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My Third Year as Director of Technology

My Third Year as Director of Technology

As I finish my third year as Director of Technology at Hillbrook School, I find myself thinking of a three year old human. Let’s personify my tenure here as a toddler. What significant milestones are there for a three year old? Well, they ask lots of questions. They tell stories. They can walk forward and backward easily. And I can’t help but notice similarities with my time as a senior administrator at Hillbrook. I find myself questioning why certain IT systems are in place, and how we can improve them. My presentations at conferences are increasingly becoming more about telling the story of Hillbrook’s learning spaces and technology integration. And, I find myself finding a “solution,” only to discover that things are often much more complicated than I initially intended, moving forward and backward with initiatives and projects.

Here are five things I focused on this past year:

  1. Design the Hub experience.
  2. How might we reimagine the Tech Squad as a way to develop digital leaders at Hillbrook?
  3. How might we better share the work of the Hillbrook CTE to promote collaborative teaching and teacher development?
  4. How might we authentically integrate coding and robotics into our program in a way that’s ground up and not top down?
  5. How can portfolios serve as a catalyst for strengthening our efforts to better individualize our program?

Design the Hub experience.

As I write this, I sit by an oak tree facing Ken’s art room. The science classrooms are to my right down a small ramp, there is a parking lot in front of me with six spots, and the tower with the barn owls on the third floor rises above me to the left. It’s fortuitous that I’m reflecting on The Hub as I sit here. The Hub will be a space where art, science, engineering, and technology come together, both programmatically and physically. This past month, the board approved the funding and construction of The Hub with hopes of breaking ground in the fall of 2018. And while I won’t be outside with a shovel breaking ground myself, I have taken several strategic steps towards moving this project along.

Ken Hay, co-lead of The Hub project, and I have memberships to the TechShop in downtown San Jose. My goal with this membership to get hands-on experience with a wide variety of “making” tools to better inform upcoming decisions about what to put inside The Hub once it’s built, as well as learn lessons about space. I’ve taken classes on powder coating, ShopBot (CNC wood router), long arm quilting, and 3d printing, to name a few. As we give feedback on blueprints, I realize just how much time at the TechShop informs my opinion. With an eye towards noise, dust, and movement, I’m better able to visualize how we might actually use the space one it’s built. As we move from conceptual plans to blueprints, Ken and I will continue to help shape the vision of how we use this new space.

Two other projects–the 8th grade capstones and 5th grade Maker Faire projects–have also provided perspectives that will inform Hub designs. Both projects remind us that student choice and engagement continue to be at the center of everything we do at Hillbrook. Our new space, The Hub, will need to be equally student-focused, able to accommodate a variety of student groupings and needs.

Colleen Schilly and Erin Cohn from Leadership&Design have led a committee on reimagining the Hillbrook schedule. I’ve participated on this committee with an eye towards how The Hub might influence the creation of the new schedule. A highlight of this experience was shadowing a second grader through an entire school day. I was expecting to find friction points throughout the whole day and come to the committee with a list of things we need to fix. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the student experience at Hillbrook is extraordinary. Transitions felt natural, lessons felt like they were the right length, and students had opportunities to talk, snack, and play. Our committee visited Design 39 and High Tech High, and I left with another unexpected take away–our school is doing extraordinary things. Wrapping up the first half of the schedule committee’s work, I realize that we are teed up for an opportunity to rethink how we use time at Hillbrook. At a time where the Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship and The Hub are at their inception, this is an exceptionally exciting time to continue this work.

How might we reimagine the Tech Squad as a way to develop digital leaders at Hillbrook?

A student group, the iPad Doctors, grew out of two needs: lead tour groups to explain how this new-fangled iPad might be used in school (circa 2011), and help troubleshoot usage of this new technology. Well, both needs are significantly less.

So, how might we develop digital leaders at Hillbrook? Last year, we reimagined the iPad Doctor program to be the Tech Squad. But without a true need, this student group felt like a fun, non-critical group. To be honest, I’ve really struggled with finding a meaningful task/project/vision for the Tech Squad. Part of that failure might be that we only meet every six school days during lunch for 25 minutes. Part of that failure might be that we don’t give public tours, and that troubleshooting iPads has become much simpler. Part of it might be a lack of imagination on my part. There have been a couple huge successes this year, however.

