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The nuts and bolts of online debating [guest post]

THIMUN Online Model United Nations evolved around (mostly) free and open source technology tools and today revolves around three, interrelated parts: our website, our Blackboard Collaborate suite of conference rooms, and our social media network. Each of these pieces plays a part in creating an online community that is both student-centered and capable of delivering information in a timely fashion. Much of O-MUN’s development has been experimenting with this combination of pieces, finding ways to make them work seamlessly with each other, and searching for other options when they have not.

Website: Our current website feels a little bit like a driving a Ferrari – way too powerful a machine for someone who just got a driver’s license. Our website is run off a Drupal platform: not exactly user-friendly, but full of possibility. We burned through our wiki and our WordPress site in a matter of months. As we grew and attempted to add more functionality to our website (something we felt was important because we didn’t want the program driven entirely off Facebook), these two options filled a need but quickly became too limiting.  Currently we run our blogs and debate registrations off our new home, and we hope to include messaging, forums, and additional program websites in the future. Students and MUN Directors are encouraged to register on the site and, once approved, may then sign in, click on a debate event, and register to debate. Goodbye Google Surveys, a system we outgrew and that was becoming far too cumbersome for our needs.

Blackboard (Bb) Collaborate Conference Rooms: O-MUN’s first conference room was a 50-seat room that we won in a Learn Central  competition. The following year we were generously provided a room by The Hague International Model United Nation’s office in Qatar (THIMUN Q). When we needed more than one room, they updgraded our license. O-MUN now has 18 rooms, with various parts of the program each having their own specialized room (jrO-MUN, ICJ, Security Council, Asia, France, etc.) This is the only significant piece of kit that we pay for. We have not found suitable alternatives but Blackboard’s pricing structure is madly frustrating and does not adequately address the needs of small, non-profit with inconsistent first-time user numbers. Customer support also can be a bit dicey, particularly if you are not a large institutional customer. Having said that, it offers everything we need and the students find it easy to use!

Symbaloo is the only way I can keep our multiple room links straight.

Symbaloo is the only way I can keep our multiple room links straight

Students log into the Bb conference room as their country using the following protocol +China (name). This allows participants to be placed in alphabetical order. Guests log in as ‘guest’ and sink to the bottom. Moderators/Chairs log in with their name (position), with the exception of Amendments. An amendment student logs in as “amendments.’ When a delegate wants to submit a proposed change to the resolution being debated, she sends it via private message to this moderator. We only use the audio feature in Bb since 30-60 students with multiple bandwidth issues would make video streaming too difficult. You can hear an example of a debate and what it sounds like.

             Debate_Global

Behind the scenes a WHOLE LOT OF ACTION is happening. Students, upon initiation into this moderating world, describe it as a ‘rush,’ ‘wild,’ ‘hairy,’ a ‘multi-tasker’s nirvana.’ All moderators (and it takes a minimum of five to run a debate) are logged into a Skype group for backchannel communication. The tally moderator and the chair are logged into a shared Google doc to track every speech and question and update that in real time. The amendment’s moderator (the most challenging moderating position) is fielding private chats (amendments), copying those into a separate Skype group so that these can be reviewed with the chair, and operating a TitanPad (similar to Google docs) that is pulled into the Bb room via a web tour.  The Chair and Co-Chair calmly officiate over the debate but behind the scenes the tally mod is tracking participation, the chat mods are reviewing ALL private communications to check for suitability and appropriateness, and the amendments moderator is working the Titan Pad. ALL of them are on Skype, messaging hints, calling for assistance, offering encouragement. One or two university students – and usually myself – are present to oversee all of this but it is, for the most part, a student-run show.

And the best part? These students are usually on separate continents. It is very common to have a chair and co-chair from the USA and United Arab Emirates, chat mods from Taiwan and Jordan, an Amendments mod from Nigeria, and a tally mod from Lebanon or Tanzania. Throw in an Assistant Director from Somalia or Hong Kong and you’ll see just how crazily amazing this gets.  In a recent debate, we had participants from over 30 countries log in synchronously for a 90-minute debate on reaching the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal on universal primary education.

Social Media: It all started with Facebook but we do engage with some of our delegates via Twitter, using #omun and @onlinemun to communicate. Students recently set up a Tumblr account to engage in some of the sillier outreach we like to do: photo competitions, videos, and the like. Online Model United Nations has a LinkedIn Business page as well. But it really has been about Facebook. We have regional groups, moderating groups, leadership groups, working groups, and travel team groups. It’s a lot of Facebook but it is where students are. I now use social media like many of my students – friending and unfriending students to form alliances, to get information, and to network. Since email has become oh-so-20th-century to many of these millennials, I am more apt to communicate with them via private messaging than any other form of communication. In the evening here in the Middle East, my computer and iPad ping and squawk for hours as the messaging occurs in a steady stream.

FB  FB_message_SC

So that’s our world, developed fully-online by students from around the globe. But technology is just part of the equation here and, in my opinion, the smallest part of a larger story. The next several blog posts will give you a glimpse into the transformative nature of this program. I hope you’ll enjoy hearing from the students who have worked so hard to build THIMUN Online Model United Nations.

Previously in this series

Lisa Martin is a 20+ year educator who has worked in places as far flung as the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, San Diego, and, now, Amman, Jordan. She is the Co-Founder and Director of Online Model United Nations and would love to connect with like-minded educators. You can find her just about everyplace online, including FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.

Connected global youth and the Online Model United Nations movement [guest post]

I became an educational entrepreneur by accident. A humble social studies teacher and Model United Nations (MUN) director by training, I am now working with students in over 50 countries to develop one of the most innovative global ed programs around: Online Model United Nations, or O-MUN for short. Up until 2011 there had never been a fully online version of this popular academic simulation. While precise estimates are unknown, it is likely that close to half a million students – grade 6 through university – engage in MUN each year. Tapping into this enormous community and undertaking the complex task of developing a free and open program for youth around the globe has changed my views on education, technology, and youth forever. And along the way, I have learned a few lessons that are as telling about the state of education and our comfort/discomfort with student-empowering technology as it is about the actual online debates program itself. So a bit of background is in order.

