Category Archives: Staff Development

Presentation Mode

Presentation Mode
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2016-12-07

by Richard White

It’s Computer Science Education Week, and for the fourth year in a row I’ve conducted presentations at our Lower and Middle Schools for an Hour of Code with 5th and 7th graders.

I’ve got a bit more on my plate than usual this year, so I tried to minimize time spent emailing/calling/coordinating with various administrators, tech coordinators, and teachers. I work with a great group of people who helped make some of that happen—our Middle School Tech Coordinator was instrumental in navigating some of that, and my Upper School director committed early to giving me time off from my classes to go conduct those sessions. Also, our Lower School Technology Integration Specialist took on some of the heavy lifting for the first time this year, identifying activities that might be well-suited for the 5th graders.

I’d been a little smart about things too: the Hour of Code webpages that I’d set up previously were still live, and a handy reference for those who wishe it. The presentation materials that I’ve developed over the years were pretty much ready to go as well, with some minor modification and editing. I’ve been switching from PowerPoint to LibreOffice, and my software on the laptop was good to go.

Now, how about that hardware?

Every presenter has their list of hardware that they need to be sure to bring along to a presentation, particularly if you’re going to be away from your home base for the day/week. What to bring with?

  • Laptop
  • Camera/cellphone for documenting event
  • Charger and charger adapter
  • Logitech wireless presenter (R400)
  • Lightning port-to-HDMI cable (spare)
  • Lightning port-to-VGA dongle (backup)
  • USB key with presentation materials (backup)

I’d been to one of the rooms I would be presenting in, and knew that it was probably already stocked with the various power supplies and cables that I’d need, but you never know. Most of the items on that list there are simply backups or replacements for items that I expect will already be there.

img_9764

I got to the room, got things set up, checked out the projector to make sure it was working, double-checked the video that I’d be running in the presentation for sound… I was good to go!

I went to grab a marker to write my name on the whiteboard… no markers? Oh, there’s one. An old low-odor marker for which someone has left the cap off. I tried to write my name, and it left a half-visible mark on the board. I went to erase it and… no eraser.

Who has whiteboards with no working pens or erasers?

I scrambled around a bit and managed to scare some up just in time for the presentation.

It just goes to show you…

Looks like I have a couple of additional items for my hardware list. :)

The Poor Person’s Guide to Differentiated Instruction

The Poor Person’s Guide to Differentiated Instruction
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by Richard White

2016-10-28

I’m a classroom teacher, and I’m a busy man.

I prep lessons, I develop and coordinate assignments for my students, and post homework assignments on the school website. I collect work, set up labs, write, administer, and grade tests. I develop caring relationships with my students.

It’s the best job in the world… and I come home *exhausted* most days.

One of the many challenges we teachers face is providing learning opportunities that are appropriate for the level of our students. In classes with an especially wide range of abilities, these can become problematic, logistically speaking.

In my Computer Science classes I typically have at least three ability levels in the same class:

1. students who have already had some experience with programming, possibly in a different language, and who are able to accomplish most assignments very quickly.
2. students who may be new to programming, but who are making reasonable progress. They quickly learn that programming requires attention to detail, and they typically pick up patterns—syntactical, logistical, procedural—after one or two exposures.
3. students who struggle to recognize the patterns, or who find themselves more easily frustrated by the puzzles posed by programming assignments.

I’ve experimented with a few different strategies over the years. Here are three that I’ve tried that have met with some success.

1. Below the Fold Progression
In this type of differentiation, students are provided with a text file (usually online) that contains a statement of the problem at the very top of the file. The file itself is actually a working copy of the problem, with the initial problem statement written as a multi-line comment near the beginning of the file. Much farther down on the page, where students can’t easily see it without scrolling, is another multi-line comment containing a pseudocode analysis of the problem. And finally, much farther down again, is the solution code itself. Students who want to work out the program without any hints are free to do so, while students who need a bit of help from the pseudocode can look at that as needed. Students who need much more support may find themselves looking at the actual program for assistance, and that’s okay if that’s where they are in their own learning process.

