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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Connected Adults and Children - Can there be too much monitoring using technology?



Back when I was a kid (oh my word, did I just say that?) the rule was to come back home when the street lights came on. I played in my neighborhood with friends some days with my parents never laying eyes on me but at lunch and supper and then at bedtime. I learned curse words from the neighborhood kids, I learned about sexual things on the bus from neighborhood kids, and I also learned we all were raised with different values...many of neighborhood friends were raised with more freedom than I had- I mean they could even watch HBO!

When I started driving and dating the rule was to always have a quarter on me in case I needed to call home. There were no cell phones. I left for school at 6:30 in the morning and sometimes went straight to work after school and didn't get home until 10:00 pm some nights. And my parents never really knew if I was where I was suppose to be or if I made it to my next destination. There was a level of responsibility and trust placed on children by being unconnected from today's technology. 

My parents knew my grades when progress reports went out and then again when we got our report cards. They never knew the day to day "missing grade," "bad test score," or "current average in class." My grades and my work were my responsibility.

Stick with me here. I'm not saying that parenting was better, I'm just saying it was different and generation after generation have made it through life without being tethered to their children.

So why am I going on about this? As a technology coordinator in an elementary school I am a season in my educational career where technology is integrated into the classroom on a regular basis. The progression being that for the first 9 years at the school I am at I was an out of classroom elementary  computer teacher. Over those 9 years I taught every student in grades 1-5 anywhere from 30-45 minutes a week. In that time frame our families were just excited that technology was a weekly part of their children's curriculum and out of the 1000+ students I taught for all those years I might have been questioned by families about my curriculum 12 times in nine years...and by question I mean "what do they do in here?" This role began for me in 2005ish. I had 25 Microsoft desktops in a lab. To say filtering has gotten progressively better since those first few years of popups and spam would be the biggest understatement of this blog post. I was a vigilant ninja monitoring and creating meaningful opportunities for our students using the best technology that was available to me at the time.

Fast forward to this school year...This year we rolled out touchscreen Chromebooks to our fifth graders. These chromebooks are being monitored by Go Guardian software. Every time a student looks up something deemed inappropriate or an innocent search leads to something inappropriate, I get an email. Right then. This software works 24 hours a day no matter where the student is located at the time. I get an email. I have the ability to look at history at any point.

We also have a SIS (student information system) that allows parental access to the real time grade book of our students. Parents can see what grade a child has made on a test, they can receive an email if there is a zero for a grade, they can contact a teacher if a grade hasn't appeared in the amount of time the school has deemed appropriate for grading.

Our students have the ability to collaborate with teachers and/or students through the Google Suite for Education in real time. They can study together via video conferencing, they can collaborate synchronously on a document or slideshow using Google Docs and Slides. They can use their email to contact their teachers at any time, day or not, with questions.

The overwhelming majority of our students have cell phones in our upper school (and some even have them in the elementary school). This allows our students to not only be connected to each other but to their parents and the outside world at all times.

Not only can parents monitor their children's whereabouts through the GPS tracking device on their phones but I can search for a device on campus that might not be where it should be as well.

Today's children live in a society of instant connectivity that has created a world of "immediate expectations." This has probably helped some students not to stumble as deep or dark as they might have otherwise in life. As a parent of a type 1 diabetic, I have the ability to know my child's blood sugar at any time during the day. That's reassuring. But I find myself asking these questions and I would love some response and thought on it:

  • Does constant connectivity give parents a false sense of security?
  • Does constant connectivity create a larger generation of people that are use to having someone bail them out when times get tough?
  • Does constant connectivity create unrealistic expectations on educators in terms of replying to emails and monitoring student behavior on devices?
  • Does constant connectivity create more pluses in life than minuses?
  • Does constant connectivity make students behave better in terms of school and parent expectations?
  • Should parents be monitoring the constant whereabouts of their children?
  • Does constant connectivity take away the ability for students to learn from mistakes and fail forward in becoming a better person?
  • What is too much? What is too little? What is a no-brainer? What crosses the line of controlling?
  • Are school systems creating expectations that change parenting styles of tech diligent families due to students being required to have technology?
  • How do families best find the balance for their children and should expectations be different for every child?
  • How do technology departments make sure they are using technology intentionally at schools?
  • How do technology leaders like myself communicate and help parents that feel like they are being forced into something they don't want for their children?
  • How do we prepare children, parents, and teachers for the road ahead that will include more wearable and integrated technology such as virtual reality?
  • Who is making sure that the future of edtech is morally sound?
These questions may open a can of worms but they are constantly on my mind. The truth is technology is not going away and it will be an important part of the lives of our current and future students. Creating a give and take culture to navigate forward with all the key players is imperative in any school system to understand all sides and place value on all views. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Annotating on a Chromebook? Check out what I've found!



As our fifth grade has moved away from iPads to the Acer R11 Chromebook as our device of choice this school year I have been searching for and researching annotation options as we move forward. The chromebooks we have chosen are touchscreen and android app ready. We are using Google Classroom with these fifth graders and within the Google Classroom App, students have the ability to annotate with the "pencil" option at the top of an open file.

