D123 Forward Learning- Our Beginning

Last spring, our board of education approved a technology purchase to afford our students a significant new opportunity in their learning experience. While the purchase itself focused on equipping students with technology, our initiative is much larger in scope.

We are working to partner technology with a culture of learning to build creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and problem solving. We are working through what we believe the new learning landscape means for our students, their learning, and their future.

This fall we began our implementation by equipping each student in grades 5-8 with their own netbook running Linux. We also added a grade level cart of netbooks at each elementary building for grades 1-4 and an iPad cart at each elementary building for primary students. We also have 2 carts of MacBooks at each elementary building and 6 carts of MacBooks at the middle school for higher-end multimedia projects. I’ve written more about our device selection here and here.

While getting the devices into the hands of our students is a critical part of our initiative, it’s not the most important. Now we embark upon the work of changing the learning experience for our students. We’re only a month into that process, but we have already seen exciting and encouraging change taking place. We plan to share our story as it unfolds.

I believe the 5th grade student at the end of our first video says it all. He was asked, “How has the netbook changed your experience with learning?” His response was candid and entirely his own.

This is our beginning.

Time to Move

We talk a lot about change around here. By we, I really mean me and assume there’s some of you here to. But talk, as they say, is cheap. There’s a point where it has to start costing. Or paying. Or doing something other than being a mere utterance.

I’m excited that my talk is one step closer to action.

Last night I held our first District Technology Committee meeting for Oak Lawn-Hometown District 123. I know there are some in the educational technology sphere who think there shouldn’t be such an existence of such a committee. Those individuals think that by starting a technology committee, we make technology a separate entity. I think otherwise.

Our committee is charged with creating a Five Year Technology Plan for our district. Obviously, that means we’re going to be looking through more global lenses and avoiding getting too specific about exact technologies to be put in place five years from now. Things change too fast for that. True, we will need to make some decisions about specific hardware to be purchased. If we kept waiting to predict the next thing, we’d end up always holding to the hope of what might be rather than moving and getting devices in the hands of our students. There will always be a better version just around the corner, but at some point you have to jump in the water if you want to get wet.

So, our plan has three pillars upon which we’re building. We’re going to begin by creating our district’s vision for learning with technology, then we’re going to create a professional development plan for our staff, and we’re then going to create scenarios to reduce our student to learning device ratios. At present, we lack the first two, and our student to computer ratio for computers four years old or younger sits at an average of 9:1. We must address that.

Our district is about to embark on significant curriculum work to align to the Common Core Standards. Our plan will partner technology with our curricular goals in a way that will make our technology a conduit for our learning experiences. Our focus will be on the impact these learning experiences will have on students and how we are creating well educated students in an ever changing world.

There’s lots of work to be done here. Lots of exciting, challenging, fascinating work.

I can’t wait.

Thanks to AGrinberg for the use of the Flickr image.

UbD and Technology

Notes from the session “Understanding by Design and Technology Integration” by Mark Fijor. Presented at the ICE 2010 conference on Friday, February 26.

Wiki link:

Start off with an essential question.  Something that is debatable.

For example, “Can technology really enhance and support standards-based curriculum or is it just a passing fad?”

Determine whether or not technology can enhance and support a standards based curriculum.
Collaborate and identify research tools to complete project.
Determine end product to demonstrate learning.

Use blogs or wikis or online discussion boards to demonstrate learning and wrestle with essential questions.

Fijor’s district uses the Big 6 research method.

Establish the question, identify key search terms, use a resource like Google Scholar to conduct research, and then select end project to demonstrate transfer.

Used Turning Point Anywhere to decide as a group which project format we would use.  Options were Power Point, iMovie, podcast, Prezi, web page.

After the project is complete, students go back and evaluate the presentation against the question and determine if they have to go back and revise their project to answer the essential question entirely.

*My reflection*  It’s obvious that technology can play a big role in the implementation of Understanding by Design.  The most difficult part that I’m not sure we addressed in this session is the process of transfer.  Creating a PPT, iMovie, podcast, Prezi, or web page are not necessarily the best opportunities to create transfer.  Transfer is supposed to happen when you take a skill you are learning and demonstrate the ability to use and apply the skill in an unfamiliar situation.  I believe the beginning of the presentation was strong as we discussed essential questions and research, but the most crucial part of the process, transfer, was lacking a bit.

Curriculum Reflections

*This is a reflection post required for my JHU-ISTE Leadership program.

This reflection is to focus on answering the following questions:
How has your definition of curriculum been shaped by the course readings and discussions? How and why has your definition of curriculum changed?

For reference, our texts for this course were:

Burrello, L. C., Lashley, C., & Beatty, E. E. (2001). Educating all students together: How school leaders create unified systems. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Glatthorn, A. A. (2004). Developing a quality curriculum. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Glatthorn

Tomlinson, C. A. (1999 or 2004). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Tomlinson

As posted in my first reflection for this course I was certainly pushed on my definition of curriculum over the past eight weeks.  When I first started the course, I wasn’t sure that I had an established definition at all.  It seemed to me that many different people used many different definitions for the term.  Still does.  And while I believe I have more clarity on the issue, I’m not sure I’m ready to declare I have a definitive answer.  I’m not sure I want to.

The theme of the “written, taught, and tested” curriculum came up time and again in our work.  It still seems to me that is too narrow a focus for true curriculum.  I’m still of the mind that curriculum remains everything that students end up learning in our institution.  The written, taught, and tested is a big part of that to be sure, but it isn’t all of it.  Because again, kids learn as much about themselves, us, and learning from the things we chose to omit as from the things we choose to include.

There are many curriculums that are “test prep” focused.  That speaks volumes to students about the value of creativity and innovation.  Especially when they aren’t allowed such because it would interfere with the test prep scope and sequence.  When programs start cutting the arts, that teaches a student more than what they learn in an entire unit of grammar.  They learn between the lines.  I’m afraid we forget that.  We mislead ourselves to think they learn what we direct them to.  If you believe that, I’m afraid you’re sorely mistaken.

And if you aren’t considering the needs of all your students, again, you’re missing an incredibly large part of the point.  We’re not in this business to make things.  To manufacture items.  To manage.  We’re here to serve students and help them figure out how they can most effectively learn.  And we do that for all our students.  Tomlinson’s book certainly provided a great deal of thought on this topic.  And I think we’d do well to all remember that not all students  run a six minute mile, nor do they learn at the same rate.

In considering how my definition of curriculum has changed over the course of this class, I also recognize Glatthorn’s influence on my thinking.  His work provides an excellent framework for considering when working on implementing a new curriculum.  Although I can’t say that he directly changed any part of my definition of the term itself, he certainly provided great guidance in setting up a sound system that will help navigate curriculum change.

As this course draws to a close, and I’m considering my final definition of curriculum, I’d probably have to return to a variant of my original definition.

Curriculum is everything we want our students to learn; including the explicit and implicit of what our system fosters for learning.

I’m sure that will continue to evolve, and I’m happy with that.  I’m not ready to stop wrestling with the concept quite yet.

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