Connected Learning October-November Update: Access, Balance

The Connected Learning Initiative pilot has grown significantly in October and November.

Access:

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11th graders line up to check out their devices after passing the digital citizenship test.

Over 400 Chromebooks have been distributed to PHS 9th and 11th graders.  In total over 700 devices are in the hands of students at Millenium (9th-12th), PMS (6th) and PHS (9th and 11th).  With all this activity teachers and students have reported many positive outcomes:

  • unfettered access to the devices- no more trying to schedule access to a lab or cart for research and writing!
  • access to differentiated curriculum, such as personalized vocabulary development with Membean- watch out SAT, here they come!
  • ability for students to get a head start on school work during free periods on campus
  • more “student voice” with collaboration, classroom polls, and other formative assessments

Teachers are talking:

MHS’s Marcela Privat says she is getting the best student essays of her career now that she can teach writing better with each student having a computer!

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Teachers attend weekend training

Teachers have been reflecting on how the mobile technology can further enhance and redefine their already rich curriculum.  Over 35 staff members representing all schools and the district office attended a weekend conference in late October.  Focused on effectively using technology to improve student learning, teachers walked away with ideas, techniques and strategies they have been able to apply immediately back in the classroom.  The October 13th teacher professional development day also featured practical, classroom focused support for using technology.

Teachers are talking:

Beach special education teacher Molly reported “This was truly an inspiring training for me.”

Balance:

Finding the balance in technology has been on the minds of teachers, Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 10.42.25 PMstudents and parents
this last month.   The balance of digital vs analog tools in the classroom, and the balance of the device as a learning tool versus toy, and the question of control versus creativity bubbled up this month.  All in all, our web-filtering analytics reveal extensive academic use of the devices.  For example for the first week of November, Google Docs were the main use of our Chromebooks, not surprisingly.  Also popular were Day of the Dead videos and NoRedInk.com, an online differentiated grammar instruction service. In another view we can see use of Membean.com, a differentiated vocabulary instruction service. Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 10.42.36 PM

Teachers are talking:

MHS’s Sati Shah reflects his “goal for students to come away from my class not feeling like we used a lot of technology in class but, rather like they learned deeply and were well supported in that journey.”

Still many 6th grade students and parents were concerned about more recreative or distractive use of the devices than the intent of a learning tool. The sixth grade Scot’s Camp and Back to School Night had iterated the device being a “tool not a toy”.  Furthermore, a laptop form factor was deliberately chosen instead of a tablet form factor, as many people are used to tablets as a consumption/entertainment device.  Feedback from students and parents indicated that some students were installing/playing games on the devices at home that seemed to contradict the “tool vs toy” educational use intention. The topic was at the District Technology Advisory Committee on October 30th.  A mix of parents, staff, community, students and teachers discussed the merits of maintaining a more open policy allowing students free access to installing extensions, versus the benefits of limiting student choice on the devices.  No clear consensus was reached as merits of each position were recognized.  Some advocated for the educational benefit of having students work through this dilemma of distraction versus freedom in as part of digital literacy and citizenship, as long as the schools were providing guidance and oversight.

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Pencils, index cards and Chromebooks, oh my!

In response, extensions and apps installed by students were reviewed using the oversight provided by our filtering system.  In general the “toys” students had set-up on their devices were benign, though certainly distracting.  For example about 100 students had installed an extension that will make a website look like it was on fire, or could launch a PacMan game.  In the interest of reinforcing the “tool vs toy” distinction, we blacklisted about 12 such distractions.  Sixth grade teachers then spent time the first week of November discussing chromebook usage and the educational intent in their core classes.

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Maintenance and custodial staff unload over 3000 pounds of learning tools!

More Access:

An additional 480 devices arrived in November for the elementary schools.  As we waited on this shipment, upper elementary students have had lessons on internet search, password protection and privacy.  The devices will be distributed to fifth grade for classroom use only- no travelling between home and school- before Thanksgiving.  Fourth grades will follow soon after.

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