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  • Andrew T Schwab 9:00 am on May 26, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    2 Pairs to Nowhere 

    4 Pair or only 2?2-Pair Cat5

    The above picture came from a recent visit to an undisclosed school district. What you are looking at are perfectly good Cat5 Cables and RJ-45 jacks where 2 pair of wires were cut back at the patch panel and the remaining 2 pair of wires were terminated in the jacks. Why would anyone do such a thing, you ask? Apparently because the installer couldn’t imagine a world where anyone would ever need to use more than 2 pairs or go faster than 100Mbps. I guess Gigabit and PoE were just inklings of someone’s imagination when these cables were installed but still, I’m thinking it would have taken just as much time to terminate the extra 2 pair than to carefully cut them back from the end of the cables.

    Upon trying to run Gigabit and PoE over the existing cables, the district’s newly hired IT guy discovered the problem and has had to go back, cut the cables from the patch panels and re-terminate them properly using all four pairs. For both sides of each cable run. Makes me want to go check all my patch panels. Immediately.

    There is something to be said for thinking ahead. Just because we don’t see a use for something now, doesn’t mean down the road it won’t come in handy for some unforeseen purpose. I’m thinking about that second Cat6a cable we’re running to every classroom. Who knows when 10Gb to the classroom will be needed.

    I’ll put this one in the “hope to never run into this in my district” category.

     

     
  • Andrew T Schwab 9:00 am on April 22, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    How Many Days Out Of The Classroom Is Too Many? 

    In my teacher life, I spent a considerable amount of time out of the classroom. Well, classrooms, actually. I didn’t have my own classroom. I shared two classrooms with two other teachers. But it wasn’t all sad face, I did have a closet of an office for when I was wearing my IT hat. Got to love the small school districts.

    I was out of the classroom at least once a month for County Office edtech meetings. I also attended CUE and CETPA conferences as well as had to put out the odd IT fire during class time every once in a while. All in all, I’d say I averaged around 20 days a year out of the classroom (including sick days and Jury duty). Now, this was high school, I had the luxury of being in computer labs for all my classes so I taught 100% blended online with very little paper. Often I would be online checking in on my students even if I was out sick or at a conference. Thanks to Moodle and Google Docs for that.

    While a part of me missed being at school (and not because I didn’t want to make lesson plans for subs, I didn’t need to with Moodle!), getting out allowed me the opportunity to connect with other educators, be inspired by innovative schools and grow as a professional. All of my out of classroom experiences helped to make me a better teacher in the classroom when I got back. My experiences out of the classroom are probably why I’m such a big believer in getting teachers, administrators and my tech staff out to conferences and visiting other districts and classrooms now.

    A Balancing Act

    Lately I’ve been reflecting on the question of how much time out of the classroom is too much. The topic has come up a few times in discussions. I’m in a position now where developing a high quality continuous professional development program is becoming a balancing act between the need for teacher release days and a state wide sub shortage. Trying to minimize pulling large groups of teachers out on the same day while still being able to bring in outside presenters in an economical manner and allow time for teacher collaboration is getting harder and harder as the qualified sub pool shrinks. However, I strongly believe in giving teachers time to learn and collaborate. With Common Core and ubiquitous student mobile device access, we are asking teachers to transform their pedagogy, to explore and adapt to new possibilities for teaching and learning. That takes time and support and requires a balance between meeting the needs of students in the classroom today and preparing for the future needs of tomorrow’s students. We are literally rebuilding the airplane while flying at 30,000 feet. Exactly what the appropriate balance should be is still up for debate.

    Another scenario I’ve been thinking about is a core group of Technology Teacher Leaders, many of whom have expressed an interest in coaching part time, who could leave their classrooms for several days to work with teachers at their schools. The demand for edTech PD is there. The concept of coaching part time and maintaining the connection to the classroom is a compelling one. I’m several years out of the classroom now and even though I was fairy cutting edge in my day, I’ve definitely lost the connection to students that you get from working with them day in and day out. Nothing can replace the feedback from introducing technology into a classroom quite the way a room full of students and trial and error can. I do miss the interaction with kids.