Erin Schwartz, our communications director, created grade-level Twitter accounts for all ten grades at Hillbrook, so that families could follow @hillbrook5th for grade-specific news, and @hillbrookschool for school-wide news. The initial plan was bold–give ownership of grade-level Twitter to Tech Squad members. This just never took off, though. Students weren’t interested in tweeting daily, and the level of oversight we initially needed was too difficult to manage. So we waited until there was a need. And that need came on January 10, 2017 when Erin wanted to photograph 6th graders doing an epic experiment around light, but was double booked. The solution? Tech squad members Mehtab, Weber, and Amanda photographed the experiments! This was such a simple and powerful solution. Tech Squad member photos were even featured in the January 11 Hillbrook Happenings newsletter.

Another goal I had was to work with members of the Tech Squad to facilitate digital citizenship lessons with lower school students. Middle school students just weren’t interested in this, though. I found it took a lot of time to try and coordinate with very little interest. I haven’t figured out how to leverage the expertise of the Tech Squad with lower school students, but I still feel like it’s a great opportunity for them to reach beyond themselves to make a difference.

A surprising win for the Tech Squad was Vidigami, a photo sharing platform we adopted this past year. The power of Vidigami is the ability to tag student and faculty names to faces in photos. This takes a lot of work, but is fantastic when it’s complete. As it turns out, middle school students love looking at photos of each other. We spent several Tech Squad meetings throughout the year tagging faces in photos on Vidigami, and I’m happy to share that nearly every photo has nearly every face tagged in it. The result is that parents can open the app/website and automatically see all the photos of their kid(s)!

How might we better share the work of the Hillbrook CTE to promote collaborative teaching and teacher development?

Ilsa and I have been creating and sharing content for the Hillbrook CTE. This past year, we added blog posts and podcast episodes to Using @hillbrookcte, we shared out faculty and staff presentations on Twitter, in addition to sharing random Twittery education stuff.

The goal of the CTE is inward facing and outward facing. We found that sharing content related to conferences and presentations was great, but noticed that Hillbrook faculty weren’t engaging with the CTE on Twitter. So, Ilsa printed out all the @hillbrookcte tweets on paper, and stapled them up to the faculty lunchroom bulletin board. Teachers didn’t begin tweeting more, but we both had some great conversations around both the work of the CTE and the presentations of faculty and staff.

A tangential, but important, project this year was the IDEO/MISBO cohort we participated in. Initially designed to reimagine the independent school financial model, it quickly became a place for our school to talk with key people at the Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation and at IDEO. Conversations with Bo Adams and Miki Heller proved insanely helpful as we looked at our model for social accounts.

The last big win for the Hillbrook CTE this school year was our partnership with CUE to continue telling our Reimagining Classrooms story through CUE’s BOLD Symposium. This conference was first of its kind, deeply diving into classroom design and lesson design. I worked with Jon Corippo, CUE’s Chief Innovation Officer, and BOLD Director Lindsay Blass to help shape the conference.

How might we authentically integrate coding and robotics into our program in a way that’s ground up and not top down?

This story has a surprising twist. Let’s start with the ending, and work our way back a couple years. Last week, Apple announced that Swift Playgrounds, its educational coding app for iPad, will offer an exciting new way to learn to code using robots, drones and musical instruments. We’ve been coding robots and drones for the last two year, mostly during Week of Code, using apps like Tickle and Tynker. Students worked with block-based programming to give simple commands to robots like: “Take off, set maximum height to 2m, fly forward for 4.2 sec, turn right 30º, fly forward for 1.2 sec, land.” This has been a powerful way to engage students with computational thinking and coding. This recent announcement by Apple means that we can now use Swift, the coding language used to develop iOS apps, to control these robots. We are poised to quickly move from the introductory block-based coding to the advanced Swift coding. We already have the robots and the activities; we can simply scaffold students as they’re ready to move into text-based coding. It’s an incredibly exciting time.

Rewind to the summer of 2016 when Apple announced Swift Playgrounds (Playgrounds is the iPad app). I spoke with Chris Cabrera and Shea Ellerson, and we immediately made plans to integrate coding into the math and science curricula. Chris spent time students coding with javascript on Khan Academy, but it wasn’t quite the right tool for him. Swift Playgrounds made coding more engaging (aka fun), it was iPad-friendly, it used a coding language that was simpler to understand, and it used a language that students could use to build actual iOS app.

I am incredibly proud of the math team for quickly starting this. It is a perfect example of The Hillbrook Way–ask, start, collaborate, show. Despite Swift Playgrounds being a brand new iPad app (and nobody knowing how to use that language), the math team started using it. Alongside students, they learned how to code with Swift. Not surprisingly, we were one of the first schools to use this app. Throughout the year, the three of us have spoken with teams at Apple several times, giving feedback about how our students use the app. I realized just how cutting edge our math team was when Wendy Lee from the San Francisco Chronicle called to talk to us about how we use Swift Playgrounds. Unfortunately, she wanted to come down on the last day of school to interview us and take photos, so we didn’t make it in the paper, but it’s a reminder that starting something, even when we don’t know how it’s going to turn out, is a powerful way to transform learning.

