Monday, November 30, 2015

Students Explain Everything and Increase Test Scores

Each year fifth graders in Minnetonka Schools study the science of catapults as one of their units. Excelsior Elementary teacher Jennifer Kitt explained to me recently that the assessment for this unit is typically a more difficult test for many of her students. She explained that in the past, students have not had as high of scores on their final test compared to their scores on other science units. So she was eager to try something new.
Image Source: Explain Everything

This year with iPads in our 1:1 Program, all fifth grade students now have access to the app Explain Everything. Jennifer had her students use this tool to document their learning and explain what they had learned about catapults. She said that her goal was to have her class use a higher level of Bloom's taxonomy, and knew that Explain Everything would be a great way to do it. 

When I was in her classroom, students showed me their products. Emma gave me permission to share her product and you can see it in this video. She combined photos, text, and handwriting in her explanation about catapults.

As a result of this project, Jennifer was very pleased that her students recorded the highest scores on this test that she had ever seen in her years of teaching, including students with various academic needs. The students certainly seemed to benefit from the added technology component this year to the catapult unit. Compiling a summary of their learning in a format that could be used to teach others as well as for review of the concepts they learned paid off.

Explain Everything is just one of the many apps our students have available in our 1:1 iPad Program for grades 5-12. It's a great screencasting app, allowing students to include all sorts of media in their presentation and edit the audio, text, and images with precision and ease. I've heard the app's inventor, Reshan Richards, speak a few times and know he is eager to continually improve his product. He has incorporated many suggestions from both students and teachers into this tool. As more and more of our students in Minnetonka Public Schools continue to use it, it will be fun to see what they create! 

Monday, November 23, 2015

EIEIO: Excellence Inspired: Experienced iPad Organization- Three Years of MN Metro Collaboration

For the past three years, around 25 educational technology leaders in about ten Minnesota school districts with 1:1 iPad programs have been meeting for a half day twice a year to share best practices, compare notes, ask questions, and discuss our plans for the future. This cross-district collaboration has been super beneficial. I would strongly encourage anyone in a 1:1 program to seek out other similar districts and meet to discuss issues regularly. I think you will find it worth your time.

Three years ago when we started meeting, there weren't as many area districts with 1:1 iPad programs. We were in our second year of implementation and really wanted to be able to talk with other experienced districts. We wanted the conversation to be about what happens beyond year one, which was something that we found happened frequently at conferences or other general metro meetings when there was no minimum experience required. The questions and needs a school has when they are beginning a 1:1 program versus those a school has after a year or more of experience are quite different. Conversation moves beyond the basics of logistics to deeper pedagogical and philosophical questions. 

For these reasons, we specifically limited our group to be composed of districts that were in the second year or later of an iPad implementation. Over the past ten years in Minnetonka Schools, we have held many events and hosted thousands of educators at our schools to share the best practices that we have learned in implementing iPads and other technology tools.  But part of the purpose of the EIEIO group was to meet the needs of our instructional technology staff and to challenge us to grow and plan for the future.

One of my colleagues, Peter Gausmann, came up with the acronym for the group at our first meeting and it stuck: EIEIO. This stands for Excellence Inspired: Experienced iPad Organization. Kind of a funny name, but it works. Since starting this group, another similar group has begun in central Minnesota, north of the Twin Cities area, with a similar purpose. 

Years ago, we had other user group meetings, such as SWAMSBUG meetings. This stood for Southwest Area Metro SMART Board Users Group. This group met a few times back when SMART Boards were newer with a similar purpose. It didn't last as long, I think because it had a really wide range of user experience with no minimum requirements. As you think about creating your own user groups for idea exchanges, consider ways to make them beneficial for all involved. Depending on the topic(s), requiring experience beyond the initial implementation of a program might just be a great way to get things rolling.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Home Sick? Absent Minnetonka Students Caught Up Before They Return

Schoology iOS App
My seventh grade son was out sick for three days recently with micro pneumonia--not fun. Thankfully some rest and medicine took care of it, and after the fever was gone he was able to return to school. During his absence, I was amazed at how easy it was for him to work on his schoolwork and stay caught up. He basically only had to make up some tests when he returned.