    Regardless of the situation, the question remains, especially for elementary classrooms, how many days should a teacher be out of the classroom? At what point does a teacher’s absence jeopardize the learning experience for students? How many days is too many probably is more dependent on the teacher and the students than we’d like to think. Class dynamics change from year to year and some teachers are better able to prepare their classes to function without them than others. At some point, there has to be a diminishing return. What that point is and how to measure it, I’d love to hear people’s thoughts and ideas.

     

     
  • Andrew T Schwab 8:45 am on April 20, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    From unCon to edCamp for #CUE16? 

    CUE15UnconWHITE

    This year, CUE brought back the unConference with #cueUnCon. I spent Friday morning of the conference over at the Hard Rock talking pedagogy, curriculum adoption and Google Apps. That was a big win for me personally because the CUE annual conference can sometimes feel overwhelming with all the tech tools. It was great to just sit down and have a conversation for a bit. Which begs the question, is there a place for an un-conference during a traditional conference? Attendance at the UnCon wasn’t great but every edcamp (another uncon) I’ve ever attended started small and built over time. Not helping cueUnCon was the location, being a bit of a hike away from the main venue and hidden behind a corner. Although this could also be a good thing. The unCon was also announced rather late, which may have further contributed to the sparse attendance. Being that it was held in one big room, it was probably a good thing to not have had a lot of people. Lack of breakout rooms to run different sessions in would have been problematic had a ton of people showed up.

    I love the edcamp model of unCon. To me, a free event, participant driven and organized with minimal sponsors present, makes for great discussion. The CUE unCon had great facilitators and I really enjoyed the time I spent over there. I’m hoping to see unCon return to CUE 2016, perhaps in a friendlier location with more advance notice. I’d really like to see CUE explore the idea of opening the unCon up to anyone, maybe on the Saturday, which was light on attendance anyway. Personally, I wouldn’t mind it being a full blown edCamp. Given time and proper stewardship, I think it could grow into a gem of an event within an event.

    Otherwise, their will always be the Renaissance Hotel #LobbyCon and a bazillion edCamps across California. In fact, there’s one this weekend (April 25) in San Jose.

     
    • elizabeth 8:53 am on April 20, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I am not familiar with CUE and am amazed that I can’t find the full title anywhere on their conference site or in your article…what does CUE mean?

  • Andrew T Schwab 10:01 am on March 29, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Chrome Sign Builder – Poor Man’s Digital Signage 

    Sign Builder

    I’ve been looking for an easy to use, free (or low cost) digital signage solution since forever. Back in the Le Grand days, Danny Silva hacked together AppleTVs and iTunes to create digital signage for our school. For the past several months, I’ve been playing with RiseVision and chromeboxes. I had it to the point of being able to display a RiseVision template but found trying to get the content into the template frustrating. Friday I did a search for “Chromebox digital signage” and found Google Sign Builder! Sign Builder is an App for Chrome devices that can display URLs and Youtube Videos and best of all, it’s all controlled through the Admin panel. There is a Schedule app that creates a txt file with the schedule and resources defined which is then uploaded through the admin panel and pushed to the chromeboxes that have the Sign app installed.

    It’s very slick and easy. I was able to get everything setup in less than a hour of fiddling and had a Google Sheet auto-looping in about 5 minutes. The hardest part of the whole thing was finding the Schedule Builder app, because it didn’t show up in the Chrome Web Store. Simon Miller (@LeadEdTech) got ahead of me by adding a YouTube video to his schedule and is now playing with the refresh. I’ll be experimenting with that on Monday.

    So far, it looks like this is the solution I’ve been looking for. A shared Google Sheet per site will allow users to easily update their own content. If we need to push a district notice, it’s as easy as updating the schedule for each Sub Org (assuming policy refresh works). I can’t wait to play some more on Monday.

