Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Mobile Administrator

'Most of my posts are about ways that technology allows me to enhance instruction. But mobile devices have become integrated to my role as an Associate Principal. I really appreciate that now I carry excellent microphones and cameras virtually wherever I go. Recently, this has included a Regional track meet and league championship softball game; an English tea and an iPad Open House. In each case I was able to snap off photos and send them to Facebook or share them with others in the school. When Ann Jamieson was told during her gym class that she was our "Teacher of the Year", I was the only one on hand with a camera (iPad). My photo was used on the school web site and in the school paper.
I took a day off last week and was unavailable to do an interview with a student who was working on her science Challenge Based Learning project. Fortunately, I could still help her out with the voice memo feature of my iPhone. She emailed me questions, and I emailed audio answers.
None of this is rocket science of course. The kids consider this perfectly ordinary. But it's kind of "out there" for and old-fogie administrator. And I have found that snapping pictures is a very social business around school, and gives me a pleasant way to interact with the kids when I am making the rounds.
In a 1:1 iPad school, the possibilities are marvelous for a classroom teacher, particularly with all students armed with an HD video camera. Though our laptops were outfitted with cameras and mics, they were larger, heavier and much more awkward for snap and shoot activities.
I admit the usages I have described are pretty prosaic, but they have made my job more interesting and fun. If others at school have the same experience, that can't be a bad thing.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Means of Assessment in Challenge Based Learning

As I indicated in Learning from Failure, despite the fact that their solutions came up short I was assured that my students actually achieved significant objectives during their Challenge Based Learning projects.  I used a number of means to measure the achievement of these objectives.

Though these varied devices, I was able to arrive at individual "grades" despite the fact that they had worked entirely within groups. It is worth noting even though there were very few "A's", I received  no complaints about grades.  The final grade was my "gestalt" evaluation based on several modes of assessment:

* Early in the process, I surprised students by sending them off with their cell phones\to record impromptu audio reflections. They were asked to describe the research they had done for guiding questions, the contributions they had or had not made to the group thus far, what others would say about their contributions, and who in the group had distinguished herself through her contributions. I strongly recommend such a mid-process exercise because it implicitly calls students to task without a scolding or pep talk.

* I put a high premium on group presentations as assessments. Groups are urged not to strain to convince us of how much they accomplished. Instead, they are instructed to describe their journeys toward their solutions, remarking on the high points and pitfalls along the way. They are told to address specific topics, such as "What would you have done differently? What would you have done with more resources or time?

*During the presentations, their peers completed a rubric, scoring them on the criteria that had been established for the presentations. I, too, completed a rubric and jotted down comments. When I was absent one day, my sub completed these forms and later I did too while watching them on video.

* The group filled out a rubric together on different aspects of their CBL. This measured their solutions, presentation, methods of testing their solutions, etc.

* They concluded with an 8-10 minute video with the following instructions:

Please put your 8-10 minute culminating video reflection in our shared dropbox file by class time on May 1 (no extensions). If you have trouble with dropbox you can use a thumb drive in a sealed envelope with your name clearly indicated.

Your individual reflection focuses on your unique contribution and reflection. You may go beyond the time limit but ten minutes of prepared thoughts should do the trick. Here were the original goals of the project. To what degree were these achieved with you? If they weren’t achieved, please clearly note whether they were the fault of the group dynamic, you personally, or the project itself.

*Students will acquire greater political efficacy.
*Students will solve a difficult challenge.
*Students will learn to develop instruments of assessment.
*Students will show initiative.
*Students will become policy entrepreneurs.
*Students will acquire greater ability to collaborate.

You should also freely reflect on your own unique experiences and contributions.

There are many aspects of this particular project that I would change the next time around, but I was very satisfied with the assessments.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Learning from Failure in Challenge Based Learning

Under other circumstances it might have been a very grim experience for a teacher to listen to one set of students after another step up before the class and boldly expound upon their failures. I can't say I was gleeful, but theses acknowledgements assured me of two things: 1) The students had accepted that their challenge projects were experiments, where perhaps as much could be learned from failure as success. 2) in some cases that they had fell short of success because they or I had set the bar high (I always urge groups to seek a solution worth failing for).

The context for these admissions of failure were "unpacking" presentations for the entire class (I will describe these further in the next post). The groups were asked among other things to weigh two considerations: 1) Had their solution made a "demonstrable difference" in the community they targeted. 2) What hard evidence had they gathered to come to their conclusion in #1.

All of the teams acknowledged that they had not to their satisfaction made a demonstrable difference. In one case the group had determined to meet with a state or U.S. representative and had been led to believe this would happen in three instances (including time with a U.S. Senator), but had the rug pulled out from under them at the last second. There were surely lessons to be learned here, but none to positive about our system of representative government.

In other cases the teams had to admit that their means of assessment were lacking. Perhaps they had failed to do pre-testing, or had not successfully ruled out other variables for cause and effect interpretation. Ironically, the team with the very best assessment methods had to live with the fact that the results did not offer a shred of demonstrable support that their clever solution had made a difference.

Sure I would love to have touted four terrific solutions to incredibly challenging issues. But I also have no qualms about show-casing failure-- as long as it is connected with learning.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Using Challenge Based Learning in an AP Class - Critical Thinking

CC Image from
When I give presentations on Challenge Based Learning, I often drawn examples form my AP American Government and Politics class.  Occasionally listeners are skeptical about being able to "fit" this kind of sprawling project into such a structured curriculum. 

