Inclusive Technology Decision Making

On March 2, representatives from District 109 presented at the ICE Conference on the topic of Inclusive Technology Decision Making. In District 109, we proudly include our teachers and students in our decision-making process to ensure that all stakeholder voices are heard.

This year, we were tasked to make some decisions about student, teacher and classroom technology. Our process began by gathering two committees: a teacher/administrator committee known as the Technology Review Committee as well as a student committee known as STAT (Student Technology Advisory Team). These two teams met on three separate occasions to work with leaders in District 109 to establish a shared vision about technology, collect data on technology usage, and ultimately make decisions that would be best for the learners in our classrooms. All of the notes from our meetings can be found here.

Through the work of the committees, we quickly determined that teachers desired a technology solution that no longer kept them tethered to the front of the classroom, and students desired more flexibility in their environment. In order to collect data on technology usage, we structured Technology Walkthroughs with groups of teachers and students throughout the entire district. Our analysis of the data collected on our Technology Walkthroughs led to the realization that technology is used differently now that our students use 1:1 devices in their classrooms. Nearly a decade ago, Promethean Boards were the only pieces of technology in our classrooms. Today, those boards serve as a static display while students work interactively with their own screens.

In the coming weeks, we will share the final decision about our next classroom technology solution as well as some of the other exciting things happening throughout District 109. In the meantime, please take a look at the presentation below that was presented at the ICE Conference to better understand our decision-making process.


Reflections from EdLeader 21 2016 Annual Meeting

From September 28-30, Adam Levinstein, our District Coordinator for Technology, joined me in Denver, Colorado, for the EdLeader 21 annual meeting. What I appreciate most about this event is that it is viewed as a robust PLC meeting rather than just as a traditional conference. During the meeting, progressive districts from across the country come together to engage in conversations and collaborative projects that will promote student and teacher proficiency of the 4Cs.

During my time at EdLeader21, I participated in a facilitator training session to learn how we will begin implementing performance tasks in several fourth-grade classrooms in Deerfield District 109. This innovative approach to assessment will engage students in authentic work and provide teachers with an opportunity to assess the quality of student performance. Our teachers will join nearly 40 districts in the work of providing students with a common performance task. In addition to the task, we will take part in a scoring calibration exercise to analyze common data and explore the instructional improvements needed to enhance this learning. I look forward to sharing the outcomes of this experience with our leaders and teachers to bring more performance tasks to Deerfield as a form of assessment.

Other important takeaways from EdLeader21 came from a keynote delivered by Deborah Delisle, the Executive Director of ASCD. Deb reminded us that our responsibility as educators is to fill kids with hope so that they can find success in a complex, ever-changing world. Along with hope, we must focus on the individual students behind each and every data point so that we truly personalize the educational experience of all learners. Deb challenged all EdLeader21 members to keep students in our hearts as we carry on the important work of ensuring a 4 Cs education for all kids. What a privilege to hear Deb share her powerful message!

As we look ahead, District 109 will send a small team of teachers and leaders to Colombus, Ohio this spring to participate in EdLeader21’s Professional Learning Days where we will leave with a creativity and innovation toolkit. We are grateful to be part of EdLeader21 and are eager to continue our involvement with this influential community of educators.


Update from the Summer of ’16

Heading into the 2016-2017 school year, I could not be more proud of the work we are doing in District 109. With a focus on innovation, many of our teachers have spent time over the summer learning about ways to bring new ideas, technology, and tools into their classrooms. There has never been a better time to be an educator and never a better place to teach and learn than in District 109. Below is some of the important work that has taken place in District 109 to prepare for our best school year yet.

Project-Based Learning Workshop

From June 14-16, nearly 50 educators from our district took part in an intensive workshop to learn about the project-based learning framework and prepare to implement PBL units into many classrooms across the District. This is an important next step toward designing even more authentic, hands-on learning experiences to foster the development of the 4 Cs (communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity) among all of our learners.

Adding iPads

Last spring, we awarded 100 staff members with an individual iPad grant to facilitate more creativity and productivity within their current roles. Over the summer, nearly 70 of those 1oo teachers participated in iPad Foundational Training to prepare to use their iPads once the school year begins. In addition to the 100 individual iPad recipients, we also awarded classroom sets of iPads to 10 3rd-8th grade teachers from across the District. We look forward to observing how a 2:1 learning environment supports the 4 Cs in these classrooms.

