Tag Archives: SAIS

Creating a Culture of Positive Digital Citizenship

My first session of the day is “Creating a Culture of Positive Digital Citizenship” by Matt Scully and Derrick Willard from Providence Day School. I had the privilege of visiting Providence Day last year when I was in North Carolina for a conference. If you are in the neighborhood, I urge you to drop by. They are a school on the progressive, cutting edge of educational technology while maintaining rigorous academic standards. This is live blogged, so please excuse the typos and some poor phrasing!

Providence Day has published a Professional Development eBook. You can get more of the resources here.

Copy of Providence Country Day School Digital Citizenship Compass http://pddigitalcitizenship.wordpress.com/

Copy of Providence Day School Digital Citizenship Compass

After an exercise in groups where we explored what issues our schools are facing with regards to digital citizenship and actions our school is taking, we explored other group’s answers. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of overlap; social media was a primary concern all around (for both students and faculty), as was online dangers and ethics and student devices. The strongest theme in the room was “control,” control of access and behavior.

We all have different definitions of Digital Citizenship. If you look at DigitalCitizenship.net, they will have a number of definitions and resources for you.

Matt states that at Providence Day, they realized that faculty/staff, students, and parents all needed to be engaged in the conversation about Digital Citizenship. All of the actors have different relationships with technological tools and resources from very savvy to luddite. When they engaged the community at Providence Day, they found that there was a sliding scale between “Appropriate Usage Policies” to “Appropriate Usage Guides.” So this was not a cause and effect punishment type model. Instead, they focus on guiding and then dealing with consequences as necessary. They wanted to provide the community with a common language, so that they could have meaningful conversations. They also wanted to engage the community with programming and resources. They also wanted to make the experience and discussion positive. This is moving away from an an Appropriate Usage Policy model and moving more towards guides. I’m a fan of getting away from “stranger danger” and “danger-tale” stories. Scare tactics may work in the short-term, but they aren’t effective in the long term and do not teach student’s necessary skills.

By bringing parents into the discussion, they could draw on the community to engage students both on and off campus. With a common language, they were able to have more meaningful conversations. When tough discussions had to happen, they could do it effectively. Also, use non-technical language so that it is accessible to those who are slick and savvy or those just getting acquainted with the digital world.

In addition to discussion, they put together an iTunesU iBook. This brought together a series of resources to have discussions or engage activities, geared towards appropriate grade level. Derek is quick to point out that this is not a curriculum, it is a teacher resource. For parents, they recommend “Parenting in the Digital Age.” This was created and curated by Matt and provides resources for parents to engage with their children at home and so that they have the power to engage students.

Designing the Future of Learning: Personalized Prototypes

The next session I’m attending is “Designing the Future of Learning: Personalized Prototypes” with Payton Hobbs, the Head of the Lower School at Ravenscroft School, and Bryan Setser, from 2Revolutions. This is live blogged, so please excuse typos and poor prose!

One of the statements that is prevalent in schools is “We don’t know what the jobs of tomorrow will look like.” Bryan, however, argues that we do have a view, namely sustainability and technology. Bryan argues that we need to make a shift in designing the learning of our schools and prototyping to build that.

“Design si where you stand with a foot in two worlds – The world of technology and the world of people and human purposes – and you try to bring the two together.” – Kapor

We live in a world where the model of pursuing a college level, elite education leads to careers success. However, the product is very different – kids with 100-200 thousand dollar educations are working as baristas. We need to learn to improve, experiment, and prototype the world of education. This is especially difficult working in an environment with a strong tradition and culture. So how do we approach this? How do we prepare for the next iteration?

Courtesy of Stockmonkeys.com via Flickr

Courtesy of Stockmonkeys.com via Flickr

If you want your school to be innovative, then it has to be a meaningful and objective goal. You have to be prepared to not only accept, but to celebrate failure. Failure is often life’s best teacher.

This is not an easy process! When you get into the nitty gritty and practice, this is difficult! However, there are successes in real life. Google, for example, has its famous 80/20 policy. It also celebrates failure. Check out Google Graveyard to see how many failures they have experienced. Still they remain one of the most successful companies today.

If you look at people’s needs, we can use that information to build a strategy. Crowdsourcing allows us to build objectives and develop a plan.

