Digital Learning Day 2017 Exposes WFISD's Cutting Edge Digital Techniques
Digital Learning Day 2017 Exposes WFISD’s Cutting Edge Techniques
WFISD’s bag of digital tricks include Seesaw, Osmo, Nearpod, Quizlet, No Red Ink and more
Chromebooks sit at the center of the Wichita Falls ISD’s digital revolution.
Teachers across the district showed community members and WFISD administrators Friday how they pair their Chromebooks with the web-based learning platform called Google Classroom to create an efficient but paperless world in their classrooms.
The demonstrations were part of Digital Learning Day 2017, a national event that WFISD celebrated Feb. 24.
Touring 24 schools
Nearly 50 people from the community, Midwestern State University and the Education Center toured 24 schools. They walked through several classrooms at each school to observe and talk with students about their digital projects.
Teachers in classroom after classroom – from pre-K through high school -- showed off their Chromebooks, the smaller, less expensive laptops that have won the devotion of WFISD teachers. Then they touted the free Google suite of web-based services that keeps them organized. Teachers raved that they saved paper, communicated efficiently with children and their parents, made and collected assignments, and planned classes – all using the devices and the Google services.
Chromebooks in action
Then, the dazzling part: Visitors observed the children at work on their Chromebooks using a variety of apps and sites. Children created projects, competed in timed digital quizzes, and solved problems using their devices.
Rider High School AP English teacher Heather Preston had students reading SAT passages and answering questions directly on their Chromebooks when one team toured her classroom. From her own computer, she tracked the percentage of correct answers students were giving on questions about “The Last Laugh” by German filmmaker F. W. Murnau.
“You got 100 percent on that one,” she told the class. “Good job.”
Nearpod for interaction
She uses Nearpod, an app that allows her to make interactive presentations for her class. “I use Chromebooks every day,” she said. “I have Google Classroom. I assign everything in Google Classroom. I don’t do anything on paper.”
No Red Ink for grammar
In Rider English teacher Chris Preston’s class, students took a quiz on the Chromebooks using the site No Red Ink. They viewed sentences with one or more errors in them and were asked to correct the sentences. The device tallied up their correct answers.
Rider Principal Dee Palmore told the group that the Chromebooks are so well liked that he recently purchased 147 more. “I spent every penny” of the technology budget on Chromebooks, he said.
Bring Your Own Device in play, too
He pointed out students in the classrooms who used their cell phones as their digital link to the classroom. In one case, a student worked on her Apple laptop. The variety illustrated the District’s Bring Your Own Device Policy, which allows students to bring in their own devices if they have them and prefer to use them.
A protection system called Go Guardian keeps students on task in the classroom by blocking other sites.
Google Classroom enforces student accountability
WFISD’s technology specialist Joe Camacho said teachers may rave about the Google classroom set-up, but if you asked students about it, they may not say the same. “Kids can never lose their paperwork. They’re held accountable,” he said.
Rider U.S. History teacher David Owens was initially a hard-to-convince teacher who only warmed up to the devices after Mr. Camacho tutored him in their advantages. “It has completely revolutionized the way I’m doing things,” he said now.
No more printing out anything. No more reams of paper used. “No worksheets anymore. It’s all digital,” he told the group touring his class. He assigns websites as guided reading for specific chapters to enhance classroom discussion, or he gives students “a link to another video to watch for enrichment,” he said.
Recently, he led his AP Government classes in a discussion about the federal budget, sending them to links that illustrated how the government “wastes our money,” he said. He showed them interactive graphs on revenue of executive agencies.
“Kids have used it enough now that it’s seamless,” he said. He used to start class with a warm-up activity to involve students with their devices, but no longer. They come to class and know what to do.
In math teacher Jennifer Moser’s classroom, fourth-graders solved math problems in groups (“Remember, you have to agree,” said Ms. Moser) while the teacher timed them. A stopwatch projected on a screen ticked off the remaining seconds available to them. After solving the problems, group members checked their answers by scanning the black-and-white, puzzle-looking QR codes posted at each group location.
