Thursday, February 27, 2014

Star Academy Goes Google

Earlier this year we launched Google Apps EDU accounts with our 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade students. What has been amazing to watch is how much this project has changed all of us.
I have to admit that when we started this journey I was not 100% sure that our students really needed these accounts.  Does a 6 year-old need email?  Will they really use Google Docs to publish?  Are they ready for the technical aspects of logging in and managing a password?
In spite of these personal lingering questions we moved forward with Google Apps accounts because we knew that students would need greater access to digital publishing tools to meet the digital literacy demands of Common Core and frankly some of our 1st graders were already submitting homework with personal Gmail accounts.  A few weeks ago as I helped the final group of students login for the first time I was reminded that we definitely made the right decision and it really comes down to equity, digital citizenship, and student voice.
Equity - The differences between students in one class has been quite striking. Whether it was 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grade every class contained group of students more digitally advanced than the rest. In 1st grade they made up approximately 25% of the class, but by 3rd grade the number was closer to 60-70%. These children had no problem finding “the curly a” on the keyboard, could easily navigate websites, and were even able to troubleshoot how to remove a previous student who logged into Chrome. They had a natural digital dexterity, which upon questioning each class seemed to stem from greater access to online tools at home.  The remainder of the students were easily tripped up by simple tasks - opening a new tab, finding Chrome when it was removed from the dock, and using the Return key to make a new line. While each of these challenges were easy to overcome with some basic computer instruction, what concerned me is that the students who struggled were often our students of color and socioeconomically disadvantaged. By providing all students a Google account and having them increasingly complete work in a medium that can be accessed from any internet-connected computer (no special software needed) we’re providing an even digital playing field where all students can succeed. They will also be prepared for upcoming SBAC exams and life as a middle and high schooler where all students are expected to use their Google accounts proficiently.
Digital Citizenship - It took about 48 hours for our first digital citizenship situations to appear - one student emailed another and described himself as ugly. The same day a 2nd grader emailed me wanting to know how to upload a profile picture. Like all educators, we collectively had that “Are we ready for this?”  moment, but then reminded each other that we’d rather start the conversation about appropriate online behavior in elementary school with concrete examples and tools in a safe, closed environment than wait until 6th grade when they are already on Instagram and Facebook. The fact they were eagerly making mistakes is a valuable opportunity to discuss digital citizenship and make strategic use of lessons from the Common Sense Media Digital Literacy & Citizenship curriculum.
Student Voice - I have already had two teachers tell me that their reluctant writers (on paper) are suddenly prolific storytellers via email and Google Docs. I'm also engaged in quite a few email-based book reviews with students where we are sharing our favorite books - Judy Moody, Bad Kitty, and Junie B. Jones are quite popular. For some students the act of holding a pencil and “scratching across a sheet of paper with a stick” (actual student quote) is far too challenging. Yes, most of our students hunt-and-peck and we still need to introduce the home row, but many kids are more comfortable with a keyboard and it mirrors the type of writing they most often observe in their daily lives. Simultaneous to launching Google Apps most of our elementary teachers started classroom blogs and the we’re already seeing an explosion of student comments. Last month was Family Blogging Month where the school encouraged students to contribute pieces to each classroom's blog that were read and commented on by families, friends, and readers from all over the world. It only took one or two posts followed by a few comments for the students to understand the power and excitement of publishing for a global audience. Now students (from all grade levels) are submitting posts on their own accord via email or Google Docs for their teachers to publish. Jennifer shared last week that when she was greeting students as they arrived at school one of them came up to her and said, "Mrs. Kloczko I have so many things I want to write about for my class blog. Today I think I am going with a list!"
Has our rollout been flawless? Definitely not. We already have ideas for how to it better next year. For example, we thought it might be too much to teach the kids how to log into a computer and login to their Google account, so our computers were originally set to auto-login. We were sorely wrong. With the help of 3X5 cards students are able to manage their email addresses and passwords without any problems. Next year we’re starting off by teaching kids how to login to both the computers and their Google accounts. We also now realize we need to plan for profile pictures in advance. Kids are eager to have a digital identify. This year we're having them draw self-portraits (on paper with crayons) and using those as profile pictures.
Does our Google Apps EDU launch mean we’re banishing all paper from classrooms and forcing children to take their pens and pencils home? Absolutely not. We’re simply incorporating another tool into each student’s tool box. I am reminded of a statement from the Common Core ELA Standards portraits of college and career readiness,
“They are familiar with the strengths and limitations of various technological tools and mediums and can select and use those best suited to their communication goals.”
We’re simply getting students ready for that future.  One other thing to note, with the roll out of Google Apps EDU we're also noticing an increase in agency for learning. The photo above is from a 2nd grader to Julie Torres. The student needed help with her math homework. Did she sit and wait to ask in class tomorrow? Nope, she emailed her teacher and asked for a math video.
Just let that sink in for a second.
When it comes to digital tools and an innate understanding of how they can be used for education we are definitely learning from a different generation at Star Academy. As this group of students comes through our system we will definitely have to rethink teaching and learning. Blended learning will be the norm with homework activities involving video, discussion forms, and collaborative projects. Publishing for a global audience will be natural and nothing new. Finally, they will expect connected learning environments - email, text, social media.
I am finding that these kids are teaching me what it really means to chart the long-term vision for instructional technology and as the first rule in their computer lab states, "No freaking out!"
PS - If you are having déjà vu after reading these posts have no fear. You might have read extended versions I posted earlier this year here and here.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Speak Up Survey 2013 - Teacher Voices

