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This month I’ve been in conversation with an outstanding school superintendent preparing his district for PARCC assessments.   As many understand, PARCC (and its counterpart Smarter Balanced), requires districts prepare their schools with technology sufficient for their student to take what will be entirely online, computer based high stakes tests.

“Of course,” he explained to me, “we need to become PARCC-ready.  But that is just the tip of the iceberg.   If we are going to invest in these substantial, even enormous technology upgrades, it would be foolish not to use this new technology in ways beyond the new tests.

“PARCC tech upgrades give us an opportunity to transform our schools to places of 21st century, student-centered– and this is an opportunity not be wasted.”

In addition, he added, preparing students for success on PARCC is not just a matter of ensuring the tech is there for them to take the test– it needs to be there and used in ways in which students develop the comfort and confidence.

This is a tremendous opportunity, and we can only hope that every superintendent recognizes as well as this one has the chance being presented to leverage an externally imposed new test and new test format– even when that new test perhaps is in and of itself unwelcome– to transform the equation of classroom learning toward 21st century, student-centered, technology in the hands of students programs.

This has been also recognized recently in a valuable new white paper from SETDA, State Educational Technology Directors Association, which I’ve embedded below.

The report has many important messages.  First, districts must carefully focus and determine their current technology’s capacity for supporting the new tests.

While there are compelling advantages to a technology-­‐based assessment system as compared to current paper-­‐ and pencil-­‐based approaches, schools and districts will need to validate their technology readiness for 2014-­‐15.

Validation for technology readiness is important even for states and districts currently administering tests online, as these Common Core assessments are being designed to move beyond multiple-­‐choice questions to technology-­‐enhanced items to elicit the higher order knowledge, skills, and abilities of students.

An article last spring in THE, Technology Challenges and the Move to Online Assessments,  also explored these issues.

The 2014-15 school year is a long way off, isn’t it? That depends on your perspective. If you are an eighth-grader, Friday night is a long way off, but if you are a technology leader in a school district or a state, the 2014-15 school year may be here all too soon.

Critically, the SETDA report insists that this PARCC/Smarter Balanced minimum specs, must not be the only factor to be considered when these enormous investments are made.    (more…)

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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. (more…)

livingstonAlthough I tend to write primarily here about current books and publications, I’m also spending a lot of time this year doing “deeper dives” in two fields: Best practices in 1-1 laptop programs and in Assessment.     Expect to see a few posts and commentaries here in coming weeks and months about books and articles from the past on these topics.

Livingston’s book was published by ISTE in 2006, and, to this reader’s eyes, continues to be a valuable resource and guide for schools undertaking 1-1 laptop initiatives– as, regular readers here know, I think should be occurring at every school.

The importance of this cause was reiterated for me recently in an inspiring post by my friend George Couros:

If you look around at most conferences, every teacher has some device that they use, whether it is a computer, tablet, or smartphone.  Go into the classroom though, and you will be lucky if you see that as the norm.

1:1 schools get so much attention because they are so unique, but should they be?  Shouldn’t that be the norm for our kids as it is outside of our world?  If you really think of it, doesn’t it seem strange that we are nowhere near the point where every kid having a device in school is just the norm?


Livingston reports that when legendary MIT researcher and programmer Seymour Papert was asked by the Maine Governor about the potential impact of lowering student to computer ratios to 3-1 or 2-1,  he responded, “in effect, nothing much.  ‘It only turns magic when it’s 1-1.‘”

Eleven takeaways and tips from Livingston:

1.  One of the valuable ways we can view and understand laptops and mobile devices in the classroom is as “digital assistants.”   This metaphor conveys that these are more than tools; the metaphor begins with the user as the operator, the mover and shaker, and the tool as strengthening the capacity of that operator.

the importance and usefulness of laptop computers for learning goes far beyond the single purpose implied by those who would call them “just a tool.”

It’s a device which facilitates a student’s thinking, analyzing, presenting, writing, reading, researching, revising, communicating, questioning, proposing, creating, surmising and publishing. (more…)

Principals and School-Leaders: The quality of your leadership makes a big difference in the success of a 1-1 student computer implementation, and these implementations, when well done, make a big difference to your students’ learning success, measured both by narrow academic achievement and a broader array of measures.

For the 4 Key Steps for Effective School Leadership in 1-1 computer programs, scroll down to the bottom section with the large heading: The Importance of School Leadership.

These are among the conclusions of a recently released report from Project Red, which can be found on its website, and in a new ISTE publication by the Project Red principals, Revolutionizing Education through Technology   The Project RED Roadmap for Transformation (which is happily available for free download: click here for the pdf).   (In addition the summaries on the website and the ISTE book, there is also a fuller research report which I have not reviewed, priced at $50.)

Regular readers know that I am an enthusiast for connecting our students to and empowering them with the wider world of information and networked collaboration and creativity that is available today, and essential to tomorrow, and I have to say I would be in favor of this even if there were not compelling evidence of improved learning (when defined narrowly by test scores).   But if there is quality evidence for improved learning, I’ll take it and use it to advance the cause.

Project Red explains the substance of their research this way:

In 2010, Project RED conducted the first large-scale national study to identify and prioritize the factors that make some U.S. K-12 technology implementations perform dramatically better than others.

Our research project had unprecedented scope, breadth, and depth:

  • 997 schools, representative of the U.S. school universe, and 49 states and the District of Columbia
  • 11 diverse education success measures

Let me share first some of the following key elements of their research findings with short commentary, before focusing more closely on the role of school leadership:

  • the financial analysis provided for cost-neutral, or cost-advantageous, 1-1 programs,
  • the education success measures used,
  • the key implementation factors for success, and
  • the academic achievement improvement. (more…)