Friday, February 28, 2014

Making the Pitch

In my very first post, one of the goals I cited for The Pulse was "simply sharing the learning that our team is fortunate to experience." This week is the best example to date.

In January, we launched our application for the Digital Learning Grant - 20 awards of up to $100,000 each for districts launching 1:1's or refining their digital learning initiatives. Despite the fact that dozens of districts could not apply because of grants they have already received from our office, our 2-week window still garnered applications from an astounding 132 districts!

As our team of five pored through the plans written by nearly half of Indiana's districts, this digital movement was palpable. Schools from one end of our state to the other are connecting their learners to the world - with or without this grant.

Easily the most powerful part of the process created by Candice Dodson is The Pitch. The 33 best applicants on paper were invited to the IDOE to tout their plan in person, and for two solid days our group sat across the table from amazing leadership teams who are making digital learning happen. Colleagues in other states have tried to replicate this intense face-to-face, time-intensive process, and districts in Indiana have asked to be a 'fly on the wall' to learn from this amazing experience.

Photos by David Ryan
It is for all of these reasons that I felt compelled to share with you what I learned this week from some of Indiana's finest digital districts. Through the course of the presentations I noticed some common threads among those that were successful and I jotted them down for you along the way. I can never recreate the overwhelming passion and energy that I witnessed, but hopefully these bits of wisdom will help as you navigate your own transition to digital learning.

Lessons I learned from The Pitch:
  • Prioritize - Those who have made this leap have done so by carefully choosing where they invest their dollars. Even cash-poor districts can find money for technology if it is truly important to them. The most amazing of these have consistently done so for more than a decade.
  • Passion - Most districts who have made digital tools available have done so because they have a driving passion to provide opportunities for their students.
  • Pedagogy - The most powerful plans did not center on hardware, they focus on profoundly changing the learning tasks for students, and establishing new paradigms for teachers.
  • Progression - Going digital doesn't happen overnight or even in a few semesters. Successful districts use models like SAMR or TPACK to show teachers a slow and steady path to deeper implementation - and they keep working to get there.
  • Expectations - A digital shift cannot be accomplished unless the change is systemic, and this will be evidenced by clearly defined expectations at every level of the organization. Model districts point to ISTE standards and build these into their evaluation systems.
  • Branding - Having a "laptop initiative" is a lousy way to build momentum. Develop a brand that puts the focus on learning and invest in the communication it takes to get your community behind it.
  • Learn - Successful districts do more listening to others than talking about themselves. Shelf your district pride and be a community of learners. Visit your neighbors and connect digitally to what others are learning around you.
  • Collaborate - If your teachers aren't connected to a larger community of content curation you are simply duplicating work. Digital resources are evolving by the second - join the crowd that is bending them to the very same purposes as you.
  • Pilot - Technology implementations are meant to develop. Don't feel like the plan has to be perfect or that you can't go unless you take everyone. Find those that are eager to lead the way and build a pilot that will teach you about how this works in your environment.
  • Connect - Adding devices may bring enough flash to raise engagement for a time. The deeper gain is in connecting students to the world; genuinely engaging them with real work, real problems and real conversations.
  • Plan - If you are waiting for funding before you map out your plan, that funding will likely never come. Build the idea...paint the picture and you might be surprised who is willing to help you make it happen.
  • Begin - Finally, the thing that became most abundantly clear is that so many schools have already waited too long. Much of your competition has already strengthened their infrastructure, studied the tools, and invested in PD for digital learning. Those who continue to wait for this to be easy are not only losing the competition for grant dollars, they're likely losing the competition for students.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Power to the Students!

"All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come." - Victor Hugo
If you've been paying attention, you've seen this coming for some time now. There is a powerful shift going on in some of our schools - and outside them as well. As our students get their hands on Internet connected devices, they aren't simply able to accomplish the often menial tasks that we adults dole out to them. They also discover that they are now connected to the accumulated knowledge of the entire human race. They are also infinitely connected to one another, with unprecedented access to the simultaneous learning shared by their peers. This change has fundamentally altered the way that we learn in a digital world, and it is changing the way connected schools do business. The concept of a 'connected learner' is an idea whose time has come.