It's a fair question, and I frankly find framing a challenge more difficult for a College Board course.  This year, I made a conscious effort to bake some very challenging critical thinking into the CBL.  On the surface this challenge was the most simple and board: "Make a Difference".  But the challenge was qualified in two critical ways:  A) The students were challenged to make a demonstrable difference.  B) Students were called upon to use knowledge they had gained in this particular class.

The latter condition was poorly conceived by me and poorly executed by the students.  While the students were working through the CBL process, they were not given any kind of check point for assuring the the solutions they were moving toward were based on the course concepts.  When they were asked to account for these in their presentations to class after the their solutions had been implemented, it was clear that often the course concepts were applied retroactively-- In other words they did not form an explicit part of the solution development.

On the other hand the demonstrable difference condition notched up the challenge several levels and forced the students to think of their solutions as experiments rather than good works.  It might strike the reader as strange that I would explicitly instruct groups not to turn their CBLs into "service projects."  But given that I teach an political science class, data analysis is a fundamental part of this course, and I wanted them to grapple with it in the field.  For me, the methodology of assessing their solutions was nearly as important as the "good" they intended by them.

Frankly most of the measurements they used were greatly lacking.  However, through this failure, they clearly learned about proper assessment and since the challenge was so difficult, I considered their failures an instructional victory.  I'll discuss this in my next post.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Case of the Perfect iPad Case

Who would have thought that with all we were tackling with Mercy 2.0, that one of the most challenging tasks would be finding a great iPad case to include with the "Mercy iPad Package".

The first consideration of course was whether to include a case at all as part of the package. We were persuaded to do so by two compelling arguments:  1) Giving each girl an Mercy branded iPad. I have already discovered at carrying the iPad in a Mercy case is a great conversation piece for our school and a source of personal pride.  A classy case signifies a classy program.   2) More importantly,  we wanted to hand over the iPads to our kids in a protected condition.  No one wanted to see a screen break from a parking lot drop the first day of ownership.

As we investigated cases, we were immediately challenged by a lack of availability.  Since we were among the very first adopters of the 3rd generation iPad (which are shaped slightly differently than the iPad 2), we could not get our hands on 3rd generation cases. Nevertheless, our Marlin Shop manager did a terrific job of rounding up samples of iPad2 cases.  After looking over dozens, we exhibited the selections which our IT team considered sufficiently protective. Students and staff then visited the exhibition and voted on their favorites.

At this point, we realized we had blundered.  Due to some confusion, we had mistakenly exhibited some very expensive products among those which better fit our budget.  Unfortunately, the #1 choice was about $30 too expensive.

This story has a happy ending, however.  Though we continued to research possible cases diligently, we also did some hard-nosed negotiating with the producers of the more expensive cases.  In the end, we agreed to terms for a large order of our #1 choice of cases at nearly 50% off the retail price.

The Mercy case for students is the Powis iCase.  It features a gorgeous, classic logo that everyone who has seen it loves.  It has an "academic" book-like encasement.  As the Powis site will tell you, it also is camera ready.  It features, a stylus holder, hand strap, as well as nine different prop-up positions.

I believe we have found an iPad case worthy of Mercy 2.0!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Mid-Term Report on Mercy 2.0

The New Mercy iPad Case
The adoption of the iPad as a 1:1 device is the featured piece of Mercy 2.0. While the staff has unboxed their devices, we are not selling the new iPads to our students until May 14.

Nevertheless, more quietly other major elements of Mercy 2.0 are underway or have already been completed

A New Multimedia Lab will be built this summer and has been almost completely been paid for by donations. "Witte's Wish" and a generous donor have purchased the 26 new iMacs. The Mom's Club is buying the furniture and the Dad's Club is paying for the new cabling.

A Required Fundamentals of Design for ninth graders will be using the new lab and will provide a baseline curriculum of essential visual and skills. This course and a revamped Speech curriculum will five students hands-on experiences slide software, video, audio, and web design.

Moodle and Power School have been moved to the Cloud allowing us to down size our IT Department through retirement. More importantly, these essential applications (Moodle for the Curriculum and Power School for our student data) will receive regular updates and state of the art back-ups. The new versions also integrate with each other and Moodle has Google App features.

Google Apps for Education are now hold an essential (and branded) place in our instructional development. These powerful, plentiful and free apps will be completely deployed this July after all of us have switched to Gmail.

Professional Development proceeds apace. After our two days with Lucy Gray we decided to immediately institute a series of after school workshops on specific "apps". Forty teachers and staff stayed after school for the first one on Tuesday. What is more, staff will be investigating iPad and Google apps through the summer and reporting back to the collective through Google Groups. The next big in-service is then scheduled for August 23.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

New Adventures in Staff Collaboration

As we implement Mercy 2.0 we are moving forward with innovative professional development plans which I wish to document through this blog.  

In April we "unboxed" our iPads and participated in two days of PD with Lucy Gray.   After listening to our colleagues' conversations with Lucy, we decided to offer some workshops after school on specific productivity apps.  The first one on Tuesday was attended by about forty staff members.  This was truly inspirational.  Here is our program, called Super Tuesdays:

May 1 - Dropbox 

May 8 - iAnnotate 

May 10 - Noteshelf  

May 15 - Evernote for Beginners 

May 22 -  Explain Everything

May 24 - Intermediate Evernote 

In addition we are assigning a bit of homework to each staff member.  iPad app and Google app exploration will be organized by our academic departments. By August 23, we will all report our findings to each other on Google Groups.  Besides the obvious benefits of sharing important information, I hope
that this exercise will implicitly encourage all of us to use this
Google group format to ask questions and share Mercy 2.0 discoveries.

It is exciting to be involved in a collaborative venture that holds such promise for serving our students. But what is more, I think we are piloting some really interesting approaches to professional development.
Explain Everything

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