This week I have been sharing our results for the 2013 Speak Up Survey in a series of posts. You can check out the earlier Student and Parent perspectives by clicking on those posts. This morning I had a chance to analyze the teacher feedback and it is equally interesting. Similar to the student and parent data there were some distinct trends in the teacher feedback.

1. Powerful Digital Learning Tools
Throughout the survey teachers articulated that they are using digital learning tools with students and find them to be critical pieces of their instructional units. Teachers regularly report using Google Drive (76%), presentation software (71%), and videos they find online (65%). Additionally, some teachers are creating their own videos (29%) and exploring game-based environments (24%). When choosing digital resources teachers select tools that are referred by a colleague (71%), can be modified to meet classroom needs (71%), are sourced from a content expert organization, such as the National Science Foundation or universities (53%), or certified by an educational group (47%). When using digital tools as part of instruction, teachers have noticed specific areas where technology has enhanced students' academic success - developing creativity (88%), increased motivation to learn (81%), building collaboration skills (56%), and applying knowledge to practical problems (50%).

2. Powerful Productivity Tools
Teachers reported that technology had improved their overall effectiveness as educators by helping them be better organized (82%),  more productive (59%), and through technology's ability to quickly edit lesson plans (53%) or provide more efficient means for checking for understanding (41%). Teachers also found that technology has helped them connect more with students (59%), encourage more self-directed learning (53%), and facilitate collaboration (53%). 82% of teachers felt that the technology being used in their class was preparing students for future college or career success. In terms of how technology is being used to support student learning communicating with parents (95%), maintaining grades (71%), providing feedback to students (71%), and customizing content (62%) were some of the more common responses.

3. BYOD & Mobile Devices
Similar to parents and students, teachers are very interested in the possibility of a future BYOD environment. Currently, 38% of respondents already have students using personal devices in their classes. 67% reported regularly checking out devices or taking students to the Media Center. Teachers felt that a BYOD environment or greater access to mobile carts would increase engagement (89%), provide a means for personalizing instruction (68%), help students develop collaboration (63%) and critical thinking (58%) skills, and extend learning beyond the school day (58%). While excited about the possibilities of greater access through BYOD or mobile carts, teachers also expressed some concerns including distracted students (48%) and lack of equitable access for all students (29%).

4. Online & Blended Learning
Looking into the future teachers reported a strong interest in online and blended learning. Currently, 48% of teachers have taken an online course for professional development or would be interested in doing so (19%). 24% stated that they would be interested in teaching and online course and 31% are already implementing blended learning strategies. Another 31% are interested trying out blended learning, but have some concerns regarding student access at home (31%) and necessary professional development to create (31%) and find (25%) digital content.

5. Professional Development
As is no surprise knowing our campus, many teachers reported being engaged in on-going professional development to continually hone their practice. Popular methods for professional development outside of weekly workshops included online research (65%), face-to-face conferences (47%), podcasts and videos (41%), and using Twitter to connect with other educators (29%). Moving forward some common areas where teachers would like to develop skills were identifying high-quality content (59%), preparing for SBAC (53%), implementing new state standards (CCSS, NGSS) (41%), along with using game-based learning (35%) and formative assessment tools (35%).

