Recently, I was listening to a CheckThisOut podcast and the statement was made “It starts in IT.” In the year 2017 schools are still struggling with technology integration. The notion that was presented by Brian Briggs was that in order to implement technology fully in classrooms related to hardware selection/management, “It starts in IT.” If your IT department does not have a level of comfort innovating you will find yourself extremely limited with what can occur in classrooms today. IT departments in schools too often get stuck with the toolset they know and the tools they feel confident managing.
When I leave my own district and I’m out with teachers I still often hear, “We cannot access that, we’re told we can’t use that, and it’s blocked.” In 2017, we are still held at bay by our IT departments too often. I have been an IT professional for well over 20 years, and hearing this is still heartbreaking and often true.
My recommendation is that classroom teachers + parents + students rally and challenge administration to challenge IT. If you have IT professionals that lack the skillset to innovate or the will to innovate, there are ways that you can train them and educate them around the new value that they can offer just by being risk takers.
What devices are used-what standards are followed with projection and doc cameras and laptops and Chromebooks. What operating systems are supported still drive classroom instruction. For IT departments that want to better meet the needs of their classroom teachers, there are very inexpensive ways to innovate without putting the organization at risk for potential intrusive challenges. There is a happy medium that we can reach with classroom teachers in IT. The willingness on the part of the IT staff has to be to give up a little bit of power and control. If you are in a position where you manage the IT staff, you can easily make it part of their evaluation.
In classrooms, to support teachers that want to innovate, IT departments have to evolve and innovate themselves. Yes we have to follow laws. Yes we have to follow industry standards. Yes it is easier to manage only one type of hardware. Does that best meet the needs of our classroom teachers, I say no. I challenge IT leaders to stretch their own thinking around how to best support classroom teachers. If IT leaders are not “in classrooms”, they cannot see what a hindrance they are to learning. Invite them into your rooms. Encourage them to observe. Share this blog post and ask they reach out. #cueadmin is full of innovative IT Leaders. @CETPA has certified CTO’s that take courses in EdTech. There are avenues. There are support mechanisms. Nudge them.
I have been attending the East Bay Mini MakerFaire at the Park Day School in Oakland California for the last 4-5 years. This was the first year I experienced the event flying solo. It is very different to attend an event like this with my kids versus by myself. And walking around, I found myself more often than not struck by the enthusiasm and excitement levels of the kids then I was by the Makers themselves.
As a Chief Technology Officer in a medium size school district in the Bay Area I have an opportunity every day to infuse the Maker movement spirit into classrooms in small ways. I crowdsource a lot of information and share it out with the hope that teachers administrators and students will find nuggets among the resources.
Even though we are a mere 45 minutes from where the Maker movement sprouted as a magazine and then blossomed into an annual conference, there are still so many parents and educators in the area who have never heard of it. I have taken it as an opportunity to share my love and commitment to the Maker movement.
After 17+ years as an educator, I absolutely know there is no silver bullet. There are many approaches to achieving the learning objectives teachers, schools, and districts have with their students. The shift though, is a societal shift & classrooms need to modernize in order to remain relevant. No longer can we ignore technology, the impact of students that are creating content in their spare time, and curating content around passion projects. What historically had been a hobby or after school activity, must become integrated in the school day. Parents now have choice around where their children attend school and that also must be a consideration for our classrooms today, not tomorrow.￼
The spirit of the Maker movement does not mean high technology in classrooms. The spirit of the maker movement is instilling a sense of curiosity and risk in everything people do as part of the Maker movement. One of the most compelling examples I heard today was a Maker telling a young student to not worry about what it would look like at the end, but rather focus on the tactile and texture of the materials exploring what could be built. In classrooms, in small ways every day, teachers can do just that. To make the movement truly a cultural shift in schools, we must integrate it beyond pockets of excellence.
When I began teaching Maker projects with classroom teachers a number of years ago, my focus was to give them lesson plans and tools that they could deliver immediately with a level of comfort and that same sense of curiosity and exploration. In the past year, my shift has moved more towards administrators and parents in an effort to educate them about the value of the spirit of the maker movement in classrooms. I am hopeful that this new angle will instill the same sense of creativity and curiosity in them that I have seen bubble up in many teachers. Wish me luck……..
