Sunday, December 14, 2014

If It’s Not Meaningful, It’s Just…Work

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted to my blog. After several months of reassessment, goal setting and general adjustment, I’m glad to get back to professional reflection and sharing. 

I have come to realize that my work must be meaningful. It must be an expression of what I believe, excite my interests and connect to and make a difference in the lives of real people. It must give me opportunities to create, grow and feel a sense of accomplishment. I need to like doing my work.

Is there anybody that doesn’t? What about our students?

I’m not under the delusion that everyday of work is going to be fulfilling, relevant, engaging and productive. If the thought, however, of going to work is drudgery and I can't make any connections to things I care about, I’m not going to apply myself or accomplish much.

Kids start out their lives loving to learn. It is truly a joyful thing to see the light bulb turn on when they figure something out. Our system of education has done a pretty good job of squeezing the love of learning out of a good many of our students. My daughter started her formal education in Montessori. She came home everyday telling me about her “work”.  She had choices, worked collaboratively with others, and learned practical life skills that applied to the real world. Learning in small flexible groups was the norm as was the interdisciplinary nature of the educational setting. Montessori does not have a patent on creating an atmosphere that facilitates meaningful work; potentially, every educator can help students find meaning in the learning process.

There are students who go through school everyday unengaged, uninspired and unconnected by activities that do little to fuel the natural love of learning they were born with. Hours spent memorizing facts to be regurgitated for a test and soon forgotten isn’t anymore meaningful to our students than it is for us to sit through a meeting where someone reads information off of a powerpoint that could’ve just as easily been shared through an email (ok, I know. We probably wouldn’t read that either). Now imagine sitting through several hours of a meeting like that each day. And don't talk to your neighbor. Oh, and put away your tech.

My daughter has her own You Tube channel to which she publishes
a weekly video to more than 2000 subscribers. She communicates
 with people all over the world and feels a "sense of responsibility"
to create quality content for her followers.
Not every topic in school can be meaningful or interesting to every student but if we can’t make it relevant or help them make connections to real life, we need to at least try to engage them in ways that build transferable skills for success in the real world. A future employer is not going to care if they know the capitol of Honduras or the name of that very important treaty in 1877 (I’m sure there was one) but they may care if they can locate and analyze the quality of information quickly, verify it’s sources and apply it appropriately to the given situation. They may be expected to communicate effectively orally and in writing using current technologies.  No matter what field they go into they will have to collaborate with others to solve problems. Worksheets, lectures, notes and a steady diet of multiple choice questions are not going to cut it. 

Here are some ideas that can make learning more meaningful for students:

Connect students to an authentic audience
  • Use of blogs and social media- both as a consumer and a producer
  • Multimedia production- videos, podcasts, animation
  • Book publishing
  • Website creation
  • Google hangouts, Skype-people around the world, subject matter experts, other students
  • Service projects-addressing local or global issues
  • Inventions, engineering, design, coding
  • Multidisciplinary endeavors- it's not separated by subject in the real world
  • Collaboration- We as adults rarely work in isolation
  • Embrace failures- its essential part of innovation
  • Feedback is critical to learning, grades are not
There are tons of ideas on the subject readily available on the internet. Building a professional learning network with resources such as Twitter and Google+  is a great way to learn how teachers all over the world are making the work of school relevant and engaging for students. Please check out the links below to some of my favorite meaningful learning examples:

Other Resources & Articles:

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Designing Professional Development? Game On!

It's the last 2 weeks of school and nobody wants to attend a 4:00 professional development session. How do I create 1 hour of meaningful learning for my teachers? I know– I'll gamify it!

The purpose of this professional development session was to highlight some of the many innovative learning activities that occurred around campus during the year and how they tied into our overall technology plan. My team and I brainstormed types of game mechanics that could facilitate competitive play, information gathering and movement. We decided to incorporate elements from "The Amazing Race", "Super Mario Brothers" and "The Legend of Zelda". The resulting game included 9 information stations– each representing learning opportunities  that incorporated 21st century skills. At each station, team members had to complete a task that focused on particular concept (i.e. student created content, telepresence, blogging, 3D printing...). Additionally, they were to identify the student or faculty goals from the technology plan that were developed by the activity. Teams earned tokens at the stations and had opportunities to earn bonus tokens at points during the game play. The core game elements included the following:

Trophy designed and printed on our MakerBot
by Dave Rice
Goals- Each team will collect as many tokens as they can from any of the 9 informational stations. The
winning team earns a casual day pass and a trophy.