This week I saw some powerful examples of this in my visit to the leadership summit of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA).  This gathering is always a fantastic opportunity to learn from the technology leaders of each state, share the tremendous things going on here in Indiana, and also glimpse new technologies and ideas that are on the horizon. However, the annual highlight of this event is usually...the students. This year, we featured a talented group of students from Raleigh Hills K-8 School in Beaverton, Oregon. These young leaders flew across the country to Washington D. C., took the stage in front of hundreds of state and corporate leaders, and they left us in awe.
Led by a passionate technology coordinator named G. Douglas Bundy, this group of students has created StudentSource, a simple Google Site where they have accumulated games-based interactive modules and shared them in more than 5 million lessons!

As I watched their presentation, I not only marveled at the confidence of these 8th graders in front of this audience, but also wondered at the depth of their thought as they evaluated which modules would be most appropriate for their kindergarten peers. These young people, inspired by one teacher, and empowered by technology, are truly remarkable.

And yet not uncommon.

This year Oak Hill's sixth grade eLeaders presented at our state conference, as well as the conference of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Indiana also has student groups like Plymouth's eLearning Rockstars, GSHS Student Technology Corps and Madison's Digital Leadership Class who collectively hosted a Twitter chat for teachers across the state! You can find a transcript of their chat here. if you are paying attention, you see the work of these connected learners outside of school all the time! They are Super-Awesome Sylvia, and Jacob Collier. Talented kids like these are the heart of the Maker Movement and they hold immeasurable potential. More importantly they are your son and my daughter, who prove daily that they can learn to do anything from a simple YouTube video.

What truly had an impact on me was the knowledge that students just like these are sitting in our classrooms every day. Can you imagine what we would have missed if someone had simply asked these students to be quiet and finish their vocabulary list? Can you feel the deficit that occurs when we try to wall them off from tools like Google Apps or even Twitter, because a few others may abuse the privilege? At this event, Kristen Amundson, Executive Director of the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) made reference to recent news coming from very public iPad deployments where students had gone around the district firewalls. Her response was "Don't punish them, hire them!"

In light of these examples, I hope you will join me in reflecting on the work we do. Are we empowering these students to be amazing in our classrooms, or are we working to hold them back? Are we working with them to create new models, or are we still expecting them to conform to the version of school that we experienced? And when we place powerful devices in their hands, are we asking them to show us what they can do, or are we confining them to that which we know?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

eLearning Coach Community

The world continues to get smaller, and some days you can actually feel it happening.
Yesterday was one of those days.

We're nearing the end of a Connected Educator Month that has lived up to its title in the State of Indiana. Educators with a passion for improving their craft have sought one another out, and are empowered at a new level through the connections they have made. Specifically, members of this highly connected community have shared their stories, read books together, pinned their resources, and engaged in some fantastic conversations. Did I mention that this tight-knit group is spread across some 36,000 square miles?

This month has been an awesome demonstration of the value of digital communities, and it also makes a fantastic backdrop for starting a new collaboration.

We know that with the advent of 1:1 learning environments, one of the most pressing needs is for quality, embedded professional development. To help teachers and administrators envision and achieve new models of learning in our classrooms, eLearning coaches - talented educators skilled at integrating technology - have been a vital piece of the puzzle. Naturally, as more and more technology finds its way into our schools, districts large and small are adding coaches to ensure that it is not only adopted, but also implemented in thoughtful ways.

A few months ago we sought out the names and emails of the educators currently in these roles, and the response was overwhelming. We had more than 130 immediate responses, and the majority of these were just assuming the role this school year for the first time. It became instantly apparent that this was a group eager to connect with one another.

Yesterday, we gathered 20 representatives of this group in a room donated by Project Lead the Way, and we discussed the tremendous potential of this group to share resources and professional development ideas. It was a very exciting start to something that has great potential to unify our efforts. If you are working in the capacity of an eLearning coach or technology integration specialist, you won't want to miss the opportunity to connect with this group.
While we've gathered information in a number of ways - we'd encourage you to put yourself on the map so that the group can connect with you.

Exciting times are ahead! Even as I write, members of this community are taking it upon themselves to build a Google+ community, establish a listserv, and plan a larger gathering of all our coaches. Just imagine what might be envisioned as this collaboration spreads to more than 20!