Update: I’ve watched districts all across the country struggle with how to use this new platform due to technical constraints requiring WIN10 and/or MACOSX means all of us with Chromebooks have to wait. It’s fall of 2017 and we’re still waiting. I am 100% ready to go go speedracer once they make it Chrome agnostic & grosslt reduce the licensing fees. & not without a technical work of magic with dumb terminals….
Blog Post Way back when….
Microsoft acquired Minecraft and made the announcement in December of 2015 & then Microsoft announced the acquisition of MinecraftEDU. They have rebranded it and it is now called Minecraft Education Edition (MinecraftEE). For many of us in education that have invested in MinecraftEDU it begs the question, what now?
During the annual bett http://www.bettshow.com/ conference in the UK in 2016, Microsoft had a large booth set up and opportunities for people to explore MinecraftEE due out this summer worldwide. Sessions were offered and mentors were available to assist teachers and administrators alike in previewing the new version.
I followed the http://www.bettshow.com/ conference on Twitter and had an opportunity to ask a couple questions of key people at Microsoft. My first big question was what programming language is the new version of MinecraftEDU built on. MinecraftEE is built on C++. The current version of Minecraft and Minecraft EDU are both created in JAVA. What does this mean for education? C++ will be less of a beast to manage in IT departments. It still has yet to work on a Chromebook, but will work on tablets like the current PE (Pocket Edition) does. With the new platform, there will be increased functionality and a new interface that will allow for personalization and student profiles.
Here’s the before and after for MinecraftEDU:
In the current version of MinecraftEDU, I can buy a license for $14. That license can be installed on the computer and have as many users as I would like to have rotate through that environment. The + for that is budget. The – is that students cannot save their local projects very easily due to a lack of a unique signin.
In the new version of MinecraftEDU, I will spend five dollars per student annually. This new pricing structure, will be difficult for many districts if they want a districtwide utilization of this new tool. Students will login with the unique identifier and be able to keep all of their work under that credential. It will be interesting to see if this tool will work in a pure web-based interface or if there will be a need for a client install. We will know more on this topic. In the coming months.
In the current version of MinecraftEDU, users can create custom mods that essentially modify the game. That part of Minecraft & MinecraftEDU has had great appeal with users as it feels very much like an open source community based application.
In the new version of MinecraftEDU, mods are not currently available. We will have to see once the platform is released how much control users will have at the code level. Can they modify the code and reimport like they can now? Will there be as much sharing in the Minecraft community that we currently see where there is no limits to the users creativity?
Many programmers will tell you that C++ is a far more reliable platform then JAVA. From a programming perspective and a user experience perspective, this may be an advantage. We will no once we have a chance to experience the new version.
For classrooms, schools, and districts that are considering MinecraftEE need to weigh the pros and cons for the budget, the ease of use, and a comparison of the functionality prior to making a decision. In my district, I have essentially 100 licenses of the current version. Beginning this summer, Minecraft EE will be available to my district for free for one year.
My strategy is to continue to use the current version (MinecraftEDU), and compare it to the new version (MinecraftEE) prior to making the budget decision to move all students to the more expensive version of MinecraftEDU. I feel confident within a year our students will tell us which platform they prefer. The Microsoft version of MinecraftEDU is going to be a more expensive deployment then the current version of MinecraftEDU. Budget will not be my main data factor, but it should be yours if you are brand new to the tool and considering the deployment in the next year. Check back for updates as the story unfolds. In the meantime, happy world building in Minecraft EDU.
For many school districts in the Bay Area we are roughly 2 months into the school year. The honeymoon for our students has ended. We figured out our routines and strategies from the moment the day begins until the door closes. If were highly effective teachers, we are protecting our students from an extremely hostile environment. Daily on social media, in the news, and too often now in common interactions we are struggling with a wave of negativity that is rolling across the country. I don’t have a magic bullet. I don’t have any answers. But here’s what I have that I exercise on a daily basis: choice.
I am choosing every day how my day will go. Commuting for 30 minutes with my son down the 680 Corredor, we listen to mindful meditation to set the right intention energetically for both of us to begin the day. While he navigates extremely busy hallways in a middle school packed with students, I navigate a district dealing with extreme growth and challenges at every corner. I choose to be positive. It may not move a mountain. It may not make any difference for anyone around me. But it makes me personally feel better. It is simple-it is easy and I believe it is the right path. I encourage all of us to get involved in any way that we can to support one another during these difficult times. I think a lot about teachers all over the country that are struggling with very difficult conversations with their students and trying to find solace in the chaos. I’m thinking about you. I hope you can remain positive.
