Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Technology That Teachers Want

Image used by license with
Which technologies do teachers want in their classrooms? Do they want Chromebooks, or iPads, or Windows tablets, or Android tablets? Do they want interactive whiteboards, or document cameras, or sound projection systems? In the end, those are not the decisions that will make or break an educational technology implementation. It is all about the professional development. A new nationwide survey of over 1,000 K-12 teachers shows that teachers are more interested in making sure that they get sufficient PD than they are in which devices get purchased.

According to that survey, 90% of teachers say that technology is an important piece of an instructional program. However, only 60% of teachers say that they feel adequately prepared to use technology in the classroom. More than one third of teachers, 37%, say that they would love to use technology in the classroom but simply do not know how.

Fortunately, there is plenty of research available on effective professional development. When dealing with PD for teachers on the topic of technology, here are five things to keep in mind:

1. Make sure you are offering training on the basics as an option. Overall, 38% of teachers reports feeling the need for training on the fundamentals of technology use. That percentage rises as the age of the teacher rises.

2. Host PD opportunities during existing work days. Over 75% of teachers say they would like to have dedicated professional learning days on the topic of technology.

3. Many teachers like having an online alternative available. Consider offering self-paced online PD options.

4. Build an online community for sharing resources. The Web is full of lessons and other teacher resources, but 80% of teachers report wanting to have a place to share lessons with the other teachers they know.

5. Things have to work. Teachers need to know how to access technical support when they need it. Approximately 70% of teachers report not having tech support (or perhaps not knowing about it) to help them when they have trouble accessing something online.

Remember that the most effective professional development is ongoing. Whatever type of PD program you put in place at your school or district, make sure that it is repeated and enhanced each year with options for various levels of need.

Dennis Large
educator & learner

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Back to School with Ed Tech

It is only August, but all of the districts in Riverside County are back in session. Some districts are already in their third week! This seems like a good time to share some trends I am seeing in educational technology.

Photo credit: @TrPatel20 
One of my favorite trends is districts giving space to educational technology in their professional learning days prior to the start of the school year. For example, Hemet USD had a focus on technology when they brought their management team together for a day of professional learning in July. Riverside USD featured educational technology in their day-long professional learning conference the week before school started. And Romoland School District also featured technology in a general session and several break-out sessions at their all-staff Return-to-Work day the day before all their students showed up. Pictured with me here is Romoland Instructional Coach Sonal Patel who, along with another instructional coach (Susan McDonald) presented a wonderful break-out session on Digital Citizenship. They had a classroom full of teachers using tools and discussing strategies for teaching digital citizenship. I was also impressed that Romoland's Chief Technology Officer, Vince Butler, jumped in and provided a break-out session that gave teachers a look at many of the technology tools available to them. Great things can happen when a district shows its priorities by giving space to them.

Image by Alice Keeler @
There are simply far too many fantastic digital tools for teachers to check out to even try to list them here. But one great tool that has been upgraded for the start of school is Google Classroom. You can read about the new features of Google Classroom by visiting the official Google site. But better yet, check out the Updates for Google Classroom blog post by leading Google Apps expert Alice Keeler. Some of the best professional learning you can get from the web is free - just follow Alice on Twitter. Or, you can splurge on the whole $20 it costs to buy the 50 Things You Can Do with Google Classroom book. One of my favorite upgrades to Google Classroom is the Google Calendar integration. Now, when you create a class in Classroom, a new calendar will automatically be created for the class and assignment due dates will be immediately added to that calendar. The assignments that do not need a due date can be toggled off so that they do not appear on the calendar. This is one more step toward helping teachers and students stay organized. It is also one more step Google has taken toward having Google Classroom become an actual learning management system on its own.

Screenshot used with permission from Keara Gonzales
Finally, the best thing about this back-to-school season is that my daughter has landed her first teaching position! She is now teaching first grade at Hemmerling Elementary in Banning USD - Go Mustangs! Making her father really proud, she had her teacher website up and running before the start of school. The point of showcasing my daughter's website is not just to embarrass her. The idea is that using digital tools, like a free Weebly website, can increase communication and collaboration between parents and teachers. It is a good reminder that teachers who set up something like this, within the parameters of district guidelines, will increase the sense of home-to-school community and reduce the chance of miscommunication throughout the school year.

Dennis Large
educator & learner

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

STEM in Action

Last week I had the opportunity to visit Victoriano Elementary School in the Val Verde Unified School District as they hosted a tour for the Partnership for 21st Century Learning Exemplar Schools awards committee. Students from all grade levels were eager to show what they were doing science, technology, engineering, and math. Primary students were studying botany and agriculture in the classroom and outdoors in their garden. Third through fifth grade students were learning about chemistry, robotics, and aquaponics.

Principal Caryn Lewis (follow her @VictorianoChief) makes STEM a priority at Victoriano. You can hear that in the voices of the teachers as they talk about the dedicated professional development time and the team planning time allocated for STEM. You can also hear it in the voices of the students who use scientific language to describe their inquiry process, their data collection and analysis, and even their job titles. One aquaponics team introduced themselves individually as the water chemist, the marine biologist, the botanist, and the system engineer. Even the parents came in to talk to the committee about what a difference the focus on STEM is making for their children.

Rancho Verde High School and Citrus Hill High School also get in on Victoriano's STEM activities.
Rancho Verde sends students to work on the agriculture and robotics programs, and Citrus Hill teachers help lead the large-scale aquaponics projects. Talking with these students makes it clear that science learning is a regular part of their day. The students convey excitement about their projects with their language and their actions. First graders were able to teach the five steps of scientific inquiry to the whole group of adults present. When first graders can explain photosynthesis to visitors, you know that great teaching and learning is happening there!

Whether or not Victoriano ends up receiving the P21 award, this school is a STEM education leader in Riverside County. If you have the opportunity to visit, Principal Lewis will make you feel welcome, the teachers will impress you, and the students will teach you about science. Ask any student at Victoriano about the scientific inquiry process and be prepared for an explanation using academic vocabulary and corresponding hand gestures.

Dennis Large
educator & learner