Tuesday, April 23, 2013

What Could Waukesha One Look Like in Your Classroom?

One of the most difficult positions anybody can be in is to be asked to do something entirely new without being able to visualize or imagine what it is he or she is being asked to do.

Waukesha One, with an emphasis on personalized learning, readily accessible technology for students and teachers, new workflows for assigning, distributing, and collecting student work, multiple pathways to demonstrate learning outcomes, and the lot of other concepts it embodies, is a distinctly different educational system and experience than anything most adults (and older students) have ever experienced in our lives.  For us, the traditional (or legacy) educational system has become so deeply ingrained in our very fabric that we struggle to imagine something different.  And if we can imagine it, we wonder about its impact on kids, its overall effectiveness, and its legitimacy.

As we stumble upon living examples of new educational paradigms, our goal will be to share them.  For many of us, the emphasis has to be on creating a new vision of what is possible in an educational setting before we can begin to plan for or implement it.

This video, from the Alliance for Excellent Education, posted on  February 13, 2012, begins to frame a legitimate, well examined version of what educational practice can look like as we begin to embrace the digital resources and instructional tools and practices that are available to us today.  Your thoughts and comments are welcomed!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Your Actions Matter (especially when it comes to Internet bandwidth use)

It is easy to forget the irritating little pains of the past.  Most of us have LONG forgotten the dreadfully slow Internet access that was experienced district wide near the conclusion of the 2012-13 school year. Painstakingly slow connections that made viewing instructional videos nearly impossible, halted some of our virtual academy students school work in its tracks, and wasted precious instructional minutes.  With our robust new Internet connection in the School District of Waukesha, we seem to have MORE THAN ENOUGH bandwidth to go around this year.  Right?

This is just a reminder that your actions as a classroom teacher, as a supervising staff member, as a member of our professional community, matter.  We model for kids.  Kids watch us closely.  Just as we teach them with our words, we teach them with our actions, as well as our inability to act when we should.  With that said, the example below is just one example of a way in which we can all set a better example for students.

We all know that the college basketball event known as "March Madness" can be a lot of fun.  This year's March Madness was even more special with Marquette and UW-Madison making it to the tournament.  As seems to be the case every March, a dedicated few sports fans seem to find ways to keep tabs on the game in a wide variety of ways.   While it is ultimately harmless fun (that can seem almost necessary by that point in the school year), what we often fail to see is the impact that Internet use has on those around us (across the entire school district).

The graph below demonstrates the bandwidth consumed in the School District of Waukesha during the time the first round of the 2013 NCAA Basketball Tournament was being played.  The red arrows and vertical red lines on the graph indicate the beginning and end of the basketball game played on that day.

Points worthy of noting:

  • The bandwidth consumed in the final moments of the game is more than 10x the TOTAL bandwidth AVAILABLE in the district during the last school year
  • Though our bandwidth use in general is about 4x higher this year than last year (a sign that our educational use of the Internet is far greater than what was even available last year), during the game our bandwidth use jumped substantially, and then returned to normal levels following the conclusion of the game (indicating an excessive amount of viewership for some event that happened within that time period...see if you can determine what it might be)
  • Almost all of the traffic reported came from two sources, both of which were broadcasting the NCAA tournament at that time.
  • 2 - 3 times the normal Internet traffic consumed during this period was streamed to about 130 users across the district -- that is approximately only 1-2% of our total number of users across the district
  • Despite our incredible 1 Gig connection (an incredibly robust infrastructure in any school district), we topped out our usage.  This is same situation that took place near the mid to end of last year that caused the haltingly slow Internet speeds across the district.
While it is easy to track these stats on a day when we can predict additional bandwidth usage, such as during March Madness, the reality is that many of us have daily Internet use habits that chew away at the bandwidth intended for meaningful teaching and learning.  Whether that is having Pandora or iHeartRadio streaming all day in the background, watching Netflix or YouTube, maintaining constantly open windows with Tumblr, Facebook, and other services, or using the network for a wide variety of other uses not focused on education, the reality is the same -- your actions on our network impact others directly.  

As we gear up for Waukesha One, which will see a major influx of devices hitting our Internet connection, it becomes even more important for us to set a good example for students.  Asking a student to turn off a gaming site or a streaming radio station is much easier when we avoid using similar services ourself.  Instructing a student to turn off his/her sporting or gaming event of choice is a more clear cut conversation when we have resisted the temptation to turn on that March Madness game while at school.  This conversation will become even more relevant as we see our regular use of the Internet grow significantly as we make a change to more digitally focused teaching and learning.

All Internet use contributes to our overall bandwidth consumption! Overusing our Internet resources for non-educational purposes ultimately slows down the access for all -- including for teaching and learning.  Set a good example.  Help your kids see why educationally relevant use of the Internet matters at school.  Protect one of our most valuable resources!  