    Here’s how I got started:

    Steps

    1. Setup a Device Sub Org and put your Chromebox into it. I called ours Kiosk. I plan to create a Kiosk Sub Org for each site. The schedule, and therefore the content displayed on the screen, is applied at the Sub Org level.
    2. Deploy Chrome Sign Builder as an Auto-Launch Kiosk app for your Kiosk Device Sub Org.
    3. Create and Publish a Google Sheet. I created a Kiosk User that I can use to create sheets with and then share out to each site/department.
    4. Build and Upload a Schedule. You’ll need this link to get the Scheduling App since it doesn’t show up in the Chrome Web Store yet.
    5. Reboot your Chromebox to force the policy to take effect (I was too impatient to wait on policy refresh)

    Chrome Sign Builder App

     
    • Max 9:41 am on April 2, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Hi,

      Do you have the link to the Google Sign Builder app ? It seems Chrome store cannot find it ?

      Thx

    • Randy 11:13 am on April 8, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I have been working on this to just try to get the app installed in the Google Apps Admin. I do not see anything about Kiosk or forcing anything into Kiosk. I guess I just do not know where to look. I have my digital signage OU, I think there is a big step that I am missing. Any help would be most appreciated.

    • Ian 12:18 pm on April 10, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I’m having the same issue as Randy. I’ve found the App Management page but am unable to locate or load Chrome Sign Builder. Not sure how to find it. There seems to be no URL search and keyword searching in the store isnt working.

    • Rick 6:29 am on April 14, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I was wondering if you could explain how you got video to autoplay. Was it playing on it’s own. I found that if I added as part of a slide in a presentation it would not play automatically.
      I too have played with Rise vision. I found it a pretty simple to use. I like how the video works in it and the fact that you could turn audio off on the video. They did a great job by doing a hangout and demoing what can be done.
      I realize Chrome sign builder is new but most places today do give some documentation and or videos on how to use such a product successfully. I think that’s a huge over site on releasing this. Risevision took about 2 hours to learn ( because of their video) and I have already invested 4 hours in this with not the same quality of presentation displayed. I still have lots to learn about this product but from simplistic point of view I think Rise Vision is a lot better thought out product. No admin needed other than to push the kiosk app. I think that’s pretty cool. In a school district every school has their own person doing signage and to know none of them will ever need admin to work with the product is a huge plus.
      My thought may change later…so we will see

      • Andrew T Schwab 6:23 pm on April 18, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        Rather than add a Video as a presentation you can add a Youtube video directly with a URL. Then it should auto play. Or that is what I believe Simon Miller (https://twitter.com/LeadEdTech) found out. I haven’t had time to play with it since getting the Slide presentation to play.

  • Andrew T Schwab 8:00 am on March 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    When Deleting A Google Apps Domain Is The Only Answer 

    Warning, do not try this at home.

    I deleted my school’s Google Apps Domain for Education today but probably not for the reasons you might think. Ok, technically I cancelled the subscription which deletes all accounts and data, but same thing.

    You see, somewhere along the line, our GAFE domain got flipped to a Nonprofit for Work domain. We only found out because we hadn’t received our unlimited drive storage yet. Having waited patiently through the new year, we opened our second support ticket (the first time we were told to wait patiently) and were then informed that because we were not a GAFE domain, we weren’t eligible for free storage.

    After a double-take, I was informed that we were in fact listed as a Nonprofit for Work domain, which coincidentally enough also has Google Classrooms, and that to get unlimited storage, we would have to downgrade from Nonprofit for Work and then re-apply to be a GAFE domain again. And oh, by the way, all of our Google Classrooms would be reset. The same Google Classrooms that teachers have started using like wildfire. The same Google Classrooms that are used to deliver our District Wide Writing Assessments in 6-8th grades. Um, yeah, not going to happen. I asked for an escalation and immediately emailed Jaime Casap, Education Evangelist at Google. I waited about 20 seconds for a reply and then tweeted at him too. He got back to me within a few minutes and said he’d look into it.

