1:1 Pilot Parent Feedback | March 2014

On two occasions earlier this year, we surveyed parents of the students in our 1:1 pilot for feedback about the program. Our objective has been to hold ourselves accountable for measuring success against the criteria we originally laid out, and to provide valuable information that would help inform the ongoing design of the program. As we approached the end of winter last month, it was a great time to check in again with our parents.

For this round, we repeated the same questions that we used in November in order to track any changes in parent response. One change we did make was to offer an open-ended opportunity attached to each of the four items, along with the same “catch all” open-ended item at the end of the survey that we offered in November.

As a reminder, the four questions we have posed to parents are:

How would you classify the value of this tool:

in terms of enhancing your child’s engagement and motivation?
in terms of enhancing your child’s collaboration and communication with teachers and peers?
in helping your child be efficient in terms of organization and material management?
in terms of enhancing your child’s involvement in innovative learning experiences?

What conclusions can we draw from this latest round? Parents continue to be very enthusiastic about what they are seeing from their students in our 1:1 program. For each of the items, the percentage of parents rating the value of the program as Not Important was zero. Eighty percent or more of parents responded that the program was Extremely Important or Very Important on all four items, with two of them receiving those ratings from more than ninety percent of respondents.

Once again, the strongest response related to the enhancement of communication between students and teachers and students and their peers. Ninety-six percent of parents reported that the program was Extremely or Very Important in enhancing this communication. This is an incredibly positive finding and response, especially as it relates to the development of self-advocacy and connectedness in middle school students.

We’re also learning from the open-ended responses. In our post on the November survey, we discussed questions about how to make the best use of the tool in mathematics. So we were very pleased to read multiple comments in the current survey referencing the power of the tool specifically related to how it is being used in mathematics. In particular, the use of “incorporating videos as a way to reinforce new concepts” in mathematics was mentioned. This has been a particular effort, so it is heartening to see it referenced here.

One respondent did raise a concern about the durability of the device. We hope to provide an update related to that question soon, when we follow up on on the recent Choosing a Device post. In short, it is an important question and one we think we have addressed. Another respondent raised a concern about how much time students might be spending using a technology device when they are in a 1:1 program. It is an important question, and we will continue working to ensure that the devices are used when they best support student learning, and not simply because we have them.

We are thankful to everyone who took the time to respond; it helps shape our program and our actions moving forward. The full, detailed results including comments and comparisons with November are available should you wish to read them in full.

 

Learning to Code with the Hour of Code

This post comes from Sara Fischer, fourth grade teacher at Israel Loring Elementary School here in Sudbury. Earlier this year, Ms. Fischer and her students participated in Hour of Code, an effort to encourage instruction in coding for students of all ages.


“How would you like to create your own video game?”

This is how I typically introduce coding to my class of fourth graders each year. For the most part, they answer with a resounding “YES!” This year my class got started with their coding by participating in an event called Hour of Code.

Hour of Code was part of Computer Science Education Week in December and sponsored by code.org. My students might use the words fun, cool, and best-hour-ever to describe their hour of code. Perseverance, collaboration, and problem-solving are a few words I would use to describe the hour. However you describe the Hour of Code, fun and learning was experienced by everyone.

I love technology. I love students using technology as a tool in the classroom. I am by no means a technology expert, but I am willing to try anything new that might enhance instruction and learning in my classroom. Technology provides a way to differentiate instruction and promote creativity. There are so many great web programs available.

A few years ago, I was introduced to a free coding program for children called Scratch. Scratch was created by the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab. As I started to use Scratch in my classroom, I realized that the kids would quickly surpass their teacher’s skill at computer programming. Our roles reversed as students were soon teaching me how to code complex programs. I was even more excited to see students helping other students solve their coding problems. Students were problem-solving with each other. Some students who would easily give up in class when a faced with a difficult task persevered for 20 minutes to program a bird to fly across their screen.

I recently was introduced to another coding program called Tynker. Similar to Scratch, Tynker allows kids to create code for games and storytelling projects. Through Tynker, I was then introduced to code.org, a non-profit organization that promotes participation in computer science education. This year, Code.org wanted to get as many people introduced to computer science through the Hour of Code. A variety of tutorials were set up to introduce students to programming in grades K-12, along with this video of well-known coding proponents.

Once my students had logged on to their laptops, they were off and flying with the tutorials. After a few minutes of excited outbursts, a hush fell over the classroom. Kids were intently trying to solve problems by writing code. Students at all academic levels and with diverse technology backgrounds were engrossed with different puzzles and tasks. Then it happened….students started collaborating with other students. Here are just a few things I overheard:

“How did you do that?”
“Does anyone know how to use the ‘forever’ loop?”
“Do you think I could create a way to keep score?”
“Can we do this at home?”
“Can we do this tomorrow?”

