Leyden High School Twitter Assignment

The third post of a 5-part series on 1:1 at Leyden High Schools. This post is from Mikkel Storaasli, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction for the Leyden High School District.  This post is also cross-posted on Mikke’s blog, Surely You Can’t Be Serious.

Leyden High School District 212, right next door to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, has just gone 1-1 with the (mostly) web-only Chromebook. So that means that every student in our two high school district has a laptop with a full keyboard. However, native programs cannot be installed as on a a Win/Mac laptop; all applications that students have access to must come from the web. In other words, there is no MS Office for students, just Google Apps. Thus, we characterize our 1-1 model as “moving learning to the Web.”

There is power when you shift learning to the Web. For us, there have been two critical pieces to making this shift.

1.  A Common Platform: A Learning Management System (LMS) such as Blackboard, Moodle, or OpenClass (which is what we use) to provide a common electronic platform is an immediate shift in how school is done.

Look, I realize that this may seem like an obvious use of web-based tools to some, but providing a digital organizing structure for students is crucial. I cannot stress this enough: The LMS is HUGE. It’s the glue that holds together our digital work.

The immediate access to tools for posting materials, syllabi, calendars, assessments, facilitating discussions, and communicating with students immediately changes the educational landscape. Furthermore, the fact that it’s a common platform for students helps them keep it all organized and coherent.

For example, one teacher posted a lesson with an online presentation tool called SlideRocket  Complete with audio narration, students can view the material anytime anywhere. What’s even better is that the teacher sent the link to the presentation to his students’ parents. Having that lesson available online helps students who were absent, students who need to hear it (or just part of it) a second or third time, and effectively brings parents into the class with their students.

2. An Ethos of Sharing (rather than “turning it in”): Along with the LMS, the use of Google Apps has provided the foundation for communication and collaboration among our staff and students.

Again, in our district we are utilizing the (mostly) web-only Chromebook, which means that native apps such as the MS Office Suite are off the table.  Thus, Google Apps for education provides the platform for most of our productivity tools.

Think about this: The move to Google docs and the ethos of sharing files, of working with products that are constantly being revised by a team, is not a small one. Some of have been doing this for years and take it as second nature. Personally, it’s totally changed how I work and collaborate with others. However, it’s taken me years to build this capacity.

In this model, students and teachers are working together, constantly revising and sharing feedback on living documents. We sometimes forget how alien this may seem to many students, who have been largely trained to “turn it in” (or to “attach it”), and that’s the end of the assignment.  Short of receiving an assignment back with a few red marks scrawled (or typed) on it, the work was done. Dead and abandoned. Static. Time to move on to the next thing.

“Just” introducing Google Apps (or other tools which allow for cloud-based collaboration) is a big shift for teachers, students, and parents. It may not seem all that big of a deal to seasoned Google Apps users, but introducing these tools on a mass scale can be challenging.

Yet, it’s also critically important to our model. Institutionalizing a cycle of sharing and providing meaningful feedback between teachers and students has positive implications based on decades of research. Here’s why: according to John Hattie’s table of effect sizes, a vast body of educational research indicates that “Feedback” is the instructional technique that has the #1 biggest impact on student learning.

Never heard of Hattie? Perhaps you’re a fan of Robert Marzano’s “Classroom Instruction That Works.” You will of course know that “Setting objectives and providing feedback” is one of the nine high impact, research-based instructional strategies advocated by that Dr. Marzano. Incidentally, Marzano’s work is linked to Hattie’s research, so they’re singing from the same hymnal.

If you have a handle on Google Apps and a Learning Management System, you will have built the foundation for learning to be collaborative and dynamic in nature as well as available anytime or anywhere. As one of our teachers said, “Class doesn’t end at the period, it ends in the cloud.”

So, aside from these two foundational pieces, what else can you expect when you move learning to the web? Certainly, our teachers are using a multitude of other web-based techniques such as

Remember “Feedback” and Hattie’s effect sizes? How about this for increasing the amount and quality of feedback for students:

These are a few things off the top of my head.  Now, I realize that what I’ve been discussing isn’t full-blown Problem Based Learning across the curriculum or anything. I worry that teachers see presentations like the one given by Seth Godin here, and feel as though they have to immediately meet that standard. Don’t get me wrong, I love what Seth is saying but what he’s talking about takes deep learning on the part of everyone in the institution over a long period of time.

We are just scratching the surface of the pedagogical implications of the tools we have available and building the structure of our digital courses. However, that doesn’t mean what’s going on isn’t not effective and potentially transformative.

What is the unintended curriculum for students and teachers?

However, you should also consider the challenges this poses for students. For students, learning to learn in a 1-1 setting is HARD. Let’s not pretend it isn’t. It’s a totally new paradigm for interacting with a course and a teacher, for accessing materials, not to mention the inevitable technical issues that arise.

