Category Archives: technology use

Teachers Integrating Technology: Fifth Graders at Sequoia School

Mona Ricard is a fifth grade teacher at Sequoia Elementary. Selected as the 2012 teacher-of-the-year for the district, she is the go-to person for new iPad, Chromebook, and laptop apps. Ricard has pulled together an eclectic collection of laptops and desktops and tablets from various sources in and out of school. Patricia Dickenson* and I observed a lesson using an app called “Book Creator” so that these 11 year-olds could create an iBook and later in semester, use those skills, to produce a State Report that each one had chosen to research, write, and present to the class.

Sequoia Elementary is part of the Mount Diablo Unified School District. David Franklin, an experienced principal has been at the school for five years having previously served in the Alum Rock district as an administrator. He told me that he is excited about the uses of technology in the school and has been supportive of those teachers who wish to plow ahead and use tablets and laptops. He has a “Mouse Squad” of fourth and fifth graders (boys and girls) who trouble shoot software glitches and simple hardware problems. On his desk he had a book on Minecraft and when I asked him about it, he said that this is an initiative that fifth graders are doing and he got interested; one of those fifth graders knew of his interest and had brought in the book.

A kindergarten-to fifth grade school, Sequoia was a back-to-basics alternative in the late-1970s. District parents who wanted more traditional academics for their sons and daughters sent their children to Sequoia. Over the decades, it remains an alternative–half of its students now come from across the district and half from the immediate neighborhood. As principals and teachers entered and exited, however, Sequoia has slowly moved to incorporating a full range of school and teaching activities from homework-texts-tests to project-based learning. Under Franklin, who has hired many of the current teachers over his tenure at the school, there has been an increase in student-centered learning and more computer devices and software garnered from multiple sources. Individual teachers, some of whom are entrepreneurial in gathering devices also have access to carts of tablets and two computer labs. The school, according to its 2015 Report Card, has about 550 students of whom 48 percent are white, nearly 22 percent are Asian, and 20 percent are Latino. About 12 percent are English Language Learners and about the same percentage are eligible for free and reduced price lunch (a poverty measure). Just under five percent are identified as disabled.

The lesson began after recess at 10:30. The room has desks clustered in groups of four with laptops, desktops, and an interactive white board on one wall. A schedule of assignments, tasks to do each day adorn one wall.

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Mona Ricard directs the 32 students to get their iPads from a cart in the corner of the room. After students return to their tables, Ricard says to class that in this lesson “we are working on a “Book Creator” app to practice creating a book for our social studies unit that we have been working on (see photo of calendar for “State Report”). For this morning, I want you to go through the Book Creator Tutorial independently for the next 10 minutes to learn how to create an iBook/e-pub.” Students go to “Book Creator” in their apps and began going through tutorial as Ricard, holding her iPad, walks around the room responding to questions.

One student asks” “Can I access Google drive to get my work for Book Creator?” Teacher replies: “Log into Google drive.” She walks around with iPad in hand offering help when students are stuck.

Another student asks, “What if we are done with tutorial?” Teacher replies: “you can create a few slides about an animal you can tell me about it, what it does, and include some photos.”

Another student: “Can I work on my report at home?” Ricard responds: “Of course, you can but since I give you lots of class time I would like you to spend the time in class working on it.

One student blurts out: “We can make a comic book! ” Some students say “YES.”

Yet another student asks: “How do we make a cover?” Teacher stops class and shows how to make a cover by using her iPad display and then flashes the display onto the interactive white board.

Then teacher then excitedly says: “Ooh! I am going to put a photo on my cover.” She goes to the back of the room where a stuffed alligator about five feet long rests under a table. It is the class mascot and students call it “Allie.” She takes a photo of it, uploads the photo immediately to her cover that is now displayed on the interactive white board and then types in a title.

One student asks: “I have a story on my flash drive on my computer at home, can I put it on my iPad?” Ricard says “yes, you can do it by uploading it to your Google drive.”

More than 20 minutes have passed. In scanning the room, we see that every one is in groups and engaged in making their practice book. Some are doing Internet searches for photos of animals and backgrounds that would fit their choice, and reading articles about their animal. Students move about freely helping one another, showing each other what their photos and text looks like. Teacher continues walking around helping students and responding to their questions, often adding comments of praise and encouragement. Also four of the students–three boys and one girl–are the class’s “Mouse Squad” circulating in the room to help students with questions as well and assist with the cover.

About 10 minutes later before students return iPads to the cart which is scheduled for another teacher who had signed up for it, Ricard says: “1-2-3 all eyes on me.” Most students stop what they are doing and repeat chant. Then teacher tells class how to save their practice report on animals. The interactive white board displays the actions students have to take to “save” their report. As she does this, some students who already know how to save their report are showing classmates photos on their covers while other students continue writing text for their report.

One of the observers hears a student talking to table-mate, “What are you doing yours on?” Student replies: “I am talking about giraffes.” she shows class-mate her iPad. Then she asks, “Can I see yours?” The class-mate shows  her cover with a picture of Justin Beiber (a young singer favored by the pre-teen and teen age groups) next  to a Pug dog. She moves through slides showing the fifth grader who asked question and pauses over one with the title: “Pugs can have style like Justin Beiber.”

At this point the lesson is drawing to a close, and Ricard says “1-2-3 eyes on me.” She gets the class’s attention and then she asks the entire class to stand up–they will be moving to another teacher’s room shortly. They do. She asks every student to line up and return the iPads. It is now 11:15 and she then directs students to do “silent reading.” She tells students that later in day, they will get the cart of iPads back and they can continue working on their practice report on animals. It is the end of the lesson and Dickenson and I thank Ricard and leave.