O-MUN

The first attempt at online MUN was done while I was a teacher at a private, for-profit online high school. I decided to start a Model UN club as my required extra-curricular activity. Using my Blackboard Collaborate classroom, I quickly realized that I needed a model to show my students. With the help of a co-collaborator, we rounded up a dozen students from around the world to test the viability of this platform. For nineteen hours, wave after wave of students found us, logged in, and tested out the room’s features, and  found them to be fun and engaging. Many of the very procedures we use in our program today were discovered and tested  in that first open session. I went to sleep that night with my computer on, listening to the chatter of students in Singapore and Malaysia troubleshooting how to vote or submit amendments. I woke the following morning a changed educator. Like a thunderbolt, I knew I had fallen into something potentially huge. With barely-above-average tech skills and a fair amount of MUN experience, I set out on  a path to develop an online, global debating program for high school students. Two successful debates later, my online school’s administration and corporate leaders began to catch the online MUN fever too, and that is when trouble started.

Delegate at O-MUN

The response of my school was to pull the plug on the entire program. I was then entrusted to a minder and told not to publicly speak about the program. Attorneys were called in to assess how this program could be patented and monetized.  Figures were bandied about, with a princely $235 subscription fee per student the likely price for access to this online debates program. The program was to be run from behind the school’s enormous firewall, and developed in isolation and away from a larger international student population. People with no experience in MUN were put in charge of developing the program. So with the core values of this program at stake, and marginalized within the school for which I had developed the program, I made a tough decision. I walked away from my job and my expensive online classroom – the great enabler of the program. With no good alternatives in sight, and taking very seriously my non-compete clause, I sat it out for a year and, in September of 2011, relaunched the idea as O-MUN, a not-for-profit global education program offered up to students for free. (O-MUN’s vision can be found here.)

Delegate from Tanzania

I tell this story in order to set the stage for what happens next. Without resources, we patched together free and open source technology tools to meet our growing needs. Having to  innovate as we went along, our operating costs were (and remain) negligible. We won an online Blackboard classroom in a contest hosted by Steve Hargadon. With that one precious room as the cornerstone of our program, we launched O-MUN. There was no  institutional backing and very limited ability to connect with a larger audience; in fact, most of the over-25 crowd studiously ignored us during that first year. But we grew because students found us, primarily via  our growing community on Facebook. When our debates were small, we wrung our hands, put our heads together, and tried to figure out the next plan of attack. For the students who got actively involved that first year, they worked together to innovate our leadership structure, down to the positions needed and what their job descriptions would be, how to run our Facebook communities, and what worked/didn’t work with Google Docs. Students actively developed our website, our banners and graphics, and our training and moderating programs, so critical for a student-driven organization. No one made students do this. They certainly didn’t do it for grades. This was in the era of pre-digital badges, so they didn’t even get that (they do now, but more on that later). Most would never meet one another face-to-face, but the O-MUN community esprit des corps soared that year, as did the social currency that binds communities together: inside jokes, shared mythology and legend, even a currency and theme song.

Delegate from UAE

In the waning days of 2013, I look back at what has been O-MUN’s true international debut: a partnership with THIMUN, exposure and collaboration with a small but growing number of organizations, and a proliferation of programs driven by the demand and ideas of students around the world, working collaboratively, simply for the sheer love of MUN and their O-MUN community: a middle school and university level program, the first online model International Court of Justice, national programs in places like Taiwan , Singapore, Turkey, and France (and more on the way), a recently-launched French language version of O-MUN, with Arabic planned for 2014. The frosting on the cake has been O-MUN’s travel teams, proving to others as well as ourselves that online activity can translate into real, face-to-face skill development and opening a path for participation that normally would have been denied students without an online avenue to connect with the larger MUN community.

beach

This week members of our community will share how Online Model United Nations has impacted them, professionally and personally, as delegates and as human beings. I believe they are the voices that educational thought leaders, teachers, administrators, and parents need to hear. What is driving O-MUN’s development is far removed from what we often talk about in education circles. It is my hope that the O-MUN story adds a fresh perspective to the global education conversation.

nick and Salam, opening ceremonies

Previously in this series

Lisa Martin is a 20+ year educator who has worked in places as far flung as the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, San Diego, and, now, Amman, Jordan. She is the Co-Founder and Director of Online Model United Nations and would love to connect with like-minded educators. You can find her just about everyplace online, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

 

Upcoming guest series: Online Model United Nations

FYI, over the next week or so I am turning my blog over to Lisa Martin and the students who help her run the Online Model United Nations (O-MUN) program. Many of you may be familiar with the Model UN program and know what a wonderful experience that is for students. Now imagine taking that program and extending it online and across multiple continents and time zones!

The O-MUN story is an incredible tale of perseverance, creativity, and student empowerment. I hope that this guest series will get you thinking about some possibilities and that you’ll interact with Lisa and these amazing students over the next few days.

We have a BYOD program, but now what? [guest post]

What now?[Scott: Chris Crouch, Kelly Stidham, and their blog, Working on the Work, are new discoveries for me. Chris was kind enough to offer this vulnerable reflection of 1:1 teaching with us. Happy reading!]

“Our students deserve a 21st century education.” I’ve heard this often during my career, and while I can sometimes name the 4 Cs, I’m concerned that educators are trying to adapt 20th century practices and experiences to the future we can’t even define yet. This phenomenon manifests itself typically by the rapid and ill-advised adoption of any and all technological products, i.e. hardware, software, personal devices, portable devices, and on and on and on. While it is true the technology and expertise necessary to manipulate this technology are important to 21st century skills, we, as educators, must not fall into the trap of imposing our cemented perspectives cured from our fleeting experiences of the past upon the students of the future. In this wave of Bring Your Own Device or Technology, depending on which variant you prefer, (BYOD), the instructional shift that must happen to fully capture the power of this movement is grossly behind the crest.

I’ve personally experienced the feeling of ineptness meeting the needs of my students when my school asked me to pilot a 1 to 1 laptop program. The idea seemed amazing. A small group of my students, one entire class, would be given a laptop, access to the school’s Wi-Fi, and the computer would be in their hands every day, all day. The students were excited. I was excited. We were imagining the possibilities. Paperless classrooms. Interactive blogs. Interactive discussions. Amazing Projects. Digital textbooks. Then, something happened that I had not anticipated. The laptops became a barrier. Not because laptops are bad, or were misused by the students, but because I wasn’t ready for them. I didn’t know how to use all the resources that each student now had at their fingertips to improve their learning outcomes. I tried to make my paper instruction fit into this digital world. I didn’t know how to reshape my experiences, my past, so that I could create opportunities for the students to have new and better experiences. Of course, the students and I made the best of it. We all survived and overall it was probably a good experience for the students. The unsettling part occurred at the end of the school year, when a group of teachers that had the students in the 1 to 1 pilot decided that the technology was not needed. The pilot had crashed and burned.