While it's fairly easy for a student to annotate on a PDF file in Google Classroom, it's a bit more cumbersome for a teacher to annotate and share back to students. A copy has to be made of the document and reshared in order for students to see the teacher's remarks through digital inking. Google is remarkable in how quickly it updates Google Suites for Education to best meet teacher's needs. I don't think it will be long before they will have a process within Google Classroom that makes this easier for the teacher.

As we are looking at ways to annotate, we have found 2 options that I really like. The following are choices we can use at our school for annotating (digital inking) and how to get them:


  • Kami https://www.kamihq.com - we are using the free version of Kami and it integrates with Google Drive to allow students or teachers to save their annotations directly to their drive account. The downside to the free version of Kami is that it does not integrate with Google Classroom. I'm currently looking into whether this is a worthwhile investment or not by asking for a quote for a school usage license. Their teacher license covers 1 teacher and 30 students for $99/year. I can see where having this license would streamline the grading process for teachers but really wouldn't change much for the students.


  • XODO https://www.xodo.com/ is also a PDF reader and annotator and would work on any laptop that uses Chrome and can be accessed straight from a browser or if the Chromebook is app ready, there is also an app option for this. XODO allows students to backup their annotations straight to their Google drive (just like Kami) but I am not a big fan of the way you erase annotations on their product. You have to draw a square and delete it, as opposed to using an eraser (something that seems more natural for students).
As I look at digital inking and the way we are using it at our school, I find myself still seeing the ease of printing off things and having students do fill in the blank being easier for some teachers than all these extra steps. The bottom line is what is most important to the teacher...
          The ability to streamlining and not having paper to wag back and forth to school to grade?
          Saving trees?
          Saving time by being able to just quickly get grading done on paper?
          The ability to have a digital record of all work?
          Could it just as easily be done through Google docs and have students type their answer?

As we have moved to chromebooks I appreciate the hearts of my fifth grade teachers that are willing to try and experiment with different approaches at the things they have done. As I introduced them to Google Classroom they wanted to have a place where we can do so much in one location. In the past, we have used the Seesaw Learning Journal app and notability for annotation using iPads and we knew both very well. The Seesaw app has already been downloaded on the students chromebooks and may be the best way forward until Google Classroom makes the teacher side of grading annotations a bit less cumbersome. 

I end this by saying that I am thankful for teachers with innovative hearts that don't balk at the roll of being "trailblazers" at our school.  These teachers create a culture of acceptance for the early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards that follow in tech integration (blog post of these levels coming soon.)


Friday, August 18, 2017

Total Eclipse...A Lasting Memory


For the past 2 weeks I have had Bonnie Tyler's song "Total Eclipse of the Heart" running through my head. If you are too young to know the song, that's a shame. But the reason is clear to me why it's become an ear worm...a total eclipse of the sun will happen Monday within 20 miles of my home. A total solar eclipse is a really big deal and every single day I get another email about it from fellow educators. It's exciting times for the area I live in.

Many schools are out that day and our school has an early dismissal. Thousands of people are suppose to come to the total eclipse path. News agencies have actually suggested that people gas up for that because of potential traffic. At our school, it will only be the third day of school for students but we have already started teaching about it. One of our amazing lower school science teachers created a wonderful display explaining it from a Christian worldview for our students to see and she also created a video to go along with it. Alice Sikkema's passion for science is evident and her desire for students to understand this phenomenon is contagious.

As I reflect and look forward to being able to experience this solar eclipse I am reminded of another time in my life. 1979. I was standing in the hallway by a window in Crestmont Elementary School in Northport, Alabama looking down at a piece of paper and watching the shadows of the eclipse through a pinhole on a piece of card stock. This was way before the days of Amazon Prime, NASA approved glasses, and the internet. I remember being told very strongly "DO NOT LOOK AT THE SUN, YOU CAN GO BLIND" but I looked. It was too mysterious not to try to catch a brief peek and honestly, the paper version of it was bizarre for my elementary mind to wrap around.

Just like now, I remember it being a really big deal to my teachers. I remember being told "this doesn't happen very often." Quite honestly I feel like I'm having a Mark Twain moment in my life, He had Halley's comet I've been around long enough and in the right place often enough to witness 2 total solar eclipses.

I'm writing this post to just affirm in you that I still have very vivid memories of this taking place in my life as an elementary student some 38 years ago. I remember discussions in the hallway with fellow students, I remember the disruption of the ordinary this moment brought to our school, I remember the intrigue of taking a risk and glancing up wondering if I truly was going to go blind from it. I remember not believing that was true. I remember wanting to know more about that and how long do you have to look before it does something to these cones and rods I supposedly had in my eyes that I have never heard of. It sparked wonder and a desire to learn more in me. I share this with you to say If you are an educator or parent, don't let this opportunity for learning slip away. If it sparks questions, let your students dig deeper. Sometimes the best teachable moments aren't in the lesson plan for your grade level. Sometimes the pacing guide needs to be put aside. This phenomenon is a great way to open conversations about being a global student as well. For many of us school is just getting started, we are setting expectations but it's ok to deviate. From one little girl from Northport, Alabama that decided a solar eclipse just made her want to learn more... I give you permission to teach the current moment. ;)

