Sunday, April 23, 2017

Four Great Google Forms Ideas to Try Right Away

There are certain tools that are so flexible and easy to use that their potential use cases are infinite. Google Forms has recently added some new features that make it one of the go-to tools I recommend to even the most tech-tentative educators. Previously, educators needed to use add-ons to make their Forms self-correcting, and the question-types and design options left much to be desired. But the new Forms have been leveraged by the teachers I work with in such creative and productive ways this school year. They are worth recording in this post so that more students and educators can benefit.


Use #1: Flipped Activity Instructions

The Pain Point
Our middle school physical education teachers sometimes use videos from Ninh Ly's Rules of Sports YouTube playlist to teach their students the rules of a sport before they head outside to play it. The downside is that playing the videos during class time takes away from precious active time on the field or court. With class periods that are only 45 minutes long, they need to make every minute count.

Google Forms to the Rescue
One of the teachers now makes quick 5-8 question Forms and then posts both the link to the video and the link to the Form on his class website. Students take about 5-10 minutes to watch the videos and complete the Forms at home. Before they even see their students the next day, teachers know which students have watched the videos, whether they understand the rules, and which elements might need a quick review. Even better, students instantly know how they've done on the Form because the teachers use the Quizzes feature (accessible by clicking the the gear on the upper right when building a Form) to ensure that the Form tells students their results right away so they know what to expect the next day in class. Now everyone has much more time for active play during the school day.

Use #2: Midyear Student Feedback

The Pain Point
The teachers in one of our academic departments are striving to deliver a more consistent experience across their classes so that more of our students master their content at the appropriate level before moving up in subsequent school years. Although tests and quizzes can check for academic mastery, they do not help measure whether teachers are using consistent methods or workload and how well students are handling the curriculum and assignments.

Google Forms to the Rescue
One way to measure consistency is through student feedback on homework, teacher helpfulness, assessment fairness, and more. After a brief training on Forms, a group of 5 teachers developed a 30 question Form that all of their students took to provide them with important feedback. Questions asked which resources and tools are most helpful, how students manage homework, whether curriculum pacing was reasonable, and if grading policies were clear. They used the results to create an action plan for the second half of the school year and are planning to survey the students again to see if the adjustments they made are helping their students.

Use #3: Student Research as Part of PBL

The Pain Point
One of our English teachers wanted to bring the reading gender gap to her students' attention. They read Why boys don't read and then were charged with finding out whether the information in the article was an accurate reflection of themselves. (We work at an all-boys school.) Of course, they were also charged with developing their own actionable solutions that could help encourage them and their peers to read more.

Google Forms to the Rescue
In order to determine whether their own reading habits fit within the concerns expressed in the article, they worked together to develop a Form. They decided to ask about how they find books to read, how often they read for pleasure, and whether they identify themselves as "readers." The results indicated that they did, in fact, represent the boys the article was about. It allowed them to become more invested in their projects over the long haul. Today many of those students are living out their projects by working with school librarians and administrators to create new initiatives that will increase reading for pleasure among our student population.

Use #4: Classroom Questions with Live Results

The Pain Point
This idea actually came from a recent conference presentation. At ASCD's Empower conference, I co-presented a session on promoting young education leaders. My co-presenters and I knew that our audience would include both administrators looking to promote leadership and young educators looking to become leaders, but knowing the makeup of our audience would help us tailor the session to their goals. Similarly, teachers often launch into a lesson without knowing for sure whether the classroom full of students has existing opinions/perspectives on the topic.

Google Forms to the Rescue
We created a one question Form for participants to answer, identifying their role at their school or district. Then, while they answered, we projected the responses tab of the Form on the big screen. The pie chart that Forms auto-generates for multiple choice questions live updated the results. We all watched together as we discovered that the room was fill with 56 participants from varying roles. This same tactic could be quickly and easily applied to the start of any new lesson or project in any classroom.