Fast forward to today, and schools and districts are quickly implementing BYOD to take advantage of these technologies that our students already possess. These policies are essential in transitioning our brick and mortar schools to the digital world and the field of education cannot continue to ignore the fact that most students are already bringing these devices to school with them. What I see lacking is the instructional support that teachers will need to make these types of policies successful. I’m concerned that BYOD will go by the wayside much like my experience in the 1 to 1 pilot. We cannot let that happen. We cannot doom another generation of students to instruction that will not prepare them for their future.

Add the adoption of new content standards, evaluation instruments, and all of sudden, the significance of instruction through technology slips down the list of priorities. What’s even more frustrating is that there are success stories all over the country and we need to focus on these as models for schools and districts everywhere. So, I’m coming to you, the experts. Help me understand what must happen in the classroom in order to help our teachers help students.

Chris Crouch is an aspiring “teacherpreneur” and a literacy specialist in Kentucky. He has been an educator for 13 years and is just now starting to figure out what it really means to be a teacher. Hear more of Chris’ ideas on education at his blog, Working on the Work, and on Twitter at @the_explicator.

Image credit: What Now?, imelda

The Student Perspective on Chromebooks at Leyden High Schools [guest post]

This is the fifth and final post in the guest blog series on 1:1 at Leyden High Schools.
By Jason Markey, East Leyden High School Principal

The student perspectives below are from Justyna Chojnowski, Amina Patel, and Joaquin Cardenas at East Leyden High School.

For a greater perspective on our 1:1 initiative  please see our past four guest posts:

When Scott McLeod and I first discussed this series, the first four posts seemed obvious.  It wasn’t until after the second post that Scott suggested it would be good to hear directly from students.  For anyone that knows me, I usually think this way as well, but I know with the topic of 1:1 computing there are some pretty intense feelings among educators.  We all want to see transformational practices every time the device is powered up during school hours.  I think it’s important to consider – and I think what the following student perspectives demonstrate, – we have to realize that no matter the level of tech saturation in their lives outside of school, that this introduction of ever-present connectedness during school is something very different for students too.  So my approach with the following students was to ask them to simply share what some positives and negatives were with their first few months of this newfound access to the Web.  Here are their unabridged responses…

Joaquin Cardenas (Junior)

When I found out last year we were going to get chromebooks I didn’t think there was going to be much of a difference in my typical school day. That my classroom atmosphere wasn’t going to change much. That is only partly true so far in the time I have spent with my chromebook. There have been many positive changes with getting a chromebook, but whenever something changes, there tends to be some negatives as well.

Now that we all have chromebooks, I think I have seen more responsibility among the students. Rarely, does someone forget to bring their chromebook to class. It has taught me how to become more responsible and take care of something that is worth more than your pen and pencil. To me, the major and most helpful difference in having a chromebook is Google Docs. The ability to be able to write, save, and share a document all online is remarkable. You can’t lose what you have written because your document is automatically saved. It is easier for teachers to help you with your writing because now they can directly comment on your paper. You can collaborate more with your peers when you share a document with them and can work on it at the same time. It can also benefit teachers because there isn’t the excuse anymore of that “I didn’t print it”, or “my computer wasn’t working”. Teachers can now see exactly what the student did to the document and at what time they made any changes. Because of the addition of the chromebooks, teachers can place everything online, like the agenda, calendar, homework, etc. If a student is absent he can check online to see what he missed. Having chromebooks opens up the classroom to many resources that are online to get a better understanding of what you are learning. With all the good things that come with having chromebooks there are also some negatives.

As I said before, you have to become more responsible when you receive the chromebook, not just by taking care of it but by what you do with it. During class you may be able to get distracted by browsing the web. Also you can’t use the chromebook for certain classes like math because there aren’t many uses for it. The chromebook come with some distractions but it is worth it for the type of learning atmosphere that the student receives to prepare him for the future.

Photo by Adrianne Nix - Art teacher at East Leyden High School

Justyna Chojnowski (Senior)

Upon hearing that we would be getting Chromebooks that would be ours, most of the student body at Leyden was beyond excited. The teachers, on the other hand, not so much. I, personally, have never been much of a computer person and would rather write out my own papers and not rely on a piece of technology that could break or not connect to the Internet. However, over the last couple of years, the Internet and I have become extremely close friends, especially when I needed help with Physics homework. Because of this, I was also very excited to receive the Chromebooks. The prospect of obtaining a Chromebook was very appealing, seeing as we would have access to an unlimited supply of information from all over the world except, of course, the sites that were restricted. This would not only help us further our knowledge, it would also enable us to collaborate with people from all around the world. I think, this reason was one of the major reasons that made getting Chromebooks so exciting.

Nevertheless, we faced, and still sometimes face, a major obstacle: incorporating the Chromebooks into the classroom. This has been a struggle from the beginning. The Chromebooks possess such great power that some teachers are overwhelmed and do not know how to use the Chromebooks to their advantage. Furthermore, sometimes it is impossible to incorporate the Chromebooks into a classroom, for example my Calculus AP class. Sure, we have Math XL, an online program for homework problems, but writing out equations and symbols on the Chromebook takes way longer than writing them out on paper. Or the Chromebook decides that it doesn’t want to work properly, such as when OpenClass does not want to “open.” I understand the incorporation of Chromebooks into the classroom is a work in progress, but it can be stressful on both the teacher and the students when something is not going the way it is supposed to. Teachers not only have to change how they teach, they also have to make sure that students are on task and not roaming the Internet. Sometimes the Chromebook is a major distractor and functions the reverse role of distracting instead of helping the students.