INdividual Learning Plans (ILP) is a “specific program or a strategy of education or learning that takes into consideration the student’s strengths and weaknesses.” A Digital Learning Plan is an “amalgam of an ILP, student data, and assessment evidence in service of maintaining, adapting, innovating, and producing e-artifacts for an electronic portfolio process.”

At Ravenscroft, they looked at ePortfolios as a way for students to establish a Digital Learning Process that then allows them (students) to brand themselves. Ravenscroft wanted to prototype digital portfolios to increase staff and student engagement. Ideally, this will allow students to own their learning and engage with it more meaningfully. Payton advises that when building a platform for teachers, organization and time are vital. By having the faculty learn by doing, teachers’ became familiar with the ins and outs of digital portfolios and Google Sites. It also allowed the school to streamline their templates. Students shared their Google Site portfolios appropriate, it is right now a private space and not public.

Time, Talent, & Technology

If you focus enrollment structures around time, talent, and technology you will get an innovative structure that works in your environment. Create a culture of innovation and use technology to help solve your tools.

Is Mindfulness Right for your School?

This weekend I have the privilege to attend and present at the 2014 Annual SAIS Conference. I am live blogging this event, so please be lenient on spelling errors and composition! The first session I’m attending is about Mindfulness and I’m excited to learn about the role of Mindfulness and meditation led by Patrick Cook-Deegan and Lee Hark, the Assistant Head of School from Durham Academy.

Students practicing mindfulness, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Students practicing mindfulness, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The presenters point out that the key element of “mindfulness” is simply paying attention. It’s important to be aware of when we’re paying attention and when we zone out. This is key element in my role of tech director, as technology is often used to “multi-task,” in spite of the fact that we are notoriously bad at it!

The goal of this workshop is to demystify mindfulness and look at the science behind it. Additionally to look at the good and bad of implementing mindfulness programs.

Mindfulness: paying attention to the present moment on purpose without judgment and with kindness and compassion.

While mindfulness is often associated with hippy/new-agery, it has a strong grounding in science. In fact, NIH is the primary researcher of the impact of Mindfulness on chronic illness and pain.

We participated in a meditation exercise; a simple practice of focusing on our breathing and focus. Patrick then explains that this practice impacts the

Prefrontal cortex

Prefrontal cortex

fight or flight”  part of your brain by shifting your brain’s focus. In a school, students can use this exercise to shift a student’s mind frame when they are experiencing a high stress event, like a bad test grade. Before engaging students in a discussion, engaging in a mindfulness exercise can help a student return to the present and focus on the discussion at hand rather than reacting to the high stress event. Mindfulness shifts the focus of your brain activity to the Prefrontal cortex, which allows you to respond in a more thoughtful manner. In teenagers, these practices can help students to develop their prefrontal cortex thinking.

People who regularly practice meditation develop better memory and develop empathy while decreasing their stress and anxiety. Mindfulness practices can physically change your brain in a relatively short period of time. If this is done regularly during adolescence (the period of most rapid change in cognitive development), the impact can be profound and enduring.

When implementing in a classroom, there is a 9 week high school curriculum that Patrick uses:

  1. Paying Attention
  2. Cultivating Curiosity and Kindness
  3. Recognizing Worry
  4. From Reacting to Responding
  5. Mindful Movement
  6. Watching through Patterns
  7. Dealing with Difficult Emotions

Most Independent schools have students who are regularly stressed out and they are required to take in information all day. At the same time, we don’t teach them how to pay attention! This is a good inclusion within a mind/body health curriculum. The primary benefits to students are attention and emotional regulation (the key behavioral problems for children and adolescents). The research has demonstrated that in Elementary and Middle School students is: increased attention, self-control, more classroom participation, and more respect for others. In High School, the benefits are: decreased depression, less stress, and greater well-being.