This past week marks the conclusion of my third summer in Dublin Unified School District as the Chief Technology Officer. There were many facets to the summer’s work that were no different from prior summers. Staff adjusted their schedules and tackled school-based tasks in teams. Here was my approach that was unique this summer that I had not done in the prior two years.
In the spring of 2017, I carved out time in my schedule and walked elementary school classrooms in the district across six campuses. I talked with teachers and tested hardware in every room. It gave me an opportunity to gather some much-needed qualitative data regarding hardware and the teachers over all feelings about the technology in their rooms. Teachers that had laptops in disarray were given a form to complete filling a Google sheet and they coordinated time to drop off their laptop prior to leaving for the summer. In addition, teachers that did not need specific hardware in their classroom (that had been the district standard hardware) had an opportunity to request removal.
In testing hardware in every room in front of teachers and students, I was able to convey the importance of targeted summer work. It also allowed teachers input into priorities in their rooms while gone.
I gathered notes and dropped into a project spreadsheet that would be utilized for the summer work on a site-based level with order of importance applied prior to the beginning of summer. In addition to meeting the needs of hardware in classrooms across all K-12 schools, The department also had a number of initiatives that we took on as a whole team.
My philosophy in my department with all staff is regardless of your job title there will be times during the year that everyone is expected to pitch in. We have dubbed projects: all hands on deck (AHOD). These are really team building and training opportunities that I see as invaluable for operations. Some leaders might suggest it’s not the best use of time to have all members of a department working on a task. I have found it to be quite the opposite. While we are doing something as simple as assembling teacher podiums with hardware, the conversations between the staff members often involve real-time professional development that I could not create on a schedule. Digging deeper on any given technical concept with Network Technicians in the room alongside Computer Technicians has meant real-time growth for all in the department. The teambuilding element of the work goes without saying. We had a minimum of three all hands on deck opportunities (AHOD) through the summer and I still believe it was some of the best work we did.
As the leader of the department, my technical skills improved greatly through the summer as I partnered with Computer Technicians in the field and allowed them to be the boss for the day. I believe these opportunities are also critical to empower staff and give them a chance to lead the department through an exercise or a task. With much joking and fun, all of them have been able to rise to the occasion and be leaders.
During this particular summer, in addition to all the tasks that resulted from my spring walkthroughs of every elementary classroom, the team also built 25 new classrooms across three campuses.
The hard work and effort of the whole group to ensure that we were ready for the beginning of school has led to the smoothest first week of school that I have had in my career Educational Technology yet.
As we move through the 2017–2018 school year, I will take more opportunities for the AHOD concept to play out to ensure staff has opportunities to learn together, grow together, work towards common goals, and learn more in a hands-on environment than they would in any coordinated professional development that I may offer.
I began my role as Dublin Unified’s first Chief Technology Officer in January 2015. The morale in the department was low and the frustration was high. It was not a unique situation by any stretch. Fast forward to July 2017. I want to talk about the power of influence and the spirit of innovation. In my department, professionals that had been programmed to following help desk tickets to guide their work are now innovating at high levels in their daily tasks. The small things I notice as the leader of the department often go unnoticed by the team because it has become the way we conduct our business. I am a firm believer in empowering staff, encouraging risk, providing opportunities for play, and celebrating innovation. Sounds complicated maybe, but it is very basic.
Providing opportunities for play
Every day, in very small ways, someone in the department amazes me with their creativity and heart. Now they will tell you, “It’s no big deal.” They will tell you, “That’s the way we do business.” I say it’s something more. It has changed how they approach teachers. It has made them more confident to teach students (yes they do!).
Creating culture is no easy task. Following a game plan and not backing down is also difficult. I will break down each element of my change plan in coming posts.
What began as one leader’s agenda has now become the way we conduct our department. It is gotten beyond my reach and is now out of my hands. I stand alongside some of the hardest working IT Professionals in education.
I can look at my team right now and see where they will be in a year. I have shared that the while they are doing daily tasks, “I’m a year down the road watching them work.” I’m not going to share with you where we’ll be in a year, that is going to be shared as it unveils itself. But wow, if you could see what I see.