Monday, October 29, 2018

How an Apple Pencil Enhances Teaching & Learning

This past summer we refreshed all of our student devices in our one to one iPad program for grades 5 -12 and all teacher iPads K-12 with the iPad 6 which supports the Apple Pencil. We also purchased some Apple Pencils for about half our teachers in order to learn the benefits of this new tool. Using pencils in school, of course, is nothing new but the Apple Pencil exponentially increases the capabilities of a traditional pencil. An Apple Pencil is more than just a stylus. In addition to being able to annotate using digital ink, opening applications, moving objects, and interacting with menus and more using the tip of the Apple Pencil, the device itself connects to the iPad using bluetooth and is pressure sensitive. This means that when used with an application built specifically to  utilize the features of the Apple Pencil, the user can simply increase the width of a line of digital ink by pressing harder with the tip of the Pencil on the same way that you would with a paintbrush. Applications also recognize when the Pencil is in use and can be set up to only accept input from the tip, meaning a user now has the ability to rest her/his hand on the iPad itself while writing or drawing.

At first, this last feature might not seem like a big deal. However, one high school math teacher who described the Apple Pencil as the biggest change to her teaching in years explained it this way: with it she can now write super legibly while resting her wrist on the screen as she walks around the room teaching from her iPad, wirelessly mirroring her screen on to the projector display at the front of the classroom. Being be out in the class with her students allows her to look at their work and interact with them. She can precisely graph lines and write exponents in equations with fine details and precision not previously possible without the Apple Pencil. She uses the same app that students use--Notability--to work through problems together as she’s teaching and walking around the room. Prior to having the Apple Pencil, she had attempted to use her finger or another stylus but these did not allow her to rest their wrist on the iPad. This resulted in messy handwriting and she just stayed in one place in order to write on her iPad or stayed at the front of the room using the SMARTBoard instead. 

Last week we surveyed the teachers who received Apple Pencils and asked them to provide feedback about their experience so far. Here are some of the comments and feedback collected when asked about the benefits of the Pencil and if/how it had changed their teaching:
  • Everything! I use it for notes in class, for creating video lessons for students, for creating answer keys, for demonstrating to students how to do certain problems. I use it primarily within Notability (also with Reflector) and Explain Everything.
  • I am much more excited about utilizing the iPad. Writing is easier and neater with the Apple Pencil. Students have commented that they appreciate when I teach using the Apple Pencil and Reflector rather than the SmartBoard. I am able to be more mobile during class.
  • I am able to teach from my iPad, allowing me to walk around while teaching. I do not stand in front of the room, but am constantly walking around. The apple pencil allows me to write legibly while writing, especially since we are solving math problems every day.
  • It has significantly minimized the time using the SMARTBoard. I start the lessons with SMARTBoard, but when I do examples, or extended writing, I mirror the iPad. This allows me to freely walk around the room and establish a greater presence.
  • I also use it to create examples of Art and how the iPad can allow the user to improve on current artistic capabilities.
  • The Apple Pencil basically encourages me to use the iPad more and Smart Notebook software less. I use the following apps: Paper53, Notability, ExplainEverything.
  • Notability and Brushes Redux. I use it to manage behavior and meander around the room while I’m working so students feel more connected. I am able to be more involved and do the work along with them, which is very beneficial for keeping pace as I work with special education program students.
  • I have been able to immerse myself in learning more and improve my teaching style. I use the SMARTBoard a lot for writing and math problems but I have small group classes. This allows me to sit among students and work alongside them which improves their engagement. I am able to monitor their learning while I teach rather than needing to stop and meander the room. I also have students who struggle with writing and this has been a big motivator for them (borrowing it).
  • I am able to use Notability and Reflector way more effectively, my writing is clear. I use this for direct instruction. I can write notes/feedback on student iPads more clearly during work time as well. Grading with the Schoology app is much easier as well.
  • Grading!! It is so much more efficient to write feedback for students on their Schoology submissions. I also am better able to model work for students.
As you can see, teachers are finding multiple benefits of the Pencil. When asked how frequently they are using a pencil, 52% of teachers stated that they use it every day and another 19% percent stated they use it hourly.

We have also seen a few students purchase their own Apple Pencils to use with their iPad, too--right now about one or two students per class. This number will likely increase in the months to come. The Apple Pencil design could be improved: not having it be completely round so that it wouldn’t roll off of desks and tables, making the cap attach somehow to the Pencil itself, and making the pencil sturdier to prevent getting cracked or broken when stepped on (although I have yet to hear of this happening). We have also tested out the Logitech Crayon, which cost about $30 less, but unfortunately is not pressure sensitive, so the cost savings doesn't seem worth it. We'll continue to monitor the benefits of this tool and look forward to improvements to the product in the future that likely will yield even more benefits for teaching and learning.

