Saturday, November 22, 2014

On Being Intentional...

Earlier this week, I was working with our Teaching and Technology Cohort, a group of educators from Edina and Hopkins. At one point, I asked everyone to close their laptops. My point was twofold:

  1. I wanted them to really pay attention to what I had to say
  2. I wanted to model for them good teaching practice in a 1:1 environment, that when you DO have something important to say, you should have the screens closed, so that you have more of the student's attention.
Despite three requests at one point, some of the adults in the room either didn't hear me, or ignored my request. It reminded me that for this group, I hadn't worked as hard at setting up norms with them, and practiced those norms as we were developing our learning community.

This year, our district has moved from encouraging all students to have a device for their learning to requiring that all students have a device for their learning. To help staff prepare for this, we put together this planning guide, as well as a "Road Map," for the first 6 weeks of school. 

On the Road Map, I talked about the importance of each teacher setting up norms and expectations on how students would be utilizing devices in class, as well as practicing transitions with their students, getting devices out and putting them away. The main point was to get them thinking about intentionality as they incorporated student devices in their instruction.

As the year has progressed, I believe we have made a fairly smooth transition to 1:1. As I walk around the district, students are utilizing their devices to access content, collaborate and create, the goals of our digital age learning framework. Overall, it has enhanced learning for students. 

Unfortunately, we have also seen some students struggle to stay on task, and use their devices to play games, stream video, and get distracted. For some, this has affected their learning. 

Our policy around filtering to this point has been to block based on the Children's Internet Protection Act. Our philosophy has leaned more towards an open policy and an understanding that as a learning organization, we need to help our students become self-regulating, so that they leave our system with that valuable skill. This week, based on feedback from parents, administrators, staff and even students, we modified that policy. Yesterday, I sent out the following message to our staff:


Recently we have heard staff, students, parents and administration note that games and streaming media have been a distraction and have negatively impacted student learning. Because of this, we will be blocking student access to the category Games on our network filter. In addition, we are sending home a message to parents this afternoon that includes a note that if they do not want their kids accessing Netflix or Amazon Prime streaming media, that they should consider changing the password.
We know students have been finding distractions in the classroom prior to eLearning2: doodling, looking out the window, note passing, etc. and that they may gravitate to other distractions once these categories are blocked. We have been operating under the philosophy that we are a learning institution and that self-regulation is a skill that we want our students to have when they leave our system. Given the number of people raising concern lately, the secondary administrators felt we should move in a different direction.
Even the best filter is not impenetrable, and staff in the classroom still need to remember some of the best practices that we discussed at the beginning of the year.
  1. Walk around the room.
  2. Be intentional about when students are using devices in your class, and when they should put them away or close the lid.
  3. Have a plan for what students CAN do with their device when they have completed work in your class.

These changes will hopefully mitigate barriers to learning as we move forward with eLearning2.
As noted, students have been finding a way to be distracted in classrooms long before the introduction of personal devices. As educators we need to remember to be intentional about how those devices are used in class, be they slate tablets, pencils and notebooks, or electronic devices. We also need to remember to set clear expectations and recognize that our role isn't to police, but to guide them toward responsibility.
I like these two short and sweet sets of rules. The first was shared by Dave Eisenman and folks from Minnetonka:
Be Respectful, Be Responsible,  Be Focused,  & Be Present
The second are from Doug Johnson, Technology Director at Burnsville:
Privacy - I will protect my privacy and respect the privacy of others.
Property - I will protect my property and respect the property of others.
a(P)propriate Use - I will use technology in constructive ways and in ways which do not break the rules of my family, church, school, or government.
Good words to remember and live by. Since I sent out the notice to staff, I've had 3 "Thank you," e-mails and one concerned that a simulation game that he uses will still work when we get back from break. With this barrier in place, I hope that our staff do not get complacent, and work to find ways to enhance their learning environment and engage students in learning, intentionally!