Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The View from CUE - Reflections on the 2014 CUE Conference

Like all of the other 5,300 educators who attended the CUE conference in Palm Springs last week, I walked away energized and ready to try out some of my new learning. It was great to see that large of a crowd at the conference. Mike Lawrence, Executive Director of CUE, announced that the conference attendance was the highest it had been in recent history. Further evidence of the swelling ranks of CUE attendees is that I had standing room only during my session (Technology in the Common Core Age) on Friday afternoon.
Photo used with permission from Moreno Valley USD

CUE is famous for always having some great keynote speakers and a large selection of impressive concurrent sessions. This year was no exception. The keynoters included: Dan Meyer who spoke about picking the right technology tools for the classroom, LeVar Burton who spoke about digital media and reading, and Sal Khan (founder of the Khan Academy) who encouraged us to rethink education. I attended sessions on Twitter, Blended Curriculum, Personalized Learning, Mobile Learning Initiatives, and others. One of the great things about an educational technology conference is that most of the presenters publish their handouts and resources online for all attendees. Check out the sessions you could not get to in person by going to:

But no matter how great the keynotes and the sessions are, my favorite part of the CUE conference every year is the Student Technology Showcase. This is where the students get a chance to show everyone the outcomes of all the hard work that they and their teachers put into 21st Century learning. The Student Showcase is where all of our talking and writing about educational technology becomes actual doing. And these students do it well!

Of course, I am partial to the students of Riverside County. We had students from North Ridge Moreno Valley Unified School District. There were students from Temecula LuiseƱo Elementary School in the Temecula Valley Unified School District. And we had the long-standing Student Showcase participants from Victoriano Elementary, and Val Verde Model Continuation High School from the Val Verde Unified School District. All the students, elementary through high school, were well prepared to show off their projects and their learning. Students would step out into the crowd and ask people if they would like to hear about the class project. The students, and the parents who were there, were clearly enjoying the opportunity to "showcase" their projects.
Photo used with permission from Val Verde USD

The districts are proud of what their students have accomplished and how they are able to communicate to the audience. Aaron Barnett, Director of Information Systems and Technology for Moreno Valley USD, told me that "Students from MVUSD are excited to showcase their computer programming skills at the CUE conference. While engaging many of the attendees, the students are able to exhibit the technical skills needed in the 21st Century." Phil Harding, Technology Integration Coordinator for Val Verde USD, said that "This event shows that continuation students have what it takes to compete in the global community. The evidence is their film product that has taken them all over the world - from Japan to Brazil to England."

It is wonderful that the CUE conference continues to grow. I am already looking forward to next year's Student Technology Showcase!

Dennis Large
educator & learner
follow me @dennislarge

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Scholar+ at Perris Union High School District

Image used with permission from PUHSD
Earlier this month I had the opportunity to visit the Perris Union High School District to learn more about their innovative Scholar+ program. I had heard great things about this new program which included a 1:1 device per student program using Chromebooks. Fortunately, the team at PUHSD was very open to sharing what the program is, what the thinking was behind the creation, what the challenges have been, and what the next phases are. I met with Joseph Williams (PUHSD’s Director of Technology), Charles Tippie (Assessment TOSA), and several members of Joseph’s IT team.

As soon as the group started talking about Scholar+, it became obvious that this was more than a Chromebook purchasing plan. These folks did their research. They brought together a stakeholder group, they read journal articles, reviewed national reports, met with local experts, and even visited districts in other states. Then they wrote a comprehensive plan that starts with stating their desired outcomes, covers the goals and instructional tools, outlines the professional development, and discusses the required infrastructure. Finally, the plan examines how to fund the devices. PUHSD provides an iPad for every teacher and a Chromebook for every student - all 10,000 of them! When asked about the impetus for going to a 1:1 model, Joseph cites the research and pulls up the quote from the National Education Technology Plan that ended up on page 1 of the PUHSD plan, "Ensure that every student and educator has at least one Internet access device and appropriate software and resources for research, communication, multimedia content creation, and collaboration for use in and out of school."

Joseph and Charles also point out that a good deal of time was spent on just coming up with the name for the program. It was important to the entire stakeholder group that the name be reflective of students and learning, not technology and logistics. Scholar+ was adopted as the name. A logo was designed, and each of the Chromebooks has that logo etched on the top cover.

