Hack Your Space – but think about it before you do – SXSW preso

This past week, I was at SXSWedu for the first time and had 15 minutes to communicate the essence of our work about the relationship between the environments in which we learn and learning itself. I couldn’t share the research but some of the key concepts we have found drive the conversation. You can get a quick sense of what I talked about below. Audio file of the presentation coming soon.

Some notes to prep this presentation:

Hack Your Space notes

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Is Student Choice a Choice in Today’s Education?

There have been some questions that have been bugging me (again) recently.

  1. What is the relevance of the skills and content we teach; and who has decided that we, as teachers, know best?

  2. Who decided that we can’t trust the choice and direction of young people?

  3. Why is it OK to impose boring, unengaging lessons for the sake of a student’s “TBD future?”

How many schools and how many classrooms allow student choice? And, in adult-centered spaces, how often do young people have the opportunity to make important decisions?

Our mainstream educational machine is fueled by the idea that adults know best—that adults must impart their knowledge to prepare students for a demanding world. Our responsibility as teachers is to teach students for their own good…a “good” that more and more of us are having difficulty understanding.

We teach students addition and multiplication facts because some day they will need to calculate very quickly…a tip at a restaurant or a bill at the grocery store in case their smartphone runs out of batteries. We teach them to write a five paragraph essay on the theme of a book because they will need those writing skills when…writing an argument to dispute a lawsuit. We teach them how to conjugate “to be” in Spanish because it might save their life…at a fruit stand in South America.

While we are preparing them for possible situations, should these situations define the entirety of the direction of their education?

I propose that we introduce some choice and some unknown into the situation of school. What if we allow students to make choices about what they learn, how they learn, and when they learn? In a way, 1:1 iPad programs are sparking choice whether we’re OK with it or not.

iPads have shocked the school system and provided us with a chance to reexamine student choice. The tool is intuitive, flexible, and powerful. So much of our modern day school systems assume that the teacher, the school, and the adult knows best. In the iPad classroom, that’s just not the case.

Truly successful iPad implementations happen when teachers share ownership of the way work gets done with their students. When students and teachers learn iPad tools together, the result is synergistic. In successful iPad Classrooms, teachers give students the space to demonstrate their work and understanding using a range of tools beyond just “a Powerpoint to show what you know about the Roman Empire” or “a 500 word essay about the pros and cons of Communism.” To paraphrase Chris Lehman (@chrislehmann), if we give students an assignment that produces 25 copies of identical work, we’ve given a recipe, not a thought-provoking, opportunity for growth. When teachers give some props to the unknown, and task students to show their deep understanding of a subject or skill with the best tools available, you might say miracles happen. We should be a little less afraid of miracles.

Who would have ever known that Rachel was an artist and could design an animation of the golgi apparatus in action? Who would have guessed that Janet knew math fractions so well that her articulate screencasts could be used to teach other students in the grade above her?

If administration and faculty challenge students to do their best, and follow their natural inclinations and curiosity – to go outside the limited boundaries we set for the sake of standards – we open up a world of possibilities for students and for our society that adults might never imagine. I propose that we, as schools, challenge ourselves. I propose that we re-examine the essentials and assumptions that have driven curriculum, the way that we think learning looks, and give students some choices about the how and the what that they engage in.

Some truths to consider:

  1. In “real life,” students often have a voice expressed through social media, peer groups, sports team, etc. At school, they often have no platform at all. How can we build platforms for a wide range of students to express their voices?

  2. In “real life,” students have to make decisions that affect their health and wellbeing. At school, we often don’t even trust them to choose where to eat their lunch. There’s a large gap that we need to address.

  3. In “real life,” students have to solve problems every day. “What if my parents don’t show up to pick me up?” “What if my friend decides to drive after drinking alcohol?” “What if a friend chooses to speak badly of another friend?” In school, we create strict guidelines that prevent bad things from happening or intervene quickly before young people can mediate themselves. How do we make sure we are scaffolding education to empower students to solve problems on their own?

How do we reinvent?

When you ask people to design a solution for a current problem, they speak and imagine from what they know. If the problem is how do we help students work and learn better, the solution often involves some combination of desks, whiteboards, textbooks, homework, and sitting down for long hours at a time in rapt attention. We imagine that we must prepare our students for the work world we that know.

We need to let that go. We don’t need to be responsible, to push our young people in a general direction without guidance, and wish them “good luck.” But, we absolutely must be creative in imagining what an evolved learning situation might be, and perhaps it looks more like learning 5000 years ago than it does that of today. Through the tools which technology puts in our hands, we have the power to augment hands on, real-life learning by investigating ideas, accessing world experts, and designing complex solutions or products with a high degree of accuracy.

We’ve got a lot of work to do. If you could redesign education guided by the ideas that:

1) Students can make important choices,

2) Technology tools can expand learning in ways we cannot imagine yet, and

3) Learning doesn’t look the same as it did for us

Then, we might be able to imagine an educational system that doesn’t have to “get out of the way” for young people to be successful, but actually helps to guide and unleash the incredible imaginations of the people who will change our world.

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5 Steps Towards an Intentional Learning Space

So it’s the beginning of school and if you’re worth your salt (and you have access), you’ve probably already been in your classroom setting it up. What kind of inspirational posters are you pinning on the walls? How much scotch tape and staples and how many thumbtacks do you need? What resources do you want your students to absorb as they look around during a classroom discussion? What kind of atmosphere do you want to create? How do you want your students to feel when they walk into your room? If you share a room, can you do anything to make those rooms feel like the kind of spaces that inspire students? What kind of colors and what light? What mysterious corners can you create? What places invite the student in?

