Posts Tagged ‘RIDE’

In the afternoon keynote address session at the 2013 RIDE Technology Conference, current Superintendent of the Year in the United States of America, Mark Edwards addressed a surprisingly small crowd of attendees.  In fact, from his presentation, I’m pretty sure he would also win the same title in Taiwan, Singapore, and several other countries if they were allowed to vote for him. Among this prestigious accolade, Edwards has also earned countless other serious awards for educational leadership and excellence that rolled off the tongue of the introduction speaker so quickly, not even Mavis Beacon herself could have typed them all fast enough.

Dr. Edwards earned his Ph.D. in education from Vanderbilt University, which consistently ranks as one of the finest colleges in the nation for Educational Leadership.  This title matters very little to anyone hanging on every word spoken in a soft southern accent because as William Wallace says in Braveheart, “Men don’t follow titles, they follow courage.”  Courage is the definitive virtue it took to show up at a less than perfect district and shift the antiquated educational paradigm leading to learned helplessness by putting old axioms to rest.

The great irony of the day was realized immediately as Dr. Edwards opened up his talk by saying what a big fan he was of acclaimed author and pop psychologist, Malcolm Gladwell who is known best for his two works, Outliers and Blink.  Dr. Edwards himself as well as his district are outliers on a plot of educational success and fortitude.  Although as a nation, we look at the model his district provides in Mooresville, NC and desperately want to secure that same level of success for ourselves and our posterity, we have yet to do so.  So what is it that makes this man Superintendent of the year?  What makes thousands of visitors flock to his district like bees to honey every year? In one word: Hope.

From Grade 3-Graduation, every single student has their own laptop in Mooresville, NC.  Dr. Edwards has figuratively tossed the books out the window as he has not purchased a single textbook since his tenure in the district began. Part of the reason for this is the cost he can save and devote to laptop purchases.  The inspirational line that hit the twitterverse instantly as he spoke it was, “For the cost of textbooks, our students have access to the Library of Congress times a million” The main logic justifying this move is how rapidly the world (and thus relevant knowledge) is changing and evolving.  Turning to the crowd to prove his point, he solicited answers to the challenge of naming the 10 largest cities in the world.  The group of educators with a quick glance estimated average age of 60 embarrassed themselves by failing to guess a single one.  When the question was modified to simply name the country where the top 3 are, no one hit the target.  “India, Brazil, China, United States” people yelled. One man who needs to return to 8th grade geography class even boldly guessed, “Africa”.

For the cost of textbooks, our students have access to the Library of Congress times a million.

The answer was Pakistan.  With that, Dr. Edwards highlighted how important it is to have access to the most current information as the shifting globalization and connectivity of the world offers us answers to all our basic knowledge questions in real time.  What we as human beings do with the information available to us is what matters most which is why applicable skill building needs to be the focus of effective education.  Just consider the research of Dr. Benjamin Bloom and his famous educational taxonomy; knowledge is on the bottom of the learning pyramid which means it should be the most basic step.  The more time spent worrying about simple comprehension, the less time spent on the imperative top of this pyramid.  Technology helps to take care of this need.


Anxious participants file into the RI Convention Center for the morning keynote panel.

To kick off the conference, the keynote panel made mention of a few pieces of vital information that made every tech guru in the audience embarrassed on behalf of American education as the wifi booted off several mobile devices regularly.  In Singapore, long renowned for having a worldwide dominant math learning culture, every student has an outlet in his or her locker.  Susan Patrick, President and CEO of iNACOL (http://www.inacol.org/) read from notes to make sure she got the line right saying, “Every home in Mongolia and even in the remote jungle has access to 3G” As she continued on to channel Lev Vygotsky and discuss the zone of proximal development, it became clear exactly how much of an advantage access to technology can make in creating autonomous and confident learners.

Every home in Mongolia and even in the remote jungle has access to 3G.

At the onset of the TED Talks 2013 Season in February, a $1 Million award was given to Sugata Mitra for his educational research he refers to as The Hole in the Wall Gang. (http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_build_a_school_in_the_cloud.html) In  multiple poor, rural areas of India, Mitra set up computer in a wall and tracked what happened as uneducated and poverty stricken youth began to access a machine they had never even knew existed.  Amazing things started to happen as children learned and taught each other how to surf the web, discovering that their computer was slow and leading them to request new specific parts.  By the end, the Hole in the Wall Gang had explored advanced topics like DNA replication learning terms like protein synthesis at the ripe old age of 8 and posing insightful questions.  Oh, and one more detail: these children only surfed the web in English, a language they were unfamiliar with in the beginning.