    Fast forward to this morning and a call from a Google support engineer. Our issue had been escalated, they had a script that would downgrade our domain and upgrade it to GAFE while keeping our Classrooms intact, and all without causing any interruptions to active users. I asked about that last part several times, and each time was reassured this had been tried and verified many times.

    Nervous but willing to try, I agreed to run the script, figuring it was better for something to go wrong at the end of a minimum day with Google support on the phone than later in the day without one. So he emailed me the link to the script, I ran it and it prompted me to login to the clark county schools domain. Oops. Apparently they had the same problem too. New link, new attempt, this time it ran but didn’t get the expected result. It just gave me a click here to continue and took me back to the Admin panel. The support engineer, let’s call him Manny, had me open an incognito window and try from there. Nope. Then he had me check the domain’s super admin and change it to match my super admin username. I ran the script again. Nope. Manny politely asked to put me on hold for 2 minutes, my nerves ratcheted up because clearly the script that had worked several times wasn’t working for us and I was starting to second guess the whole thing when Manny came back on and requested a Google Hangout to share the screen. We did that, and then he had me login to gmail in the incognito window and launch the link to the script from there. Same result. Not what he was expecting. I could hear him typing away with what I could only assume was an engineer somewhere in the cloud. When he spoke again, he said we’d have to do it the manual way.

    Ok. We went into the Admin panel and he had me click on Nonprofit for Work and select Cancel. At this point a very scary screen came up and asked if I wanted to permanently delete the domain and all the accounts and data in it FOREVER, or if I just wanted to kind of delete them for 4 days, during which time I could cancel the deletion. At this point, Manny went, Hmmm and asked to put me on hold again. When he came back on, he told me to select the delete FOREVER option, I take my hand off the mouse and calmly asked him, “and we won’t lose any Google Classroom data OR gmail accounts OR drive data?”. To which he said, nope. So in the biggest leap of faith I have ever taken with support, I clicked delete.

    And the hangout dropped off and my gmail login kicked me out and my department sent out a collective, “What the???” And then the phones started ringing. At this point my heart probably stopped. As calmly as I could I said, did we just delete everyone’s account? Manny calmly replied, no, he could still see the data, and could I please hold for 3 minutes. Three minutes!!! He came back after what seemed like forever and ask me to quickly re-add Google Apps for Work in the Admin panel. Um, yeah. I refreshed and re-logged in to the Admin panel (at least that worked), after filling out the captcha (I was thinking, oh man, is everyone going to have to do that again?) and then clicked to add the service back to the domain. The page started to load and then threw up a 404 error. I almost panicked, but I refreshed the screen, re-added the service and after two tries of filling out the organization information, managed to get Google for Work enabled on the domain. During this time, no one could login to their Google Accounts and all they saw was this:

    Google Account Deleted

    Manny kept reassuring me that he could see all of our accounts and data, and could I just enable Work a little faster, but no pressure! Once I had Work enabled, he flipped it over to Google Apps for Education in less than a minute. We verified people could log in again (same passwords), that our data was still there and that things like email still worked. Then we checked out Classrooms and found everything intact. Yay. People didn’t have to enter captchas, mobile logins didn’t need to be reset and unlimited storage is now a reality. No data was lost in the process but my nerves sure took a beating. A few little things got dropped, like custom URLs for google services, but those were minor fixes.

    In hindsight, it was a risk deleting the domain, but I asked Manny several times if it would be ok, asked if he was sure that this was what we had to do and would our data and accounts be ok afterward, and each time he reassured me that yes, our data would be ok and I believed him. Because despite the initial script failure and the hiccups, at the end of the day I trust that Google has smart engineers who can solve hard problems and if the whole thing ended up blowing up, I had faith that they would fix it for us. Yes, at times, I felt like those Apollo 13 astronauts must have, radioing back to Mission Control for support and like them, we made it through.

