Moodle in 80 Minutes

Moodle's choices easily overwhelm novice users.
Moodle’s choices easily overwhelm novice users.

I recently wrote about the Hippobytes PD that I’m piloting at AISB, based on KIS’ fishbowl model of professional development. Some of the first sessions I led were about how to use Moodle’s activities and quizzes. I’m currently enrolled in HRDNZ’s MoodleBites/MCCC course, and the more I learn about Moodle the more I find out how many features it has. There’s enough to create a fully-delivered online class (which, of course, is the point) but also so many features that teachers who are only looking to develop a blended-learning environment can get overwhelmed. I think most secondary teachers are looking to deliver content and maybe accept assignments electronically, but there’s so much research out there about the importance of movement and face-to-face communication that we want to be affirming human interaction, not replacing it with a screen. So in these, I’ve tried to focus on Moodle as it’s relevant to the secondary classroom teacher:

One of the most useful things I learned was that Moodle hosts a fully-populated demo site with several completely-articulated courses so you can see best practices in action. One thing I found very helpful was logging in as a teacher and seeing how their more-complicated activities and assessments, like Lessons, had been created.

HippoBytes: Bite-Sized Tech PD

HippoBytes Ads (6)
Marketing promotes awareness of the HippoBytes PD sessions.

Having substantially completed AISB’s technology strategic plan to move to a BYOD model in the secondary, buy tablets for the elementary and upgrade the infrastructure to support the devices, my focus in semester 2 is to create a sustainable professional development model for our faculty of 20 teachers.

In the fall I ran across Korea International School’s Fishbowl Model and decided to adopt it for use at AISB. In a nutshell, the Fishbowl PD model encompasses:

  • Relevant topics: data is gathered from participants to understand why they attend and how they use what they’ve learned
  • Useful topics: presented on things that teachers ask for as well as things they may not have ever heard of
  • Voluntary and consistent sessions: attendance isn’t mandatory, and sessions are offered at several times (always on a regular schedule) throughout the week during the school day so that teachers can attend in their free periods
  • Marketing: so that teachers know what, when, and where PD happens
  • Evolution: the PD team uses evidence to reflect and improve on trainings

At AISB we’ve tried to adopt the structure as best we can, given that we don’t have any staff devoted full-time to teacher development (I teach over a 40% load in addition to being responsible for all IT; my assistant runs some sessions but has similarly diverse responsibilities). We run six 40-minute sessions on two different topics throughout the week, structured so that two sessions are accessible to elementary classroom teachers, two are available to specialists, and two are available to secondary teachers. In such a small faculty we don’t expect more than one or two teachers to show up, so we’ve been happy that two or three (10-15% of the faculty) typically attend each of our sessions. After 4-5 weeks we plan to send out our first feedback survey to see if we can tweak the format or schedule.

We generated a Harvard notes-style outline for each session, but the session itself is mostly a hands-on demo. We then post a summary to our school’s Teaching and Learning Blog since we don’t expect full retention from a 40-minute session. The goal is to give teachers enough experience to want to innovate in their classrooms. You can’t force teachers to innovate, but you can give them the tools and support framework to make them comfortable to do so.

Useful Links

Promote global-mindedness and geography with #mysteryskype

IMG_20150129_092224-sThere are already plenty of posts about #mysteryskype out there, but here’s another based on what I recently did with our Grade 3 class:

Teachers often cite the diverse student body as an advantage of the international school environment. One way to extend our students’ global mindsets even further is to do a “Mystery Skype,” a game in which classes from two different countries each question the other to figure out where their partner is. It’s a great way to practice critical thinking, interpersonal communication, and geography, and it usually ends with both classes hollering and jumping up and down when they figure it out!

AISB 2.0: Service Learning in the Service of Technology Integration

I’ve heard lots of schools talk about the value of service learning, and just as many lament how difficult it can be do well. In 2015, AISB combined its planning for 1:1 with its service learning initiative to have students create a formal proposal for 1:1 to the board which – spoiler alert – was approved! Here’s how we did it.

