The 2015-2016 school year continued to head in a direction that will support teachers in the instructional use of technology that we began last year. Of the 66 elementary schools, just one school had little interaction with our work and I expect this to change next year. Three schools are independent schools that are Catholic. These schools are working hard on their own and participating as it suits their needs. Three schools are early childhood centers and work with me as they have specific questions. Overall, 98% of the elementary schools are making strides in assisting the teachers in what it means to use technology to help students and themselves communicate, collaborate, show what students know, and go beyond skill-and-drill software. I’ve made great strides in learning about our 28 high schools and have been facilitating conversations between the schools.
Goals and Reflection
My three goals for this school year, for the elementary schools, were to:
1. continue to assist the technology integrations specialists in knowing each other, communicating, and sharing ideas and share collaborative opportunities for teachers and their students throughout our schools
2. explore the big picture of copyright, fair use, and creative commons as well as sharing what they learn through blogging
3. finish the technology curriculum map for PK-8 with the assistance of the high schools in the definition of a technologically proficient freshman
We met those goals to a large degree. The integration specialists get the most out of talking with and learning with each other. I want to explore how to do this even better over the coming year. I am contemplating the idea of an integration specialist advisory group for 2016-2017. More minds on moving innovation forward will help me get outside my own thinking and explore with a group of expert technology integration specialists.
I want to continue to encourage blogging. I continued to utilize the RCAN Learns Google Site and posted links to teacher reflections there. Several teachers started to use blogging in simple ways with students or to share ideas with teachers within the school, too. I wish more teachers would give this practice a chance. I did not require blogging or a particular platform. A few chose public Blogger and Weebly pages and several more wanted to be in the walled garden that Kidblog provides. It think it is important to meet people in their comfort zone. We looked at Feedly as a way for teachers to follow blogs, too.
To encourage teachers to provide opportunities for their students to collaborate with other students outside the building I created two projects: RCAN Stories and RCAN 6 Sounds. In preparation for our work next year, I created a RCAN Collaborate Weebly site to join all projects under one umbrella. The response to the stories project was fantastic. 18 elementary schools and 35 unique classrooms of students participated. More importantly 2/3 of the 27 teachers who worked on the project were not the technology integration specialists. The specialists assisted but did not do the bulk of the project with the students.
The Six Sounds project was small and more technologically complex. Still, four schools gave the project a try. The project concluded with an open form. Anyone could listen to the six stories (as voted within the school) to provide feedback and choose the story the liked the best. Again, these were baby steps forward in working with others outside the school’s walls.
I am looking forward to work with Anna Baralt on the Monster Project wiki again in the 2016-2017 school year. Rather than creating a separate space, we will give the teachers the option of simply exchanging monsters with a school within the Archdiocese or working with a class outside the state of New Jersey.
The technology core curriculum map is complete. It is in the process of being uploaded to our Rubicon Atlas system. The content and skills are broken down by grade from preschool to eighth. It will be posted publicly on the Schools Office website once school is in session and all teachers have a chance to look at the skills by grade level. This was a collaborative effort. While someone may look and feel that there are missing skills, the idea is that all schools should be able to have their students master these skills over time whether they have technology integrated through the school or if they have a dedicated part-time technology teacher who will work in a self-contained way as well as supporting the work of the students within their classes with the teacher. All schools can go beyond these skills. This will represent the minimum that all students should master.
One other benefit of the last two years is that I am able to purchase items for the schools to borrow and test with students and teachers. This began last year with Spheros. We have 14 that the schools can use on a loaner basis. Some schools have found enough value that they purchased their own. Other schools use them for short periods. I extended this loan feature with Tiggly, Osmo, a Breakout EDU kit, and Ozobots. It is difficult to hear about new tools and to have to find funding to test the item. Schools can fill out a form and as the items are returned to me they move on to the next school. I am looking forward to receiving two Bloxel kits to share this year. I introduce them in as part of a technology playdate then add the items to the form.
Areas for Improvement
I’m still trying to assist the teachers in continuous learning. Several teachers have embraced using Edmodo as a way to share what they find. A few teachers have bookmarked sites for each other using our Diigo group. A very small group of teachers tried Voxer and Slack. In the broader group of teachers – those who are not tech integration specialists – we are testing a private Google+ group. We have a group of teachers teachers learning how to embed engineering into their existing math and science curriculum at the elementary and high school levels. They have, to this point, just enjoyed reading posts. Hopefully they will begin to share, too. Some teachers, on their own, have been using Twitter.
I am trying to avoid overwhelming teachers with collaborative spaces. It may seem like too much in the previous paragraph. These sites have all been shared over the course of two years. Voxer and Slack were really “reach” ideas for people who were ready to try something they had not necessarily tried while exposing everyone to the concept. I want to encourage the asynchronous sharing between schools while building bridges to share with the greater world of education. I am looking forward to giving the group exposure to Twitter as a place to “lurk” or share.
Since we’ve defined the content and skills students should be learning, I want to drive the conversation and work to “why” we are choosing various forms of technology to benefit student learning. Last year I attempted to help the integration specialists realize that our time together was not to just give them more things for the teachers to do and try with students. If a teacher tried something in 2014-15 and was still learning how to provide new opportunities for students with this technology, they shouldn’t be expected to learn something new. They could certainly try something new, but shouldn’t be expected to.
I want more teachers to share what is going on in the individual schools. It will become great conversation points for why these methods and tools are assisting students to take what they know and share it with others.
I am looking forward to building on our first two years of work with the elementary schools. I will continue my work with the high schools to define the profile of a technologically proficient college freshman which will define aspirations for graduating high school seniors.
Finally, we have a small group of educators who are assisting in Edcamp RCAN in October. Something similar was done years ago so in some ways it is bringing back an old idea under the Edcamp name.