    I used to trust Google with our core collaboration and messaging platform because I hoped that Google had the kind of enterprise engineering support that I could never afford to staff as a school district. After this experience, I know they do.

     

     
  • Andrew T Schwab 9:10 am on March 22, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Mobile Device Carts and Spaghetti Power Cords 

    Mobile carts are a necessary evil in classroom 1:1 programs. I’d much prefer to send devices home with students to keeping them locked away when school is not officially in session. Be that as it may, we have a lot of carts. For our last round of chromebook carts, we went with the Aver TabChargeCT2. Feature wise it ticked all the boxes. Intelligent charging, capacity for 40 devices, rugged construction and a flat top for teachers to store stuff on. All in all, it’s a great cart. However, we’ve discovered an inconvenient flaw in the cable management design. Power cord management is always a challenge (my favorite cord management to date is found on the Anthro Yes carts). With the Aver, the pull out shelf makes it even more important. The Aver cart comes with little plastic clips meant to hold the cables along the upright spacers. The clips are two sided, one side being larger than the other. At first we were installing our power cords in the big side, not realizing that they were actually different sizes. After a few weeks out in classrooms, we started to see the result. Power cords coming loose all over the place. We went back and put all the cords in the smaller side, which was not easy. A few more weeks later and we were right back in Spaghetti central.

    The clip is a decent solution for Adults, but if you stop and watch how kids handle the in and out of devices in mobile carts, you quickly realize, a bomb proof cart is not good enough, it has to be Superman proof. Another reason I prefer sending the devices home with kids to storing them in classrooms.

    Aver ChargeTab2 after a few months in the classroom.

    Aver ChargeTab2 after a few months in the classroom.

    Instead of following my initial instinct, which was to go back through and zip tie the power cables to the uprights, I called Aver. They came out right away and took a look at what was happening. They’ve gone back to the drawing board for a fix and have committed to retrofitting our 100 carts. That’s the mark of a great company.

    We’re currently evaluating the TabChargeCT2’s little brother, the C30i, for use in our mixed device K-2 pilot. The C30i is a nice little cart, but it has the same power cord clip system as the TabChargeCT2. As soon as Aver get’s the spaghetti issue fixed, we’ll probably be ordering a few truck loads of the C30i.

    What’s your favorite mobile device cart and why? Have any power cord spaghetti pictures to share?

     
    • Jen Austin 9:33 am on March 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I solved this problem by taping the cords with electrical tape where the clips were. The results: manageable cords! I also numbered the cords on the tips and put numbers near the metal slots on the cart using a silver sharpie so students knew which slot their computer goes in, as well as, which cord to use. I used the sharpie to number the computers as well.

    • Donna Tart 11:05 am on May 4, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I’ve just gotten 4 of the C30i carts in and I’m having a terrible time getting the cords organized. The diagram that came with the paperwork shows holes that you are supposed to be able to put the power cords through to the pull out trays. No holes in any of them, so I’m having to drape the power cords over the opening. I can’t stand spaghetti cords!

  • Andrew T Schwab 9:15 am on March 20, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    #FutureReady Comes Full Circle 

    Mike Magboo’s (@allurbaserlatest post hit me like a ton of bricks. I’d honestly forgotten that at Le Grand High School, we were doing 1:1 netbooks running ubermix way back in 2009. I know if feels like I’ve been doing 1:1 forever, now I remember why.