Week of Code, the Hillbrook version of Hour of code, was a huge success this year. At the heart or this week was a two-hour coding experience for lower school and middle school students, where they chose two different coding stations. Activities ranged from the ever-popular Hillbrook Air Corps to the Sphero Obstacle Course. Another highlight from this week was the 8th grade field trip to Google, where students met with the Toontastic app team, and heard about the complexities of coding a real app.

One other project this year was a huge success this year. 8th grade geometry students worked with Robert Sears and Shea Ellerson to create Archimedean solids. They designed these by writing code in Python. A particular challenge this year was to figure out how each face of the Archimedean solid would connect to the others. Once they designed each face, they used the laser cutter to cut the outline and etch the inside of each face, and then they assembled the Archimedean solid. As though this wasn’t impressive enough, some students used copper tape and LEDs to create a simple circuit and light up their Archimedean solid.

How can portfolios serve as a catalyst for strengthening our efforts to better individualize our program?

Portfolios are tricky. There is not a consensus around what a portfolio is, let alone what should go into it. Three years ago, I began the work of finding a digital platform for student work. I naively thought that if we found the right platform, everyone would happily begin using it. We’ve tried to capture student work and student learning in a variety of digital and analog ways. As it turns out, there is not a simple solution.

So, like a three year old, I find myself moving forward and backward on this goal. Our school promises to meet the individual needs of each student. I found that portfolios also need to meet the individual needs of each teacher.

The big success of portfolios this year was working with Elisabeth Crabtree and Mei Chen to implement Sesame as a teacher-curated formative assessment tool. Sesame allows teachers, students, and classmates to capture a variety of media–text, photo, video, and audio. It makes sense to me that a mus


ic teacher and Mandarin teacher are excited about capturing audio. Not surprisingly, Elisabeth and Mei have been loving the Sesame platform. More importantly, it’s been a powerful way to track student progress in subjects that historically struggle with capturing authentic assessment. Next year, we will continue using Sesame to capture student work. I am hopeful that students will begin using this platform to capture their own work in other areas.

On a related note, Elisabeth and I presented on process portfolios at the Fall CUE conference. I am proud of Elisabeth for taking a risk and being a presenter at a major event, particularly in October when Sesame was still a new platform. This is another great example of The Hillbrook Way, where we ask, start, collaborate, and show.

Beyond Hillbrook

And now for a bit of a tangent to wrap things up. Perhaps it’s because I’m finally finishing this reflection in July and I just got back from the Apple Distinguished Educator Academy, but some of the most memorable parts of this past school year were presenting at conferences.

An education conference is a tricky thing to explain. Let me approach it by sharing two things that stick out in my memory after each and every conference.

The Presentation

Being on stage sharing my work at Hillbrook is amazing. I love sharing, I love inspiring, I love reaching beyond myself to make a difference in the world. And being on a very big stage helps with that. (It’s also tons of fun!) This past year, I noticed a difference in the tone of my presentations. They shifted away from being my story and my thoughts to being more about the work we’re doing at Hillbrook. I remember talking with Aimee Giles during my first year at Hillbrook; she told me that my presentations in my first year would be more about me, and by the third year they would be more about the school. Well, Aimee was right. I shared about portfolios and learning spaces and coding and student-centered classrooms. I was able to authentically share our school’s work and it finally felt like our work.

The Conversations

By far, my favorite part of conferences is having good conversations with good people. At Hillbrook, I’m t

he only Director of Technology, but at a conference, I am one of hundreds. Conferences are a place where I not only can have those conversations with people that have my same role, but I can spend time with friends that also want to change the world.

My Second Year as Director of Technology

My Second Year as Director of Technology

Wow, year two at Hillbrook is in the books. Well, not actually in the books; that will happen tomorrow afternoon when I finish up some paperwork for the end of the fiscal year. But figuratively, the school year is in the books (eBooks? iBooks).

