Technology Capabilities and Administering PARCC

(from my comic, Boolean Squared)

On our last day of school a few weeks ago, our district technology coordinator was in my room, marking down the specifications of the laptops in the cart that is housed in my classroom. I thought she might just be updating her files but she said the state is requiring all school districts to do a technology needs assessment connected to the roll-out of the PARCC assessment not far down the road. In other words, the state is trying to figure out what districts can handle the technology aspect of the test, which will include at least submission electronically and may include some media component (early iterations of PARCC materials suggested a podcast by students to demonstrate voice and stance.)

This week, I have been working with teachers and administrators in another school district, and this issue of technology capabilities came up once again. The school, in a struggling urban setting, does have a fair number of computers (three labs and two carts) but sister schools in the same district have almost nothing, and all of the schools are losing funding for other technology investments due to budget cuts.

Never mind the pedagogy of using technology as a means for writing and literacy (that thing that I find so important) — schools are struggling just to have enough working computers, access to Internet broadband connectivity, and more. And if PARCC assessments are going to suck up computer time for testing, that just leaves less time for students to be using that technology for meaningful writing and exploration.

It’s a tricky issue, and yet, it makes sense that an assessment would use and value technology as a means of writing and publishing, right?

This all came to mind this morning as I was reading through an interesting document from Louisiana, which has done its own technology capability inventory. It provides a great overview of what it has found in its school districts, and my guess is that most states will echo what Louisiana has found, including:

  • The unknown elements of PARCC (window of testing, criteria of expectations) makes it difficult to know exactly what schools need to be ready;
  • Internet connectivity is an obstacle to test implementation (and the state suggests an alternative test that does not require bandwidth or Internet and PARCC documents indicate they are developing a non-tech alternative);
  • Logistical issues are vexing, as computers in classrooms and other public spaces would have to be used for testing, which is less than ideal for students working on a high-stakes test, and computer labs would have to be allocated for assessment for long stretches of time
  • The lack of physical space for all of the required numbers of students testing in the same time window is a logistical nightmare (my term) for schools;
  • And lack of professional development for teachers and technical support for these shifts.

These are issues that go beyond the Common Core standards, obviously, and given the tight budgets these days, I wonder how districts and states are going to meet these technical needs. PARCC itself has an “instructional technology purchasing guide” for districts that shares some minimum capabilities for any new computers. (note that tablets are included in allowable devices)

 Tech Specs Chart
Peace (in the tech of the test taking),
Kevin

The Making-Fun-of-Standardized-Testing Video Playlist

Thank you, Video Amy (from Edutopia), for sharing out your collection of videos that poke fun at standardized testing. We’re in a little lull right now — we’re past the ELA state test and next week, we move into Math — but these videos lighten the mood a bit. I’ll be sharing this collection with my colleagues.

When I was doing my Boolean Squared comic, I had a storyline about testing in education, too. Here is one of the comics from that story.

 


Anyway, you have to find ways to laugh, right?

Peace (in the funny stuff),
Kevin

 

Some BS for SOS

A movement underway called Save our Schools (SOS) seeks to remind our elected officials that public education is crucial, important and worth saving. There was a rally this week in Washington and a blogging effort out of the Cooperative Catalyst collaborative blog space is underway. They are asking bloggers to write about public education and then link to their site. The hope is to show support for public education in a myriad of ways.

I thought about writing something serious, such as my feelings that public education touches more lives than just about any institution in our culture; about how public education does more to equalize opportunity than other other program in the private or public sector; that public education seems increasingly under attack from the government we turn to for support. You know … serious stuff.

But I imagine all that is being said, so then I figured, why not add a little levity. So, here are a series of Boolean Squared comics that I had created around standardized testing, which has become the hallmark and lodestone of so much of educational reform. I have mixed feelings about the testing (the data is useful, the carrot-stick approach is stressful) and I hope that gets captured a bit with these comics.