Let’s piece all of this together and try to wrap our heads around it for a moment.  Not only did a group of children learn to use a computer at a young age, but once they understood the mechanical operations of the machine, they had to learn English so they could use its processes to complete something worthwhile.  Only after these two steps were complete could they consume a seemingly limitless amount of information leading to advanced topics most can agree is well beyond their years.  The initial experiments were so successful and intriguing that funding was secured to replicate them in several different countries across the world, all of which validated the insanely captivating story of this self-organized learning with technology.

Mitra stresses how vital autonomy and curiosity are and that top-down instruction by itself does not get the results in education that we so desperately seek, something that Dr. Edwards echoed in his small group session. The adage that we must transform our instructional practices from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side” shows its face here.  There is no authority that has a more diverse or quicker line of information and answers than the web.  Not even Ken Jennings could beat super computer Watson on Jeopardy.  Google has become the answer to all of our information woes which is both scary and exhilarating.

Mitra argues that the computer has become the center of the education domain.  How can anyone who has been exposed to modern technology really argue with him?  The world has drastically changed, but for the most part we continue to employ an industrial-age, transmission model of education.  We must minimize the emphasis on basic content acquisition and instead focus on fostering student-driven inquiry, collaboration, creativity and innovation.  To truly embrace the rapidly changing world and apply these changes to education, we must also empower learners through effective student uses of technology.

Dr. Edwards took time in the morning keynote panel to advocate for some changes that education in our country needs to take.  He spoke out against sitting in traditional rows by saying, “we need work teams and groups to build, collaborate and create.”  This he says can not be done clinging tight to traditional thoughts of brick and mortar schools with rote memorization at the heart of learning.  This conjures up images of Scandinavian countries, which by the way are all kicking our butts in multiple measures of educational aptitude, that have abandoned traditional classrooms in favor of unique workspaces. Susan Patrick added that “We are locking kids into seat time instead of mastering concepts.  What technology does is it masters your time so you’re able to create.  It’s not just about the technology though, its about the personalization. We don’t know where the future is going, but we need the tools and the skills technology provides.”


A pioneer in progressive education, this school was the first in Sweden to completely eliminate classrooms. Instead, there are collaborative workspaces throughout the technology infused building.


The unique design of work space in this Swedish school encourages students to explore their creativity and take ownership of their learning. Images: Kim Wendt/Rosan Bosch from smartplanet.com

Research with students also supports the necessity for new approaches in education.  According to a Pew Survey cited by Dr. Edwards, “90% of high school students see no connection between high school and their future.”  Such a dismal statistic only means one thing: education needs to improve.  At the very least, it needs to get to the point where our students have hope.  In Mooresville, hope may have been lacking at one point.  The district that Dale Earnhart, Jr. graduated from has 40% of students on the free and reduced price lunch program, although 70% qualify, but pride keeps them from accepting assistance.  Out of 115 districts in the state, Mooresville ranks 114 in funding per student at $7,000/student/year.  With 6,000 students K-12, this $42 million bill may look like a whopping sum to the unsuspecting taxpayer, but there is so much that goes into producing citizens who contribute to society while maintaining fulfilling lives, that any price tag actually seems supremely inadequate.

From the outside looking in, it appears the Mooresville has the odds stacked against them.  Perhaps this is what intrigues educators, journalists and everyday fans of underdogs around the world. Despite being second to last in funding in the state, Mooresville is 2nd from the top in graduation rate.  How is such a complete dominance of the odds even possible?  There has to be more than finagling the funding to afford new Mac Book Airs for every student and the banning of books from a Superintendent who was once VP at a prominent textbook company. It may start with laptops, but that is not the whole story; thousands of schools have 1:1 programs that empower children with the technological ability of giants.  Time to dig a little deeper.

Reports cards have been around since the dawn of formal education to communicate academic progress. Parents, neighbors and friends of the family all have old copies from their youth archived in a plastic storage bin in the attic no matter how old they are.  Just because they are a staple in education, doesn’t mean the philosophy behind their existence sits well with everyone.  After he laid the smackdown on textbooks, Mark Edwards suplexed report cards.  In the age of connectivity, they were a frivolous additive without benefit to students, teachers, or parents.  Instead a new Learning Management System (LMS) was adopted that provides reports in real time.  Grades are updated daily so no one ever has to play the guessing game with progress or achievement.  This has led to an untold increase student accountability which is a skill that has dwindled in the 21st Century with dire effects.