Rules- Only 1 team at a station at a time. Teams have 40 minutes to play. Teams that arrive back home late will be fined a token.

Space- designated rooms in the Lower School building, players move from room to room at their own pace

Components- Token buckets, tokens, iPads, Node desks, 3D printer, Smart Board, Telepresence Unit, Chrome Books, Tech plan goals, recording sheets

Mechanics- Walking, collecting, solving, racing

I front loaded most of the instructions so that teams would come in ready to play. We only had 1 hour. I selected the most competitive people on campus to be team leaders and assigned members to their team. Each leader received a packet with avatars (jobs for each member), recording sheets and technology plan goals that they distributed prior to the game. On game day, teams reported to the home base and we had about 5 minutes to review our goals and rules. We blew the air horn and everyone was off.

It was a very fast-paced session and all teachers were engaged! Competitive team leaders pushed their teams to complete the tasks, identify faculty and student goals and move on to the next station. One team was fined a token for returning late to home base but that was because they wanted to complete the task at their station! It was a close race but we had a team that was 1 token ahead (which caused some rumbling from the 2nd place team about tokens they felt they should've been awarded).

Two of our stations were manned by student "Padwans" which I found to be very powerful and a win/win for everyone involved. Students taught the teachers how they utilized technology in authentic ways during the year. The students loved teaching the teachers and the teachers had the opportunity so see the enthusiasm students bring to project-based learning.

This was an amazing first experience in gamification of professional development. One thing to note is that some people got so caught up in the game that they lost the point of what I wanted them to learn. I will examine some ways to avoid that for next time. A model that I would like to try will include the use game elements at carefully placed points during a longer professional development session. This will decrease the intensity and enable me to scaffold the game play leading to a culminating point towards the end.

Gamification is not limited to professional development. Teachers all over are engaging students with content by incorporating game elements into their instructional design. Gamification is a way to increase motivation, provide immediate feedback, develop perseverance and incorporate a variety of learning styles.  Help your teachers and students get their game on by creating learning opportunities that they will remember! What game will you play?

GameOn! Smore- This was sent out to teachers prior to the game
Sample Station- 3D printing station

Other Resources–
Gamify My Class Blog
Gamification of Education
Gamification Infographic
How to Use Badges for Positive Growth

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Listen Up! Middle School Students Speak Out About Node Desks

After a 6 week trial, I wanted to get some feedback from Middle School students regarding the Steelcase Node Desks.  I selected two 6th grade classes from which to collect feedback as well as to discuss the bigger concept of flexible learning spaces and student choice. It is my opinion that replacing existing furniture with new furniture that is all the same gains us nothing. As you will hear from the students themselves, learning styles vary as does their preferences for learning space.

I feel strongly that their should be variety within the classroom so that students can select a personal learning space that fits their learning style. During this lesson, students quickly configured desks to facilitate a group discussion regarding the Node Desks. I then asked students to move into small groups to discuss categories of seating types and to select their top 3 choices. I created a Google Doc with examples of various seating categories.  The categories included:

  • Soft seating
  • Chairs
  • Wobble stools
  • Cafe tables
  • Large tables

After discussing and selecting their favorites, students moved once again into a large group discussion formation to share out and explain the rationale behind their choices. Below are the summaries of our class discussions. The second video is annotated.

Feedback and attitudes that were consistent within these groups include the following:

  • Students have distinct preferences regarding personal learning space.
  • Students want to have choices in their learning space. 
  • Characteristics within the space can have a positive or negative impact on their learning
  • Some types of furnishing work better for certain courses than others
  • For most students, the Node desktops are too small for the resources and technologies that are currently being used for instruction.
  • Students like the mobility. They felt mobility was beneficial for the following reasons:
    • Easy to move to work with small groups and the groups were more flexible
    • Easy to see the teacher no matter where she was in the room
    • Ability to self adjust if they needed quiet workspace to focus
  • Some students need to move while processing information or solving problems and swiveling helps
  • Some students will abuse the mobility factor but teacher expectations are important for success
  • Tables with whiteboard surfaces for brainstorming and collaborating were very popular
  • Students want to have a voice in creating a space that fits their learning needs
These students had great input regarding the Node desks and choices they would like to see in the classrooms. It is my hope that as we make decisions for the new building that student committees will be a part of the decision making process when it comes to furnishing the space which will be so important to their learning experience!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Out of the Mouths of Babes- 2nd grade speaks up about Node Desks

After several weeks of testing Node Desks, 2nd grade students were given an audience with Head of Lower School, Ted Lakoski. Below is the video of that discussion.

