So, Where’s Tech Curriculum Headed?

I like it that both online and off, I’ve been challenged lately to answer questions about tech curriculum.  I’ve been so busy with the new student information system, that it appears that I may be entirely out of the academic side of things entirely.

Until I can get things to be more routine, I won’t be back in the classroom this year.  My last teaching was at my previous school, were I had a great time teaching a film and video production course each year.  I really miss that– the videos and scripts  created by students were remarkably honest and creative.

Given my role now, at a larger school, empowerment is my main tool of change.  I try to empower my tech coordinators to work with faculty on curricular change, but even they get swamped with simple tech requests when we go through major infrastructure changes (like new email systems, new wireless systems, and new student information systems).  I don’t like this, but then again it’s always been part of the game, and I’m not sure it’s better in schools where the academic is fully separated from the tech side of things.

In terms of curriculum, the most important changes I’ve tried to help along the last three years have been in the areas of logical problem solving and hands-on learning (with technology as an integrated part).  I’ve worked with some amazingly dedicated and creative teachers who can think beyond just teaching “programming” or “page layout” or “robotics,” and instead create learning experiences in design where students are truly challenged to go deep and to “create” solutions with thoughtful designs or logical sequences.

As an example, we created a “Design Center” this year that is a large 1,000 square foot room with high ceilings and good light.  Around the perimeter are 18 24 inch iMacs, and in the center are eight height adjustable work tables.  Eight of the iMacs are on standing high tables on the wall, with high chairs. Also installed in the room is as much project and tool storage as possible, and a 2D Laser Cutter.

The Design Center is a place where Student Publications meets Robotics meets Middle School Science meets Architecture meets Digital Electornics.  It’s an interesting mix– the schedule is packed, but the students shift from hands on learning on the center tables (building robots, laying out a yearbook, creatiing architectural models, meeting face to face) and the perimeter is used for page layout, graphic design, CAD work, using the laser cutter, programming robots, and more.

From a curricular point of view, we hae a melding of STEM and STEAM premises, with students doing hands-on problem solving in response to real questions and leading to real products (robots, yearbooks, electronics, a new bike shelter).  Behind all of this is the challenge of logical thinking–to solve the problems in design to achieve these goals.

In some ways, I’m excited about this beyond what we have traditionally invested our time in (new laptops, new software, new network services, new student information systems), because we’re putting students back in the driver’s seats with technology.  It’s about being creative, and not just a consumer.

Anyway, that’s my take on tech and curriculum for today.  Personal, 1:1 tech is cool, but collaborative challenges and hands-on learning with a mix of challenges and tools is beyond that.

Into the Veracross Flow

With a lot of systems, it takes some time to fully understand the underlying logic and work flow processes.  This can be especially hard if you’ve had a previous system for ten years which is a well-known quality in those respects.

When differences appear, you can choose to try and alter the system, or adapt to the new ways of doing things.  This can be a balancing act, because there will always be limitations and absolute needs that have to be meet.  New systems may do one data point when you need four, for example.

With Veracross, we just completed our third visit of three days by our account manager and trainer.  Our first visit was in July, second in August, and now the first week of October after school has been running for a month.  It’s remarkable how much has changed in the database since the visit in August– student schedules, attendance records, transport records, new employees, new families, grades in gradebooks, portals for faculty, students and parents, after school program, athletics.  Things have moved fast.

And we are still learning.  Admissions in particular moved forward greatly this week, and I got my first email from a parent today saying “I love the portal.”  Just this morning we made good progress on how to create and notify users of their account infomration for both Veracross and Finalsite, and we’re moving toward the Veracross automated email system for informing people of new accounts.  That’s the systems business logic, and we’re moving toward it’s adoption, replacing a mess of a notification system we had in the past that was nearly impossible to keep up to date.

So, we still have problem areas and things that don’t run as smoothly as we like, but we are rolling and changing.  In particular, I’m happy that parents are beginning to update basic demographic information online and see specific informaiton about their children in the school website.  We are going to work hard on online forms processing this year and next, to take us to a much more efficient way of gathering and proccessing re-enrollment, field trip forms and more.

Big changes…

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