And there’s not one perfect learning space for every single learner. If your school requires teachers share classrooms, there are other limitations in play.

Whatever your situation, the more conscious you are of the impact your learning environment can have, the more you can impact the engagement, learning and even relationships of and with your students.

As you design your spaces, there are many factors you might think about. Here are a few of the biggies. (Listen to students and teachers talking about their experience with new kinds of learning spaces.)

1) Where’s your desk? When students walk into the room, is your desk a barricade between you and them? A teacher’s desk can represent power and control, and it’s position also plays a role. If you must have a desk (and there is a trend of teachers tossing their desks out completely), think about whether it divides you and your students. Can you push it against a wall so that you are more accessible, so that it becomes more of an outer boundary than an inner barricade? The existence, type, and position of your desk can shape the relationship you have with your students.


2) Where’s the front? If your classroom has a front or center (and most classrooms do) what is there and what message does it send? Is there a big white board with your words all over it–instructions for behavior, for work, etc.? Is there another barrier between you and your students or a lot of “stuff” that your students can’t touch? When students walk in, are the entering from the back the side or the front? What does it feel like to enter in each of those situations? How do students arrange themselves relative to the “front?” What if you took away the front–what would happen?


3) What’s on your walls? How you decorate your walls sends a message to your students about who owns the space. Is the space all yours? Are you willing to share ownership? Might you even consider passing ownership to them? After a week or so, the stuff on over-decorated walls becomes wallpaper. And research actually shows that too much clutter reduces students’ ability to focus and pay attention. I’ve talked to some teachers who start with nothing on the walls and the students decorate them as the year goes on. Other teachers have minimal decorations, but thoughtful, relevant and ever-changing to spark interest and curiosity.


4) Does your room change? How much do you change and rearrange your room through the year, the week, the day? And who has the authority to switch it around? You’d be amazed how much student choice has an impact on willingness to learn. Teachers at Hillbrook have noticed that shifting the classroom around from class to class often sparks interest and attention that a traditional, predictable classroom does not. Teachers and students enjoy being able to shift the classroom around in the middle of a lesson to serve their needs for the work at hand. Think about how much your environment dictates your activities. And do you ever allow the work to command the environment?


5) What’s it like for your students? Are students allowed to move around (studies show that students benefit from movement) or must they stay still? What are students allowed to do and not allowed to do in your classroom? Is your management style and space designed to keep students quiet and in their place or does it give permission and ownership to the students? What choices do students have about where and how they work? Do you want your students to feel free, creative and enabled or structured, restricted and rule-bound, or somewhere else on the spectrum? What do you want learning to look like in your classroom? Try to walk in your students’ shoes–what does it feel like for them?

classroom 2

Environments can impact behavior. The THINGS in our spaces can actually cause engagement, can empower, and can inspire. Environment is no light thing.

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Going with the Flow – more thoughts on digital workflow

With all the iPads flooding into schools these days, many other classroom systems are under scrutiny.

Questions like:

  • Do I have current resources for my class AND are they iOS compatible?
  • What’s the best way to distribute work to students, receive the work, and get it back graded?
  • How complex do my workflow systems have to be and how many do I actually need to get the flow the way I want it?
  • If the school already has a system that doesn’t work well with the iPad, what do I do?
  • What about grading?
  • If more work is digital, parents feel out of the loop? How do I bring them back in?
  • Should I really be giving electronic, self-grading quizzes?
  • Should I be worried about kids cheating on quizzes on iPads or do I need to spend more time on google-proofing quizzes?
  • I like getting printed copies of work, but is it really necessary?
  • If I post assignments online, am I robbing students of learning the skill of writing down assignments?

…are abound.

A solid digital workflow system addresses many of these questions. But before exploring the myriad systems out there, figure out what you already have in place, and what you really want the system to do.

Ask yourself the following questions before your start evaluating:

Format–Choose 1.

  1. Do I need a webpage for by class that has all resources, assignments, class info, my info, messaging, etc?
  2. Do I simply need an organized way to exchange work back and forth with students?

If you chose (1), you want a Learning Management System (LMS) like Moodle, Haiku, and Canvas. On the plus side, systems like Moodle have a lot of power and can operate like a virtual classroom. On the downside, these systems take a lot more time to maintain and keep current. I’ve seen many schools commit to big LMSs and over time, the teacher pages collect dust. If you do need a robust virtual classroom, then by all means, look for a robust system that will do it all.

If you chose (2), you want a system for digital file exchange (DFE) like Dropbox, Google Drive, or eBackpack. Some of these do more, some do less, but they are similar is that they are designed first for file exchange. eBackpack is a bit of a hybrid, with some robust capabilities that bring it towards LMS land without the hassles innate to LMSs.

Some new products are in the chutes right now that combine DFE, LMS, and social media components. Schoology and Edmodo immediately come to the surface among these, though Schoology leans more towards the LMS end of the spectrum.

The truth is, many of these systems are converging. While functionality expands in each realm, and systems become more and more device agnostic, the fine details will matter more. So know what you want.

When we started out iPad program 3 years ago, teachers and students used a range of methods to exchange work. While systems like Dropbox and email seemed to work well (they were free and integrated into many iPad apps), account creation, management, and support were lacking. In addition, students had a different work exchange system in each class. While that may be representative of real life, it’s helpful to have a common platform when teaching students (and teachers!) best practices in digital workflow.

