Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Clarifying the Vision of the Waukesha One Theory of Action

Waukesha One is wrapping up its fourth year in our Wave One schools (the first iPads were introduced in these schools in Fall 2013).  Notable changes in teaching, learning and technology use are visible across our district since the devices were first introduced.

The Waukesha One SAIL Team has re-convened this year to explore the vision of Waukesha One moving forward, and to engage in the same long-term strategic planning work that was done before the iPads first arrived in our district. The Waukesha One Theory of Action has recently been published. This guide/post is intended to provide leaders and staff members with a rationale for the decisions made by the Waukesha One SAIL Team in developing the Theory of Action.

Exploring the Theory of Action

IF SDW staff are committed to transforming teaching and learning through the use of technology THEN learners will be exposed to engaging and meaningful learning opportunities that positively impact their achievement, teach them to utilize technology in productive and creative ways, and prepare them for college, career, and life.

There is a strong research base that describes how technology strengthens student engagement. We know that engagement is one of the key factors connected to student achievement.  If staff can utilize technology to transform teaching and learning to increasingly engage students, an opportunity exists where students may learn more and learn more meaningfully. 

Additionally, there is no shortage of ways to prove that technology is having a considerable impact on every aspect of our lives, from school, to work, to our interactions with family, friends, and strangers. Yet, we know from observation, from experience, and from working with students that using technology to be productive, collaborative, and creative is not something students know how to do inherently. It has to be taught and practiced, and educators can teach this to students (and give students opportunities to practice) when they make technology use a central part of their instructional plans.

IF we proactively communicate both why and how technology use will benefit students THEN all stakeholders can clearly understand the purpose and value of technology in teaching and learning.

The decision to integrate technology within our educational system is not a decision that is made without serious consideration of the purpose and value that technology can add to instruction. When stakeholders (parents, students, educators, leaders, and community members) understand the rationale, purpose, and how technology can be utilized to allow all learners to demonstrate what they know, there can be a more genuine acknowledgement of the goals. This will often lead to more genuine adoption of the tools and more meaningful use of the tools for the benefit of our students. This is best accomplished through clear and consistent communication with all stakeholders focused on these topics. That clear, concise, and consistent communication will increasingly shift the disposition of all stakeholders to better understand, support, and utilize technology for teaching and learning purposes.

IF we provide high quality, focused, and flexible professional development aligned to the site's high leverage practices THEN all staff can develop a clear understanding for how they will utilize, plan, and implement technology to transform teaching and learning.

A significant shift across our district is our collective disposition toward the integration of technology in teaching and learning. Leaders, teachers, students, and families are increasingly seeing that technology is a tool that makes incredible opportunities possible for students. This awareness and acceptance of technology stems from our personal experiences with technology, but it also is promoted when we learn from others who have had positive experiences using technology. The disconnect we sometimes experience, though, is when the technology is viewed as "another thing" teachers and students need to do. Within our SAIL planning processes across the district, we must marry the highest leverage strategies that are to be used in each building with the technology that can support, benefit, or improve these strategies.  We then need to provide high quality, focused, and flexible professional learning opportunities so staff can learn from others, sense their genuine sentiment about the benefit the technology has provided, and then determine how they will personally transfer their learning about the tools to their classroom practice utilizing the tools.

We hope this overview helps to provide some depth of understanding around the decision-making and conversations that took place as the Waukesha One Theory of Action was developed by the Waukesha One SAIL Committee.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Keep It Easy: Linking to Google Classroom Assignments in Blackboard

Google Classroom simplifies so many tasks for teachers and students in a 1:1 classroom. It immediately saves teachers time and headaches in all that it does to support digital teaching and learning.

Using Blackboard simplifies for parents, students, and teachers where content, announcements, and coursework is located. One web address can takes everybody to exactly the courses and information they are looking for related to school.

These two tools can work in compliment of each other, and today's shortcut makes it EVEN EASIER for students to navigate between Blackboard and Google Classroom.

Placing a Link to Google Classroom Assignment in Blackboard

In order to collect digital work from students in Google Classroom, teachers must first create assignments (tutorial available here). Once they have that assignment created, some teachers wonder, "How do I get my students to this assignment in Google Classroom from Blackboard?"

Good news!  Google Classroom makes this very easy for teachers.

In Blackboard:

Use either the Web Link or Item tools. Both will work and it depends on which you prefer to use for creating links in Blackboard.

In Classroom:

In another window or tab on your browser open Google Classroom.  
  1. Identify the assignment you wish to link into Blackboard.
  2. Click the three dots located in the upper right of the assignment
  3. Click "Copy Link" from the drop-down menu that appears

This will copy the link to this specific Google Classroom assignment to your clipboard.

Back In Blackboard:

Use either right click or Command+V (Control+V on a PC) to paste the Google Classroom assignment link right into your Web Link or Item in Blackboard.  Then add any other information to your Web Link or Item, and click "Submit" to save it in Blackboard.

Now, when your students come to the assignment in your Blackboard course, they can click on the link and it will open the assignment in Google Classroom (and yes, it works on an iPad well, opening in the Google Classroom app).

This is a wonderful way to keep Blackboard your primary "launch point" for students (and parents/guardians) and still get all of the functionality and use out of Google Classroom.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Google Classroom: A Tool to Aid the Digital Workflow with Google Apps

[Update as of June 6, 2017. Post originally published on August 30, 2015.]

If you have said to yourself at least once in the past year, "There has to be an easier way to assign work to students and collect work from students digitally," then Google Classroom is likely the tool of which you have dreamed.