Middle and High School Students Hanging Out... During the School Day

Waukesha West sophomores share in a literary mini-lesson with students
from STEM-Saratoga.  Their teachers, Fred Jonas, Beth Wartzenluft, and
Luke Christianson, organized the meeting using Google Hangout.
Last Friday (April 19), sophomores from Waukesha West and eighth graders from STEM-Saratoga joined together for a short mini-lesson focused on the analytical questions a reader asks when they read.  They did so without incurring bus travel costs, requiring field trip permission forms, or causing unnecessary stress for their teachers related to the appropriateness of their behavior.

Teachers Fred Jonas, Luke Christianson, and Beth Wartzenluft have developed a collaborative relationship that joins their students in the pursuit of developing strategies for meaningfully reading and analyzing text.  Each teachers emphasizes similar learning targets (properly scaled to the needs of their grade level) in their instruction, and they use that foundation to develop a working relationship between their collective students.

Through the power of Google Hangouts, a web conferencing tool that is part of Google+ (available for staff in Waukesha (@waukesha.k12.wi.us), but not available for students in Waukesha (@stu.waukesha.k12.wi.us)), the teachers bridged the gap of physical space to join their classes for a 15 minute collaborative mini-lesson.  Using on-board web cameras and microphones built into their laptops, the teachers planned a common meeting time and prepared students for the call.  Observing sophomore reactions to the web conference, the novelty of connecting with their younger peers captured the students' attention throughout the lesson.

The most important takeaway from the experience, though, was the simplicity with which the tools allowed the teachers and students to connect.  The meeting, which traditionally would have been an  logistical and financial headache to organize, actually took place because the technology made meeting efficient, unique, and effective.

Talking with Fred Jonas following the conference, he was inspired by the ease of use.  As Jonas stated, "When the technology makes moments like these happen, I'm all in."

Monday, April 15, 2013

Waukesha One: Moving Forward

After nearly two years of thoughtful consideration and planning by a wide variety of SDW stakeholders, the School District of Waukesha School Board members demonstrated their support for Waukesha One in an 8-0 vote last week.  In the words of Board President Daniel Warren, the momentous vote marked a "new horizon" for the school district.

The plan, centered on a personalized learning environment where each student is provided with the opportunities, options, and resources to make learning a personally meaningful and satisfying venture, signals a emphasis on providing learners the educational experience they need to be academically and professionally competitive in the 21st century.  As society, business, and academia respond to the pressures of rapidly advancing technology, globalism, and immediate access to information in our lives, schools need to reconsider their role and determine a pathway to continually meet the existing and the changing needs of our students, families, and community.  The support of Waukesha One by board members signals their awareness of the need to appropriately and meaningfully adapt our educational system for the better without disturbing our very best of practices.

Waukesha One is a statement of belief and a commitment to meeting our students' needs in a rapidly changing world -- it is not a program or an initiative.  As a result, this is not a single issue reform or change.  Waukesha One is far more focused on impacting instructional practice and delivery than it is on providing devices to students.  While some aspects of Waukesha One are more notable changes than others, the most meaningful changes are those that will take place in the classroom every day between students and teachers.  These are the interactions that have mattered most to the quality of education our students receive, and they are the interactions that will continue to matter most.  While the tools and methods used in the classroom may be enhanced, the district remains focused on placing the best instructors in front of students daily.  

To highlight the diversity of factors that the School District of Waukesha has already considered in its discussions about Waukesha One, the district has published an eBook -- Waukesha One: Keys to Success.  Astute readers will note that some of the practices outlined as keys to success have been in practice for a number of years in the School District of Waukesha.  Others are practices have recently begun or will soon be in progress.  Still others are practices that will not be points of emphasis until months and years into the future of Waukesha One.  This is a mark of sustainable planning, as Waukesha One is not a program or initiative that will simply fade away.  

To view our program overview publication, Waukesha One - Keys to Success, use one of the links below.

    iBooks Version of Waukesha One - Keys to Success (formatted for reading on an iPad)
*Hint - To open in iBooks on an iPad, users should visit the link from the Safari browser (it will not open properly from Chrome browser on an iPad)

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Breaking Down the Boundaries of Classroom Walls for the Professionals

Breaking down, or stepping outside of the walls of classrooms
allows educators to improve their chosen craft of teaching by
watching other practitioners in action, reflecting, and implementing.
One of the unforeseen blessings of having an educational role such as ours, Instructional Technologies Coordinators, is the opportunity to regularly visit the classrooms of so many professional educators on a daily basis.  I regularly learn more about becoming a better educator during these visits than I could have ever learned through years of "trial and error" in my own classroom. It is one of my greatest regrets that I did not seek out more opportunities to observe the professional practice of my colleagues when I was a classroom teacher.

At Waukesha North, a healthy culture of collaboration has been embraced throughout the building.  As a key element of that, staff members are beginning to seize the opportunity to step outside of their own classrooms and to place their professional learning front and center, as they learn from their colleagues.  Calling them "learning walks" or "instructional rounds," the goal is consistently the same -- learning to improve the craft of teaching by observing, reflecting, asking questions, and implementing.

Principal Jody Landish recently published a thoughtful, sincere, inspiring post about the instructional rounds taking place at North.  Read her reflections related to the value of this level of collaboration and professional learning on her blog post - Instructional Rounds in Education -- Principal of the Purple Palace blog.