After a couple years of a mish-mosh of decentralized solutions, we went with eBackpack. Here’s what I was looking for (and NOT looking for):

I wanted a solution that would:

  • Allow me to manage and support users, classes and files easily
  • Facilitate exchange of any type of work (any file format from any app/software) from any device
  • Work with the iPad, but also work on any device (device agnostic)
  • Allow teachers to give feedback in a variety of formats (annotation, video, audio, etc) — that could accommodate the whole workflow between student and teacher
  • Remove email from digital workflow – email would be used as a last resort
  • Allow students to double check that they had indeed handed in the work (and time/date stamp homework)
  • Allow students to turn in work to one place without seeing other students’ work (blind drop/inbox)
  • Reduce the need to print
  • Allow teachers to see which students had/had not handed something in (quickly)

I did not want:

  • a complicated LMS that involved a lot of teacher management or design
  • files to be stuck in databases — if I needed to remove files or switch systems, I could do that easily

In the beginning of this year, eBackpack worked reasonably well, but had a lot of growing to do. After talking to the owner and understanding the development plan, we took a leap of faith–as this year wraps up, I look forward to using a vastly improved and sophistucated eBackpack next year, school wide. Not only does it do what we need it to do, but they’re building in more functionality that will increase functionality without increasing complexity. We look forward to a google calendar integration for assignments, sync with gradebook (though it does this now with many systems), and development of a deeper ePortfolio component.

eBackpack is significantly less costly than enterprise versions of Box and Dropbox, and is designed for schools, so does a ton more for the teacher-student workflow. It costs more than the free Google Drive, but who has a really organized Google Drive system? And having individual students set up their shares is messy–it’s just not a sustainable way to exchange all your work, though it is a fantastic tool. And by the way, eBP can now tap into files from Drive and DropBox.

What do I like about it? All of the above. It allows an organized way to distribute, turn in, and assess work. It takes workflow out of the email inbox. It’s easy enough so that a first grader can use it with a little practice. And it offers some significant assessment flexibility, limited only by the teacher’s imagination.

Whatever system you choose, decide what you really need it to do. Obviously, you need file exchange back and forth. After that, consider interface, maintenance, and devices you’re using. Make sure you know what you’re looking for before you do the deep dive–it’s easy to get lost in the flow.

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Students choose a new kind of classroom

Last week, a small team of teachers and I traveled to Atlanta to participate in Ed Tech Teachers’ iPad Summit (their second national conference on iPads–the first was in Boston, Fall 2012). It’s one of the best tech conferences I’ve been to because 1) it has a clear focus–iPads in education, 2) attendees come with specific question and actively seek answers and 3) its goal is “transforming education.” The questions keynote speakers and many presenters revisited were: “What does transformative education look like? Why is important? What are we trying to do? How do we meet our students in their world and leverage THAT?” Education, as John Dewey wrote in “My Pedagogical Creed” must be relevant and important now, not simply a preparation for the future. And, I think we all understand, that the future is increasingly unpredictable. It would be irresponsible to think we could possibly set our children up with the exact skills they will need for their future lives. How can we prepare students for a future when we have no idea what it (or any “jobs” in the future) will look like?  That said, we must ask the question: how can school best serve our students?  What is important?

Technology plays an important role in this, but not in the typical ways one may think. One concept that came up during the summit was this idea of the iPad as a trojan mouse. Co-founder of Ed Tech Teacher Justin Reich writes:

“Those of us interested in meaningful change in teaching and learning need to make sure that the shiny exterior of the Trojan Mouse is stuffed inside with serious questions about practice, student relationships, assessment, a shared language about pedagogy, and a shared vision for our students.” (http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/edtechresearcher/2013/04/the_ipad_as_a_trojan_mouse.html).

The iPad has allowed us to look into the classroom differently, with different focus. It reveals both brilliant and obsolete pedagogy, transformative and mind-numbing curricula, inspiring and discouraging projects and work. An example–try to redefine with an iPad (Rubin Puentadura’s SAMR model) a curriculum that follows to the T a workbook of worksheets. You could convert pages into PDFs, allow students to drop in pictures with the coolest annotation apps, and have them type neatly, with a rainbow of colors in the boxes–but you still have the same old mind-numbing march through a workbook. Sometimes the best thing to do is to start over. It’s not enough to adopt new technology. Teachers need to continue what they do well–adopt new tools, evolve their curriculum, embrace new techniques, and base their practice on sound pedagogy.

No less significant to the student experience, is the physical classroom.

Put a classroom of students and a teacher in a room with iPads. They have access to the near-infinity of resources available on the web and a wide range of tools for content creation and collaboration; not to mention the “extreme” mobility of such a little, power-packed device. Ask everyone to get to work and notice how they move around the classroom trying to get together around the friction, gravity, and sheer bulk of traditional classroom space and furniture. Watch how students migrate to the halls and out of doors to do their work together and alone. It’s no coincidence that the hallway has become a new classroom space. I’ve seen hundreds of photos of students lined up comfortably in the hallways of their schools or on outdoor stairs, doing their work. The mobility is fabulous–students do work EVERYWHERE, but we also need to consider that this migration to any other place than the classroom is perhaps a failure of the classroom itself. Ask students to create their own space for learning and it looks NOTHING like the classroom. Ask adults where they enjoy doing their most creative and inspired work and–you guessed it–it also looks NOTHING LIKE THE CLASSROOM.

Hillbrook’s Idea Lab (iLab) was inspired by our 1:1 iPad program and the mobility it injected into the classroom. How do we create an environment (maybe we should stop calling it a classroom)—learning space (it can be physical virtual or both) that leverages mobility and inspires students? In the same way that our teaching and curricula need to consider mobile technology and learning, so do our spaces.