Although the Chromebook possesses some disadvantages, it in turn has a lot of advantages that can be utilized by students and teachers. One of the best things about the Chromebooks is being able to share and simultaneously collaborate, revise, and work on the same document. This allows students to complete an assignment or project without having to meet up outside of school. With busy schedules and a lot of other schoolwork, this feature ensures that students turn in their assignments, especially group projects, for they cannot use the excuse of “I wasn’t able to meet up with my group.” Sharing documents is also favorable to teachers. Teachers can view what a student is doing as they do it and are also able to access who is doing what on each document, thus in turn giving each student the grade they deserve based on the amount of work they completed. In addition, the Chromebooks are light and portable, and, in some cases, replace the back-breaking weight of carrying a stack of books. As I mentioned before, the Chromebooks offer students and teachers access to a huge supply of readily available information. This is turn can be utilized, propelling students and teachers alike into the future of technology. With a head start, students will know how to work different programs on their computers, use the Internet to obtain extra information, and eventually leave an amazing digital footprint that others will be able to view.

We, here at Leyden, have begun the process of leaving a digital footprint. Administrators, as well as teachers, are promoting the use of the Chromebooks in a positive manner, such as starting the Twitter hashtag #leydenpride. Many of our students have participated in using this hashtag. Search #leydenpride on Twitter and the results will portray students talking about our school in a positive manner as well as many different activities going on at our school and in our community. I believe, that the Chromebooks have presented students here at Leyden with many opportunities, and will continue to do so even more effectively once all the kinks are worked out.

Design by the East Leyden Graphic Design class.

Amina Patel (Junior)

Google Chromebook, if you mentioned these two words to me last year I would have stared at you in confusion, but now it has changed my way of thinking. It all started back in January when I was doing a service event for a club, I had to give my opinion on what I thought of these chromebooks and how other teachers can learn, it was some sort of edcamp. I honestly had no idea what I was going to say, but being me I winged it and gave it my best shot. After talking to other teachers from our school I realized that Leyden is a very privileged school, being able to have 1:1 for each and every single student is phenomenal. Having the chromebook has changed my experience here at Leyden in a postive way.

Being a junior here at Leyden has given me two years without the Google Chromebooks. I have been in the place of using simple pencil and paper in every class, I have had a basis of comparison between the classroom environments. I can honestly say the use of the Chromebooks have made my job as a student easier. The hassle of printing, the worry of late assignments, and most importantly the ease of communication with my teachers. In particular I am in an AP English class, the teacher (Mr. Narter) had us watch the political debates, and apply the things we are learning in class to the significance it has in the debate. Well, the problem was that the debate is after school hours, and instead of having the inconvenience of writing an analysis, he send us a link to a website called Today’s Meet. This website lets you log on to a specific group and have a group conversation, this made watching the debate more entertaining because you essentially had your fellow classmates right there. And trust me we had heavy debates going on. But thinking about the difficulty of this tasks without the chromebooks, made it somewhat impossible. The ease of the chromebooks with the students doesn’t go quite well with the teachers.

We live in the age of technology, with such easy access to internet the world is at our fingertips. With the chromebooks learning has becoming easier but in the case of the teachers, teaching has become harder. To implement learning online is a difficult task especially for teachers who have been doing it for years. In my opinion teachers aren’t using the chromebooks to the full extent, there has been quite a gap in the adjustments between paper and digital.

Twitter, many people know what this is and many people do not, simply put, it is a social networking website. I started using Twitter because being a teenager and using social media went hand in hand. At first it was just place to post tweets aimlessly, but has we all received chromebooks it started gaining popularity here at Leyden. Sooner than I thought the hashtag #leydenpride had started trending within our school. Students, including myself, would use it to tweet about amplifying school spirit, and other activities we were taking apart of at school. It has gotten so popular that even our own teachers and administrators were using it. Yes, my principal (Mr. Markey) is a huge twitter fan and was using the hashtag all over the place. Because the hashtag had such great popularity I had an idea, my entrepreneurship class was creating new leyden wear.  Why not put #leydenpride on it? So, I got the class to agree and we sold wristbands, and t-shirts with the hashtag #leydenpride. It helped encourage students to not only have pride in their school but pride in themselves and their own self-achievements.

T-shirt design by Amina Patel

 


I would like to thank our three student contributors to this post for their candor and willingness to write some “extra’ this week.  Also, I would like thank Scott McLeod for the work he continues to do to support and promote this type of integration of technology in our education system.  We all may have a different vision of where education is headed, but I hope we all understand that the Web is going to be vital part of our world moving forward. Since we never deprived our students of the printed word for the past several centuries, I hope the same holds true regarding the Web.

—–

Note from Scott

Leave the students a comment or question. I bet you’ll hear back!

I greatly appreciate the willingness of Jason and the other Leyden staff and students to contribute to this guest series on Chromebooks in schools. Chromebooks are a new approach to 1:1 computing for most educators. It’s wonderful to have an opportunity to hear lessons learned from a school district that is ahead of the curve on this front. Thanks, Leyden!

If you’re doing something interesting with technology in your school that you think might be of interest to school leaders, I’d love to hear from you. There are many educators and school organizations doing incredible work out there. I try to use my guest posts to publicly honor and share some of that work. Read over my guest blogging guidelines and drop me a note!

Tech Support Internship: Student-led support for Leyden’s Chromebook initiative [guest post]

Part 4 of a 5-part series on 1:1 with Chromebooks at Leyden High Schools.  This post was written collaboratively by the four teachers who work with the Tech Support Internship program:  Jason Cartwright, Adam Labriola, Lauren Martire, and Tony Pecucci. More information is available at the East Leyden and West Leyden TSI Websites.

Overview

The Tech Support Internship (TSI) is a year-long course that supports Leyden’s 1:1 technology initiative.  Students in the Tech Support Internship get experience working in a real life tech support environment.

The Tech Support Interns have three main objectives:

  1. To support students’ Chromebooks
  2. To support the faculty and staff with technology needs
  3. To pursue independent learning pathways

When students are not supporting students’ and/or faculty/staff technology needs, students work on a variety of independent pathways.  These pathways allow students to explore and develop skills in a variety of technology subjects including computer programming, networking, app development, web design, etc.  The students also are given the opportunity to become certified in multiple industry recognized certifications.

Pathways and Why Students Chose Them

Certification

Students in this pathway pursue industry certifications.  Students may choose one or more of the following certifications:  Internet and Computing Core Certification (IC3), Microsoft Office Specialist, Google Apps, and/or CompTia A+ Certification.

