Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Welcome to the 2017-18 School Year!

My responsibilities have changed for the 2016-17 school year. I'm the Instructional Technology Resource Teacher serving three locations: Waynesboro HS, Phoenix Alternative School, and Wenonah ES.

ITRTs train teachers to integrate technology and software effectively.

Duties and responsibilities of an ITRT include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Working collaboratively with individual teachers or groups of teachers to integrate technology into instruction
  • Assisting with curriculum and content development
  • Disseminating information regarding technology resources, emerging technologies, best practices using technology, and professional development opportunities
  • Facilitating or conducting technology-related professional development for school staff
  • Assessing levels of teacher and student technology use and skills
  • Modeling effective instructional strategies using technology
  • Serving as a member of the school technology committee
  • Supporting implementation of the division and state technology plan
  • Researching use of newer technologies in instruction
  • Using data to design technology-based instructional strategies
  • Recommending hardware, software, and related resources
  • Identifying trends in software, curriculum, teaching strategies, and other educational areas
  • Creating learning resources for teachers, staff, and students
  • Serving as a strong advocate for technology integration
  • Participating in software selection and use

Thursday, March 21, 2013

10 Lessons from the Best District in the Country


Mooresville’s Mark Edwards on how it took his district five years to become an overnight success.

By Elizabeth F. Farrell

If they haven’t been tossed already, textbooks at Mooresville Graded School District sit unused, piled in corners of classrooms. Desks are no longer neatly arranged in rows, and students rarely sit quietly and listen to extended lectures.

At Mooresville, 20 miles outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, this is the new norm. The district undertook a massive “21st Century Digital Conversion” in 2007. Students now frequently work in groups, and they use one of dozens of interactive learning platforms instead of textbooks. Rather than lecturing, teachers act as facilitators, circulating among groups or leading students in interactive lessons.

Results of this transformation are off the charts—the graduation rate for African-American students was 95 percent in 2012, up from 67 percent five years earlier. The overall graduation rate is the third highest in the state, and 88 percent of 2012 graduates are attending college, compared with 74 percent in 2007. Mooresville has accomplished this while keeping spending in check—among the state’s 115 school districts, it ranks 100th in spending per student at $7,463.

Mark Edwards has spearheaded the digital conversion since taking over as superintendent in 2007. The centerpiece is a one-to-one approach—every student from fourth grade on, along with every teacher, receives a MacBook Air. (Third graders get MacBooks.) Despite the major undertaking of distributing and maintaining 5,000 laptops, Edwards made it clear to parents, teachers, administrators, and students that the digital conversion wasn’t about technology. It was about preparing all of the district’s students for a successful and bright future.

“Ninety percent of our visitors come here talking about hardware and leave talking about culture. This was very much about engendering a culture of caring,” says Edwards. “We implemented the digital conversion to increase student achievement and close gaps between different groups of students.”

The success of the eight-school, 5,600-student district has earned it numerous accolades—Edwards spoke on a White House panel and was named AASA’s Superintendent of the Year in February. A New York Times front-page profile of the district in 2012—which called Mooresville the “de facto ­national model of the digital school”—was the most blogged education story of the year, Edwards says. Reports in The Wall Street Journal and on Fox News and PBS followed. In March, CoSN joined the parade, naming Mooresville as the winner of its TEAM Award. All that publicity has led to a steady stream of visitors from more than 40 states and countries. For educators with grand plans to transform their schools through technology, Mooresville has become a mecca of sorts.

Visitors to Mooresville schools may be inspired by what they see, but they probably won’t get a full picture of the careful long-term efforts that made the success possible. Given the cultural shift and the moving parts involved, district leadership had to navigate a minefield of challenges to realize the digital conversion.

But before heading to North Carolina or buying thousands of computers, say veterans of the Mooresville transition, consider the following 10 lessons.

1. Build a Foundation
Among the many things that are “easy to say and hard to do” is building enthusiasm among stakeholders in the schools and community, says Edwards. Before going digital, it’s crucial to convince them that they have a vested interest in the success of the conversion.

