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T-shirt pinned to bulletin board in Burlington High School’s student help desk room.

I’m flying back to Tucson today after three great days visiting schools in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, visits all tied to a theme of how we are and how we can better deploy devices, laptops and tablets, in K-12 learning.

Let me share a few moments from today’s visits, both brief but illuminating and inspiring.

Liz Davis kindly welcomed me to Belmont Hill School at 930 this morning.   We toured campus and discussed their current iPad deployment, happening this year widely for 7th and 8th graders and more selectively at the high school.

We began with a brief chat with Rick Melvoin, Head of School, and when I congratulated him on the exciting new initiative, he said it seems that everyone is talking about it right now.  I asked– talking about iPads?– and he said no, about how to bring and advance innovation in our schools, which have so many traditional elements.  I agreed, of course, saying we’ve got to strive to identify, preserve, and perpetuate the core values of our organization even as we aggressively stimulate progress to maintain alignment with changing times.

The Power of Educational Technology  Two Interactive iPad Apps that Work!-125854

After leaving Rick, Liz told me that one fascinating aspect of the iPad initiative is that many more students are now bringing their own devices to school, their laptops and their personal iPads.  It was permitted before, but not widespread; even though there was no particular message or encouragement this year to BYO, the arrival and new norm of iPads present in the classroom seems to have somehow, in a sense, shifted the default, you might say, and now they are far more abundant and adding value to student learning.

She was clear that this it is not universally the case: there are still many students not using their devices all the time, and there are classes without any device use– and that is OK: it is a tool that you use according the task at hand: sometimes it is advantageous and so employed, and sometimes not.

Much of their PD around this initiative is internally provided, which is so valuable: tomorrow they are having a 40 minute faculty meeting smackdown, with 8 teachers presenting for five minutes each on the ways they are using the iPads to advance learning.

images (2)Two tools she said they are finding most valuable for the iPad are Nearpod and Socrative— be sure to read her blog post here about these tools and how they are using them.  To quote her on Nearpod:

images (3)Nearpod allows the teacher to control what students see on their iPad.Teachers can upload any PDF file and Nearpod separates each page into a slide. Students sign into a “room” and the teacher takes control of the slides that each student sees. If that wasn’t cool enough, Nearpod also allows you to intersperse different types of interactive questions throughout the presentation to check for understanding. I tried this recently with a grammar lesson and it was great. I was able to see who was getting the concepts and who wasn’t immediately.

As I was leaving, Liz was working with a group of 7th graders as they finalized an iBook they were creating of family stories on their iPads.   Today’s task was taking a podcast they had prepared on their Macbooks, emailing it to themselves so they could download it onto their iPads, determining the proper pathway from email attachment through iMovie to their Photobooth from which they could then insert the podcast into their iBooks.  Nice.

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Patrick and Andy at BHS

Then I raced over to Burlington High School to visit with my good friend Patrick Larkin, who was until recently Principal of BHS and is now Assistant Superintendent for C& I for the district.   As many readers probably know, Patrick developed and directed the implementation of iPads 1-1 at that high school last year, and earned national honors as a Digital Principal of the Year from NASSP last year.

School Connect-125823Coming into his office, I met his other visitors today, three gentleman representing a new product from Jostens,  SchoolConnect, a free mobile app bringing together many different school information tools into one location: school listings, weather, sports, teacher pages, contact information, clubs, directories, and more.

We then toured a few areas of the school and learned about two exciting programs.   In one, we got information about Patrick’s project to take content delivery including textbook materials of 12 courses in the high school and middle school entirely into a digital app that can be downloaded onto the iPads, using a firm/app called Net Texts.

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To make this happen, Patrick has brought onboard for a year a Net Texts staffer, whose full time job it is to make this happen.   Patrick explained to us you just can’t really expect that most teachers can make this happen after say a single day of PD on how to do it– it requires serious work, but in the end, has multiple returns.

Here’s How It Works:

  • Teachers use our Web site to select existing courses or to create new courses by mixing and matching items from our library with their own educational material.
  • Students use our iPad app to download and use these courses, filled with videos, slideshows, e-books, PDFs, text, audiobooks, and Web links. Whether reading the latest e-book that has been assigned, or watching a video for the next homework assignment, students will feel more engaged and in charge of their learning.

I was told that Net Texts is currently available for iPads, and will be coming for Android and Window tablets and with a browser based app for laptops.

Clearly there is significant expense in engaging the Net Texts consultant, but the offset in textbook savings might be very significant in the long run.

What was impressive is that this free tool brings to schools curated, carefully evaluated, educational textbook materials from open education resources, all free.   The gap that is sometimes a chasm is between the tremendous amount of available online content– some excellent and much that is not– and the classroom teacher: Net Texts seems an interesting bridge for this chasm.

downloadPatrick then took us to the BHS student help desk, a student help desk on steroids.   Overseen today by Andy Marcinek, whom I was delighted to meet, this is a space where students not only manage iPad maintenance and repair, and also coach teachers on iPad skills and techniques– this is also a space where students are developing their own online learning video modules to train teachers on new and creative tech integration practices.

Patrick explained to us that his intent is to for these students to create a Khan Academy style resource for all Burlington educators on how to use the devices powerfully– but maybe I shouldn’t say intent, because this is already well underway.  One student told us he is producing a web video tutorial on use of Google Drive, using Jing to record his step by step on-screen directions.  When we asked him how long it would be, he told us one minute– that it is essential to keep these tutorials very succinct and compact for best utility.

Burlington High School Help Desk   A student run genius bar-132459

Patrick has written about his awesome expansive vision of a student help desk on his blog; to quote

Do you need instant tech support? Have a quick question about something related to Google Apps? Need a quick fix? Look no further than the BHS Student Help Desk Blog. This blog is quickly evolving into the preeminent resource for all your education technology needs in the Burlington community.

And, while we are still building our database of resources, the help desk students will be updating the site daily and continually looking for ways to accommodate all of your education technology needs.

This blog is not strictly limited to education technology resources either. The BHS student help desk is finding and researching current trends in technology. So far students have covered the release of the iPhone 5, iOS 6, Chrome plugins for Math, a Windows 8 preview and Google Underwater Maps. While most travel to sites like TechCrunch and Mashable, the real hard reporting and latest trending topics can simply be found at the BHS Student Help Desk.

All this learning and inspiration for me came from two visits totaling less than two hours: it is amazing how valuable school visits can be.  My thanks to Liz and Patrick for their kind hospitality.