Interestingly, although students all had recommendations for improving the Node (Steelcase engineers take note) none of them wanted their old desks back. I also notice that with students this age, the responses you get depend on how you frame the questions. If you frame them in the negative, the responses tend to be negative; the same with the inverse.

Student feedback regarding desks- “They are cool because when we take tests we don’t have to stay in our pod; we can move anywhere we want. I like to be by myself in a corner. Some people like being a little close but not too close. The part I don’t like is that we have to stand and move chair instead of moving with our feet. Ms. Peden says we might fall over. There is enough space to work but sometimes some of our stuff falls out of our saucer. Changes- “I would give it color and move forward on its own (pedal). Storage cup for pens and pencils. I would like it to have cushions. If you are small it can hurt your legs on the edge. I just leave my legs hanging rather than on the edge of the saucer."

In visiting with Nicky Peden, the 2nd grade teacher in this classroom, she has made the following observations:
  • The desks are space savers- there is more moving around space in the classroom
  • It is so easy to move groups and change kids in and out of groups. 
  • Weekly test scores have gone up 
  • Students can go wherever they want when testing.  They take what they need for when they finish their test and move to a private space. Students are in there own little world while taking a test and are not concerned with their classmates. When they finish, they do not bother those who are not.
  • Things sometimes fall off desks- cupholders may help
  • 1:1 ipads may help with lessening of clutter- consolidate resources and textbooks 
  • Students who have some behavior challenges have shown improved behavior- they self adjust, move away from group as needed to regain personal control
  • Nicky loves them and would like to have them next year!
The students loved having a voice in the matter and were eager to share their opinions! We will be considering a year-long pilot with furniture choices in the classroom to fit a variety of learning needs.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Fear Not the Roly Chair!

We are piloting Steelcase's Node Desks in 2 classrooms; a 2nd grade class and a Middle School math class. A few teachers walked by these classrooms with positive interest but most had a "that will never work" attitude. The negative responses are what you would expect-
  • They will be rolling all over the place
  • They will be using them as bumper cars
  • It will be a management nightmare
  • Students will not be able to handle that
  • That would drive me crazy
  • Why on earth would you put kids in something with wheels?
What exactly happens during a typical day with a 2nd grade class on rollers? I created a timelapse video to find out. I have created a shorter version (below) but I also have a full day (just the parts removed where students are out of the classroom).

Although the speed makes it difficult to track individual behavior what it does show is that most movement is purposeful. Students rearrange their desks depending on the type of learning activity they are engaged in. In this video, you will see collaborative and independent work as well as whole class discussions. Groups are fluid and students have opportunities to work with  a larger variety of students. Some students utilize the swivel feature more than others but this does not seem to impact the behavior of the group as a whole. Students do not use the chairs as bumper cars nor do they use them to drag race. My advice is "Try it, you'll like it!" You won't even need the Alka-Seltzer!

Friday, April 4, 2014

RoadTripEDU: Discovering Innovation in California's Bay Area

This week I had the pleasure of traveling to the San Francisco area on the hunt for innovations in education. This trip was organized by my Head of School, Dan McKenna  @_danmckenna_ and included one of our classroom teachers, Caity Schmeltkopf @cschmeltekopf. Our goal- to find out how schools known as leaders in educational innovation, are creating transformative learning opportunities for children, incorporating 21st century skills, and facilitating school culture that embraces innovative practice.

We visited 4 schools: The Alt School, Hillbrook School, Marin Country Day School and San Domenico School.

Out of the 4, The Alt School was probably the most innovative. They are a very young, non-traditional program for elementary students but are expanding to middle school. They have created a personalized approach and utilize cutting edge technology and analytics to create an efficient system of measuring student achievement, organizing learning plans and curating resources. Their model is not for everyone and they may go through various iterations until they have a formula that they can effectively replicate. I'm so glad there are people out there pushing the limits and trying new things in education. They are employing very talented industry people to leverage the latest technology in unique ways within an educational space.

