Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Times They Are a'Changing

We do not spend enough time appreciating the progress we have made as a system in regard to our adoption of technology to increase efficiency, collaboration, and creativity.

This morning I was able to step back and reflect upon this at Hadfield Elementary at a morning staff meeting that took place.  If you do not already know, Hadfield was a Wave 5 Waukesha One school and students received their devices just a few months ago.

These observations tell the story of our technological evolution in Waukesha.

Collaboratively Created Docs and Presentations (Google Apps for Education)
  • Each member of the school leadership team was actively involved in creating the quarterly presentation using Google Sheets, Google Docs, and Google Slides.  As they presented the data to the staff, it was clear that a lot of work had gone into the presentation, but it was also clear that different members of the team made contributions to the presentation. From experience working with the team, I know that different members were able to create different elements that went into the presentation at different times without having to sit around the same table at the same time.
  • The second team to present created a Google Slides template that was shared with other staff to aide in their PLC work. This was a professionally courteous act that demonstrates a collaborative mindset. It also increases efficiency and saves time for other staff members, something we can all appreciate.

Distribution of Information (Google Apps for Education)
  • The leadership team shared the presentation and informational resources suggested in the presentation with staff for further perusal following the meeting. While we take sharing of information for granted these days (we live in a "Google Apps" world where everybody is sharing resources with others regularly), the transparency that stems from that level of sharing sends a message that all of our "cards" are on the table and we are working collectively toward a common goal.
Mobile Presenters (Presenting from iPad)
  • As the main presenters shared in the delivery of key messages this morning, they presented from an iPad. This allowed each presenter to move around with ease, walking through the audience/staff as they shared key messages. They were not anchored to the wall, tethered to a short cable.  They were not stepping back to the main desktop computer to nudge the presentation forward. As new presenters stepped forward, a simple passing of the iPad allowed for a seamless transition in topics.
Switching Displays with AppleTV/Airplay (Apple TV, iPad, and Mac)
  • As a new group of staff members stepped forward to present, the transition was not accompanied by an awkwardly coordinated transition that took a few minutes as cables were unplugged or presentation files were shared. With the simplicity of two clicks, one presenter was able to log off of the Apple TV, another presenter was able to log on, and the transition in topics was complete. This group was using a different device (a MacBook) and they were able to center that device in front of the group to give them the same mobility and presence the first group of presenters enjoyed.
SAMR as a Language for Meaningful Use of Technology (SAMR)
  • Presenters shared walkthrough data on the quality of technology use to support instruction as a part of the morning meeting based upon their observations. The SAMR framework was the foundation of this conversation and the staff and administrative team had a common ground to talk not just about what tools were being used but also HOW those tools were being used to impact instruction. #EDUWIN
High Leverage Teaching Practices: There's an App for That (Core Apps)
  • As two of the staff presenters gave examples to make a point, they identified both an instructional practice AND an app that was supporting that instructional practice.  For instance, not only did the kindergarten team identify a need to focus on "sight words" but they also pointed out that they were using Book Creator, a core app in our district, to exhibit those sight words to students. This is a significant shift from discussions about amazing apps to discussions about essential, high leverage practices that rely upon the use of technology.

Sometimes we need to be reminded how far we have come. The continued growth of our leaders and staff members to find ways technology can support our essential work is evidenced daily throughout our system. That movement must be applauded! Thank you for your individual commitment to evolve our work and practices to embrace the use of technology. 

Through this work (as the professionals in our building embrace a growth mindset), our environment is continually shifting to reflect the world students will encounter when they leave our schools, better preparing them to be productive, responsible, engaged learners and citizens for the rest of their lives.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Bringing It Back: Key lessons shared by attendees of the 2016 Midwest Google Summit

If you read nothing else in this post, hear this point loud and clear!

Many teachers across the School District of Waukesha are on the leading edge when it comes to finding ways to enhance teaching and learning through the use of technology.

From conversations with the SDW attendees of this year's Spring 2016 Midwest Google Summit, it was clear that many of the "new" tools and ideas presented at the conference had already taken hold in many of our classrooms. In fact, many of the lessons, tips, and tools shared by conference presenters are so much a part of the teaching and learning across Waukesha classrooms that SDW teachers were able to share unique perspectives and practical tips with presenters and other attendees on how to use the tools.  Impressive!

With that said, there is still so much value in hearing how other educators in other districts use these tools to support student learning. While our attendees had the privilege of going to the conference, we are determined to share some of our favorite tools and take-aways with our colleagues across the district.

To achieve this the team has put together a short video highlighting some of the key tips, tools, and take-aways from the Google Summit.  Enjoy!

(As always, if you'd like additional resources to learn about ANY of these tools or topics, feel free to connect with the Instructional Technology Coordinator team for support.)

Also, check out the presenters' resources from the conference here. You will have access to the same presentations and links shared in many of the sessions.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Tips to Improve Wireless in Your Classroom

In the past few years the wireless network across the School District of Waukesha has become one of the most robust, fastest, and most reliable networks of any school in the state.