How are you stretching and using Forms with your students and colleagues? The possibilities are literally endless. Share your favorite tips and links to your own blog posts below!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Digital Day in the Life of a Teacher


As we near the end of the school year, teachers are working harder than ever to keep their students engaged and to maximize every single day they have left with them in the classroom. Teachers are the superheroes of education and there is nothing more important in a teacher’s day than the face-to-face connections they make with their students. According to renowned education researchers Robert and Jana Marzano, “Teacher-student relationships provide an essential foundation for effective classroom management—and classroom management is a key to high student achievement.” To ensure that limited face to face time in the classroom can be as meaningful is possible, teachers are using digital tools to bring learning and sharing beyond the classroom. And, when everything teachers do every day is listed, it is truly amazing to imagine how they juggle it all. So, what does a typical digital day look like for a teacher who is doing this well?



Before the School Day Begins

  • Check and respond to messages from students, parents, and colleagues. Share any learning data about students with parents who have requested it and answer any student questions that were sent last night.
  • Be sure that all resources and activities are curated and posted online so students can access them as needed during the school day.
  • If students had homework, review the online results of student assignments completed last night. Were students messaging back and forth about anything in particular? Do their scores/results indicate that there are aspects of the content many of them are struggling with? These topics might deserve a second look during class today.


During Class Times

  • Greet students at the door and have bell-ringer/activator instructions projected in the classroom. Be sure the digital tools and resources students need are easy to access and are free from pop-ups or other distractions so learners are ready to engage appropriately with technology as soon as they enter the classroom.
  • During class discussions and small group activities, provide students with an online message board where they can post their questions or ideas. While extroverts have no problem speaking up out loud, introverts will appreciate the opportunity to share their ideas this way.
  • Spend some of class time chatting one-on-one with students who need interventions that day. This can be necessary due to academic or social-emotional needs. Be sure the rest of the students are engaged in meaningful learning endeavors throughout these chats.
  • Close class time by reviewing the questions and ideas posted on the digital message board and pointing out where students can find their homework, if they have any, that night.


During the Prep Period

  • Check in with colleagues both in person and online to share resources and ask for feedback on upcoming lessons and projects.
  • Use social media to connect with the professional learning network. This allows teachers to create collegial relationships and get additional feedback from professionals beyond their school or state.
  • Examine student work and learning data created during class time and use it to refine lesson plans for tomorrow and the rest of the week.
  • Conduct research to find high quality OERs like online readings, videos, simulations, and activities. Curate those online resources so they are easy to find and share later with students, colleagues, and parents.


When the School Day is Over

  • Meet with students and parents who have requested conferences to help them reach their academic and social-emotional goals. Share any resources and data that can help everyone craft a plan in the best interest of the student. Providing online secure access to this information is usually most efficient.
  • If it isn’t a student or parent conference day, teachers likely have department, faculty, or committee meetings to attend and participate in. This means reviewing resources and preparing and sharing a working agenda for the meeting so that precious time can be productive.
  • Most teachers also advise clubs or coach teams. It is important to communicate with students involved in those extracurriculars via some digital means to keep everyone informed about scheduling meeting/practice/competition times.
  • Later in the evenings, teachers often finish up reviewing student data, fine tuning lesson plans, and answering any student or parent messages that have come through during the afternoon and evening hours.


Some teachers are seemingly superheroes and are able to juggle all of these tasks daily so those precious face-to-face minutes are as impactful as possible, but many struggle because finding the right combination of online communication tools, activities, and resources is a challenge. Schools must be sure to provide the right learning management system, such as itslearning, so that everything teachers, students, and parents need is available through one intuitive platform. Then every teacher can feel like a superhero of the classroom. All of this digital communication, preparation, and engagement makes it possible for precious in-class and extracurricular face-to-face time to be dedicated to building those relationships that are the “essential foundation” for classroom management and student achievement.


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Note: This is a sponsored post. While there was compensation for this post, no product will ever be highlighted on this blog unless the author believes in its value to educators.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Getting Over the Innovation Hump


Many schools are now 5 or more years into their BYOD or 1-to-1 programs and progress has stalled a bit. Early adopters, both students and teachers, continue innovate as they explore increasingly creative uses of the device. The majority have come on board and are relying on a smaller set of device functions, and are willing to continue learning and improving use. A smaller set are still critical of the program and are not integrating beneficial functions of the device in their classrooms. According to the Diffusion of Innovation Theory, which I've referenced before, this is normal. But it can still be concerning if the gap between the early adopters and the critics continues to grow and student experiences are vastly different from classroom to classroom.