Moving learning to the web immediately introduces a different prototype for student learning, and learning to navigate this takes time for everyone. Although we sometimes perpetuate the myth that students are “digital natives” and they innately gravitate toward electronic documents, presentations, syllabi, calendars, and to-do lists, this is certainly not always the case. In fact, some students have a very hard time in this new paradigm, and often it’s those who have succeeded in a traditional paper-based system.

Think of the student binders you’ve seen in years past, those that look like unstable nuclear paper bombs ready to detonate at the slightest nudge. Is it any wonder that students might have the same trouble organizing materials electronically?

Students need to learn HOW to learn in an electronic environment. Students have to learn how to deal with materials (previously tree-based) that are suddenly available electronically via a website or learning management system. Furthermore, they have to deal with a new expectation of responsibility: Your class materials are out there and available at any time, and you need to access them as you need them.

Although it’s fantastic that students no longer have to rely on the teacher to access class materials, that’s a double edged sword: with these tools, there is an expectation of personal responsibility on the part of the student. You cannot understate that this can be uncomfortable for them.

Similarly, learning to teach in a 1-1 setting is also HARD. Again, let’s not pretend it isn’t. It’s a totally new paradigm for organizing a course, for presenting materials, for interacting with students, and it presents a host of new classroom management issues, not to mention the inevitable technical issues that arise.

Teachers will try some things that work, and they’ll try some things that crash and burn. It’s all part of the learning process, and that needs to be OK. I certainly hope that our teachers will make the connection that this is how learning happens for students, too. We all need the space to be able to try things and fail.

But as one our teachers said to me, although this is tough starting out, this is all an investment in time and learning. Next year we will have built it a cache of digital materials and experiences, and this will get easier. As that same teacher said, “Come and see us next year.”

And there it is. I’ve always thought of education as a process of iteration, the repetition of a process creating an increasingly complex and beautiful result. In my brain, damaged slightly by several years as a math teacher, our experience teaching and learning in a 1-1, cloud-based environment like a fractal: beautiful images created by an iterative process.

Right now, we’re in the midst of moving learning to the web, our first iteration. We have just started 1-1, and as we repeat and refine our techniques, over the course of many class periods, days, weeks, months, and years, the investment of time and learning will produce an increasingly beautiful result.

Our next post in this series will discuss our Tech Support Internship Class, which serves as our level one tech support for the entire district.

Previous posts in the series

Leyden High School District 212 is in our fourth year of being fully 1:1 with all students getting issued a Chromebook.  The Leyden leadership team has recently decided to purchase new Chromebooks for the 2016-2017 school year.  As part of the decision making process, we ask one Tech Support Intern (TSI) student at each campus to use the different Chromebook models being considered for about a week.  They'll write up reviews for each device and I'll post those here on my blog.  Here are the reviews of the Lenovo N22 Chromebook:

Review by an East Leyden Sophomore TSI Student...

The Lenovo N22 was specifically made for educational settings.  This Chromebook can be found under $200.00. It has good specs, such as 3.8 GB of R.A.M and an Intel Celeron processor with 2 cores running at 1.60GHz. The Chromebook’s display is 11.6 inches and it’s resolution is  just below 1080p HD quality at 1366x768 and it has 133.44dpi(Dots per Inch) which is average for a Chromebook. This average display is adequate since the device is being used for school purposes. But like all other technologies it has it’s downsides. 

The first downside that I noticed is the camera. A user is able to rotate the camera the camera about 180 degrees which allows the user to take pictures at different angles.  The first issue with the rotating camera is that I worry it will easily break.  Most students use their phone cameras more than their Chromebook cameras due to quality issues; however, I can see students fidgeting with the camera.  Eventually this may cause the camera to break off or become loose.  It may be hard for the TSI students to fix this issue or for the Tech department to even get parts necessary to fix the issue.  Worst case scenario, we might have to replace the  Screen entirely.   Another issue with the rotating camera is that students can rotate the camera and take pictures of others during class without their knowledge, which is a privacy issue and something students and teachers may be worried about. 

An additional problem with the Lenovo N22 is that it feels cheaply constructed, However the fact that the Chromebook’s exterior is made of plastic makes it sturdy and durable. I think this because the plastic used to construct the Chromebook feels low quality and that plastic is used for most of the Chromebook’s external design.In addition to the Chromebook being made of plastic,. Lenovo claims that the Chromebook is supposed to be sturdy and durable and that is why they constructed the Chromebook using plastic, also I noticed that the plastic was slippery.  I feel that students may drop the Chromebook because of this causing it to break. While students are not supposed to carry their Chromebooks while walking in the hallways during passing periods (especially outside the provided carrying case), they still do.  I can see it already...a Chromebook slips out of a student’s hand, it falls to the floor, gets kicked around by a few students and stepped on by another.

Another  issue I found with the Lenovo N22 is that when the Chromebook restarts or is booted up after being turned off for a while, it logs in slowly and it takes almost 2 whole minutes to be able to fully load tabs even on high speed internet. In addition the battery life on the Lenovo N22 is average for a Chromebook since it gets up to 10 hours of battery life, which can easily be made to last a student 2-3 days if they do not multitask too much and only keep required tabs open because otherwise the Chromebook will most likely only last 36 hours since the battery will drain faster.