Friday, August 4, 2017

On Task Device Usage

A few years back I "did the edtech circuit" talking about best practice of classroom management of devices. Our school had chosen not to buy additional software options for monitoring, etc so we created a system of expectations for our students that was the same from class to class. At that point iPads were the only device being used in our elementary school. This blog post is a repeat for iPad users but I'm now adding ideas for chromebooks because we are doing a 1:1 chromebook rollout for them this year. There is much overlap in best practice to keep students on task, good classroom management is fairly device agnostic. What I will say is that if a teacher struggled with classroom management before devices were available then the appearance of devices can actually magnify this issue. If you are a teacher that feels classroom management is hard for you being diligent in consistent expectations regarding technology is imperative.

1. Seating arrangement. I blogged on the subject of seating arrangements with practical desk set up ideas in May of 2013. I still believe wholeheartedly in the importance of creating a culture where a teacher is not stuck at the front of a room when devices are being used. The best way to insure on task behavior is engagement of the lesson and movement of the instructor. I've seen teachers own this. Spending a little time explaining expectations of movement into different seating arrangements can allow you to transition between whole group, small group, and debate all in a 45 minute class seating with very little interruption. Creating settings where you can see the screens while students work is a very easy way to create accountability of on task behavior as well. For one teacher in my elementary school this is as easy as teaching one group of students at the front of the class while the second group works on their computers with their backs to her so she can see over their shoulders while she teachers. She simply asks them to sit on the opposite side of their desks.

Not all schools have flexible seating and I believe there is great value in it but remember that the comfiness and sometimes secludedness of flexible seating isn't always a good combination for a student that is tempted by off-task behavior. Remember to work the classroom often if your students are secluded while engaged with technology.

2. Key words.  In 2013 when my school became a more tech-rich school, I wanted to set expectations for student usage that didn't slow me down in the midst of a lesson. I also wanted to see these expectations used throughout our school for consistency in what our students could expect as well. I created the following graphics to hang in classrooms as a reminder to our teachers and students:
The Chromebook visual represents 3 ideas-

  • Traffic light. As students walk in or transition to a different part of the lesson, the teacher can say today red (no tech needed), yellow (we will use tech but wait on instructions), green (get going with your tech)
  • 45. This is asking students to close their device at a 45 degree angle to observe something else happening in the room. This prevents the need to sign on again but gives you their attention.
  • 1,2,3...all eyes on me. This is a great way to interrupt for more information/instruction but also insure students are listening. You might need to adjust the saying for older students. 

The iPad visual represents 3 ideas as well-
  • Flip. Devices are to be flipped over so the screen can't be seen. I start every class with a flipped expectation unless otherwise noted. This also is a great way to interrupt device usage for more information/instruction. 
  • Flat. This is an expectation that all devices are to remain flat on the desk until told otherwise. This is a great choice when you are in the front of the room for something because it allows you to continue to see the device screens to make sure students are on task when you don't have the ability to move around the room because of the lesson. 
  • Close. I like to start lessons asking students to close all open apps on their devices with a double click of the home button and swiping the apps closed. That way I know the only apps that should be open on their devices are the ones I've asked them to open as the lesson has progressed. If I sense off-task behavior I can easily walk by a student, double tap the home button and see if there is anything open that shouldn't be. I can also tell you that students are really good at opening and swiping apps to close them fast in order to check things. They learn this trick quickly. 
3. Accountability. Some districts have chosen ways to both monitor and control student access beyond filtering. For us, we have not done this for our iPads but we will be doing it for our Chromebook rollout with the addition of Go Guardian . I do believe there are other ways to help insure on task behavior as well. Using Nearpod to "create, engage, and assess" gives educators more control in the classroom and even the free version is of value. Recently I read of a school district that has their students create a PDF of their browsing history at the end of the day and email it to their teachers and/or guardians with a sentence or two about "what they learned today." While your email inbox might get full really fast, what a great way to create a quick formative assessment option and spot check for on task behavior! 

As I said before, the best way to insure on task behavior is to have an engaging lesson and to work the classroom as an educator. When I experience off task behavior during my lessons it causes me to take a hard look at the way I teach and what I am teaching. The days of 45 minutes of lecture from the front of the class are over if your students have devices (and really those days should be over regardless). If you are fortunate enough to have access to technology then use it to transform your classroom. Be firm with your expectations and your key word usage. Spend some time at the beginning of the year practicing desk movement, and key word responses. Creating a culture of expectation of change creates a culture of engagement. Put color coded washi tape on your floor and label it with a desk number to help students quickly adjust to your request to move to "debate, traditional, small group, etc" mode. Have contests between your classes by timing them to see how quickly period one transitions versus period 7. Don't get stuck in "devices are just a distraction" land. Create an environment that builds on their benefits! And lastly, don't be afraid to set a classroom acceptable use policy that clearly states the expectations and the consequences if things don't go as planned.