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Monday, April 2, 2012

Rolling out a 1 to 1 tablet/laptop program series

Over the next couple of weeks, I want to share our experience in rolling out a one-to-one laptop/tablet program. I will be talking about the framework we used to start the program, our experiences and *cough* the  wisdom which we have gained throughout the process. I will break the series into 5 posts:

1) Questions and Goals
2) Physical Infrastructure
3) Human Infrastructure
4) Roll-out
5) Evaluation and the next year

The framework that we will be talking about is a mish-mash of Understanding by Design, Schooling by Design, Professional Learning Communities, Professional Learning Networks through Twitter, Blogs, Wikis and Podcasts and some of our own stuff.

As we progress, I will update this page with new posts.

Part 1: Questions and Goals

There has been a lot of interest of late in rolling out "iPad" classes. There are already many running successfully and others less so. The goal of this series is to help you implement a one-to-one laptop class in our District within a framework.

"Where do I start?", "What do I need to do?" and "How do you make this work?". If you have ever started something completely new, you probably have muttered these to yourself along with "What have I gotten myself into?!?!".

When Scott Robinson and I started Digital Immersion at Riverside Secondary four years ago, we came up against these same daunting questions. We didn't know anyone running a one-to-one laptop class let alone a complete multi grade laptop initiative. We decided to set up framework that gave us the ability to roll out one grade per year (starting with grade 9). My goal is to talk about that process and hopefully give you a model to roll-out a complete class/program using tablets or laptops.

Step 1: Ask some Questions!

First off, you have to sit down and seriously ask yourself three things:

1) Am I ready to commit to this? I mean fully commit to allowing 30 students simultaneous access to the web where you are no longer the "sage on stage" but instead the lead learner. You can't fake running a 1 to 1 class and get results. The kids will just look it up themselves and call you out.

2) What is my end goal? Do I want to fully integrate everything I do into a digital ecosystem? i.e. am i going to get kids to publish everything they do instead of hand work in? Am I going to make collaboration my core model, where every student is accountable not only to themselves but to the entire class? Or do I want to have some toys that I can bring out and use when the library computer lab is booked? What about when I really don't have a great lesson prepared? This might sound cheeky but 31 iPads will cost your school ~$15000. If you can use that money more effectively than please do so!

3) Do you have the support of your administration? It seems like a simple thing to ask but they are accountable for the learning that goes on in e school as much as you are. If they are spending 15K on technology, you better have their support and a plan!

Additional questions (or what we should have asked!):

1) Are your students ready for this? Is there a need? If students are using their personal devices in class to take pictures of answer books or search wolfram|alpha... then its time.

2) Is you staff ready? This is the biggest challenge and one that we will cover in our Human Infrastructure post

3) Is your parent community ready for this? This one is a challenge because parents tend to fall back to their own experiences in school... which is vastly different than this model. A clear communication channel, a research based approach and someone with experience in the process can allay a lot of fears.

What if one or more of these questions results in a "No"? Do you continue or wait? If you say no to any of the first 3 questions, you need to put the program on hold. For the second set of three, one or two "No's" won't kill the program but it will make it more challenging.

Step 2: Goals!

Look at the questions you just asked and start Searching! There are tons of classes out there now and many teachers on Twitter with experience about implementing/starting/rolling out a new program. At Riverside, we started with Schooling by Design and Understanding by Design and a Pro-D session with Grant P. Wiggins and Jay McTighe. Using the Backward Design Process we came up with our goal.

From a huge list of ideas, we settled on the following:

"The goal of Riverside’s Digital Immersion program is develop a student who can use a wide variety of digital tools and strategies to propel their learning".

We then decided to roll out the program one year at a time and within 4 years, have a full program running (grade 9 - 12).

Once you have this, you are ready to move onto: Step 2: Physical Infrastructure

PS: sorry for the editing/spelling errors... Put that down as a reason not to Blog via an iPad :)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tools I use in Digital Immersion 9

I've been having some discussions with some of my colleagues about the tools I use to teach Digital Immersion (DI). So, I thought I'd create a list of sites/apps I use and how I employ them. By the way, not much has changed since 2007ish in terms of what I have been using (with some exceptions), but the sites have become more solid and refined.


Primarily, I use Google Reader as my hand-in box. Each student has their own Blog (either Tumblr, Blogger and WordPress) where they complete and hand in most of their assignments. These assignments are completed as a traditional Blog post, an embedded video/presentation/picture etc..., a link or a combination of some or all of these.