At the conference, I talked to many educators who asked me variations of these questions: “I’m taking our computer lab offline” or “We have a new space we’d like to redesign…” then: “What kind of furniture should we put in there?” or “What should it look like?” These are reasonable questions at some point, BUT they are not the first questions. Perhaps they are not even the right questions. In the same way, when a school has the opportunity as well as the resources to buy new technology, the first question should not be: “What kind of tech should we get?” The questions need to be: “What are you trying to do? What do you want students to learn? What do you want teaching and learning to look like? What is important?”

One small detail should be part of this equation as well: “What do students need to learn?” (See 21 century skills outlined in The Global Achievement Gap and Creating Innovators by Wagner.)

It’s also not a small thing to ask your VIPs–the students–how they learn. When you ask, be prepared for a wide range of answers. Are you ready to deal with that or do you throw up your hands and create a space with the lowest common denominator (be it cost, furniture, etc.)? Everyone learns differently–even adults. Should the “classroom” look the same for everyone? Do students really know what’s best for them? But who does know what’s best for them? Guidance is important; exposure and expansion of possibilities is important–but most people have difficulty imagining something beyond what they’ve experienced. Children are better with imagination, given the license to exercise it–but if we leave it to adults alone, it may be the same old same old.

The Hillbrook iLab allows students to build their space for learning, every single time. It allows different students to create different learning environments in the same space. Still some students need the outdoors and hallways, their own rooms or a fixed desk, but more students are taking ownership of the iLab and loving it.

There are many ways to talk about the iLab and it’s role in teaching and learning, but I see it like this: If you ask a student to create their own learning space for a particular work, they begin to engage before the work even starts, building the space in a way that will help them do that work. They commit to the work before they are even doing the work. And by enabling them to take ownership and interact with the space – they continue to test, take risks and explore as they do their work. They own the space and so the work. The sense of student-ownership is significant.

The iLab is a student-owned space. It it mostly not prearranged by teachers. Students enter the iLab and “feel differently” than they do in other classrooms. The relationship between teacher and student also changes when a room does not “belong” to any one adult or group.  It becomes more collaborative, with the teacher acting as facilitator, rather than recreating the sage on the stage format they may use more often in their traditional classrooms.

So when you have the opportunity to redesign a space, ask yourself about the work you’d like students to do, about the work they might do, about the work (and don’t limit your imagination here) that might be possible. Then ask your students the same thing. Ask about the kind of teaching and learning you’d like to see, and the relationships between students, teachers, and the work at hand. Be ready to completely redesign the way teaching happens, the format you give students to work, and most importantly, the trust you have in your students to make good decisions about how they learn.

You might have to re-teach students how to take ownership of their learning–traditional education often discourages entrepreneurialism, but after a quick reintroduction to how to own and use space, you’ll find that it comes naturally to students and they will rise to that responsibility. Give them a space that will allow for all the creativity and imaginative power that’s always bubbling right below the surface. And then, step back, and let them learn.

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4 Phases in an iPad Program – Plan a successful iPad rollout

A four-phase approach to nailing down your iPad rollout. Key questions and components to consider during the planning and implementation process.

There are two aspects that have a significant impact on the whole program – how you organize iTunes account and the ration of iPads to students (and whether they have 24/7 access or not). Read more below about these.

Why are you doing this anyway? If you can’t answer this question, you need to figure it out before you do anything else. Try to get it down to two sentences. Your leadership should also be able to articulate why. At some point, your teachers, and parents and students, should be able to explain it, too.

Is your leadership on board? Senior admin, board members, key parents? Who does it take to make a program fly? This is a show stopper if you don’t have the right people pushing this forward and supporting you as you have to make hard decisions. During this process, you will need buy in from lots of key folks, and you’ll need leadership to understand that.

It ain’t cheap, and costs add up. Make sure you have both the money to start the program and a financial model to sustain it. Who pays for what pieces? Is it a fundraising effort to start and then built into the budget thereafter? Will parents pay for any of it? If so, get buy in….Think about all the parts from device to software, from support to repair/replace. Time is money, too. How much money can you spend, really? Also consider which costs are reduced (like textbooks and xeroxed copies of things).

When you bring in new technology, it might fit in seamlessly with what you have in place. This 1:1 may be the first significant technology you will have at your school. Whatever it is, a significant influx of technology can have an immense impact on current systems. Make sure you imagine what this impact might be. Be intentional about it, not REACTIVE. Don’t get jerked around by new technology, get a handle on it and ride that wave (and keep working to stay on top of it).

How will this new technology affect your curriculum? Technology offers your a chance to do things you couldn’t do before. Is your curriculum and are your teachers in a position to re-evaluate and recreate what they are doing in class? Curriculum work is inevitable if you are going to take full advantage of new technology, so start thinking about it. Which school leaders need to be involved? What curricula do you want to start looking at?

Who are the key people you want and need to be involved? Each phase will involved key people to make this work. You will need to add more and more as you move to each phase. At phase 1, be political and practical–who has pull and who has energy? Leadership is important, but broaden the circle to include well positioned allies.

This is the most impactful decision for your iPad program. Who owns the iTunes account? Decentralizing this (allow students to have their own) allows easier management with most MDMs and allow students to update and download apps without a bottleneck through you. BUT, more freedom, more trouble lurking. Teachers need to be on board and you need to decide what your policy in on device content. Get parent partnership on this. ALSO, students under 13 cannot officially have their own iTunes account, so you need to address that.