“It took a good two years to build a firm foundation,” says Edwards. “We needed to build trust and a sense of shared aspiration.”

He did this by emphasizing the “why” of the digital conversion. The district needed to become more focused on truly engaging students in learning and imparting skills that would equip them for real-world success. Achievement gaps, which had been widening for poor and minority students, needed to close, and graduation rates had to improve. Mooresville adopted the slogan “Every Child, Every Day” as a guiding mantra.

Edwards brought in outside education experts to explain how the conversion could transform learning and how it aligned with the skills students needed to succeed in a tech-centric economy.

Advisory councils of teachers and parents were created to consult on all aspects of the digital conversion plan. These groups still meet quarterly with school district officials.

2. Form Strategic Alliances
To provide the resources needed for the conversion, Edwards and other district leaders reached out to a wide variety of partners. Mooresville brought in instructional technology experts from Apple and Discovery Education. Through professional development sessions and consultation, they helped teachers and administrators implement curriculum changes and new approaches to learning. Colleagues from Virginia’s Henrico School District—where Edwards had previously served as superintendent and pioneered a similar initiative—offered training and advice on implementing the one-to-one program.

Community partners also joined the effort. About one third of the district’s students lacked Internet access at home, so the local cable company offered discounted packages to students’ families. Fifteen percent of homes still don’t have Net access, according to Scott Smith, the district’s chief technology officer. But by working with town officials, the district was able to secure agreements for free Wi-Fi in parks, at the local library, and in all municipal buildings; some businesses also offer free Internet access.

To provide teachers and administrators with more intensive training to help lead the conversion, the district worked with nearby Wingate University to offer three graduate degree tracks—two doctoral programs in educational leadership and a master’s program in instructional technology.

3. Thoroughly Think Through Logistics
“You name it, we probably discussed it,” says Smith. “We played out so many different possible scenarios and challenges, and did a lot of vetting of equipment, services, and educational software programs—no decision was made lightly.”

Before distributing computers, school officials created a detailed code of conduct that set clear expectations for laptop care and use. Students are required to charge their laptops at night so the ­devices are powered up for class time. They must use a school-issued backpack with a laptop sleeve, in addition to another protective case, for transporting their laptop between home and school. A robust firewall keeps ­students from accessing content that lacks redeeming educational value—including Facebook. Students and their families are required to take introductory classes at the beginning of each year to ensure that they understand how to operate and care for their laptops.

4. Rethink Fund Allocation
With 5,000 MacBooks in circulation, a district-wide management learning system, ongoing tech support, dozens of paid subscription software services, and new staff positions, one might think the cost of the digital conversion would have been prohibitive. But Mooresville officials insist it can be done without an influx of outside donations and grants. Though the district did receive a $250,000 start-up grant from Lowe’s, it funds 98 percent of the digital conversion costs through its operating budget, which is smaller than it was five years ago.

“Basically, we did this by repurposing existing funds,” says Smith. “Textbooks are pretty much out of date by the time we get them, and we eliminated some positions to create new ones. We save on other expenses as well.”

When budgeting, it’s important to regard equipment expenses as operating costs instead of one-time capital expenses. Mooresville leases its equipment from Apple so it can spread the cost over multiple years. According to Smith, districts can make a big mistake by buying a ton of equipment because they often don’t budget for maintenance costs, and technology can quickly become obsolete.

5. Apply Gentle Yet Sustained Pressure
To make huge cultural changes in how teachers were teaching and how students were learning, Mooresville’s leadership eased teachers into the transition incrementally.

Teachers received brand-new MacBooks to take home over the winter break in the first year, with encouragement to “just try them out.” The following semester, PCs that had been in every classroom were removed. High school English teachers were the first pilot group of instructors required to incorporate the Macs and learning software in their classroom instruction. Students used laptops wheeled in on carts.

Teacher enthusiasm began to build as they saw colleagues applying tech in the classroom. The following year, laptops were distributed to all 1,650 Mooresville High School students and 850 middle school students. By the beginning of the ­2012–13 academic year, 4,400 of the original computers had been replaced with Airs and all students from third grade on up had their own MacBooks.

