Sunday, February 15, 2015

EO Smith February 2015 DLIC Meeting Minutes

On February 9, 2015 Alan Trotochaud, Bruce Silva, Seth Horilla, and myself, Frank Krasicki convened the last Digital Learning Initiative meeting of the 2014-2015 school calendar year.

Digital Practice in the Classroom

I asked Alan about the actual progress that was being made in the classrooms.  The DLIC has never advocated forcing teachers to change from one thing to a digital alternative but something that is a long-standing concern is the Board's investment in Classroom technology such as Smart Boards and Netbooks were being used.

Alan responded by saying that more teachers and more departments are embracing one form or another of introducing digital learning techniques and practice into the classrooms.  Smart Boards, Moodle, and Net books are being put to great use and the limited supply of netbooks for classroom use has had a positive effect on encouraging those students who have their own to bring them in.

A side discussion involved the fact that Professional Development time to learn new technologies and classroom teaching improvements has all but evaporated due to teacher evaluation and quality learning evaluation efforts.

Furthermore, due to snow days, some of the PD days are being appropriated for make-up days.

How is Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)  aging?

We also self-congratulated ourselves in choosing to implement a BYOD policy since many news stories are reporting that large school systems such as Omaha Nebraska are just now recognizing the value of doing so.

Defective Technology Devices

Seth reported that a number of new Smartboards were delivered in defective condition originally and thanks to his attention to detail the school realized that there was a manufacturing bug that the vendor was responsible for.  This issue was reported in timely fashion and within the warranty period.  The manufacturer has replaced all defective units without cost to the district.

Bring Your Own Reality (BYOR)

I asked Seth to keep an eye out for technology grants either from Federal, State, or Commercial sources for a classroom's worth of augmented reality devices - Google Glass, MicroSoft HoloLens, or whatever may become marketable between this meeting and our Autumn semester of next year.  Our science teachers will rapidly need to understand and experiment with this technology and EO Smith would make a great testbed and promotional program for something along these lines.

We'll keep our fingers crossed on this front.

Next Generation Science Standards

Our discussion moved from classroom technology to classrooms and science and engineering pedagogy.  An informal discussion Dr. Green and I started a few months ago about science classroom design was something we followed up on in the context of potential school building redesign.  Given the cost of any school redesign, it seems prudent to at least consider the inclusion of at least one contemporary science lab classroom that could serve as a reference model for the rest of such classrooms.

Alan pointed us to the NextGen National Science Standards that mandate a revolutionary refactoring of existing science teaching practice from whatever is now going on to a much more student-centric, hands-on and maker/doer pedagogy.  The link is above and the video is a must watch for Board members and the DLIC committee as well.

Shamefully CT is not a State highlighted as being part of this NexGen discussion - (that's another issue AND - inexplicably - it depicts an old-fashioned globe - a NEAG-derthal thing to do).

What becomes obvious is that by the end of our building cycle - whatever scope it may be, our science classrooms in their present configurations will be obsolete and out of touch with the new standards.  More bluntly, they already are largely obsolete.

Hand in hand with this discussion was Alan's observation that the variously mandated science curriculum has all but bleached out any free time for innovative teaching or subject recalibration to accommodate a changing world. 

School Building Roadmaps

The discussion about science classroom modernization dove-tailed into the merit of building refurbishment at all.  This was a discussion missing from any previous Board meetings so I will attempt to summarize briefly with the recommendation that it be discussed by a broader Board and administration constituency.

  1. The school isn't worth fixing argument:
    There is some sentiment that the school building has already been "hacked" so much that throwing any more resources into it is throwing good money after bad.  The science classrooms are hopelessly immutable due to cost/benefit ratios.
    The solution: sell the building and properties to UConn and start from scratch in one of the three communities.
  2. Classroom expansion for any number of reasons (offering grades 13-14 for example) would be better achieved by adding another story to the Foreign languages classroom section of the building. The administrative Arts wing is the wrong place.
  3.  Why expend (that much) money on the Arts/Ag ED section of the building - auditorium funding is non-existent, dual usage classroom/performance space has been tried and failed and we will fail similarly.
  4. Implicit in all of this - we are just a public high school, there's no ambition to do more or less, we have an average student body, we can't replicate grades 13, and 14 because Community Colleges already do that, and so on.
  5. We already tried being a laboratory school - UConn has no vested interest in funding anything necessary to make that worthwhile, they were poor partners in the past despite good intentions by those directly involved, local control diminished, rather than opening up opportunities to be a better school, EO wrestled with co-ordination issues and respectful partnership.
  6. We can't be a better high school because we are just a public school - not a charter school, not a magnet school, we are what we are.  The building is old, we should do what Mansfield does with its schools and just maintain them enough to keep them functioning.
Obviously these were simply talking points and "what if we tried" thought experiments but they're important discussions to sort out going forward.