    In hindsight, for being on the bleeding edge, we got the basics right. We knew that we needed a solid infrastructure, especially wifi. We had to have the devices in classrooms, just talking about them wasn’t enough. We had to have teachers open to change and a curriculum/instruction purpose to focus that change. We realized very quickly that we needed lots of support, both on the tech side and on the professional development side. And all of that needed to be rolled into a compelling vision for student success and a long term goal of 1:1 district wide. (Big thanks to Mike Niehoff and Jon Corippo for opening their innovative 1:1 High School up to us and sharing in the process along the way and to Jim Klein for ubermix, the OS that made 1:1 netbooks possible)

    Reading Mike’s post, it is clear that Le Grand has continued to evolve and learn to the point where their 1:1 program isn’t about the technology anymore, it’s about teaching and learning. That’s #eduawesome because that’s where we all need to be to be able to prepare today’s students for their futures.

    Danny Silva (@iteachag) and class. 1:1 Take Home Netbook pilot, circa 2009

    Danny Silva (@iteachag) and class. 1:1 Take Home Netbook pilot, circa Jan 2010

    It took me a few false starts since leaving Le Grand, but roll forward to today and once again I find myself in a forward thinking organization that got the basics right. Together we are continuing to reflect, adjust and move teaching and learning forward.

    In both cases, these organizations were future ready before being #FutureReady was cool. It’s good to be a part of organizations like that.

     
  • Andrew T Schwab 9:00 am on March 19, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Raising the Bar for Technology Services in Schools 

    I’m in the middle of a nightmare scenario with our current wireless access point provider at the moment. Our 8-month old Aerohive AP230 access points randomly freeze up after 30 days and stop passing traffic until we reboot them. It’s a particularly insidious bug that has disrupted classrooms and consumed a significant amount of my team’s time, first in troubleshooting and convincing Aerohive there was a problem with the AP230s and mitigating the effects on our teachers and students. We’ve resorted to manually rebooting all of our 235 AP230s weekly as a preventative measure to get through online testing. Unfortunately, it turns out Aerohive doesn’t have a reliable way to schedule an AP reboot.

    All of this got me thinking, with the move to online state assessments, good enough isn’t good enough anymore. I came from the private sector where I was responsible for IT in a 24x7x365 production facility. In that high stakes environment, if things didn’t work at 3am on a Saturday, millions of dollars ran down the drain. I spent a few 3ams troubleshooting failures and many more hours designing potential failure points out of our systems. Then I went to work for a school district. Nobody called or emailed on weekends and when the Internet stopped working I was the only one that noticed. It was night and day.

    Not so anymore. Now the first people to notice technology problems are classroom teachers. When the wireless is down in a classroom, we know right away because the teacher calls us immediately. If the Internet is slow at a school site, we get three or four calls or emails in rapid succession. In fact, we have become so dependent on the Internet for our day to day operations, both in our offices and our classrooms, it’s starting to feel a lot more like that 24x7x365 environment.

    I’m having to dust off some old ways of thinking that I wouldn’t have applied to K12 just a few years ago. Like just how redundant is our Internet connection and where are the major points of failure in our network and what is the backup plan if we get a bad batch of Access Points? The new one that I’m thinking about now is, if all of our stuff is in the cloud, what does a day without access to our stuff cost us? These are scary questions to ask in a school district, because right now, the truth of the matter is very few of our systems are redundant. Our network is built on point to point fiber connecting single core switches running through one firewall out to our County Office of Education. The County Office has some redundancy and they are looking at ways to provide more, but that doesn’t do much to address the LAN side of the equation.

    All of our email and increasingly our documents are in the cloud. Student learning is happening in the cloud. Teacher resources are in the cloud. K12 IT Departments are going to have to evolve to take on the new demands of providing services in 21st Century learning organizations. As much as I would like to think we can offload complexity to the cloud with services like JIVE, Meraki, Securly and hosted solutions from our County Office of Ed, each of those represents a significant relationship and requires a high degree of trust.

    We are highly exposed and incredibly reliant on our service providers and vendors like never before. My experience with JIVE last year was a pre-cursor to our current crisis. We rely on these outside vendors to provide the best possible quality products, services and support with at least some understanding of what it means in a classroom environment, what it means to teacher confidence and student learning, when their technology doesn’t work. I don’t know that the education sector technology providers are necessarily used to school districts demanding industry class uptime or support. I don’t think we complained all that loudly if things didn’t work in the past. Well, those days are surely over. Online assessments are here and the cloud is the operating system for our organizations.