The steady pace of the transition was pivotal in convincing teachers that the digital conversion wasn’t just the latest whim. Once they knew it wouldn’t fizzle out, they were more willing to invest their time and effort into making the technology work for them.

“I’ve been a teacher, and I know, by our very nature, that we are control freaks,” says Smith. “There was a lot of initial skepticism toward making this change, because it made everyone a first-year teacher all over again.”

6. Empower and Educate Your Teachers
As you ease teachers into the transition, be sure to provide meaningful, sustained professional development and the time to complete it; Edwards built 10 early-release days into the academic year for professional development.

Prior to each school year, Mooresville also offers an annual summer training institute for its teachers—more than 90 percent attend. From the beginning of the digital conversion, teachers have been encouraged to experiment and collaborate to find the most effective methods and digital learning resources.

“Anything we are asked to do, the support is there,” says Felicia Bustle, principal at Mooresville Intermediate School. “Having the time to get ­together and share ideas as teachers and administrators is key. The teachers are empowered to determine which programs and approaches will best serve the students.”

The district also hired instructional technology specialists to help teachers find and incorporate appropriate resources and technology-based teaching approaches to meet Common Core curriculum standards.

Furthermore, Mooresville’s school and district administrators tap “leader teachers” who identify particularly effective and innovative strategies and tactics to lead training seminars for their colleagues.

“Competency is evolutional,” Edwards says. “Our best teachers five years ago wouldn’t be in our top 70 percent now if they didn’t grow.”


7. Watch the Transformation
Once the district had cultivated trust and enthusiasm among a critical mass of Mooresville teachers, momentum spread rapidly. The noticeable uptick in student engagement inspired the more skeptical teachers to embrace technology in their classrooms.

“The kids think it’s the coolest thing ever,” says Stephen Mauney, Mooresville’s executive director of secondary education. “They see how it is relevant to their future, and they love that they get to explore and analyze and think creatively.”

Absentee rates have plunged, and the district is seeing far fewer disciplinary problems.

And the technology saves teachers time and provides them with more insight into their students’ progress: Instead of manually grading quizzes and assignments, teachers administer them digitally and analyze aggregate and individual student test scores more easily. The technology also allows for a “flipped classroom,” in which teachers use class time to help students work through assignments and present new material by recording their lectures on videos that students watch as homework.

8. Collect and Use Data Wisely
For parents, teachers, and administrators, the ability to track students’ progress (or lack thereof) in real time is a huge advantage of the digital conversion.

Administrators benefit from having a bird’s-eye view of overall progress and can swiftly intervene when a particular school, grade level, class, or even individual student seems to be falling behind. “I know where every student is every day, and I don’t have to interrupt the teacher’s day to get data on specific students,” says Bustle. “It makes parent meetings entirely different, as we can talk about particular assignments and assessments.”

And parents no longer have to rely on their children to find out when tests are scheduled or what the results are. In most cases, if a student finishes a test at 11 a.m., parents can log in remotely to see how their child did by 11:15.

Teachers say the data yielded by the conversion has created a far more collaborative environment with their peers. Each school is required to conduct quarterly data meetings to review progress at every level, but the majority of teachers meet informally with their colleagues on a weekly basis to compare results.

9. Share Best Practices
Success can be challenging to sustain, which is why Mooresville’s leadership does not shy away from opportunities to share its experiences and best practices with education colleagues far and wide. The goal is to sustain momentum, and thus far it seems to be working. Parents like Shawn Huggins chose a two-hour round-trip commute so his 9-year-old son can attend school in Mooresville.

Teachers and administrators don’t plan on leaving the district anytime soon. “I can’t imagine going back to the way it was. It would seem like going backward,” says Bustle. “Teaching here has been the best experience of my life.”