It is healthy for any social system, such as a school community, to have critics who question and push everyone to clarify their thinking and improve their practices. But critics that refuse to budge can have a negative impact on both school culture and student learning. It can lead to a situation of "haves" and "have nots" in which a student's category depends solely on the teacher she has.

Once all concerns have been addressed, if there are still a few holdouts who are not utilizing the device at all there is a need for further action. Here are my recommendations:

Institution-Wide Norms

Start by setting up both acceptable and encouraged use guidelines for existing devices and new tools as they are rolled out. Every stakeholder  – teachers, students, parents, coaches, counselors, and administrators – should help create the norms and should clearly understand how the device can help the school reach toward its goals of educating and empowering every child. Guidelines that both establish boundaries and open doors are crucial. For instance, it is important for everyone in the community to be aware of the boundaries for safe social media use but also to know that social media can help forge connections with outside experts and resources to enhance the educational experience. School guidelines that clarify these norms are essential because they provide a solid foundation on which to build success.

Ongoing Proactive Conversations

If the school is constantly reacting to concerns or responding to crises, innovation can stall. Even when things are going well, educators should take part in consistent structured conversations to celebrate success and strategize about continued improvement. Here are some topic recommendations:

  • Hacks, Tips, and Tricks: In a recent informal panel at school, a middle school science teacher shared that he color codes the backgrounds of his digital handouts. A quick visual scan around the room and he instantly knows who is looking at the document with the green background and who might be off task. A room full of educators gasped at the genius but simple tip.
  • Best Practices: A few months ago an entire department met to talk about digital note-taking versus pencil-and-paper note-taking. Based on research and professional experience, the group of teachers agreed on best practices for when handwriting would enhance learning and when digital notes would best serve student needs. 

Circle Back

All guidelines, hacks, and best practices need regular revision. Incorporate reflection and revision activities into professional learning time. The educators in the room when that middle school teacher shared his color-coding hack are already scheduled to meet again in a month to share whether they've tried it and how successful it's been. Similarly, that department met again about a month after their note-taking conversation. The problem wasn't completely solved, but everyone in the group had taken at least a few small steps forward and was ready to have another solution-focused meeting of the minds.

All stakeholders, from the early adopters to the critics, should regularly engage in structured forward-looking conversations. Only then will the entire institution continue to meet the needs of an ever-changing student population who arrive at school with ever-more-complex devices in their hands. There is no quick fix or secret key to sustainable progress. These three recommendations should be implemented in concert and will result in a cultural shift. It will take longer than a month or a semester. If a negative dialogue is deeply ingrained in the school, it might even take longer than a single school year. The investment will be worth the effort to develop a positive school-wide culture and movement toward what is best for students.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Are You a Young Educator With Leadership Aspirations? 4 Tips You Need to Know

Education is constantly evolving, and intelligent innovative educators are ready to evolve with it. Sometimes the professionals who are ready to step into leadership positions are on the younger side. Pulling together the right support system and mindset is essential to the success of educators with these aspirations.

I had the opportunity to learn and present with some of the top young education leaders this weekend at ASCD's Empower conference in Anaheim, California. In a carousel-style workshop, we shared with (and learned from) fellow leaders to develop our skills and bring a refreshed mindset back to our schools and districts.

Here are our top 4 takeaways:

Saying "Yes" and Taking Chances

Amy MacCrindle, Director of Literacy from Illinois, reminds young leaders that sometimes all it takes is 3 little letters to take the leap into leadership. Her experiences can be narrowed to 3 pieces of advice:

  • Amy says, "opportunities that fall outside your comfort zone end up being the ones that stretch you and become defining moments." 
  • But be sure to only say yes when your heart is in it. If an opportunity does not align with your vision and goals, it could end up being a tough experience. 
  • Saying no usually means that same opportunity will never come along again, so always consider saying yes. But if you end up saying no, a new similar/better opportunity will likely come along soon! Sometimes it is OK to say no because you know you will be ready to say yes later.


