Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Alabama Day 1: Baldwin County observations

I have had a wonderful opportunity made available to me and supported by my administration. I was invited to observe Baldwin County Schools in Alabama. I worked with a teacher friend in the area to make arrangements on the Alabama end while my principal worked with me on my end to set up some of the logistics (such as when this trip could happen). After a few months of planning and preparation, the day arrived and I boarded a plane to get this show on the road...literally.
Day One was set up for public school visits. Day two set up to visit an area Catholic School.

Day One happened today.
Baldwin County uses iPads with their primary students and MacBooks with all others, starting in fifth grade. The MacBooks have cost the district over $9 million annually, according to a report from Channel 5 WKRG. The county school board will vote tomorrow night (Thursday, February 18) on to switch from the MacBooks to Chromebooks. According to the report and to local residents familiar with it, the switch will save the district around $7 million annually and will eliminate the $64 annual fee paid by families (per student) to cover insurance for the devices. It makes fiscal sense and the board seems set to make the change. You can see more on this here.

Today, I had the opportunity to see second graders use iPads to conduct research and to record voice-overs for their frog projects. Using an app called SeeSaw, the second graders took a picture of the drawings and write-ups they created on the life cycle of a frog and they read the information to provide the voice over. Their teacher will listen to each one to check for quality and, if necessary, students will re-record. These will then be made available through the SeeSaw app and parents can take a look at their student's project. this class will use that app for several projects throughout the school year, much to their benefit, but it also helps their parents see what is happening in the classroom and have access to their student's work.

Later, we visited a math class that had a low-tech day. Students had the opportunity to get out into the hallway for a "Gallery Walk," the theme of which was the Pythagorean Theorem. Students worked in pairs carrying a paper, sectioned for each problem they would have to solve and a calculator. The teacher made her MacBook available if students needed to do a quick Google search to check their procedure, but they could also ask her for some guidance if necessary. The students worked through the math problems and checked their work, one-by-one. The teacher is trying to use more low-tech days rather than continuing to use the technology just to use the technology. She hopes to help the students see that they can do things without heavy reliance on technology. Her classroom is full of creative signs of learning, beginning at the doorway with student-created boxes. This hands-on approach with blending the use of technology seems to have students engaged in learning.

The day ended on an incredible high note for me with a visit to a 21st Century Skills class. The atmosphere of the room can be sensed as you reach the doorway. Inside, the room includes three high tables, a couple of shorter tables, desks, comfortable chairs, soft lighting, music, and the smell of lavender. Students are busy at work on designing houses. Some students have opted to design their houses in Minecraft. All students are hard at work as the room exudes a sense of calm diligence. This room is a haven of creativity. This is the direction I am attempting to take the Technology Lab and Makserspace now known as the Fan Force Tech Lab. Here I am, 2700 miles away and getting great ideas and seeing that my hopes and goals for our creative space can happen.

Other highlights from the day included seeing a science teacher's creation of ionic bond tabs for use with her interactive whiteboard, the engagement provided by a Kahoot quiz in another middle school science class, chatting with eighth graders about the upcoming shift from MacBooks to Chromebooks, and spending the day processing all of it with a fabulous educator.

The students in Baldwin County are seeing how to use technology effectively and they have the opportunity to learn multiple platforms as well as a variety of tools.

When I first arrived in Baldwin County last night, I ended up having a conversation with someone who asked me some questions about the dependence on technology. I shared with him my Swiss Army Knife analogy and talked about how it is not a dependence on technology, but a healthy incorporation of different types of technology that benefits our students. I had a similar conversation with a couple of teachers today. Just about any teacher working carefully to incorporate technology effectively will tell you that we need to avoid "technology to technology's sake" and we need to find the tools that work for our students. Today that meant an iPad app called SeeSaw for second graders, a calculator for eighth grade math students, and Minecraft for other eighth graders.

Today, my visits included Daphne East Elementary, Fairhope Middle School, and Daphne Middle School. I am so thankful for this opportunity and for the chance to see why these teachers #believeinbaldwin and to see the various ways they are choosing to incorporate technology into their instruction and student output.

Continue to follow me on this #edtechroadtrip as tomorrow I spend a second day seeing the approach a Baldwin County Catholic school has taken to incorporating technology.

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