Since October, a student working group called AISB had been researching 1:1 models from published best practices and by interviewing other schools. In the last week of semester one, they presented their finding to the senior class. The seniors spent a week processing that data, doing their own research, examining the school budget and learning the skills necessary to write formally, culminating with them creating a written proposal for 1:1 and presenting it to the school board the following week.

The curricular link was both math and English. Students received instruction in principles of accounting and budgeting, using a spreadsheet, making effective presentations using Presentation Zen principles, and writing formal grant proposals.

However, we didn’t give students a roadmap at the beginning. After all, AERO defines “problem solving” as “engaging in a task for which the solution process is not known in advance.” So the first thing we did was give the students the goal (to make present a proposal to the board for a 1:1 technology model at AISB) and have them work backwards in terms of what they needed to know and do to get there. We wanted them to get close to something like the following:

  1. Choose ownership model (To do this: read the information presented/shared to make decision)
  2. Calculate TCO
  3. After the devices arrive on campus, what are we going to do to ensure the technology is used effectively? (Surveys, trainings, rules, policies, etc)
  4. Use the information gathered to write formal proposal
  5. Make presentation
  6. Share proposal with the board

We also forecasted how much time they needed for each step:

Period Mon Tue Wed Thurs Fri
C Teach Excel, budgeting, TCOPresent AISB budgetAISB 2.0 as needed Articulate policies & support structuresTeach formal writing Write proposalCreate presentation
F Problem & Task ReviewMinimal intro to backgroundDiscuss HOW to proceed Research and note taking Work time
Advisory Work time Present to Director

We had the equivalent of about seven class periods to work on it.

Our estimates were quite accurate. Calculating the costs took a bit longer than we anticipated, but teaching formal grant writing and learning how to make a budget spreadsheet took less. We generated some original content: one useful comparison we came up with for other schools considering BYOD looked at the differences in performing various computer tasks across five platforms. The seniors probably needed 2-3 hours more of work than listed in the schedule above to make more polished presentations to our director – they spent some time the next week creating the final presentation for the board. They also underemphasized the support costs of a 1:1 and got a bit caught up in “ooh, this gadget is cool!” But overall, they did a really thorough job. From here we’ll parlay the proposal in a formal strategic technology plan and BYOD handbook, which will also be created with student support going back to the AISB 2.0 model.

If you’re at a school interested in having students involved in the 1:1 planning process, consider the following:

  • There will be talented students interested in contributing
  • The research phase will take weeks, but one week’s worth of intense synthesis can put it together; find a way to dedicate time to it
  • Have a roadmap in mind, but start with the goal and make them create the process to get there
  • Teach adult-level skills as part of the process to make it authentic and professional; anticipate what they’ll need (or just ask them what they want to know) and prepare lessons ahead of time
  • Work with the students as equals. Don’t be afraid to contribute, but listen to their voices first. You will have more context, but they will think of things you didn’t
  • Be willing to let them fail, but give them everything they need to succeed


AISB 2.0: Completing the Research and Vision Phase

This year’s focus for the school has been student empowerment and service learning, and we continue to find ways to integrate these into our planning for 1:1.

Visualizing our research has helped to process all the moving parts that go into a 1:1.

At this point in the planning process we’re conducting research and building relationships with stakeholders. Students have been interviewing their peers at other schools (TAISM, AIS Kuwait, IS Dakar, UWC-SEA, SIS, UTB Helsingborg, and ICS Addis; with some help from me for Episocopal Academy and AIS Lusaka). This has required them to apply their skills in collaboration, communication and research in an authentic context.

They’re also going to present their research to a forum for parents and faculty this week and get their feedback. In addition to the obvious cross-curricular applications of skills involved here, this empowers the students to express their own opinions and have a say in the future direction of the school.

It has been a challenging sustaining student interest. I’ve now got a core of six committed students who are coming on Mondays after school to work. Developing a comprehensive plan is a challenge, and developing several competing proposals as I’d like to do would require more time than any of us have. More labor is needed. Somewhat coincidentally, the school has decided to run a service learning project the last week of this semester (in January), and we’ve found a way to take advantage of this.