Example: ch06ex03.py (Right-click or Ctrl-click to download)

2. Page 2 Solution
In this strategy, something similar to the “Below the Fold” method is used, but now, the problem statement and its solution are printed on paper to be distributed to the students. The front side of the paper has the problem statement, and a complete working version of the code is on the back side (page 2) of the same piece of paper. This has the advantage of giving the students a concrete document to scribble on, and giving the teacher some ability to see which side of the paper students are looking at as they work on the program.

Example: four_functions.py (PDF format, Right-click or Ctrl-click to download)

3. Progressive Lecture
The final strategy is much more interactive. Students are assigned a problem in class and instructed to begin developing a solution. At the front of the room, after some reasonable amount of time has passed, the teacher begins writing out a rough outline of the program, perhaps with comments highlighting significant sections of code. Students who have developed their own solutions to the program will continue working on their own, while those who may be struggling to organize a solution will get some hints from what is written on the board.After a few more minutes have passed, the instructor may continue fleshing out the solution to the problem using the framework already developed. Students who still aren’t sure about some aspects of the program are free to ask questions as actual code is presented on the board.

Example: Differentiated Instruction (YouTube video)

Strategy 3 requires the most from me in the classroom. I’m moving around the room, actively monitoring students’ progress, and trying to determine the *decisive moment* (thank you, Henri Cartier-Bresson) when I should begin reaching out to assist students who need some additional guidance. Strategies 1 and 2 have the benefit of being delivered by computer or paper, with assistance immediately available to students when they decided they want to take advantage of it. The downside of those two strategies, of course, is that students do have access to solutions, and may be tempted to avail themselves of those materials before they’ve had a chance to wrestle with the material… and it’s in that wrestling that they really get to learn things.

As I say, I’ve used all three of these strategies on one occasion or another, and they work pretty well in Computer Science courses. I’ve adapted similar strategies to some of the science courses I teach.

As a teacher, do you use any of these strategies, or something similar? How do you reach out to the students of varying ability levels in your classroom?

Networking, and Staying Social

Networking, and Staying Social

by Richard White

2016-03-01

I’m fortunate to work at a school where the faculty are very collegial. Even where there is occasional departmental or teacher-teacher friction, we tend, by and large, to get along. You might chalk it up to our “Welcome Back” and end-of-year dinner parties… or maybe it’s the post-faculty meeting margaritas that they serve us occasionally. Whatever the reason, I see a lot of personal and professional cross-pollination going on.

This kind of networking requires both time and an individual willingness to be open: to people, experiences, and possibilities. I often find myself locked up with lessons to create, labs and projects I want to design, and always, always, a pile of papers to grade. Finding the space for interactions with others necessarily means setting some of my work aside, at least for a little while.

This past August, for example, I should have been deep into prepping for the coming school year, but two of my English department colleagues had put together a weekend workshop on Transformative Teaching and Learning, to be offered at an open workspace in downtown Los Angeles. It was a great weekend with a diverse group of teachers, and if none of what we did was completely germane to my own subject area, I had the opportunity to reflect on other aspects of my teaching.

Oh, and did I mention the fact that I got to network with some of my colleagues in a stress-free environment? :)

One of my favorite things about networking—in addition to the inherent pleasure of socializing—is the fact that unexpected opportunities often arise as a result. A few months into the school year, one of the English teachers with whom I’d connected at the summer workshop approached me. “Hey, I’ve been asked by the school to write an article about language, and I wanted to talk to you about that.”

Insert confused looks here from the Physics/Computer Science teacher.

Language?” he said. “As in computer languages?” You’re a Computer Science guy, and I want to talk about language from a very global perspective!”

Huh. I’d never thought of that.

Next thing you know, I’m minding his infant daughter at a nearby pub while he grabs a couple of beers for us, and before long we’ve launched into a conversation on the role of language in various contexts.

And a month or two later, I found myself mentioned in his feature article in the school’s semi-annual publication:

Lighting up about language: Authoring across the curriculum

by Nathan Stogdill, in the Oak Tree Times, Fall-Winter, 2015

… Richard White sees a similar form of authorship in his AP Computer Science classes, where students create their own programs through syntax and conventions of coding languages. Like seventh-graders writing haiku or ninth grade math students telling the story of their solutions, his students have an outcome in mind and must work within the constraints of a specific language or instruction set to achieve that outcome. But there is creativity within those constraints, and the outcome is not assumed. Sometimes when the program is run, it does the unexpected. These surprises are exciting moments for White and his students: Like authors discovering new meanings through the process of writing, they find that they have created new things that they never intended, and they are able to learn from them.