You may not know his name. You may not have met him yet. However, there is one person who has been particularly important to planning, building and managing the wireless infrastructure across our district.

His name is Mike Garb and if you have questions about wireless, he's the go-to-guy in Waukesha.

Not only does Mike understand the intricacies of the wireless network, but he also understands how we, as teachers and students, are using the wireless network to support teaching and learning in our system.

Understanding Wireless Traffic

Most of us take little interest in how the movies, songs, and data that we want to see on our devices arrives there until we struggle to get the data on our device, or our lesson is disrupted because students can't get the data on their devices. Then we wonder, "Why can't somebody make our Internet more reliable here?"

Mike's been on it. However, given his best efforts, there are limits to what the wireless technology can actually do (even the most expensive equipment faces these limits). And that's where we come in. With some slight shifts in the way we interact with wireless, we can have the preferred outcome of a consistently reliable Internet connection in our classroom.

You don't need Mike's level of expertise to understand wireless.  Maybe you have seen this commercial. As you watch it, think about what happens in your classroom when you say, "Okay, I want everybody to click on the YouTube video and watch it." This will give you some perspective of what the student devices are doing via the wireless network.

Here is the important part to understand.  

With the work that has been done to district wireless in the past few years, our district is already offering the bigger door (seen later in the video). Yet we are still having some "piling up" of traffic on the network from time to time. This is similar to trying to get cell service at a crowded event, such as a festival or fair, where larger data networks ("doors") are available, yet so many people are attempting to use the service at the same time.

The difference in our system, though, is that we can create conditions for greater wireless success based on how we instruct and direct students.  Here are a few tips.

Tips for Improving Wireless Connections in Classrooms

1. Vary times at which you direct specific groups of students to explore online resources
  • "Ready, set, search" instruction is going to lead to wireless traffic pile-ups (similar to what happens in the video above). Instead of unleashing all of your students at once, split them into instructional groups. A face-to-face mini-lesson with one group that doesn't require the Internet with one group, while another group is working on a task or collaborating with peers, allows for another group to explore self-paced resources online.

    This is an instructionally appropriate way to personalize instruction and will lead to fewer "pile-ups" as students are using the network for instructional purposes. You have effectively cut your wireless traffic by half while employing an instructional best practice. That's a win-win in our book!

2. Downgrade the viewing quality of streaming videos (YouTube videos and other services)
    Using the YouTube app on the iPad, click on the three vertical dots button,
    click on the gear "Quality" icon, and select the lowest available number to
    reduce the quality of streaming videos in YouTube.
  • If only so much data can fit through the "door" of a wireless connection, then another way to allow more to fit is to "slim down" the size of the data.  Video requires a lot of data; high quality HD video requires a lot more data. Simply reducing the viewing quality of videos can cut the size of the videos down and make more room for other students to access their online resources.

    Instructing your students to view their streaming videos at a lower viewing quality is one way to improve the wireless access in your classroom. Encourage students to use this digital courtesy whenever they are on a public wireless network.
3. Disconnect and re-connect from the wireless network
Tap the wireless icon once to turn off the connection, then once more
to turn the wireless connection back on. Your connection is now reset.
  • iPads are REALLY good at holding onto their wireless connections. In fact, as you move from one room to another adjacent room, there is a chance that your iPad is still talking to the wireless access point (those white boxes on the ceiling with blue and green lights) a room or two over. The trouble is the iPad is holding on to a weaker wireless signal when they could get a stronger wireless signal. To "trick" your iPad into grabbing the new, stronger wireless signal, instruct students to turn off and then turn back on their iPad wireless connection.

    This can be achieved very easily simply by sliding up on the bottom of the iPad (the same slide up gesture used for AirPlay or AirDrop), tapping the wireless icon to turn off wireless, and then tapping the wireless icon again to turn it back on. No need to wait more than a few seconds before turning wireless back on. This simple step will reset your wireless connection.
4. No cell phones, please!
  • They may be out of sight, but they are not necessarily offline. Other devices in the room, such as student or staff cell phones, may be connecting to the wireless network through the same access point used by all other devices in the room if they are connected to the SDW_Guest network. Ask students to turn off the wireless connection on their personal devices as well as a courtesy to others.
5. Report details when wireless problems arise

  • Despite our best efforts, wireless issues will arise. However, support staff in the SDW Technology Department want to know so they can resolve these issues. You can aid them in this (and often speed up the resolution time) by collecting and reporting some key information:
    • The exact time (a window of 20 to 30 minutes or less) the issue was experienced
    • The exact location (what building and room were you in when this happened)
    • The exact device(s) that experienced this issue (if many, then collect just a few) -- collect identifying information, such as the asset tag (sticker on the device), the name of the device (found in Settings --> General --> About), or the serial number of the device
    • General ida of what others in the room were doing at the same time