Thursday, October 16, 2014

Discovery Streamathon Soireé

Hi fellow educators,

Jenison will be hosting the Discovery Streamathon on Saturday, October 25 from 9 AM - 4 PM in the High School Learning Center. This online and in-person event will feature terrific educators from across the U.S. as they share their skills, ideas, and resources for using Discovery Education. 

Consider joining us in Jenison for this face-to-face event. Lunch is being provided for those signing up before Tuesday. Come and learn, and eat!  Join us for the entire day or just part of it. 

This is open to any and all educators, not just Jenison. Share with others. The more the merrier.

You need to register in two places.

Register with Discovery here.

Register with Jenison here.

I hope to see you at the Jenison Streamathon Soireé

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Fish Out of Water!

A Fish Out of Water

This summer I had the opportunity to attend and be part of a panel discussion at the National Conference on Student Assessment (NCSA) hosted by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). This conference was held in the hot and muggy city of New Orleans, LA in late June.

Discovery Education invited me to be a panelist in our symposium, Confidently Stepping Towards 21st Century Instruction and Assessment: Views from the Field. My part was designed to give attendees a look inside a local school district’s plans for preparing for online assessments.

First Impression
My first reaction at the conference was that I was fish out of water. I arrived in my polo shirt, shorts, and sandals to be greeted by suits and dresses. I knew this was not my “tribe” (some of you will understand that). I had a choice to make. I could cower in the corner and try to disappear, or, I could embrace an opportunity to speak to fellow attendees and share my story from the trenches. I chose the latter.

Michigan Sea Grant

Attendees would strike up a discussion with me, glance at my nametag, and ask me why I was at the conference. Apparently, it is quite rare for a public school educator to attend a conference on student assessment. Hmmm. This reaction further fueled my intent to share our Jenison story.

My portion of the planned presentation had several agenda items. However, here I will share two items that I think are quite pertinent to local school districts.

Point #1: School districts have not truly tested their capacity to handle full scale online assessments.

From my role as Director of Information Technology, I am quite concerned about my district’s capacity to handle the online testing. If we were to enable every MacBook Pro, iMac, and PC during out testing cycles, we would have over 900 devices connected to the Internet. While I am confident that we could connect that many devices, I am more concerned about EVERY district in Michigan connecting at the same time on such a high stakes assessment. I can see testing overwhelming the available capacity.

My fears have played out in several states including Indiana and Minnesota. Folks from those states shared their stories. Their experiences were not efficient or effective. 

Many states, if not all, have implemented pilot tests to evaluate network and testing effectiveness. Jenison was one district in Michigan that did pilot testing. Our testing was fairly event free. But, we only tested a few grades in one building and not at the same time.

To help make my point about capacity, I pointed (really, I pointed) to the back wall of the room. Beyond that wall was the Louisiana Superdome. I said “Assume that there are 1000 toilets in the stadium. To test capacity, they have 1000 people all at the ready to flush at the same time.”  THAT tests capacity.

Using that same analogy with current tests of capacity for online assessment, assessment groups would put 10 people in the stadium to flush 10 toilets. If that works, the assumption is that it will work for 1000. THAT does not test capacity.

Point #2: Digital classroom instruction will revert to analog instruction during testing cycles.

During testing cycles Jenison will restrict online access to only those devices being used for testing. We do not want to risk compromising the testing events. The stakes are too high. This strategy may not be used in all districts, but this will be our approach in Jenison.

That means we will have over 1000 devices sitting idle during testing times. They will not be used for online instruction. We won’t risk it.

And this “downtime” will last during the entire testing window. At this point, we don’t know what the testing window will be but the impact will be significant. Testing every student in multiple subjects will take time, a lot of time.

Let’s say the testing window is six weeks. Then, for around 17% of our school year, we will use late 20th Century instructional strategies. We currently encourage digital instruction for our students but during the testing window, instruction will go analog.

Testing is impacting education, in a negative way.

Final Thoughts
I appreciated the opportunity to share our story with the assessment people. These folks were state level assessment coordinators, state level education department members, and national testing organizations. They were not local level educators. That omission concerns me.

FYI: Shirt and tie during my presentation. Back to shorts, polo shirt and sandals the next day!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Innovate Wildly!

Hi friends,

I have been holding back on sharing with you a “project” that we are implementing in our school district this year. I held back because it wasn’t until today that we unveiled the “project” to our district wide staff. They got to hear about it first.

This “idea” is not a one-time event, not the next thing to come around. It is here to stay. It is to become part of our culture. It is designed to re-capture the joy in education.

Our “movement” is called Innovate Wildly! Our slogan, mission statement, catch-phrase, motto, call-it-what-you-want is "Unleash your passion for teaching and learning".

I am tired of seeing educators figuratively beaten up by so many. Far too many teachers and students have had their fires extinguished. No more. We can sit back and let it happen, or, we can do everything we can to make a difference. We can bring the passion back into our profession. Innovate Wildly! will help us do that.