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*Dickenson (@teacherpreptech) is an Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at National University in San Jose. After reading my blog on integration of technology, a subject she is very interested in and has included in her university courses, Dickenson got in touch with me. She has extensive contacts with teachers and principals through her university courses and teacher workshops in the Bay Area. She proposed that we work together in observing schools and classrooms. She set up this visit to Sequoia with principal David Franklin. For this post, she and I combined our notes and I drafted the post. I sent a draft to Ricard and Dickenson to check for errors and each returned it. Because Dickenson and I combined our notes and she went over the draft. This is a co-authored post.

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Teachers Integrating Technology: Second Grade and iPads at Montclaire Elementary School

Jennifer Auten teaches second graders at Montclaire Elementary School in the Cupertino (CA) district.* She has been teaching at the school for 13 years. She teaches in a portable classroom. When asked does she like working in a self-contained classroom removed from the main buildings, she said she finds it helpful and time efficient that her seven year-olds can use the bathroom, sink, and other amenities in the portable without traipsing across 50 yards of playground to the school’s bathrooms and water. Here in the portable, Auten has had her second graders using iPads throughout the school day. In 2010, she was one of a small group of teachers who volunteered to pilot iPads in their classrooms. She has used them ever since and now has enough devices for each student to have one.

I heard of Auten from a reader of this blog who introduced us to one another via email.** I observed her 90 minute class on April 19, 2016. The carpeted portable was festooned with student work, wall charts, guidelines for students to follow in different activities, mobiles hanging from ceiling and tables for 2-4 students arranged around the room in no particular pattern.

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Twenty students enter the portable at 8:30 and immediately pick up iPads from a corner of room (there are also earphones for students to use nearby). They open the devices, go to Socrative app where they indicate their presence for the day and choose a regular or vegetarian lunch, permitting Auten to move ahead with the lesson without stopping the class to take attendance or ask about lunch choices.

Auten calls the class to order and flashes on white board a YouTube video that shows teenagers stretching, dancing, and singing. The seven year-olds are familiar with the routine; they cluster in the center of the room and jump up and down in time with the teenagers on the video. For the next 10 minutes there are additional videos of singing and stretching that the second graders copy. When I asked Auten whether this was a warm-up for the lesson, she pointed out that the state requires so many minutes of time in physical education and while she does take students outside to exercise 30 minutes, three times a week, she also uses  videos from Go Noodle–in the morning to get her second graders moving.

After the videos, she gathers the class on the carpet in front of her and she goes over what they will do in the morning. They will write a “research paragraph” that contains three important details. Carrying her laptop in one hand, she projects slides on a white board (she uses Apple TV and a ceiling mounted projector to throw image of her laptop screen on the white board).  She shows a sample paragraph on plants that the students can read–she told me that all her second graders can read. She reads the paragraph aloud and points out that it contains description of seeds, roots, stems. She wants students to work together and write a practice paragraph on a topic they choose from an online folder called “student project choice”. Each pair or trio of students will choose the topic they want to research–dinosaurs, bicycles, planes, etc.  Later in the day, she continues, each group will present that paragraph (with text and photos) to the rest of the class. She asks class “I am looking for a presentation that that has how many details?” Most of the students hold up three fingers to show her how many details they need to include. She then turns to the rubric students will use to determine the quality of the paragraph. She flashes it on screen and goes over each part, asking whether students understand and to show whether they do or not with a thumbs up or thumbs down. Most of the students comply with hand signals. Auten goes over each part of the rubric.

Teacher then shifts to topics in the different folders on their iPads–which pairs and trios will choose–the items to read and videos to watch in order to create their presentations. She then summarizes tasks for the class: research the topic, read materials using apps, take notes, prepare presentation, and check the rubric before they turn it in. Auten then goes over the apps students will be using to research their topic (e.g., Epic !,  Zaption, etc. ), pointing out which ones work well and, after a few students identify other apps, the teacher points out which ones might cause a crash. She asks if there any questions and three students ask about different apps and what to do if the program crashes. She answers their questions and points out that if students load too many visuals using Seesaw, the program may crash. To an observer, it is clear that this class has done other reports before. When I asked the teacher, she said they had been assigned an animal and are still working on that report (see photo).

She then asks students whether they want to choose a topic first or choose partners first. Auten lets student decide by asking them to hold up one finger for choosing topic first or two fingers for partners first. Most students want to choose partners first. They do. I scan the group and see that boys chose boys and girls chose girls. The children scatter to different tables and discuss which topics they will research and create a presentation. Students walk around holding their iPad and discuss with classmates what they have chosen and what they are taking notes on.

For the rest of the period, students work in small groups and pairs. No one works individually. Auten moves from table to table answering questions, inquiring about topic second graders chose, and asking about readings students had finished in their iPad, notes they have taken. Some students come to two baskets sitting on a ledge that hold note cards and pencils. Three boys are sitting on carpet as they read and take notes. When I scan the class I do not see one second grader off-task or disengaged

Auten raises her arm and quiet descends on class as students raise their arms in reply–another signal that students have been socialized to follow. She praises students for how well they have been working on project and reminds them that they have 25 minutes left to work on the projects before morning recess. Groups return to work.  I walk around and ask different groups what they are working on–planes, dinosaurs (three trios), bicycles. I asked one seven year old in another group what a rubric was. She explained to me that the rubric tells her whether she has done all parts of the report and what she has to do on each part of the presentation to get a high grade on the report. Teacher continues to check in with different groups at tables.

Chimes toll for recess. Students line up with balls and other equipment they use during recess. Auten opens door and leads them out. I thank Jennifer Auten for inviting me to observe and leave.