Type and Ratio
Are you traditional 1:1, 1:1 modified (keep in school), or some version of a shared program? Are you piloting shared and moving towards 1:1? Are you starting with a modified 1:1 with the goal to have students take them home? If so, make sure your configuration (and iTunes accounts) will allow this shift. Are your iPads in carts or in classrooms? Ease of access is important for a successful program and sometimes, even small obstacles that interfere with access cause a failed launch. Write down your plan now.

Lots of pieces here:Is your wireless and network fast enough and can your access points handle the load? Remember that your network will get hit hard all at once, then have no traffic at all. Are you filtering web access? At home? What are you using to backup iPads? What are students and teachers using for workflow now? Will that work with iPads? What about printing? Will AppleTV and the Bonjour protocol affect your network?

You need some policies that everyone understands (students, teachers, parents, admin). Acceptable Use Policy should cover content, use, repair, consequences, etc. (see my iTunesU course). Draft this document as you go. Some of your policies may not go into the AUP, but may be great to have online as FAQs or as part of a presentation. https://itunesu.itunes.apple.com/audit/COX7FXR5RA

Are you managing, what are you using, and how are you doing it? Look at Configurator, JAMF Software, Absolute, Meraki and others. You need to know what you really WANT to do and WHY before you look for a solution that does it. Do you need to manage these at all? Many of the limitations are imposed by Apple, not the management software. What is management worth to you? What is your school’s philosophy: Education or restriction or somewhere in between.

Curriculum and Content
Do you need to create PDFs? How and who will do it? Do you need other digital textbooks, workbooks, resources? Do you want teachers to create these? When? With what support? Can your teachers build new curriculum now that they have new tools? You need to set aside time and money to do this, but it also can only be well done when the new tools are understood. Do you give teachers some time with iPads before they are truly rebuilding curricula and resources? Flip teaching? Multimedia? Lots of accessible resources possible now. What about digital textbooks? What are your options? Teachers will have to look at the resources out there.

Teacher Leadership
This is Phase 2 of your PEOPLE piece. Which lead teachers can you gather to really carry this torch? You need your champions. What is their role? Make sure they know responsibility and commitment. How will you cultivate them? Help this group feed off each other. This can be a microcosm of the bigger community when momentum starts going. What kind of training do they need? Collaborative meetings? Shared digital space to collect knowledge? Conferences?

How Apps
How are you buying, distributing, and updating apps? Be careful not to make yourself the bottleneck here. Great thing about low or no cost of apps is that students and teachers can really be the explorers here with the right guidance and citizenship training. You certainly want to take advantage of VPP but not limit access or delay updates. How do you ensure that all students have the right apps when they need them?

Training Plan
You need one. This is time and money, and more specifically time. You also have to consider all the constituents – teachers, students, and parents. You want teachers to feel confident using the iPad but also open to learning with and from students and others. Students need to have some good practices under their belt and good digital citizenship skills. Parents need to feel like they understand what their child is doing with their iPad all the time and why the school has decided to use this particular device.For teachers, are you training in house? Are you bringing in “experts?” Are you sharing within your community? Are you connecting/partnering with other schools? For parents, have their students be the teachers – make it an assignment for student and parent to do something together. For students, take advantage of peer groups but also set aside some time to teach in the context of curriculum.

Long Term
So you have an idea of what the first year looks like. How about the second year? And the year after that? What happens when something new comes along? Make sure your philosophy of technology is driving the decisions you make and not the devices themselves. That said, think a few years ahead and imagine how this device plays out—financially, content, etc.

Do an attitude check. What are teachers feeling about this endeavor? Are they nervous about something new? How will they feel when students sometimes have answers that they don’t? Prep them for this. The student-teacher partnership is important. How are parents feeling? They’ll need information, too, so they feel comfortable helping their kids. How is leadership feeling? How much control do you need and how much are folks comfortable with change?

How are teachers distributing work and materials to students, how are students creating work, how are students passing it back, how are teachers grading it and passing back, how are students archiving it? You can let everyone make their own system, but that is a choice you need to take the heat for. If you do put a system in place, think about how much training folks will need to make it effective. Draw a diagram of those systems that teachers and students will use in their workflow.

Communication and Marketing
What’s your communications plan? How will you tell your community and beyond about your iPad program? Who is helping you do this? Parents will want updates on the impact of such a program. Plan on giving those updates proactively. Teachers will benefit from what’s going on in other classes. Make a communications timeline. Make sure your website has some space dedicated to the program as well. Feature some student work, too, and talk about the cool things your teachers are doing.

Yes—you have to do it. Better for everyone. In addition to your AUP, make some FAQs for the website, and tutorials for students, teachers and parents. Make sure you have a good sense about your Technology Philosophy and that your iPad program is in line with that. What’s your repair process? Write it down. If you are managing, are you backing up to one machine? Write down the process. How are you keeping track of repairs? What does workflow look like? Even if you don’t share all these documents, write them down for your own sake. Think about the audiences with whom you need to communicate.

iPad Initial State
When you hand out the iPad, what will it have on it? If you are managing, will you enroll it or will students enroll? If you are using Configurator, what apps are you providing? Write down what exactly the iPad looks like when the student receives it.

Curriculum and Content
Enough talk. You need to get some content that will be used on the iPads. Digital books and at least PDFs. In a 1:1 students have quicker access to digital resources so have everyone take advantage of that. How will teachers share material with students and vice versa? What devices (scan to pdf?) and software (Acrobat Pro?) do you need to create some of these resources. Workflow….

