Friday, April 25, 2014

Cate School

I had a great visit to the Cate School in Carpinteria, CA the week of April 14th. I've been to Cate a few times but always in summer to visit my good friend Frank Griffin. It was a treat to see the school in action, especially the mathematics department, chaired by Frank. There are eight teachers in the department and I saw each teach a class. Over the course of the week it became evident that the entire department works together in an effort to provide the best experience for Cate students. They've created a curriculum that addresses the needs of individual students while preparing them for advanced courses and AP Exams. They have decided to teach topics from statistics across the curriculum and make great use of technology in the form of iPads, MacBooks, and SmartBoards. Moreover, they are all dedicated to staying abreast of what's happening in mathematics education. They regularly attend conferences and most, if not all, have attended the Anja S. Greer Conference here at Exeter. Frank has taught a course in the conference for many years.

Something that has been troubling mathematics teachers at Exeter regarding iPads is access to the Internet and/or messaging during exams. While at Cate, I learned about a feature that allows an iPad to be "locked" into a single App. Here's how you do it...

Go to Settings, General, and click on Accessibility. Under Learning, turn Guided Access on. Then, Set Passcode. This is the passcode that will be used when Guided Access is enabled. Now, Now, open an App, like Desmos, and and triple-click the Home button. Press Start in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. A brief message Guided Access Enabled will show briefly, then the App is available and one cannot access any other App or quit the current App. To end Guided Access, triple click the Home button and enter the Passcode, then click on End in the upper left-hand corner of the screen.

So, while a bit clunky, a teacher can fairly quickly set each student's iPad to access only a single App, then, at the end of the exam, enter the Passcode and return the iPad to full access. Thanks to Taylor Wyatt for teaching this to me.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Student-Centered Learning

There are two schools moving toward student-centered learning - Nido de Aguilas in Santiago, Chile, and Southridge in Surrey, British Columbia. Both schools have begun the shift from teacher-centered instruction to student-centered learning within the past four years. Ralph Sneeden from Exeter's English department, Chris Matlack from Exeter's science department, and I visited Nido in early February. At the beginning of April, Ralph and I visited Southridge. In both cases it was exciting to see how teachers and administrators have made great strides in changing the culture of their schools. This is no easy task as teachers, students, and parents are likely to question such radical change. It takes strong leadership and both schools have it plus a core of teachers dedicated to making it work.

If you or your school is thinking about moving to student-centered learning, it is worth your time to watch the following videos produced by Southridge...

Harkness in Education

Harkness in English

Harkness in Mathematics

Thursday, April 10, 2014

iPads and Exeter

On September 1, 2011, I made a statement to the faculty prior to our opening faculty workshop which was to be led by Howard Levine, then of The Urban School in San Francisco. Here is a piece of what I presented, and blogged about:

"So, how does all this relate to Exeter? I think we all agree that we have a great school… but great isn’t greater or greatest. A Harkness classroom is without equal but can Harkness-table discussions be improved with technology? Can we make an Exeter education better? What are the advantages of technologically rich classrooms? On a more individual level, what will we do with these iPads? I can envision a mathematics class where students all have an iPad with our materials downloaded in PDF-format. They do their homework on their iPad using one of the many note-taking applications, like Penultimate, and we project solutions, wirelessly, to an interactive whiteboard where we can annotate and make corrections, which can be saved and shared via an application such as Dropbox. All of this ultimately saves class time allowing for more Harkness table discussion, which is what we are all about."

So, where are we today, April 10, 2014? I'm happy to report that students at Phillips Exeter Academy will be required to have an iPad next fall. Almost. Apparently, if a student already owns a tablet other than an iPad, they can use it. If a student does not have a tablet, the need to get an iPad. While I'd like everything to be consistent, I can live with this decision.

How has this come about? In the spring of 2013, the school Curriculum Committee, chaired by mathematics teacher Laura Marshall, recommended to principal Tom Hassan that each student be required to have an iPad in the fall of 2013. The Curriculum Committee spent the entire school year 2012-13 researching iPads and their impact on the classroom. Because the recommendation came in the spring of the year and because Exeter doesn't usually make top down decisions, Mr. Hassan decided to delay any decisions until the entire faculty had a chance to debate the issue. (Exeter is considered to be a "faculty-run" school and, therefore, all curricular issues are debated and voted on by the faculty. This is, of course, unlike most schools where the administration simply makes decisions for the entire school.)

In the fall of 2013, the mathematics department took up the issue of classroom technology by forming an eight person committee that was to make a recommendation to the department at the end of the fall term. The resulting recommendation was, in alignment with the Curriculum Committee, to have every student have an iPad in the fall of 2014. This was debated by the department and voted down, narrowly. A subsequent motion was made, and passed, that would require every student to have a tablet in the fall of 2014. This was an advisory vote that then went to principal Hassan. Early this spring Mr. Hassan decided on the requirement described above. Faculty were given a chance to vent at a subsequent faculty meeting but the decision was made by Mr. Hassan. Also at this faculty meeting, many already using the iPad with their classes presented how they have used iPads and how the envision using them when each student has one. This was a bold move given how decisions are usually made at Exeter and one that I applaud. Despite being a "faculty-run" school, on issues like this someone has to step in and make a decision. The faculty have a tendency to get caught up in minutiae and many arguments presented are simply based on anecdotes. I'm glad Mr. Hassan made this decision and we can now move forward.

It should be noted that there is no requirement for any teacher to make use of an iPad in his or her classes. I'm hopeful, however, that teachers who are on the fence will be persuaded when they see what students are capable of doing with iPads in their classes. There is already a core group of faculty who are doing amazing things with this technology and, hopefully, others will come on board.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

MacWorld|iWorld 2014 - Going Paperless

David Sparks is an Orange County, CA business attorney and self-described geek. He is a podcaster and blogger. He is also the author of Paperless, an iBook that takes the mystery (and fear) out of going paperless with your Apple technology. This was the basis of his presentation at MacWorld.

Mr. Sparks highlighted three main parts of going paperless: capture, process, use.

Capture: Use a scanner such as the Fujitsu ScanSnap, which is available in both desktop or portable format. The main features one is looking for are a sheet feeder that will allow multiple pages to be scanned and the ability to scan front and back simultaneously. There are also Apps for iPhone and iPad that scan documents and produce PDF files that can be saved to DropBox. Two good Apps are Scan+ and Scanner Pro. Optical Character Recognition, or OCR, is a technology that enables you to convert different types of documents into editable and searchable data. Readiris and PDFpenPro are good OCR Apps for iPad.

Process: Pick a meaningful way to store your paperless documents. Mr. Sparks uses an organization routine based on file date (2014-03-28, for example), label, description. An App like Hazel can be used to automate organization of your files on your Mac or iPad.

Use: Now that you have created a paperless workflow, you can access your paperless documents from anywhere on the Mac, iPad, and iPhone using cloud storage.

I thought this was a great presentation - I've already begun my move to paperless. It is certainly something every school should consider given the amount of paper used each school year.