Innovate Wildly! was inspired by Rushton Hurley (@rushtonh,, a well known educator, speaker, and cheerleader for kids. During his closing keynote at the 2014 MACUL Conference, Rushton shared a story where the Superintendent of the Singapore American Schools, Chip Kimball, challenged his teachers to Innovate Wildly. I heard that phrase and my wheels started spinning.

I met with our Curriculum Director, Kristy Rogalla (@KristyRogalla), and shared my thoughts that we should encourage our staff to do just that: Innovate Wildly! She agreed and our project had legs. 

The MACUL Conference at which we heard Rushton was an unusual one for our district in that we were able to send over 40 teachers and administrators. Kristy and I convened an informal meeting to capture the momentum of the conference and to push forward. During that meeting, we asked for volunteers to be part of a team do help us determine our next steps. Five teachers stepped forward: Kevin Groothuis (@MrGroothuis), Becky Steele (@beckysteele), Amy Hage (@amy_hage), Lori Barr (@LbarrBarr), and Kristin Terrigno (@KristinTerrigno).

At our first meeting with those teachers, I shared my "vision" about Innovate Wildly! I voiced my opinion that it is time to re-ignite the fire that inspired teachers to become teachers. To make a long story short, we are on our way. Our team has grown and we are ready to change our world.
On Tuesday, August 26, at our district school year kick-off, Innovate Wildly! was launched. Where it goes, we will have to wait and see. There is no manual for this. No recipe. We will build this as we grow.

To keep you in the loop, visit our newly created website where we intend to share our successes, failures, inspirations, and resources. Check it out here:  Follow us on twitter at #JPSiWild. 

Join us as we Innovate Wildly! and unleash your passion for teaching and learning.

This has been cross posted at other two blogs. Blog 1 and Blog 2.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

What Are Your Summer Plans?

Jenison Public Schools
Technology Update
Summer 2014 Plans

It will be a very busy summer for the JPS technology staff as we look to update system software, replace aging computers, and add additional computers. This is my brief overview of our plans.

While most would believe that Jenison is fully an Apple technology district, that is not the case. We have a number of Windows based computers used in the district. This summer, we will be replacing Lab 222 and Lab 410 at the high school with new HP computers and monitors. We will also be replacing old computers at transportation, maintenance, and the pool. In total, we will be replacing 71 Windows computers/monitors.

Two years ago, we updated the teacher computers throughout the district. The 6 year old computers that we pulled from the teacher desks were re-purposed to update computers labs at the Junior and Senior High schools. Those computers, the white iMacs, have now been used for 8 years and it is time to replace them. We also have over 100 additional white iMacs being used throughout the district. Those will also be replaced. We will be replacing 232 white iMac’s this summer.

The white iMacs are going to be replaced with an iMac Mini setup (iMac Mini, keyboard, mouse, 21” monitor). While small in size, the iMac Mini is truly a powerful computer. This setup has been tested for us as Jim Smith and Brad VanTimerren have used this configuration all school year in their MERIT classroom with 15 stations.

While Jenison Public Schools does not implement a 1-to-1 program (1 student to 1 device), we have made great gains in our students-to-device ratio.  Two years ago, our student-to-device ratios were as follows:

After a large infusion of technology last summer, we have been able to bring our ratios down considerably. Below you see the ratios for our current year.

As we update and add technology this summer, we will bring our ratios to the following:

We are happy to have moved our district to such a reasonable ratio. We have added almost 1400 digital devices to our district over the last two years enabling our teachers and our students to enhance the teaching and learning experience.

We will also be adding to our technology inventory as we add 5 additional MacBook Pro Mobile Labs. Two labs each will be added to Bauerwood and the Junior High. One mobile lab will be added to Sandy Hill. By doing so, we arrive at the students / device ratios listed above.

At the high school, we will have one additional mobile lab of MacBook Pro’s. This is not an addition but a replacement of Lab 402. We are dismantling this desktop computer lab and replacing it with the MacBook Pro Mobile Lab. Lab 402 was underutilized and we believe that having this additional mobile lab will cause greater use of the computers.

In total, we will be prepping 194 MacBook Pro computers for those mobile labs for use in the fall.

As if that wasn’t enough, we will be updating our current inventory of iPads and computers. All of our Apple computers will undergo a software update this summer moving them to the latest operating system, Mavericks. We will be hands-on with over 1000 Macs as we provide this update. All of our student iPads, over 600 of them, will be updated with the most recent version of their apps. 

Almost all the work described above is on top of our normal summer tech maintenance. This is a mighty task for our small team to accomplish this summer. We are hopeful that we have drawn up a plan where we can meet our goals. Our number one goal is to make sure our students and teachers have access to the technology they need to begin a fabulous 2014-2015 school year. 

Fasten your seat belts Tech Team. It’s going to be a quick ride!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Reflection on the MACUL Conference

Last week I attended the Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning (MACUL) Conference. I always look forward to attending this conference as it affirms my belief in educational technology, re-energizes me, and re-connects me face-to-face with many friends.