10. Continue to Evolve
Though they enjoy their success, just about everyone involved thinks of the digital conversion as a work in progress. They know they have to remain flexible and respond quickly to changes in technology. Teachers, curriculum experts, and tech staff are constantly vetting new interactive learning platforms and open-source courseware. They are considering moving to cloud computing. Dozens of vendors are regularly monitored to make sure Mooresville receives the best deals and service.

Responsibility among students is reinforced through monthly digital citizenship lessons that emphasize Internet safety. Committees of parents and teachers meet regularly with district leaders to collaborate on improvements and changes, and teachers are expected to attend the annual summer training.

Administrators say that as a result of the great strides their schools have made, and the improved baseline they use to judge their progress, moving the needle even further becomes more challenging.

“We’re still building the plane as we fly it, and that’s always going to be the case,” says Smith, Mooresville’s CTO. “It’s easy to get hung up on the logistics, but the important part is why we are doing this: to change the teaching and learning environment in ways that are better for the kids.”

—Spring 2013—

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Six tech resolutions for 2013

This is an article by Heather Kelly (CNN) posted on January 1, 2013

Between your new regimen of daily workouts, volunteering, painting or whatever else you've resolved to do more of in the New Year, make time for a few tech-centric resolutions.
They're low impact and will keep your memories and online identity safer, your mind sharper and your friendships healthier.
 
Here are six you can do right now. You'll thank yourself later.
 
Back up your stuff
Back up your files. Do it now, do it often, do not put it off until your hard drive suddenly and unexpectedly perishes or until your laptop is stolen from a cafe when you run to the bathroom.
Everyone will have different backup needs, but for the most basic computer backups there are a few basic options. You can use an external hard drive or a cloud service. There are services like Carbonite, which will automatically back up photos, music, documents and emails for an annual fee. If you have an Apple computer, turn on Time Machine and it will backup your files to the drive of your choice in the background.
 
You also can use a cloud storage service like Dropbox or Google Drive to save a copy of select files. A nice Dropbox feature is that it can automatically save new photos from connected cameras or smartphones to the cloud.
 
Turn on 2-factor authentication
Hopefully by now you know and follow all the best practices for protecting your passwords: Avoid dictionary words; use multiword pass phrases; don't use the same password across multiple sites; keep it memorable but not obvious. But strong passwords aren't enough to keep you completely secure. When it comes to your important online accounts, one of the most effective security measures you can take is turning on two-factor authentication.
 
Two-factor authentication requires you to confirm your identity with two separate things. Typically it's something you know, like a password, and something you have, like your cell phone or a key fob. For example, when you try to log in to a Gmail account from an unrecognized location, Google will text you a code you need to enter.
 
Start with your e-mail accounts, which can be used to gain access to your other online accounts. Gmail and Yahoo both offer two-factor authentication, but Outlook currently does not. Cloud storage services with two-factor include Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft's Sky Drive. Apple's iCloud does not yet offer it. Facebook has its own two-factor feature called login approvals.
 
Two-factor can be a hassle to use and will take some getting used to, but it's a small inconvenience to avoid the much larger, more devastating inconvenience of being hacked.
 
Scan old photos
We all have them. The stacks of old photos hidden in boxes under the bed or collecting dust in basements. If you don't have digital copies of these gems, stop stalling and start scanning. Natural disasters, floods and fires can wipe out film memories in an instant. To scan your images, get a flatbed scanner and place multiple images on the bed at a time. You can crop and retouch individual pictures later.
 
If manually scanning in each old photo sounds like too big (or boring) of an undertaking, you can hire a company to do it for you. Many local camera stores offer bulk-scanning services and will return your originals along with high-resolution TIFFs or JPEGs on a CD or hard drive. And you can store copies of your photos online in case your laptop crashes (see resolution No. 1).
 
If you're comfortable sending your photos away, the best option is using a company that specialize in bulk photo scanning. They'll even do light retouching and repairs for older pictures, videos and slides. Check out ScanDigital.com or ScanCafe.com.
 
Step away from the smartphone
If you spend most of the day with your nose buried a smartphone, tablet or computer, make an effort to break out of the digital world and interact more with the humans around you in 2013. Don't habitually check your online social networks while hanging out with your flesh-and-blood friends.
 
