Measurable One to One Learning Success

It is hard to argue with the statement that technology is woven into every aspect of our lives. For most of you reading this Blog and for many others in the field of education, we all believe that technology can have a substantial impact on education. Having the data to back up our claims has been substantially improved from the Team at Project Red who studied over 1000 schools. Their research provided wide reaching evidence “that if effectively implemented, technology programs can lead to improved student achievement and significant return on investment.”

Over the past weeks, my Blogs have shared our experiences at nex+Gen Academy, a small school of choice within the Albuquerque Public Schools. Our hypothesis five years ago when we designed our school was: If we effectively implemented a school design with technology that enables, teaching that engages, and culture that empowers under the modeling and support from our New Tech Network partnership, would our students achieve in becoming college ready and meet the specific criteria of achievement from our State graduation requirements as well college entrance? Our conclusion is a resounding “Yes!”

The New Tech Network School Success Rubric defines success through the lens of student outcomes. It encompasses cultural outcomes, learning outcomes, and college readiness outcomes. Our school was recognized in just our second year as an Exemplary School within the Network, proving that we did implement the overall model with fidelity in such a way that students at nex+Gen were successful or highly successful according to this rubric. Technology has had a major role in helping us get to this status. Our culture revolves around what students should experience in the learning environment and is built on core values of trust, respect, and responsibility Our Culture was enriched in part by all of our learners having immediate access to a learning management system online at school and at home. Communication between facilitator and learner is clear, consistent, and responsive. 

The knowledge, skills, and attributes every graduate should demonstrate at nex+Gen Academy are called our school wide learning outcomes. Our One to One program provides several important elements of effectiveness in this area. For example, each facilitator from all disciplines and every grade level at nex+Gen use the same basic rubrics built from the same agreed upon definitions. With 23 teachers and 300 students, this consistency and implementation could only be managed with smart use of technology in our customized learning management system. At nex+Gen Academy we teach, practice, and measure collaboration, inquiry and analysis, agency, and communication – oral, written, and artistic. Students, teachers, and parents all access progress in real time thanks in part to our One to One program.

College and career outcomes are what students need to enter and be successful in postsecondary learning opportunities. At nex+Gen Academy, access to technology in our One to One environment does level the playing field while we actually raise our standards and expectations. nex+Gen Academy is now in the highest performing statistical peer group of high schools in New Mexico. In English Language Arts high stakes testing, our data shows 43% of all nex+Gen students with disabilities are Proficient or Advanced compared to 9% in our District. 67% of all Economically Disadvantaged learners are Proficient or Advanced compared to 34% in APS. Finally our Achievement Gap between Hispanics and White learners was only a 3% difference. These are just a few of the data points that show that implementing technology that enables, teaching that engages, and culture that empowers does improve student achievement.

Originally published 11/06/14

Choosing Digital Content for One-to-One Classrooms

Implementing a successful, effective One to One computer to learner program in schools requires addressing several important components. The hardware, the platform for launching the many activities and tools is one important component. Another key element is a culture, a learning community built on core values that respect the investment and tools and instills responsibility at a high level in the learner. Yet another important piece to our successful implementation at At nex+Gen Academy involved the learning tools, applications, resources and programs the students and teachers would be using. I’d like to share our successes and our learning experiences in our early years of implementation of One-to-One technology at nex+Gen Academy.

Critical to our success at the start, has been a learning management system that truly meets the special needs of our school’s teaching and learning system of wall to wall project and problem based learning. As partners in the New Tech Network, we have a system customized for all our schools using the Drupal open source content management platform. The system, called Echo, provides a Project Briefcase tool that teachers use to construct their lessons and provide access to the learners to resources, activities, agendas, and much more. Grades, discussions, events, collections, and even parent access is all supported. The common workspace for all teachers and students is a Google Domain embedded through the Echo servers. This nearly turnkey, customized system has proven to be invaluable as the center of use for our technology.