 

Peace (in the test),
Kevin

 

Using Fakewall for Webcomic Character Facebook

Booleans Fakewall Page
A participant in our Western Massachusetts Writing Project Summer Institute asked me to help her find some resources for a project that she hopes to do this year, using fake Facebook sites with her students to create posts for characters from various novels. She also wondered if there was a place to do this where kids (as literary characters) could interact (in character). That gives the idea a little wrinkle.

After a little research, this what I wrote to her:

First of all, here are some possibilities for creating your own “social network” concept in your classroom:

  • Edmodo is a free networking system for schools. I have not used it but plenty of teachers swear by it and love it. http://www.edmodo.com/ It is closed system, and designed to at least resemble the idea of Facebook within a teacher-monitored framework
  • Edublogs — You could set up blogs for your students, or a single classroom blog (which is what I do) where students contribute to the site. (now ad-free, by the way). http://edublogs.org/
  • Kidblogs — Another free site that popped up last year. I have not used it but other teachers have said they like it. It’s for elementary and middle school students, so there are some limits to what they can do as bloggers. That may not matter, though. http://kidblog.org/home.php
  • Ning — here, you create a real social network, and you can make it private or public. They do have a free service for teachers, sponsored by Pearson (which makes me wary), or paid services. The lowest is about $20 a year, I think. I believe users need to be 13 or older to use it. https://www.ning.com/
  • WordPress — another free blogging platform.

But, if you are looking to replicate Facebook for literary characters, you need to check out:

I hope that all helps. I’d be interested in knowing how it goes for you. If you are at the University level, the Ning platform would be the way to go, if you want my opinion. You could also use some of the Fake Facebook Templates and then embed them into Ning, where conversations could take place.

But I knew I needed to show her, too, and since I had no experiences with this, I decided to use Fakewall to set up a fake Facebook page for my webcomic character, Boolean from Boolean Squared. To be honest, he is not the sort who would stay long on Facebook — too mainstream for a hacker like him. But still …

I found Fakewall very easy to use, and it seems like a simple way for a teacher to bring the concept of social networking around literary characters into the classroom setting. The only downside is that others cannot comment on a page, so the entire fake page is really the work of one person.

See Boolean’s Fakewall Page

Peace (on the fake page),
Kevin

The BS Connection: Boole vs. Boolean

I am reading The Information by James Gleick (it’s good), which maps out the history of ideas around information flow, starting with ancient writing. I came to a section last night that stopped me in my tracks, because it was all about George Boole. He revolutionized the philosophy of logic, and his Boolean Logic ideas are still at the heart of computer programming (the 1/0 system of data).

Well, it also turns out that when I was searching for a name for the main character of my old webcomic series,  Boolean Squared, I used the name Boolean because it connoted technology and math. It also sounds funny. So, it was fun to read deeper about Boole’s impact on the world in The Information and I am happy to have given Boolean a connection to someone so famous (although, I am not sure Boole would be so happy about it.)

See Boolean Squared Webcomic

Peace (in the name),
Kevin

Boolean Squared: Get a job, kid!

During our last tumultuous here in Massachusetts (ie, Republican Scott Brown), our phone was overwhelmed with robo-calls. Every hour, it seemed, we were getting some recorded voice, touting the candidate. It got so bad that we didn’t even want to pick up the phone. My students were complaining about the robo-calls at their homes. It was nonsense.

Which makes it a good topic for my comic strip, as Boolean decides to enlist his cyborg, Cylene, in some daytime robo-calling to earn some extra scratch to buy a Saxophone Hero (hey, if guitarists and DJs can have their own Wii game, why not us saxophonists?).

Peace (in the calls),
Kevin

Boolean Squared: Urth Inside

As I was developing this Boolean Squared story about the boys pulling a prank on Mr. Teach with his GPS unit, I realized that it might be fun to have Urth (who is inside the GPS) encounter a grumpy TomTom. And I figured TomTom could talk like Bob Dole, in the third person.

Peace (in the device),
Kevin