As a teacher, there is nothing more exciting to see than children being self-directed and independent in their learning. When I told students it was time to stop, I heard a collective “NO!” from the class. Needless to say, we have gone beyond one hour of code in our classroom!


2014 Scholastic Art Awards

There’s a lot of talk here and elsewhere about educational technology. While most people think about productivity when they think about technology, one of the most important elements of technology in education is the creativity it helps to support and foster. It is for this reason that there is a lot of discussion about how Art goes together with the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) disciplines.

Creating works of art demands not just creativity, but attention to detail and a willingness to take risks and take feedback. We are proud of the art programming that exists in SPS and look for ways to bring art alive, not have it simply be a special subject that students engage in to get away from “real” or “core” academics.

Ephraim Curtis Middle School art teachers Mr. Greenaway and Ms. Dar are pleased to announce that Curtis students were honored with 10 awards at the 2014 Scholastic Art Awards. The Scholastic Art Awards is the most prestigious student art competition in Massachusetts and garners thousands of entries from across the state in a variety of artistic categories. These students have worked with exceptional creativity, perseverance, and vision.

The following students were honored with awards:

Grade 7
Madeline O’Connell: Silver Key, sculpture category
Piyusha Kundu: Gold Key, painting category and Gold Key, painting category and Silver Key, drawing category and Honorable Mention, painting category
Allie Gies: Honorable Mention, mixed media category

Grade 8
Sammi Cheung: Honorable Mention, sculpture category
Isabelle Fama: Silver Key, digital art category
Shirley Ren: Honorable Mention, sculpture category
Isabela Xavier Carvalho: Honorable Mention, mixed media category

The winning pieces can be seen on this gallery page, or alongside the 2012-13 winners on our main SPS website. We hope you enjoy them!

All of the Massachusetts Gold Key winners have their art displayed in Boston City Hall in Government Plaza from 3/7-3/30. This art show is open to the public (M-F, 9:00-5:00). It is a wonderful exhibit to visit and admire the creative and ambitious work of middle school and high school art students.

Choosing a Device

We have come to a very exciting point in our 1:1 pilot initiative – serious consideration of which Chromebook model to select for a full implementation next year. The adopted preliminary budget includes funding for approximately half the needed devices and for the human resources needed to support teachers and students in leveraging all technology in our schools.

While we pursue the remaining one-time funding that is necessary for initial implementation, we have been testing out some of the next generation Chromebooks. It’s been an interesting process, and led us to a place we didn’t quite expect.

Without getting overly technical, one of the most significant innovations in the newest generation of Chromebooks has been an upgrade in the processors. For the end user, this makes a difference in two ways that are likely to be noticeable. The first is that information and tasks can be processed more quickly. Secondly, these newer chips are more efficient, which leads to a longer battery life, reportedly up to nine hours compared with the current six on our current devices.

So as we have examined some of these newer models, we were excited about creating a bit more wiggle room on the battery life. A six hour battery life isn’t much longer than a six hour school day, after all.

photo 1

The Toshiba model (complete with Intel sticker)

Unrelated to the chip inside, one final element that captured our attention was the availability of a larger screen on some newer models, in particular Toshiba’s offering. Since that machine possessed that large screen and the new chip (along with an SD card slot and HDMI port), and met our target price point of $279, we felt like we were well on the way to selecting it, even before it arrived.

And then we started thinking like middle school students.

Another model we had examined is the HP11. The HP though, despite being in the current “generation” of Chromebooks, has the “old” chip technology (amazing what passes for old these days). So – slower processing, shorter battery life. And a smaller, 11-inch screen to boot.

But then we started thinking like middle school students.

The HP’s small frame isn’t much bigger than an iPad – it’s the same depth, and about two inches longer. Perfect for a middle school desk or table, where space is at a premium. Perfect, too, for a middle school backpack.

The HP’s screen? Yes, it’s small. But it’s a lot bigger than a phone screen that a lot of kids are used to, and bigger than the iPad many of them have used. Sure, it is a lot smaller than the 15 inch screens a lot of us adults use. But that’s us. The other thing about the screen? Well, it’s gorgeous. It feels like a serious device when you look at your work. That’s not unimportant.

The HP11

The HP11

Suddenly, the SD slot and HDMI port became less important when we realized all efforts we have made to support students in working from the cloud. And then there’s the hinge. Yes, the hinge. We realized this ancient simple machine might be more important than we thought in 21st century tech. Almost all of our repairs on our current Samsung machines have had to do with the upright hinges jutting out of the body. The hinges on the new Toshiba, while they don’t stick up, are accessible from the bottom of the machine. The HP? Seamless.

