Thursday, December 18, 2014

Schoology Discussions: Care to Chat?

Our #CCSDTech team is in schools pretty much every day of the school year.  Part of our main charge is supporting leaders, teachers, and students with Schoology implementation.  It has been quite a ride so far and we've learned a lot.

One thing we value is finding logical Schoology entry points for teachers and students.  We can train on Schoology for days, but we don't.  We do our best to create a safe entry point with logical instructional context linked to what teachers are already doing in their classrooms.  Schoology has many of these entry points: parent communication, the place kids go to access resources, a online place to post classroom updates, a place to turn in assignments and/or take tests and quizzes, and more.  Through time though, we consistently go back to one feature Schoology provides that is powerful and simple.  That's online discussions.

No matter the content area, every class has discussions and interaction.  These discussions, when done orally and traditionally, create opportunities as well as challenges and limitations.

  • There's the student that simply can't wait their turn and interrupts/blurts out/says something questionable/says the correct or incorrect response when he or she should be allowing others to reflect and think, etc.  This student can change the focus of a discussion quickly and easily.
  • There's the student that very rarely speaks up.  We know he/she would have something thoughtful to share that should be heard, but we don't want to call on him or her out of respect.  
  • There's the student that's always correct.  This is the student every other student waits for us to call on when we have asked an objective question just so everyone can move on with life.  
  • There's also the issue of time.  There are many occasions when there is simply not enough time in a class period or day to keep a great discussion going. 
Overall, discussions are complicated.  There are many factors that can impact their success.  Using Schoology's discussion tool discussions take on a whole new (and more dynamic) life in the classroom.

One, everyone has a voice.  The playing field is leveled and every student has an EQUAL chance to contribute.  There's the opportunity to have 100% participation and interaction in a discussion anytime and anyplace.  Try that without technology.

Two, options within the initial discussion setup are powerful.  From being able to assign a discussion to small groups of kids rather than the whole class to having the students reply before seeing the responses of their peers to grading responses based on a rubric to locking discussions so they're still able to been seen but not interacted with any longer and so much more.  Many options provide choice and power.

So, if you're looking for an initial entry point with Schoology integration and/or you're looking to take learning and interaction to a whole new level in your classroom consider an online discussion within Schoology.  Within just a few clicks the culture of a class can be changed.  As we all know very well, that's not an easy thing to do, but Schoology has made it possible.  Give it a try!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Where You Park Makes a Difference

Timing.  It matters with what we do.  Location, like in real estate, matters in what we do as well.  For example...

A few weeks ago my colleague and I were in a building and had some time between appointments.  We discussed where to "park" during our "down time."  The staff lounge came up as an option.  It was a logical option, but then another option came to our minds.  We decided to "park" in a common area near the front of the building.  There are comfy couches there.  That detail helped with the decision.  I'm not going to lie.  Also, and more importantly, this is in a high traffic place in the building.  Teachers are always moving in and out of the office along with classes of students (accompanied by their teachers) moving to and from their time at specials.  Our hope was to see some teachers that we wouldn't have seen otherwise (if we had parked in the lounge) and perhaps be able to provide some support, answer some questions, catch up, or all three.

Our choice turned out to be a wise one.

During our 45 minutes near the front of the building a handful of teachers took the time to stop, chat, and ask a question or two.  This informal support was quick, but it was still extremely valuable.  We don't need much time to be able to have an impact.  That's one of the many things we love about the nature of what we do.

Teachers are busy.  We know this.  We have lived this.  Sometimes even sending an email to us to ask a question at the exact right time is a challenge.  By choosing to be more visible my colleague and I were able to provide some guidance and support that we otherwise would't have.  With one choice we were able to create a win-win situation.

It's very rare that we're in the right place and the right time to provide exactly what teachers need.  That's just the nature of supporting so many teachers in so many buildings.  By parking in the right place we were able to be at least closer to the right place at the right time.  All we had to do was make the choice to be seen to make a difference.

Sometimes that's all it takes.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Its Mere Presence...