At the beginning of the semester I got all the kids to either create a new Blog (the best option) or send me a link to a previously made Blog which they will only use for school. I then created a folder (DI Blogs) and subscribed to each student. Then I renamed them all, sorted alphabetically and RSS enabled, time stamped hand-in box!

Google Reader also allows me to follow some professional Blogs and my mom (shes paying me with hugs to shoot her mad props).

Communication and Professional Development

Twitter is my primary tool for communication with my students (it has become my way of sharing videos, shape of the day) and my colleagues. For my students, we use a hashtag to link all our posts #rsidedi, this allows us to all be on the same page when we share things.

I use Hootsuite as my Twitter dashboard for a couple of reasons:
1) its a Vancouver company
2) I like how its web-based and it doesn't matter what machine I am on
3) great iOS apps.

Hootsuite also lets me do a better job of following my Personal Learning Network (PLN). I made the following presentation last year about why Twitter and PLNs are  so important for teachers.
Building a personal learning network

View more presentations from jbsd43
I have started using Google+ over the last little while and it has started to become a staple on my screen. I especially like the ability to move people into different circles. I am trying to figure out how to use it as a teaching tool...but I'm not there 100% yet. Next year for sure!


To collaborate with colleagues or students, I tend to gravitate towards Google Docs and WikiSpaces. Google Docs because the sharing function allows us all to edit at the same time. While this can be chaos (just try it with a group of Grade 9s and see) ... it also allows for really cool things like shared notes, collaborative projects and student created forms). When I look at the Digital Backpacks for 2011/2012, almost all of the students have chosen it as a worthwhile companion.

WikiSpaces has been a dream for education becuase of their genorous policies for k-12 students and staff. I can create ad-free pages where students can record lab results, which can include pictures and embedded videos. One of the best teaching/accountability tools is the history tab, which you allows to see who did what and when. Amazing when you have one kid crying and saying they did everything, then finding they did very little.

Assessment and Record Keeping

As I said earlier, I use my Google Reader for much of my written summative assessment. It's also great for the formative piece (making sure kids are up to date, quick little check your understanding snap-shots, etc....). For my formal testing I use Classmarker. It is an on-line test taking engine that allows your to create, edit and distribute tests very effectively. While the paid version is superior, the free mode suffices for us.

For recording marks, I use (servers are in Canada so no FoIPA issues), the on-line gradebook which allows students to check their marks any time they want. It has done 2 things for me:
1) It has made me a better marker because of the accountability of students having real-time access to their marks
2) it has made me take a closer look at what I do mark. My understanding of summative and formative assessment has grown because of Engrade.

Final Thoughts

I have used many more apps than these over this past year. Prezi, Popplet, YouTube Trends, PHeT, etc.... not to mention everything I use on my iPad. But the ones listed are my mainstay... they just keep getting better and better.

Have any rock solid education apps? Please share!

Friday, December 9, 2011

My Scale of the Solar System Project

First off...I stole this project from Norm Stelfox! No claim of originality here ... just some modifications!

Step 1: Teach the basics of scale and ratios. This is the worst part because with the new mathematics curriculum, the grade 9's have a heck of a time with ratios. I start with this:

Step 2: Talk about Astronomical units (AU). Since the distance from the Earth to the Sun is 1AU, its an easy starting point. You can say "if the Earth is 1AU away from the sun which equals 149,597,870 km  then how far away is Neptune if it is 30.06AU? They will struggle with this for a bit but will eventually see how the ratio works.

Step 3: Use Google Maps (or Google Earth) to make a personal map of the solar system (this is their practice).
The school becomes the Sun and their house becomes the Earth. Every kid will have a different scale and every project will be unique to them! If they live close to the school, Neptune won't be that far away ...but if they live far away... the distances will be exaggerated to epic proportions!

Here is my simple Sun and Earth map to give the kids an idea where to start (as you see...I live at the Seniors Center)

View Solar System Map in a larger map

Now I don't share their maps because they have personal information (like where they live)

Step 4: The tester!
Now get them to repeat the process in another city with 2 great monuments (Paris, Rome, Istanbul, New York, etc...)