Think about cases, keyboards, styluses, and other possible peripherals. Will the school supply the case or dictate which case students use (may depend on repair model)? Are students allowed to buy their own case? Keyboards supplied or not? Consider each of the above items and jot down your position.

At this stage in the game, you need to nail down what the training of your three major constituents (parents, teachers, students) looks like, build in time for it, AND figure out who is leading it. Talk to the folks who can get you time and book it. How much can folks learn on their own and which aspects of the program do you want everyone to understand (e.g., AUP, workflow). Write down what training looks like for parents, students, and teachers from August to June.

Core Apps
Even if you want to give utter freedom to everyone, it’s nice to suggest a few core productivity apps students and teachers will need to use. If it seems overwhelming, think of the kind of tasks they HAVE to do on the iPad, and consider 1 or 2 apps for each function. For instance (also see Core Apps)
notes: Notability
annotation: Notability
document creation: Quickoffice, Pages, GoogleDrive
presentation: Keynote
voice recorder: Voice Recorder HD, Voice Record Pro
movie: iMovie
screen capture: Explain Everything
reading: iBooks
workflow: eBackpack
brainstorming: Inspiration Maps, Idea Sketch, Corkulous
desktop publishing: Creative Book Builder
whitespace: syncspace

Support Systems
Who are the people supporting your iPad program? You’ll need folks available for troubleshooting (students are a good first line) and also people available to help teachers integrate and innovate. Think about your teacher core group as a resource. Parents can use some hand holding, too. Make some office hours once a week for them. Write down some possible problems you might have and what systems you have in place to address them.

Teacher Leadership
You need to continually cultivate this group and maybe formalize their interactions with and support of peers. Do you want them going to conferences? Will they have opportunities to present? Can they build relationships with other teacher leaders in other schools? When will this team meet, how often, and will your formalize their time with others? Think of another school that might what to pair up their teacher leaders with yours.

Student Leadership
If you can manage it, try to build a sustainable student leadership group. You want to empower this group to be innovators, beta testers, supporters, and champions. How might your create this within the current structures your school has?TimelineAfter reviewing many of these moving pieces, the rubber does need to hit the road. You can’t do everything at once and the more time you have the better. When are you going to do which parts? Who is helping you with each aspect along the way? This is basic project management. Write down your timeline for all the key moving parts (and people involved—what is firm and what is flexible?

Parent Training, Student Training, Teacher Training
LeadershipOngoing ManagementHow are you managing iPads when they are in the hands of our youth? How often are you physically doing something with iPads or sending configurations, etc. wirelessly? How hands on are you? How do you handle repair and replacement?

App Request
How do you manage App requests in the heat of the year? Does everything come through you, through teachers, through parents, through no one at all? How much can you handle and support this process? The answer might help you determine your process. Hillbrook for example allow student to download free apps and pay for their own apps (if they students are unsure about the app, they should get teacher/parent approval). We will make volume purchase 5xs per year and let teachers know in August when those dates are so they can plan their requests around those dates.

Support and Repair/Replace
In 1:1 programs, consider how much time is reasonable (none) for students to go without their device. Do you have a loaner stack? Is there billing involved? For support, do you have open office hours for teachers, parents and students? How are students and teachers supporting each other? How are you empowering support structures outside of IT? One school has teachers run support session for parents. In some schools, a special student group is the first line.

Shout it out! Plan for regular communications externally AND internally. Create opportunities and channels for teachers to share what they are doing in class not only for the outside community but for peers. Allow students to participate in these communications, too–involve them in the process. What are your mechanisms? Who is supporting the communications efforts? How ofte are you doing it? Formalize it so you do it consistently and equitably.

How much should iPads be used at home and in school?
What does a prepared student look like?
Are students allowed to share iPads if they forget their own?
What kind of content is allowed?
What happens when iCloud fills up
Should students be able to print at home?
What happens when that doesn’t work?
Printing access at school? When?

The best way to evaluate workflow is to try it yourself. Maybe audit a class or a couple classes. What works and what doesn’t. What workflow is forced, making exchange harder, and what is an improvement? Talk to teachers and students about what features are needed—what are they trying to do that they can’t do?

How are you backing up your devices? iCloud works great if students have their own accounts. If you are backing up multiple machines to the same iCloud account, I recently read that it’s only possible to do 8 (but I haven’t tested this our) no matter how big your iCloud storage is. You can use Configurator or the iTunes tethered approach to backing up, but think about how often you really want to collect these things.

Sharing Work (for community)
Sharing student work out to the community is a vital part of good communications. Let your community know what is happening in classrooms and what kind of work students are creating. We are getting a couple flat screens to display student work in public places on campus where parents frequent. Get them asking. Help people feel proud. What are the results of all this money and resources the school is dedicating to iPads? Student work is part of that equation. How will you share out student work? And don’t forget to share out the innovative curricula teacher are creating and new practices that are enhancing learning.

How are you going to do it? What is your printing policy? Do students have to print everything at home or is there a place (or places) at school they can print? Do you really want to support this? Do you want to encourage it? Sometime, slight inconveniences in printing encourage digital workflow and innovation.

How do you know if the program is successful? Better grades? Better engagement? Organization? Innovation? How are you measuring? Are you taking surveys? Are you questioning different constituencies? Interviews? Make a record of where you are. It helps to see where you started down the road? Use Puentedura’s integration chart to see where technology is truly enabling new, better kinds of work and learning. Make sure to include students in the evaluation process and for help planning the evolution of your program. Write a couple ways you will evaluate the program and when you will collect this data.Future

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Mind over Matter: A school-parent partnership to guide our digital citizens

Mind over matter.
A Partnership between Parent and School to guide our students into being good digital citizens.