Breakout EDU challenge
Fifth-grade Jefferson reading teacher Julie Yandell used Breakout EDU, a unique locked treasure chest, for her lesson Friday. Students worked in groups to perform three activities together to find the three answers that would give them the codes to unlock three locks that bound the treasure chest that held a surprise.
Children used two “hint” cards when they got stuck. A few held up their hint cards, summoning Ms. Yandell for help. “If you want in here,” said Ms. Yandell, tapping the locked box, “you better solve that problem.”
Ms. Yandell had purchased one Breakout EDU box but handmade the rest for her class.
This is problem-solving and higher-order thinking taken to a creative, exciting extreme, said Ms. Yandell.
“Unlocking something and finding out a secret, I think all kids can get into that,” said Shera Rasmussen, WFISD curriculum specialist for English grades 6-12, who marveled at the students’ enthusiasm.
Nurturing a love of learning
One visitor asked, “Does all this digital training and group work translate to better test scores?” Test scores are important, said Assistant Principal Erica Adkins, “but I want kids to love learning.”
Touring community members noticed the group activity and student-driven assignments. “I didn’t see one teacher up there ‘standing and delivering.’ Everything was kid-driven. Really cool,” said Ms. Rasmussen.
Another noticed that students didn’t sit in rows, and desks were few. Classrooms were filled with tables so students could sit together to do group work. Classrooms featured all kinds of comfortable seating so kids could work with a Chromebook on their laps.
The idea for comfortable seating in classrooms has been a teacher-driven initiative that began when WFISD staff toured Coppell ISD and learned new ways to develop a learning environment. Even though the Coppell schools boast a mere 11 percent free and reduced lunch group compared to WFISD’s 60+ percent, “our teachers saw that and teachers drove it,” said Superintendent Mike Kuhrt. “They said, ‘We want our learning environments to be like that.’”
“My son needed the environment we’re creating now,” said Beth Maywald, WFISD’s early childhood specialist.
Another change: Hallways have morphed into silent reading stations. At Jefferson, outdated library shelves were repurposed into narrow hallway tables, outfitted with stools, where students worked quietly.
Carrigan Career Center
Cosmetology students at Carrigan used Quizlet and Quizlet Live on their Chromebooks to compete in groups and answer questions about hair styling vocabulary.
The digital program sorts the class into groups, then delivers a different assortment of answers to each group member. All team members must talk to one another to see each other’s answers and decide which one is correct, then log the correct answer to their Chromebook.
“Quizlet Live lets their competitive side come out,” said Cosmetology teacher Jessica Crosby Kenner. The activity encourages team building and collaboration, along with helping students review words like “thermal protection products.”
“Again!” said one student after one rousing round of the game.
“Ready, go!” said Ms. Kenner.
Southern Hills Elementary
In Kara Lemons first-grade classroom, students used an Osmo to learn sounds and spell site words. The little red cap that hugs the top of the device is actually a mirror, and as students press a letter up against the device, the Osmo reads the letter and leads the child through the spelling activity.
The Magic of Osmo
“All I use it for is for words to work on spelling,” said Ms. Lemons, but the Osmo can also teach coding, art, patterns, shapes and 60 levels of virtual engineering.
“The kids will push it further than we will,” said Ms. Lemons. They naturally have a no-fear approach to technology, she said.
Fifth-grade reading teacher Misti Taylor uses her Chromebooks “most days,” she said. Today she used them and an app called Webquest to teach students about inferencing. They studied six poems about a particular person, then drew inferences from the poems to identify the person.
At one corner of her room stood bookshelves full of books. More giant textbooks of reading passages lined one wall. A visitor asked her if these books would ever lose their value. “These (books) will never be replaced by these (Chromebooks),” she said. “But these (Chromebooks) will enhance the comprehension of those (books).”
Discipline problems erased
Teachers say the District’s digital revolution has erased discipline problems. Others love the excitement level the devices bring.
“The teacher has to be creative,” said technology specialist Mr. Camacho, “and that rolls down to the kids, who have to be creative.”
