Blog

Moving Forward (May 2017)

When I left the classroom I was excited about the possibilities for helping students use tech as a tool, rather than just thinking of it as a toy. When we were doing the technology levy, we called this toys vs. tools. We are on our way to tech being as a part of learning as a book. Over the course of this school year, our major initiative has been 1:1 at the middle school level.

The truth is that we've had some amazing successes and some great learning along the way.

I'm an educator first and foremost. I do enjoy technology, but I see part of my role as an educational technology leader more so to help teachers and students see their potential grow immensely through technology.

Our goal with any education is always to increase student learning and achievement, technology is no different.

We've had a wonderful team at MMS this year to work on our 1:1 program. I always leave discussions with parents, community members, administrators and teachers from MMS feeling empowered and enlightened. The team believes in the power of education and helps empower students.

As we approach the final chapter of our first year 1:1 at the middle school level, let's talk about changes that will be coming and why these decisions have been made.

Filtering

One of the biggest changes that we'll be rolling out in the next month is a new filtering system. Currently we use an iBoss filter for all internet traffic. Any internet filter works by "crawling" pages and finding inappropriate content based on categories or keywords determined by a school district. While our iBoss has worked well for us, there is a new product on the market that offers better protection for students and more control for parents. One issue that has taken a lot of time is managing student behavior while not directly on task. Enter SecURLy.

SecURLy (note the URL in the title of the company) is a web based filter company that offers multiple advantages for our students and parents. First, and the feature I love most, is the "Auditor" feature. Very basically it tracks student interactions and looks for keywords. In short, this helps identify cyberbullying, inappropriate, or self-harm behavior. This amazing news for our support teams in our schools. We've been testing this for a few weeks and already have had success identifying behaviors.

SecURLy also has what is called a "Parent Portal" which gives parents access to the filtering system after school is over. Not only can the parent see the student's traffic and see trends, but they can limit the internet or even filter further than is currently filtered. For example, a parent could turn the internet off of the Chromebook at 7pm. Or turn off access to ESPN.com completely.

Parents who decide to take home the Chromebooks over the summer will have the first opportunity to work with this system. I'm sure it will be a hit!

Cameras

You may have heard about cameras being enabled on Chromebooks. The Tech Team has been talking about the issue of cameras on a district owned device for two years now. Last year we tried having the cameras turned on for a single grade level for science classrooms. Students were able to take pictures an embed them into their lab reports instantaneously. This year, teachers in some music, language, tech, and science classes asked for the same access. The Tech Team voted unanimously to turn the cameras on to help teachers in the classroom. The recommendation included the caveat that we'd deal with discipline issues and revisit the decision if necessary.

Great things are happening with the cameras! Students in band class are recording themselves playing during class and then submitting directly to their teacher. Their teacher can then see each student and offer really constructive feedback to each individual. Think about when you were in band. Did you have to fill out a practice report? You probably can imagine that many students say they practiced for an hour but maybe did not. With the cameras enabled, students now are assigned to record themselves playing and their teacher assess that work. If you can play it perfectly once? You are done. If it takes you one hour to get a video you think will pass, then that is what it takes you. It is more competency based rather than time based assessment.

We have not had any reported issues with the cameras but we have heard from some parents that are concerned. The Tech Team has recommended that the cameras be turned off over the summer and the policy be better reflected in our acceptable use policy.

Take home policy

This summer families will have the optional opportunity to keep their Chromebooks over the summer. Students at MMS will be required to return their Chromebook and the charger during the last week of school. If families would like to check out the Chromebook over the summer, MMS will provide you with a list of learning activities that you can use the Chromebook for. Parents will need to sign up for SecURLy and sign a form checking the Chromebook out. Insurance is an optional $30 and covers any damage that may occur.

Insurance

We are currently looking a ways to best insure student Chromebooks. Currently the district pays an outside company about $30 per device which gives the student one major break a year. According to our data from middle school this year, 8% of Chromebooks (the average from like-districts is 7%) have broken this year and only two students have broken them more than once. One solution from a different company would be to charge less for insurance for everyone, but charge a "service-fee" when a student breaks the device. This service fee would likely come from families. Another option is to self-insure within the district.

Researching

In the Education Technology department (of one) I am always looking at new products and new solutions for improving the learning of students. Tech is the fastest growing sector of education and I believe this is not always a good thing.

If we bring tech into our classrooms, the hope is that it improves instruction. No tech for the sake of tech.