Here were my goals from the 2015-2016 school year: How can pilot programs, such as portfolios and the 8th grade capstone project, serve as a catalyst for strengthening our efforts to better individualize our program? How might we shift the focus from Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership? How might the members of the tech team continue to grow? How can we tell the Hillbrook story through technology? How might we incorporate coding, robotics, and programming in the JK-8 curriculum? How can I build on my engagement with the broader tech community to bring along other members of the Hillbrook community and open them up to leadership opportunities in ed tech?

bill-selak-tech-officeBefore I dig into each goal in detail, there are three highlights I’d like to start with. Hour of Code in December was a huge success with every student spent at least one hour coding. Grade 1-8 participated in a schoolwide Hour of Code where each student participated in two of twelve sessions. Our social media presence has grown tremendously, particularly on Twitter, with both grade-level Twitter accounts and personal, faculty accounts. Finally, our shift from “digital citizenship” to “digital leadership” transformed the way students, faculty, and parents talk about device usage. This simple shift in words helped us move away from fear-based conversations and towards inspiring conversations like “How might we use these devices to be leaders at our school?”

I would also like it duly noted that this reflection serves are both a formal evaluation for my role as Director of Technology at Hillbrook School as well as a blog post. Last year, I decided to share my reflection after I submitted it to our Head of School Mark Silver. This year, my primary audience continues to be Mark, but in the spirit of Show Your Work, I plan to also share this on my blog (and I did!).

So, on to the goals… Goal 1: How can pilot programs, such as portfolios and the 8th grade capstone project, serve as a catalyst for strengthening our efforts to better individualize our program? The 8th grade capstone project was a huge success. Eden Maisel did an extraordinary job heading up this new addition to our program. 8th grade students opting-in and volunteer Capstone Coaches set the tone for this optional project. As students researched their passions, we noticed that this was the culmination of years of interests for some, and a nascent interest for others. As we look ahead to next year, I am hopeful that we will have more time for our 8th graders to work on these projects, and I am hopeful that this will become a culminating event for students as they explore their passions at Hillbrook.

We made some progress with portfolios. One year ago, the tech team was searching for the single tool to would solve the problem of where student work lives. In parallel with the writing continuum, the hope of the student portfolio is to better individualize our program. In short, we never did find the one app or website that would be the perfect solution for documenting student work. And I think that’s ok. Moving forward, I see two paths to further explore: first, teachers will document student work. Apps like Sesame and tools like the writing continuum will help teachers keep track of each student and help students reach their highest individual potential. Second, will continue to use digital tools like Google Sites and Book Creator to make their own learning visible, and record their learning.

Goal 2: How might we shift the focus from Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership? Inspired by George Couros’ blog post Digital Leadership Defined, we changed how we refer to behavior around technology from digital citizenship to digital leadership. George defines it as “using the vast reach of technology (especially the use of social media) to improve the lives, well-being, and circumstances of others.” After five years of one-to-one iPads, it was time for us to move beyond the minimum. In our Learning in Conversation parent meeting, we asking questions like “How do you help teach resilience?” and “How might we teach our students to be leaders in technology?” There was a significant shift in tone as parents looked for opportunities to help their child grow instead of fearing which “scary” app their student might be using.

Changing the name to digital leadership was only the first step. Students created digital citizenship projects for their peers at Hillbrook and beyond. From games to videos, our students taught other students how to be more responsible with technology and how to grow into digital leaders themselves. Goal 3: How might the members of the tech team continue to grow? Last year, one of my goals was to clarify job roles in tech department. Building on that success, this year’s primary goal to was support the tech team and help them seek professional development by both participating in and presenting at conferences. The entire tech team–Emily Hendricks, Kelly Scholten, and me–presented at both Fall CUE and will present at ISTE 2016. Mirroring our vision, we continued to reach beyond Hillbrook to make a difference in the world through sharing the Hillbrook story.

Emily completed the Certified Casper Technician (CCT) Level 1 training, and is now a certified technician for our mobile device management (MDM) software. Goal 4: How can we tell the Hillbrook story through technology? Show Your Work continues to be a driving force in how faculty and students view technology. We see it in portfolios, continuua, capstone presentations, and regularly on social media.

The introduction of Grade-level Twitter accounts was a significant step forward. Pioneered by the kindergarten team, with the help of three new iPod Touches, the kindergarten team regularly documented student work and shared it with families on Twitter as @hillbrookkinder. Other lower school grade levels followed quickly, and soon most of our lower school teachers were sharing moments from their class with parents in real time. Moving forward, I am hopeful that more middle school teachers will begin using the grade-level Twitter accounts more regularly. I also encourage us to revisit the decision to keep all Twitter accounts private–this year was a huge step forward, and I believe that teachers and students worldwide can learn from us on Twitter.

