Wednesday, July 29, 2015

PHM Technovation

It couldn’t be more appropriate that our 2015 Summer of eLearning comes to an end at a conference whose theme is “Road Trip,” at Penn High School, whose address is Bittersweet Road. With 24 stops on the path, reaching the last is indeed bittersweet. Penn Harris Madison’s Technovation Conference shared the road map of a district focused on high-quality learning opportunities, as they have infused digital tools in their classrooms.

Their keynote was Dean Shareski who shared a framework that includes skepticism, play, and purpose. He encouraged participants to reserve judgement and be open to the possibilities with each new technology. He also cautioned against thinking about technology in terms of ‘Digital Dualism.’ Technology isn’t inherently good or bad, and we aren’t implicitly online or offline. What matters is what we want to accomplish with the technology, and how we can use it to connect with each other.

Lisa Kreiger is an instructional technology coach and math teacher at Penn. Her session was designed to help leaders who are thinking about ways to support their staff in using instructional technology. Kreiger explained that continuing to teach part time ensures that, as a coach, she stays in touch with the needs of teachers. It also allows her to model new technologies with her own class. When she’s not teaching her own students, she is building relationships with staff members, listening to their needs, and curating resources for their classrooms. Her session was full of great suggestions about how to share info, ways to connect with staff, and steps to build capacity. For a closer look at what Kreiger has learned through coaching, check out her excellent slides.

One of the most tangible benefits of having individual devices for students is the capacity for differentiation. Kat Lubker is a master of many tools that make it easy to meet students where they are and learn in the mode that fits their personality. She shared a couple of favorites in her conference session. Blendspace allows you to curate videos, documents and websites in a simple drag-and-drop interface. Check out the blendspace version of Lubker’s presentation for an example. Another powerful time saver she recommended was the Super Quiz Add-on in Google Forms. While it requires some meticulous setup, Super Quiz can automate instantaneous feedback for any assessment, emailing students follow-up questions and extending activities based on their performance.

Park Ginder, 30 years in education and currently Principal at Homestead High School, knows that using “eLearning” days for inclement weather make-up (IDOE Virtual Option), and as part of the IDOE Flex program, has taken blended learning in school to a new positive level. As a 1:1 school, Ginder’s mantra is: “We don’t want the computer in front of our students to be a $2,000 pencil.” Using “eLearning Days” has been the catalyst for the implementation of technology into the classroom on regular scheduled days. Ginder’s staff and students have worked through many challenges of learning digitally and came to these conclusions about the days. The leap forward in instruction was noticed by the students. eLearning fostered unplanned collaboration among peers. Student to teacher learning increased significantly making teachers co-learners with students, and teacher-to-parent communication increased significantly! What they didn’t see coming: it helped keep the staff fresh, the PD and new ways of learning, attendance rates went up, sub day/sub plans and teacher absence days improved markedly, and teachers could still be evaluated on snow days. Ginder’s advice: Don’t wait for everyone to get on board. Start moving and be unrelentingly positive about your direction and plan, AND plan the heck out of it! Email Ginder ( for samples of planning and communication samples.

Traveling around the state provides a view into how learning is happening in many classrooms, and one tool that has been spreading is Canvas; a learning management system from the company Instructure. Adam Pitcher, K-12 Regional Director @Canvas took participants on a tour of some of the many tools within Canvas helping to make teaching and learning go smoothly. One popular with teachers is Speedgrader. Speedgrader allows educators to view and grade student assignment submissions in one place using a simple point scale or complex rubric. Canvas accepts a variety of document formats and even URL’s as assignment submissions. Some document assignments can be marked up for feedback directly within the submission. You can also provide feedback to your students with text or media comments. The Calendar in Canvas is an extensive tool for organizing and sharing work.

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