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Monday, October 22, 2018

Instructional Technology Teacher Professional Development without Substitute Teachers

Like many schools across the country, our district often has a shortage of substitute teachers. Sometimes there aren't enough reserve teachers available to cover teacher absences due to illness, let alone cover trainings that take place during the school day. In the past we would offer teachers instructional technology trainings and staff development during the school day. Starting last year began eliminating this practice to reduce the overall need for reserve teachers and this year plan to use zero reserve teachers. 

As I've written about in the past, one of the reasons I believe our 1:1 program has been successful is because of our ongoing, sustained professional development. We are now in the eighth year of 1:1 and still providing all of our teachers with about nine hours annually of professional development related to technology. Whether teachers are in their first or eighth year teaching students with 1:1 devices, they attend multiple training sessions per year. The reason we provide continual staff development for our teachers is to help them use technology in ever new and innovative ways to deepen learning for students and make it more meaningful (see Beyond SAMR Ladders and Pools: A Framework for Teaching & Learning).

To make this happen without reserves, our instructional technology coaches are providing this staff development before and after school as well as online. Sometimes principals replace one or more monthly staff meetings with staff development sessions. This was the case last week at both our Middle School East and High School. At each site, teachers had the option to choose from a menu of options, including instructional technology sessions. Pictured are two high school mini-sessions last week, one on formative assessment with Pear Deck held in the newly remodeled Loft space and the other on Strategies for Improving Feedback in the Online/Blended Environment for teachers in our Tonka Online program. Last spring I wrote about 14 different technology mini-sessions from which high school teachers could choose in place of a staff meeting. Staff at all our sites are asked to attend about two hours of face to face meetings before/after the school day related to instructional technology staff development. 

In addition to face to face sessions this year we are expanding our online instructional technology staff development so all teachers will take two hours of training per semester equaling four hours of training this year. This past summer we increased our online technology related offerings for teachers to 18 sessions and had over 20% of our staff take at least one session using our learning management system, Schoology. Some of these same sessions will be offered once again and our instructional technology coaches are busy creating further sessions for teachers. 

We also offered extensive technology related face to face trainings in August. We have been providing these August trainings since 2005 and the options certainly have increased since that time. Teachers are asked to take at least two summer classes so they end up with about three hours of training in the summer. In the end all these training options add up to the same number of instructional technology training hours we have asked teachers to complete since our 1:1 iPad program began:
3 hours: August training classes online/face-to-face
2 hours: Face-to-face instead of staff meetings or before/after school
4 hours: Online training modules
9 hours: Total 
In addition to these nine hours of instructional technology staff development, teachers can and often do meet with their instructional technology coach or media specialist for additional help and/or to work further on a project. All of these options and work have made it possible to continue to support our teachers and advance their work with students helping to improve the ways that technology enhances learning and teaching. 

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                        Monday, October 15, 2018

                        Annual Big Hunt for Ideas: Starting with A Spark by Identifying Problems First

                        This is the eighth year that Minnetonka has had an annual Big Hunt for Ideas to find ways to make education better for students. Rather than developing a strategic plan with a few representative voices deciding district priorities, we use we use a crowd sourced software platform to gather input from all of our staff. Innovation is now our strategic planWe also have student innovation groups that use this process to develop new ideas. Some major ideas over the past few years include our Vantage program, TonkaOnline, Minnetonka Research, Design for Learning program, and Tonka Codes program.

                        Gathering Sparks vs. Solutions
                        This year we are encouraging staff to simply post problems rather than jumping right to solutions. These problems are called "sparks" and are meant to get a conversation going in an effort to empathize with those affected by the problem and identify all stakeholders. From these starting conversations ideas will be generated in the coming months and possible solutions discussed, piloted, and as a result, changes implemented.
                        The video above was produced to highlight this process with a example scenario--a crowded hallway during passing time. The video showcases a wide variety of school employees participating in the spark discussion- classroom teachers, a counselor, a custodian, and a school principal. Together they collectively work to identify the issue and it's impact.   
                        All of our staff participate in this hunt--besides these staff positions highlighted in the video we also have paraprofessionals, food and nutrition services, office support, after school staff and all administrators involved. In just the past two weeks, almost 100 different sparks have been identified with hundreds of comments and views from staff. Pictured is an infographic made by our Innovation Coordinator, Nicole Snedden. The idea hunt is open for another week, so we will certainly have more added with more participation. It will be exciting to discover what new innovations and solutions result from this year's hunt!