Leveraging Networks

Natalie Franzi, Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Projects in New Jersey, highlighted the importance of finding organizations that can help support leadership goals and encourage growth. Her tips for finding your tribe are:

  • Find the people who will lift you up. Leaders need to find sources of learning and encouragement to stay fueled during the day-in and day-out of their duties.
  • Make the time. Natalie says, "While many of us already feel overwhelmed and wonder where we are going to get the time to add one more thing, investing in a network will save time in the long run." She suggests that networks provide access to resources and opportunities to present, blog, and collaborate.
  • Explore the options. She put together this hyperdoc with information about her favorite professional educator organizations and links to their websites. Explore it to find the networks that best fit your leadership aspirations.


Becoming a Reflective Leader

Adam Brown, Principal from Virginia, encouraged participants to build reflection into daily practice. Gaining a leadership title is a chance to grow and learn in new ways, not a signal to stop growing and learning. His suggestions included:

  • Lead with humility. Adam says, "Be OK with not knowing everything. Find a mentor who is going to be honest with you and won't be afraid to tell it like it is." Insecure leaders are afraid to admit their faults, but people have greater respect for leaders who are willing to say they do not know everything.
  • Read and challenge yourself to improve your leadership style. Adams top reads include Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Leadership and the New Science, In Search of Excellence, Shifting the Monkey, and Good to Great. While balancing work and family, Adam uses his commuting time to listen to audio books.
  • Balance active listening, effective communication, and transparency. Adam cites the Adaptive Schools program as his biggest influence in this area.


Strategies and Tools for Personalized Professional Learning

My contribution included sharing the tactics and technology that have allowed me to grow as a connected educator when I needed the growth. While many schools and districts offer impressive PD opportunities, personalized on-demand feedback is especially powerful because you are able to get it when you need it. I recommended:

  • Write about your experiences and then share them on a blog. The feedback you'll get will be just as valuable as the act of writing in the first place.
  • Use tools like Facebook Groups, Voxer Chats, and Google Hangouts to connect with other leaders from throughout the country. Often conversations start on Twitter, but another platform is needed to delve more deeply into the topic.
  • Make connections in person at conferences. Then trade usernames/handles to help build those connections into a Personal Learning Network (PLN) using social media and communication tools.


With the right mindset, support network, reflective practices, and combination of strategic tools, young ambitious educators can be well-prepared for the challenges that will face them. While leadership is filled with challenges, it is also filled with opportunities for creating real change that can benefit students and teachers.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Using a Quick Fix in Education is Like Putting a Band-Aid on a Crumbling Wall

As new, but important, initiatives are rolled out in schools there are bound to be bumpy patches. It can be tempting during these difficult moments to apply a quick fix and move on. Here are some examples of situations in which this is common:

  • A small number of students are struggling to complete a new element of a learning task, so the teacher completes it for them for the sake of moving on to the next lesson.
  • A teacher is not yet comfortable with a digital platform – such as GSuite – and an administrator permits him to turn in evaluation evidence on paper despite an existing paperless policy.

To be clear, I am not referring to accommodations that students with learning difficulties need in order to have a level playing field. I'm referring to quick fixes that make things easier, but do not help learning happen.

These quick fix/Band-Aid reactions might ease stress temporarily, but they will not help the learner develop a necessary skill or master essential content in the long run. It doesn't solve the problem, it simply puts it off. The problem will bust through the proverbial Band-Aid and will be even more challenging to solve later.

Sustainable Change

Principles of sustainable change can help both classroom teachers and school administrators avoid Band-Aids.

Relationships
Michael Fullan advises creating social opportunities for learning:
Creating and sharing knowledge is central to effective leadership. Information, of which we have a glut, only becomes knowledge through a social process. For this reason, relationships and professional learning communities are essential.
If learners are not given opportunities to learn with and from their peers, either in the classroom as students or in professional situations as colleagues, school leaders cannot expect system-wide change to occur. Instead of completing the task for the learner or permitting the learner to fall back on outdated skills, provide more opportunities to learn from and with peers in order to accomplish the learning goal. Strength comes from the combined skills and efforts of the group.