This left us contemplating the the battery life issue. Nine hours would be better than six, we thought. And then we thought about our middle school students. When we thought about it, we haven’t experienced problems with the six-hour battery life of the Samsungs this year. We gave students the responsibility of charging their Chromebooks overnight, and they have followed through. It is also important that we have stayed true to the idea that our 1:1 program would mean ubiquitous opportunity, not ubiquitous use of a device each minute of the day.

We still haven’t decided. It might be the HP, or it might be a model we haven’t yet put our hands on. If you have an opinion, we would love to hear it.

One thing is for sure, though. It’s been really important to put ourselves in the students’ shoes, since this all about them and their learning. In fact, we’re headed up to the middle school ASAP to find out what the they think.

1:1 Pilot Student Feedback | December 2013

Students typically have a lot of insight about what works in schools and what helps them learn effectively. We can learn a lot from them – as long as we ask them.

To that end, we recently conducted a round of feedback collection with the students on our 1:1 pilot team. The first trimester has just come to an end, and this was a great chance to gather some of their wisdom about what they are gaining from the 1:1 program. We asked students a set of seven questions about the impact of having a Chromebook in school. We asked students to agree or disagree with the following statements:

Using my Chromebook in School...
 Makes me a better student
 Makes me more interested in my classes
 Makes my classes more fun
 Gives me more/different ways to show what I know
 Makes it easier to keep track of my assignments
 Makes me more distracted in class
 Helps me communicate with my teachers
 

Because an essential feature of our 1:1 pilot is the ability for students to take their device back-and-forth between home and school, we also asked a set of questions about how the Chromebook has impacted them at home, again asking them to agree or disagree with a set of statements:

Having my Chromebook at home...
 Helps me get my homework done more consistently
 Helps me understand my homework better
 Helps me show my parents what I am working on and learning

The full set of student responses are posted under the 1:1 Technology tab – but what did we learn?

We learned that students are seeing some of the strongest benefits in the same places we are, especially related to communication with their teachers. At the middle school level in particular, this couldn’t be a more significant development in helping students to become advocates for their learning.

We learned that students are also seeing benefit to how a 1:1 device helps them stay organized and complete their work. In fact, students agreed with this to a greater degree than their parents reported it, agreeing with the conclusion we heard from many other districts in our original research visits.

We learned that students believe the Chromebook makes them more effective with homework. We learned that students are interested in showing their parents what they are working on and learning, based on how many said that the Chromebook helps them do so.

chart_10

We learned that students believe that the Chromebook does not make them more distracted in class. Several students mentioned measures the Lime Team teachers have taken to ensure students see their Chromebook first as a productivity tool – and yes, one that can be fun. We have speculated ourselves that the Chromebook, too, might be less distracting than a tablet or other mobile device. While this may remain pure speculation without hard data to back it, we are pleased with the student response to this question.

So, really, what have we learned? We are starting to be able to triangulate some data from different sources, and it points in a similar direction. We are learning that students, teachers, and parents alike are seeing a 1:1 personal learning device as an effective tool for learning and teaching.

Six Opportunities in the Common Core: Part II

At last night’s School Committee meeting, English Language Arts (ELA) Coordinator Dr. Jennifer Soalt and Loring School Literacy Specialist Melissa Sarno presented an update that included information related to our Common Core implementation. The presentation focused on three areas: The Daily Five as an elementary workshop model, differentiated text sets, and response to literature at all grade levels.

The Daily Five: For a number of years, Sudbury Schools at the elementary (particularly early elementary) level have framed reading instruction as a Readers Workshop model. In this model, students engage in a variety of tasks, from independent reading to working with teachers in small groups, to whole class strategy instruction from the teacher. The challenge within this model has always been creating enough time for teachers to work with small groups while also ensuring that other students are engaged in the highest-leverage activities for learning.

The Daily Five is a structure for a readers workshop that answers these questions. It includes five elements or activities that students regularly engage in; these five elements are based on comprehensive research about what activities will help students achieve the most growth. With a cornerstone of reading in books that are at a “good fit” level of challenge that is accessible but provides some reach, students read to themselves, read to others, and listen to reading. They also have time working on writing (often connected to reading) and engaging in word work to learn new vocabulary and mechanics. The common language that is used across grades and classrooms, along with a focus on student independence, results in increased instructional time over the course of days, weeks, and years. It is startling simple, but amazingly powerful.

