Monday, August 27, 2018

Make Learning So Motivating & Fun, Students Won't Realize it is Homework!

A few months ago Apple released the iPad commercial above showing students completing a homework assignment on iPads. In the background of the video, the narrator recites a fun Jack Prelutsky poem originally entitled, "Homework! Oh, Homework!" If you haven't seen it, it's worth a look and does a nice job highlighting some of the many ways that an iPad is a great tool for learning beyond the traditional mediums of textbook and keyboards.

The beginning of the video starts with a Hollywood stereotypical classroom teacher unable to control his class of disinterested and sleeping students. He barely has their attention while trying to explain an upcoming project about gravity. After naming off a few students tasked to work in a group he is naturally interrupted by the bell. What then follows is anything but a stereotypical assignment--the rest of the video shows students' experiences as they go about their neighborhood filming and documenting the many ways they experience gravity, from dropping a watermelons off a bridge to bike jumps to swinging from trees. They use their iPad to edit, annotate, and illustrate their learning in many of the ways our students have been able to use their iPads over the past eight years of our 1:1 iPad program. (See related posts below.)

Over the past week our instructional technology coaches showed this video to teachers who were attending our summer training classes, either in person or online. They discussed ways that the iPad can continue to support our Framework for Teaching and Learning by using technology to foster creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking and make learning more authentic and real-world for deeper learning. 

This year, our district has goal to increase the experiential and inquiry based learning opportunities for our students. We hope to create more opportunities like the one shown in this video where all students can be immersed in memorable events and experiences. Technology can enhance and facilitate these experiences, and the iPad is an excellent tool to harness the power of technology for experiential and inquiry based learning.

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Monday, August 20, 2018

Newly Remodeled Collaborative Learning Spaces at Minnetonka High School

Summer is a time in schools when construction projects and renovations can take place. In the past I’ve written about some of our media center remodels as well as our Design for Learning initiative. This summer we have a few remodeling and construction projects underway in Minnetonka. 

One of the big renovation projects is at our high school. In analyzing the existing space and looking at needs we realized we had multiple locker rooms that were underutilized. Specifically, on the second floor of our high school near the gyms we had old varsity team locker rooms that weren’t really used much. Newer locker rooms had been built in the lower level of the building back in 1996 and were the main space in use. So the existing 7,000 square feet of old locker room space was available to be reclaimed for instructional purposes.

This remodeled space has been designed to be provide flexible options for classes to meet and groups to collaborate. Five new classrooms will be available as well as more restrooms. This remodel was done with existing resources to cover the costs and no new bond had to be issued. As you can see from the pictures above, things are shaping up nicely and looking more and more like the architects' renderings. This new space will be called "The Loft" and should be completed in time for the first day of school on Tuesday, September 4.

As part of the remodel, windows were added to the outside letting it a lot of natural light. Numerous flatscreen monitors will be mounted on the walls in many of the rooms for both large group presentations and smaller group meetings. There are walls of glass and other walls covered with whiteboards for writeable space. Some of our high school computer science classes will now be taught in this area. It will be exciting to see how this new space gets used in the coming school year!

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    Monday, August 13, 2018

    90 Years Ago New Teachers Made $1,400: My Grandmother's First Teaching Contract

    About 90 new teachers are beginning soon in Minnetonka. Over the next two weeks we'll spend time getting to know them and help them learn the ins and outs of teaching in our district. This year we are offering most of our technology training for them online through Schoology. They actually started this last week. Next week they will all be in our district in person in meetings, luncheons, a bus tour of the district and further trainings.