The Hillbrook School is on a beautiful, multi-building campus. Hillbrook is an Apple Distinguished Campus and technology integration includes a 1:1 ipad program and shared Macbooks. The technology runs in the background as a tool for doing the important work that focuses on authentic learning experiences, collaboration and high levels of critical thinking. eBackback helps them manage their digital workflow. Their learning spaces are open, flexible and include great outdoor learning areas, a woodshop, maker space, and an fantastic athletic facility. Students in Christina Pak's 7th grade history class were working on a sustainability project in collaborative groups. Students had to come up with a solution to a problem faced by China, tie it to one of the ancient philosophies as well as to a body system such as the respiratory, circulatory or skeletal system. A big event this week is a group of middle school students heading to China! *Side note- They have chickens!

Outside of the art room and tinkering space at
 Marin Country Day School. What a beautiful
learning environment!
Like Hillbrook, Marin Country Day School is a sprawling and beautiful campus. Technology in infused into their academic program and is used in very intentional ways as a tool for learning and not as a primary focus. Students as early as kindergarten are learning the basics of programing using Bee-Bots. Plans are underway for a Minecraft class in Middle School with authentic projects such as working with Lower School teachers to create games that teach core content to younger students. MCDS has a tinkering space, art rooms for different age groups, grade level gardens (which supply food for the cafeteria), individual music studios equipped with Macs and GarageBand software, a black box theater, outdoor gymnastics area that can be enclosed in bad weather, and a multi-level library/research building. Many smaller breakout spaces across campus provide alternative work and small group collaboration areas for students, parents and faculty. The library stacks are on casters which allows them to be moved easily for various event needs. The Head of School, Lucinda Lee Katz is inspirational and sets high expectations for faculty and students. She facilitates a culture of innovation by placing a high priority on risk taking and professional development. To paraphrase, she says learning is messy and some teachers have difficulty with this. They need to get comfortable with the messiness of the process. *Another side note- They have chickens AND an outdoor pizza oven! I love California!

The final school we visited was San Domenico, a pre-k through 12th grade campus. Unfortunately we did not get to see learning in action but had a great visit with the Director of Technology, Brad Lakritz. One of my take-away's from our visit with Brad is that unlike the opinion held by many secondary teachers, he feels that there is no need for students to have a laptop. He thinks everything they need to do can be done right from their iPad. He has some external keyboards for typing long papers but he says very few kids come check them out. Students are adapting quite well to using their ipads and the mobility and flexibility they offer make them a better 1:1 choice for their program goals. San Domenico is also an Apple Distinguished Campus and has great faculty support for technology integration. Each division has a teacher who is also a technology facilitator. Their role is to support technology integration within their division. Digital Citizenship is a priority at San Domenico and they have recently have become Digital Citizenship Certified and are a Common Sense Signature School. Professional development is key to their successful technology integration and is a priority for the campus. They are hosting the iTeach conference this June.

Some of the big ideas that I saw consistently between these schools include:
  1. Seamless integration of technology that blends into the background. The content and processes are the primary focus
  2. Functional space and aesthetics are intentionally planned and are an important part of the learning environment
  3. Program balance and a focus on the whole child, development of personal interests
  4. Systems thinking, community and connections beyond one's self 
  5. Differentiation, personalization and individualization of learning opportunities
  6. Authentic learning, real-world connections, project-based learning
  7. Learning focused at higher levels of cognition- Analysis, Evaluation, Synthesis
  8. Professional development is a priority
  9. Importance of parent partnerships
  10. Risk-taking, boundary pushing, failure is expected and necessary in order to innovate
As we discussed our trip on the way home I felt pretty good about the things we observed and where we are in our program development. It was very affirming that we are already incorporating many of the same big ideas that are happening at some of the most innovative schools in the country. Now I'm ready to check out the east coast!

Monday, March 31, 2014

My Space or Yours?

When I was a little girl, my friends and I liked to play school. This usually involved lining up some tables and chairs in rows and handing out lined paper or old workbooks. Whoever was bossiest in the group usually got the coveted role of teacher and dispensed knowledge and work to those in the group designated as students.

That was fort....
...that was a long time ago and although the world has changed immensely, I still see plenty of classrooms that are structured just as they were in the days when my friends and I were playing school.
That '70s Class
Dialog around redesigning learning spaces gets some teachers nervous. The classroom is their domain. Many teachers set up their classrooms in the same way every year and when the kids walk in that first day it is magnificent; from the perfectly crafted bulletin boards to the individual names on each aligned desk. Of course I'm generalizing but the point I'm making is that it really is a space of the teacher's design- it's her vision of a perfect learning space.