    Time to put on the big boy pants.

     
    • Juancho E. Forlanda 2:13 pm on March 19, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      To automate reboot of AP, just create a scheduled script to turn off then turn on the switch interface where the AP connects. It is a hard reboot, but it may work.

  • Andrew T Schwab 2:00 pm on March 18, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Off to #CUE15 

    And I’m off. Heading to the Airport. Soon to be at CUE15. I can’t believe it’s CUE time again. As a CUE Board Member, we receive status updates throughout the year about conference preparations, but it’s actually here! While I’m not presenting this year, I do have some Board duties to perform. If you see me directing traffic at the doors to the keynote sessions, be sure to say hi!

    In my free time, I do plan to check out some great sessions (see the session guide for all of them, warning, prepare to be overwhelmed). I’m really looking forward to the Thursday morning session in Oasis 4, Weapons of Mass Instruction with Hall Davidson and Jon Corippo. That is sure to be an awesome amazing show.

    I’m trying to wrap my head around getting over to the UnCon at the Hard Rock Hotel. As a huge #edcamp fan, I’m down for some self directed PD as a break from the overwhelmingness that can be CUE. One way or another, I’ll make my way over to hang out and enjoy some good conversation.

    Of course I’ll probably stop in the hallway for some good old fashion #hallwayPD time. There are a few topics I’d like to talk about that aren’t on the schedule. IT stuff like wireless access, chromebooks and Google Apps domains come to mind.

    Beyond that, I have to make sure I get over to Hamburger Mary’s for lunch with Mike Magboo. It’s become something of a tradition. I’m also looking forward to visiting Sherman’s Deli for at least one lunch, and maybe more.

    My fingers are crossed on the wifi. I’m confident that CUE has spared no expense and done everything possible to ensure that the wifi can support 5500+ computer using educators and presenters this year. But wifi is hard and CUE users use bandwidth like Californian’s use water. I hope someone tweets out the graph of bandwidth utilization during the conference.

    I am fortunate to be able to send twelve teachers and three administrators from my district to CUE this year. I hope they have the same incredible and overwhelming experience that I had when I first came to CUE. I remember feeling like I had finally found my tribe. A group of passionate educators that were also passionate about technology. Risk takers, explorers, innovators, lone nuts, novice and master educators all with an eagerness to share and learn in the exciting and amazing space that is EdTech.

    Whatever happens over the next few days, I’m looking forward to hanging out and taking it all in because spring CUE only happens once a year!

     
  • Andrew T Schwab 9:00 am on March 18, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Future Ready Flexible Classrooms 

    I’ve been meaning to write a post about our path down the flexible learning spaces journey and today coincidentally found myself having to write something on the topic for my LEC PLL course. We are 7 months into piloting “flexible” furniture in seven classrooms from VS, Smith, Paragon and Balt. Below is a reflection on how we started and where we’re going next:

    It all starts with a concept, based on discussions about what we think we want to do in the classroom. We know that desks in rows do not lend themselves to collaborative learning. We also know that rigid seating leaves students without freedom of movement. Desks and chairs without wheels make reconfiguring spaces quickly a challenge and therefore much less likely to happen often. We know this from observation and conversation. So we collaborate with a furniture distributor that specializes in flexible learning environments in schools. We brainstorm, look at options, examine our spaces, budgets and learning objectives and the results of all of those discussion are turned into 2D renderings.

    21stC Furniture 1

    Then, after refining the size, shape and layouts based on the 2D renders, because collaboration tables are bigger than we thought or we just can’t fit 34 desks and chairs in the space the way we want, 3D renders are made and we really start to visualize what the space will actually look like.