Teaching Digital Citizenship using Nearpod

This year, our District will use Nearpod, an interactive presentation tool, to deliver important lessons on digital citizenship. Each grade level will commit to teaching designated digital citizenship lessons produced by Common Sense Media so that we can ensure that all of our students have exposure on these important topics during their years in District 109. To see which lessons are being taught at which grade level, click here. Nearpod will be used in other subject areas as well to engage our learners and monitor their progress in the classroom. Last month, over 50 teachers in our District attended Nearpod Bootcamp, a 3-hour session to learn how Nearpod can be used to engage students in the classroom. To learn more about Nearpod, click here.

Data Privacy

In a world where data is constantly collected by third-party applications, we made a bold attempt to review all apps used by our teachers to ensure that they meet legal guidelines and best practices. Because many of these apps require students to create logins and collect student data as part of that registration process, it is incumbent upon us to share that information with our students’ families. While this list is a work in progress, we are proud to be able to share it with our teachers and families to inform you about the tools we are using to provide creative and effective teaching and learning in all of our classrooms. To view all web-based and iOS apps that have been vetted by the Department of Teaching and Learning, click here.

It has been a busy summer in the Department of Teaching and Learning but certainly a productive one!

DPS109 Celebrates Digital Learning Day!

March 17, 2016 was Digital Learning Day – a full day devoted to celebrating the amazing digital learning opportunities that students across the country experience on a daily basis. In many districts, Digital Learning Day is a chance to have a first exposure to teaching with technology. In DPS109, we are lucky that digital learning is everywhere, every day! For us, Digital Learning Day is about celebrating the engaging technology tools in our classrooms and showcasing our innovative work with others nationwide!

Click on this link to see all of the moments captured by our incredible teachers in celebration of Digital Learning Day. We are certain that our teachers have inspired others with their great work!

Homework: Give It Purpose or Give It Death!

I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.

Lily Tomlin

(This post was co-written with my colleague Jeff Zoul, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning in Deerfield Public Schools)

Jeff’s daughter, Jordyn, is 21 and a senior in college. My daughter, Valerie, is a 9-year-old third grader. In commiserating with Jeff about Valerie’s recent homework experiences, we realized that not much has changed in the quality of homework assignments during the 12 years that have passed since Jordyn finished, and Valerie began, third grade. I became so frustrated with the inane assignments that my daughter was expected to complete that I posted this video capturing my daughter completing a word search (38 minutes that neither of us will ever get back) on a recent evening:

Video: Last Night’s Homework (1 minute)


We suspect that my daughter and I could have put our limited evening time together to better use than laboring over a word search. Our PLN pal (also a parent), Adam Bellow (@adambellow), has shared his own frustrations on the topic of homework on more than one occasion, including this wonderful short video he created two years ago about the dreaded “Homework Packet.”

Video: The Homework Packet (1 minute) via @adambellow

Honestly, we are a bit surprised that homework packets, word searches, and other random assignments still go home with such regularity. We have many strong feelings about this issue, enough to fill a book as opposed to a mere blog post. For now, however, let us first take a page from our revolutionary pal Patrick Henry by suggesting, if nothing else, we must either give it purpose…or give it death. To elaborate just a bit, let us share just five quick additional points:

  1. First, we are not advocates for never assigning homework. Adopting such a rigid stance presents almost as many problems as having a policy FOR assigning a certain amount of homework each night. Like most issues we face in education, homework is not a black/white, always/never issue and it behooves us to align with neither side of extremist stances. What we do stand for, however, is ensuring that any homework assigned is…
  2. Assigned with intention. Every single homework assignment we expect kids to complete should be assigned with a clear purpose in mind–for every student expected to complete it, which leads us to…
  3. Not all homework should be assigned to all students. Even our educator friends who advocate for no homework policies agree that, if there is a legitimate purpose to homework, that purpose is to practice skills first learned at school. We find it highly dubious that every child in any given classroom of 20 or more students needs the exact same amount of practice on the exact same content. When we do assign homework for practice, it should be…
  4. Differentiated to meet the needs of each individual student. To use a medical analogy, when we diagnose (through daily formal and informal formative assessments) that a student is showing symptoms indicating a need for some type of support, we might well start by prescribing additional practice during class or at home. However, we should no more prescribe the same type/amount of homework practice for every student than we would prescribe the same medical remedy for wildly varying ailments, as evidenced shown in this video:

Video: Prescribing Homework (2 minutes)

In a recent post, another friend, Eric Sheninger, touched on key differences between personalizing versus differentiating learning. We think this subtle, yet significant, distinction applies to learning at home as well. When not assigning homework for targeted, intentional practice, we may want to assign it to inspire individual exploration/extension of learning. This type of homework assignment should be personalized based upon the individual student. However, whereas in differentiation of homework assignments, we differentiate based on the academic needs of the student, in personalization we again differentiate, but based on the academic interests, passions, and desires of the student.