6. Building the Ultimate School
Similar to the parent and student surveys, teachers were also asked to build the ultimate school. Teachers had many of the same responses including ability to access the Internet anywhere on campus (82%), ability for students to use personal devices (65%), educational mobile apps (graphing calculator, language translators) (65%), digital video and audio creation tools (59%), and tools that help students organize their work (59%). Reflecting on our technology plan it is exciting to see that our growth over the next two years are in these areas, so the "ultimate school" is becoming a reality.

7. Roadblocks or Really the Lack of Them
When asked to identify roadblocks or obstacles teachers faced when using technology our teachers reported very few besides the need for even more professional development (20%) and additional student access to devices (35%).

I have to admit that reading this data what made me the most proud is all of the responses that were 0%, especially when you consider the national averages for each question were 20-40%.
  • District policies limit the technology I can use - 0% 
  • I cannot use my own mobile device - 0%
  • Lack of reliable technology support - 0%
  • Lack of support from administrators - 0%
  • School filters or firewalls block websites I need - 0%
  • Technology that is available to me is outdated - 0%
  • There are policies that restrict my access to social media tools - 0%
Looking at all of the the results from this year's Speak Up survey it is amazing how far we have come in such a short amount of time. Two years ago we didn't have wireless, Google Apps was completely new and yet to be launched with students. We didn't have an iPad cart and had not even heard of a Chromebook. VLA was still ILP and much of the student work was paper-based. On my first day at Natomas Charter School in May, 2012 we struggled just to get YouTube or Amazon and had to use KeepVid to download videos at home.

The feedback from the Natomas Charter School community really shows that we are on the right track and continuing to build the 21st Century Learning Platform to engage all students in meaningful work. It's definitely exciting times at an exciting school.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Speak Up Survey 2013 - Parent Voices

Yesterday I shared the student results from our 2013 Speak Up survey. Reviewing the data I noticed ten trends that were very similar to the findings published in THE Journal utilizing national data. If you haven't read what the students had to say, I would suggest starting out with that post.

The Speak Up Survey also contains separate sets of questions around similar topics for parents and teachers. We had parents from all five academies complete this year's survey and the results are equally interesting. Feel free to examine the full set of data here (NCS Staff), however below are some trends that are closely related to the ones identified in the student data.

1. Getting Online at Home
The families who completed the survey overwhelmingly reported being connected at home. 88% reported owning a smartphone and 85% reported owning a laptop. Nearly everyone (96%) described having a "fast" broadband Internet connection. Since this survey is taken online, this data might be a bit skewed. However, it is very similar to what the students (who completed the survey at school) reported. Connectivity is so important that when asked if they would be willing to pay up to $0.50 more each month on their phone bill to increase school access to the Internet 70% responded with strongly or somewhat agree.

Recognizing that many of their children already have Internet-capable devices, parents expressed high levels of support for BYOD (bring your own device) programs. 84% said that they would be very or somewhat likely to purchase a device for their child to use at school if the school had a BYOD policy. Additionally, when asked "If your child could attend two comparable classes where one teacher allowed BYOD and the other one did not" 67% reported that it would be very or somewhat likely they would want their child in the BYOD class.

3. Communication Preferences
Families completing the survey also expressed some definite preferences for communicating with teachers and administrators. Personal emails were the most preferred method (95%), followed by face-to-face meetings (55%), and text messages (45%). Automated phone messages scored fairly low (23%), so to me this data signified the importance of tools like Remind101 and Boomerang for Gmail. Many families shared that the maintain social networking profiles (61%), so tools such as Facebook and Twitter might also be powerful means for communicating with parents.

4. Technology's Potential
Throughout the survey parents repeatedly expressed the importance of technology as a fundamental component for student learning. 93% described effective technology implementation within instruction as extremely important or important. Parents also described many benefits to using digital tools for learning including access to online textbooks (75%), ability to review materials outside of school (72%), and more effective teacher-parent communications (67%). When asked to recommend good technology investments to enhance student achievement parents identified adaptive learning software (63%), digital audio and video creation tools (59%), and educational apps such as graphing calculators and translator apps (53%) as areas of interest. While families recognize the potential for technology to support student learning, they also expressed some concerns for their child's Internet use at school or home including cyberbullying (65%), online strangers (68%), sharing too much personal information online (67%), and too much time spent looking at a computer screen (71%). This data really highlights the importance of balance and digital citizenship lessons woven into all classes every year with support materials for families to use at home.