 

 

 

 

 

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*Montclaire is in the Cupertino School District.  The school has just over 500 students. Of the school enrollment, 46 percent is white, 38 percent Asian, 5 percent are Latino, and the rest are distributed among multiracial, African American, Filipino, etc. Those categorized as poor (i.e., free and reduced price lunch) are just over two percent of the school. According to Auten, many of the parents work for Google and Apple.

The district has a policy of 2 students per computer. They also provide a tech support person on site. For Auten, however, to get to one iPad for each student she became entrepreneurial. She got 12 from the district, applied for a grant to get a few more, parents contributed devices, and she corresponded with a University of Michigan professor who acquired the rest through a program he was affiliated with.

**Anita Lin, a former science teacher, who works for a local foundation contacted me after reading about my project examining exemplars of teachers, schools, and districts integrating new technologies into daily activities. She had observed Auten teach and asked if I were interested in seeing this classroom. I said I was and introductions were made. Auten invited me to visit her classroom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Teachers Integrating Technology: First Graders at Sequoia Elementary School

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Six year-olds get excited about almost any activity. In a first grade classroom, energetic, enthusiastic boys and girls would say “whoopee!” over a math worksheet and so it was in Leslie Altman’s group of 27 young children working with an interactive white board (IWB). Altman, an experienced teacher of over fifteen years has been at Sequoia Elementary School for the past three. She did a series of activities over a 45-minute period that largely used the (IWB) screening Scholastic News’  “Rain Doesn’t Bug This Ant,” and a few competitive games in which students from each team came to IWB, one-by-one, and tapped the answer to get points for their team.

Sequoia Elementary is part of the Mount Diablo Unified School District in Northern California. David Franklin, an experienced principal has been at the school for five years having previously served in the Alum Rock district as an administrator. Dr. Franklin, an active twitter user (@SFPrincipal) is enthusiastic about technology in school and supportive of teachers who want to use devices with their students. He has a “Mouse Squad” of fourth and fifth graders (boys and girls) who troubleshoot software glitches and simple hardware problems for teachers and students. One of the new initiatives in the upper grades is about the game Minecraft. I noted that a book about the game was on Franklin’s desk and he told me that a fifth grader had brought in the book for the principal to read.

A kindergarten-to fifth grade school, Sequoia became a Back-to-Basics alternative in the late-1970s. District parents who wanted more traditional academics for their sons and daughters sent their children to Sequoia. Over the decades, it remains an alternative–half of its students come from anywhere in the district and half from the immediate neighborhood. But as principals and teachers entered and exited, Sequoia slowly incorporated a full range of school and teaching activities from homework-texts-tests to project-based learning. According to Franklin, who has hired many Sequoia teachers in his years at the school, there has been an increase in student-centered learning and more computer devices and software garnered from multiple sources. Individual teachers, some of whom are entrepreneurial in gathering devices, also have access to carts of tablets and two onsite computer labs. The school, according to its 2015 Report Card, has 550 students of whom 48 percent are white, nearly 22 percent are Asian, and 20 percent are Latino. About 12 percent are English Language Learners and about the same percentage are eligible for free and reduced price lunch (a poverty measure). Students with disabilities are under five percent.

Just before 9 AM on the morning of April 15, 2016, the principal welcomed Patricia Dickenson* and me. I had asked him to pick two teachers who he believed exemplified strong integration of technology in daily lessons. Leslie Altman, a first grade teacher, was one of two teachers we observed. She organized her colorful classroom around tables for 3-4 students (see photo), each one holding a container of pencils. The 55 minute lesson we observed was built around whole-group instruction yet the classroom was structured as individual learning centers where students rotated through various ones (see photo). Six year-olds moved freely around the room, some going to a chart where they fixed a clothes pin to the phrase that best described their attitude and work during the day (see photo).

When we entered the room, the 27 six year-olds were sitting on the rug in a circle and Altman had the children saying “good morning” and exchange greetings to each other. Afterwards, the first graders moved to their seats and the teacher, using her laptop on her desk, flashes on the IWB a video on “bugs” that includes a range of insects and spiders. This begins the science lesson. Students quiet down and watch for about five minutes. Then Altman passes out Scholastic NewsRain Doesn’t Bug This Ant” to each table.

Using a wireless head-set, Altman reads the paragraphs on the News as each page appears on the IWB. Students read aloud each paragraph from the handout. She asks questions of the class and students respond chorally. On the second page are a series of photos about different insects and how they protect themselves from the rain. One photo shows a hen and chicks. Altman calls class’s attention to the photo and a student asks “How does the momma bird protect chicks from water?” Scattered students offer different answers. The teacher directs the class the last page of “Rain Doesn’t Bug This Ant” a chart displays information about three insects (Rose Chafer, Peacock Butterfly, and Ladybug), their size, and ability to be waterproof are compared. There are multiple choice questions for students to answer on their handout.

Altman flashes on the IWB the chart and divides the class into two teams to answer these questions. She explains that a member from each team will come to the smart board and pick the correct answer about the length of each insect and whether it is waterproof or not. She calls on one student from Team 1 to come to the smart board. She gives the six year-old the smart board pen and the student picks the correct answer to the first question. Her team cheers. Then the student gives the pen to someone else on her team to answer the next question. One student says “can I go next?” Another student says, “it’s not fair to give it only to your friends.”  One of the observers notes that some students on Team 2 had already marked their answers on the handout.

After answering these questions, Altman moves to two online math games the first graders are familiar with–“I’ve Got Your Number” and “Secret Agent.” Both are game show formats. For a few minutes the teacher had a technical glitch and could not get “I’ve Got Your Number” to appear on the smart board. The principal who was also observing retrieves another laptop and within moments, the math game show appeared on the screen.