I was fortunate enough to participate in both of the #EdChat Twitter chats yesterday.  That doesn't happen near often enough.  I always gain so much from the live conversations as well as the self-reflection afterward.  Yesterday's evening #EdChat was focused around creativity and innovation in education.  Since my profession is directly involved with technology that aspect of education ends up being mentioned often in conversations like this.  Here's a tweet (among a few more) that garnered some attention within the chat.

One thing our team makes painfully clear, no matter who we're working with, is that technology use doesn't necessarily mean that creativity, innovation, "21st Century" teaching and learning, etc. is actually occurring.  It's absolutely essential in technology integration to begin with an instructional/achievement goal and then thoughtfully integrate technology that will enhance the lesson/unit/work for the students as well as the teacher.  When approaching things in this manner everyone, including and most importantly the students, has a chance to "win."

So when contemplating/planning/reflecting upon/talking about technology integration, please allow me to encourage you to stay focused on the students and their learning rather than technology as a whole.  As a wise person once said, "Technology is a tool.  It's not a learning outcome."  Available support options include but definitely aren't limited to: getting in touch with a close-by colleague, contacting your building or district instructional technology specialist (if you have access to people like that in your building or district), joining a Twitter chat, etc.  These options can help with creating meaningful depth and likely enhance the use of technology in your learning environment.  There are more people than you're aware of that would be happy to support you and your students with taking technology use in your classroom to a whole new level.  

Be brave, be bold, and watch the magic happen.  The students will thank you for it and that's all that really matters in the end.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Twitter "Wisdom": Rethinking an Approach

First things first, I have been caught up in the wrong numbers game on Twitter before.  I have devoted time and energy into getting as many followers as possible while not placing near enough effort in creating and sharing quality information on Twitter.

I still have a lot to learn about Twitter, but there is one thing I now pretty much know for sure:

Who you follow on Twitter is WAY more important than who follows you.

Please don't get me wrong, followers really matter.  No Twitter user wants to exclusively talk to themselves with every tweet.  As I use Twitter more and more I have quickly realized that who I follow truly defines my experience on Twitter.

So instead of trying to get as many followers as you can, follow Twitter users that help you be more passionate and knowledgeable about what you do.  Then when you decide to tweet/retweet your content will be that much more amazing.  Then the people who see your tweets will have no choice but to favorite and retweet your tweets.  And THAT'S when the followers come.

Friday, July 11, 2014

#CCSDTech: An Award-Winning Year

The Cherry Creek School District's Department of Instructional Technology ended our year with a bang at Schoology's NEXT 2014 conference held here in Denver at The Curtis Hotel on June 24 and 25.  The conference was a fabulous way to reflect on the successes of this school year.  It was also a perfect way to get geared up for next school year at the same time.  From finally meeting the people at Schoology who we had connected with virtually during the year, to hearing AMAZING keynotes from Schoology's CEO and co-founder Jeremy Friedman, Alan November, and Jennie Magiera, to presenting, representing, and learning throughout the conference, and connecting with other Schoology users from throughout the world NEXT 2014 was a powerful experience to say the least.

And I haven't even mentioned the really good part yet.

Schoology gave some awards to a handful of select educators for their efforts in using and creating capacity with Schoology.  Our favorite learning management system also gave a District of the Year award.  That district was Cherry Creek Schools.

Photo courtesy of fellow CCSD Tech colleague, Sherri Clemens.

The word proud came to mind right away.  Gratifying was another word.  We were so excited and humbled to receive this honor from a learning management system that has 5,000,000+ current users and projects they'll have 9,000,000+ by the end of 2014.  We also recognized the amount of work and passion so many talented and passionate CCSD people put in to help make this happen as well.  From our school board (who approved the purchase of  18,000+ Chromebooks so CCSD students could access Schoology) to our network admins (who made sure our teachers and students had a network designed for seamless Internet access throughout each and every day) to our PowerSchool administrative team (who ensured the information gathered in Schoology goes directly to our student information system) to our teachers and district instructional leadership (who were willing to try out yet another way to make their learning environments more dynamic) to so many others.  This was a total team effort.  There is absolutely no doubt that we made this happen together.