5. Online Learning
Similar to their students parents expressed a strong interest in online learning. 86% of the parents have taken online classes themselves either as part of a college program, to build their own skills, or to explore a personal interest or hobby. 52% of the respondents have taken an online class through their work or job. Additionally, parents identified certain benefits to enrolling their child into an online class including ability to to review material anytime (72%), ability to work at his/her pace (75%), obtain college credit (59%), and take a class not offered at school (65%).

6. College & Career Readiness
When asked about which skills their child would need to be college and career ready, the parents highlighted many the same skills students reported having support for at school including working with diverse people (83%), creative thinking (85%), critical thinking and problem solving (92%), teamwork (79%), effective written (80%) and public speaking (75%), and technology skills (90%). Parents did report one area - financial literacy (78%), which students stated in their survey we did not support. This might be one area where we could grow a bit as a school.

7. Common Core
Since school are in the midst of implementing the Common Core Standards and the Smarter Balanced Assessment is right around the corner, the Speak Up survey asked parents about their level of familiarity with the Common Core Standards. Most of our families reported moderate (30%), minimum (38%), or limited (22%) levels of familiarity. Teachers (28%), principals (18%), and online news (21%) were the greatest sources of information. This data indicates that as we more fully understand SBAC and CCSS we will need to continue to reach out to families to help them understand the changing standards as well.

As I shared at the beginning of this post these are just some of the trends I noticed. Feel free to click here to look at the full spreadsheet. Overall, I think the results really show that we are moving in the right direction when it comes to technology at Natomas Charter School. We certainly have a few places where we can grow, but our families agree that technology is a critical piece to educating children in the 21st Century.


Monday, February 10, 2014

Speak Up Survey 2013 - Student Voices

This year our students, teachers, parents, and administrators participated in Project Tomorrow's national Speak Up Survey. Each year Project Tomorrow polls hundreds of thousands of individuals to identify trends in education technology. Speak Up also provides individual schools and districts access to their data for use in planning their own technology infrastructure and long-term goals.

Last week THE Journal published an article on trends in the national data. After reading the article, I was curious how we compared and identified ten trends based on upon the feedback from middle and high school students.

1. Access - Online and BYOD
Similar to last year's results the vast majority of our students are connected online and many are bringing their own devices. 92% of our high school students and 79% of our middle school students reported having computers at home with "fast" Internet, while 2% of high schoolers and 17% of middle schoolers use "slow" (likely dial-up or slow broadband) connections. Many of our students are bringing their devices to school. Smartphones are the most common (41% for middle school and 62% for high school), followed by laptops (11% for middle school, 34% for high school), and tablets (11% for middle school, 20% for high school). Interestingly, in many cases students reporting having devices, but they did not bring them to school. For example, all of the high school students who completed the survey reported having a smartphone and 63% reported having a laptop. 

2. Thoughtful about Digital Footprints
I think every adult worries about what kids are posting online. Are they creating a positive digital footprint or harming their reputation for life? Fortunately, so too are our students. The vast majority of NCS students (82% for middle school and 92% for high school) reported being careful about what they post online and many (49% for middle school and 61% for high school) have advised friends not to post inappropriate content. 64% of middle school students and 76% of high school students stated that they know how to be safe and protect themselves when online. Additionally, they recognize the value of a positive digital footprint with 63% of high school students and 58% of middle school students reporting the importance of a positive online profile. In nearly every statistic for this area of questioning our students were 20-30% above the national average.

3. Desire for Online Learning
With the rise of blended and online learning programs Project Tomorrow asked students about their feelings regarding online education. 61% of our middle school students and 81% of our high school students reported that they are either interested in taking an online course or are already enrolled in one either for academic goals or for personal learning. The top three reasons for wanting to take an online class for both groups were - "Class could better fit my schedule," "I could earn college credit," "I would be in control of my own learning." Middle school students cited an interest in taking math, computer science, and world language online classes, while high school students were interested in online classes for computer science, world language, and college prep skills.

4. Use of Video for School Work
Students widely reported that video is increasingly becoming one of their key learning tools. 49% of middle schoolers and 58% of high schoolers reported watching videos they found online as a regular part of doing schoolwork. Similarly teacher-produced videos, such as screencasts, are also resources commonly used - 54% of middle school students and 64% of high school students.