“I chose certification as my pathway because I wanted to learn more about computers.  There will be many benefits gained from completing this pathway. If I get my A+ certification next semester, I can have more job and internship opportunities in college. I want to get as many certifications as I can this year.” – Karolina Moniuszko

Computer Programming or Networking

Students in this pathway gain hands on experience in computer programming or networking.  For computer programming, students may choose between two programming languages: C++ or JavaScript.

“The reason why I chose programming was because the whole entire concept of it was so cool. Studying programming is like studying a whole new language, it’s hard but when you finally understand you feel a sense of accomplishment. In programming you will learn the fundamentals of where all the current apps and programs you use come from and how they were made, while at the same time interacting with developing codes yourself. Other than that it’s a high demand job in the real world that pays a lot of money.” – Clint De Leon

Communications

Students in this pathway implement new communication technologies for Leyden students and staff.  Students create websites, podcasts, blogs, tutorials, and workshops related to Leyden’s technology initiative.

“I chose the Communications pathway because I liked the idea of being able to inform teachers and students about different technologies in a creative way.  I also get to learn about and use a variety of multimedia tools that will benefit me in my school work and my future jobs.” – Dulce Lopez

App Development

Students in this pathway build and develop apps for the Chrome Browser, iOS, and Android devices. Students will gain experience developing applications using a web browser and either a connected phone or emulator.

“Through curiosity of viewing the app store and the unlimited apps provided for download, I thought more and more on how to do certain apps and the difficulty involved. I chose this Pathway so I can make apps that people my age can use and find to be important or entertaining in their everyday lives. To have a well known app would give me the confidence to build more and to do that, my first step was to join this class and follow this Pathway.” – Zaid Alaraj

Interaction Between Students and Tech Department

Level 1: Students

In TSI, students are the initial point of contact on any and all technical issues.  Students work with students, faculty and staff to determine exactly what their issue is and determine how to address it.  These requests all come through a work ticketing system (Spiceworks) and are handled by the students on a rotating basis.  Most commonly, students work on Chromebook issues/repairs, projection screens, Google Application support, and many other common issues.  If an issue can be handled completely by a student, these tickets are considered Level 1.

Level 2: Students Working with Tech Department

When students are addressing issues, they may derive that the issue is in need of administrative access.  For these types of cases, they would need to bring in a member of the Tech Department to assist.  These issues would then be considered Level 2.  Typically, these issues would involve the wireless network password, accessing network printers or handling software downloads for computers labs.  The students have a close relationship with the Tech Department and often come along to see how Level 2 tickets are handled for learning purposes.  Again, all tickets are filtered through our work ticketing program to ensure they are being addressed in a timely manner.

Benefits

We believe the benefits of TSI are many.  Throughout our conversations with computer professionals, they would continually stress the need for students to not only have certifications in various areas – but also to have the soft skills and hands on experience to work in a job environment.  This is where TSI is an extremely good fit as it provides all of those skills … and more.

TSI students at Leyden interact with students, faculty and staff on a daily basis.  They sharpen their communication skills by answering phones, handling incoming issues and going out in the “field” on various tickets.  TSI students never know what they will be working on next and no day is like the day before!  We feel this is a replication of what they will be facing once they leave Leyden and prepares them in a way no other class does.

In addition, students can choose the various pathways to work on when not assisting our school.  Particularly, the certifications they can attain will increase their ability to secure a position directly out of high school.  Leyden TSI students will be more qualified than many others in the workforce for entry level positions in computing.

Overall, Leyden TSI students are getting much of the “real world” experience they need to succeed post high school.  TSI provides enormous benefits for students and can give them the edge they need to start their careers, wherever they may start!

Previous posts in the series

What Can You Expect When Moving Learning to the Web? [guest post]

The third post of a 5-part series on 1:1 at Leyden High Schools. This post is from Mikkel Storaasli, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction for the Leyden High School District.  This post is also cross-posted on Mikke’s blog, Surely You Can’t Be Serious.

Leyden High School District 212, right next door to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, has just gone 1-1 with the (mostly) web-only Chromebook. So that means that every student in our two high school district has a laptop with a full keyboard. However, native programs cannot be installed as on a a Win/Mac laptop; all applications that students have access to must come from the web. In other words, there is no MS Office for students, just Google Apps. Thus, we characterize our 1-1 model as “moving learning to the Web.”

There is power when you shift learning to the Web. For us, there have been two critical pieces to making this shift.

1.  A Common Platform: A Learning Management System (LMS) such as Blackboard, Moodle, or OpenClass (which is what we use) to provide a common electronic platform is an immediate shift in how school is done.

Look, I realize that this may seem like an obvious use of web-based tools to some, but providing a digital organizing structure for students is crucial. I cannot stress this enough: The LMS is HUGE. It’s the glue that holds together our digital work.

The immediate access to tools for posting materials, syllabi, calendars, assessments, facilitating discussions, and communicating with students immediately changes the educational landscape. Furthermore, the fact that it’s a common platform for students helps them keep it all organized and coherent.

For example, one teacher posted a lesson with an online presentation tool called SlideRocket  Complete with audio narration, students can view the material anytime anywhere. What’s even better is that the teacher sent the link to the presentation to his students’ parents. Having that lesson available online helps students who were absent, students who need to hear it (or just part of it) a second or third time, and effectively brings parents into the class with their students.

2. An Ethos of Sharing (rather than “turning it in”): Along with the LMS, the use of Google Apps has provided the foundation for communication and collaboration among our staff and students.

Again, in our district we are utilizing the (mostly) web-only Chromebook, which means that native apps such as the MS Office Suite are off the table.  Thus, Google Apps for education provides the platform for most of our productivity tools.

Think about this: The move to Google docs and the ethos of sharing files, of working with products that are constantly being revised by a team, is not a small one. Some of have been doing this for years and take it as second nature. Personally, it’s totally changed how I work and collaborate with others. However, it’s taken me years to build this capacity.

In this model, students and teachers are working together, constantly revising and sharing feedback on living documents. We sometimes forget how alien this may seem to many students, who have been largely trained to “turn it in” (or to “attach it”), and that’s the end of the assignment.  Short of receiving an assignment back with a few red marks scrawled (or typed) on it, the work was done. Dead and abandoned. Static. Time to move on to the next thing.

