"Decisions, Decisions!": A Guest Blog by Tech Coach, Wayne Feller

RE@L logo_Corp_color_RGB-high-REZ RE@L welcomes guest blogger, Wayne Feller, and thanks him for his fine blog on the important connections between the art and science of innovation of Ed Tech in K12 classrooms. Yes, innovation does begin and end with sound K12 Ed Tech decision-making.

WayneFellerMr. Feller also reminds us of that delay teachers and administrators so often face in trying to extrapolate from what worked in Classroom A will also work well in Classroom B.

RE@L believes that advice from an experienced teacher and successful Tech Coach is advice well-worth reading. Read on:

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Decisions, Decisions: The art of innovation is an art of making decisions. Many school districts are making innovation decisions about what mobile devices should be selected and how they should be used.   After all, the growth of mobile devices in classrooms in the past few years has created new opportunities for learning. Programs that have initiated either a 1:1 approach or a BYOD approach have received a lot of attention, but what about programs that are 2:1?  In the elementary schools in Stillwater, Minnesota, a 2:1 system of mobile devices was implemented in the spring and fall of 2014. Many decisions were needed.

Distribution decisions came from the question, “how many devices should go to each school?” In order to provide a baseline of relatively equal access to resources in elementary buildings, mobile devices were purchased and distributed at the building level so that each of the nine elementary schools began the school year with a ratio of 2:1, one mobile device for every two students in a building. Each building, however, implemented their own plan for distributing these devices in classrooms. In some cases devices stayed within a given classroom, and in other cases devices were pooled and rotated between classrooms so students could experience a 1:1 ratio, although intermittently.

DeviceDecisionsDevice decisions included purchasing a combination of Chromebooks and iPads. Although choosing one system or the other would have created a much easier way to unify curriculum and professional development, the dual system created opportunities for experimentation and innovation.  Both types of devices used Google Apps for Education (GAFE).  Chromebooks gave students easy access to the Internet, a familiar look to their Google accounts, and the advantages of a keyboard.  iPads gave teachers and students full access to the Apple ecosystem, media creation advantages, and the internet. The Chromebooks were often used by older students and the iPads by younger students, although this was not a cut and dried rule.

PDDecisions Professional Development Decisions were essential elements of the 2:1 technology rollout process.  Technology & Innovation Coaches met with teachers in personalized coaching sessions 90 minutes in length, four times during the school year, in a professional development program called “PD21.”  The architecture for this program was based on eight 21st century skills: creativity & innovation, communication, collaboration, courageous leadership, content learning, career & life skills, critical thinking, and curiosity.

Each teacher made their own decisions about using technologies in the classroom, but the coaches helped guide these decisions by attending to the grade level, content areas, interests, innovation potential, and context of experience of individual teachers.  

Lesson plans were developed using a lesson plan template. Remote coaching used videoconferencing techniques for optional supplemental sessions.  

Teaching Style decisions TeachingStyleDecisionsaffected the way devices were used in classrooms. In one 1:1 classroom, every student provided information in the form of polls, open-ended responses, multiple choice quizzes, and drawings while interacting with multimedia content organized by the teacher. In another classroom, a teacher used a 3:1 approach for collaborations between students working on their own unique response to a driving question provided by the teacher.

In yet another classroom, a teacher set aside a few devices as part of a rotation model of blended learning. This learning station enabled first-grade students to practice high-frequency word recognition while interacting with HTML widgets embedded in an iBook. In yet another classroom, second grade students used mobile devices individually as needed to program robots, blog, and capture images. In all of these examples, and in many others, teachers had options for melding classroom mobile devices with their own teaching style preferences.

PDDecisionsHomework/Home Connection Decisions were affected by classroom device use. We asked the question, “Are there other kinds of computers in the home environments in addition to cell phones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers?”  Reading an animated interactive ebook while sitting in a comfortable chair required a different device or technique than writing in a digital journal or creating a 3D sketch. Flexibility was needed.

Flexibility was also needed for sharing content with parents, grandparents, or friends in home environments. The Rutherford Peace Book project and the Choose Your Own Colony IV Adventure project were distributed in ebook formats for parents with iPads and distributed in PDF format for parents with other kinds of computers.

Final decisions are never really final. The homework decisions of the future will evolve as device usage in schools evolves.  Devices will be added and upgraded. New applications will be invented. New techniques will emerge through experimentation. New products will generate opportunities for learning new kinds of skills.  At any time, we are simply viewing a snapshot of time. Decisions take us out of one snapshot and into the next.  Innovations are crucial for thriving in the 21st century, and decisions are the fuel for innovations.

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Wayne Feller is a Technology & Innovation Coach for elementary teachers in the Stillwater Public Schools, Stillwater, MN, where he has been a teacher and coach for 35 years.  

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Tom King & Dale LaFrenz

Dr. Tom King has served for over 40 years as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Saint Thomas in the School of Education. The Saturn School of Tomorrow, formerly a St. Paul Public School, and his visionary response to educational reform, was a lighthouse on the frontier of school change. Tom was an experienced high school teacher of mathematics, a school administrator, and Director of Technology for the St. Paul MN Public Schools. He is also a member of the RE@L Team. Dr. Dale LaFrenz is Chairman of RE@L and one of the founders of MECC Software who brought “Oregon Trail” to millions of K12 kids everywhere. He has written extensively on the history and evolution of Ed Tech. His work in forging new paths for MECC’S “edutainment" software was instrumental in connecting school-markets, kids, teachers and consumer-markets/kids/parents, and now serves as the new launching pad for RE@L apps and software.