    21stC 3D 1

    Once everyone agrees to a layout and equipment list, we discuss finishes. Light table tops show dirt. Dark table tops show dirt. Wood grain table tops show the least amount of dirt. Chairs will get dirty, do we want colors that show it or hide it? Do we want different colors or a standard color that is easier to replace and move from school to school. Once all of these questions are answered, the furniture is ordered and the conceptual becomes reality.

    21stC Pilot

    This is where reality sets in. We learn a lot about furniture. Making the transition from a static, standardized classroom to a flexible, dynamic learning space is a huge leap. Some assumptions are wrong. Both 2D and 3D space is different than the real classroom. Tables could be a little narrower to facilitate groups of four collaboration. Different desk shapes work well for groups of six but not four or five. Chairs with wheels have bigger footprints than we are used to and legs that stick out further into the isles. We find out that trying to add new furniture in with existing furniture makes for tight spaces. Layout is important as well, for movement isles as well as for seat alignment.

    We come back, evaluate and start again. This time with the following lessons learned:

    1. Transforming a classroom space is a major disrupting force. One that not every teacher is necessarily ready to take on. Teachers that agree to take on the challenge have to be willing to clear their classrooms of existing furniture but also be prepared to question their pre-existing notions of what a classroom should look like and how they and their students should interact with the learning environment.
    2. Students must be involved in the process from the beginning. Teachers need to have students participate in the exploration, reconfiguration and feedback loop for the flexible learning spaces.
    3. One size will not fit all. Finding a desk shape with the most flexible configuration is important. It’s amazing how flexible the old reliable rectangle is. It does groups of 4, 5 and 6 very well. New desks should also do these well but also provide for circles and curves and other shapes.
    4. Storage is a challenge. Teachers have a lot of stuff. It accumulates over time. Also, elementary students don’t travel the way middle and high school students do, so they are used to having their own book box to store things in. The flexible furniture of today doesn’t come with a book box option. Wire baskets are available and they are a must.
    5. Wheels on everything. Tables, chairs, everything.
    6. Standing height tables and cafe stools are very popular with students. Allowing options for seating throughout the day seems to be important, however moving past the idea that every student has to be sitting at the exact same desk is an obstacle to truly flexible learning environments.
    7. Teachers need a place to present from, but it shouldn’t have to be at the front of the classroom. A mobile standing height platform with storage is popular with teachers. This is in addition to a teacher desk for one on one student collaboration.
    8. Flip top tables in a custom 20”x60” size for middle school. And maybe for Elementary too for teachers that don’t require book boxes. We’ll be piloting some of these in the next round.

    Whereas the first round of pilot classrooms were really shots in the dark about what flexible learning environments should look like, the next round of classrooms has a much more focused design. We have an individual desk shape we think is flexible enough to meet most needs. We’ve refined the table for the middle school classrooms and will be trying it out in elementary classrooms as well. And we have several chair options that we are looking at since we’re finding the wheeled chair to be the most difficult piece of the puzzle.

    Next up is finalizing designs, creating equipment lists for each classroom and placing the order. Another thing I’ve learned is that furniture has long lead times. Trying to condense the feedback loop with classroom teachers has also been a time challenge. With another 10 classrooms entering the pilot, I’m sure we’ll be getting great feedback. This time, I’m hoping to validate what we know now and come up with a set of district standards that work for us moving forward.

    But to hedge our bets, I’m also ordering our own “Pilot” set of classroom furniture for the district office, so we can push it into classrooms, swap out components in our pilot classrooms and generally be more flexible without having to relay on vendor samples and availability.

    Who knew furniture could be so fun?

     
    • Erik H 4:22 pm on March 19, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Furniture with wheels likely have wheel locks. Make sure the lock levers are strong, preferably steel and can lock the wheels tightly. Students find ways to stomp on them, kick them, and unlock them during use. they should be functional but unobtrusive. Furniture without wheels need hard rubber “feet” that will not scuff the floor, fall off when lifted, or crack from frequent dragging.

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