Nathan makes me sound a lot smarter than I am, but I never turn down free publicity…!

Teachers tend to get pretty busy, and it’s easy to find one’s self spending a lot of time alone, frantically trying to keep up with our obligations. We take our jobs seriously, and we have high expectations, of our students and ourselves.

I believe that taking a little time off, however, benefits us in important and unexpected ways. Take a moment today or tomorrow to put your grading down, get out of your classroom or office, and stop in for a chat with someone. Go visit someone’s classroom for a few minutes. Check in with one of your admins.

You never know what might happen as a result!

140 Characters Is Not Enough

140 Characters Is Not Enough

2016-02-28

by Richard White

I’ll confess right here, I’ve only really ever been a lurker on Twitter. I’ve got a couple of accounts there, and I follow a few people, and appreciate the spontaneous ebb-and-flow of some conversations, memes, tropes, movements, and revolutions.

I’ve also watched in horror as a hashtag “blows up” while the Internet—bored, and starving for something, anything to frenzy-feed on—zeroes in on a statement taken out of context, an offhand comment that unknowingly became co-opted as a sound-bite for someone else’s rant or cause célèbre.

I love the Internet and its nearly perfect ability to act as a vehicle for a truly democratic and representative communication tool… and Twitter has come to embody the very best and worst of that communication.

At least part of the problem has to do with the simple fact that 140 characters, the limit on the length of a Tweet, is just enough to present a statement, and not nearly enough to provide context, support, or any significant development of that idea.

Taking things out of context isn’t a problem unique to Twitter, of course, but the 140-character limit of the medium practically demands it.

A quick, easy example: It’s not uncommon to hear a teacher at my school say of their students, “I love my students.” I have said, in chiding my students for a momentary lack of attention, said something along the lines of, “I love you guys, and I want good things for you. Let’s get back to work, shall we?” Is it a surprise to hear that teachers love their students? Of course not. Is that something that could be taken out of context on Twitter?

Ummmmm, yeah. Of course it can.

Another example of risk, as quoted by Audrey Watters in her op-ed piece Is Twitter the Best Online Source of Professional Development?:

Steven Salaita, for example, had his tenure-track position at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign rescinded after the university disproved of his tweets in support of Palestinians.

As Bonnie Stewart argues, “The threat of being summarily acted upon by the academy as a consequence of tweets – always present, frankly, particularly for untenured and more vulnerable members of the academic community – now hangs visibly over all heads…even while the medium is still scorned as scholarship by many.” While there are efforts to encourage educators and students to participate in the public sphere, via tools like Twitter, it’s clear that there are also risks in doing so, particularly if what’s being said fails to conform to certain “community standards” or certain notions of “civility.”

I have actually used Twitter on occasion, including several sessions acting as a “Twitter correspondent,” and have had a couple of my tweets removed by the person who was responsible for making sure those messages were in keeping with the guidelines of the organization. It was an interesting experience, to see my work edited in such a fashion, and it was a great reminder (if one was needed) that others read tweets and interpret them as they will. (For the record, I didn’t find anything offensive in those tweets, but it wasn’t my account I was tweeting under, so I accept the edits.)

But my takeaway from that experience and the experiences of others (see How One Stupid Tweet Ruined Justine Sacco’s Life, and Too Many People Have Peed in the Pool for two examples), is simply to not use Twitter. I have a number of other communications tools that I am free to use with friends, family, and co-workers, and I have no need to recruit followers, nor to deliver pithy, entertaining, or even useful comments to the universe.

Some educators may find that tweeting is a rewarding experience, and I absolutely do enjoy reading the tweets of some of my colleagues. For myself, however, I find the personal / professional risk of tweeting to be unacceptably high.

One last warning, courtesy of Catherine Garcia, published on August 25, 2015 at TheWeek.com:

Former MLB pitcher and current ESPN baseball analyst Curt Schilling was reprimanded by the network after posting a questionable meme on Twitter.