The game, which also contains funny fake ads for products that children laughed at, displays a number line to 100. Students have to answer game show announcer’s question first on addition (e.g., What is ten plus 90?) with dings accompanying incorrect answers. Teacher continues with team competition and calls on members of each team one at a time. Some children on each side are excited and want to win and they are kneeling on their chairs. For those students who are unsure of adding, Altman leans over and coaches by rephrasing question and giving help before the six year-old taps the correct answer on the smart board.

Altman then shifts to another online game called “Secret Agent” where spy 00K9 must defeat the evil El Gato using his subtraction skills. Children cheer. Catchy chords play over and over again and some students move with the rhythmic music.  Announcer asks question–what is 40 less three? The teacher calls on the first student from Team 1. When needed, Altman helps the student who then taps the correct answer. She scans the room to see which students have not participated and encourages the student with the pen to choose particular six year-olds who have not been selected to come to the IWB. This goes on for about 10-12 minutes. While all of the action is occurring, there are a few first graders getting restless and walking around. Teacher scans the room and notices this and tells the entire class that the game is almost over and one of the teams will be the winner. The online game show keeps score and sure enough announces which team has won. The teacher then announces morning snack at 9:45 and students go outside the room to pick up food that their parents had packed for them. Later they go to recess. Dickenson and I thank the teacher and go to the next observation.

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*Dickenson (@teacherpreptech) is an Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at National University in San Jose. After reading my blog on integration of technology, a subject she is very interested in and has included in her university courses, Dickenson got in touch with me. She has extensive contacts with teachers and principals through her university courses and teacher workshops in the Bay Area. She proposed that we work together in observing schools and classrooms. She set up this visit to Sequoia with David Franklin. For this post, she and I combined our notes and I drafted the post. I sent a draft to Franklin, Altman,and Dickenson to check for errors and each returned it. Because Dickenson and I combined our notes and she went over the draft. This is a co-authored post.

 

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Rubik Cube, School Reform, and Summit Charter Schools (Part 2)

In part 1, I made the point that while solving a Rubik’s Cube is complicated, designing and implementing a school reform is complex. In that post, I offered nine different yet interacting moving parts that I believe has to go into any reform aimed at improving high schools for preparing youth to complete college. They are:

*Recruit and train teachers who have the subject matter knowledge and skills to work with youth before, during, and after the school day.

*Recruit and train school site leaders who have the expertise and skills to lead a school and be a pillow and sandpaper simultaneously with teachers, students, and parents.

*Students takes a college prep curriculum, aligned with district standards, that enables them to enter any higher education institution in the state.

*Students have access to non-academic subjects that cultivate the mind, heart, and sensibilities.

*Equip all students with the knowledge and skills not only to enter college but have the wherewithal to persist through four years and get a bachelor’s degree.

*Organize the school day, week, and month that provides students with sufficient time in and out of class to learn the prescribed material and core cognitive skills to master a subject, acquire the essential skills of planning and assessing their progress in each course they take, receive tutorial help when student skill levels are below par, and time for students to receive mentoring from teachers they trust.

*Build a culture of respect, safety, and focus on collaboration and learning for both youth and adults.

*Create a decision-making process that is inclusive, self-critical, and strong enough to make further changes in all of the above.

*Do all of the above efficiently within available resources.

 

These different features–drawn from different bodies of research (see Part 1)— of a structural design are within designers’ and implementers’ control. They can be built and put into practice. While fragile and easy to fall apart without attention and care, these interacting parts are essentials, I argue. Note, however, is that I mention no computers. Part of the complex design of these high schools is to use powerful software applications and content seamlessly in achieving desired outcomes. Technology is not central to achieving desired outcomes; it is, however, an enabling condition that surely helps both adults and youth reach the outcomes they seek.

What is beyond the reach or control of designers and implementers, however, are the unpredictable events that inexorably occur in and to schools because they exist in political, social, and economic environments within which both are wholly dependent upon those who fund schools. Consider just a few examples of the unanticipated occurrences that influence teaching practices and student outcomes: district and states cut funds, parental crises send students into  spirals of despair, illness of a highly-respected administrator slows implementation of an innovation; a clutch of veteran teachers exit school in one year.  Such events–and I have hardly listed all of the contingencies that could occur–if coming in clusters or sequentially (or both) can damage quickly the culture that has grown within the structures and, if left unattended, destroy the school. These schools, after all, are fragile creations that can only take so much shaking before they fragment and disappear. The history of successful schools, however, defined, has shown, time and again (see here), that creating and sustaining such schools is as dicey as predicting the locations and consequences of the next El Nino.

A charter network in Northern California has been working and re-working a design containing these moving parts for nearly 15 years. Over the past two months I have visited two of its seven charter schools in the Bay area and in those two schools have watched nine teachers across different academic subjects teach 90-minute lessons.* I have also interviewed administrators. The network of Summit charter schools has been written about often and positively (see here, here, here, and here). In all instances, these teachers I observed had integrated the software they had loaded onto students’ Chromebooks, the playlists of videos and links to articles for units that teachers created, and students’ self-assessment exercises seamlessly into the daily lessons with varying degrees of student engagement.

The cliched statement said over and over again by advocates of new technologies in schools: “It is not about technology, it is about learning,” captured what I saw. The overall aims of Summit students acquiring academic content, cognitive skills, “habits of success,” and the know-how of students assessing their own progress–all of that involved online work during and after lessons. Clearly, the school did not have to use Chromebooks and extensive software to reach the schools’ overall goals and each student’s personal ones. The technology did enable, however, the process of learning to be more efficient, more timely, and give real-time feedback to students. In the words of one of the teachers who emailed me his thoughts on using the available technology**:

Technology and the model we are currently using at Summit has transformed my classroom and changed me as a teacher….  As we have relatively recently embraced a model that puts students as drivers of their own learning further into the center of their academic experience,  we have moved the teacher further outward, acting more as a facilitator than a traditional teacher much of the time. This could make some teachers feel uneasy and others even disillusioned at the perceived prospect that all the knowledge students need is online and the essence of the teacher-student relationship has been subsumed by the technology. Having now helped develop the curriculum for this model, used it and iterated on it for nearly three years, I view this model as a powerful, mostly positive way to educate young people….