More faculty are on Twitter sharing their pedagogy, learning, and thoughts. Notable Tweeting people include Lara, Sara, Matt, Chris, and Julia. In a similar vein, several teachers are blogging and sharing their learning and class projects, most notably Jenny and Kristin at Goal 5: How might we incorporate coding, robotics, and programming in the JK-8 curriculum? Week of Code, the Hillbrook version of Hour of code, was a great way to expose teachers and students to the basics of coding. At the heart or this week was a two-hour coding experience for LS and MS students, where they could choose two different stations. Options included paper coding, Hillbrook Air Corps, and Sphero Art, to name a few.

We engaged parents and the community in Week of Code sessions for two reasons: we wanted teachers to participate (not lead) sessions, and we wanted this week to reach beyond 300 Marchmont. Parents, staff, and industry joined us on campus to run the 12 coding stations over two days. As we all shared our learning on social media, the larger ed tech world took notice and planned to ramp up their efforts for Hour of Code 2016.

Many students continued coding activities from Hour of Code both in and out of the classroom. Parents, teachers, and staff noted that coding is no longer as intimidating as it once was. In the coming years, I am hopeful that we can more meaningfully integrate coding into our core subjects, moving from cute programmable robots to coding to truly make an impact on the world.

I plan to continue to work with LS teachers during Genius Hour/ACE Hour/ICE Time to support coding in the coming year. Similarly, I’ll continue my work with kindergarten during Open Exploration Time to support coding and computational thinking. With the support from our teacher engineers, I’ll work to support MS math as they wrestle with integrating code into lessons. Goal 6: How can I build on my engagement with the broader tech community to bring along other members of the Hillbrook community and open them up to leadership opportunities in ed tech? Hillbrook’s Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) provides a huge opportunity to share our faculty learning. Started in 2015, the CTE podcast brought a group of teachers together for a Google Hangout on Air to discuss our Reimagining Classrooms project. In December 2015, we published the second episode: iPads Year 5, featuring Julia, Kate, Kelly, & Christina.

A third episode is recorded, Mobile Inquiry, but remains partially edited on my laptop. I need to rethink how we can sustain the creation of the outward-facing CTE content, and balance it with inward-facing daily work at Hillbrook.

Our faculty presented at many ed tech conferences, keeping Hillbrook as a leader in conversations around meaningful and cutting edge classroom technology integration. At Fall CUE, Emily presented Own Your Tech! Technology Management in Today’s Classroom, Kelly presented Mirrors of Learning: Helping Students See their Process and Capturing the Journey: Process Portfolios in the Workshop Model. Kelly and Sara presented Making with Minecraft and Showcasing with Aurasma. Matt and I presented Comprehension is Just the Beginning: Using Subtext for Deeper Conversations. I also presented Rock the Elementary Classroom! Song writing Across the Curriculum, Robots Are Taking Over the World… But Should They? Sound Robotics Pedagogy, and You are the Infinite Thinking Machine!

At SVCUE, Jules presented Diversity in Technology: The Importance of Windows and Mirrors.

At National CUE, I presented Choose Your Own Edventure: Creating Interactive Google Forms, iPhoneography: Integrate Mobile Photography into the Classroom, Google Certified Teachers Panel, Underwater Adventures Documentary panel, and There’s a Chromebook Cart in my Classroom!

At ISTE, Emily will present Own Your Tech! Technology Management in Today’s Classroom. Kelly and Sara will present Making with Minecraft and Showcasing with Aurasma. I will present iPhoneography: Integrate Mobile Photography into the Classroom, Ready, Set, Make (makerspace panel), 1:1 Integration: a CTO Panel, I Think I Figured Out How to Use Snapchat as an Educator, Using Reflector 2 in the Classroom to Share Student Work, and I’m participating in the Amazon EDU Maker’s Challenge.

Looking Ahead I plan to align my 2017 goals to Hillbrook’s Vision 2020. As we look ahead to the design of the Hub, I plan on making that project a priority. The first step is Me as Maker. I plan to use my TechShop membership to prepare for strategic conversations around the Hub. Raspberry Pi is emerging as the platform for physical computing and coding; I’m planning on learning how to meaningfully integrate these into classes this coming year.

Individualization is a key component of the new strategic plan. I plan to support work and lead conversations around portfolios, ACE/ICE Time, and Making at Hillbrook.

I plan to foster the growth of the CTE. On social media, faculty learning will be shared as @hillbrookcte, whereas student learning is @hillbrookschool. I’ll continue to work to develop social media accounts to share faculty learning. Finally, our podcast will be the big piece of content we share. I will create smaller pieces of other content (excerpts, images, resources) as we work on the lengthy podcast to continually share our faculty learning.