So what's next?  More (4,000+) Chromebooks for our elementary schools, diving deeper into our current Schoology use, and much, much more.  The work is always far from "done."  

The 2013-2014 school year was a powerful one.  We're looking to make the 2014-2015 even bigger and better than last year.  This is going to be a pretty large challenge, but we like challenges.  It's part of what we do.

Schoology highlighted their award winners in a blog post here.

Check out Schoology's Storify from the NEXT 2014 conference here

Follow our ongoing CCSD Tech journey via Google+ and Twitter on Tagboard here

Friday, May 23, 2014

Chromebooks and Schoology: The 2013-14 CCSD School Year by the Numbers

The school year is winding down so naturally it's time to look back and measure our team's impact as a whole.  Our CIO asked us to compile some Schoology/Chromebook numbers and statistics to be shared with our school board.  Before we began number crunching we knew the numbers were going to be impressive.  We didn't think the numbers would as impressive as compiled below.  Let me elaborate.

Rewind to the beginning of this school year.  A purchase was approved by our school board for Chromebooks for all of our schools.  This wasn't a few Chromebooks per class or a cart for every building.  This was 18,000+ Chromebooks for the students of Cherry Creek School District.  The total number worked out to a 2:1 student to Chromebook ratio in our middle and high schools and a 4:1 ratio across the district in grades two through five in our elementary schools.  (For perspective, the only "complaint" we've received in regards to the Chromebooks is that buildings want more of them and that's a decent place to be.)

The Chromebooks gave us the access, now we needed a place to learn, interact, store materials, and share online.  Prior to the Chromebooks being purchased there was another significant investment made for a district-wide learning management system.  That LMS was Schoology.

The pre-Chromebook global Schoology statistics for our district (from August 2013 through November 2013) looked like this:

700,000+ visits
5,800,000+ page views
Seven minutes and 47 seconds was the average time per visit
65,500+ comments posted
Almost 77,000 submissions
47,500+ files uploaded to Schoology

The Chromebooks arrived in buildings in November 2013 and were fully enrolled and ready to use by early December 2013.  It was time to get to work and that's what happened across the district.  The post-Chromebook Schoology stats (from December 2013 through March 2014) looked like this:

1,039,000+ visits
Almost 9,000,000 page views
Average time per Schoology visit: eight minutes and 41 seconds
147,000+ comments posted
200,000+ submissions
66,500 files uploaded to Schoology

Let's take a moment to compare the pre and post-Chromebook numbers.  After the Chromebooks arrived in schools and were updated/enrolled on our domain there were:

Over 333,000 more vists to Schoology
3.1 million+ more page views in Schoology
81,000+ more comments left in Schoology.
125,000+ more assignment submitted by students.
19,000 more files uploaded to Schoology.
Also, the average Schoology visit increased by almost one minute.  Multiply that by 1,000,000+ visits and that's a lot of time.

Overall, our CCSD teachers and students visited/will visit Schoology 2,000,000+ times this school year.  Multiply that by the average time per visit and that's 275,000+ hours spent on our LMS.  That's a little thing I like to call return on investment. 

All of this activity was not a direct result of the Chromebooks, but it can be said with confidence that most of it was.  Many schools had some access already, but the Chromebooks allowed more widespread and equitable access across our entire district.  Our network administrators also have done an absolutely FABULOUS job with making sure our buildings had the infrastructure to handle all of this new traffic.  More about the powerful and essential work they do here.

So there you have it, impressive numbers that reflect a new chapter of teaching and learning in Cherry Creek Schools.  The great news is that we're just getting started.  More Chromebooks (right around 4,000) are on the way to provide grades 1-5 a 2.5:1 student to Chromebook ratio in our elementary schools.  Our board and those involved have made a huge investment in CCSD's future.  We have seen it pay off already and we're all definitely looking forward to where things progress from here.

(And just for reference, here's the Google presentation we shared with our CIO complete with fancy graphs and cool captions.  Feel free to check it out below or for a little closer look at the presentation click on this link.)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The EdCamp PD Model: Have a Go

Last week my colleagues and I organized a morning of powerful professional learning for an elementary school in our district.  It took very little planning, everything went great, and the teachers were very happy.  Hard to believe?  Believe it.  This was all courtesy of the EdCamp model.  To clarify, our morning was more of a modified EdCamp model, but either way it was terrific.  Here's how the process played out.