Humility
Andy Hargreaves and Dean Fink tell the story of how meaningful change is patient and seeks to get to the root of the problem:
Talisman Park High School's principal reacted to a newly mandated 10th grade literacy test—which students would have to pass to graduate—by trying to shield his experienced staff from time-consuming test-related activities. He decided that the most expedient way to get good results was to concentrate on boosting the achievement of students who were likely to fall just below the passing grade. Although the strategy made the school's immediate scores look good, other students who really needed help with literacy were cast by the wayside. 
Meanwhile, the principal of neighboring, more ethnically diverse Wayvern High School responded to the mandated test by concentrating on improving literacy for all students in the long run. Teachers worked together to audit and improve their literacy practices and, with the help of parents and the community, focused for an entire month on improving literacy learning for everyone. The first-year results were not dramatic. But by the second year, the school scored above the district mean, and by the third, the school had become the district's number-two performer—well ahead of privileged Talisman Park, which had opted for the quick fix.
Based on these experiences, and others in the article, meaningful change requires educators to embrace humility. Both teachers and administrators must utilize their strengths and actively seek to study and improve on their weaknesses. Investigating the source of structural weakness is the only way to plan repairs that will be solid and lasting.

While quick fixes can be tempting to ease discomfort immediately, educators are better serving their learners if they embrace that discomfort, take the time to investigate it's true cause, and develop solutions that are more long lasting. We need to rebuild the wall instead of patching it. We need to look for cures instead of Band-Aids. Our learners deserve sustainable change.

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Myth of Separate Personal and Professional Social Media Accounts

Often connected educators advise their new-to-the-PLN (personal learning network) colleagues to create a separate Twitter/Instagram/Facebook account for professional purposes. While most are already connected to family and friends on social media, many are not yet using social media as a means to professional learning and growth. Dipping their toes into using social media for professional purposes is less intimidating if they get to start fresh with a brand new online identity, one that is separate from already existing personal accounts.

But this is a myth.

Make no mistake, a separate professional online identity might be a good place to start. It helps rookie connected educators learn the general etiquette and norms around sharing information, asking for feedback, and building a PLN. They can do all of this without feeling as though their personal life is suddenly public.

The purpose of this post is not to discourage that practice.

Crossing a Social Media Threshold

The purpose of this post is to relieve the confusion and stress of those connected educators who find themselves at a threshold:

  • They've been connected for a little while and have started to build relationships with a few other educators they would not otherwise know. It's exciting. Those relationships started online, yet are very real. In addition to inspiring one another professionally via social media, they've met in person at EdCamps and conferences. They've shared about favorite workouts, new recipes, their own children, and other non-professional information that good friends normally share.
  • A few of those new professional acquaintances have found them and sent friend/follower requests to personal social media accounts. For many, this means someone from the Twitter PLN has send a friend request on Facebook or follower request on Instagram or Snapchat.
  • Every now and then, something that happens on the professional feed – a guest blog post they've authored, an opportunity to moderate a Twitter chat, or the amazing work of their students inspired by an idea from someone in their PLN – is so exciting that they can't help but share it on their personal feed as well.
What now? Is it OK to allow these carefully crafted personal-professional boundaries to be crossed?

There a many of us who have been connected long enough to have blended these worlds. Our social media accounts across the board include family, friends from elementary school through our post-grad, neighborhood friends, colleagues from work, the PLN, and more. Often, people from one category are also part of another. Real life is messy. Creating clean social media categories will also eventually get messy.

Avoid These Blending Blunders

So, yes, it is OK for your Facebook and Instagram feeds to become a blend of personal and professional. However, if this prospect makes you uncomfortable, here are a few things to think about:

  • If you would not want your professional connections to see what you post in your personal social media feeds, it might be time to reflect on why you post the kinds of information on any feed at all. The truth is that, no matter how tight your privacy settings, anything you post online is potentially discoverable by anyone.
  • None of this is meant to suggest that you should/shouldn't start following or interacting with your students. It is important to pay close attention to your school/district policies and to abide by them. No matter what any policy states, it is possible for your students to find your social media accounts without your knowledge and look at your posts. Keep that in mind every time you tap the publish button. Be a model for healthy positive online behavior at all times.
The advice in this post does not mean that educators have no expectation of privacy. We do. But keep in mind that what is posted online is never private. Don't let this hold you back, though. As long as you think before you post, feel free to share your moments if success, struggles and lessons learned, and the best resources that have helped you along the way. The more you share, the more you will get back. This is true in both your personal and professional lives, online and in person.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Problem(s) with Choosing EdTech Tools for Your School

