Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Positive Academic Results with Technology Infused Curriculum

The 2009 National Trends Report: Focus on Technology Integration in America's Schools describes how five states incorporated the use of technology and increased academic achievement in specific content areas.

English, Math, Science and Social Studies--Georgia
The Instructional Technology Enhanced Environment (ITEE) grant teachers at Georgia's Claxton High School, 11th grade, represent all four academic core content areas: English/language arts, science, social science, and mathematics. Teachers plan common units which incorporate technology. Significant gains were made in all areas with the greatest gains in math and science with a 15% and 16% increase, respectively.

The Vallejo EETT-C Project involved Franklin Middle, Solano Middle, Springstowne Middle, and Vallejo Middle Schools. The project focused on the lowest performing students in 6th and 7th grade. While typically these are students who do not engage fully in learning, the different types of technology in this program turned that around. The district saw gains on CST scores for the target students, the 50 lowest performing students in each middle school. Approximately 40% moved up one performance band in the first year, essentially accomplishing the two-year objectives the first year.

Math--New Jersey
The Alfred C. MacKinnon Middle School in New Jersey received the Math Achievement to Realize Individual eXcellence (MATRIX) grant for technology integration in math instruction for special needs 7th grade students. Students planned and designed the construction of a new bridge connecting New York and New Jersey. Seventh grade special education students won first place for their bridge designs and models during the 2006 National Council of Teachers of Mathematics National Conference. Last year the percentage of students scoring in the GEPA proficient ranges increased to the highest percentage in the district's history (74.4%).

Great Prairie consortium developed a new initiative that focused on 8th grade math achievement. Great Prairie focused on professional development at the middle school level as the primary change agent for improving student achievement. Comparison of student growth in math achievement for proficient and non-proficient students in six participating school districts showed a statistically significant closing of the gap between proficient (n=327) and non proficient (n=131) students during the 8th grade.

Reading and Math--Oregon
The LIVE-C--Learning through Interactive Video Experiences at Three Rivers School District (1st-12th grades) was designed to bring the world to the geographically isolated, culturally limited and high poverty students through the use of mobile interactive video conferencing equipment. Teachers invite experts from around the world to enter their classrooms as co-teachers, as well as connecting their students to students around the globe. Fifth grade reading/lit Statewide Assessment scores at Fruitdale Elementary rose from 61.4% in 2006-07 of students meeting or exceeding the standard to 95% in 2007-2008. In math, 86.7% of students met or exceeded in 2007-08, up from 63.6% in 2006-07.

These examples add to a growing body of research focused on student achievement and the use of technology. School leaders have the opportunity to study the models and learn strategies for implementation by contacting schools where they have been successful.

Class of 2020 Action Plan for Education

SETDA (State Educational Technology Directors Association) recently published a series of white papers called "Class of 2020: Action Plan for Education" that focuses on topics relevant to the use of technology in schools. The following paragraphs from this series may be useful in our work with school leaders:
Student Bill of Rights
I. Each student has the right to feel safe in and proud of a school.
II. Each student deserves an engaging educational experience that provides opportunities for learning and for the future, including the acquisition of 21st Century Skills required for the global workforce.
III. Each student deserves to have highly qualified and effective teachers that have the necessary support in terms of resources, professional development, planninhg time, and leadership.
IV. Each student deserves an individualized learning experience addressing his/her abilities, strengths, weaknesses.
V. Each student has a right to the tools, technology, and resources needed for developing life-long learners and creators of knowledge.
Action Steps To Support Our Students
1. Ensure that technology tools and resources are used continuously and seamlessly for instruction, collaboration and assessment.
2. Expose ALL students (Pre-K through 12) to STEM fields and careers.
3. Make ongoing, sustainable professional development available to all teachers.
4. Utilize virtual learning opportunities for teachers to further their professional development, such as online communities and education portals.
5. Incorporate innovative, consistent and timely assessments into daily instruction.
6. Strengthen the home and school connection by using technology to communicate with parents on student progress.
7. Provide the necessary resources so that every community has the infrastructure to support learning with technology, including assessments and virtual learning.
8. Obtain societal support for education that utilizes technology from all stakeholders--students, parents, teachers, state and district administrators, business leaders, legislators and local communities.
9. Provide federal leadership to support states and districts regarding technology's role in school reform by passing the ATTAIN Act.
10. Increase available funding for E-rate so that school districts and schools can acquire telecommunication services, Internet access, internal connections and maintenance of those connections.
For additional information on topics highlighted in the Class of 2020 Action Plan visit SETDA's Class of 2020 Website at http://www.setda.org/2020.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Good News--You CAN Make a Difference

In an attempt to fulfill this year's resolution for getting better organized, I'm reading a lot of articles right now that I had filed "to read later." I'm sure at the time I didn't think it would be two years later, but as luck would have it, this one by Ronald F. Ferguson of the Tripod Project from the Fall 2006 issue of JSD couldn't be any more timely. In today's economic climate, leaders are struggling to meet budgetary limitations while still providing top notch professional development for teachers.

The good news is that school leaders can effectively improve instruction simply by addressing the following five challenges for implementing professional development:
  1. Introduce activities in ways that inspire ownership
  2. Balance principal control with teacher autonomy
  3. Commit to ambitious goals
  4. Maintain industriousness in pursuit of those goals
  5. Effectively harvest and sustain the gains

In other words, succcessful practices in schools have less to do with the program or initiative being implemented, and more to do with the implementation process. So what can school leaders do?