Enough about the downsides of this Chromebook, let’s talk about some of the benefits of the Lenovo N22. 

The first upside I will mention is that it never overheated meaning the device was never hot to the touch when multi-tasking and or having a lot of tabs and windows open although it did slow down, the fan did not make noise when being used as so.

An additional upside to the Lenovo N22 is that on the back of the Chromebook it has a handle so that it can be carried like a briefcase which is the biggest and most useful feature of the Lenovo N22. I can imagine a lot of students would find this feature useful  because if they are in a hurry they do not have to pack  their Chromebook into their backpack, they can just carry the Chromebook via  handle.

Another aesthetic feature I liked about the Chromebook is the fact that the keyboard is spill resistant to liquids, the keys peel off which will make it easier for T.S.I students to repair keys if a student spills a liquid on their Chromebook making it a faster repair process.I can imagine this feature being a big help to a lot of students because there are a lot of students who spill some sort of liquid or drink on their Chromebook since they use it during lunch.

An alternate  useful part about the Lenovo N22 is the way that the letter keys and number keys on the keyboard are positioned, it is useful because they are slightly positioned to the left but still centered like most laptops which will make typing easier and feel more natural since most likely students will be used to how the keyboard feels because of their computer at home so this feature will definitely help students make less mistakes.

The final upside to the Lenovo N22 is the sound quality. The speakers are much louder than most Chromebooks and the highs and lows on the audio is normal for a Chromebook. Since the speakers are placed on the side of the Chromebook it sounds clearer and louder because they are not muffled by any surfaces or materials.

Altogether, when I first received the Lenovo N22 it seemed like it was built for rough environments, which I thought would be perfect for a student Chromebook because a lot of students drop their Chromebook and end up breaking their L.C.Ds, but after actually testing the Chromebook the specifications felt like they would not be good enough for the circumstances in which students need it for. For  a Chromebook in its price range the specs definitely felt like a low end computer when it was being used because since it only has 2 cores running at 1.60 GHz, it was not  able to handle multiple processes such as numerous windows and tabs which students sometimes need to leave open and running in the background to work on later or multi-task with different assignments.

Review by a West Leyden Senior TSI Student...

This past week I had the pleasure of using the Lenovo N22 Chromebook for school as opposed to my regular Dell Chromebook. Right away when I saw it, I knew that Lenovo had leaned their design of the Chromebook towards the Samsung Chromebook. The Lenovo Chromebook is about the same size as the Dell Chromebook, so the jump from the Dell to Lenovo would not affect many students in terms of keyboard size. 

From what I had noticed, the Lenovo Chromebook is slower than the Dell Chromebook. When turning on the Lenovo, it takes a few seconds more to turn on than the Dell. Opening websites such as my student email and my Google Drive would also take longer to load than usual. However, the change in speeds did not affect me so much in my daily use of the Lenovo. 

The battery of the Lenovo was one of the best features I enjoyed. At a full 100 percent, the battery lasted me a long time, about 4 days. My brightness was not low either, so I didn’t have to sacrifice anything to get the longer battery life. This would greatly help students who constantly forget to charge their Chromebook when they need to. The charging did take longer than the Dell, but for the extra hours of battery life, I think it’s worth. 

An interesting feature of the Lenovo Chromebook is the swivel camera. The camera, by default, faces forward, towards the user, however, you can turn the camera the other way around to take pictures away from the user. This is a cool feature, but ultimately useless. I only used it the first time I got the Lenovo, just for the sake of trying it. In truth, the camera bought more negatives than positives to the table. For example, if you try lifting the screen from the middle, where the camera is, you’ll just end up turning the camera, and makes the screen awkward to grab. 

Another cool feature of the Lenovo is that it comes with a built-in handle. As opposed to just carrying the Chromebook in your arm as most students who don’t like the cases do, they would now have the option to carry it by the handle. I used it a few times and enjoyed it, however, when I let my friend try it, I discovered that he found it awkward and tight because his hand was bigger than mine, so students with bigger hands probably won’t be using it as much. Another thing to take into account is that, if you use the handle, your Chromebook will not be in its case, meaning that it is free to hit anything and have nothing to protect it. I could see quite a few Chromebooks becoming damaged as a result of swinging the Chromebook too far and hitting the stairs or wall or even another student. 

The Lenovo Chromebook has its strengths, such as the battery life, which will be better for students who forget to charge their Chromebooks, and the form factor, which will make the jump from Dell Chromebooks to Lenovo Chromebooks, if the Lenovo was the final decision, that much easier. The speed of the Lenovo may be slower, but for a Leyden student, the difference isn’t that big that it will cause a huge change in their learning. However, the weaknesses, such as the handle and camera, will cause more hardware problems in the long run, costing both East and West Leyden high schools and its students more money. 


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