On Tuesday morning, he tweeted a meme featuring an image of Adolf Hitler with the words: “It’s said only 5-10% of Muslims are extremists. In 1940, only 7% of Germans were Nazis. How’d that go?” Schilling added his own commentary, the Los Angeles Times reports, writing, “The math is staggering when you get to the true #s.” He deleted the tweet 10 minutes later.

Not long after, ESPN announced he would no longer be covering the Little League World Series. “Curt’s tweet was completely unacceptable, and in no way represents our company’s perspective,” the network said. “We made that point very strongly to Curt and have removed him from his current Little League assignment pending further consideration.” Schilling returned to Twitter to take responsibility, writing, “I understand and accept my suspension. 100% my fault. Bad choices have bad consequences and this was a bad decision in every way on my part.” The lesson here is simple: Don’t use Twitter.

Do you use Twitter? Do you use it in your capacity as an educator? In which direction does the Risk/Reward balance tip for you?

Hierarchy of Needs

HIERARCHY OF NEEDS.TXT

2013-09-29

by Richard White

You’ve almost certainly heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which describes five levels of needs, in ascending order, that lead toward fully realizing one’s human potential.

Those needs are summarized in the triangle below, with an important addition at the very base of the pyramid, courtesy of the Internets.

IMG_3512

It’s funny in part because it’s true, at least as far as educational technology is concerned: if you don’t have a wireless signal at your school that students can use to access the Internet, well… it’s going to be pretty hard for you to do anything technology-related.

Okay, maybe you need hardware—I’ll give you that. But hardware by itself doesn’t really cut it anymore. (Yes, I know you’re leaning back and thinking fondly of the days when we could give a kid a multimedia CD-ROM, point them towards a computer, and pretend that we were teaching them. Those days are over!)

And depending on your classroom setting, the hardware issue may already be solved: your students are in a 1-to-1 program, or a Bring Your Own Device program… or maybe you’ve got a critical mass of smartphones that some of your students already own. There are lots of ways this could work out.

And from there, it’s up to you, you and the students, what you want to do with this technology, and how you want to leverage it. Web-based research assignments? Shared Google Docs (either via Google Apps for Education or students’ private Google accounts) for students submitting cooperative work? Web pages? Mobile apps?

With apologies to Maslow, then, here is an update Hierarchy of Needs for Educational Technologists. There are thousands of technology-facilitated things you can do in the classroom, but it all begins with a device and a connection to the Internet.

hierarchy

There are perhaps a few elements missing here: administrative support for new ideas, new hardware, or new software? And certainly professional development funding/time for inexperienced teachers is always needed.

What else have I missed? Or are these really the essentials that are needed for successful deployment of Educational Technology at a school?

The Intersection of Teaching, Learning, and Technology

At Laura Holmgren’s request, last spring I wrote what became the inaugural post at poly360.org, a blog for the independent school community in which I work.

I’m fortunate to work in a community where the topics covered in that post are actually part of ongoing, day-to-day discussions I get to have with other teachers and technologists.

I’m cross-posting the piece here.

The Intersection of Teaching, Learning, and Technology

Richard White – 360 Reflection

When I was nine years old I read Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine, a story in which Danny and his friends Joe and Irene program a computer to do their homework for them. At that time the personal computer was still a fantasy, but the possibility of being able to have a machine handle my academic chores–my learning–was absolutely intoxicating.

Fast-forward a few years: I’d gone from programming a mainframe in high school to majoring in Computer Science in college, and then from teaching computer programming in high school on IBM PCs (pre-Internet!) to teaching AP Physics in Berkeley. I’d re-discovered the book from my childhood–there’s my name on the inside, written in my mother’s neat cursive–and read again about Danny’s hard-earned lesson: that programming a computer is not a shortcut to learning. The last page of the book, though, opens up a new possibility:

“Danny had a strange, wild look in his eyes, and a faraway smile on his lips. ‘Listen–what about a teaching machine…?'”

I began investigating the possibilities of technology-enhanced programmed instruction. The learning process for an inspired student can be a pretty straightforward process: get exposed to something new, learn a little bit about it, and then use what you’ve learned to do something interesting. For some subjects, the process of presenting information and checking for understanding is ideally suited for a computer, and I wasn’t the only one who thought so. Programmed instruction in book form had existed for years, and computer-based math instructional methods were already being launched.