5. It's All About Laptops & Smartphones
The survey has multiple places where students identify the types of tools they are using or would like to use, so it is a bit challenging to pull out exact numbers. However, they repeatedly shared that they really only use two types of devices - smartphones and laptops. Smartphones are primarily used to communicate with friends and check grades, while laptops are used for writing, creating videos, collaborating on projects, and communicating with teachers. Tablets and digital readers are used by students, but in much smaller amounts.

6. Building the Ultimate School
As part of the survey students were asked a series of questions where they designed the ultimate school. The top three components for both groups were anywhere/anytime Internet access (92% high school, 85% middle school), use of personal mobile devices at school (82% high school, 76% middle school), and high speed color printers (79% high school, 74% middle school). A close fourth was the desire for every student to have a laptop to use at school (68% high school, 77% middle school). The students also mentioned that our current school Internet connection was way too slow (43% high school, 25% middle school), so would like faster Internet in their ultimate school.

7. Communication & Collaboration
In multiple places in the survey our students reported using technology often for communication and collaboration. When asked about the types of writing they did online students commonly mentioned blogging (23% high school, 32% middle school), creative writing or journaling (40% high school, 53% middle school), essays for school (90% high school, 78% middle school), and creating text for websites (23% high school, 31% middle school).  Both middle and high school students reported using social media tools (78% high school, 50% middle school) and text messaging (83% high school, 65% middle school) as resources for communicating with each other. Some students also reported seeking out schoolwork assistance from other students through social media (43% high school, 16% middle school).

8. Gaming for Learning
As is no surprise to a secondary teacher, many students reported that video games are part of their daily lives. As a matter of fact 22% of high schoolers and 26% of middle schoolers identified video game consoles as their main method of accessing the Internet at home. Throughout the survey students indicated that games were a tool they thought teachers could use to enhance their learning. 26% of high schoolers and 55% of middle schoolers reported seeking out educational games to learn more about content in class. Some of their reasons for seeking out games included "Games make it easier to understand difficult concepts" (35% high school, 62% middle school), "I would be more engaged in the subject" (53% high school, 54% middle school), and "The game would adapt to what I know and make it harder or easier for me" (43% high school, 43% middle school).

9. College & Career Readiness
The survey contained questions were students were asked about college and career readiness and their interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers. 68% of high schoolers and 73% of middle schoolers expressed interest in pursuing these types of careers. Overall, they felt that Natomas Charter School was preparing them for the future (see #10), but had some suggestions for how we could improve college and career readiness. The top four suggestions were "Allow us to take field trips to visit companies and meet successful role models" (61% high school, 69% middle school), "Provide information about summer or part-time jobs or internships in my field" (58% high school, 52% middle school), "Have programs during the school day about future careers" (55% high school, 52% middle school), and "Let career professionals teach lessons at school (50% high school, 50% middle school). High school students were also interested in working with mentors who can assist with career and college planning (53%).

10. Supportive Environments, Worried About the Future
As I mentioned in #9, overall the students felt they were being prepared for their future college and career goals. When asked which types of workplace skills they were learning through school our students reported above-national-average preparedness in every category. A few strong ones included "creative thinking" (88% high school, 79% middle school), "critical thinking and problem solving skills" (83% high school, 74% middle school), "working with diverse groups of individuals" (90% high school, 72% middle school), and "teamwork and collaboration skills" (73% high school, 77% middle school). A few areas where they suggested we could grow are "financial literacy," "understanding of civics and community responsibility," and in middle school "ability to communicate in more than one language." Many of our students reported having supportive teachers and families who were involved in their education and knew that they could do well. While our students do feel that they are being prepared for the future, they indicated that they are worried about what that future may actually be (63% high school, 31% middle school). What I found a little concerning is that in both grade spans students were more worried that the national average (by almost 30% in the case of high school). This may be related to the effects of the local economic recession over the past few years.

These are just ten trends I noticed looking through the data. The survey itself has even more information. Next week I'll post and analysis of the trends identified by teachers, parents, and administrators. In the meantime if you are interested click here (NCS Staff) to download a spreadsheet of our results.

In closing I will leave you with one last statistic that might remind us that digital is not always better. While it is easy to assume that our students always prefer digital tools reading through these results, they still sometimes prefer more traditional tools. For example, only 18% of high schoolers and 32% of middle schoolers reported a preference for reading digital books over printed book.