Teachers in Mooresville find themselves in a more progressive role, which definitely has the late, great proponent of evolving education, John Dewey smiling in his grave.  There is no chalk and talk in Mooresville where ABSENT are neatly lined rows of desks that all face the teacher in the front of the room.  “Teachers are roaming conductors who teach from the middle of the room,” Edwards said. The classrooms have collaborate workstations around the room where students work like different sections of an orchestra while the teacher checks in and gives each section the support and feedback they need.  In fact, Dr. Edwards believes that students will learn more from each other then they will from the teacher.  At an earlier session, a student from Pleasant View Elementary School said, “Sometimes we have really great stuff and if teachers and parents don’t listen, we might miss it” Mooresville employs the idea of student empowerment more than most would dream of.  Students are driven by inquiry and in an instance last year, a group wanted to join a robotics competition.  Without formal training, or much focused guidance by an educator, they put the skills they did have to use and coupled with determination, they found themselves state champions a few months later.

Sometimes we have really great stuff and if teachers and parents don’t listen, we might miss it.

In modern times, all of the youth educators encounter are considered digital natives.  They grew up in the world of social media like facebook, twitter, instagram, and even youtube where they all have a unique little world that revolves around themselves.  Some post every thought they have, some send racy pictures, some bully others.  How does a school mitigate all these risks that immediately scare other districts out of buying into such a technologically rich system?  Dr. Edwards compares the issue to a previous piece of revolutionary educational technology- the pencil.  To critics who blame the technology for cyberbullying, sexting, or other instances of misuse, Edwards responds with saying that we wouldn’t blame a pencil for a rumor that is written on the bathroom wall; we would blame the student who wrote it.  The same holds true with technology where as learners who view, create and curate their own content, students are always held responsible for their actions.

The district buys in to Common Sense Media (http://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators) which is a program that teaches digital citizenship and receives a 1hr/month time commitment from everyone in the district.  Students learn about digital footprints, social media farming, cyber etiquette, and more; all necessary lessons in the district that once rolled out the largest laptop enterprise in the world which garnered the attention of Steve Jobs who spoke there in 2001.  Teaching digital citizenship is a vital pillar of the school’s laptop program that was most certainly not implemented by accident.  One of the main themes of the day was that no one should ever buy into technology before they have a plan.  Many districts fail on this front because they secure a grant and purchase iPads or a laptop cart before they have a real plan for how to effectively use the technology, including training all parties involved.  Money should be the last concern as Mooresville is currently operating it’s laptop system on less than $1.25/day including all hardware, software, updates, and support (this does not include infrastructure). That’s the price of a bottle of Coca-Cola!

No one should ever buy into technology before they have a plan.

Really what has happened is that in Mooreseville, NC an empowering, engaging culture of education has been forged.  Everyone has bought into it from students and teachers in the classroom to community members whose tax money provides support.  A sense of pride has been instilled in everyone so that any deviation from the path of success becomes a violation of a strongly expected norm.  There are no external rewards here, no tricks, no smoke and mirrors.  Students don’t get paid for perfect attendance or good grades as other school systems have tried.  The task of painstakingly transforming a district to breed intrinsic motivation has been adopted by all in a manner that would leave Drive author, Daniel Pink with his jaw dropping on the ground. Certainly, it takes a village to raise a child.

The data is clear in presenting a picture of all around improve academics. In the last five years, out of school suspensions have dropped 64% and continue to go down.  As Dr. Edwards mentioned that he was approached by the NAACP his very first week in district with a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination in the disparity of discipline in his schools, it is important to note this suspension rate is proportionately equal across all racial and ethnic demographics.  The high school graduation rate is an impressive 97% and still continues to climb.  Last year, a 1% jump meant that hundreds more walked across the stage to receive their diploma than the previous year.  The children of Mooresville continue their journey at ivy league schools and the finest universities across the nation that cater to all their worldly ambitions.