  1. Select and introduce the focus of the PD
  2. Assign responsibilities and define accountability for participation, including feedback mechanisms.
  3. Refine and clarify both school and personal goals (of teachers) for instructional improvement.
  4. Implement and monitor activities to help teachers succeed at these goals.
  5. Celebrate and reward accomplishments.

Making the PD enjoyable, with feasible goals that are clearly defined, and encouraging peer support won't cost a thing, but can provide amazing returns.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Made to Stick

Recently, I have had the opportunity to begin reading "Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die" by Chip & Dan Heath. In the book, there are some principles given about ideas that can be applied to leadership. First, "keep it simple." As a leader, it is vital to "determine the single most important thing." Too often in our work as educators & leaders we become too easily diverted from the main focus. One of the fundamental rules of journalism can be summed up by the statement: "Don't bury the lead." As leaders, we must have single-mindedness of purpose and laser-like vision on the main goal and we must continually share that goal with others so that we don't "bury the lead."
Another key component of effective leadership is use of the "unexpected." It is vital as leaders to "grab attention" and then to keep it. How do we keep people's attention? As a writer, one might employ a technique known as the "news-teaser approach." For example, a headline such as "Which local restaurant has slime in the ice machine?" is certain to garner more attention than something like "Local man eats cereal for breakfast." While this may seem like a ridiculous comparison, it illustrates an important point: as leaders, we must exhibit an uncommon enthusiasm and confidence when working with others. We must have a genuine concern for people and their needs that is evident in our words and actions, as well as in our eagerness to listen.
A third characteristic of effective leadership is summarized by the word "concrete." We must be able to address issues in a way that is practical and relevant. All the theories in the world are meaningless if they do not lead to specific actions that can help resolve people's issues. It is important to find common ground at a shared level of understanding. As leaders, we must master the ability to place ourselves "in another's shoes" to know best how to help in any given situation. It has been said that teachers learn much more than students because they learn the material twice: once during the preparation, and once during the delivery to the students. As leaders, we are only effective when we offer advice that gets to the heart of the issues that people face.
A fourth characteristic of effective leadership is "credibility." We must help people believe. It is not enough to offer advice and then say "I hope this works for you." We must convince people that what we have to share with them has been proven to be effective in other similar situations and circumstances.
A fifth trait of effective leadership is the concept of "emotion." We must make people care! How can we make people care? We need to appeal to self-interest and identity. I doubt there are many people in the world who get out of bed each day and say "I wonder how badly I can perform today?" However, some people don't reach their potential simply because they don't have the proper encouragement. At the 1993 ESPY Awards, the late Jim Valvano, former men's basketball coach at North Carolina State University, delivered a stirring speech that brought the audience to tears. He suggested that all people need to do three things each day: think, laugh, and cry. In doing so, he said that people experience a "full day." As human beings we are emotional beings, and as leaders, we must be able to display emotion at appropriate times and in appropriate ways. We are not robots!
Finally, a sixth characteristic of effective leadership is the ability to tell stories. There are two main types of stories: stories that simulate (or tell people how to act), and stories that inspire (or give people energy to act). We must be able to use both types of stories as we work with people. Some people need more of the former, while others need more of the latter. As we continually develop our relationships with people, we will gain insights as to what types of stories they need to hear from us!
By employing these six principles, we will be able to provide effective leadership for people from all walks of life, no matter where our journey as leaders might take us.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

New Teacher Support on a Budget

I think we can all agree on the validity and effectiveness of teacher mentor programs, both in getting new teachers better prepared at a faster rate and in keeping teachers in our schools, which has an economic benefit as well. Unfortunately, we can all take a look at shrinking budgets and see support programs like mentoring being put on the chopping block. We also know that December and January can be truly low points in the year for new teachers--they've been working really hard for months and the end of the year isn't close enough to boost their spirits.

So here are a few ideas for helping new staff members feel more included. They don't replace quality ongoing mentorship, but they can at least help build a relationship and support system.

1. Include new teachers in end of the year meetings, student orientations, and classroom visits. Better yet, be your new teacher's sub for a day so they can visit other classrooms and connect with experienced teachers.
2. Invite new teachers to professional workshops--perhaps waiving the fee or creating a small informal book study group.
3. Introduce new teachers to subject and grade level colleagues--and consider hosting team building or getting to know you activities throughout the year
4. Include information about new staff in newsletters. Go beyond the fall introduction and feature the new teacher's interests or hobbies.
5. Continue to provide orientation and mentoring opportunities as much as possible. Even hosting a mid-year new teacher tea or getting an experienced teacher to "check in" on the new teacher can help them know they are not alone!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Kicking But

One of the exercises Dan Pink recommends in his book A Whole New Mind seems to fit well with January being a time for focusing on the new year, new goals, new resolutions for improving our lives. The exercise is this: make a list of changes you'd like to make and what's keeping you from making them. The word "but" tends to make less important what is in front of it, while putting all the emphasis on what follows--thus you focus on the obstacle. By replacing "but" with "and," you put an equal emphasis on both sides--thus it's easier to focus on how to make both parts of the sentence doable. Therefore, I want everyone to get closer to their goals, and it's impossible for me to be there to help all of you. So, I'm going to blog about this in order to give you a tool for helping yourselves. Happy New Year!

Example: I want to exercise more but I work too much.
Now replace the but with an and.

Example: I want to exercise more AND I work too much. Now follow that up with a specific idea for how to make the two work together.

Example: I want to exercise more and I work too much. So...I am going to find an exercise program that works with my busy schedule.