Monthly Archives: August 2014

Organizing Early to Avoid Device Breakage and Misuse

We had an interesting experience last year, at Auburn Middle School, related to iPad breakage and misuse.

AMS has six teams (3 7th & 3 8th). Last June, when we collected the iPads, we found that some teams had quite high breakage and misuse rates, and some had quite low breakage and misuse rates.

And what we saw right away was that the low-rate teams had done some things that the high-rate teams had not:

  • Worked on classroom culture (code of collaboration, rules, procedures, mutual respect, etc. – in general, not  iPad specific) before distributing iPads
  • Had a shared vision for learning
  • Had clear expectations for students for iPad use (actively taught them and re-taught them when needed)
  • Had clear expectations of teachers to use the iPads in class regularly for meaningful (to the students) learning activities 
  • Were thoughtful about including motivation and engagement strategies when designing learning activities (including those that include the iPad)
  • Responded to misuse in measured ways that were geared more toward getting students on track for appropriate use than on punishment

This was a great reminder of the success strategies from the beginning of MLTI (the original page seems to be gone, but Deer Isle has reposted it). The state MLTI team uncovered these strategies from visiting schools across the state and finding patterns among successful and more challenged schools. AMS’s trend data was almost the same as the original MLTI discovery: do these things, have low breakage/misuse; don’t do these things and have high breakage/misuse.

It confirms the conclusion from more than a decade ago that breakage/misuse is primarily a function of leadership and teacher practice. 

I’m not dumping on or blaming folks who have that higher rate. I’m much more interested in all of us learning from these kinds of experiences, so we can help all schools implement the more productive strategies and be more successful.


On Transitioning – Not Jumping Straight from the Traditional to the New

In my experience, the biggest mistake we make with large scale school change, like with Customized Learning, is thinking that we should, or need to, make the change all at once.  One day we’re living in the old; the next we’re living in the new. Part of that mistake is thinking that the initiative is one monolithic thing (that can just be turned on or off!), rather than something made up of many interconnected parts; also, it is thinking we should do it all at once, rather than phasing in the work.

But another piece is misunderstanding the nature of transitioning from the traditional to the new.

Let me show you what I mean.

Put your hands on the table about 18 inches apart, edge of your hand touching the table and palms facing each other (like you are measuring some fish you caught!).

We're here now, and want to end up here.Your left hand is where we are today. A group of students are taught the content at the same time (regardless of the pace they are learning it). They all learn it the same way. They all take the assessment at the same time. Grades are F to A, based on that assessment. Learning and assessment are based more on activities than they are learning targets; based more on building foundational knowledge (recall) than they are about both foundational knowledge and putting that knowledge to use (both recall and complex reasoning).

Your right hand is where we want to end up.  Learning is the constant and time is the variable (pace is based on how fast the student learns the material – with lots of teacher nudging and coaching, of course). Everyone learns the same content, but they learn it in a way that works well for them. Assessments are taken when the student is ready. Scoring (grades) is 1 to 4 based on the learner’s level of proficiency with the learning target. The student doesn’t move on until they are proficient with the content and there are multiple ways a student might demonstrate that proficiency. Proficiency requires being able to put the knowledge to use, not simply recall the related foundation knowledge.

But notice, your hands aren’t touching.  They’re 18 inches apart. We think it will take us about 5 years to transition from where we are now (left hand) to where we want to be (right hand).

And here is where we misunderstand transitioning. 

We get frustrated with teachers, or think they are doing it wrong if they are still doing parts from the traditional system. 

Instead, we should be expecting a mix of the old and the new that is (more or less) proportionate to how far along with the transition we are.

Now tap your right hand about a third of the way from your left hand. This is where we would be about a third into the transition. The problem is that some will expect that change to look just like where we want to end up. But it’s only a third of the way there. In reality, we should expect it to look mostly like the transitional system and only a little like the new system. If we were two-thirds along the transition, we’d expect it to still look some like the traditional system, but more like the new system.

Student progress trackingFor example, let’s say we are talking about learning progress management, and we are about a third of the way along our transition from what we used to do to the new system we want (keeping in mind that “a third” is metaphorical, simply to make a point). We would expect that a teacher might be keeping track of which unit or chapter each student is in the text (maybe with charts on the wall), students take the chapter test when they are ready, and grades are recorded in the electronic grade book (e.g. PowerSchool). The traditional pieces are that “the curriculum” is the textbook, that the text (and teacher mini lessons, we presume) are the primary approach to learning, and students are earning traditional grades. The new parts include keeping track of where students are in their learning, and students have some flexibility of pace.  

But if we were 2/3rds along, we might expect that the teacher would be using an online learning progress management system (e.g. Educate/Empower) to make sure that both she and her students know the full curriculum and which learning targets they are currently working on, is keeping track of which learning targets each student has demonstrated proficiency on, and the teacher then translates that information into an A through F for the report card each quarter. The traditional pieces include the A to F grades, and report cards each grading period. The new pieces include the transparent curriculum, keeping track of proficiency of learning targets,  and “grades” based on proficiency, rather than performance on assignments and activities.