We’ve designed a service learning project for the entire senior class where their task will be to synthesize the research and feedback so far into either a plan for the secondary school or elementary school. We hope to have two competing proposals in each area. The students will need to evaluate the data collected so far; learn about professional grant-writing, budgeting, and the concept of total cost of ownership; and then write a proposal encompassing all of the components of a 1:1 program. Done right, it will bundle very authentic skills into a project that will have a very visible impact on student learning in the school – a senior gift with lasting meaning.

Philosophizing on Education

I started out in education as a high school history teacher. Indulge me for a moment and forgive some negativity – there’s a silver lining soon – but one aspect that stood out to me was how disinterested many teenagers were in school.

After three years I became a K-12 technology coordinator. I taught elementary schoolers how to search and present, and middle schoolers how to design. I saw a whole other side to school – a wonderment for seemingly mundane things (geology!) in elementary, and a dazzling passion for life in the first years of middle school (We get to do our own mini TED talks?!?!).
What changes as students get older? Developmentally and culturally, of course, students begin to conform themselves to the world instead of the world to themselves. So should we as schools be trying to maintain that sense of wonderment and passion; the curiosity and creativity?

Absolutely. It should be at the root of what we do.

It’s sad that “curiosity” and “passion” aren’t measured. They aren’t quantifiable. Nevertheless, we teachers need to enable curiosity as the bedrock of lifelong learning. Curiosity is the spark that ignites the tinderbox of latent potential; it pushes us to achieve great things just because we can. For all that pundits deride technology as only a distraction, there is no better time than now for schools to fan our students’ curiosity. Wondering what Paris is like? Tour it in Google Street View. Want to know the cultural practices of Dogon Tribes in northern Mali? Get your students to do a Hangout with mine – they can tell you.

And then consider passion. When you see a student engage with a lesson, they produce remarkable work. Last month I watched a 3rd grader give a 20-minute presentation on fossils. Then consider the limitless ways that technology helps us express that passion. Students can record their own songs, produce their own movies, design their own solutions. They no longer need to perform for an audience of one (their teacher), but an audience of tens, hundreds, thousands.

The point, then, is not the standards and curricula. They are important and necessary. But they are but crude attempts to capture the infinitely more important, and commensurately less quantifiable, capacity of human beings to learn for its own sake, and to achieve great things because they can.

AISB 2.0: Empowering Students (Week 4)

Put students in touch (bad pun intended) with projects that have real-world consequences. It inspires them and saves work for you. Photo credit: flickingerbrad

The end of a school quarter is hard. Teacher work piles up and tempers run short. Students face end of term projects and tests. It’s not a great time to push for new, long-term initiative that requires teachers to think outside of their day-to-day concerns. The 1:1 planning workgroup has thus focused on organizing for after the break. Here’s what we’ve learned and accomplished since the last post.

We will reach out to parents, teachers and students in different ways.

Half of the students volunteered to organize branding and outreach. We brainstormed and voted on a name for the initiative, AISB 2.0. To reach parents, we’ve decided to use the existing methods of communication (the newsletter and Facebook page). For teachers, we’ll use the new Teaching and Learning Blog for announcements, which one of our students will write. To reach students we’ve decided to create Twitter and Instagram accounts for announcements and to make a hashtag (tbd). When one of us sees something they like, they’ll take a picture of it and hashtag it, with the goal of showcasing the values we hope to extend with the 1:1 program.

The face-to-face approach is the most effective one you can have.

Coffee morning was a success, and we got ten parents who dropped in to learn about the planning process. They were eager to talk about how technology played a role in their children’s growth and share their aspiration and concerns. We got their contact information so that we can call on them directly for more detailed feedback.

Lunchtime meetings are not useful.

Our 40-minute lunch period was too short to get anything done by the time they got started 10 minutes into the period. We’re switching to one weekly after-school meeting for a more useful block of time. And you know what? Students are willing to show up for something that is not, on its face, “fun.”

Student empowerment is a real thing.