CC image by JFXie

CC image by JFXie

Discussing homework often provokes strong reactions among teachers, students, and parents, with views ranging from those insisting on certain amounts of homework nightly to those insisting we abolish homework altogether. Although there is no clear consensus on this topic, we believe it is important to start with a somewhat obvious question, “What is our purpose in assigning homework?” and then–assuming we can identify a legitimate reason–intentionally differentiating our tasks by asking kids to complete additional (but limited) amounts of practice to reinforce learning based on their needs and to personalize assignments by challenging students to extend their learning after school hours by exploring topics based on their interests and passions.

The debate regarding homework is likely to continue and we do not profess to have a one-size-fits-all answer, anymore than we would assign one-size-fits-all homework, but here are two final challenges:

CC image by JohnnyMrNinja

Like many of you, we are not only educators, but also parents, and we have experienced the homework challenge from both ends of the spectrum. Full disclosure: Once we became parents, our perspectives changed a bit as we saw first-hand how homework impacted our families, oftentimes negatively. So as a challenge to teachers everywhere, we encourage a practice we first learned from Nick Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher), who took it upon himself as a teacher to actually complete himself all homework assignments he assigned to his students. We wonder, as he did, “…how much homework teachers would give if they were expected to complete it.” To be fair, however, it is often our parents, not our teachers, who expect and even demand that we assign homework. To parents, we suggest asking your children, “If you could do any kind of work for a homework assignment, what would that be?” Our guess? Your child(ren) will likely NOT ask to do something meaningless like a word search or writing their spelling words five times each. On the other hand, they may answer–as my daughter did when asked that very same question, “I’d like to create my own country and design its flag. Then I would build my country in Minecraft for other kids to see.”

Although some of our friends still lament the advent of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), we actually believe that when it comes to homework, the Common Core–interpreted at face value and implemented with fidelity–compels us to act in a way that will actually result in a decrease of mindless homework assignments. The overarching goal of the CCSS–to ensure that all kids leave their PK-12 experience college and career ready–is a noble goal; we are hard pressed to argue against kids leaving us fully prepared for the next stage of their lives. Alas, assigning mindless homework to all kids, without taking into account their current knowledge and skillset and not allowing choice and interest to play a role in whether or what kind of homework to assign strike us as ways to actually do the opposite.

So, we ask: Is the work we are assigning our kids to complete at home tonight designed to prepare them for their tomorrow? If not, let’s reconsider. Deciding if and when to assign homework can be problematic to say the least; it might behoove us to put on our medical hats when considering what to assign. Monitoring our students’ learning “symptoms,” “diagnosing” their current status, and based on such diagnoses, “prescribing” a course of action (including, perhaps, no homework at all if the “patient” is healthy) is another way we Teach and Lead with Passion!

Student Showcase Redesign

On Thursday, April 23rd, all DPS109 elementary schools hosted their annual Student Showcase night. This is an evening for students and families to come to school, visit classrooms and teachers, and take a look at student work produced throughout the year.

When Student Showcase (also known as Portfolio Night) was introduced to DPS109 just over a decade ago, our district was in a very different place. Our schools were equipped with one computer per classroom, and binders, pizza boxes and photo albums were the home to our students’ portfolios. Once a year, families looked forward to coming to school to see student work samples and marvel at their child’s growth over the course of that school year.

Flash forward to today when all of our students have access to their own iPad or Chromebook and suddenly our families have access to their child’s digital work without ever entering the classroom door. One of our 5th grade teachers at Kipling Elementary School who was also part of the 1:1 Learning Pilot, told me that he had an epiphany after last year’s Student Showcase night when a couple of students could not attend. “I told them not to worry about not being there since they could just show their families their Google Drive and Blog from home.”

Thanks to the 1:1 technology initiative in 109, we noticed that several teachers had similar thoughts about redesigning Student Showcase night to make it a more meaningful experience for students and their families this year. Many of our teachers found ways to combine technology with learning activities to give families a better picture of what it is like to be a student in today’s classrooms.

Take a look at how Kipling Elementary School’s 5th Grade team empowered their students to redesign Student Showcase night for their families.

Teaching and Learning Conference 2015

While our students were home for an extra day of winter break, the teachers and staff of District 109 returned to school on Monday, January 5th for the 2nd Annual Teaching and Learning Conference. We are fortunate to have teacher-leaders in District 109 with high levels of expertise in a range of topics, allowing us to schedule nearly 60 different sessions led by our own Deerfield teachers. We also partnered with Downers Grove Grade School District 58 for a coach swap, where six instructional coaches from District 58 along with Assistant Superintendent, Matt Rich, presented to our teachers, bringing new ideas, methodologies, and strategies to District 109. Earlier this year, we sent several iCoaches from District 109 to lead sessions at the District 58 Teaching and Learning Conference, so both districts benefited from the outside perspectives at each conference.