Here is I.M. Pei's Pyramid at the Louvre as the Sun and the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

View France solar system model in a larger map

This is a fun little way to show scale and gives the kids an idea of distances in the solar system in a more manageable way. I always end with:

Thursday, November 24, 2011

What I have learned part 10: Mentorship leads to innovation

In my 10 years of teaching, I have had some amazing mentors. One in particular stands out: Norm Stelfox. Now, I don't know if I agreed with everything Norm told me... but one thing stuck with me more than anything else: "Never sit on your laurels".

When I started, I was an old-school teacher. I marked every assignment as a summative assessment (I had over 70 marks in my grade book for each kid and I was told "thats OK but try to do better"), I sat at the front of the class and wrote notes on the overhead, I assigned loads of homework (sometimes as a punishment), etc...

What changed for me was seeing Norm run Science Olympics in his class. Each kid was engaged, they were learning more than the kids in mine and there was no classroom management issues. I was blown away. I wanted to do this for the kids on my class so bad! Norm graciously mentored me and it was my Age of Enlightenment

After that, I started to embrace other bit at a time. assessment for learning, proper use of summative and formative assessment, technology in the classroom, project based learning, personalized learning, etc...

My classes became joyful and at the same time, I became a better teacher. I still have the commitment to never be happy with past successes... to always propel myself forward.

Everywhere I looked around, I saw the same thing happening. The only difference was the pace of the innovation. And that was ok... think of it as a parade...some are at the front, some are in the middle and some are pulling up there rear. If we keep the parade moving, we will all get to the end together!

This has happened at my school as we introduced technology. When anyone starts teaching with technology, the first thing they use is PowerPoint. Its a great starting tool. Eventually they all end up using blogs. wiki's, podcasting, google stories and the 1000s of other tools out there. Its the natural progression of the parade.

My message is simple: Don't be afraid to innovate. Do it at your own pace. Be bold with your projects and share them with your colleagues (especially the new ones =D). 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

What I have learned part 9: Teaching is more than standing in front of a class... be a school teacher

Classroom Teacher vsSchool Teacher

A classroom teacher teaches his or her class...that's it. They might do amazing things in that class but they don't involve themselves in the greater community.
A school teacher does everything a classroom teacher does and makes his or her school an amazing place to attend everyday. These are the people that volunteer hours upon hours of their own time. They measure grad caps and gowns, chaperone dances, organize school trips, coach multiple sport teams, go to games and events, start clubs, dress up like an elf for the community Christmas dinner, etc... the list is endless. These are the teachers that make a school go from good to great. They pillars of the community, always relied upon to do that one extra thing. People like Carlo Muro, Bryan Gee, Jen Nelson and so many others, who walk our hallways and stop and talk to every kid they know. They ask about the basketball game on the weekend and make sure the student is getting help for their maths even though they are PE teachers. They are the teachers you remember, the ones who changed your life.

Yesterday, the CBC did a TV spot which included a picture of me in front of a class with a list of things teacher's aren't doing during this strike action (Click here for the article/video). The piece went on to talk about how the employer wants a 15% clawback on wages for work not done. To tell the truth I thought it was rather funny... because they never tell the other side of the story My question is this... despite knowing that the threat of a clawback from the employer is rhetoric, isn't it kind of dangerous putting a monetary amount what teachers do other than teaching? How does that inspire the new teachers or even the more "experienced" (don't say old) to become School Teachers?

Beyond the mess we are in right now, my advice is this: Get involved in your school. Becoming part of a staff and a building will reward you in so many different ways.  you will get everything you put in 1000 times back.

And CBC... why couldn't you use this picture?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Dear Uncle Harry... and to all the others battling cancer

This post is personal and its about connections. Sometimes in this job, things connect in such an such profound way that you really need to share them. Let me explain:
My Uncle Harry

Over the past month my grade 9 Digital Immersion Class has been studying cellular reproduction, mutations of DNA and inevitably cancer. As we learned about all the science behind the disease, stories about loved ones with cancer started to be shared in our little class.

September is also the month that we celebrate the life of Terry Fox and the lives of all those that we love who have been stricken with this disease. It is an especially profound time for those of us who live in Terry's home town of Port Coquitlam.

So, as a class we decided to honour Terry, our grandparents, dads, sisters, cousins and in my case, my Uncle Harry. We ran the run and raised over $5000 as a school for Cancer research. During this process we decided as a class to document both Terry's life and the lives of their loved ones.

Below are some of the videos, I hope you enjoy and are inspired by the stories told by these 13 and 14 year olds. As a personal note, please donate to Cancer research and our prayers are with all of you (keep fighting Uncle Harry!).

Bryan and I running for the cure