Why Chromebooks? At the risk of oversimplifying Joseph’s response, it seemed to come down to price point and flexibility. The district had adopted Google Apps for Education back in 2010, so Google’s Chrome OS on the Chromebooks was a good fit. And at around $300 per device, the district was able to jump into a full 1:1 model. The model includes checking the devices out to students for 24/7 usage during the school year. And there is even some early stages of discussion around letting students take the devices home over the summer. There is, of course, some breakage and loss. But what they have learned so far is that there is not very much loss, and they spend far less on replacing these devices than they do on replacing textbooks.

Additionally, the Scholar+ team liked the versatility that the Chromebooks gave them in terms of preparing for SBAC and gearing up for the Common Core in general. Though the devices would help immensely with SBAC testing, the team felt it was important that the devices not be perceived primarily as assessment tools, but instead clearly be seen as devices for everyday teaching and learning in the classroom.

Dr. Diana Walsh-Reuss, Riverside County Associate Superintendent of Schools, and Jenny Thomas (Program Specialist with CTAP Region 10) joined me on this visit. All three of us walked away feeling impressed with: 1) how thoughtfully the whole Scholar+ program had been put together, and 2) how serious the team was about the data they collected on the impact of the program and how it could be improved. While the program was developed to help infuse technology into the classrooms, the focus was kept sharply on students and on learning.

Dennis Large
educator & learner
follow me @dennislarge

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Temecula Advantage Virtual School

In February I visited the Temecula Advantage Virtual School in the Temecula Valley Unified School District. The site, the students, and the staff were all impressive. It was a great opportunity to spend some face-to-face time talking to the people who make this virtual school work.

Image licensed from PresenterMedia
The principal, Dr. Todd Reed, gave me a tour of the facility. The first thing I noticed when I walked into this “virtual” school was that there were students everywhere. The site consists of two main rooms. One room has desks for Dr. Reed (who also creates and teaches some of the online classes) and the the two full time teachers. And the other is an open space where students can work in multiple configurations. In both rooms students were working in groups, in pairs, and individually. Dr. Reed explained that while the school has an enrollment of approximately 170 (and growing) full time online students, many of those students visit the physical site on a regular basis. Some come in for an hour to meet with an instructor for help on an assignment or to review their progress. Others come in for most of the day so that they can meet with instructors, work with partners or with groups, or just to get some schoolwork done without the distractions of their homes.

Mr. Balaris, the math teacher, was not available the day I visited. But Ms. Evans, the English Language Arts teacher, graciously took some time to talk to me. In between fielding questions from virtual and face-to-face students, she broke some of the myths about high school online teachers. Many people picture online teachers as being at home in their pajamas and working off-and-on throughout the day. I asked Ms. Evans to describe a typical day: She arrives before the doors open and is there all day. She meets with the students who come in to the physical site that day looking for assistance, and she meets with the students she called in because she needed to discuss some work with them. She logs onto the learning management system to check the progress of all of her students, and she makes contact via phone or email with any student who appears to be stuck on something (or has just been avoiding something). She grades assignments, gives feedback, and provides general support. Then in the evenings and on weekends she spends time creating new content for the courses she teaches.

I was also able to interview several of the students - and they had a lot to say about online learning. My first question was about why they chose to move from their comprehensive high school to the online school. There were almost as many different answers to that question as there were students in the room. One student is a competitive athlete whose training and competition schedule is not a good match for a traditional high school. One of the students is an actress who needs to miss chunks of time when there is a job that the agent lines up. Others felt that the social atmosphere of the traditional school was not a good fit for them. And some felt that the pace of the instruction (either too fast or too slow) at the traditional school was a barrier that the online school is able to remove.

I asked the students if they missed socializing with their friends. The majority of them reported that they still see their same friends outside of school. They feel like they get plenty of opportunities to socialize. Of course, some of the students said that they see their old friends and classmates less often, but they feel that is an advantage of the online school because being a bit less social helps keep them on track.

The Temecula Advantage Virtual School is definitely not a “one size fits all” situation. Some of the students choose to come to the school site almost every day because they know that they stay more accountable that way. Others come once or twice a week to see the teachers and to work with project partners or groups. And some only come when they need some specific support or when they need to take an assessment. It was clear that Dr. Reed, who also serves as the district’s Instructional Technology Administrator, Ms. Evans, and Mr. Balaris have created a flexible atmosphere both online and on site that meets the individual needs of each of these students.

Dennis Large
educator & learner
follow me @dennislarge