Step one, time.  We were approached by the building principal who asked us if we were available the morning of May 2.  We pitched the EdCamp model to her and she was on board from the start.  All she asked us to do is follow up with the school's tech coordinator/teacher so we were all on the same page.

Step two, a 30 minute planning meeting with the building tech coordinator/teacher.  We came up with a list of topics, available classrooms, and a loose schedule.  The lack of structure was different and a little uncomfortable, but we assured her things would be fine.  The many people from our department that were planning to attend assured we would have plenty of support available.  That always helps.

Step three was the actual PD morning itself.  We took about 40 minutes to set the stage for the day.  This included an introduction to the format, previewing the available sessions, having the teachers actually sign up for the sessions, deciding on where the sessions would take place (based on how many people signed up for each session), and going to work.  Here's what the board looked like after the teachers signed up for their sessions.

You can actually see the flexibility, can't you?  As the picture represents, there were two 50 minute sessions and a 20 minute reflection and feedback session at the end of the morning.  The lack of structure was different, but nothing everyone didn't get used to pretty quickly.

Fast forward to after the two PD sessions.  Here's a small sample of the feedback we received from the teachers following the morning:

"Thank you for your thoughtfulness in planning today. It was wonderful to have choice. It allowed for small groups and appropriate content."

"I loved the different classes to choose from."

"This was the best PD I have ever been a part of. This advanced my understanding and opened the doors for what I could be doing in my classroom. I also feel confident advancing my understanding through the summer to give me more confidence with this technology come fall."

"Really liked the EdCamp format! Thank you for being such a presence in our school."

"This was an excellent format - teachers had choices of what they wanted to learn about. It really met our staff's needs because everyone is in a different place with technology and they were able to determine what they wanted to learn."

"We love the support of our tech coaches! Thank You!"

And those are just the highlights. There were many more kind words in regards to the morning. Speaking with one of the participants early this week she shared that there was much more discussion amongst the teachers after this format. "Where did you go?" "What did you learn there?" Positive feelings, empowerment, and sharing after a professional development session. It happened. I saw the whole thing.

One specific question we added and asked on our feedback form (thanks +Kellie Ady-CCSD) was, "Would you like to see this type of PD in the future? Why or why not?" Every response to this question was positive. Here's a Wordle of the responses. (And for those of you that aren't familiar with Wordle, the larger the word, the more it was included in the text the teachers created.)

The words seen above, including "yes", aren't words that are associated historically with professional learning in schools. Much of traditional professional learning is done "to" or "at" its participants. What the teachers and the facilitators loved about this format is the learning was done "with" and alongside the teachers. For example, when the teachers arrived at the session they chose the agenda was crowd-sourced. The needs of the teachers became the driving force behind the content that would be shared and discussed during our time together. The smaller groups allowed us to create the agenda together. This structure was just a little different for us as facilitators within this model, but our knowledge and experience with the tools the teachers chose to learn about guided us through the process. (Also, it's always okay to say "I don't know" and the group can figure out/find the answer together. That's a little thing I like to call a community of learners.)

Overall, what a morning. Great feelings about learning, collaboration, discussion, reflection, and a structure we can easily replicate in the future. We have shared the story from the morning with as many people that will listen since last Friday.

As always, there are next steps. I would love to provide a chance for this structure to be totally teacher driven. For example, the pre-camp organizing meeting would include teachers volunteering to share their experiences and knowledge/expertise with their colleagues. I imagine it beginning with, "Who would like to share/teach?" After getting those volunteers the rest of the group simply decides where they would like to go. The support from our department would be from the background and would answer any of the more specialized questions the teachers asked.

I'm definitely looking forward to when we get the chance provide another experience like this again. The feedback we received from the teachers is something that can't and shouldn't be discounted or pushed aside. This needs to and will happen again sometime soon. Stay tuned.