Friday, November 19, 2010

Laptop Program leads to 44.4% drop in Discipline

The first trimester under our new schedule, house system and one to one apple macbook laptop program are now history. It has certainly been an adventure for our staff, students, and families but the results are very interesting. One of the most surprising features has been a large drop in discipline referrals. Detentions are down 44.4% over last year for the same number of weeks. With our later start time of 8:30 AM tardies are down 30% and school absences are down 30%.

We expected the decrease in tardies and the increase in attendance but we are left scratching our heads a bit with the decrease in discipline referrals. There were no major reclassifications of offenses in the handbook. Our theory we've been kicking around the hallways and lounge has been tied to the ability of effective technology integration to lead to a more engaged learning environment. When the default setting switches from students as passive learners (sitting and listening) to that of an active learner (creating, collaborating, sharing) school becomes a more enjoyable and authentic experience. Appropriate technology use leads to a richer more stimulating learning environment.

Our staff continues to work through the process of effective technology integration. Our professional development continues and our early success seems to be encouraging more creativity with our staff. We've learned a number of things along the way and will have some new strategies in place for the start of the winter trimester in terms of moderating some of the potential distractions the laptops can cause. We plan to keep supporting our teachers and providing them with all the professional development they need to excel in this enhanced setting.

All in all as we enter fall break we are happy to see the number of changes implemented this year producing solid results. We're proud of our students ability to thrive in this new environment. We'll continue to do our best to work on the problems that arise and provide our students with the best learning environment for the 21st century.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

To Fail or not to Fail

As we approach the end of the trimester w enter that lovely do or die time for a number of students. As with any school a certain number are in danger of failing a course here or a course there. This is the lovely age old issue in a school of how lenient should a single instructor be or not be. We all want students to succeed but of course they need to take the initiative. It is their learning.

As a kid I always enjoyed watching the Bells of St. Mary's with my dad during the Christmas season. The scene linked below was always one of his favorites and it tended to make a certain mark on me as well.


This little clip always makes me reflect on the bigger value or purpose of education. Sure the subject specific learning is important. But if most of us think back to our days in primary and secondary school we probably remember more about who the people were that taught us than the content specific information. The strength of our school rests not only in academic excellence and ACT aggregate scores, or state championships, but also in surrounding our young people with adults who we place our faith in - adults worth emulating. Men and women that act with fairness and integrity who have standards and work to push our students to give their best are at the core of any good school. This video cuts to the core of what it means to balance justice with mercy. Always a difficult task.

Enjoy the video in light of finals this week. I hope you enjoy this thought provoking clip.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Video Friday

Every now and then we run across some interesting videos that make an impact on how we view the educational system. Below are a few videos that push us to think in a different direction.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Easing into the 1:1 laptop program

Of all the changes this school year the one that challenges our staff the most would be that of 1:1 computing. We're happy to be the first high school in Illinois to partner with Apple in creating a one laptop for every student environment. We've spent time preparing with professional development over the last two years but in some ways you can never truly be ready for teaching in an environment you have not yet experienced. So to that point I wanted to share a video about a school district that has already been there. I'll be fair the video is a little bit long but If you have the time over the weekend it is more than worth a look.

Lisa Brady and Will Richardson

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Social Media Enables New Business Models

I've written before on the ways social media can impact the economy. Social media seems to be creating or in this case enabling are new business models. TOMS shoes is one such example. TOMS is the brain child of web entrepreneur Blake Mycoskie. Essentially for every pair of TOMS that are purchased a pair of TOMS is given away to a child in need.

The question is how do they give away so many pairs (now over 1 million) and still make a profit? TOMS founder gave away the secret in this Q and A video from the Clinton Initiative. If you take the time to watch the full video you'll see the secret rests with leveraging social media. TOMS does not spend much money on traditional advertising markets. Instead they rely on social media to spread the word for them. And it seems their customers are willing to help. We are social creatures at heart. We love to share and the new Web 2.0 tools of youtube, facebook, twitter, and the like have made it easier than ever before to spread a message quickly.