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                        Monday, October 8, 2018

                        One to Watch: Center for Humane Technology- Realign Technology with Humanity's Best Interest

                        There are a number of organizations on the the topic of digital health and wellness I like. One is the Center for Humane Technology, formerly called Time Well Spent. A few years ago I wrote about one of its founders, Tristan Harris, who has a Ted Talk describing how our phones are like a pocket slot machine and offers up ideas on how technology could protect us from distraction. Tristan explains how some technology companies in Silicon Valley are often working to increase the use of consumers/end-users of their tool rather than design the tool to help us and/or improve our lives in some way. I also linked to a great overview video that was posted at the time called This Panda is Dancing which you should watch if you haven't already.

                        Their website does an excellent job of outlining the work that the Center for Humane Technology is focused on--why it’s important, as well as answering common questions (such as how today's technology affects us differently than older technology did such as TV or radio). I subscribe to their email list/message board and can see a variety of posts from people around the world who are cognizant of this issue and are working to help make a change for the better. It's a fascinating mix of people from all areas and backgrounds.

                        Realign technology with humanity‘s best interest

                        As I wrote in last week’s post, Apple’s recent addition of Screen Time and Google’s soon to be released similar tool called Digital Wellbeing are both good examples of how technology can be used can help us. It can inform us, help us make wise decisions and be aware of its impact in our lives. I’m hopeful that this trend continues and that other companies will develop similar tools, continuing down the path of the Center for Humane Technology’s goal to “realign technology with humanity‘s best interest.” I encourage you to take a look at their site, read through their explanations describing the problem, the next steps, and try out some of their suggested ways to take control of your own technology. 

                        It's great to see that Common Sense Media is partnering with them to create a national campaign on these topics-- learn more about that at Truth About Tech. Thanks to the staff at both organizations for their efforts to move this conversation and work in the right direction!

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                        Monday, October 1, 2018

                        Apple Screen Time a Huge Win for Everyone, Including Parents!

                        About two weeks ago Apple released their new “Screen Time” feature and it is awesome! It is a huge win for everyone, providing you with personal data at your finger tips on your technology iPhone/iPad use. Fortunately for Droid users Google has announced their own comparable service will be out soon called Digital Wellbeing (great name!), but it is currently only in beta for Google Pixel phone users--hopefully it won’t be too long until it’s released and widely available. 

                        Value of Personal Data
                        I’ve written in the past that ability to have personal information is invaluable and eye-opening—it’s one thing to read statistics or advice on how much technology is a part of our lives, but until see your own data it’s pretty hard to fully realize the role that technology plays in your life. Not only can Apple users now see the minutes and hours of screen time used on their iPhone or iPad in the past 24 hours or week, they can also dig into this data by category of apps which will help users understand the difference between educational and entertainment screen time, see the number of times they pick up/turn on their device and the number of notifications they receive. (Read more about decreasing technology's interruptions.) Parents can set limits, block apps individually or by category, use Restrictions to filter explicit language and adult web content, and even use Family Sharing to monitor their children’s personal device and change these settings remotely.
                        Family Sharing
                        An additional win for parents is the ability to see the Screen Time data of each of your children's personal devices when you set up Family Sharing. You can also remotely set up Time Limits, block and/or allow certain apps, and all of Apple's Restriction tools possible beforehand are now part of this iOS 12 Screen Time feature. I tested this out over the past two weeks and initially it was great. Unfortunately viewing the screen time data for individual children stopped working about a week ago. I now have to look at each child’s phone to see these metrics--which certainly is doable--but not as good as it was designed to work. I have seen posts online from others with the same issue, so I would hope this glitch gets fixed in iOS 12.1. I also learned that viewing screen time only works for personal devices, not not for school managed devices like our 1:1 iPad program. I’ve given Apple feedback that parents would like to be able to use this feature-- you should, too!

                        Great Conversation Starters
                        I’ve also written about the importance of connecting with those around you--being where your feet are--rather than distracted by technology. Last night I sat with my kids as we compared our Screen Time statistics with one another, seeing how many times how much time we spent on our phones, which tools we use, who had the most or at least pick ups and notifications. Conversations like this before iOS 12 and screen time certainly were possible but wasn’t informed with the facts right in front of us. Now conversations can move from speculative to factual and we were able to directly talk about ways to change things, which is exactly what parents need to be talking about with their kids! (Another tip related to technology conversations with kids I’ve written about in the past is to begin conversations with “What if..?”)

                        No Third Party App Needed
                        Before this release of Screen Time baked right into the Apple operating system, users had to go through extra steps which could be quite cumbersome, such as installing a third-party app that required profiles and permissions in order to work properly, and even then the data wasn’t as accurate as one would like. A few years ago I recommended some of these third-party tools such as Curbi and Moment. More recently I’ve just been steering people toward viewing their battery usage to see how many minutes per day or week they’re using apps. Now with the launch of Apple Screen Time these tools are easily available and simply run in the background without the hassle of third party apps and accounts. I wish this had been available years ago—but better late than never! If you are currently using a third party app, take a close look at what value it still has to decide whether or not to continue using it.

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