Project REAL Revisited

I had the good fortune to attend another Apple education seminar at Little Falls High School . Last spring, I attended a morning session where the Project REAL plan was presented and the 5th grade teachers and students who piloted iPads were there to show what they had done. Last year, there were approximately 40 people in attendance.

This year’s seminar was a full day. Teachers presented about what they had been doing, then we had time to visit with students and teachers at tables. The IT staff answered specific technical questions. This time, there were over 250 people at the session, and more than 550 people were watching the livestream. Wow!

Thankfully, they recorded the morning session which had about 12 teachers presenting different aspects of how they have used iPads this year. Watch it for yourself and see the great stuff happening in Little Falls!

It was a great day with many interesting stories. If I wasn’t already convinced that schools need to move to this direction, I am now.

Here’s a quick list of highlights for me:

  • “The only thing I can’t do on the iPad is print, and boy, am I glad.” — from Dave Girtz, the middle school media specialist
  • Carrie Youngberg, 5th grade, sees increased parent communication when the kids produce a weekly video of the “newsletter.”
  • Anjanette Kraus, High School English, uses She’s seen a significant reduction in late work and plagiarism, and thinks the public audience component has improved student writing and engagement. Kids are collaborating on writing.
  • Andy Ward, High School Science, was a sceptic. He was NOT happy about the iPads. He is now a convert. He says he’ll never go back to written lab reports – all his lab reports on done with video. Watch him – he’s quite entertaining!
  • The PE teacher uses an app called Tennis Coach Plus HD to record students practicing skills.
  • Jody Waltman, High School Math and French, demonstrated how she uses Moodle and email. No paper assignements!
  • Gregg Pearce – 5th grade. Gregg was uncertain as he piloted the iPads last year. The tech integrationist suggested just trying it – “unleashing the hounds.”
  • Greg Aker, Middle School social studies, demonstrated how easy it is to create epubs. Little Falls has a goal to not purchase any more textbooks.
  • Nate Swenson, Middle School principal, demonstrated how they use Google Forms for assessment.
  • Adam Smieja, Middle School math, demonstrated Socrative.
  • Karen Warner, High School art, discussed how she has embraced the iPads after being less than enthusiastic. She has student collaboration and student voices as they exchange ideas on the Moodle site. She uses iPads frequently for students to find references to draw.
  • Sarah Shaw, elementary art, has had the kids make digital art portfolios.
  • Shawn Alhorn, 5th grade, had the iPads last year. He loves not having paper assignments. He’s seeing more engagement, students digging deeper into content. He has kids do keynotes for vocab – has seen this reach kids of all learning styles, with significantly improved retention of meaning.


TIES Report #1

Just off two days at Minnesota’s version of ISTE – the TIES 2011 Conference. I’m exhausted. There are million things running through my head. TIES definitely isn’t ISTE, which is some ways is a relief. It was a much more manageable size: 3000 as opposed to 15,000 people. I also appreciated being able to see people I knew and make connections with people that I can connect with in person later.

A few highlights:

  • Keynote speaker today was Gabe Zichermann who was a pinch hitter for an ailing Jane McGonigal. He is an awesome speaker. The quote of the conference: “Do our kids have ADD or is the world just too slow?” It’s worth watching his keynote when it’s up, or catching his TED talk.
  • Last session of the conference for me was with Doug Johnson, the technology director at Mankato Public Schools. Turns out I had met him on a trolley at ISTE. Small world. He’s a great speaker, and had thought -provoking things to say. I think this was my favorite session. Check out his blog.
  • I caught a session by the Superintendant and Tech Director for the Little Falls schools. I had the good fortune to be able to visit them last spring, and I was looking forward to hearing what had happened since then. It sounds like they’ve had a successful rollout of a 1:1 iPad program. What impresses me most about them is their philosophy and how they did the 1:1. It truly was about engaging students and providing them with the skills they needed. It’s worth hearing them speak about their project, or at least checking out their e-book.


More to come after I get some sleep!

Stats in the other Direction

Here’s another follow up to the dreaded article in the New York Times about a school district in Arizona that has had declining test scores in spite of significant spending on technology.

An article in the Washington Post on October 2 about the adoption of online textbooks in a Fairfax County, VA school district rehashed all the negative things about online textbooks and digital learning. These issues have merit, such as access for all students. The district is finding some creative ways to overcome that challenge.

Finally, the positive reasons for moving to digital texts are explored, including this quote from the Assistant Superintendent, Peter Noonan:

“Many of our kids — if not all of our kids — are coming to us as digital natives,” Noonan said. “We should really allow our students to learn the way they live outside of school.”

Other compelling reasons are cost, ability to have up-to-date material, and one I really appreciate – no more heavy textbooks to lug around!

Adds history teacher Mark Stevens,

Those are helpful features, Stevens said, but the online books won’t revolutionize teaching by themselves. They’re only textbooks, after all — “just one tool,” he said, “not the magic bullet.”

Test data from Mooresville High School shows significant improvement since the introduction of a 1:1 program.

According to the earlier New York Times article, increasing technology is not leading to increasing test scores. (OK, of course the argument is there if test scores are in any way an appropriate measure of learning, but for the sake of this post, I am accepting it – a bit.) Yet, this Washington Post article links to a report from a school district in Mooresville City, NC, that has demonstrated significant test gains after thoughtful introduction of a 1:1 program.

These gains are impressive. Their 1:1 program likely contributed to the gains, but also consider these quotes about the learning philosophy in the district:

  • In several classrooms, I couldn’t tell where the front of the classroom was… The whole space was a learning environment, and the technology was just part of the infrastructure. (page 3)
  • …you’ll find that Mooresville isn’t just passing out laptops — it’s changing the very dynamics of the classroom… Teachers say it fundamentally has changed the way they do their jobs… Now students direct much of their own learning… In such an environment, teachers must learn to “trust kids like you never have before,” says Todd Wirt, principal of Mooresville High School. “The scary thing is giving up control.”