The presentation of a prospective director candidate last got me thinking about the value of student empowerment. In Week 1, I was envisioning having to do much of the publicity and research myself. It turns out that the students from the working group are willing and able to take on the former (see above), and eager to be involved in the latter. Other schools have visited other schools to look at their deployments, and flown in experts to do audits. We probably don’t have the money to any of that. So each student from the AISB 2.0 working group will interview one or two students from a school that is already on a 1:1 program. Half of them already know someone since they attended such a school and still know friends there. For the other half, I’ll reach out to my PLN and ask them to help me connect our students. I’ll still do my due diligence, starting with Google for Education’s Pilot Guide for Bringing Devices to Your School, but my students will bring a broader perspective than I could find on my own.

AISB 2.0: A Learning Revolution (Week 1)

Friday marked our first full week of our 1:1 planning process. I made a rough roadmap for the process and ran it by our school director:

11 Planning_Page_1

11 Planning_Page_2



The general idea is to 1) agree on a general set of outcomes that apply the principles of our school mission to the conditions facing current and future students and graduates, 2) generate a set of activities that students and teachers will do in order to help students meet those outcomes, and finally 3) evaluate which tools (devices, infrastructure, and organizations) are needed to support that. The process will involve all stakeholders: teachers, parents, and students.

The immediate need is for interested stakeholders to become part of the process. By making an announcement at a school assembly and having advisers talk about the initiative, I got 12 students to express interest and attend the first meeting. Here’s how I pitched it to them.

Following the meeting we came up with this working document. I’ve still only heard from one interested parent, and next week I will put together a meeting for teachers, so stay tuned for how that turns out.

Video: Education as a Human Endeavor

At the #learning2 Africa conference I spoke about what makes a good educator and what tech evangelists need to do to be successful at their schools.

Two tips for public speaking, from a first-time speaker:

  • In a 3-5 minute talk, you really have time to effectively present and support only a single idea. I tried to talk about two, but ran slightly over time.
  • You probably need to practice your speech to be fluent, unless you’re a natural talker. I’m not, and rehearsed about 20 times from conception to delivery.

Recipe for Innovation at AISB

At last week’s #learning2 conference in Addis, @mscofino emphasized how five factors contribute to a “recipe for innovation” that schools can use to reshape their learning environments:

These five factors were:

  1. Look outside – study how other schools have changed, which you can accomplish through correspondence, inviting them to your school, or going to theirs.
  2. Listen inside – involved faculty, parents, and students in the process to develop a set of shared expectations
  3. Empower students – get them especially to buy into the process and leverage their expertise and enthusiasm
  4. Customize for your environment – what works for others won’t for you, and vice versa. That’s okay. Take what you need and change it to fit your specific circumstances.
  5. Evolve – the only constant is change, and you will need to adapt your plan to the vicissitudes of the modern era.

While I was away for the conference, there was a heated “traffic jam” over teachers trying to reserve labs and laptops for their classes. When I came back, I noticed again just how many of our students were bringing their laptops to school and using them in class, despite us not having a formal BYOD policy. There were other things that nagged at me. Our student numbers were climbing back up to pre-coup levels, Malitel was digging trenches for fiber optic cables all around town, and our school community was organically working and learning in ways that pushed the limits of our resources. I realized that it was time for us to innovate – it was time for us to go 1:1.

Our staff’s response to Learning2 principles. Three initials for every faculty member – we have a small staff.

So our first day back, having looked outside at Learning2, I made my pitch to the faculty. I presented a list of Learning2 principles that my extended session attendees had brainstormed and listened inside by inviting our teachers to add to and modify it. We then voted for what we felt was most important by initialling three principles. I plan to take these and articulate them into a list of specific learning activities and then use that list to draw up the devices and software that can help us achieve them.

The next day, I sat down with the PTO and gave them the same pitch, inviting them to join me in developing and articulating these values and goals as well. I hope that a few of them will step up or find someone from the community who will. Since I play so many roles at the school I need to outsource some of the work.

Finally, this week I’ll ask our advisory teachers to see if any students are interested in being involved in the process. We recently moved to a new student leadership model based on AES-New Delhi’s approach, and it is perfect for getting interested students to help provoke meaningful change.

Clearly these steps won’t be sequential. I’ll continue to look at models of other schools, and the community engagement process with extend for weeks, if not months (not that it ever really stops).

Stay tuned for how things develop.

Practical ed tech

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