Seriously? What has really changed?
What type of learning space would students design for themselves given the choice?

Think about some of the big ideas in education today; differentiation, personalization, collaboration, design thinking, project-based learning, tech-enabled classrooms to name a few. When I think of these concepts I picture very fluid space with areas that meet a variety of instructional needs and learning styles. I envision a space that is functional, reflects student choices and authentic work. Today's classrooms should focus on learning rather than teaching and that requires us to rethink learning spaces.

At the Texas Computer Educators Association conference in Austin my favorite learning space is the Digital Square. This space is filled with a variety of seating choices and there is no front of the room. I enjoy finding a space that fits my comfort needs and learning style and I love this concept for our classrooms.

Steelcase is a company that has done an exceptional job of researching learning spaces and is one of several companies that are promoting the idea that furnishings in a classroom should be flexible enough to accommodate various learning styles and instructional models. With the help of Paul Rademacher at Rockford Business Interiors in Austin, we are piloting a few pieces from Steelcase's furniture line that help create flexible learning spaces. The Node desk has wheels, which allows quick reconfiguration of the space to fit various instructional models. We have put these desks into a second grade classroom as well as a Middle School math classroom. During the time we have this furniture, I will be making classroom observations, visiting with students and teachers to get feedback and having other teachers and administrators observe and discuss.

An example of a classroom with flexible learning spaces.
This space says "collaboration happens here!"
Redesigning learning spaces is not all about buying some new furniture but furnishing definitely play a role. I will add observations and feedback I receive on our pilot as comments on this blog post. Please share your thoughts and your own experiences with re-designing learning spaces! Here is a link to a doc where I'm collecting articles and posts on this topic.

Now where's my Big Chief tablet? I need to go make some observations!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Measuring Teacher Technology Proficiency

To establish a baseline of teacher technology skills,  I decided to use's Wayfind Teacher Assessment. This online assessment in aligned to the NETS-T standards and measures proficiency in 5 strands:

  1. Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity
  2. Design and Develop Digital-Age Learning Experiences and Assessments
  3. Model Digital-Age Work and Learning
  4. Promote and Model Digital Citizenship and Responsibility
  5. Engage in Professional Growth and Leadership
Prior to assigning to my teachers, I took the assessment myself and found it to be  pretty rigorous. It assesses at an application and analysis level which was especially challenging for primary teachers who do not apply technology in the classroom in the way the questions were structured. I took a little heat from several of these teachers who thought this was a pointless exercise since their instruction does not include students researching, citing sources, using databases or creating spreadsheets. 

It is my belief that all teachers should be digitally literate. Teachers who are digitally literate will be more likely to see the instructional connections and opportunities to integrate 21st century skills across all subjects and grade levels. Just because a person teaches 2nd grade does not mean that they only need mathematical understanding through 2nd grade math. Just a metaphor but you get my point.

Teachers were uncomfortable and anxious about having their technology knowledge and skills assessed. We ask our students to do this all of the time and many feel that same anxiety. I assured teachers that this assessment was not going to be used punitively, shared with the Head of School or tied to their annual evaluation. The purpose was to help me, help them grow professionally. We need to assess our own knowledge and skills periodically so that we can identify areas for professional growth.

The Wayfind Teacher Assessment is just one method amongst several that I am using to track our transition to a new educational paradigm. It is a dipstick; a way for me to begin the process of personalizing professional development. As a multiple choice test, there is a margin of error due to correct guessing. I also take into consideration that just because someone demonstrates basic proficiency in the application of technology tools on a multiple choice test it does not mean they are effectively using them with students. 

My next steps include meeting with individuals to review their strengths and focus areas based on their results and the creation of personal learning opportunities. allows an administrator to prescribe curriculum based on the assessment results. Learning activities in the database include content from as well as content from 3rd party vendors and other educators. The quality is varied; many of the Google Apps lessons and resources are from 3 or 4 years ago and if you are a Google Apps user you know a lot has changed. I will assign a few things from the database but I will probably create my own content to make sure the quality is worth teacher's time investment.

The bottom line is that in order to move forward, I need to know where our current strengths and weaknesses lie. The Wayfind Teacher Assessment by is a place to start. It is inexpensive and included in an annual school subscription. Like our campus technology plan, it is aligned to the NETS-T standards. This gives me a baseline for our faculty technology proficiency and helps me set goals for improvement.