Starting this school year, staff members in the School District of Waukesha will be able to utilize Google Classroom to communicate with students, to assign work and resources to students, to collect that completed work from students, and to easily manage and access assignments submitted to them via Google Drive.

Google Classroom is functioning today and ready for use.  The learning curve is not very steep on this tool and most teachers will find themselves up and running in no time.  Unfortunately, Google Classroom is limited in what it can do, but what it does for teachers it does very well.

With that said, we do want to make one very clear point.  Google Classroom is amazing and powerful, but it is NOT a replacement for Blackboard.  Google Classroom is good for communicating with students and for organizing the digital workflow of handing out docs/sheets/slides from Google Apps (and collecting them).  Google Classroom is not good for organizing and presenting information to students in a lesson format.  It is also cumbersome to enroll parents into Google Classroom

For this reason, Google Classroom does NOT replace Blackboard.  Blackboard is still our primary learning management system. Staff should still initially post resources and information in Blackboard, and then link out to Google Classroom as necessary.

Resources for Learning to Use Google Classroom

There are plenty of resources out there to help staff members learn to use Google Classroom.  Here are the two most notable resources, though, to help you to get started.

This resource from Google is an excellent (and constantly updated) text tutorial.  It is well organized and makes it easy to find the answers you seek.

Video tutorials hand-selected (and created) to assist you in learning about and setting up your Google Classroom courses are available.  These videos are custom tailored (in many cases) to provide information relevant to SDW staff.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Growth Takes a Vision

My wife is an enthusiastic gardener. I am happily her helper! Each year, in April, the plans she has
cultivated in her head start springing into action at our house. The pots are placed, the garden is tilled, seeds move from their position on the map to their position in the ground. And things start to grow. And once they begin to grow, the whole family gets excited and eagerly joins in the process of garden. But, gardens don't grow without the vision of a gardener.

 That formula for growth carries into our schools and classrooms! Each of us has an opportunity each year to foster growth of some kind. For leaders that growth might be watching a specific practice take shape in learning spaces across the building. For educators, that may be honing a skill, perfecting a practice, or developing a mindset that will positively impact learners.

A Team with a Vision

One example of growth that stemmed from setting a clear vision is work happening at Horning Middle School this year. (I am highlighting Horning because it is a school I am closely connected with; I know that there are many similar examples across the district.)

Horning saw a change in leadership this year. For many schools surviving that level of change and coming out the other end of the school year would be growth enough. However, in addition to that, through the SAIL process Horning identified several key high leverage practices. I'll highlight one of those: a focus on Blackboard (our learning management system in Waukesha).

The SAIL team identified in their vision that Blackboard was a key tool that will help move other work forward at Horning in the future. Part of the vision for Horning was set. And this was a new direction for Horning, not part of a previous vision. Everything from that point forward centered around that vision. From leadership team discussions and planning meetings to Vanguard conversations and focused professional learning, the vision developed into a plan and clear action steps.

Has it worked? Are we seeing growth? Well, let's take a look at the numbers.

Growth in the Staff Technology Profile Survey Results at Horning

Below is a summary for the District Staff Technology Survey results at Horning. We have given this survey since Fall 2012, allowing us to view change over time. To evaluate results, we look at positive responses of Agree and Strongly Agree, summing those responses. To give us a general temperature on the non-positive responses, we also like to identify what percentage of staff gave the least  positive response possible (Strongly Disagree).

In just one semester of focused professional learning around Blackboard use (in early stages of learning for most staff members), Horning witnessed a 7% gain in positive responses from last spring. Additionally, we saw a drop of 9% in the Strongly Disagree response, meaning perspectives of staff members have shifted. We also know that many professionals in our district have established a preference for using Google Apps for their professional collaboration, so that does skew this data point some.
Staff member's comfort in their ability to post resources to Blackboard grew by 14% since last spring (spring data is typically marked as our growth data for this survey). Just as important, though, is the reduction of Strongly Disagree responses by 18% (from 36% to 18%). This shows a significant shift in the staff's comfort with the tool, and that was the focal point of the professional development plan at Horning around Blackboard.
This data is a surprising data point, but encouraging. The Horning staff is not yet expected to actively use Blackboard with students. Despite this, the hard work the staff is doing in learning to use Blackboard is also impacting their understanding of how Blackboard can favorably enhance instruction for their students. While we did not expect to see this growth, it points to the reality that educators are always making connections between what they know how to use and what those tools can do for the learners.

Vision and Growth Build Enthusiasm

Once those first vegetables start showing up in our garden, suddenly our daughters start becoming eager helpers. Growth builds enthusiasm for those who may not hold the initial vision/passion.

The hard work the Horning staff has done to dig in and learn how to meaningfully use Blackboard has been obvious all semester. The shift in perceptions about Blackboard (highlighted in the data above) is truly palpable when you talk with educators across the building. And that has led to some really thoughtful, deep, and innovative conversations around how the tool could be leveraged to promote learning at Horning. New ideas are popping up thinking about how Blackboard might have a positive impact on students, on families, on PLCs, and even on organizations/clubs. This is evidence that vision and growth help to build enthusiasm and contribute to the momentum that makes meaningful shifts happen. (It is also clear evidence that the staff at Horning is incredibly hard-working and dedicated to their learners.)

Do you have a vision yet for how technology will meaningfully impact your high leverage strategies, building culture, or engagement and opportunities for learners? With the summer SAIL work around the corner, now is the time to start thinking about what that vision is so you can begin planning today to witness the growth you want to see.