Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Device Conundrum - 1:1 vs BYOD

Cross-posted at the Huffington Post.

As we continue to advance in the digital age schools and districts are beginning to re-think pedagogy and learning environments by instituting either 1:1 device programs or Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiatives. In my opinion, schools that wish to create the most relevant and meaningful learning culture will go in one of these directions. It is tough to argue the potential impact of either program that is implemented diligently and with a focus on learning that will not result in the enhancement of essential skills sets that our students need to succeed in today's digital world. Probably the most significant impact, either 1:1 or BYOD can have is in the area of teaching digital responsibility, citizenship, and the creation of positive footprints online. After all, in the real world that we are preparing our students for, technological literacies and proficiencies are the cornerstones of numerous career paths.

Image credit: Tony Vincent

The decision on which way to go is usually determined by finances, which is unfortunate for those schools and districts who have their hearts set on getting a device in the hands of each and every student. Competition resulting from the continuous evolution of tablets, laptops, and now Chrome books, puts schools in a better position to make large-scale investments in mobile technology. In theory and on paper, a 1:1 program seems to be the best program for schools wanting to integrate technology on a macro level to enhance teaching and learning. Advocates for 1:1 programs will claim that it is the only way to go as it ensures equitable access to all students regardless of socioeconomic status.

With each student possessing a device, collaborative work using Web 2.0 tools is a reality for all students, both in an out of school, provided there is Internet access at home. In this day and age, finding a location with free WiFi is not such a difficult task. Maintenance becomes less of a headache for the IT department, as they only have to worry about one type of device. It also figures to entail a more streamlined approach when it comes to providing professional development to staff so that the devices are consistently utilized to support student learning.

The general case I make for 1:1 programs above is compelling, but is it the best option for our students today? The more I read about others' thoughts on this and reflect on the BYOD program we have instituted at New Milford High School, I am beginning to think that 1:1 programs are not necessarily the best option for our students. My main reason for this shift in thought is why would we want to pigeonhole our students to one single device and/or platform? Is that reminiscent of the real world that we are supposedly preparing them to flourish and succeed in? The fact is many students own and are comfortable with their devices. The digital divide in schools becomes smaller when bold districts, schools, and educators work to effectively integrate the technology that has been available for years outside their walls. BYOD has the ability to save districts money, but the real impact comes in the form or engagement and empowerment of students to learn on their terms. I have grown quite tired of the myriad of excuses to not move towards BYOD because it can and will have a positive impact with the right mindset, training, and support.

It makes sense to me to create a technology-rich learning environment that leverages available technology with that, which the students already own. This is what we have done at my school and experienced a great deal of success. In addition to BYOD, students and teachers have access to three PC labs, one iMac lab, one Macbook cart, one PC cart, and one netbook cart. The equity issue with BYOD in classrooms has been overcome with school purchased technology and the use of cooperative learning after my teachers determine which device(s) each student possesses and brings to school on a regular basis. In my eyes we are accomplishing the same goals, for the most part, as we would if a 1:1 program had been instituted. Students have access to technology and are using it on a daily basis to communicate, collaborate, create artifacts of learning, problem solve, think critically, become more technologically proficient, and develop a greater global awareness. The should most certainly be able to use it to replace more archaic forms of technology (i.e. pencil and paper) if they wish.

I am extremely interested to hear what others think about 1:1 vs. BYOD in schools. Do you think one is better than the other and if so why? If you are considering going down one of these paths, which one would you lean towards?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Initiating and Sustaining Change

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to present at the 2013 Annual ASCD Conference in Chicago.  This conference is one of my must attend events of the year and I use it as an opportunity to develop new presentations based on my leadership experiences at New Milford High School.  Since we have initiated and sustained quite a few changes that have transformed the teaching and learning culture at my school I felt that sharing the "why" and "how" would benefit others that have experienced difficulty with or are looking to begin the change process.  

The presentation itself focused on key elements, behaviors, strategies, and initiatives that aided our pursuit of meaningful change to benefit our learners and greater school community as a whole. Change does not have to be an illusive process that is frustrating and takes too long to come to fruition.  The general keys from my experiences leading change through collaboration with key stakeholders are as follows:
  1. Determine what needs to change and why
  2. Address reasons why change is so hard
  3. Identify specific roadblocks and ways to overcome them
  4. Develop an understanding of the keys for implementing sustainable change and begin the process poised for success
  5. Make the changes and see them through 
Even though this has worked for us it is by no means a full-proof blueprint for change in educational systems.  In your experiences what would you add to this presentation and why?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Unwrapping the Common Core Standards

Love them or hate them, the Common Core is a reality for the majority of educators and schools across the country.  As a principal I am always on the look out for resources that can aid my teachers with the successful implementation of these standards.  While attending the 2013 ASCD Conference in Chicago I attended a session entitled Unwrapping Standards to Drive the Adoption of the Common Core State Standards.  The presentation was facilitated by the Clark Country School District in Nevada.  As they stated, many teachers are not unwrapping standards themselves.  As a result they are blinding using information and tend to focus on parts of a standard as opposed to the whole thing.  By unwrapping standards educators see the interconnectedness within the Common Core.

