are at the forefront of what can be seen at New Tech High, with Problem Based Learning at the center of the school’s pedagogical approach. Students collaboratively work through the PBL model with the opportunity to take classes at a local community college to prepare them for college careers. Students are given privileges to reserve rooms throughout the school to work on projects or present information to peers- rooms that may be completely empty or fully equipped with production technologies.

8. Remind Offices, San Francisco, CA

Culminating our visit were the Remind Offices- a very flexible, collaborative, fun, and “teacher-obsessed” space. Walking into this office invites you to be playful and creative. By approaching a ruler-lined desk with hopscotch, swings, and enlarged paper airplanes hanging from the ceilings, it promotes creativity from the very beginning. The Remind app encourages collaboration between teachers, parents and students- and their offices encourage the same collaborative theme. Again, open rooms and flexible furniture allows the space to morph to any format the user desires. It is easy to feel the sense of community the employees have while walking around this innovative and creative work space.

A HUGE thank you to the EdTechTeam and Amanda Hensley who did an amazing job scheduling each day, driving us around, providing facts about the Bay Area, supplying great snacks, and being a wonderful guide.

The Hour of Code, Unplugged

Since 2013, millions of students around the world participate in a week long challenge called the Hour of Code. The purpose of this challenge is to introduce students to the field of computer science and demonstrate how anyone can learn the basics of coding. The world of computer science is one that is growing heavily as advances in technology continue to expand. Educators are working to develop programs in schools to encourage STEM and STEAM related projects to prepare students for possible careers in the computer science arena.

At the American School Foundation of Monterrey (ASFM), grades 1-12 participated in the virtual world of coding through the Hour of Code website. Students coded characters in games such as Star Wars, Minecraft, and Frozen, while also exploring artistic shape making. When it came to nursery, pre-kindergarten, and kindergarten we took on a different approach. We went for a second year of coding, unplugged.

Grounded with research and feedback from teachers in the early primary years, the tech integration team made the decision to limit screen time and keep the focus on coding and programming- rather than on a particular technological device. Based on past experiences with these students, the focus often turned to the physical device and not what was going on inside of it, and rightfully so- the are 3-6 year olds after all!

Two technology integration specialists entered 20 individual classrooms, for 15 minute increments. One dressed as herself and one dressed as a “robot.” A very brief and basic conversation was had about what coding means. The following points were made:

  • When we use an iPad we are telling the iPad what to do.
  • Before we open the iPad from the box, someone programmed it. They put things inside it to make it work the way it should- so when we push the buttons it operates how we want it to.
  • The person who makes the iPad do what it should is called a programmer.
  • Lots of items we use need to be programed, one of those items is a robot.

This is where the fun began. Students were told that this robot does not understand Spanish or English, it only understands code. The code it understands, is arrows. What this means is an arrow pointing up makes the robot take 1 step forward, an arrow pointed down makes it take 1 step back. If the the robot is shown an arrow to the left it moves 1 step to the left, and an arrow to the right will have it move 1 step to the right. Visual cues were provided with large arrows drawn on pieces of paper.

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The robot was then “programmed,” being modeled by the tech integration specialists. It would move forward, backward, and side to side when being shown the correct symbols. Students were eager for their turn to program this robot. After a few students took their turns with the programing, the robot’s battery suddenly “died.” But luckily there was a new robot on hand- a smaller one ready to go. At this point in time a smaller robot helmet was given to a student, while a second student had the opportunity to program it. For some classes this activity had a steeper learning curve than others, nonetheless we witnessed complete engagement and awe throughout the brief 15 minute experience. Upon finishing the activity, we overheard many students asking their teachers if they could create robot helmets and arrows to use as a center during their school day- which we considered a success! As an added bonus, most students were able to articulate that the person who “tells a robot what to do” is called a programmer.

Being the second year of the unplugged routine, the tech integration team was able to reflect and fine tune a few steps- as we could anticipate the responses from nursery, pre-k, and kindergarten students. Overall, the experience was well received by both students and teachers- and is an endeavor we will continue to improve upon in the coming years.

Breakout of Traditional Education with Breakout EDU

Our Technology Integration team spent a significant amount of time developing the year’s outlook, with initiatives toward Student Creation & Innovation and Innovative Teaching & Learning Pilots- to name a few. These particular project initiatives are based on the combination and repurposing of multiple tools to support student learning while developing critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration skills. When piloting new technologies or educational tools, there is consistently a focus on matching the appropriate pedagogies with content and learning styles. In addition, a Makerspace has been developed, and while it is currently in beta (as I feel they always should be), multiple maker-kits and supplies have been added to support these initiatives toward student achievement. A recent highlight, a Breakout EDU kit, has been put to the test with groups of third grade students as they worked to solve “The Simple Machine Mystery.” 

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What is Breakout EDU?

Breakout EDU is a kit that primarily contains multiple boxes and locks. Similar to “Escape Rooms,” participants need to use clues to solve problems or challenges to unlock the locks and open a series of boxes in order to “escape” from the room within a given time limit. Each box contains a clue to either opening the following box or clues that work together to solve a larger problem. Breakout challenges are typically based around educational content areas in terms of the clues, yet while working through the game, learners are simultaneously developing problem solving, communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and troubleshooting skills.

Description of the Breakout.