I am proud of Jenison Public Schools for sending more educators to this conference than ever before. Over 40 staff members attended to find ways to further their use of educational technology. Wow! With that many educational leaders participating, positive changes can't be far ahead for Jenison staff and students.

It was a busy conference for me as I presented four sessions. Those sessions and the associated resources can be found here. Feel free to share. Because much of my time was spoken for, I typically try to attend the keynote and featured speaker sessions. Here are a few thoughts from sessions I attended.

Whatever Happened to Joy?

Dean Shareski (@shareski)

Dean does a fantastic job of "humanizing" education. Too often, we lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with humans. We need to work harder at putting "Joy" into the lives of our students AND ourselves.

A Dean Shareski quote: 

No one's ever going to put "Being Happy" in the curriculum.

True. Sad, but true.

Innovate. Create. Voice.

George Couros (@gcouros)

George is entertaining as well as thought provoking. The tissue count goes up in George's sessions.

A George Couros quote: 

Ask yourself...Would you want to sit and learn all day in your own classroom?

Rapid Changes and the World of Teaching

Rushton Hurley (@rushtonh)

Rushton has a worldly view on education. He loves to tell his stories with video. Captivating. Entertaining. Motivational. The MOST memorable thing I took away from Rushton's session was related to a story he shared about a Chinese school "superintendent" who challenged his staff to "Innovate Wildly". Wow! Yes. Go forth and do that. Innovate Wildly.

That two word phrase is what I want to take back to the staff AND students at Jenison Public Schools. Innovate Wildly. Throw caution to the wind and Innovate Wildly.

But, keep Dean in mind. Do your Wild Innovation with a sense of joy and happiness.

And also keep George in mind. Make sure that your Wild Innovation is done in a way that students WANT to learn all day in your classroom.

The one sentence summary of these three sessions:

In your educational space, innovate wildly so that students willingly and happily learn!


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

5 Eggs … and Waiting!

This is an update to my previous posting about a Robin's nest at Bursley Elementary.

We are now at 5 Robin's eggs with an anticipated "hatch" date sometime this weekend, May 11 & 12.

Never would I have envisioned that a Robin's nest would attract so much attention. This "small" project suggested by Rané Garcia, Principal at Bursley Elementary, has blossomed into something quite unexpected. As of Tuesday, May 7, ten days into the live stream, we have over 1000 views of the bird's nest.  With a little social media assistance, this has become a living project of Robin's nest research.

Bursley 5th Grade Teacher Becky Steele has helped to launch this project into a living research project. Her sister, Dr. Christy Burns, is an Ornithologist at Indiana University. The two of them have put together a live research project where viewers of the Robin's nest can actively participate. To submit your own observations for this research, visit the 5th Grade at Bursley website.

You will need to scroll down past the live stream feed to the form to provide your observations.  Once you have entered your observations, scroll down a bit more to view the previous submissions. You will see that people, often students, from all over the United States have entered observations.  I am still waiting for this to extend to global proportions. I suspect it will happen.

Stream videos at Ustream

Let's not stop with viewing a live stream and recording observations. Extend this nature lesson by logging into your Discovery Education account. I have added several resources that support this live project. You will find those resources in a folder called Robin's Nest Project. To get to that folder, go to My Content and click on My District. Open up the first District Content folder and you will see the resources.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Live View of a Robin's Nest

Bursley Elementary has a guest and that guest number will grow very soon.

A mother Robin has built her nest on the window ledge outside of one of the rooms. At the request of Principal Rané Garcia, I have configured a livestream of the nest. Below is the "live" video. It actually has about a 40 second delay, but we will call it "live". Here is a link to the livestream in case it is not showing below.

Because this setup utilizes a free Ustream account, you will see occasional ads pop up. Such is the price of FREE. Be aware, I don't have any control over the ads that appear, so use with caution when viewing with younger kids. I encourage you to mute your computer when viewing.

Live streaming by Upstream

I had not set up a livestream system before, so I used this as a teaching/learning moment for me and my son, Matt.  We worked together to figure this out.  Here is what we used for the livestream setup.

1 digital camcorder
1 tripod
1 MacBook
Ustream Producer software

Using a firewire cable, we connected the camera to the computer. We have the camera running on camera mode, plugged into electrical power.

I downloaded and installed Ustream Producer. Producer is software that is necessary to broadcast the video.  A Ustream account is required to stream the video.

When you launch Ustream Producer, you are prompted to log in to your account. Once you do, you choose a few settings and click on Broadcast.  I chose not to record this event as it will be running over the next several weeks, but it is possible to record your event for future viewing.

Since JPS teachers have access to Discovery Education, here is an added resource for you to enhance the Robin viewing and learning experience.

  • Login to your Discovery Education account.
  • Click on this Discovery Education link. This will take you to a specific page within Discovery that has materials for Robins as well as other birds.
  • Click on the "More To Explore" tab. Here you will find more images, videos, reading passages (with audio support) and quizzes.
  • Add any/all of these resources to YOUR Discovery "My Content" and assign to your students for school and at home viewing.

Spring is alive in Michigan!