Text Sets: In a workshop model, Daily Five or otherwise, students are typically reading a variety of titles. At the other end of the spectrum in ELA is the practice of all students reading the same material, with a whole class novel, for example. While this model continues to have its place, it is also important that we provide opportunities to tailor to student interests and to personalize learning and challenge at higher grade levels. Dr. Soalt gave several examples of increased student engagement, and increased student success with very challenging texts, when this variety is offered and paired with meaningful questions. During the presentation, we heard recordings of fifth-grade students debating the merits of decisions made by Earnest Shackleton’s team after reading Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World.

Written Response & High Level Prompts: Finally, Dr. Soalt shared examples of student writing from second grade. Having read the classic Amos & Boris, students were asked a question – Who was more heroic, Amos or Boris? Our second graders wrote responses (which served as their new, locally developed Common-Core aligned common assessment) that included evidence from the text to support their answers, synthesizing what they read with their own understanding of heroism. The examples were powerful and highlight what our youngest students can do when presented with authentic literature and a powerful, meaningful question.

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 11.31.52 AM

I think that Amos was the most heroic. Because he was small but he thought a lot bigger than himself. But when Boris tried to save Amos it was a lot easier [because is a whale].

Opportunities: We recently started writing about opportunities that exist in the Common Core. The work described above can be looked at as one of those opportunities. Each effort represents a local choice, as in the case of the Daily Five, or as a locally developed model. They were selected by Sudbury teachers and administrators as the best tools for us, for our needs and our circumstances.

If implementing the Common Core meant thoughtlessly following each bullet of a two hundred page list of standards, our opportunities would not be as rich. But examining those standards deeply for the opportunities that best support our students’ growth as readers, writers, thinkers, arguers? That’s an opportunity not to be missed.

Six Opportunities in the Common Core: Part I

It has been twenty years since Education Reform began in Massachusetts in 1993. Since that time, each school district has worked to build a curriculum based on statewide standards. Massachusetts, based on many measures, has received positive returns on this work. Recent national reports place the state at the top of national rankings according to the NAEP studies, and at the top of many world rankings for math and science according to TIMSS.

More recently, Massachusetts adopted new standards in English Language Arts [ELA] and Math based on the Common Core State Standards. If you listen at all to news or discussion about education in the public sphere, you have probably heard debate about the Common Core. Some commenters wonder why we have waited so long to adopt more common standards and point to nations with national curricula as models. Others in Massachusetts ask why we are in such a rush, especially when our previous versions have allowed us to routinely be the top performing state in the nation (at least on standardized tests, mind you). Others worry that standards have made our educational system too standardized and obscure creativity, innovation, and risk-taking in learning.

These debates, like any other, are important. Checking our belief systems and our assumptions is a core responsibility of educators. On the other hand, the standards and the frameworks are what they are; they are the tools we are given. At the school and classroom level, our real work begins when we use them to reach our already existing vision, values, and goals.

Here in Sudbury, we recognize that these new standards are an important opportunity to build consistency and coherence across the district – while also emphasizing teacher voice and professionalism in the classroom. This year, forty-one of our teachers will facilitate in-house professional development, up from sixteen two years ago. Teacher teams, not outside agencies or companies, have designed the common assessments we will use to measure our progress.

As we move forward, we need to talk even more about how to leverage standards to meet individual student needs while holding us all accountable for the highest expectations. Within the CCSS, there are several tools that provide these opportunities for students. In the coming weeks, we will take some time to look at a few of them; we begin today with one idea from ELA.

Text Complexity: For too long in schools, all students have read the same texts, regardless of how well that text matched their varying reading skill levels. The new Massachusetts Frameworks, based on Common Core, “place equal emphasis on the sophistication of what students read and the skill with which they read,” as well as emphasizing higher-order skills that ask students to

discern more from and make fuller use of text, including making an increasing number of connections among ideas and between texts; considering a wider range of textual evidence; and become more sensitive to inconsistencies, ambiguities, and poor reasoning in texts.

photo (17)Why is that important? These ideas point us towards ensuring that students become not just consumers of information, but evaluators of it. They ensure that we are providing levels of challenge that allow students to grow – for we all know that when presented with tasks that don’t change over time, neither do we.

What does this look like in classrooms? This might mean smaller-group instruction in reading. It might mean students more often walking out of their classroom saying to themselves, Wow that was hard. It will mean fewer units where every student reads the same text – but more units where they read different texts and have to compare themes, messages, or ideas across them. Whatever it looks like, if we are doing it well, students are engaged in the kind of learning that has them engaged and challenged – which is a win no matter what you call it.