Monday, July 27, 2015

Back to the Future Part III: SMARTBoards as a Past Catalyst for Future Technology Integration

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Continuing with the Back in Time and Back to the Future themed posts from last week about Instaframes/Overhead Projectors and two weeks ago about technology staff development 10 years ago, I figured a third part in the series is required, since, after all, there are three parts to the movie series, right? In Back to the Future Part III, Marty goes back in time to the late 1800's to try to alter some events in order to change the present time. Do you ever think about what you would change if you could go back in time?

Over the past twelve years that I've been working with the integration of technology in learning and teaching in Minnetonka, I'm sometimes asked, "What would you have done differently?" In my early career I would get asked about our choice of SMARTBoards. Today the question I get is about our choice of iPads. Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but I wouldn't change either of these choices we made (even if Marty pulled up in the Delorean and gave me the chance).  

As I wrote a couple weeks ago, we started putting SMARTBoards in our classrooms in 2002 and during the following five years, we added an interactive whiteboard, projector, and sound field to all of our 600+ classrooms. This began the digitizing of our curriculum. Back in 2009, I wrote an article for ISTE describing SMARTBoards as a springboard for technology integration (pictured below). Our teachers wanted their content to be on their SMARTBoard, and wanted it to be more interactive. They worked hard making their lessons digital, moving from overheard transparencies at the time. So our teachers have been creating digital curriculum for a decade or more, and thinking about ways to make it interactive, not just present it on a screen. This has been a great foundation to build upon and really helped us get to where we are today. 

In the ISTE article I wrote that I noticed our teachers were integrating technology at higher levels than other educators whom I taught in grad programs employed in school districts without SMARTBoards. I noticed that having a SMARTBoard required teachers to digitize their content and lessons, and it was a great catalyst for further technology integration. The alternatives at the time- simply a projector or nothing at all- did not have the same effect.  

"In the long run, the up-front cost of an interactive whiteboard for each teacher is money well spent. It will accelerate the teacher's adoption of technology and result in higher, more innovative levels of technology use by teachers and their students.  Money spent on staff development often results in hit-or-miss implementation of technology that may be infrequently used. An interactive whiteboard used on a daily basis truly gives you a bigger bang for your buck."
SMARTBoards have proven to be a great decision which we made over a decade ago. I wouldn't change that choice, and don't feel the need to find Marty to go back in time to try to alter things. Last month I wrote about the iPad being a big bang for your buck. I believe that our decision to go with iPads vs. laptops will also be one that we are happy with a decade from now, too. It will be yet another technology integration springboard for our staff and students, with no regrets or desires to go back in time and change our past.

Learning & Leading with Technology, vol. 36, no. 6 © 2009, ISTE

Monday, July 20, 2015

Back to the Future Part II: Today's Technology Will Be the Worst Our Kids (and New Teachers) Know

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Continuing with the Back in Time and Back to the Future themed post from last week, I was thinking about something keynote speaker Tom Murray stated at our Minnetonka Summer Technology Institute on June 18 (#TonkaInstitute). During the keynote, Tom did a quick review of the newest and greatest technologies, showing images of mimeograph machines, Oregon Trail, Palm Pilots and more. On the slide pictured in a Tweet to the right, Tom showed the progression of cell phones over the years, he had the audience take out their own cell phones and hold them up. Then he pointed out that, "The tech in our hands now will eventually be the worst kids know."  The statement was both obvious and starling at the same time. 

What was the worst technology I would know as a teacher?  

This got me thinking.  What was the worst technology I had as a teacher which was the best at the time?  For me, it's the overhead projector. 

When I started teaching 20 years ago in Minnetonka-fourth grade in fall of 1995-I had an overhead projector in my classroom which I used constantly instead of a chalkboard. Remember those? Overhead marker ink on your palms every day from smears/erasing ink? By Sunday night most of it had washed off from the previous week of teaching and your hands looked pretty normal... 

If you're curious, the photo behind the frame is from a hike up
Oberg Mountain on Minnesota's North Shore during fall color season.
I have an old InstaFrame transparency holder in my office which I now use as a picture frame. (For younger readers, note that this is different than the current Instagram feature.) In a way this device and technology was like the first iteration of PowerPoint, allowing you to place different transparencies on the glass, held in place by the frame, and you could annotate on top of them while they were projected to the class. It just wasn't digital yet.

I've kept this InstaFrame in my office as a visual reminder of how things were when I started. Sometimes it's good to pause and reflect on just how far things have come in two decades of technology integration, and to think about where things may go in the future. As Tom said, "The tech in our hands now will eventually be the worst kids know." If iPhones and iPads are the worst technology our kids will know, and the worst tech our new teachers have in their careers, what changes will 20 years bring? Unless I can find that DeLorean again, I suppose I'll have to wait to see!