On a date? Don't even think about texting. (Unless the date is going horribly and they're in the bathroom and you need to arrange an emergency extraction.)
 
Attempt to live in the moment instead of just documenting the moment on Instagram. Yes, that sunset will look stunning with the Valencia filter, but it will look even better through your own eyeballs.
There's a time and a place for texting and e-mailing and checking Twitter. But this year, let's try to leave the screens in our pockets and bags more often and engage with the world around us.
 
Read the TOS and check privacy settings
Terms of service are long, boring documents filled with impenetrable legalese. But before you upload content or share personal information with a site, take a few minutes to read over its terms of service -- and any privacy agreements -- so you have a better idea of who owns your data and what the company can do with it. Start with the biggies you're probably already using such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, Yahoo and Twitter.
 
Next, take a trip to your privacy settings. Even if you had your settings just the way you wanted them a year ago, the company could have updated the controls and left some of your information exposed.
 
Learn something new online
Tech resolutions aren't all preventative measures to avoid doom and gloom. You can also embark on fun, self-improvement projects. Quality classes are free and plentiful online. There are courses for every age, interest and attention span, from major universities and organizations.
 
Pick up a language, learn how to code at Codeacademy or just be inspired by the best Ted Talks. Apple's iTunes U is stocked with videos and podcasts of classes, as well as supporting materials like worksheets and ebooks. You can access them from a computer or download the ITunes U iPad or iPhone app. The YouTube Education channel has instructional videos on math, business, language and the other usual suspects, including fun experiments you can try at home. Check out the Spangler Science channel and prepare to simultaneously mess with and impress your kids.
 
Coursera offers free college courses from big name universities including Princeton, Emory, Stanford, Johns Hopkins and Columbia. Get the knowledge without the student loans (or course credit, unfortunately).

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Post From: Choosing Democracy

Mr. Duncan. You Are A Shining Example

This was a blog post from David Reber, Topeka K-12 Examiner May 21st, 2011.  You can see the blog here.

Mr. Duncan,

I read your Teacher Appreciation Week letter to teachers, and had at first decided not to respond. Upon further thought, I realized I do have a few things to say.

I’ll begin with a small sample of relevant adjectives just to get them out of the way: condescending, arrogant, insulting, misleading, patronizing, egotistic, supercilious, haughty, insolent, peremptory, cavalier, imperious, conceited, contemptuous, pompous, audacious, brazen, insincere, superficial, contrived, garish, hollow, pedantic, shallow, swindling, boorish, predictable, duplicitous, pitchy, obtuse, banal, scheming, hackneyed, and quotidian. Again, it’s just a small sample; but since your attention to teacher input is minimal, I wanted to put a lot into the first paragraph.

Your lead sentence, “I have worked in education for much of my life”, immediately establishes your tone of condescension; for your 20-year “education” career lacks even one day as a classroom teacher. You, Mr. Duncan, are the poster-child for the prevailing attitude in corporate-style education reform: that the number one prerequisite for educational expertise is never having been a teacher.
Your stated goal is that teachers be “…treated with the dignity we award to other professionals in society.” Really?

How many other professionals are the last ones consulted about their own profession; and are then summarily ignored when policy decisions are made? How many other professionals are so distrusted that sweeping federal legislation is passed to “force” them to do their jobs? And what dignities did you award teachers when you publicly praised the mass firing of teachers in Rhode Island?

You acknowledge teacher’s concerns about No Child Left Behind, yet you continue touting the same old retoric: “In today’s economy, there is no acceptable dropout rate, and we rightly expect all children – English-language learners, students with disabilities, and children of poverty - to learn and succeed.”

What other professions are held to impossible standards of perfection? Do we demand that police officers eliminate all crime, or that doctors cure all patients? Of course we don’t.

There are no parallel claims of “in today’s society, there is no acceptable crime rate”, or “we rightly expect all patients – those with end-stage cancers, heart failure, and multiple gunshot wounds – to thrive into old age.” When it comes to other professions, respect and common sense prevail.