I was a month or so into developing my own programmed instruction when I began to realize that this system, whatever its benefits might be, also had the effect of isolating me from the very best part of my vocation: working with students to help them understand the world around them. Teaching content, exploring with students the process of interpreting content, and perhaps most importantly, learning to develop strategies for dealing with new and unexpected situations, all demand a dynamic, creative, process that is the very heart and soul of my work. There was no way for me to write this stuff down, to program it, to “classroom flip” this aspect of my work.

That hasn’t kept me from leveraging technology where appropriate. The vast majority of my current curricular materials are online–lessons, labs, homework help, and practice tests–and students across the U.S. and abroad use these materials as a guide in their own learning. I am part of a global learning and teaching community, using technology that is faster, cheaper, and better than ever. We are actively exploring new ways that we can use that technology to improve education.

But at the heart of it all–sometimes just barely visible behind the iPads and the laptops, the email and the tweets, the websites and the Massive Open Online Courses–are students and teachers, working together, just as we always have.

And there is nothing that will be able to replace that.

It’s a Jungle Out Here

IT’S A JUNGLE OUT HERE
Richard White
2013-03-14

I’ve been wanting to write for a long time about the challenges that technology users face in some schools, in some rooms, in some educational cultures. It’s something that we all face on occasion, from a colleague who “doesn’t really do technology” to a school leader with an uninformed knee-jerk reaction to social networking, from infrastructure that is unable to support the increased hardware and bandwidth demands of a classroom to pure, simple, reluctance to change… being on the leading edge of technology-based education reform—and worse, being on the bleeding edge—is not for the meek.

You can insert your favorite Don Quixote quote here if you like.

A little bit of a wildcat mentality may come in handy if you’re more gung-ho than your colleagues, administration, or school is currently willing to support… and dare I say it, a little bit of cash. When LCD projectors first dropped to the barely-sub-$1000 price range a few years ago, both I and a colleague of mine each bought one. It’s not that we had loads of cash lying around; it’s just that we were *that* committed to trying to transform the way we were doing things in the classroom.

If your school can’t buy you a computer that meets your needs, try to beg, borrow, or buy one that will.

If a decent backup strategy for your computer isn’t currently available to you, buy a service, or get an external hard drive, or learn how to roll your own backup strategy on a friend’s server.

If your kids don’t have “clicker”-style Classroom Response Systems, get a set of whiteboards and dry erase markers that they can use to record their responses for display to the instructor.

If your school blocks YouTube, use a video downloader plug-in like Flash Video Downloader to pull down the video locally onto your computer and show them from there.

The point is obviously that there are almost always options. We just need to be creative.

Will Richardson tells the story in one of his blog postings about the time he was giving a presentation at a school, and there was one teacher who kept road-blocking efforts to move forward technologically. “Yes, but that won’t work because…,” and then, “I tried to do that, but…” Finally tired of the negativity, Will stumbled upon a response that both acknowledged the man’s concerns and placed the responsibility for addressing those concerns squarely on his shoulders: “Yup, you’ve got some challenges there. So what are you going to do about that?”

“What are you going to do about that?”

It’s a jungle out here, and we’re all looking for ways to survive. It’s okay. We signed up for this. We can deal with it.

I stumbled upon this post a couple of days ago, which is a nice reminder of how we sometimes need to do things a little differently. It comes from the Business section of Wired Online, but I think it’s got a lot of relevance for educators as well.

Check it out: http://www.wired.com/business/2012/06/resiliency-risk-and-a-good-compass-how-to-survive-the-coming-chaos/

Email Etiquette @ Work

Email Etiquette @ Work

2012-03-28

by Richard White

You know, every few months it seems I read another article about “the death of email.” It’s being replaced by chatting (online). It’s being replaced by texting (on phones). It’s being replaced by always-on social networking sites, mostly Facebook, or maybe Twitter.

It’s true that email doesn’t have the same luster that it once had, but it’s still the backbone of Internet-based communication, if only because all those fancy networking sites, still rely on email to validate your membership.

In the workplace, though, email is still king, despite the fact that it gets horribly misused by so many.

All that’s about to change, though.

Here are four simple things you can do to make email better for you and those you love (your coworkers). This won’t fix everything, but it’s a damn good start.