Watch a video overview of Minnetonka's use of technology here.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Back to the Future Part I: 2005 Technology Staff Development Classes- the Beginning of Minnetonka's Digital Curriculum

I love the concept of time travel, whether it is a book or movie. Recently my wife and I watched Back to the Future and Back to the Future III to our kids, both really fun movies to see which our kids enjoyed. (Sorry, we're not Part II fans.)  And just a couple of days ago I saw a DeLorean drive by, so Doc and Marty were on my mind as I came across a sheet of paper from my past and wrote this. So...feel free to press play on Back in Time by Huey Lewis and the News (one of my favorite pop 80's bands) as you read the rest of this:

I started working as an elementary fourth and fifth grade teacher in Minnetonka 20 years ago. After four years at elementary, I moved to one of our middle schools and spent four years teaching there. Then, twelve years ago I was hired as our District's first Technology Integration Specialist. We had just started with SMARTBoards in our classrooms back in 2002. As one of the first teachers in Minnetonka who had used a SMARTBoard and then left the classroom to train colleagues, I spent a lot of time helping colleagues with SMART Notebook software and learning to add technology to their lessons. We actually didn't have a lot of projectors in classrooms at the time, so when we added SMARTBoards it was also the first time those teachers had the opportunity to project their computer, a PowerPoint, or display an Internet page for their students. Over the next five years or so, we added an interactive whiteboard, projector, and sound field to all of our 600+ classrooms. Some more videos about that can be found hereThis began the digitizing of our curriculum. 

In about 2004 or 2005 I started offering technology training to teachers in August prior to the start of the school year. I didn't think I had any record of those earliest classes that until my wife found the sheet of paper pictured below at home in a stack of recycled/scrap paper now used by our kids for coloring:  

Technology tools in 2005 for our teachers were SMARTBoards, Inspiration and Kidspiration Concept Mapping Software, Blackboard, Windows Movie Maker (with digital cameras using a 3.5" floppy disk), and United Streaming videos. It's pretty amazing to think back and reflect on how far things have come. For example, we often forget how much work it was in 2005 to make a digital movie and take for granted that we can just do this all on our phones now. 

It is also good to see that even ten years ago, we were focusing on more than just the tech tool itself. In the descriptions on the page, there are phrases like use "technology to foster inquiry in student learning", encouraging teachers to have students use technology for projects such as a "narrated movie or animated short video," and to use technology to "deepen students' understanding," all things we are still working on today. The tools have certainly changed but the underlying principals of technology integration and staff development have not.

It will be fun to see what the future holds in regards to technology staff development. Another ten years from now, I would hope we are still working on fostering inquiry, having students use technology, and deepening understanding. Maybe if I was a bigger Part II fan I could just go with Marty and visit the future today. Nah, I guess I'll just have to wait and see.

Monday, July 6, 2015

A Big Bang for Your Buck: The iPad for $0.38/day: Less than a Chromebook

[Update one year after this post: we sold our iPad2s back to a vendor and use the revenue toward purchasing new devices, bringing the total cost for an iPad per student per school day down to $0.38! More on that here.]

Five years ago when we started our iPad 1:1 program, we were anticipating that an iPad would last three years. The device itself was so new no one really knew how long it would hold up. At the time iPads were introduced, people worried that a mobile tablet device with glass in the hands of children in a classroom would not last. They also worried about how long the inner parts and pieces would function.

We were very pleased last month to finish a fourth year with our original batch of 16GB iPad2s, and even more pleased to be able to use them once again this coming school year, getting a fifth year of use out of these iPads. These iPads have continued to function well, allowing students to annotate digital work, create iMovies, and so much more. At WWDC a few weeks ago it was announced that iOS9 will work on our five year old iPads, too, still allowing our students to have the latest functionality needed for learning.
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An iPad with case costs us about $400.  If you divide that out over five years, you end up with a cost of only $0.44/day! That's less than one Starbuck's medium cup of coffee a week!

$400 ÷ 5 years ÷ 180 school days = $0.44

I realize there are other costs for a 1:1 program, too: some apps cost money, but we are able to keep those year to year regardless of the device. Our mobile device management system has an annual license fee, but that only increases the cost per day a few cents per year. But licensing costs as well as infrastructure and staffing support expenditures come with any device whether it is laptops, Chromebooks, or iPads. 

We have considered reselling our iPads after a few years of use, too, as they do maintain quite a value, but so far have not. It’s an intriguing option, but when considering this, be sure to factor in the hours needed for collecting and redistributing devices, helping thousands of kids with re-set up, etc.  This is not something we have been interested in at this time.  In fact, we had our students keep their iPad this summer and saved ourselves a lot of time.

Colleagues in other school districts with Chromebook implementations have told me about the difficulty they have had finding a well-built device that will hold up to classroom use.  They have had bad luck with the inexpensive models they purchased. We just purchased some Chromebooks for about $260 apiece including the annual device management license (which is much more expensive than our iOS MDM). We are anticipating that these Chromebooks will last  three years. If that turns out to be true, then our Chromebook cost per day will be $0.48, meaning our iPads are actually less expensive than Chromebooks. If the Chromebooks last longer than three years, the costs will be less. But three years from now our iPads could be eight years old and still working, bringing that overall cost down as well... 

Next year we are adding grade five and six students to our 1:1 program, so we will be 1:1 in grades 5-12. A few weeks ago we collected the iPads of our graduating seniors. Those four year old 16GB iPad2s will be redistributed to our fifth grade students in September. Last week we received a delivery of iPad 32GB Airs for this year's grade six students (pictured). If those iPads last as long as our first batch, our current seventh graders will turn them in when they graduate five years from now in 2021.  

Perhaps we will be able to use our iPad2s for more than five years, bringing the total cost down to even less, who knows?  The iPad has turned out to be a great device not only in terms of instruction, but also as a great choice for maximizing the return on our investment.  

Other posts related to iPads

More about Minnetonka's 1:1 iPad Program