I am now able to provide a much wider variety of experiences to my students because I have access to a wealth of data about both their learning performance and preferences. Changes in my practice that took days or weeks based on our previous assessment cycles are now reduced to days, hours or even minutes. That said, as we iterate to improve the academic tools we use, we also need to be equally mindful, innovative and proactive in building and maintaining the ethical and character culture(informed by a knowledge of adolescent development)that marks an excellent high school education from a merely good one. Moreover, we need to similarly work on building a more powerful, authentic sense of common purpose with the varied backgrounds of our families and communities that overlap with our school community. This requires tremendous empathy and solidarity, and I feel it is the greatest challenge ahead of us….

Such a culture that this Summit teacher speaks of is not engineered by new software or machines. The culture and structures that support it are built by administrators’ and teachers’ hands, hearts, and minds. It is a work-in-progress. It is complex with many moving parts. And it is fragile.

What is missing, of course, from this description of Summit’s complex design and its execution is any evaluation of what students are learning (In my observations, I focused on what teachers did in their classrooms), whether all Summit high schools (or just the two I observed) are succeeding (however measured) in achieving its goals, or whether you need all (or just a few) of the features outlined above. There is a great deal absent from this limited account of lessons I observed.

But I did learn a few things very well.  If the Rubik Cube can be solved in either seconds or minutes with algorithms, I am confident that building and sustaining an improved high school for minority and poor youth is a long-term affair, lacking algorithms, that needs smart and patient leaders, and years to accomplish. Such schools are live inventions that keep adapting to their environment as problems arise and fade.  But these works-in-progress are vulnerable and delicate creations. They need constant attention.

 

 

 

 

 

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*Diane Tavenner, a founding teacher at Summit Prep and director of Summit Schools Network and Chief Academic Officer, Adam Carter–also a founding teacher at Summit Prep–picked the two schools. In both schools, I interviewed the principals (called Executive Directors), and they suggested various teachers I should visit. Because of scheduling difficulties, I could not see all of those recommended to me. So in both schools, I reached out to other teachers, introduced myself and asked them if I could observe their classes. Of the nine teachers who permitted me to spend a 90-minute block, I had selected five to have a broad coverage of academic subjects and grades 9-12. All nine lessons taught by English, social studies, science, math, and foreign language teachers have been published on this blog on: March 13, 2016, March 16, March 21, March 23, March 29, April 1, April 6, April 12, April 18.

**In my possession. It was a confidential exchange between this teacher and myself.

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Learning to Code vs. Coding to Learn (Michael Trucano)

Michael Trucano posted this on his blog December 8. 2015. From the World Bank blog: “Michael Trucano is the World Bank’s Senior Education & Technology Policy Specialist and Global Lead for Innovation in Education, serving as the organization’s focal point on issues at the intersection of technology use and education in middle- and low-income countries and emerging markets around the world. At a practical working level, Mike provides policy advice, research and technical assistance to governments seeking to utilize new information and communication technologies (ICTs) in their education systems. Over the past 18 years, Mike has been advisor on, evaluator of, and/or working-level participant in, educational technology initiatives in over 45 middle- and low-income countries.”

 

“Coding”, it is said by some, is the “new literacy”. The ability to write and understand computer code, some contend, is increasingly fundamental to understanding how to navigate one’s way through, to say nothing of succeeding in, a modern society where more and more of our lives are enabled and/or constrained by the actions of devices and information systems that run on computer code.

Few would argue with the notion, I would expect, that efforts to expose some students to ‘coding’, and to develop some related skills, is a bad thing. That said:

Should *all* students learn how to code?
All? That’s ridiculous! some would answer.
All? Absolutely! others respond.

I’ve sat in on a number of related discussions in ministries of education and at education policy forums around the world. At times, it can seem like members of these two groups are not only on different pages, but reading from totally different books. Those people just don’t get it, I’ve have heard representatives from both groups lament about each other after the conclusion of such meetings.

For what it’s worth, and in case it might be of any interest to others, here are, in no particular order, some of the most common arguments I hear made both in support of, and against, educational coding initiatives:

Coding education will help students acquire vocational skills that are immediately relevant to today’s job market.
Look at all of the IT-related jobs available in the world, coding education advocates say. Shouldn’t our schools be specifically preparing our students to compete for them? Setting aside larger questions about the proper place of vocationally-oriented classes and approaches within an education system (some folks have a bit more expanded view of what ‘education’ should mean than something that is only meant to prepare the workers of tomorrow) and agreeing that some perspectives are a bit extreme (“Latest Craze for Chinese Parents: Preschool Coding Classes”), critics respond that many related efforts are a waste of time in practice for a number of reasons. These include that: (a) they focus on developing largely mechanical processes that are easily learned in other venues; (b) they are largely concerned with “job-relevant” skills of today, not tomorrow; (c) initiatives of this sort are largely driven by the business sector (a group whose motives they view with great suspicion); and (d) many current efforts have little pedagogical value in and of themselves. Often cited with particular disdain are projects purportedly about coding but which amount to little more than learning how to use basic office tools such as word processors and presentation software. Proponents counter that arguing that something shouldn’t be done in the future because it is often done badly today doesn’t always make for a winning argument, and that just because the private sector supports a particular activity in schools doesn’t necessarily mean it is bad or that nefarious intentions are at play. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, they respond.