Image credit:

During the presentation Wiki-Teacher was shared.  This is a free resource for any educator to use to assist with unwrapping the Common Core Standards. As the Wiki states the lesson plans, unit plans, centers, textbook supplements, and other resources found on Wiki-Teacher are created and shared by educators. Resources contributed to the site are reviewed by content experts and peer-rated by all of the members of Wiki-Teacher.  Educators can also access demonstration videos once a free account is created. I will most certainly be sharing this resource with my staff upon my return to New Milford High School.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Grade Change: Moving a School Culture Forward

Recently Jeff Fiscina, one of my math teachers, submitted a guest post on my blog that emphasized some of his grading practices that best support and promote student learning.  That post got me thinking about the process we went through to assist Jeff in developing and embracing his current grading practices as well as that of other teachers.  It was about a year ago that I decided to tackle the grading culture here at New Milford High School, which wasn't much different than the majority of schools across this country.  Any administrator that has moved to change long embedded grading philosophies and practices knows full well how difficult this change process is. However, it was apparent that current behaviors and actions had to be changed based upon the latest research and what was best for our students.  

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When I initially broke the news to my staff about the journey we were about to take to change the grading culture it was met with a great deal of skepticism, questions, and resentment.  Like I said earlier, change in this area is extremely difficult.  During the initial conversations I presented the work of Douglas Reeves, Rick Wormelli, and others to serve as a foundation for this systematic change.  The conversation focused on some difficult questions such as what does a letter grade actually mean and how do you measure student learning.  After some initial focus on where we currently were as a school and where we really needed to begin moving towards I asked for volunteers to sit on a committee to help establish new grading guidelines and support structures that focused on student learning. It should be noted, however, that some components of this new philosophy were non-negotiable because if everything was then the change we were looking to implement and desperately needed would never occur. This was probably the most difficult part of the change process in terms of staff embracement. 

The purpose of this post is not get get into the nitty gritty about grading reform as this has been well chronicled by practitioners that I greatly admire such as Joe Bower.  My purpose here is to illustrate how my staff and I addressed a broken component of our school culture and improved it.  Is our current philosophy and associated grading practices perfect? Of course not, but the change that was initiated is much more aligned with the learning needs of our students.  The new philosophy is now an expectation for all. Below is the grading philosophy that was created and adopted at the end of last year.  I encourage and look forward to any comments or reflective feedback that you might have.

Grading Philosophy

No zeros: Students should not be assigned a grade of zero (0).  This not only reflects grading as punishment, but also creates a hole that students cannot dig out of (Gusskey, 2000, Reeves, 2004, Reeves, 2008, O’Conner and Wormeli, 2011).  This includes HW, quizzes, tests, projects, etc.  An exception to this would be cases that involved cheating, plagiarism, or a midterm/final exams no show.

Multiple forms of formal assessment: Marking period grades have to be comprised of multiple forms of assessment.  We need to avoid the “marking period killer” assignment, which is one project, test, or other assignment that will make or break a student’s grade (Reeves, 2008).

Failure floor:  As per HS grading practices detailed in the current student handbook, a 64 or below is failing.  As a result, all failing grades should be entered between the ranges of 50 – 64 in PowerSchool.  Any grade 64 or below is a variation of an “F”, which indicates that the student has not met basic standards for learning (O’Conner & Wormeli, 2011). A failure floor of 50 has been established (lowest score inputted into PowerSchool for quarter, midterm, and final exam grades).  This allows students to recover from a poor quarter and/or midterm exam grade and gives him/her the appropriate motivation to complete the course successfully.  If a student fails your class you will be asked to provide the following:

  • Evidence that is appropriately documented on the progress report.
  • Documented contact (email, phone) with the parent/guardian no later than midway through the marking period. If contact cannot be made (disconnected phone, no answer/response) notify main office so we can update information in PowerSchool.
  • Extra help (sign-in sheet) attendance logs.  This should contain dates, printed student names, and actual student signatures.
  • Evidence of a face-to-face meeting with the parents/guardians and guidance counselor. The teacher and guidance counselor must schedule this.
  • Evidence of an improvement plan (re-takes, alternate assignments, other indicators that measure learning).
  • Determination of whether or not the student(s) is in crisis and using this information to work with him/her in a different way.  If this is the case submit a referral to the I&RS team.
  • Documented use of the Change in Progress form if a student begins to struggle academically after progress reports.

Retests: Student success in that they have mastered the concepts and are able to apply what they have learned is of utmost importance.  Giving students a second chance on a test provides them with yet another opportunity to demonstrate learning.   It is up to the teacher to determine if a student warrants a retest.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Our Doors Are Always Open

The following is a guest post by Steve D’Ascoli.  Steve visited New Milford High School on Thursday February 28, 2013.  NMHS routinely hosts visits from outside educators, schools, and organizations in an effort to provide insights on our initiatives.  Below is a reflection by Steve on his recent visit.