Can you feel the world getting smaller?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Indiana Superintendents Do More Than Talk, They Tweet

EdWeek’s “Superintendent Take to Twitter to Kick Off School Year” inspired us to draft our own Indiana take on the post as a way to recognize some of those leaders who have realized the potential of Twitter to build connections.  You can find all of these superintendents as well as other administrators on our Twitter List IN Administrators

For many Indiana educators, back to school preparations began with learning at one of the Summer of eLearning conferences. Several district superintendents abandoned any traditional figurehead roles at these events and could be seen in sessions engaged in rich dialogue about transforming learning. If you followed the various conference hashtags, you could find many district leaders highlighting their takeaways from sessions, such as Plymouth Community School Corporation Superintendent Daniel Tyree.
Greater Clark County Schools Superintendent Andrew Melin and his faculty were immersed in new thinking and new tools as they prepared to rollout their 1:1 initiative. He modeled the change in his initial tweet seen here.
When the first day of instruction drew closer, districts began holding their back to school events for teachers. We saw a number of tweets being sent out from auditoriums and gymnasiums across the state as leadership shared their district’s vision and welcomed new and returning teachers. Jason Callahan, Superintendent of Wabash City Schools demonstrates how Twitter allows us to extend the exchange and make personal connections.
Superintendents are paying attention to faculty and staff tweets. You can tell that they follow their district and school hashtags. It’s not unusual to come across a leader retweet of something shared by a classroom teacher. Dr. Jeff Butts, Superintendent of MSD Wayne Township amplifies his teachers' voices this way. 
Dr. Butts also uses Twitter to keep his followers informed on state and local news stories that impact education. 

While others directly show how they are advocating for students. Flora Reichanadter Superintendent of Franklin Township Community School Corporation provides a nice example of this.
Others used Twitter as a platform to encourage more community connections by highlighting events and activities. In Bluffton-Harrison Metropolitan School District, Superintendent Wayne Barker tweeted out about Donuts for Dads.
And we'd remiss in not showing how Dr. Stacey Schmidt of Porter Township School Corporation tweets out resources she uncovers for colleagues and families of her students.
The first round of eLearning Admin Academies spurred many superintendents to create a Twitter profile as part of their shift in school culture.  Even more followed after hearing national leaders (and even a few Canadians) dispel myths about using social media and advocate for educational leaders to model its use during this summer's second round of academies. Are you asking yourself, how do I get started? The superintendents featured here, many other district leaders and the building principals on the list IN Admin are resources.

Are you a Connected Educator using Twitter? We encourage you to be on one of our INeLearn Twitter Lists so that others can connect with you.  All it takes is a minute to submit this survey.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

How's Your Posture?

When I was a student teacher (almost 20 years ago), my supervising teacher shared with me her practice of beginning the year with an informational scavenger hunt that got students up and learning about one another on the first day. The way this activity helped establish a positive culture with a new class made it an instant favorite that I repeated every year I taught.

The start of school comes with many such traditions that we have repeated and solidified over the years. And while these traditions contribute to the strength of our education system, they can also be the very thing that holds us back. If you do an image search for "Back to School" you would have to conclude that these traditions have much to do with chalk dust, musty books and freshly sharpened pencils. Does our familiarity with these very materials hold us back from employing the tools of a new generation?

This was a concern of the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), last year when they published their report: Born in Another Time. Among their recommendations, NASBE points out that students need "real-world experience with technology in a way that prepares them to be college and career ready." This isn't just 'time in the computer lab' we're talking about here. They specifically charge us to "ensure that every student has adequate access to a computing device and the Internet at school and home." In Indiana, we've made huge strides in this - by many measures leading the nation. We have a long way to go.

To achieve even the goals set out in this report, we will need to take a hard look at our focus, and maybe... our posture. Dr. Scott Robison, the accomplished Superintendent of Zionsville Community Schools put it very well when he said that our job is "helping Indiana’s youth (and their teachers) lean forward into the possibilities." As you begin the new adventure that this school year provides, will you be leaning forward into the possibilities? Or will you be reclining in the time-honored traditions of our past?

Will you be the teacher that tries posting a video to reinforce your most important lessons? Or will you be using your overhead projector to cast a tired image of your syllabus on that new interactive board that you just haven't explored yet? Will you be the leader who explores the power of social media to engage your community, or will you protect the past by ensuring that "devices are off and put away." My sincere hope is that all of us who would call ourselves educators would lean forward with the posture of a learner. It is an exciting time, and we all have much to learn! Make it a great year.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Digital Shift

Everything is shifting at Lebanon Senior High School! When students return next week, they'll not only be greeted by a beautiful new facility, but also their very own MacBook Air. Teachers prepared for this Digital Shift by attending a fantastic conference that bears the same name. Sessions specifically geared toward using these new devices on a day to day basis, equipped Lebanon educators (as well as guests from 50 districts) with a new skill-set to help them make the shift and thrive in this new environment.

Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs, perhaps best known for her work with curriculum mapping, was an excellent keynote and a great inspiration for helping schools make the changes they need to stay relevant. In recent years she has helped to develop and share Curriculum21, a clearinghouse of resources to help educators transform their curriculum. Stimulating new thinking in so many areas, Dr. Jacobs told participants, "I'd like to eliminate every committee you are on." Rather than meeting consistently when it may not be needed, she says schools should be asking: "Who are the best people to bring together to solve this problem?" This responsiveness to needs and opportunities is also present in her philosophy about integrating technology. With so many tools at our fingertips, she urges educators to create avenues for students to engage in meaningful, globally connected work.

I also attended a great session called Discover, Collect and Create, presented by Joey Till and Justin Vail who have the experience of being 1:1 with Macbooks for the past couple of years in their district, Wabash City Schools. They've curated some great tools to help teachers make sense of the digital world and present them in three categories that essentially break down to: finding things, organizing things, and making things. Their full slideshare for this workshop is available on their website: Eduation Shift. Thanks to Justin for giving a shout-out to the #INeLearn Chat happening Thursdays at 8pm EST. You can also find more from these two on Twitter under the handle @ED_SHIFT.

In the hallway during passing, I overheard two different groups talking about this "mind-blowing session" called 'Smoke & Mirrors'. So, I decided to stop in and catch a repeat of Missy Feller's concurrent. In tribute to her theme, the session was indeed magical! Her tricks ranged from sleight of hand tips like choosing to print to PDF instead of paper, to some serious hocus pocus like For all of the tools she shared, check out her Symbaloo Mix from the session. Missy shared on Twitter that her sessions (which she has presented at 6 of our eLearning conferences) have been attended by more than 500 educators! #Awesome

I also have to give additional kudos for the great culture evident at Lebanon. Joining me in each session were members of a fantastic student team, learning alongside their teachers, cataloging great ideas to share with their teachers and peers. Such empowerment is bound to make their upcoming school year an exciting one to watch!

Thursday, August 1, 2013


Stop #16 on the Summer of eLearning tour is the eVisionary Conference hosted by Valparaiso High School. This is the first year for this conference and over 500 educators were in attendance!!

The day started with 3 hour workshops on a variety of topics. I decided to attend Leslie Fisher's iOS session. If you've had the opportunity to be in one of Leslie Fisher's sessions, you know she is phenomenal! It was so great to hear "WOWs" and giggling when teachers learned new tricks. Some new things I learned were how to split the keyboard on my iPad (put your two fingers in the middle of  the keyboard and drag out...drag back in to put it back together) and how to add the emoticon keyboard to my iPhone. After about a half an hour of tips and tricks, Leslie moved on to sharing several apps that would be helpful to teachers in the classroom. Some of these were Dropbox, Haiku Deck, a new broswer called Dophin, and Remind101. She also shared what she thinks is the coolest app for education, InfuseLearning, a free student response website which students can access from their computer, tablet, or phone. There were some great questions and comments from the group. As always, Leslie was informative and entertaining!

The theme of the afternoon for me was internet safety. I first attended "Digital Citizenship in the 21st Century Learning Environment" with Jeanie Sienkowski, MS language arts teacher, and Andy Sargent, MS assistant principal. Their school saw the pressing need for digital citizenship instruction when they had an incident at their school and started with adding school policies and moved to student convocations with FBI agents. Since then their district has created a technology curriculum committee and they are utilizing ISTE NETS standards, specifically standard 5, digital citizenship. Their goal is to create digitally responsible leaders. Jeanie shared her digital citizenship survival guide, which she found on Pinterest. Some resources she uses are Common Sense Media, Twitter, Pinterest, Edutopia. A big takeaway from the session for me was that we are not just teaching our students to be good digital citizens from 8:00-3:00 on school days, but all day, every day!

Next, I attended a session on internet safety and cyber bullying presented by Beth Kreppein with the Chicago Division of the FBI. Beth discussed cyber bullying and the amazing statistics of how many students have been bullied online. Some tips that she had for students who have been bullied online are do not seek revenge, do not respond, save the evidence of cyberbullying, report threats of harm, and prevent communication. A great resource that she shared is

The 2-day conference ended with a keynote address by George Couros. Many conferences participants also got attend some of his sessions earlier in the day. George shared some great things that are going on in his school district, some phenomenal ideas of how to get ourselves and our students connected, but, most importantly, getting to the why of connecting. George ended the day with an inspiring video, encouraging us to move out of our comfort zone and jump in!