Another important choice that we made for many practical and innovative reasons was the purchase of a complete on-line virtual library from Cengage Learning. From the very start, our facilitators and learners, and even their brothers and sisters at home, have accessed the eBooks, pdf articles, and other resources on a regular basis in all disciplines. Key to our ongoing success of accessing these resources has been the periodic support and professional development provided by Cengage to our facilitators. We have also found ways to seamlessly integrate the links to our virtual library from within our Learning management System.

We had some struggles along the way. One challenge of a new high school like ours was that purchasing deadlines for start up on-line resources and programs came before teachers were hired and fully trained. As the Director and Principal I did my best to research, study, and plan carefully before purchasing. Although we had hits such as Adobe Creative Suites and, we had misses, at least for us, in Rosetta Stone and Skills Tutor. Not that these were bad programs, it was that the understanding and buy in and seamless integration into our project based learning culture was not a good fit with my teachers and their Projects. Fortunately, as our school became more mature and our collaborative decision making model took hold. We were able to move beyond those early investments that didn’t pay off and moved to tools that did, thanks to listening to the good ideas of my staff.

Originally published 09/20/14

Building a Culture for One-to-One

Those schools that design One-to-One technology plans rightfully spend huge amounts of time and resources in choosing hardware, software, vendors, support and repair, and training. In my previous Blog Post “Building a Community for One-to-One” I shared our school’s, nex+Gen Academy, and my story of working through some of these details. I’d like to share our experience with the actual roll-out and early elements of success. You will see that a strong culture built around core values school wide, along with a purposeful sense of learning community, topped off with ceremony and celebration were all involved in nex+Gen’s story of success.

At the core of developing our school’s One-to-One program was an integration with our wall to wall project and problem based learning model and establishing a strong community of learners built on core values. Through our partnership with the New Tech Network, we found frameworks, tools, and pedagogy for us to build our own unique program. I know that many schools around the country grapple with the idea of loaning, for long periods of time during the day or school year, computer hardware worth from $500 to $1,000 or more. Questions of theft, loss, damage, let alone worries around proper and safe use of the computer on the internet, social media, and chat are very serious issues to be addressed. Our approach to these and other related issues started with a key component of New Tech Schools: each New Tech school maintains a culture that promotes trust, respect, and responsibility. We learned that at New Tech schools, students and teachers alike have exceptional ownership of the learning experience and their school environment. This focus did not just relate to use of computer hardware, but every part of school community. At nex+Gen these core values were tied to our Passport, a students badge of honor and “key” to move freely around areas of the school outside our learning studios alone or with their group members. We designed our school with “cubbies” similar to the ones designed in elementary school classrooms rather than rows of lockers. In fact, we have no doors in our classrooms, what we call learning studios. The core values became the cornerstone of school norms that were co-created by our students and teachers and endorsed school wide for all grades in those first weeks of opening and updated again at the beginning of subsequent years. We believed that by setting high expectations, providing specific scaffolding, activities and workshops on our core values and norms, that we would have an effective culture within our learning community supporting much more than a quality One-to-One model, but an academic environment best suited for developing students for college and career. Please take a moment to see some of what I mean in these two short videos filmed in August 2010 and February 2011 that illustrates these and other important elements of our roll-out.

A key to our successful One-to-One computer program was how we built a strong learning community using our learning management tool customized for New Tech Schools and an effective Google Domain using such tools as Gmail, Word, Presentation, and even Chat. Our teachers had spent dozens of hours that first summer of 2010 with many hours since in refreshing and updating their knowledge and skill set to integrate all of these tools into their projects and problems. They created “Briefcases” online where students had direct access to workshops, pdf’s and other links to readings, scaffolding for project development, tools for planning and organization, and much more. As a result, students became more engaged, involved, and accountable for their place in the learning community. The laptop became an integral part of their interaction in the learning community in many different ways and levels, that it rarely was taken for granted, but rather respected so it could be trusted to be used when needed. nex+Gen Learners became truly responsible for their computer. In fact we we didn’t just check one out to each student as they came into our school. We built that sense of responsibility around a ceremony that included our friends from Dell, Intel, our local vendor TIG, and even our superintendent Winston Brooks took part.