Lee next talks about the implementation of a Mindfulness Program at a school, including some of the failings of implementing a program at Durham Academy. I always appreciate honesty when discussing new programs. It’s effective to learn from the successes and failures from others. As a result of two major tragedies at Durham Academy, the school looked at exploring stress reduction programs at their school. Durham Academy sought out several firms, some that worked well with their school’s culture and others that did not. It seems that picking that right organization that works with your school’s environment is key. Otherwise, you won’t have buy in from faculty, parents, and students and some serious push back from your community. Any program that is a dramatic shift should be implemented slowly and whoever you bring in to your school should be working off of a research based platform and program. Durham found that partnering with an academic institution brought more legitimacy to the program and stripped away the “hippy baggage” and “quasi-religious” elements of a Mindfulness Program. A great example of implementation is at Middlesex. And if anyone wants to challenge the “wimpiness” aspect of meditation, you can point out that the Seattle Seahawks used it during their Super Bowl season.

They end their talk sharing a number of resources, including Patrick’s firm, for Mindfulness programs. My big take aways from this is that a Mindfulness program needs to be implemented in a way keeping with your school’s culture, focusing on the needs of your faculty, students, and parents.

Why we went Google Apps for Education

This weekend I will be traveling to Atlanta to attend the SAIS Annual Conference. I will be presenting on Ransom Everglades’s experiences implementing Google Apps for Education. You can see my slides and conference materials here.  Here is a reblog of my article, “Why we went Google Apps for Education” which includes a broad overview of my discussion.

Ransom Everglades School is a prominent and successful day school located in Coconut Grove, Fl. We pride ourselves on the progressive and innovative education that we provide our students. Our high ranking AP, SAT, and ACT scores attest to our academic accomplishments. Our students matriculate to prestigious colleges and universities around the country.  So then it may surprise some that we proactively explored and then implemented Google Apps for Education at our school. After all, if we are satisfied with our achievements, why would we look at making and applying a significant change at Ransom Everglades?

There are several reasons for this of course. Like all good educational institutions, we look to the future – what will our students need to be successful in college and graduate school, as well as to lead satisfying and productive lives? How can we better facilitate the needs of our teachers and staff? How can we continue to achieve our standards of excellence? Like many other educational institutions, we heard a great deal about Google Apps for Education, so we decided to explore what it had to offer that could benefit the Ransom Everglades community.

What is GAFE

Google Apps for Education (GAFE) is a prominent technology tool that has been gaining momentum in both K-12 as well as higher education. It 30jul2013_s-268x300includes Google’s core suite of applications (Drive, Calendar, Contacts, GMail, Sites, Talks/Hangouts, Google Classroom) with the added ability to control, scale, and manage access with an eye for an educational institution’s individual needs. For example, we activated Google Drive for students (so that they could use the Word Processing and Cloud Storage provided) but disabled GMail (as we use our exchange server for email services); also, we enabled Talks/Hangouts for Faculty and Students grades 10-12 to facilitate communication between faculty and online study groups for our AP Students. The highly customizable features of GAFE allowed us to explore available options and then implement them progressively and as needed.

Promote 21st Century Skills

The development of 21st century learning and skills (collaboration with peers, digital literacy, effectively harnessing Social Media, and drawing skill sets across multiple disciplines) is no longer optional for students or teachers. Again, Google Apps for Education allows us as an institution to promote them within a safe and managed environment. Students can collaborate on research projects and papers using Google Drive’s share features. By using tools such as Google Sites, students can create digital portfolios (I provide several examples in my article, “Google Sites for ePortfolios”) to highlight their accomplishments and demonstrate their learning through multi-modal examples (documents, imagery, video, and more). What I like best as an educator, is that by building their work within Google Tools, I can monitor their progress and provide feedback as they build and revise in real time! This is instrumental in assessing not just the end result, but the process (see my article, “Google Drive & Research Essays: Monitoring the Writing Process”).

Security and Privacy

Along with more prominent use of internet tools has come greater concern for student security and privacy. Many third party tools mine student data, use content for their own advertising purposes, and struggle with protecting valuable and sensitive data from hackers. Google itself, in its individual services, states that your documents, emails, and content created, stored, and sent via Google can be mined for content and sold to third party advertisers. This is exactly why there is a 13 year old age requirement for signing up for many services online (including Google). Several Federal mandates, such as FERPA, CIPA, and COPPA, establish basic requirements and guidelines for institutions to protect student’s data and privacy online. Google Apps for Education is compliant with these mandates, in fact it is why there is not an age 13 age restriction for students to sign up for GAFE accounts. Institutional and student content cannot be provided to third parties and identities and information must be protected through robust, secure servers. Additionally, by using third parties tools like Cloudlock, we can ensure that our students are engaging and collaborating with others appropriately and safely.

