Thursday, October 15, 2015

PSBA Conference Day 2

Today was a shorter day at the conference but I still got a lot out of it.

The first session I attended was presented by several folks from Southern York County School District titled "Transforming Factory Schools into 21st Century Teaching and Learning Centers." They went through their process of implementing their one to one program starting with the question: What is the goal of education today? One common phrase that we hear a lot in education is that every student should make a year of growth every year. Central to SYC's mentality is that every student and every teacher should make a year of growth every year. Placing an emphasis on both students and teachers is important when you want to transform your school and they appear to be doing a great job at Southern York.

They showed us the first few minutes of a TedX talk by L. Todd Rose on the Myth of Average. The short version of the video (which is worth watching in its entirety) is that when we design for the average we aren't designing for anyone. This leads to customized learning when applied to schools and education. Before diving into a one to one program they ran two pilot groups with students. The 16 students first spent four weeks with iPads and then another four weeks with Chromebooks. After the evaluation the students chose the Chromebooks due to several factors, including the keyboard, ease of use and sharing and collaboration features. I asked about this after the talk because the collaboration can be done on iPads but the students felt that it just worked better on the Chromebooks. Students continued to have input into the program including on issues of policy which I feel is a great idea. The students also proposed setting up a student run tech support center which was implemented with the help of the Librarian and their IT staff. Along with these efforts that are student based Southern York is also making efforts to customize their faculty learning processes in order to help them make yearly progress, too. Overall I was very impressed with the presentation and took a lot away from it.

The next presentation was "Evaluating and Assessing your Digital Learning Initiatives" presented by
Randy Ziegenfuss and Lynn Fuini-Hetten from Salisbury Township School District. This was also a very well put together presentation on Salisbury's efforts on digital learning and it is obvious that this district has put a lot of time and energy into their initiatives. They were sharing with us how to run through the entire process of creating and evaluating an initiative from concept to implementation to data collection and evaluating that data. One of the most wonderful things they have done is made all of their work available online at They did not focus on the particular technologies used in their district but instead talked about methodology and process, which was great.

The third talk of the day was "Examining the PA School Performance Profile" by Dr. Ed Fuller from Penn State. Dr. Fuller runs the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy Analysis and shared his research on school performance profiles and systems like PVAAS. He has found that the best correlation between schools and SPP scores is rooted in poverty rates and little else. The implications of this are that poor schools receive poor SPP scores and their funding is affected adversely because of this. The result is that their funding gets reduced, which lowers their scores and begins a downward spiral or poorer and poorer results. His research was interesting but unfortunately his message isn't being heard very well by those making decisions in Harrisburg.
The only session tomorrow is the closing remarks which are being given by Robert Fulghum. I'm looking forward to hearing him speak and I'm also already thinking about next year's conference and getting more involved with PSBA. There is so much to learn as a school board member and I don't think we should be left out of the equation of making a year of progress every year, either.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

PSBA Conference Day 1

I'm attending the Pennsylvania School Board Association Leadership Conference for the first time this year which started today. I have been to my fair share of professional conferences before but I still wasn't sure what to expect from a conference like this. While being on the school board is a voluntary position the conference is also for school administrators as it is also hosted by the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators. This means that it is a professional conference for folks like superintendents, assistant superintendents and intermediate unit executives. This makes for an interesting mix of folks that have a lot of experience in the K-12 education space and others of us that happened to get elected to be their bosses. I don't know about other board members but sometimes the things we talk about take a while to digest and I know that I have a lot to learn about which is one of the reasons that I decided to attend the conference.

The opening keynote was given by Dr. Heidi Grant Halverson on the topic of a Get Better Mindset. Dr. Halverson spoke about the difference between a "Be Good" mindset where we are judged based on comparisons to others and a "Get Better" mindset where we are judged against ourselves. The latter encourages self improvement and working through difficult situations. Other benefits include being more willing to innovate even with the possibility of failure.
(Tweet from Dr. Hotchkiss, the Bermudian Springs Superintendent)

Dr. Halverson cited a lot of research to support her assertions and if you are interested I highly recommend that you explore her work further.

The second session I attended was given by Dr. James P. Capolupo titled "Behind the Curtain: Tackling the Myths and Mysteries of the School Superintendent Position." His talk was divided into things you should try and things you shouldn't try. Thankfully our superintendent already does most of the things Dr. Capolupo recommends and the things that he recommended not doing but we do anyway come down to cultural differences between where he was a superintendent and Bermudian Springs.

After lunch I attended "Augmenting Reality with Aurasma: Bringing Objects to Life" presented by several teachers from the North Hills School District. Unfortunately it took them more than half an hour to get to the promised demonstration of the Aurasma app, but the talk was still very good. They have their 8th grade social studies classes create multimedia projects for each section of the class before the exam. This allows the students to demonstrate their knowledge and gives the teachers the ability to correct any misunderstandings before the exam takes place. The students create these projects using various apps on iPads which also gives them tools to express their creativity. Some of my favorite examples from the presentation include making stop motion movies to talk about the Jamestown Settlement and using an app called Book Creator to create iBooks compatible books that describe the Declaration of Independence to a 3rd grader. The Aurasma app was used to place augmented reality pictures around the school that gave information about Presidents and how they are like Sesame Street characters.

The last session of the day was presented by Blanca Duarte from LogicWing. She spoke about the concept of deep learning and how schools can use technology to encourage it in our schools. Her presentation included several small group activities which yielded interesting conversation with other school board members. One of the most important things that I gleaned from this talk was pointers to resources from Intel on using technology in education, including Intel Teach Elements which is a series of modules that teachers can use free of charge. I also learned that Intel has an Education division which provides consulting services on how schools can incorporate technology into their curriculum.

Between sessions I also visited the exhibit hall and had several good conversations with various vendors. Interestingly I found myself wearing my Dickinson College User Services hat and checking out technologies that might be useful for our environment there.

Day one of the conference was a good experience and I'm looking forward to day two.