In this particular Breakout, The Simple Machine Mystery, third grade students needed to determine which simple machine had gone missing from the classroom. Learners followed the clues on prepared envelopes to determine the code to unlocking the locks and boxes at five different stations. Inside each box was a clue that helped them put together a puzzle that guided them in determining which simple machine was missing. After unlocking every box, and solving the riddle at the end, students put an end to the mystery and were able to breakout! In support of a school-wide Blended Learning initiative, challenges contained a mix of both physical and digital challenges. Students worked in four groups of five, and had forty-five minutes to complete the challenge.

Video used to introduce the challenge to students:

Unpacking of the developed skills.

This Breakout challenge was used to review the Simple Machine content explored during the unit, students were engaged entirely throughout the forty-five minute activity, while additional skills were further developed. Following the team building experience, students were facilitated through an unpacking to discuss which particular skills were developed and how they might be transferred to different areas in life and learning. Naturally, and occasionally with some necessary scaffolding, students were mindful about the experience and able to articulate these skills on their own. Top reflections included:

Collaboration

“We needed to work together. Sometimes one person would read the challenge while others were trying to unlock the lock- and they were just guessing. We needed to make a plan first and then do it together.”

Problem Solving

“We did not read the clue! We just watched the BrainPop video and did not know we had to listen for a certain word. After we tried lots of words for the word lock, we looked at the challenge and then knew what we had to do. But then we did not listen to each other. Everyone thought it was a different word. Then we looked at the clue and saw it was a four letter word. We didn’t give up and had to try many times, but finally we got it.”

Critical Thinking

“When we got to the challenge we had to make a compound machine and we weren’t sure if we each needed to make our own or if we had to do one together. So we each made a simple machine and figured out how we could combine them all together. That way if we each needed one we would get the key to the lock, or if we needed one for the group we would get the key to the lock too.”

Troubleshooting

“The final step was to write the missing simple machine in the Google Form. We wrote the word “door stopper” because that is what it was, but it didn’t work. So then we tried “Wedge” with a capital W, that didn’t work. So next we did “wedge” with a lowercase w. That did it, and we broke out!

Innovation

“We had to think differently. Even though there was one final answer we had to solve, we could figure out the answers to the clues anyway we wanted. No one told us what to do. We were in charge of how we went about the challenge.”

Upon my own reflection and unpacking of the experience, particularly linking the challenge to our Tech Integration initiatives, the Breakout EDU challenge was right on target. Students leveraged content knowledge and utilized transferable skills in multiple scenarios while using both technology and the physical world to successfully complete the challenge- all along piloting a new and innovative educational tool.

Video used to explain the challenge for teachers:

Where Are You in Your PLN?

We are now in the middle of Connected Educator month 2016. This is a great time for educators to reflect on their Personal Learning Networks. In my opinion PLNs run in three stages. While it is definitely possible to flow between different stages depending on what is going on in life, take some time to reflect on where you are momentarily. Now might be the time to take it to another level.

Develop

1. Development. Teachers are constantly learning from each other within the school walls. This is a great thing, as there is a wealth of knowledge and experience we can learn from. It takes about the same amount of effort as walking down the hall to a colleague’s classroom, as it does to begin learning from educators beyond the brick and mortar of a school building. Once the development of your PLN is underway, the process eases as you can begin blending your learning and can grow from information on any mobile or digital device. To develop your PLN and become a connected educator, decide which tools work best for you personally. If social media is your venue, try Twitter, Facebook groups, Google+, Pinterest, or Linkedin. For alternatives to social media, check out educational blogs, webinars, or curating articles through bookmarking websites. There are plenty of avenues to take in terms of developing or broadening your PLN. Decide which you tool(s) you want to use, how you want to learn, and when you want to learn. If you already find yourself in this developmental stage, I challenge you to broaden your reach. Stretch yourself to find people to connect with outside of your immediate region or even outside of your content or grade level. Push yourself to connect.

Consume

2. Consumption. Most people enter the digitally connected arena by participating through consumption. This may include reading Tweets, searching for articles, maneuvering through blog posts, watching YouTube videos, or viewing webinars. The learning and growth generally comes as a result of what is being read or taken in by the user. The learning, while more passive in the digital sense, may be shared with colleagues actively or implemented into daily practice in the physical world. If you identify yourself within this stage, I challenge you to consider sharing content or articles of your own. Try Retweeting an article you read, or reflecting and writing a blog post about a lesson that went well. It can be intimidating to put yourself out there, but take an initial step and begin to go beyond consumption.

Contribute

3. Contribution. The natural next step after consuming content is a progression of participation within the PLN. Contribution may grow in the form of writing Tweets, sharing articles, or reflecting on learning through blog posts- to hosting a webinar or sharing educational videos created on YouTube. The individual at this point is in a give and take environment, where they are not only learning from others- but others are learning from them. If you already contribute within your PLN, I challenge you to push yourself outside your comfort zone. Try creating and sharing beyond the medium you are accustomed to. If you are a YouTube creator, try writing a blog post about your learning, or vice versa. If you solely learn through Twitter, try Google+ for a change. Experiment with not only broadening your PLN but also yourself as a contributor to open educational resources.

PLN

If you are finding it tough to define yourself within any of the categories above, it is never too late to exercise your growth mindset and learn from those around you. Connected Educator month is a great time to begin, as you are among many educators who are ready and willing to provide you with the support you need.