Notice, more traditional and a little new early in the transition and a little traditional and more new later in the transition.

The big idea here is that we shouldn’t expect what teachers are doing to look entirely like the new system until the new system is fully implemented.

Additionally, if we’re just starting a transition, it needs to be ok that most of what we are doing looks like the traditional system. And even when we’re pretty far along with the change, we need to remember that there will still be elements of the traditional mixed in with the new.

From a leadership perspective, our biggest job is supporting teachers through the initiative toward a high level of implementation. And a major component of that is having realistic expectations of those teachers, based on how far along with the transition they currently are.


Benefits of Attending Auburn’s Leveraging Learning iPad Institute

Auburn Schools (ME), an early adopter of 1to1 iPads in primary grades, hosts the annual Leveraging Learning Institute on the topic. Registration for the Nov 12-14 Institute opens at noon (ET) on August 21.

Dr. David Murphy, RSU 44 Superintendent (Bethel, ME), has sent a team to the Institute every year. In this video, he discusses both what his district has gotten from attending the Institute, and the benefits of sending a team of teachers, administrators, tech integrators, and technicians.


Registration is limited to 135, so be sure to register early. Districts are encouraged to send teams, and the Institute is structured to support teamwork (but individuals are welcome, too!).

This year, we are expecting the Institute to be internationally rich! More than a third of our participants are likely to be educators from outside the United States. What a great opportunity to share your experiences and learn from educators from across the country and around the world!

Learn more by visiting the Leveraging Learning Hold the Date Page.  We hope to see you at the Institute!


The (New) Evolving Face of Professional Development

We’ve been thinking a lot lately about professional development. 

We’re working on a comprehensive project to define a professional learning curriculum related to our strategic initiatives (Customized Learning, Tech for Learning, etc), build modules and professional learning playlists around those learning targets, and provide a system for certifying teachers for their accomplishments and for what they know and can do. And I have written before about how our thinking about professional development has evolved over time.

This post captures our current (Summer 2014) thinking on the topic.

Not only are we recognizing that we just don’t have enough resources and opportunities to do traditional “everyone in the same room” professional development, but we have started thinking differently about the purpose of those workshops and other whole-group PD.

Until recently, I used to think of whole-group PD as the end. Teachers attend the PD session and they would leave being proficient at the skill taught in the session, ready and able to implement it well in their classroom.

Now, I think of whole-group PD as just the beginning, an opportunity to introduce a group to a new idea and get them all “on the same page” before they begin working in their own classrooms at learning how to implement the skill well. This is especially important given that the work we’ve been doing lately around Customized Learning, including teaching with iPads, is new to teachers (they haven’t experienced this themselves as learners) and have to invent many of the pieces. 

And that idea, the idea that these new skills are complex, and need inventing and development, and later need practice, and that teachers need to be supported throughout their work to get good at them, has us thinking about workshops as just one small piece of professional development.

For us, professional development for our teachers needs to include some fluid combination of these components:

  • “Same Page” Trainings – These are introductory workshops, getting teachers on the same page about a new set of concepts, skills, or strategies they will be working to implement.
  • Lesson Invention & Tryouts – There is much to this new system that needs to be designed or invented (or at least adapted for our schools). The work teachers do to design, invent, prototype, refine, perfect, and share these systems and strategies is valuable professional learning for all of us. Embedded in this idea is the notion of continuous improvement, and the chance to try a skill in the classroom, reflect on how it went and how it could be done better, and then try it out again with the improvements (play-debrief-replay).
  • Coaching & Feedback – Keeping with the idea of continuous improvement, this includes any Technology Integrator, Instructional Coach, administrator, or peer who models lessons or strategies, co-designs or plans with the teacher, observes, and/or provides formative feedback to support the teacher’s professional growth.
  • Teacher Face-to-Face Time – Teachers need time to sit with other teachers to share experiences, ideas, and resources, as well as to ask questions and seek support. They need a chance to share things that they have tried that worked, and to seek assistance with those things they are still challenged by. And the notion of “face-to-face” can extend well beyond her school or district via the blogs and social networks the teacher builds and follows.
  • On-Demand Modules & Play Lists – Instead of having to wait for a workshop, or for the Tech Integrator or Instructional Coach to visit her classroom, these how-to articles, lessons, short courses, videos, and other digital resources are available to a teacher as she needs them.
  • Answering “But What Does It Look Like?” – Simply stated, this is models & examples: a curated collection of possible classroom visits, videos, photos, and articles, etc., to help teachers develop a sense of what an aspect of the initiative would look like in action. Teachers often have an intellectual understanding of what they are being asked to do, but not a practical understanding.  These models and examples play a critical role in helping them move to the point of being able to try this new idea in their own classroom.
Of course, now we have to figure out how to do all of these well…. 

Teaching with Engaging Tasks

Engaging Tasks are an easy-to-implement, real world learning strategy that, when implemented well, many students find very motivating.  An Engaging Task tells a little story (only a paragraph or so!) that gives the students a reason for doing the work.

