Thursday, December 9, 2010

Microlending Embedded in School Culture

There are some great students at my school doing some really cool things that are improving our school and the world.  Today, a group of students is trying to get micro-lending to be ingrained in the culture of ISP.  They approached the Student Council about funding each advisory (homeroom) with 25 dollars as seed money for lending on  Advisories could just use the 25 dollars, or they could contribute from their own pockets and do even more good. Each advisory then searched through Kiva to choose the beneficiary that they most wanted to assist, and loaned them the money.  When the beneficiary pays back the loan, the group of student will repeat the process and choose another beneficiary.  After 4 years, when the students in an advisory graduate, they will pass the account onto a freshman advisory to continue the legacy, and to continue to fund loans for individuals or groups that otherwise don't have access to money to improve their lives.

There were some interesting discussions, "aha moments", and plenty of learning as advisories went about choosing beneficiaries.  The thing that I took away from this is how exciting it is to be a part of an organization where students are encouraged to lead, and make a global impact. 

If you'd like to know more about micro-lending, check out

If you'd like to see how these innovative and mildly thespian students went about introducing this program to our school, watch the video below.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

QR Codes in Maths Class

I've been working with a fantastic math teacher, Anne F., on how we might use QR codes in the classroom to engage students in a new way. It took her all of twelve seconds to come up with an idea:  Each group of math students has a problem to solve as an introduction to the mensuration, space and shape unit.  They solve the problem and post their answer to their blog.  Then, they create a QR code that will direct people to the blog post and we post that QR code in the hallway.  The hallway will be full of math questions like:

Screen shot 2010-11-02 at AM 11.49.47

The next day, we'll send students around the halls with their mobile phones equipped with QR code readers. Their task will be to search for a question that interests or intrigues them, anticipate how the group may have solved it, view the group's blog post and then leave a comment.

Will QR codes improve student learning? In this case, we are anticipating that the novelty of it will at the very least engage them. Additionally, having the codes posted around the school will draw some attention to QR codes and hopefully might generate some interest among teachers in finding ways to leverage them for learning.

I'll write a post about how this activity works out later, but for now, here is the information that we will share with the students.

Order of Operations for students:

  1. Solve the problem in your group and document your answer (text, audio, video, etc. or any combination of those).

  2. Post your answer to your blog.

  3. Find the url (web address) of this specific blog post (clicking on the title of your blog post will take you there)

  4. Paste the url into Google's URL Shortner (you have to have a Google account if you want create the code)

  5. Then click on "details" to see your QR code

  6. Save the image of your QR code to your desktop

  7. Create a document including your problem, and your QR code (following the example above) for posting in the hallway.

QR Code Readers

There are a lot of readers for iPhone, Android etc.  Here is just a quick reference of links:

iPhone - I tried three and read the reviews of seven.  Red Laser is the free one I chose and it works well for me.

Android - try QuickMark (thanks, Jeff)

Other Phones - Try here:

Mac OSX (and Windows and Linux) -Your Mac can read QR codes using the built-in iSight camera.   QReader is the only App that I found that isn't in Japanese (which I can't read).  You also have to have Adobe Air downloaded.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Learning Event Generator

One of the best things I saw at the European Laptop Institute 2010 (Twitter hash tag:  #eurolap10) was John Davitt's Learning Event Generator.  In one of John's sessions he actually used it to get the participants involved.  You can check out the Learning Event Generator here, but the basic point is to get students demonstrating their learning in non-traditional ways. Putting students in these situations encourages them to create, collaborate, problem solve and communicate. You get some really crazy permutations which quite possibly will help the learning stick even better.   Here are a few examples:

DO how a light works AS a blues song

DO what we know about the brain AS a dot to dot activity

DO what the Magna Carta meant AS a mini opera

My group had "DO how a periscope works AS an animation."  We had fifteen minutes and we came up with the video below.  I enjoyed being involved in a creative group process, but more importantly the process made the learning stick - it has been four days since the conference and I'm still thinking about the Learning Event Generator.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Reducing the Noise

I just returned from two days of thought provoking conversations with IT Directors from a number of schools in Europe ( I was standing in for my IT Director who was unable to attend).  We discussed the education and technology issues that all international schools are dealing with.  I learned a lot from listening to others that are far more experienced in planning and managing the IT infrastructure of a school.  But the thing that kept going through my head as I left the meeting was how much I think my current school is doing "IT" the right way by keeping things simple, reducing the noise and focusing on learning.

When I first joined the school, I was surprised to find out how many systems or software we just don't have.  Don't get me wrong, we have plenty of hardware and software for students to use, but from a school administration/management/systems standpoint it is minimalist.  And I like it, because rather than spending time managing and teaching people how to use the systems, I get to focus on learning.

Here is a quick list of things that "reduce the noise" at my school and allow me to focus on learning.

Strong Preparatory MS 1-1 Laptop Program that feeds into the US 1-1 Laptop Program - The gradual 1-1 program roll-out started in the MS and built from there.  The MS program checks out school owned machines to students in grades 6, 7, and 8.  The students go through a "license to drive" type program before they earn the right to take the laptops home and back to school each day.  Students enter the Upper School with a large skill set.  The MS program prepares them for the increased responsibility that comes with owning and administering your own laptop.

Macs -  I honestly can't believe how few issues there are.  I don't want to get into the Mac vs. PC argument as I consider myself as someone who can use either OS well, but the truth is that Macs have an incredible up time and don't really have to worry about viruses.  Those two areas alone can suck up a ton of time if they go the wrong way.  Another great thing about Macs is the built in iLife suite that allows students to be content creators.  Additionally, having only one operating system allows for some students to become experts and bring the others along all the while increasing the level of average user ability.

Absence of File Servers -  We don't have them.  We don't manage them.  We don't spend money or man hours on servers or backing up servers. So, where do students and staff store their files?  Great question; I should ask them?  My guess is that most of them store files on their laptop hard drive and the ones that care to keep them backed up use external hard drives or cloud-based file storage.

Gmail and Google Apps - We have a Google Apps Education account for our faculty, but more importantly we don't have the following: email servers and the monetary and human resources costs associated with the purchasing, upgrades, backups and maintenance of those servers.

Integration Specialists at Each Division -   Our current ratio is 1 Integration Specialist for every 275 students.  My hat is off to the leadership team that was forward-thinking enough to see the impact that a dedicated Technology Integration Specialist can have on individual teachers, curriculum, and student learning.  With a IT Director focused on the big picture, the Integrationists are free from the tasks that can bog them down (budgeting, troubleshooting, managing systems) and able to be in classrooms with students and plan units with teachers to meet the NETs standards.

Open Wireless Network -  When a student enters the school and open their laptop they get connected.  We don't spend time configuring or trouble shooting.  It just works.