Coding helps develop important logic and problem-solving skills.
Steve Jobs remarked that “coding teaches you how to think”. Few would argue against the notion that, when taught well, education in coding can help develop important logical thinking and problem-solving skills. Indeed, most coding education is at its very heart about logic and meant to be oriented to help people identify and solve specific problems (whether they are as basic as “have a greeting appear on the screen” or “move this turtle up and to the left” or as complex as trying model projected rainfall patterns or the transmission of a virus throughout a population). In response, critics argue that coding courses have no monopoly on the development of such skills, and that in fact such skills should be embedded throughout an entire curriculum, not the focus of a single school subject 

Understanding coding helps students better understand the nature of the world around them, and how and why increasing parts of it function as they do.
Computers play increasingly large roles in our lives, and so it’s important to understand how they function. There tends, I find, to be general agreement about this statement among education policymakers, although different groups nevertheless disagree on its practical relevance, given many competing priorities. That said, it is perhaps worth noting that many critics of educational coding efforts may perhaps not fully grasp the potential import of this observation. Computers don’t have minds of their own (at least not yet, anyway!), they act only according to the instructions that have been programmed into them. The price you are charged in the market, why your government or a private company thinks you might do (or not do) something, why a search result appears on your screen – such things are increasingly not directly determined by the whim or a person, but rather by an algorithm (or combination of algorithms) that someone has created. Understanding what such algorithms enable, and how, will increasingly be important to understand our increasingly digitized world. (Technology is neither good nor bad, Melvin Kranzberg noted, nor is it neutral.) Those who acknowledge the potentially profound insights that might follow from such observations may still argue that there is a very practical and immediate opportunity cost here: If you add coding to the mandatory curriculum for all students, what comes out? Some places are considering doing things like letting coding courses be used to meet foreign languageor basic mathematicsrequirements – is this a good thing?

Teaching students to code can serve as a gateway to subsequent study of STEM topics — and hopefully to jobs and careers in related fields.
Reasonable people can disagree about the exact nature and magnitude of the ‘STEM challenge’ (i.e. problems that arise because insufficient numbers of students are studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics … a topic for another blog post, perhaps). That said, even where critics concede that such a challenge exists, they may ask: Is ‘coding’ really this really the ‘best’ gateway to boost general interest in STEM? If coding is not well taught, might it in fact dissuade some students from further study of STEM topics, and thus decrease the likelihood that they pursue STEM-related careers? Is coding education in schools indeed a gateway to coding, or is it in practice just ‘edutainment’, something to do with all the computers that schools have purchased and still haven’t figured out how to use productively — better than nothing, to be sure, but not better than many potential alternatives?

Introducing coding in schools can be a force for greater equity and equality of opportunity.
There can be little doubt that the tech industry suffers from a real problem related to diversity (or, more accurately, a lack of diversity). Efforts to introduce coding in schools in some places are seen as a measure that can help with this. Advocates maintain that, when coding is something that everyone does, it is no longer something just e.g. for boys, or for kids with computers at home, or for people in California or India, or who are Caucasian or Asian or ___ [feel free to insert your own stereotype and/or ‘privileged’ group]. Providing more exposure to coding for a wider variety of kids can certainly help to some extent, critics might counter, by helping to providing some initial opportunities for those who may not otherwise get them and by chipping away at some stereotypes, but the situation is rather complex, and much more needs to be done. Such critics worry that, because there are coding initiatives in schools, certain leaders will declare that the diversity challenge is being ‘solved’, or at least ‘handled’, and leave it at that. Supporting international efforts like Girls Who Code or more localized programs like GirlsCoding (in Nigeria) is all well and good, such critics say, and certainly a good start, but it isn’t ‘solving’ the problem.

Being able to code enables new avenues for creativity and creative expression.
Efforts to teach coding skills to young students through the use of tools like Scratch, or as part of robotics courses or initiatives to promote “making” (and/or “physical computing”), are often cited as compelling examples of what (good) coding education efforts may comprise. Here again, many critics may laud such efforts but still argue that, even if you concede that coding is a new literacy in our increasingly technology-saturated world, it is still worth asking two rather basic questions before moving ahead with new, large-scale, mandatory educational coding initiatives in school:

*How are we doing with the old, basic literacies of reading, writing and arithmetic?

*Shouldn’t we ensure that these fundamental “literacy skills” are in place before we start tacking new ones on to our already bloated curricula?….

 

 

Should we teach coding in schools? What does ‘coding’ mean in our context? Who should teach it, and who should learn it – a certain few, or everyone? Can we afford to do this do? (Conversely, given that our neighbors and competitors are doing this, can we afford not to do this?) Are we interested in making sure more kids ‘learn to code’ and then stop there, or is it more about developing the skills that would help students eventually ‘code to learn’?

Whatever the situation or context, how a policymaker answers these and many of other related questions is probably colored quite a bit by how she views the role and process of education, and the activity of learning, more broadly.

 

 

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Part 8: Summit Prep Teachers Integrating Technology: 9th Grade English

Classroom questioning of students is an art, not a science. Whether a teacher does it one-on-one or in a group of five or for an entire class of 30, questions are at the core of the teacher’s quest to have students grasp content and concepts. Or to have students probe more deeply what their classmates and the teacher assert. Or to stretch students’ skills of speaking in groups. Or fixing mistakes when students stumble. Getting the best sequence of questions asked of students, that is, using an initial one and then follow-up questions constructed like a ladder takes time and thought. Different aims in a lesson generate different kinds of questions and such questions are the meat-and-potatoes of teaching.

Much knowledge of asking classroom questions comes from direct experience in teaching, some is intuitive, and some comes from trial-and-error. And even some comes from books. Framing the question is what the teacher does prior to teaching, say, in a lesson plan and also during the lesson in the midst of back-and-forth exchanges between teacher and students. Which students to call upon and how to call upon them (e.g., cold calls, choral questions, name first or name last) is also more art than science.