“Just” introducing Google Apps (or other tools which allow for cloud-based collaboration) is a big shift for teachers, students, and parents. It may not seem all that big of a deal to seasoned Google Apps users, but introducing these tools on a mass scale can be challenging.

Yet, it’s also critically important to our model. Institutionalizing a cycle of sharing and providing meaningful feedback between teachers and students has positive implications based on decades of research. Here’s why: according to John Hattie’s table of effect sizes, a vast body of educational research indicates that “Feedback” is the instructional technique that has the #1 biggest impact on student learning.

Never heard of Hattie? Perhaps you’re a fan of Robert Marzano’s “Classroom Instruction That Works.” You will of course know that “Setting objectives and providing feedback” is one of the nine high impact, research-based instructional strategies advocated by that Dr. Marzano. Incidentally, Marzano’s work is linked to Hattie’s research, so they’re singing from the same hymnal.

If you have a handle on Google Apps and a Learning Management System, you will have built the foundation for learning to be collaborative and dynamic in nature as well as available anytime or anywhere. As one of our teachers said, “Class doesn’t end at the period, it ends in the cloud.”

So, aside from these two foundational pieces, what else can you expect when you move learning to the web? Certainly, our teachers are using a multitude of other web-based techniques such as

Remember “Feedback” and Hattie’s effect sizes? How about this for increasing the amount and quality of feedback for students:

These are a few things off the top of my head.  Now, I realize that what I’ve been discussing isn’t full-blown Problem Based Learning across the curriculum or anything. I worry that teachers see presentations like the one given by Seth Godin here, and feel as though they have to immediately meet that standard. Don’t get me wrong, I love what Seth is saying but what he’s talking about takes deep learning on the part of everyone in the institution over a long period of time.

We are just scratching the surface of the pedagogical implications of the tools we have available and building the structure of our digital courses. However, that doesn’t mean what’s going on isn’t not effective and potentially transformative.

What is the unintended curriculum for students and teachers?

However, you should also consider the challenges this poses for students. For students, learning to learn in a 1-1 setting is HARD. Let’s not pretend it isn’t. It’s a totally new paradigm for interacting with a course and a teacher, for accessing materials, not to mention the inevitable technical issues that arise.

Moving learning to the web immediately introduces a different prototype for student learning, and learning to navigate this takes time for everyone. Although we sometimes perpetuate the myth that students are “digital natives” and they innately gravitate toward electronic documents, presentations, syllabi, calendars, and to-do lists, this is certainly not always the case. In fact, some students have a very hard time in this new paradigm, and often it’s those who have succeeded in a traditional paper-based system.

Think of the student binders you’ve seen in years past, those that look like unstable nuclear paper bombs ready to detonate at the slightest nudge. Is it any wonder that students might have the same trouble organizing materials electronically?

Students need to learn HOW to learn in an electronic environment. Students have to learn how to deal with materials (previously tree-based) that are suddenly available electronically via a website or learning management system. Furthermore, they have to deal with a new expectation of responsibility: Your class materials are out there and available at any time, and you need to access them as you need them.

Although it’s fantastic that students no longer have to rely on the teacher to access class materials, that’s a double edged sword: with these tools, there is an expectation of personal responsibility on the part of the student. You cannot understate that this can be uncomfortable for them.

Similarly, learning to teach in a 1-1 setting is also HARD. Again, let’s not pretend it isn’t. It’s a totally new paradigm for organizing a course, for presenting materials, for interacting with students, and it presents a host of new classroom management issues, not to mention the inevitable technical issues that arise.

Teachers will try some things that work, and they’ll try some things that crash and burn. It’s all part of the learning process, and that needs to be OK. I certainly hope that our teachers will make the connection that this is how learning happens for students, too. We all need the space to be able to try things and fail.

But as one our teachers said to me, although this is tough starting out, this is all an investment in time and learning. Next year we will have built it a cache of digital materials and experiences, and this will get easier. As that same teacher said, “Come and see us next year.”

And there it is. I’ve always thought of education as a process of iteration, the repetition of a process creating an increasingly complex and beautiful result. In my brain, damaged slightly by several years as a math teacher, our experience teaching and learning in a 1-1, cloud-based environment like a fractal: beautiful images created by an iterative process.

Right now, we’re in the midst of moving learning to the web, our first iteration. We have just started 1-1, and as we repeat and refine our techniques, over the course of many class periods, days, weeks, months, and years, the investment of time and learning will produce an increasingly beautiful result.

One example of a fractal. Not to get too mathy, but it’s all about the beauty of iteration. From http://www.wisdom-earth.com

Our next post in this series will discuss our Tech Support Internship Class, which serves as our level one tech support for the entire district.

Previous posts in the series

The Logistics of 1:1 Chromebooks at Leyden [guest post]

The second post in a series about 1:1 at Leyden
by Bryan Weinert, Director of Technology for Leyden CHSD 212
@LeydenTechies – Author of the Leyden Techies Blog

The wonderful thing about Chromebooks, is Chromebooks are wonderful things.
Their tops are made out of rubber, their bottoms are made out of springs.
They’re bouncy, flouncy, pouncy, trouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, FUN!
The most wonderful thing about Chromebooks, is they’re the only one!

Okay, so maybe I shouldn’t be trying to write a blog post at the same time while watching my 15 month old daughter, but hopefully I got you started reading this with a smile.  This is the second post in the four-part series on going 1:1 with Chromebooks in our district that a few of my colleagues and I were asked to write for Scott McLeod’s amazing Dangerously Irrelevant blog.  Be sure to check out the first post in the series, Why 1:1? Why Chromebooks? written by Jason Markey, our principal at East Leyden High School.

Let me start by suggesting that one of the really wonderful things about Chromebooks is that they actually eliminate or simplify a number of logistics.  While researching and planning to go 1:1 in our district, this made the Chromebook an extremely attractive choice for us.  Far too often over the past 12 years that I’ve been the Director of Technology for our district did technology initiatives run into problems because of logistics.  The following are some of the key highlights that we’ve experienced so far.

SETUP

None.  Really, none.  We purchased enough devices that they came pre-setup with our wireless network configured and enrolled into our Google Apps domain.  We were able to take them out of the box and give them directly to students.

MANAGEMENT

We purchased our Chromebooks directly from Google so the management tools were included.  If you purchase them from a different vendor, you can contract with Google to add the management capabilities.  Basically, this adds a ChomeOS section to the Settings tab in your Google Apps for Education control panel.