Dr. Edwards attributes this not just to technology, or alternative teaching styles, but to love.  When he first wrote his educationally earth shattering book, Every Child, Every Day, (http://www.amazon.com/Every-Child-Day-Conversion-Achievement/dp/0132927098) his publishers told him to leave out talk of love.  They thought it wouldn’t bode well with readers in the Northeast who apparently are stereotyped to be of a hardened nature. Sticking to his beliefs, he described the impact of positive mental and emotional supports that led to higher student achievement.  As a superintendent, and even as former principal in Mufreesboro, TN, he made a point to visit teachers’ classrooms just to say thank you.  This simple action set a tone of compassion in the district which was then cultivated in teachers and students alike.  In a world of stress and struggle to achieve the highest test scores, many often lose sight of the human factor in education.  We are all seeking love, approval, and success, so Dr. Edwards makes a point to take a holistic approach by ensuring the souls of everyone in district are smiling.  Kids don’t learn when they are mad, and teachers aren’t effective when they are experiencing negative emotion.  Curriculum is important, but love is what makes a kid jump from good to great.

Curriculum is important, but love is what makes a kid jump from good to great.

In the studies of Sugata Mitra previously mentioned, many adults (usually retired teachers) were hired to provide virtual encouragement to groups of kids via skype.  They lauded the accomplishments of these young learners and motivated them the way an effective office manager would his workers.  As humans, we all want to be successful; nobody ever wakes up and says, “I want to fail today.”  Students have the desire and ability to be champions of whatever is put in front of them, but sometimes they just need the love and encouragement that educators too often forget to provide in the educational equation of scholarly success.  Educators don’t teach a subject, they teach the student; if America can get back on track with making education all about the student again, there is hope yet.

When Barack Obama visited Mooresville Middle School on June 6, 2013, he spoke to the nation about the potential in leveraging the best educational practices and particularly in harnessing the power of technology to give all learners the opportunity they deserve. “So that’s the spirit that’s reflected in the motto of your school district — “every child, every day.”  It’s that fundamental belief that no matter who you are, no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, every child can learn.  Every child can succeed.  Every child, every day, deserves that chance.  We’ve got an obligation to give every young person that chance.” Read the full speech here: http://bit.ly/MooresvilleTech


The Commander in Chief gets a tech tutorial while viewing a math project during a tour of Mooresville Intermediate School on Thursday, June 6, 2013. President Obama was in Mooresville on his “Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Tour.”
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Cynics will say there are too many obstacles to make Mooresville the norm, that they are a simple outlier and our nation as a whole could never achieve the success that Mooresville has. However, if we had half the grit that the students who come from that district, we would find a path to educational glory and turn to naysayers to proudly proclaim, “Yes We Can!”

Prominent Puritan and founding father of Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop said the colony must act as “A city upon a hill” to provide a beacon of hope for all those around.  The early settlers of this Bible Commonwealth were striving to be a shining example for all colonists to emulate. This is exactly what Mooresville does.  They have found a model that is both functional and feasible which they have been executing for years.  So while changes in the world of education sometimes move as slow as molasses in a New England winter, educators and policy makers must not only embrace the evolution of education, but push for constant changes in the name of progress; the stakes are too high not to move forward.  Mooresville has provided a gold standard as a “City upon a hill” and given us all something to strive toward.  We must all heed the words of the teachers and students at Pleasant View Elementary School in Providence to know that “Good enough is not enough when better is possible.”  Mooresville is the shining example that something better is possible.

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Photos courtesy of Deborah A. Gist, Rhode Island Commissioner of Education

For more information on the digital conversion of Mooresville Graded School District, view the Cisco report: https://www.cisco.com/web/strategy/docs/education/CiscoEduEveryLearner.pdf

For more information on the 2013 RIDE Technology Conference, visit the event website: http://www.ride.ri.gov/StudentsFamilies/EducationPrograms/VirtualLearning/TechnologyConference.aspx

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The day have finally arrived.  The RIDE 2013 Educational Technology Conference is upon us and I am pleased to say I will be continuing my reviews of tech companies.  I originally teamed up with Ed Surge to narrow down a list of 37 national educational technology applicants for the conference to a final lineup of 20 vendors.  Here’s a list of the great companies that will be at the Providence Convention Center today along with log-in information for teachers to take free trials (taken from https://www.edsurge.com/rhode-island-tech-for-schools-summit)  


They call the list of judges “Teacher Rockstars.”  How can you argue with a title that cool?


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