  1. Please don’t give me a paper copy of that letter, or that document, or that report. I don’t need a paper version, or if I do, I’ll print one. What I really need is an an electronic copy of the file. Email it to me. Thanks.
  2. When you attach that file to the email… don’t forget to attach it. If you DO forget to attach it, just send a quick follow-up email with the same Subject as before, and and the body with the document attached. That way I’ll be easily able to find the follow-up email.
  3. For work emails, use clear, succinct subject lines that inform the recipient of the contents. Subject lines like “Great news!” or “We need to talk” are useless. Instead, use “Update in History Curriculum” or “Meet with you on Thursday?”
  4. Reply at the top of an email, not at the bottom. Don’t force readers to scroll all the way to the bottom of an email to find what you wrote. Your message is important, and should be placed at the top of the reply where it can be quickly and easily found. (If you find this preference abhorrent, I’d urge you to consider the fact that Google’s GMail and Apple’s Mail.app implement top-replying by default, and don’t even offer an option for bottom-replies.)

What other possibilities are there for improving email in the workplace? Love it or hate it, managing your email and your emailing habits is a part of modern life.

Embrace the email!

You Win Some, You Lose Some

You Win Some, You Lose Some

by Richard White

2011-07-06

It was an interesting school year for me at my school site. As is usually the case for anyone working with technology in education, there were some accomplishments achieved that gave me a strong sense of satisfaction, and there were some disappointments that left me feeling frustrated or annoyed.

In the interest of trying to put everything in perspective, I thought it would be fun to go over some of the highlights. I believe there’s a lot of value in sharing these experiences, particularly as so many of us occasionally feel like we’re working alone in our efforts to improve the use of technology in education. Some of these events may resonate with you. Some of my frustrations may give you a new sense of hope about how much progress you’ve made at your own school. Some of my successes may only increase in your dismay at how glacially slow things seem to move sometimes.

Regardless, we’re all doing the best we can to push things along in the right direction. There are some wonderful things happening at my site that aren’t included here because they have more to do with infrastructure: our IT director increased bandwidth to the school this year, for example. Also, new construction at the Lower and Middle School has included the installation of Epson Brightlink interactive projectors in every new room.

Here’s a quick recap of what happened during my school year at the Upper School:

  • All K-12 teachers were required to have a webpage for each class they teach.
    Our head of school made the good decision to require all teachers to have an official school website-affiliated webpage. Specific requirements were developed by a committee I served on. Ed Tech staff did a good job offering workshops to help prepare less tech-savvy teachers with the transition. The committee also recommended that an appropriate administrator follow up with teachers who needed additional “encouragement” in keeping their pages up to spec, although that never happened, so implementation and use of webpages is not very consistent.
    IDEA: A
    IMPLEMENTATION: A
    FOLLOW-THROUGH: C
  • iPads purchased for classes next year
    A Social Sciences teacher and an English teacher, both technologically-experienced, proposed that a set of iPads would be useful for students in their elective courses. The iPads would store course documents, and be used in class and at home for reading those documents, and taking notes on them. The proposal evolved over the course of the year, and was approved by our Ed Tech committee and by the school’s Tech Director. We’re all looking forward to seeing how this pilot program works out.
    IDEA: A
    SUPPORT FROM SCHOOL: A
    IMPLEMENTATION: We have high hopes
  • Offsite Humor Website “busted”
    I was co-author of an unofficial website that lampooned the Upper School director (with his permission). The site was “busted” by other staff members, who went to that same director with their concerns. The creative “alternative social media” site went underground after that, and the whole affair left a bit of a sour taste in everyone’s mouth.
    IDEA: A
    IMPLEMENTATION: A
    MICROMANAGERIAL RESTRAINT: D
  • Lori Getz came to talk about online safety (Technology Night for parents)
    After years of advocating for a “Parents Technology Night” without any success, one of our school directors decided to invite Lori Getz to speak on the subject of Cyber Safety to our parents and teachers. Lori’s message was appropriate, especially for our Lower and Middle School parents, and I’m glad that someone chose to bring her to the school. The Education Technology Committee had absolutely nothing to do with that decision, however, leaving me to wonder how strong a role we play at the school.
    IDEA: A
    RESULT: A
    IMPLEMENTATION: C-
  • Technology Curriculum at the Upper School
    There are now two technology-related courses in our Upper School: a Social Media course and my Intro to Computer Science class. As measured by enrollment and reputation among students, both electives have been very successful, which I consider a minor miracle itself at our strongly traditional prep school. In the case of the programming class, the IT staff have provided support well beyond what many schools would offer.
    COURSE CURRICULUM: A
    IMPLEMENTATION: A
    RESULTS: A
  • Online Test Calendar trial scrapped
    For several years, the school has been searching for a way to coordinate and manage the tests that students take in their classes. A paper-based test calendar has worked well enough, and there was an attempt this past year to explore a means of putting that calendar online, permitting increased access by students, teachers, and parents. After several meetings and prototyping sessions, I and another teacher concluded that we don’t currently have a good solution to offer the school in this area, and the Upper School director supported us in that analysis.
    IDEA: A
    EXPLORATION PROCESS: A
    DECISION NOT TO IMPLEMENT A BAD SOLUTION: A
  • Student access to network increased
    After an increase in requests for student access to the Internet, the school’s IT department created a WiFi hotspot near the administration building, where students can use their own laptops on the Internet. Content is filtered, but social media sites such as Facebook are not blocked. In my opinion, it’s an important step along the way to providing something that students already have on their cellphones and iPads: full Internet access all the time.
    IDEA: A
    IMPLEMENTATION: B
    HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: A
  • Automated backups of teachers’ computers implemented
    After many years of discussion, our school has begun offering an automated backup plan (Crash Plan) for teachers’ computers.
    IDEA: A
    RESULT: A
    IMPLEMENTATION: C+ (for delay)
  • LearnAPphysics.com grew
    A personal project, this database-drive website provides free, daily practice problems (via email or Internet) to students and teachers who sign up. Subscriptions increased to 3500+ over the course of the year, meaning that I’m spending part of the summer investigating inexpensive email solutions that won’t result in the emails from the site being tagged as spam.
    IDEA: A
    FEEDBACK FROM USERS: A
    FUN IN MANAGING EMAIL: D
  • Request for Professional Growth Support denied
    With the proven success of the LearnAPphysics.com website, I decided this year to expand and that and develop a LearnConceptualPhysics.com website as well. My school is very generous in supporting a number of professional growth and curriculum development projects with funding: teachers submit an application, and may receive up to a maximum of $4000 for their project. My proposal was not funded for a number of reasons, including lack of money (other projects were deemed more deserving than mine) and concern about who would own the materials I’d be developing for the site.
    IDEA: A
    FINAL PRODUCT (I’ll be proceeding with the project, without school funding): A
    INSTITUTIONAL SUPPORT: C (This would have been an D, but the chair of the Professional Growth committee was very good about communicating with me.)
  • Evaluation of school’s educational technology will happen next year
    The school’s Educational Technology “Department” has been charged with doing a WASC-style self-study next year, despite the fact that no such department actually exists. To make things even more confusing, I (a chair of the Ed Tech committee, and the one usually tagged for chair duties), wasn’t informed that such a self-study would happen, at least not until after someone else had already been selected for the role of chair of the committee.
    IDEA: B
    IMPLEMENTATION: D
    ANTICIPATED RESULTS OF SELF-STUDY EVALUATION OF TECH AT UPPER SCHOOL: C+
  • Changing Upgrade Cycle from 4 years to 3 years
    Technology is moving at such a pace that power users using a 3.5-year old laptop are suffering. Our school has been generous in providing teachers with a new computer every four years, but it’s my contention that that’s far too long, especially for advanced users, who have resorted to buying their own computers in order to have the power that they need.
    IDEA: A
    REALISTIC PROBABILITY OF SUCCESS DURING ECONOMIC DOWNTURN: 0.1%

I hope these examples serve to illustrate how difficult it can be to make progress, even when teachers have good ideas and a school genuinely wants to proceed in the right direction. Lack of funding, fear of setting the wrong precedent, fear of botching an implementation, etc., are all logistical realities that we and our administrators have to struggle with.

Despite the challenges I faced, it seems to me that it was a pretty good year, all in all.

How do these experiences compare with your own, at your school site? What kinds of progress did you make this year? What frustrations did you experience?