This year, we did things a little differently. Instead of handing out iPads to each of our middle school students and talking to them about everything else afterwards, we held onto the “carrot” a little longer.

There is an ocean of difference between 5th graders and 8th graders, and the gradual education and rollout to 5th graders (three weeks total) has been a welcome relief to the whirlwind rollout for 7th and 8th graders. During two day-long, bootcamp-like education sessions for 7th and 8th, we discussed digital citizenship first before anyone glimpsed a device. The concept is that responsible digital citizenship will be an ongoing part of their education at Hillbrook, starting from junior kindergarten.

Regardless of what devices phase in, whip up the leaves of education, and blow out again, a person’s behavior, judgement, decisions, character and actions in the digital world will be relevant for a long time to come. It’s possible that the strange, transitionary divide between actual and digital life will collapse soon and it will be intuitive to relate one’s “live” behavior and actions to the virtual versions of the same. For now though, while schools are (hopefully) deeply dedicated to the character of their students in this living, breathing world, education around the digital life of our students often falls by the wayside. And the dropping of this ball doesn’t rest solely on schools’ shoulders—many parents in this generation shrug their shoulders when it comes to their child’s digital life or set rigid or mild restrictions, require their child to “friend” them, or periodically check email and texts.

The truth is, we cannot truly educate our children in this arena unless their is a deep and significant partnership between school and parent. Teachers need to discuss ideas with their students and model good behavior; parents need to understand the school’s messaging and continue the conversations at home, modeling good citizenship as well. And the messages, the ideas, the concepts and actions of good digital citizenship need to served at the table regularly, and referred to with at least a little reverence. Our children venture out into the digital world much sooner than they walk to the corner store alone, or tell a mall security guard they are lost. Realistically, it very difficult if not impossible to create safe digital spaces everywhere they may go.

At Hillbrook, our 1:1 iPad program is exciting for the power it places in the hands of middle school students, 24-7, to explore and express their creativity and curiosity. But we understand deeply the responsibility we have in helping our students navigate the jungles at their fingertips. We are making a concerted effort not only to bring the conversations about responsible digital citizenship to the school desk or table, but to extend the invitation to parents to join us, and to keep it alive and relevant at home as well.

We began the day with digital citizenship, teacher and student together, and at the end of the day, invited parents to listen to students talk about the ideas they discussed throughout the day. The response was overwhelming.

Parents depend on schools to teach their children about math, writing, and science, but guiding a child in the development of Character, Courage, Judgement, and Responsibility takes a partnership.

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iPads at Schools – All the moving parts

Recently I facilitated a conversation about rolling out iPads with 25 tech directors and instructional technologists from Bay Area schools looking at beginning or expanding their iPad Programs. The full day workshop included both a discussion about all the moving parts of a 1:1 iPad program as well as contributions from the Apple Education team about resources available through Apple and information about Apple Configurator. Not least, the group had several hours in the afternoon to work on their own iPad programs with the guidance of some seasoned veterans, inlcuding Renee Ramig from Seven Hills School, Christopher Sokolov from San Domenico, Edward Chen from Nueva, and yours truly.

Everyone went home at the end of the day a few steps closer to articulating what their iPad program would look like and a promise for a follow up meeting four months or so down the road to shared lesson learned.

The tricky thing about integrating iPads in 2012 is that is still early in the game (though Hillbrook’s been in the game for the third year now). iPads were launched in the spring of 2010—Hillbrook picked up the torch that August as one of the world’s first 1:1′s—and no one anticipated how significant an impact they’d make in the world of education. They were designed for the individual consumer, not students or educational institutions. Originally they worked better for consuming content than creating it, and they are still battling that reputation in some circles. Since that spring, developers, and Apple for that matter, have been racing to develop better apps, better management systems, and better operating systems at lightning speed, but amazingly, for the first time perhaps, it’s not quite fast enough for schools.

As school’s look at the implementation and management (or lack thereof) of iPads, there are myriad questions to consider. Some are relevant to any 1:1 program at a school like Acceptable Use Policies and support, but other components of an iPad program are completely new like how to approach iTunes accounts. Some issues are the same but different—trying to manage iPads is significantly limited (because they were not designed for institutions) and training has shifted because of the easy accessibility of these devices (more time spent on app use than use of the device itself).

Click to view

I created the above Prezi and accompanying document to help nail down the different parts of an iPad rollout. It breaks the process into four phases and is designed to walk the tech director of school leader through the different considerations that need to be addressed along the way. A few highlights:

From Phase 1:

Why are you doing this anyway? If you can’t answer this question, you need to figure it out before you do anything else. Try to get it down to two sentences. Your leadership should also be able to articulate why. At some point, your teachers, and parents and students, should be able to explain it, too.

Is your leadership on board? Senior admin, board members, key parents? Who does it take to make a program fly? This is a show stopper if you don’t have the right people pushing this forward and supporting you as you have to make hard decisions. During this process, you will need buy in from lots of key folks, and you’ll need leadership to understand that.

From Phase 2:

Key decision here. Who owns the iTunes account? Decentralizing this (allow students to have their own) allows easier management with most MDMs and allow students to update and download apps without a bottleneck through you. BUT, more freedom, more trouble lurking. Teachers need to be on board and you need to decide what your policy in on device content. Get parent partnership on this. ALSO, students under 13 cannot officially have their own iTunes account, so you need to address that.