If you have ever been the lead teacher, technologist, or administrator tasked with finding the right tech tool for your school or district, here are a few scenarios that might seem familiar:

  1. You walk through the flashy fun exhibit hall at an edtech conference. The vendors are friendly, helpful, and give you plenty of hands-on opportunities with their product. You leave with handouts, email addresses, and lots of hope. But when you get back to school, you feel overwhelmed as you flip through all of the information. What’s next?
  2. As you look for a solution to your school/district’s particular situation, it is easy to go with one of the big companies with a big reputation. They might be exactly what you need. But they might also have a big price tag, inattentive product support, and updates or interface design changes that come without warning. Well, it is what everyone else is doing, right?
  3. Vocal teachers have always been the beneficiaries of both budgetary and time considerations. (Confession: As a classroom teacher, I worked the squeaky wheel angle a LOT.) Administrators and technologists can learn a lot from tech-leader teachers, but it can also be difficult to be sure that one particular problem actually requires extra resources. Is that vocal teacher’s need a school-wide need? Can existing tools and platforms – used in a new creative way – fill the need without pulling from a tight budget?


If the tool you are looking for is a significant investment and will require significant support, you are likely willing to dig deeper than those initial temptations. There is help out there:
  • Product reviews can help, but the sampling of reviewers likely do not include administrators from schools that fit your school’s profile. The reviews tend to be focused on that particular user’s experience rather than on institutional roll-out and impact. Also, the reviews are focused on the tool itself, not the need you are looking to fulfill by using that tool.
  • Change management consultants are also helpful, but technology tools are just one element of broader changes. When your need is more particular, their 30,000 foot view is not focused where you need it.
  • Reach out to your PLN (personal/professional learning network) of educators – via Twitter, Facebook Groups, and listservs – to get tool recommendations. Again, although their schools might be similar, their need and budget are not likely an exact match.
  • Put out a call for proposals to the companies that you have heard about through your PLN and your own research. Comb through the proposals on your own or with a small team from your school. This will take time and resources, so be ready to block it out from other responsibilities and roles.


What school and district technology leaders really need is a process that allows them to analyze their needs, survey all companies – big and small – for the right tool fit their particular issues. At the same time, that process needs to be as efficient as it is accurate. The work of education is always on a tight schedule and a tight budget. EdSurge’s Concierge is one option I’ve seen that helps solve a lot of these problems. It is free and anonymous. That means that the companies they match you with do not know your identity or your school’s identity until you are serious and ready to make contact with those companies. The only money you’ll spend is on the tool if you are convinced it is the right match for you. Here’s the process:

  1. 45-minute diagnostic call: They’ll ask you about your need, the solutions you’ve tried, existing tools and infrastructure, and more.
  2. Research: The folks at EdSurge will use their broad network of educators and edtech companies to do the research you don’t have time to do. The key here is that they level the playing field between those big companies everyone knows about, and the small ones that might have the right solution you’ve never heard of.
  3. Your vetted list: Soon you’ll receive your customized list with specific information from each company about how they can and will meet your particular need. EdSurge will have shared your personalized needs with each company without revealing your identity. For you, this means you get all the inside information with none of the sales pressure.
  4. You make the call: EdSurge will put you in touch with only the companies you select. Then they will step back and let you do what is right for you.


Choosing the right technology tool is a big decision. Will the tool do what you need it to do? Will it fit in your budget? Will the company support your integration and professional learning needs? Give Concierge a try next time you are looking for a solution to your blended learning, OER curation, personalized learning, formative assessment, or learning management system needs.


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Note: This is a sponsored post. While there was compensation for this post, no product will ever be highlighted on this blog unless the author believes in its value to educators.
Problem image source: Chris Potter on Flickr
Concierge image source: EdSurge