I raise all of these points about questions (but not student answers) from watching Anne Giocondini, a 9th grade teacher of English in her first year at Summit Prep, conduct a lesson on poetry on March 22, 2016. Her written-out questions on the white board, in the handouts she gave students, and in the ensuing discussion reminded me for the umpteenth time just how crucial to student learning are the skills of constructing and asking students questions.

Giocondini, a graduate of Grand Valley State University (MI), became a Fulbright teacher at Kirovohrad State Pedagogical University (Ukraine) where she helped teach preservice TESOL teachers and translators for a year before coming to Summit Prep. Why Summit? The school “aligned with my values, doing project based teaching, and mentoring.” As a first-year teacher she has the same room all day to teach her block lessons of 90 minutes each, periods of Summit Reads and Mentoring. What she had on the walls of her room and how she arranged classroom tables for students to sit mirrored her aims for the 9th grade English class.

photophoto copy 2photo copy

 

 

The day’s agenda (see above) was clear. The teacher began the Warm Up when the class began at 8:15 with the question directed at 24 ninth graders who had been creating their poems in previous sessions: “Did I include Imagery?” On a slide projected on the screen in front of the room, Giocondini lists what students are to do with their partner’s poem and then their poem:

*”Open PLP (Summit’s online Personal Learning Plan)

*Open Partner Poem

*Open Partner Poem Revision Task Card 2

*Complete Checklist

STOP AT CHECKLIST

*Professional Courtesy”

All students open their Chromebooks and go to their PLP and their table-mate’s poem. I scan the room and every student is either reading their screen or clicking away to answer questions that are on Task Card 2. Giocondini walks along the aisles, stopping at one table and then another asking questions and listening to student queries. This continues for about 10 minutes.

The teacher segues to next task on agenda and tells students that they will revise their partner’s poem to include imagery. Before they move to that task, she put a slide on the screen: “Imagery is the name given to the elements in a poem that sparks the senses.” Sight, taste, touch,smell, and sound are enumerated on slide. To pin down the concept, Giocondini asks students to practice imagery with their partner using prompts on a slip of paper she hands out (e.g., “I do not like junk food”). She then cold calls on two different students to repeat what tasks they will be doing in next few minutes. Each one repeats the tasks correctly. Students go to work. A stop watch on the screen beginning at 5 minutes ticks off. Teacher moves up-and-down aisles to see what pairs of students are doing, offer suggestions, and answer questions.

I scan the class and every student is engaged with one or two other classmates.

After time elapsed, Giocondinia stops the class and asks class for examples of imagery that they added to prompts written on the slip of paper. She “cold calls” a student–to “read out” his. And then onto others to “read out” their images. To some of the student answers there is laughter at vivid images.  Students clap at each other’s contributions. Teacher asks entire class which of the five senses is written about in examples of images; students respond chorally. Giocondini now moves to next part of lesson–Work Time: Partner Poem Revision (see above photo of agenda). She tells students they have 20 minutes to revise their partner’s poem. They open Chromebooks and begin task; many talk to their partner and compare stanzas and images (two pairs work next to me and as I click away taking notes on the lesson I can hear their conversation). Teacher goes around the room making suggestions, inspecting revisions, and answering questions. Students carry their Chromebooks as they move about the room to check in with classmates  on revisions they made in poems.

In looking around the room, all but two students are engaged in task; within a few minutes, the teacher gets to the two and they return to task.

Teacher announces that 10 minutes remain. Students work until teacher asks students to close Chromebooks–she uses the phrase, “professional courtesy.” A student next to me leans over to a nearby classmate and tells him to close his computer. Teacher says “if you can hear my voice, clap once,” quarter of the class claps. “She then says if you can hear my voice, clap twice.” Two-thirds clap twice. Quiet descends in room.

Giocondini then moves to next part of lesson, the Theme Poem. She explains what a theme poem is and projects a slide of a Maya Angelou poem (with her photo) that they had read earlier in the year called “Still I Rise“. Giocondini reads the poem to class. Slide appears on screen with question: What is the theme of “Still I Rise?”

To refresh their memory of theme taken up in an earlier lesson, the teacher shows slide of what constitutes a theme and whether the theme is specific, universal, etc. (for Giocondini’s plan about theme poems, see here). She asks class what is the theme of “Still I Rise.” She calls on students who raise their hands. Giocondini asks students to support their answers with words from the poem. What emerges from back-and-forth discussion among students and between teacher and class about the theme of the Angelou poem is that people can overcome obstacles by rising above hate. Giocondini then moves to final task of lesson which is for students to pick a theme poem from a playlist she has compiled, read it carefully, and analyze it with their partner for its theme. She gives students 20 minutes to do this task. They open their Chromebooks and commence working. I scan the class five minutes later and, apart from one student secretly glancing at his cell in his lap, all appear to be working on task. Giocondini walks up and down aisles conferring with students, making suggestions, and responding to questions.

When time came to end for this task,  the teacher says: “Who can hear my voice, clap once.” She continues until the ninth graders are quiet.  After asking students to close Chromebooks, chattering rises and Giocondini uses drill with clapping. One student behind me shushes others near him who are talking; another student says to a nearby classmate to use “professional courtesy,” that is, close the Chromebook.

Giocondini compliments the class for all that they have done in the hour and a half period and then previews the work they will do for the next time they meet. She then cold calls a student and asks him to tell the class what the homework is and what they will be doing the next time they meet. The young man repeats all of it correctly. Students begin to pack up in the final minute and then Giocondini releases students to go to Summit Reads, the next class on their schedule.