Google drive available anywhere in the world
“I can create quality content from anywhere,” said Rider teacher David Owens, since the Google Drive on which he works is available to him from any computer anywhere in the world.
Mr. Camacho said he remembered not so long ago what Mr. Owens said about the Chromebooks: “This has no place in my classroom.” But after the WFISD technology team showed him how to transfer what he was doing into Google Classroom, he became a believer. “Once he saw that, he went with it,” said Mr. Camacho.
Fain fifth-grade teacher Kristy Bishop raved about Google Classroom, which allows students to have a site full of all their work. She pointed to one little girl, Chloi, working on an assignment on her Chromebook. “This used to be on a worksheet. They just don’t react the same when it’s on a device.”
Chloi was two years younger than her fifth-grade classmates and moved to America two months ago from a private school in England. “She’s obsessed with it,” said Ms. Bishop of the technology. “She’s adapted to it perfectly.”
The digital revolution in her own classroom took even Ms. Bishop by surprise. “I didn’t know anything. It was so scary,” she said. “Now would I go back to pen and paper? No. We don’t even talk about STAAR anymore. We don’t see STAAR worksheets. It’s all in this format.”
She teaches in the old “stand and deliver” style “maybe once a week,” she said.
This group-work, controlled chaos isn’t the teaching style they were taught in college, she said. “The irony is the building is over 75 years old. But we’re right in line with all those (digital) things. We’re very cutting edge.”
Two goals for Digital Learning Day
Superintendent Mike Kuhrt told the 50-member group at a mid-day lunch that the Digital Learning Day tours enabled the District to achieve two goals.
First, campuses showed off what they were doing with technology, making learning visible and publishing it to the world. Second, community members were able to view how WFISD schools are operating at the cutting edge of the technology revolution.
Ask questions, tell your friends
“Our goal is you’ll ask questions and tell others what you saw,” said Mr. Kuhrt.
When Mr. Kuhrt asked team members if they observed anything surprising, one community member said she was surprised by the McNiel TV production technology.
“Google is big. YouTube is huge. Making videos is amazing,” agreed Mr. Kuhrt.
Another team member said he toured a classroom and watched one student involved in a digital car race, with questions popping up for him to answer. He was so engaged in the activity that he said, “I can’t talk right now,” to the visitor.
Hallways in use
Touring WFISD Assessment Director Shannon Kuhrt said she was intrigued by all the hallway activities going on in the schools. She asked students, “What are you doing in the hall?” and they explained their projects.
“The only time we were in the hall was when we were in trouble,” she said of her youth.
Ramping-up challenge for upper grade teachers
The District faces a challenge of ramping up its digital instruction more and more, as younger students who have been immersed in technology move up into the higher grades, where the devices and tech-heavy instruction is not quite as prevalent as in the lower grades.
“Our teachers have to be ready for the kids coming to them,” said Peter Griffiths, associate superintendent. “The fifth and sixth grade is good, but, boy, seventh-grade has to be ready! Some (seventh-grade teachers) know it’s coming. Some don’t. It’s about to smack them in the face!”
A Chromebook for $1
The District is making special plans for all sixth-graders who received their own Chromebook devices in a special one-to-one initiative that began this year. The students will carry their devices with them throughout sixth-, seventh-, and eighth grades, then “we are coming up with a way to sell it to them for $1 at the end of 8th grade,” said Mr. Kuhrt.
The District originally purchased 1,100 Chromebooks for $250 apiece, plus case. Thankfully, the cost is coming down a little bit each year, said Frank Murray, technology specialist.
Loss rate of less than one percent
District officials had worried about giving a Chromebook to every sixth-grader to use in class and cart back and forth from home. But they needn’t have. “The total loss at the sixth-grade is less than one percent,” said Mr. Kuhrt. “They take care of them. There is no cost (to students) for the first loss.”
A familiar transition
The transition to technology takes a turn that is becoming familiar, said Mr. Camacho, who has helped teachers adapt. “Teachers go from, ‘This can’t work in my classroom,’ to ‘I can’t go back to the way things were.’”