Because we emphasize sharing our resources with one another, many presenters have made their presentations public. You can view those presentations here. We are proud of the dedicated teachers and staff of District 109 who are passionate about continuous learning. Check out some of the photos below that captured many presenters at this year’s conference.

We’re looking forward to an exciting 2015!

Parent Engagement

On December 3, District 109 invited the parent community to join several teachers and administrators for a hands-on learning opportunity.  We hosted a Parent Technology Workshop as a way of helping parents gain a better understanding of how their children use technology to support their learning. Parents arrived with their child’s Chromebook or iPad and chose from a variety of hands-on sessions to learn basic tips for the devices, navigating our digital resources, or simply gaining some insight about a few of the current educational trends taking place across the country.

Giving parents an opportunity to be learners themselves was positively amazing. After reviewing such encouraging feedback from our workshop, we have already decided to host a second Parent Technology Workshop on Tuesday, March 3rd, where hopefully even more parents will attend. We also hope to to highlight some of our students who can show parents how technology enhances their learning experience in our classrooms.  For anyone who may have been unable to join us on December 3rd, we hope you will take a look at the resources from each session.

In District 109, we deeply value the partnership of our parent community, and with so many changes facing education today, we know that we cannot do it alone. Parental support is hugely important to a child’s academic success.  Designing an evening targeting parental learning and exploration was a powerful way to showcase the ways in which we engage, inspire and empower our students each and every day.

2:1 Pilot in District 109

In District 109, we believe that the destination is merely the horizon. We gaze out ahead, enjoying the journey, while always thinking about what experiences are coming our way. Just when something new appears to be off in the distance, it never takes long before it lingers in the rearview mirror.  This is especially true with technology.

In 2012, District 109 began investigating which device would be best for our students in 1:1 Learning Environments. The Chromebook was an early favorite among many students and teachers because it supported Google Apps for Education and gave students the ability to connect to the internet in just seven short seconds.  At the same time that several carts of Chromebooks were purchased for test drives around the district, a few carts of Nexus 7 tablets were also purchased, giving teachers even more options of technology tools for the classrooms.

This year, with all of students having their own 1:1 device, those Nexus 7 tablets were no longer getting checked out by teachers as they had the year prior. Instead of letting those devices sit, we began to ponder.

What would our classrooms look like if we gave students Nexus 7 tablets to use with their Chromebooks?

This question led us to the next pilot in District 109. I am excited to announce that we have selected twelve classrooms throughout our elementary buildings that are going to be experiencing 2:1 Learning Environments using Chromebooks and Nexus 7 tablets. Each elementary school will have a third, fourth and fifth grade classroom piloting this added device to see how tablet technology can enhance the innovative teaching and learning that is already taking place with the Chromebooks.

While our teachers and students enjoy our world of 1:1, new technologies on the horizon beckon us to think about what might be coming next. We will be using our 2:1 Pilot to think about possibilities for the future in District 109.  I look forward to highlighting the incredible work of our twelve pilot teachers and sharing our story throughout the school year!

Month One of 1:1

About five years ago, I had the privilege of attending the NYSCATE conference in Rochester, New York. Sylvia Martinez, known for her work with a non-profit organization called Generation YES, participated in a panel discussion and made a statement about 21st century learning that has stuck with me.

“If you can Google it, you shouldn’t be teaching it.

Think about all of the Googleable content we have taught our students in the past two hundred years. Before the internet, it was acceptable and expected that we taught students to learn states and capitals, memorize historical dates, and spell lists and lists of words. Today, this information is not only Googleable; it requires low level thinking from our students. With the Common Core Standards, teachers are committed to teaching differently, and thanks to the availability of technology in our district, teachers are finding themselves making this shift quite naturally.

With Google and the internet at the tips of every students’ fingers, it’s hard to argue against moving away from Googleable content and toward deeper thinking that come from tasks involving the four c’s of 21st century education: creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. One way we are supporting our teachers to develop these engaging tasks is by exposing them to the Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition (SAMR) Model this year, a framework created by Dr. Ruben Puentedura. The SAMR Model will be used to help teachers evaluate their use of technology in the classroom with the ultimate goal of transforming student learning.

Now that the technology is in place in the classrooms of District 109, we have an incredible opportunity before us.  We will be redefining the way we teach today’s students. This is no longer the classroom of our childhood; it is the classroom for our students’ future. Our teachers are moving away from teaching Googleable content. They are moving away from low-tech activities that do not engage, inspire or empower students. With 1:1 learning environments in every classroom across the district, our teachers are moving away from the past as they prepare our students for an unknown tomorrow.