We Don’t Want Just Any PD, and Badges Are More Than Patches

We’re working on a project to get more professional development to more teachers as they need it. Two pieces that we mention frequently are reusable learning objects (including online modules) and digital badges. We do that, in part, because they may be the most interesting aspects, especially when trying to spark other educator’s interest and entice them to join us in the effort.

The Distributed PD Project is so much more than just those two components. But if you’d mostly been involved in brief conversations about the project, you might not think so. So, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when colleagues say to me, “We found lots of resources that have badges. Why don’t we just use those?” Or, “Why don’t we just suProfessional Learningbscribe to this service? There are lots of PD modules, and it has badges.”

Now, I know they are well intentioned (these are good people, I like working with), and just trying to help (why reinvent the wheel, right?).

But the suggestions totally miss the point of what we’re trying to achieve with the project.

My first question to them probably should have been, “What are your criteria for selecting these resources?” In all fairness, although familiar with the type of resources, I haven’t spent real time looking at these specific ones, and I haven’t asked my colleagues this question. But I suspect that their answer would be, “They have lots of PD resources that our teachers would like or find useful, and they have badges.” And I’m sure there would be at least some resources there helpful to us and our work. 

But our goal is not simply to provide a buffet of PD, nor is it to simply have a badge at the end

In fact there are three key ways that these resource suggestions misunderstand our work. There are three key, distinguishing criteria we should apply to any resources or services we select to support this project.

1) We don’t want just any PD. We want targeted training aimed at supporting teachers as they work to implement our strategic initiatives (Customized Learning, Tech for Learning, etc.). We’re building out that professional learning curriculum so that we can be transparent about what we would like teachers to know and be able to do. 

10 Tech Integration Professional Curriculum BucketsSo one criterion we’d want is for a high level of alignment between the training modules and the knowledge and skills needed for our initiatives. A question I could ask about the suggested products is, “How does the list of available modules match our professional learning curriculum?” Keep in mind that a subscription service might not meet that criterion, but still have tons of high quality modules, just not the ones that we really need. And that is ok. We are quite happy to build out our own modules and playlists of available reusable learning objects. But those will be targeted directly to our professional learning curriculum.

2) We aren’t looking for badges that show that an educator participated in a training. We’re looking for badges that indicate that the educator is proficient with the professional learning target. If the training module were for something like standards-based grading, for example, we would want the teacher to earn the badge when she demonstrates that she is skilled at analyzing student work for how it demonstrated proficiency, is skilled at providing standards-based feedback to students, and is skilled at rating a student’s level of proficiency in that learning target based on evidence from the student’s work. We are not looking for the badge to be awarded when the educator participated in the training.

So a second criterion we’d want is for badges to be awarded only when a teacher can show that she is skilled at or understands a particular professional learning target. A question I could ask about the suggested products is, “Are badges awarded for demonstrated proficiency?” This is why, in some ways, the professional learning curriculum and having a cohort of qualified certifiers to examine the teacher’s evidence and determine when she has earned a badge may be more important than finding good training materials.

3) We don’t want badges just so we have an icon to show that we did something. The image or patch of the earned badge OpenBadgesmay be the least important aspect. As I mentioned in notes from a forum on digital badges, badging is about credentialling. It’s about recognition, knowing something about someone in a verified way (evidence-based way), and represents an individual’s skills and achievements. Badges travel with the individual (do not reside solely within a single platform or system) and can come from a variety of sources – a badge needs transportability and interoperability. As such, badges need a standard. Such a standard supports their use by the folks who issue them, the folks who earn them, and the folks who are interested in which badges you have.

So a third criterion is that the badges meet the badging standard. provides that standardA question I could ask about the suggested products is, “Is the badging OpenBadges compliant?

So, what we’re looking for are professional learning resources that meet some specific criteria: 

  • They are highly aligned with our professional curriculum and strategic initiatives
  • They offer acknowledgement only upon demonstrated proficiency
  • They are OpenBadges compliant (if they use badges)


Not All at Once – Phases of Implementing Technology for Learning

When working to implement complex initiatives (like technology integration, or Customized Learning), we want to support our educators by not dropping it  on them all at once.  Toward that end, we try to define a productive sequence or set of phases of implementation.

As part of the Distributed PD Project, a Auburn-and-friends work group developed a wpid-Photo-Jan-24-2014-601-PM.jpgdraft Phases of Tech integration document. It is a draft, but we want to live with it and use it for a while before working to revise and update it. (Practice provides better feedback for revision than theory!)

We wanted to think about developing teachers’ skills at leveraging iPads for teaching and learning beyond just googling topics and word processing. Beyond just projecting material. Beyond just thinking about getting good at various tools. Beyond just using apps connected to the curriculum.

We wanted to think about technology as a tool to help us customize learning. We wanted to focus more on pedagogical goals than technological goals. And we wanted to think about where technology could take us that we couldn’t easily go without technology.

So we set up our professional learning continuum, our phases of implementing technology integration, to be similar to our Phases of Implementing Customized Learning, and how such a structure helps support plementation and teachers. (Driver 1)

And we based it on our current thinking about powerful uses of technology for learning.(Driver 2)

And we tried to think about how the SAMR Model might inform our work. (Driver 3)