A major reason for his ability to stay caught up is Schoology, our eLearning platform or LMS (Learning Management System). Because our teachers list their homework in Schoology when it is assigned, students know what they missed even when they are absent. In addition to listing homework, most teachers also attach the file(s) that accompany the homework, such as a PDF or link to a video, post an update summary of the learning that day, as well as include material and content beyond the homework that the students would have used during class. This really minimizes the learning gap that had existed in the past. 

The images I've included in the post are all screenshots from his iPad, showing a sample of items he worked on from home while he was out sick. In addition to Schoology, our Grade 5 - 12 students use iPads, so most of the schoolwork they do is completed on their iPad. The paperless digital document cycle allows students to get the materials from the teacher, work on them, and turn them back in, even when they are sick and at home. Watch a 1 minute video here.

30 years ago when I was a littler Dave and got sick for a few days, I'd either wait until I got back to class to find out what I'd missed, or my parents would call the school and request that my homework get collected and they'd stop by school to pick it up. Then I'd get started on my work, try to figure out what had happened during class, and attempt to get as much done as I could before I returned. A few decades later, technology now allows Minnetonka students to stay on track while they are gone and be caught up before they even return to school. 

You can learn more about our 1:1 Program at  

Monday, November 9, 2015

Community Supported Technology Funding for Minnetonka Public Schools: Voters Pass 10 Year Renewal of Technology Referendum

Last week on election day, Tuesday, November 3, the Minnetonka community voted in favor of renewing our current technology referendum. This levy was first passed in 2002, then voted for renewal in 2007 for 10 years, and now again passed a vote for renewal for another decade of funding. An incredible 72.8% of the community voted in favor of this funding renewal. In addition, 71.6% of voters voted in favor of increasing the annual operating levy, also for 10 years. This operating levy is 13% of our total budget. 

The technology levy funds 100% of our technology expenditures in Minnetonka. It includes the salaries of our tech department staff, our instructional technology staff, all of our technology professional development, training for teachers and staff, pays for services like our learning management system, Schoology, our student information system, Skyward, iPad apps and our mobile device management system, as well as our iPads themselves in our 1:1 program, plus other hardware items like servers, switches, laptops and carts, etc. We have carefully planned our spending of this technology levy and budget accordingly in the past and will continue to do so. The dedicated funding for has allowed us to invest in technology and carry out long term plans. 

A huge number of parents and community members volunteered and worked tirelessly over the past many months to inform the community about the need for the operating levy and the renewal of the technology levy. We are fortunate in Minnetonka to have the support of our community and thankful for an additional 10 years of funding to continue to do our work!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Book Creator(s) in Minnetonka Schools

Source: iTunes
Starting last month, students in Minnetonka Public Schools began using the Book Creator app on their iPads in our 1:1 iPad program for 6,250 students in grades 5-12. This great tool makes ePublishing easy, and students use it to publish texts with images, drawings, comic strips, photos, music, and videos. Students can produce their own eBook or work collaboratively to combine their work into a group authored publication. After publishing, students can share their work with their classmates on Schoology, our learning management system and hub for our 1:1 program. eBooks can also be saved to Google Drive or published as an iBook. 

Last week, Deephaven Elementary teacher Mike Borgendale took his class to a nearby Carson Bay on Lake Minnetonka to collect invertebrate specimens as part of their science study. They are working with the educational branch of the DNR, MinnAqua. When they brought these samples back to their school, the students used a $2.50 macro lens which clipped on to their iPad over the camera to take close up photos and videos of what they found. They identified the organisms and began researching them, from snails to water scorpions. The students are writing and producing a non-fiction eBook using Book Creator to showcase their learning. The teacher is integrating the language arts lessons of non-fiction text features with science to make this activity interdisciplinary.

Photos: Andrea Hoffmann

Check out numerous examples online to see many more possibilities. Book Creator is just one of the many great tools teachers in Minnetonka Public Schools are using with students in our 1:1 iPad Program. Like Pear Deck highlighted last week, it is another example of how technology can be used to deepen learning experiences for students and make instruction more efficient and effective.