Being web-based, I can quickly and easily manage our entire fleet from just about any web-based device I may be working on.  Some of the management features we have implemented through the control panel are as follows:

  • Proxy Server – We force all of our Chromebooks to communicate through a proxy server so that our students will always be working behind our firewall and content filter.  This was critical for us since our students take their devices home.
  • Screen Lock – We force all of our Chromebooks to be locked after a set amount of idle time or upon closing the lid.  The students can easily re-enter their passwords to pick up working where they left off.
  • Default Homepage – We control not only what the default homepage is for all of our students, but also define multiple different tabs to open each time they log into their device.  That has proved beneficial when we want to get particular information delivered to or highlighted for all of our students.  For example, we created a webpage about digital footprints that was the first page students saw for a week.
  • Account Access – We do not allow “guest mode” on our devices and only allow users within our domain to log in.
  • ChromeOS Updates – We have the ability to allow or prevent our Chromebooks to auto update and can restrict the version of ChromeOS our students are using.
  • Chrome Web Store – We currently allow our students full access to the Chrome web store, however, we can easily turn it off or restrict which resources our students have access to in the web store if necessary.
  • Apps & Extensions – We push out a base package of apps and extensions to all of our students to help standardize some of the tools and practices used in our district.  A few of the tools in our base package include the Google Tasks, Google Dictionary, and Readability extensions and the GeoGebra, Desmos Graphing Calculator, WeVideo for Drive, and Kindle Cloud Reader apps.

That’s about it.  It doesn’t seem like a lot and that’s really the beauty of it.  There just isn’t much to manage for a Chromebook environment.  I’d also like to note that if you have your Google Apps domain grouped into organizational units (OU), you can configure your management settings differently for each OU.

SOFTWARE

Once again, none.  There is no software to install and manage on the Chromebooks.  With our initiative to move teaching and learning to the Web, our teachers and students have the freedom and power to use just about any free tool or resource they choose.  In my opinion this can foster more student choice which could lead to more student engagement and creativity.  Check out one of my previous blog posts on this topic.

CHECK OUT

Because all of our Chromebooks are exactly the same and any user will have the same exact experience regardless of which device they use, we were able to randomly assign the Chromebooks to the students.  We built a system that was used during our registration/book pick-up day the week before school started that had a staff member scan a student’s ID badge, scan the Chromebook’s serial number, scan the Chromebook’s asset tag (self created), and then scan the power cord’s serial number to create a record in a database and officially assign the device to the student.

SUPPORT

One of the most exciting things we’ve done in conjunction with going 1:1 this year was to develop a new Tech Support Intern (TSI) class.  This is an elective course in our Business Education department that runs every period of the day and serves as the starting point for all of our teachers’ and students’ tech support needs.  More detailed information about this class will be featured in the fourth post of this series, so stay tuned.  For the purposes of this blog post, it’s important to note that we purchased 60 extra Chromebooks per school to serve as loaner devices that can be issued to students through the TSI class when they have a device in need of service.  Our goal was to never have a time when a student did not have a Chromebook.

POWER

This is one of the logistics that choosing Chromebooks completely eliminated for us.  With the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook battery lasting 8+ hours, we were able to require our students to bring a fully charged Chromebook to school every day and be assured that they’d be able to use it in every one of their classes.  Since this is a requirement, there are consequences for not bringing a Chromebook to school and for not having a charged device.  If students find themselves in either situation and need a device to participate in class, they can check out a loaner from the TSI class.  The TSI class keeps statistics on how many times a student checkouts out a loaner because they did not have their own to use and sends reports to our deans to assign the consequences.

DEVICE SAFETY AND SECURITY

We issued a protective case to all of our students and require them to carry their devices in those cases when not in class.  They are small enough to even fit in a backpack.  We’re hopeful this will cut down on the breakages.  To help prevent any mysterious disappearances, either on accident or on purpose, we had all of our Chromebooks laser engraved with the following text:

Property of Leyden High School District 212

If found or presented for sale,

please call 847-451-3017.

ID# 2012-2xxxx

In addition, we added a barcoded asset tag to each device with the number matching the engraved ID number on the device.  We outsourced the engraving and asset tagging work which was completed before we even took delivery of our Chromebooks.

INFRASTRUCTURE & BANDWIDTH

We currently have sufficient building-wide wireless coverage to ensure that our students can use their Chromebooks everywhere they need to.  In addition, we currently have a 250 MB Internet pipe for each of our two campuses.  So far, both the wireless infrastructure and our bandwidth are holding up.

CONCLUSION

I may have missed a few logistics topics, but am more than willing to field your questions, so feel free to contact me at , via Twitter @LeydenTechies, or through my blog at http://leydentechies.blogspot.com/.

I’ll wrap up by mentioning that we have been thrilled with the digital evolution of our district into a fully 1:1 environment and many of our success are a result of choosing to go with the Google Chromebook.  The most important factor to our success so far, of course, is our teachers.  We have incredibly talented teachers that have risen to the challenge of moving teaching and learning to the Web.  Because we didn’t have to hire any additional tech support or dedicate as much time, money, and resources to going 1:1 with Chromebooks as we may have needed to do with other devices, we were able to hire two full-time instructional tech coaches to support our teachers.  Please check back for the next post in this series, From the Classroom – How Learning is Evolving with Access for All, to learn more about the professional development we’ve done and the amazing things our teachers and students are now doing.

Thanks for taking the time to read through this post.  “When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.”  Uh oh, guess it’s time to get back to my kids  ;-)

Why 1:1? Why Chromebooks? [guest post]

The first post of a 4-part series on 1:1 at Leyden High Schools.
Jason Markey, principal of East Leyden High School

Leyden High School District, located just outside of Chicago, serves the communities of Franklin Park, Schiller Park, River Grove, Rosemont, and parts of Northlake and Melrose Park.  Our two high schools serve just over 3,500 students.

I’m excited about Leyden sharing our 1:1 journey in hopes that we can help schools realize the potential of access for all students and to allow all of us to learn from others along the way.  One of the most important parts of our digital evolution has been the conversations, visits, and meetings that we have been fortunate to have with districts from Iowa, South Carolina, Massachusetts and many others.  But the most important part of any school’s development of vision is to understand “the why.”  So that’s where we started.