It works for TOMS. The expanded profit margin allows them to give away a pair of shoes while still making a profit. On the other hand companies that fail to leverage these tools run the increased risk of negative publicity. For those with the "United Broke My Guitar" song still stuck in your head you know what I'm talking about.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Hot Topic - Education Reform

Education reform has become quite the topic of late. Even the rich and powerful seem to be throwing themselves into the mix with million upon million of private dollars going into school reform efforts. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has recently pledged $100 million to school districts in New Jersey. The new film "Waiting for Superman" will certainly help spark more debate. See the preview below:

What is more interesting to question are the basic assumptions that most of us carry around about our education system. As we throw dollars at problems it might be helpful to take a look at where our modern education system has come from. Below is an interesting video sketch up summarizing some thoughts by Ken Robinson. We've read a few of his books as part of our faculty summer reads and his take is always intriguing.

As the economy continues to diversify and changed the value of a quality education seems to become more and more important.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Moral and Character Education in Catholic Schools

On Monday night Dr. Daniel Lapsley was the featured speaker at the annual Hesbugh lecture series sponsored by the local Alumni Association of Notre Dame. Dr. Laspley is the chair of the psychology department at Notre Dame and one of the nation's foremost scholars in the area of moral and character education.

One of the most interesting points he made was that for moral and character education to work within Catholic schools we don't need canned programs but rather a school culture that promotes student involvement and commitment coupled with a strong sense of community between the adults and students in the building. If the adults provide strong role models but work in collaborative ways with students good things happen. The moral development of students flourishes as well as every other factor in achievement.

It was reinforcing in many ways of some of the changes taking place this year at school. Most notably that of the house system. It isn't necessarily perfect yet in anyway but the goal is building stronger more vibrant communities with students who show high levels of engagement on many fronts.

Listening to Dr. Lapsley reminded me of the following video below from CAPE. It's worth a look.

On another note Dr. Lapsley mentioned some of the good work that charter schools are doing. Granted their are some that do well and some that fail miserably. But some of the key factors in meaningful school reform is creating value centered communities where strong collaboration between students and the adults takes place.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

One Month Check in on 1:1 program

We've been at the 2010-2011 school year for over a month now and we've collected some data for comparison. The core changes this year include the implementation of a 1 to 1 laptop program, a 5 X 3 trimester that features extended 65 minute classes, the house system, and a later start time beginning at 8:30 am.

We've pulled some data at this point looking at tardies, absences, and discipline infractions. Below are the results and some possible explanations as we continue to evaluate the changes taking place at Peoria Notre Dame High School

While we have been blessed to never consider discipline issues a large problem, the results in this category are very interesting. Overall discipline referrals are down 63.4% from last year. Part of the benefits of adding a 1 to 1 computer program is the shift from passive to active learning strategies. As teachers become proficient at integrating technology into their instruction we see the quality of student engagement increasing. Information is no longer scarce. Teachers are not limited to text books but have a large array of instructional choices many of which involve a more active role for the student learner. All of this logically leads to a decrease in discipline referrals. Active students engaged in learning stay out of trouble. School is no longer a media and information poor environment compared to the home environment. The digital divide between what students have access to in school and out of school no longer exists.

Two years of preparation went into the adaptation of 1 to 1 computing. One of the lessons learned is to take risks with technology. Teachers do not necessarily have to be proficient at every detail of the software programs but their willingness to challenge students to use these tools in powerful ways often go well rewarded. As part of homecoming week students were asked to create digital shorts tied to the homecoming theme of "Irishopoly". Below are two links to videos that in my humble opinion are very good for a group of students who have had their macbooks for little over two months. I'd share all six but I think two will suffice.