Your condescension continues with “developing better assessments so [teachers] will have useful information to guide instruction…” Excuse me, but I am a skilled, experienced, and licensed professional. I don’t need an outsourced standardized test – marketed by people who haven’t set foot in my school – to tell me how my
students are doing.

I know how my students are doing because I work directly with them. I learn their strengths and weaknesses through first-hand experience, and I know how to tailor instruction to meet each student’s needs. To suggest otherwise insults both me and my profession.

You want to “…restore the status of the teaching profession...” Mr. Duncan, you built your career defiling the teaching profession. Your signature effort, Race to the Top, is the largest de-professionalizing, demoralizing, sweeter-carrot-and-sharper-stick public education policy in U.S. history. You literally bribed cash-starved states to enshrine in statute the very reforms teachers have spoken against.

You imply that teachers are the bottom-feeders among academics. You want more of “America’s top college students” to enter the profession. If by “top college students” you mean those with high GPA’s from prestigious, pricey schools then the answer is simple: a five-fold increase in teaching salaries.

You see, Mr. Duncan, those “top” college students come largely from our nation’s wealthiest families. They simply will not spend a fortune on an elite college education to pursue a 500% drop in socioeconomic status relative to their parents.

You assume that “top” college students automatically make better teachers. How, exactly, will a 21-year-old, silver-spoon-fed ivy-league graduate establish rapport with inner-city kids? You think they’d be better at it than an experienced teacher from a working-class family, with their own rough edges or checkered past, who can actually relate to those kids? Your ignorance of human nature is astounding.

As to your concluding sentence, “I hear you, I value you, and I respect you”; no, you don’t, and you don’t, and you don’t. In fact, I don’t believe you even wrote this letter for teachers. I think you sense a shift in public opinion. Parents are starting to see through the fa├žade; and recognize the privatization and for-profit education reform movement for what it is. And they’ve begun to organize – Parents Across America, is one example.

To save yourself, you need to reinforce the illusion that you’re doing what’s best for public education. So you
play nice with teachers for one day - not for the teachers but for your public audience...

No doubt some will dismiss what I’ve said as paranoid delusion. What they call paranoia I call paying attention. Mr. Duncan, teachers hear what you say. We also watch what you do, and we are paying attention. Working with kids every day, our baloney-detectors are in fine form. We’ve heard the double-speak before; and we don’t believe the dog ate your homework. Coming from children, double-speak is expected and it provides important teachable moments. Coming from adults, it’s just sad.

Despite our best efforts, some folks never outgrow their disingenuous, manipulative, self-serving approach to life. Of that, Mr. Duncan, you are a shining example.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What Employers Want

I was listening to NPR this morning and there was a story out of Aberdeen, SD.  Apparently, there are plenty of jobs in Aberdeen, but not enough "employable" people.  Aberdeen Mayor Mike Levsen says of his town's employers, "All they're asking is minimum education, good work habits, pass the drug test, show up for work on time and follow directions." 

It got me thinking, "Are we graduating employable people?"  Mr. Levsen's list are all traits that we, as parents, educators, and community leaders, want for our children.  As professional educators, we encourage students to stay in school, pay attention in class, and get an education.  Teachers give students tasks and assignments that provide them with opportunities to develop their work habits and follow directions.  Administrators have tardy and attendance policies to encourage students to attend classes.  Despite our best intentions and efforts, however, many high school students choose to not follow directions, not attend class, not complete assignments, not practice reading/writing, not try.  Many students are making poor decisions outside of school, as well, that may compound their issues and reduce their "employability." 

I realize (and am thankful) that there are many great, hard-working, focused, law/policy-abiding students at WHS.  If I were pressed to say what percentage of students were "employable" by Mr. Levsen's standards, I'd say that 80% of our high school students are.  However, if my estimate is correct, 20% of students at WHS who choose to not be "employable" equal approximately 160 students. In my opinion, that number is way too high and I hope we can someday reduce that number to zero.