As a result of a purposeful sense of community of learners engaged in school through smart use of their PC in a culture based on core values rather that a list of policies based on do’s and don’ts, nex+Gen has thrived in many ways in our first four years. Yes, we have had high test scores comparable to the highest performing schools in the District. But more than that, we have students developing communication skills and presenting projects to various members of our community on a regular basis. Our students are developing a high level of grit and a growth mindset with our focus on agency as another learning outcome school wide. More over, their smart use of technology has helped develop highly effective collaboration skills and enriched their ability to inquire and analyze within projects and problems. With a properly cared for and ready to use laptop at the ready, all of this and much more has been possible for our students.

Originally published 07/20/14

Building a Community for One-to-One

So much is written these days and available online about 1 to 1 computing. For example, a recent Education Week Spotlight provides a variety of articles on the subject from the 30,000 ft level for School Districts and some very good tips of smart use in the classroom. However, an important perspective to consider for a successful 1 to 1 computer implementation is a school wide look and examination of the entire learning community. In my Blog, I will share the lessons learned and experiences from a high school principal position starting the fifth year of a 1 to 1 computer environment.

How the first 1 to 1 public High School in New Mexico originated. nex+Gen Academy is a school of choice in the Albuquerque Public Schools, one of the 30 largest school districts in the US. In the Fall of 2008 business and community leaders led District Leadership on a visit to a successful small school and a school within a school in North Dallas, member schools of the New Tech Network. Representatives from Sandia National Labs, Intel Corp, the NM Business Roundtable, the Albuquerque Economic Forum, and the Hispano Chamber of Commerce were pleased to see what they were looking for: smart use of technology with students able to access computers and the internet at any time. What provided the evidence that led to commitment to building a New Tech School in Albuquerque was the interconnection of smart use of technology with a project based learning approach and a culture that promotes core values of trust, respect, and responsibility. The results of this model observed in North Dallas were high levels of student engagement and growth along several measures beyond standardized test scores.

Soon after their return, agreements were made: the APS Superintendent committed to allocating capital funds to design and build a new small school for 400 students. Intel Corp offered funding to complete the District’s start-up technology funding for new schools to create a 1 to 1 computer program, and Sandia National Labs agreed to pay the school development partnership fees to the New Tech Network to help with the design and support the implementation of the innovative learning environment.

Making technology decisions that would impact four years of learning. As the founding Principal (New Tech calls us Director) of nex+Gen Academy, I chose to focus not just on a technology master plan, but a full School Project Development and Implementation Plan. The Technology Plan would be connected to the professional culture and that meant working with the local teachers union. Another key was to connect the design of our new building to our technology decisions through our architect. Working closely with the New Tech School Development Coach and accessing a library of tools and resources from the Network would be critical to our success. Bringing plans from these areas together into a master plan for design in an Advisory Group, comprised of the original partners and other key voices in our community, was significant to a successful opening of school in August 2010.

The watershed event that put our Technology Plan on solid footing was a Tech Summit in January of 2010. Present at this four hour meeting were an Intel Enterprise Engineer and director of Education Outreach, representatives from Promethean, Oracle, Adobe, New Tech, and the local Apple and Intel platform contracted companies. Also in attendance were representative from several District departments that rarely met together on a project design team like this one: Hardware, Networking, and Instructional Support. Bringing all of these folks to the table resulted in a solid plan that would meet our ultimate need: an innovative learning environment that would best prepare learners for college and career.

Four Years later, nex+Gen’s first graduating class of learners that began as freshmen in August 2010 proved they were well prepared for college and career. They all met the state requirements for testing. All were accepted to 2 and 4 year colleges. 95% successfully completed at least one dual credit college class. Three-fourths completed a 40-hour mentorship in a career field of interest. All successfully completed and presented to the community a year long personal inquiry senior project under supervision and support of a mentor/advisor. And, yes, their test scores grew from matching the District average as 8th graders to growing 20 points higher than their peers in the District by the time they were juniors.

Originally published 06/24/14