Marian House Video
Benedict House Video

The daily start of school has been pushed back by forty minutes this school year in line with current research regarding teenagers and optimal brain function. Some of the fears in our planning focused on the concern that this would really do nothing to decrease tardies or increase performance. As a number of naysayers argued, " Teenagers would still be late and given their nature a later start time wouldn't do anything." We'll it is still early but the numbers are in. Tardies have fallen 31%. Additionally we have seen large numbers of students arriving early to either socialize or work on assignments. If you count the half hour before school it appears our students, even though lunches are now mixed between ages, have plenty of time to socialize with their friends and classmates.

Some articles on the issue of later start times:

Attendance rate data can tell an interesting story about a school. Student absences have decreased 37.9% . It is our hope that the changes this school year have helped to create a more positive dynamic learning community at PND. The data so far supports the changes that are taking place. We look forward to analyzing academic data at the end of the first trimester. We plan to keep you posted. There are still a number of issues that need our attention and efforts to refine and enhance and we look forward to this work.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Video Monday

These are some interesting videos I ran across over the weekend. Kudos to Scott McLeod for sharing them. The first one is from one of my favorite education leaders. Granted he is from Michigan State so please don't discount his thoughts after what happened in overtime this past weekend.

Yong Zhao: No Child Left Behind and Global Competitiveness from TFT on Vimeo.

This next one picks up the same thread about the dangers of the standards movement in terms of killing the motivation to actually learn. Kudos to the Canadians for putting it together.

I wonder if the focus on believing a test indicates everything about a student might lead to schools like this.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Affinity for Technology

Susie sent me a link to this video and I must say I find it rather intriguing. Dr. Sugata Mitra ran an experiment in which he dropped off web connected computers into poor areas in India and other countries and simply gave the children tasks of learning on their own. Take a look at the results by watching the video here.

It amazes me but I don't really find it surprising. Core to our nature as human beings is the desire to learn. We are all natural learners. The internet just provides all the material we could ever need at the tips of our fingers. Information at one time was scarce. Today it abounds and grows. How does the role of a teacher shift in an era characterized by instant information?. I'd argue the teacher becomes even more important on many levels. Teaching in this environment involves more work in the set up for learning but less in the delivery. There is just too much great information to point learners towards as opposed to presuming we have all the answers.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Benefits of Starting Later

We are now two weeks into a later start time. We've moved from 7:55 to 8:30. Personally I'm enjoying the extra time in the morning. Eating a decent breakfast, getting in some much needed prayer, and doing the daily workout has made life much more enjoyable and productive. Below are some added links about the benefits of a later start time.

From the Wall Street Journal: Study looked at a boarding school that pushed back their start time to 8:30

From the LA Times: This article looks at a study of the achievement gains in later starting schools.

From the Lawrence Journal in Kansas: This one looks at a state wide study supporting the push for later start times for high schoolers.

On another note I couldn't resist sharing this lovely video. As we move more deeply into our 1:1 computing model we really have the chance to do some amazing creative work. I'm not sure we could match the work below but I'm sure we have students that are just as creative. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What the "F"?

We'll as predicted Facebook and its improper use has become a little bit of an issue as we move into our 1:1 computing environment. Let's give it some thought.

First the ongoing issue in any school environment is engagement. Engaged students learn more and misbehave less. Good teaching leads to high levels of engagement and poor teaching leads in general to boredom and the host of issues that are attached to it. Students for years have found ways to disengage from doodling on their desk to passing notes. The issue is not the lack of complete focus but rather the new medium. Talking in class is fundamentally no different than sending a friend a message on Facebook during class. The problem is engagement the medium is rather irrelevant.

So where are we at with FB and appropriate vs. inappropriate use at school. We'll the tech guys have been crunching the numbers and low and behold some students have been on FB during class time. Surprised? The fun part is of course I've gotten a few emails about and rightfully so. My favorite one was the call from a gal at work who saw her daughter posted to FB during class. I asked her how she knew and she said she saw it on FB at work. I asked if her boss knew she looked at FB during work and the line went eerily silent.