Cost Effective

Google Apps for Education is a free service provided for schools. However, it would be misleading to state that there are no costs involved. Just like all tech roll-outs, it is important to provide effective professional development for faculty and staff so that they can not only learn the basic features of these tools, but use them to deliver more innovative and pedagogically rich lessons. For example, one can simply replace Microsoft Word with Google Docs. At the same time, that doesn’t take advantage of Docs’ ability to collaborate and share with peers, effectively use its research tools, or for teachers to employ the revision history tool in order to monitor the revision process to better understand the evolution of a student’s work.

In addition to professional development and training for faculty and staff, it may also be necessary to hire external support specialists to audit your exchange server (if you wish to migrate your calendar and mail services to Google) or sync your logins using a tool like GADS. It is always necessary to invest in assessment and planning on the front end to avoid serious complications after the fact.

Even with these initial investments, the cost savings in the long-term are astronomical. You do not have to pay for an expensive cloud based or remote login solution to allow faculty and students to access content off campus, you can save thousands of dollars on software licensing, provide greater storage space (GAFE currently provides 30GB of free cloud storage), and by migrating many of your internal services to the cloud you can free up your IT staff to focus on more important internal needs.

Single Solution

As Director of Educational Technology at Ransom, one of my favorite features of GAFE is that it provides a single solution for multiple issues – students can use Google Drive to create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations; students and faculty can share large files (such as images and videos) with ease; departments, staff, and students can maintain a single calendar; and Google Sites can readily serve for ePortfolios, class sites, and blog platforms. Instead of researching multiple different tools (having to focus on cost, privacy issues, and compatibility), there is often a tool in the Google Suite that will fit our needs.

Another great feature of Google Tools is that they are cloud based and cross-platform compatible. While our school primarily runs on a Windows platform, there are exceptions on campus within our Arts and Yearbook programs; many students and faculty have Macs at home; and if someone wants to access a resource on a phone there is not only iOS and Android, but Windows Phone and Blackberry (at least for now). Google Apps works across all of these platforms via Apps or a simple web browser. For example, a student can create a video on their iPhone at home, upload it to Google Drive via the App, and then share it with their teacher or classmates without having to use a flashdrive, email, or other creative solution. It seamlessly integrates across platforms. Specifically at Ransom Everglades, we struggled with more effective ways to use iPads. We are on a shared-cart model and using the Google Drive iPad App (free), we can readily get media on and off of the iPads, rendering them more effective mobile learning platforms.

Integration with Other Tools

With the rising ubiquity of GAFE in K-12 and higher education (more than 20 million students worldwide, 7 of 8 Ivy League Colleges, 72 of the top 100 schools; you can see their exponential growth along with their customers here), more and more educational services now integrate with Google. This is great for providing your users with easy single-sign-on options for third party apps, integrating with Learning Management Systems, and overall blending numerous services under a single umbrella. This allows for better and easier incorporation of new tools at your institution.


Like many other institutions, Ransom Everglades has a greening initiative. We recognize that our environment’s resources are limited and we must do our part to limit waste and promote conservation efforts. The suite of tools within Google Apps for Education allows us to move forward with that initiative. For example, by providing students handouts via a shared Google Drive folder, I limit printing in my classroom. By storing documents and materials online, I not only conserve space but limit paper use. By having students store research, organize a project, write and revise electronically we limit waste. As we move forward with Google Apps for Education in conjunction with a robust overhaul of our wireless infrastructure and broadband, we hope to further our efforts to make our institution more environmentally friendly.

Moving Forward

At Ransom Everglades, Our GAFE deployment is still in its early stages. However, after witnessing its successes in our initial pilot and deployment we have plans to explore a more extensive roll-out, such as migrating our exchange server, expanding our training, and moving our non sensitive records and documents to the cloud. Google Apps for Education has helped us to maintain and further our standards of excellence by promoting a more robust pedagogy, supporting our faculty and students in their needs, and continuing to allow us to provide innovative and robust pedagogy within our established rigorous curriculum.