Type and Ratio
Are you traditional 1:1, 1:1 modified (keep in school), or some version of a shared program? Are you piloting shared and moving towards 1:1? Are you starting with a modified 1:1 with the goal to have students take them home? If so, make sure your configuration (and iTunes accounts) will allow this shift. Are your iPads in carts or in classrooms? Ease of access is important for a successful program and sometimes, even small obstacles that interfere with access cause a failed launch. Write down your plan now.

To see these documents in their entirety, click the links below. Please make sure to give credit where credit is due.

Nailing Down Your iPad Rollout Prezi and Google Doc.

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Agile Learning Environments and iPads

Hillbrook School in Los Gatos, California dove straight into the fray, launching a 1:1 take home pilot iPad program in its seventh grade just a couple months after the iPad was released in 2010. This school year, the 1:1 program expanded to include grades 5-8, and shared iPads in grades K-4. There is an ever-growing arsenal of macbooks as well, to break out for multimedia projects and other processor-demanding (or flash-based, for now) applications. It quickly became clear that the iPads transformed workflow, student engagement, accessibility, and differentiation, but we also noticed a shift in what teaching and learning looked like and where it happened.

Spontaneously, almost organically, the flow of the classroom began to change. With these instant-on, almost transparent devices, teachers could easily shift from introducing content to enabling individual or collaborative work. Students weren’t confined to the desk to take notes or at the board to share. Students could capture and produce work in myriad ways in a variety of places.

At the beginning of the 2011 school year, we dismantled our computer lab, a 28×32 foot, rectangular room that had previously been lined with old PCs.

When we looked at the combination of increased mobility, new learning styles and modalities, and an empty room, the Idea Lab (iLab) began to take shape.

We joined forces with Bretford, an innovative furniture manufacturer, and HERO, Inc. (Human Environmental Research Organization) a research and consulting firm, to be intentional about (and collect data on) the use of space, resources, and the impact of mobility. If iPads changed how students and teachers learned and taught, than other factors should be considered, too. Evaluating the learning environment seemed a natural place to start.

The Reggio Emilia approach to education refers to the environment as the “Third Teacher.” In order to take advantage of the changes mobility inspired, we sought to create an agile learning space where students and teachers could adapt the environment to suit their needs. With Bretford’s help and Tim Springer from Hero’s guidance, we outfitted the iLab with furniture that “floated.”

Mobile, fliptop tables, whiteboards on wheels, and folding chairs enable any iLab user to build a custom work space for class, group, or individual work. Walls of whiteboards allow easy, fun collaboration. Mobile whiteboards and flipped tables allow physical divisions within the room. The initial impact seems an increase in creative energy of students. A collapsible soundbooth offers a quiet haven for study or multimedia work. A cart with building supplies makes the iLab a perfect environment for collaborative prototyping, too.

The iLab, in this first phase, has seen all kinds of use. Students flow from class to iLab as necessary, and the iLab itself takes on many shapes. It’s used a conference space for teacher meetings with tables lined up along the center, or a study hall, with a couple tables unfolded in the corner. It has been the site of the bridge-building projects in 5th grade, during which groups of five students built and documented (with iPads) models of bridges. It has hosted a lightbulb lab and an egg drop project. After school “making” programs like Tinkering and Sewing also made the iLab home. It’s been a haven for students to come to work alone, as well as in groups.

We have learned about the different learning modalities (e.g., one-one, individual, many to many, live or virtual tutoring; one to many, a lecture hall). We have seen (and continue to see) that environment does matter. And technology has an impact on how and where learning happens. Technology has an untethering effect, which allows us, if we dare, to rethink what schools and classrooms look like.

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Gaming and Game Development in Education – Applied

At the NAIS conference today in Seattle, I went to a keynote to listen to Raymond Yan speak about incorporating game development in education. The process involves many aspects that learning requires (e.g, problem solving, creativity, critical thinking) and it is ENGAGING. The expansion of “casual gaming” has infiltrated even retirement communities–check on YouTube for senior championships in Wii bowling, for instance.

I was mulling over this while watching TweetDeck flash tweets in the corner of my screen–the multiple columns with faces and hoards of information reminded me of the World of Warcraft screen that Raymond showed us briefly in his talk, explaining that while extremely complex, even his 9-year-old could navigate around.

I’ve had conversations with my Head of School, Mark Silver, about how overwhelming Twitter can be–the constant stream of information like the iconic screen of green characters from The Matrix falling down a black display. I wonder if we can really capture all of that. Is it important that we do? What value is it all if we miss 90% of it? How do we screen the good, relevant stuff out?

I think of a serious gamer managing TweetDesk with, say, 10 columns streaming 10 unique handles or searches. Let’s say the goal is to capture the best, most relevant information–links, pictures and all–and organize it in a resource journal that he or she can peruse at some other time, share with colleagues, access for inspiration, etc.

If the a gamer could apply lightening fast skills to something like that, would it be valuable? Would the gamer then take the next step to reflect on what he or she had gathered and learned? Are those lightening-fast problem solving skills transferable and permanent?

If we bring games into the classroom, as I have seen in various iterations, what value are we bringing? Popping bubbles to solve math problems, answering questions to get to the next level, picking the correct verb conjugation…Are the lessons learned lasting? Do they live in us? Do they stick?

I wonder about the balance between deep understanding and the ability to process vast quantities of information. I’m not sure if these are even at opposing ends of the learning spectrum.

At what point do we sit after tossing a stone in the water and reflect on the information it provides us?

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