Well anyway in an ideal world we could count on our students to avoid FB in class and only use it before school, after school, and during advisory. But alas we don't have a perfect world. But maybe just maybe our students don't understand that we know they are on FB at inappropriate times. So the way I see it we have five options.

1. Who cares: This option involves saying if you zone out you zone out and your only hurting yourself so enjoy the rewards of your labor and enjoy repeating your classes. But then again part of having a 1:1 environment is to boost our academic achievement so this doesn't seem like the best of all plans.

2. Warn them and Move on: Perhaps step one should be an initial warning. We could treat our students with dignity remind them of their obligation to work hard and focus on their learning and see if that solves it. Maybe it will maybe it won't. Time will tell. We can always deal with the super offenders on an individual basis.

3. Block FB during school except before school after school and during advisory: Pretty simple on this one and barracuda allows it to be done. The only downside would be in some classes a creative teacher can actually come up with creative educational uses for FB.

4. Block FB all the time: We'll this is a fun idea. Sounds kind of draconian but hey most work places seem to do this so why not. But then what else do we block? Of course we block the evil sites but where would this lead?

5. Facebook Detention: You heard it right. We can actually track usage individually and then just block offenders out for a long period of time. It's a nice natural consequence but a managerial pain. But then again it would be differentiated instruction. Kind of.

Anyway we'll be taking the issue up during the house leader meeting this week. We'll let you know the route we'll go. We might gather some feedback. Leave your comments below.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Rethinking Snow Days

One of the great joys or curses (depending on your perspective) are snow days. Anyone living in the Midwest, Northeast, or any other location prone to snow storms has experienced the "snow day". At the high school level why do these days need to be lost? Most high school students possess the maturity to handle their own learning on these days. With a little planning these days can be valuable learning days.

Over the summer with the threat of H1N1 possibly closing schools for weeks at a time we discussed as a faculty how to approach this dilemma. Over the last few years our professional development has focused extensively on teaching our staff Web 2.0 literacy in preparation for our shift to 1:1 computing during the 2010-2011 school year. One idea we found compelling was the opportunity of shifting to an online format. Earlier surveys had indicated that 99% of our students possessed home based computers and internet access. What started as a plan for the worse grew into a different idea. The online learning snow-day plan.

In our neck of central illinois we usually experience two to three weather related closings a year that we then make up as emergency days in June. No one really likes the common solution. Families already have vacation plans. Tacking a day on to the end of the spring semester makes no sense when the days lost often occur originally at the end of the fall semester. Everyone just seems to enter "complain" mode. So why not make the days valid by switching to an online format.

We've had the chance to try it out twice this winter. Our first day saw web usage grow by five times our daily average. Many teachers posted assignments on their websites, communicated instructions through email to students, or even held live sessions using free platforms like ustream.

All in all we've found these two days to be a great success. The only ones not happy are perhaps the students whose dreams of sleeping in and sledding all day are dashed by the reality of school work. But they'd gladly trade a few hours on a cold February morning for a day of blissful peace in June.

Here are some links regarding the day:

link to local article in the paper
link to sample web day

To document the learning our teachers fill out a google doc verifying their work.

Unfortunately grade school students probably lack the self-management skills to manage their own learning at home. I'm the father of twin 8 year olds and as you can see below we still found time for fun on the day.