    It seems like a long time ago I was one of these new teachers in Minnetonka--24 years ago to be exact. Even longer ago than that, almost 90 years ago, my grandmother, Dorothea, was an English teacher. She graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, the same school from which I graduated 65 years later with my own degree in education. Unfortunately I never got to meet my grandmother because she passed away from cancer before I was born. 
    Dorothea got her first teaching job in Sentinel Butte, North Dakota, a small town on the far western end of the state near the Montana border where my mother grew up (pictured on the right). She taught in a three level schoolhouse (pictured above) that had around 10-20 students per grade. Elementary students mainly had classes on the first floor and moved up to high school by attending classes upstairs. The basement housed a cafeteria, science labs and a shop class. The school is no longer standing. Its last class graduated years ago and the building has since been torn down. The few students who still live in the area are now bused to another town nearby for their education. 

    My mom recently showed me my grandmother's first contract. Back in 1931 my grandmother signed the contract pictured below to begin her teaching career. As an English teacher in a very small school, she had numerous preps. My mother had her own mom as her teacher many times over the years. Dorothea taught writing classes, speech classes, journalism, Latin, music and more. According to the contract, she earned an annual salary of $1,400 for this work, minus an annual retirement fund withdrawal of $14(!). This worked out to $154/month for a nine month contract. It's hard to imagine a time when that would be enough money for an annual salary. I'm sure if my grandmother were alive today she'd be amazed to see how far education has come in the past century, not only in salaries but in many other ways, too, such as all the technology now available.

    Monday, August 6, 2018

    Tip #7 for a Tech Healthy Summer: Spend Time Off the Grid

    Nothing makes you realize how much you are used to something by its sudden absence. Technology is certainly one of these things we are used to having as a constant presence in our lives. For those of us who grew up prior to this connection (and interruption), extended time away from technology helps us recall they way things used to be. Technology is a powerful tool that has made our lives better, allows us to do more and be connected and communicate like never before possible. There are also some downsides to constant connection and the interruption by technology notifications attempting to gain our attention. 

    One of my Top 10 Tips for a Tech Healthy Summer is to get off the grid and spend a few days or more tech free. Almost every summer I do that by taking a trip with my kids to the Minnesota Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), a wilderness of forests and lakes on the northern Minnesota/Canadian where the only method of transportation is paddling canoes and hiking. Visitors to the BWCA pack all their gear in gigantic Duluth packs and like the French Voyagers from hundreds of years ago, paddle across the lakes, carrying their gear and canoes over land in between each lake on their route. There is no cell phone signal, no electricity or running water and very few people.

    A couple of weeks ago my eighth-grade son and I went on a trip for three nights in this wilderness on Pine Lake and our time off the grid was great. This was my 19th trip to the Boundary Waters and my son’s fifth trip. We spent time canoeing paddling, fishing, swimming, hiking, playing cards, reading and just hanging out together. I enjoy being disconnected from email and the Internet, having time to look around and appreciate nature while spending time with my son. I’m sure I would miss the comfort and convenience of a connection to the grid if our trip had been a lot longer--some people take trips that last weeks or more. 

    I always am surprised at how quickly the relaxation and carefree feeling of time away ends as we return to the grid. After we get to our car and drive about a half an hour back into civilization, our phones pick up a connection and begin buzzing and beeping with missed messages and other items. I’ve written in the past about my efforts to cut out technology distractions and the importance of self-monitoring how much time I spend with technology overall, something I call tecognition. I worry somewhat that my kids have spent so little time off of the grid disconnected. I hope that my kids will remember these experiences off the grid and that it will help them be better at recognizing what how technology can create interruptions in their lives. 

    Even if you can't get away from the grid and make it impossible to disconnect, you can make an effort to take a break. Consider taking a trip or even spending a few hours relaxing, keeping your phone off as long as you can (or in airplane mode with WiFi off and Do No Disturb mode on). If you have children, help them experience time off the grid, too. Afterwards, be sure to have conversations discussing how it went, how it felt, and the role that we let technology control and interrupt us. Take steps to take control of your technology and turn off unnecessary notifications for social media, news, sports scores, and whatever else buzzes or beeps during your day that isn't essential for you to be alerted about at any given moment. Help your kids do this, too.

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