I'm currently working on the following: non-free iPad apps for K-2, wireless projecting solutions, GoGuardian Teacher (screen watching tool similar to Hapara), Android apps on Chromebooks, digital citizenship courses through Nearpod, online textbooks, discipline tracking software, and 3d printing applications on Chromebooks.


How Decisions are Made (May 2017)

If you've ever asked someone with an iPhone to try an Android, you know that decisions surrounding technology tend to be contentious. Luckily for the school district we have an amazing group of people who give of their time to help move us forward in a great direction.

Our Tech Team consists of teachers, administrators, parents, and community members.

The team makes decisions based on presentations or reports given from stakeholders. As an example, two years ago the team heard from teachers that they wanted tablet based curriculum in the K-2 classroom. The team heard research from teachers, community members, the IT department, and parents and decided to first look at the educational applications that we'd have for the device before we looked at a particular device. We tested and piloted and heard from other districts. At times the process seems slow, but I prefer to call the process intentional.

The goals of the team are to be an open line of communication between schools, teachers, and the community and help support technology use in the classroom.

The team is lead by Jeff Cochran (Ed Tech Director) and Mike Welch (IT Director) and meets during the second Wednesday of each month. Anyone is welcome to attend the meetings. Please find the meeting minutes on this page.

Priorities:

  • Student learning
  • Quantity of students
  • Instructional need
  • Staff learning
  • Fit within current curriculum
  • Fit within the current technology structure
  • Budget

Tech Team Minutes

1:1 Devices (mid-year report)


This year marks the first year with 1:1 Chromebooks at Morgan Middle School. As we've gone through the year, we've had quite an experience. What we've found is that although talking with other districts has given us an idea of the issues that will come up with 1:1 devices, construction, space, flexibility, and the maturity of students have all played a role in our learning about how we manage the devices.

Last spring we hosted full day workshops for MMS staff and began a mentorship program this year to give staff the support necessary to utilize the devices as a learning tool. The mentors meet for half a day and continue short meetings throughout the school year to support their small groups. This has the added benefit of multiple technology mentors throughout the building that can provide quick assistance. The plan is to continue this with EHS and 5th grade teachers next year.

Students have had “digital citizenship” courses and presentations. The most recent was a presentation on the importance of using secure passwords. Students were taught that passwords are like a toothbrush, “you wouldn’t share your toothbrush with a friend, don’t share your password.” Students have also learned how to avoid scams and schemes online and cyberbullying. The day after students learned about scams and schemes, students applied the knowledge by forwarding a SPAM message to IT for investigation. Learning in action! We also are teaching students about the role technology plays in their learning. Students are learning when it is appropriate to access content not directly related to class and how to act appropriately online. Staff have been instrumental in ensure that students are safe, prepared, and having a good experience online.

We've also started Parent University. We began with in-person meetings, and are continuing with online content for parents to learn more about how to best use the technology for educational purposes.

iPad Pilot at Valley View (February 2017)

Hot off of the presses, Valley View will be beginning an iPad pilot (30 devices on a cart) in K-2 classrooms. We had previously been piloting Androids in our Kindergarten classrooms and a science classroom but pilot was not successful due to losing the ability to remotely monitor, install, and diagnose the tablets. Apple came out with some better abilities for the IT department (remote monitoring, remote installation, user accounts) so we will begin piloting iPads this month. The pilot is funded through Valley View PTA and iPads are in-district now being setup.

Upcoming Tech (March 2017)

Chromebook printing

This has been a thorn in the side of the IT and the Ed Tech departments thus far. I sent out a message before break on how to get printing going from your Chromebooks, but through rigorous testing, we've found it to be unreliable. How it is supposed to work:

  1. we make printers avaliable online,
  2. you push print,
  3. find the printer,
  4. accept the print job,
  5. paper comes out

Right now the printer won't stay online constantly. Rather than push out an unreliable device, the IT department is working on it so it works consistently when pushed out.

Wireless and wired networking

As you know, wireless was completely upgraded this summer. We are finding very little downtime with this. Yes! The networking project took far too long and often the contractors were not careful in classrooms. The IT department sends their sincere apologies. The scale of the project(s) was large and important as more content gets utilized using the internet. The filter has also been upgraded and refined-- student devices are, and always have been, filtered at the device level. This means no matter where they are located, the device filters the student as if they were at school.

1:1 at Elementaries and EHS

Next year we will be rolling 1:1 in grades 5-12. We are taking what we've learned with Morgan Students and will be very intentional about our roll out plans. More to come this spring.