Untitled from charlie roy on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Reflection on 1:1 and our Day with Dr. McLeod

Before my mind slips and I forget all the thoughts that ran through my head on Friday I thought I'd write a little summary of some take aways from our Professional Development day. My mind was certainly stretched and collectively I think the day was incredibly thought provoking. I'm left with a the following thoughts:

Creative Class and Creative Work that Uses Critical Thinking
The opening of part one detailing the changing economic structure brought by globalization was another reminder of how the world our graduates face is fundamentally different than that of the previous generation. The disappearance of tasks that require low skill repetitive work in our American economy is no secret. If the American wage premium is to stay this will be tied primarily to the growth of jobs in the creative / critical thinking section of the economy. Trades and local based skill jobs will always be in demand as well but a large sector of jobs providing a middle class existence for generations are disappearing. The question then becomes how as schools do we prepare our students for the new landscape. I think we do this in primarily three ways: 1. Information and Digital Literacy 2. Fostering of critical thinking / problem solving skills through authentic assessment and 3. Driving home that in an ever changing world the changeless values and virtues of our Faith become even more relevant and guiding. Accomplishing these objectives is where our work and energy should rest.

Breadth vs. Depth in the Digital Age
This issue came up in all three of the break out sessions in the afternoon. There was a general sense that the value of collaborative projects with real world applications is understood but how to implement these structures without eating up large amounts of class time. The concern seems to be coverage would suffer. This risk seemed to resonate with a number of staff members. I'd like to provide my own humble opinion on this issue I could be wrong I could be right. I've enjoyed being back in the classroom this spring to test some of this out. In terms of project based learning the success is in the set up. If we assign 24 individual students 24 individual projects we''re going to burn a tremendous amount of class time witnessing demonstrations of learning. What is we grouped the students into groups of 4-5 students and when they present they have five minutes each. I'd argue some times a series of smaller projects may be better than a two to three huge ones. I've tried to tinker with this in personal finance and its too early to say whether it is successful or not. Here's a link to weekly mini projects that students embed their presentations right to the wiki page. Keep in mind it's early. These will get better as time progresses. BTW these students are juniors and seniors who haven't had our tech app course. They figured out how to post to a wiki and collaborate with google docs in under 24 hours. If you dont' know how to do these tasks don't worry they do and if they don't they'll look up on youtube how to do it. Nothing to turn in - no thumb drives to try to load strange versions of powerpoint on to. I'm still fidgeting with the rubric for the projects and the reflection rubric that follows each session.

The other concept that came out of yesterday's session is the whole idea of what could be termed the "homework-class time flip". In secondary schools in general we use the class time to introduce the material and assign the problems or thinking activities for homework. What if we flipped it? Make the homework to listen to a world class lecture from academic earth and spend the class time moderating the discussion and using your expert knowledge to solve problems. Radical maybe but if the world of Web 2.0 puts world class resources a click away and someone else has a rockin presentation on a topic in your course sacrificing a little pride might go a long way.

Control and Risk
A fundamental shift in effective 1:1 instruction is turning over more ownership for the learning to the students. Giving some freedom. Some 1:1 schools report that when the rubrics are too structured and too defined the creativity is crushed and the project / paper / assignment fails to engage. Engagement should lead to student empowerment not an excuse to let the children do whatever they want. There is still base knowledge that needs to be accumulated. Before you can exercise critical thinking skills you need to have some knowledge to think critically about. That being said we need though to take a hard look at our own assessments. Do we fit the typical high school mold where 85% of what we ask students to do on assessments is rote recall? For the information age that ratio certainly has to change.

Good teachers are good thieves and it's always been that way
You don't have to invent the wheel you just need to steel it. The world of Google reader and creating your own Personal Learning Network (PLN) to see what other leading educators are doing in their classrooms is a profound tool. On Friday there was a lot of willingness to do these things but a sense of - show me how. Creating your own PLN and seeing from other content specific instructors is more valuable than any course or conference. The PD focus in the building will soon focus on doing just that.

From the Students Perspective
Our students are in for a change. Let's be hones a good number are fairly comfortable being passive learners. The play the game well and enjoy it. Change is difficult for everyone but shifting to pedagogies that move away from sit and get, worksheet, factual recall, scantron model of instruction will only serve them better in the long run. To ignore this fact when we've been empowered with a better picture of what our students will need to do is not only a professional error but a moral one as well.

Below is the video Did You Know 4.0 that Dr. McLeod shared with us on January 15.