A few months ago, the importance of starting with the why was made even more clear to me when I read a blog post by Carmela Ianni highlighting Simon Sinek’s TEDx Talk.  So the center of our “golden circle,” the answer to the question why 1:1, has always been because it will provide opportunities for our students that are simply not possible without anytime, anywhere access to the web.

So what opportunities specifically?

  • The opportunity to ensure that great teaching and learning can happen in all classrooms and not be dependent upon access.
  • The opportunity to collaborate both synchronously and asynchronously with other students seamlessly.
  • The opportunity for students to receive more timely and specific feedback from teachers.
  • The opportunity for students to create a positive digital footprint with learning being public on the web.
  • The opportunity for students to generate more writing and create more authentic representations of their learning than ever before.
  • The opportunity for students to choose how they present their learning.
  • Leveling the playing field for access for all our students.
  • The opportunity to remove the ceiling on what they can learn and share.  We purposely did not set a finite goal on what outcome we want to see as “results” of 1:1 because what we truly want is for each student to be able to follow their passion in learning and allow that to take them to new possibilities.

Equally important as considering the why, is considering the why not.  I recently wrote a brief blog post on considering the opportunity cost of not choosing 1:1.  I strongly believe if 1:1 is honestly considered, the only roadblock for districts considering 1:1 is the fear of managing the logistics.  Our next blog post in this series will cover how we have addressed the many logistical concerns of a 1:1 initiative.  One of the most important decisions that made our logistical concerns much easier to address was our device selection, the Chromebook.

So the question we have answered the most since last December when we publicly made our decision is  “why the Chromebook?”  Often the question is phrased something like this, “so why didn’t you choose iPads,  and aren’t Chromebooks just the web?”  As I wrote here in my blog, yes they are a web-based  and web-managed device, and that is actually an incredible advantage over many other potential devices.  Ryan Bretag wrote a great blog post on this topic, “The Internet as a Belief System”.  Again, many more technical specifics will be discussed in our next post, but when we considered a device we looked for something that could ensure our resources, both time and money, were focused more on student learning rather than supporting the technology.  I am so excited to report that we launched 3,500 devices in our two high schools this year and we have not hired one additional person in our tech department.  We have put into place two instructional coaches specializing in integrating technology and a new course called Tech Support Internship (TSI).  TSI is our “frontline” tech support now for students and teachers in addition to being so much more for our students.  Again resources supporting learning, not technology.  In the final post of this series we will highlight our TSI class.

I hope this has been a good introduction as to the “why” we chose 1:1 and Chromebooks for our students.  Please do not hesitate to follow up with me here.  Also, we are opening our doors at Leyden for two school visit dates this fall and a conference in the summer.  If you are interested, please see more information here.

Coming soon….
Post #2 – The Logistics of 1:1 at Leyden
Post #3 – From the Classroom – How Learning is Evolving with Access for All
Post #4 – Student Tech Support – Student Ownership of 1:1

A high school senior’s view of textbooks and worksheet packets [guest post]

[This is a guest post from Tucker, a recently-graduated high school student. He wrote this for his senior year Comp class.]

Hearing the phrase “Get out your textbooks” from a high school teacher makes me want to throw up, and it is something I have heard for the last four years in almost every class from almost every teacher. Textbooks are filled with valuable information but are often boring, outdated, and even physically damaged from past use. In this day and age of “21st Century Learning,” it is insane that we are using 19th and 20th Century teaching strategies.

Most students today do not respond to textbook learning, and yet it is one of the most common ways for teachers to dispense information. Teaching out of a textbook is easy. It does not require teachers to step out of their comfort zone and find new ways to connect with students who are so eager to learn something useful that they can actually apply to their lives. The stereotype of students today is that they are uninterested in anything the school system has to offer. However, that is a complete lie. Students simply become uninterested because each school day seems to them like they have woken up in the movie “Groundhog Day” and go through the exact same motions as the day before. There is not a problem with the students, but with the dreaded textbook that has been around for so long it has become the status quo of teaching tools.

I will agree that the information in textbooks can be valuable to students. The information is not the issue. The issue is that many teachers today will hand out a packet they did not even create, tell the students to look up the information in the textbooks and copy down the answers word for word, and then go back to their desks where they will get on their computers and check their Facebook and Twitter feeds. Sometimes they may even see one of their students tweeting about how bored in class they are, and yet they will go right on down the page hoping to find something that makes them laugh out loud instead of things that make them consider how well they are doing their job. I am afraid that this routine is something the next generation of teachers will find themselves well accustomed to.

I want my classes to be interactive and exciting! I want to be moving around the room, working with other students to solve a real world problem that can eventually tie back into what we are actually learning in the class. Students should want every class to go on longer and be surprised when the bell rings because the period went by so fast. They should not be checking the clock every five minutes hoping for a random fire drill that will speed up the hour, and then waiting at the door for five minutes at the end of the period staring down the second hand as it travels endlessly around the clock. Textbook teaching allows these things to happen, and it is really a tragedy for both students and teachers.

Every day teachers should be standing in the front of the room challenging their students to a higher level of thinking, and in return the teachers will be challenged themselves. Where is the challenge in handing out novel-sized textbook packets to students who will most likely not remember anything they copied down? To truly challenge the students, teachers must actually spend time outside of school researching new tools that help connect with students on a more personal level. The more teachers push themselves to connect and interact with their students in order to boost their ability to critical think and retain knowledge, the better the teacher will become. Over time, there is no limit to how good a teacher can become if they have that mindset and expect the most out of themselves. On the other hand, the more and more they use textbooks, which is the easy way to do things, the worse they will become at teaching and inspiring their students to actually want to learn. That is why textbooks have become the crutch of high school teachers. They are so incredibly easy to lean on, but if they were taken away many teachers would be absolutely lost because they have not challenged themselves to create more of a 21st Century learning environment in their classrooms.

The new job market requires students to have 21st Century learning skills, so it is not a surprise many students struggle when they get out of high school and college because they have been taught in a 19th and 20th Century learning environment. If schools want to create students that are competitive and indispensable in the job market they must ditch the textbooks and challenge their teachers to challenge themselves, and in return inspire students to achieve a love for learning, which can truly take them anywhere they want to go.

Image credit: The eventual destination of the Thursday folder worksheets: The circular file

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