Today I had the opportunity to meet with Eric Sheninger before he headed off to the 2013 NASSP Conference.  I reached out to Eric to gain insight into the technologically driven mindset that has encapsulated New Milford High School. It was a great opportunity to not only get to exchange ideas with Eric regarding technology’s role in the classroom, but to see the learning community that has been nurtured and developed at his school.

Probably the most interesting idea Eric shared with me is how his school has structured their schedules to provide time for daily professional development.  In order to foster growth and development, a “PGP” (Professional Growth Period), allows teachers to have time to search for resources, share current practices, and collaborate with one another. An amazing, transformative decision, which can spur innovation and afford teachers the opportunity that no one ever has... time!  I don’t know if Eric was the brainchild behind that idea, but I have to tip my cap to whoever came up with that model.

It is also interesting that at New Milford High School, there are no mandates for teachers to use technology. Eric shared that teachers  are beginning to welcome the role of technology, as they are able to see how it not only makes their instruction more engaging, but also in many circumstances, easier on the teacher!  Through self-directed personal learning communities, and support from administration, Eric shared how teachers are empowered to take a different approach towards instruction because THEY want to.

As we navigated the hallways and classrooms, I was able to experience firsthand the school culture that is fostered at New Milford High School.  The students recognize their opportunities to use devices in school, and understand what the expectations are for appropriate use.  It was eye-opening to see that in a cafeteria filled with high school students that are allowed to use personal devices,95% of them were eating lunch, doing homework, and interacting in the same old fashioned ways!

Reflecting on this experience it is important to see how at my school district, we must establish specific goals that we intend to achieve by initiating a BYOD program at Valhalla Middle High School.  One interesting component that Eric mentioned is that part of the New Milford outlook is that cooperative learning is stressed, and that devices should be connecting students together.

I really appreciated the opportunity that Eric arranged for me to spend time together and demonstrate the educational climate at New Milford. I hope that I am able to use this experience to influence the teachers and students at my school in similar ways. I look forward to meeting Eric again soon and definitely at Edscape in October!

Steve D’Ascoli is a 5th year educator at Valhalla Middle High School in Valhalla, NY.  He has dual NYS certification in Secondary Social Studies and as an Educational Technology Specialist- daily utilizing both skill sets. As part of Valhalla’s Technology Committee, he is one of the leaders in driving the vision for  the District.  Steve is also currently leading Educational Technology instruction as an Adjunct Professor at Pace University and is obtaining a degree in School District Leadership.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Second Chances

The following is a guest post from Jeff Fiscina, one of my math teachers at New Milford High School.

Today is the day after a test.  I walk around to hand back tests to the students. Students, who did well, put a smile on their faces.  Students, who did poorly, sink into their chairs in displeasure.   I come back to the board to review the problems which created the most difficulty.  The students who did well are so excited they don’t want to listen.  The students who did poorly are so upset with themselves they can not concentrate.  So, what am I doing?  I’m pretty much talking to no one.  I’m not helping those students who received a bad grade and the students who were successful are now bored.

Image credit: Steven Depolo

After about two and a half years of doing this in my classes, I realized something must change.  Some students were not successful on a test.  The only way they can help their grade is to do better on the next test.  But they need the material from the previous test to help them.  So what service am I providing to my failing students?  How am I motivating them to do better?  I used to say, “You are going to need to learn this to do well on the midterm.  Don’t just put the test away and not look at it.  Study it and learn from it.”  After thinking about how I would take that statement as a student, I realized how little impact it actually has.  Something needed to change in my grading philosophy, and change fast.

Everyone deserves a second chance, right?  You fail your driver’s test; don’t you get another shot at it?  You do poorly on the SAT’s; you can take them again right?  So for a test in class, why are students only getting one chance?  After much questioning, research, and consideration, I decided to implement a re-take policy for my classes.

After students receive their test and are not happy with the score, they can come to me and inquire about a re-take.  I give the student a contract that lists the steps they must follow in order for the opportunity for a retake.  The contract must be signed by the student and their parent/guardian.  The steps are as follows:
  1. Get the test paper signed by a parent/guardian
  2. Attend extra help session for corrections on the test
  3. Complete given assignment on your own (if necessary)
  4. Make an appointment after/before school to take your re-take
(You can see my full written policy and contract HERE)

Once students take the re-take, I look at how much knowledge they have gained, and use my professional judgment to assign a new grade.  Students are appreciative of the second chance and are taking full advantage of it. Students are recognizing how much more work they need to put in if they are unsuccessful.  This gives them some motivation to do well the first time.  And it also gives them an opportunity to right the wrong.

What is our goal as educators?  My goal is for every student to have the best opportunity at succeeding in my class.  If my students have only one chance at every test, then they really don’t have the best opportunity at succeeding.  I want my students to learn and one of the best ways to learn is from your mistakes.  I have a little saying I like to use:  “Failure is not an ending, it’s a beginning.”