Teacher questions of all sorts permeated the 90-minute block period and drove this lesson on poetry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Part 6: Summit Rainier Teachers Integrating Technology: Chemistry

After spending six years working for pharmaceutical companies, Edward Lin who had tutored students while working as a chemist, decided to change careers. He went to  University of California, Berkeley and secured his state teaching credential. Attending various career fairs for teachers, Lin heard about Summit, researched the school, garnered an interview and was hired as a chemistry teacher. He has been at Summit Rainier for two years.

On March 16, 2016 I observed Lin teach from 11:25 to 1:00 a lesson on metals (including a Lab) to 17 students sitting two to a table facing the “smart” board at the front of the portable classroom. A Periodical Table hung from one wall of the classroom. A sink in the back of the room students used to wash hands, vials, and get water for experiments. Tubs of equipment, goggles, test tubes, and other paraphernalia, rested on tables also at the rear of the classroom.

Lin has prepared a series of activities, beginning with the Warm Up, on slides and shows them to students as he segues from one task to another over the course of 95 minutes.

One slide lists the items today’s lesson will cover:
*Project Introduction
*Molecule Selection
*Is it a metal? Lab
*Are atoms in your molecule metal or nonmetal?

The Warm Up (see slide 2 here)  which introduces the unit asks students to identify common tools used in kitchen and around the house and answer questions about them.   Students pair up and generate examples such as knives, wrenches, pencils, etc. in response to Lin’s request. Discussions engage each table as I scan the room. Teacher then asks students to answer three questions about each tool they identified: How does the tool’s shape allow it to do the job? What material(s) is the tool usually made of? Why is the tool usually made from the material(s)?

A whole group discussion of these tools ensues for about 10 minutes. Lin calls on students by name. Few raised their hands. As I scanned the classroom, most students were listening and responding to the teacher’s prompts. A few were not. Those who were not looked at their cell phones which were lying on their desks or were quietly chatting with table-mates. The teacher stops talking, motions to one of the chatterers and she stops. He continues to guide the discussion and makes the central point that these tools students identified are made of metal and other materials containing molecules with certain properties allowing the tool to do its work as a tool. The discussion continues until Lin moves to the next task of reviewing the entire project.

The teacher goes through a series of slides (see here, slide 3) covering what students have to do (e.g., choose a molecule they want to work on; produce a 2-D or 3-D model of the molecule each student chooses that can be made out of clay, drawn, crocheted, etc.; make an oral presentation (e.g., write and read an essay, present a comic book, do a PowerPoint lecture). Lin gives many examples for each of the tasks students need to complete and then asks students at each table–usually two and sometimes three–to choose a molecule in the next 15 minutes from the list that they have in a handout. Students use their Chromebooks to look up particular metal and non-metal molecules and ask Lin questions as he circulates around the class. Some of the students have quickly glommed onto the task and tell the teacher immediately which molecules they want to focus on. Lin takes down names and the molecules they chose. There is a flurry of activity when two different tables of students chose the same molecule (e.g., silicon). The teacher negotiates agreement between tables competing for the same element one team choosing another one.

Lin then segues to the handout labeled “Is It a Metal?” (see here) that will guide the Lab they do. The teacher had prepared samples of elements (e.g. lead, magnesium,calcium, copper, silicon) arrayed on two front tables. The Lab directions ask students to test each element and determine whether the element is a metal, nonmetal, or metalloid. Pairs of students are to get samples from the array of elements lying on the tables, test each one at a time, and record data, making observations of what they see happening (or not happening). Each element, say copper or aluminum, has certain properties (e.g., appearance, conductivity, brittle or flexible, reaction to acid). These properties are listed in handout. Students are to check the reaction of each element to hydrochloric acid and copper chloride. Based on the data students collect and the properties these elements have, they are to determine whether, for example, silicon, carbon, magnesium are metals, non-metals or metalloids.

Most of the students go to the rear of the portable where I am sitting and pull from various tubs of equipment, pairs of goggles and test tubes, return to their table and then go up to where the elements are arrayed at the front of the room and begin testing the properties of each one. A few students hang back and as they see others engaged begin to take part in Lab. Lin walks around the room answering questions, offering hints to puzzled students, and monitoring those less engaged in the Lab. Most of the students are working on the task. They carry their Chromebooks with them to record data and confer with one another in their group about what they see.

From time to time, Lin reminds students how much time is left to complete filling up the sheets and recording the data. One group of five students dip into and out of the Labwork as they do the operations chatting and laughing. The teacher sits down with a few of them to see how they are doing on the tasks. Other students have completed the Lab and ask Lin what they should do and he directs them to push ahead with otherparts of the unit that he had previewed earlier in the period.

At 12:45, the stop watch is at 0:00 and Lin tells students to clean up. Students line up at sink to wash out test tubes, dry their hands, and at their tables compare what they have found with other groups of students.

Lin then convenes the whole class–he counts down from 5 to 1–and says: “Let’s chat a bit.” He asks which of the elements are metals. Students call out answers: “copper,” zinc.” Lin follows up and asks what are the properties of these metals. More call-outs from students (e.g., “you can bend copper,” “when acid hit, bubbles came up in test tube”). One student is puzzled over silicon and Lin notes that and elaborates on the element. He then asks class about carbon. He clicks away on his laptop and student answers about each of the elements they examined appear on the screen. “Nonmetals are brittle, dark, not shiny, and barely conductive.” He then goes to Periodic Table and asks students to look at how metals, nonmetals, and metalloids are aligned on the Table. This is a mini-lecture with a handful of minutes remaining. Restlessness rises in the room. Lin concludes the summary and students pack up and move toward door of portable. In a few moments, the teacher releases the class to go their next one.

 

 

 

 

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