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TEACHERS SHAPING THE TECHNOLOGY OF TOMORROW

Lean Research Methodology

June 28, 2012

betaclassroom

Dear Mr. Eric Reis, ImagineK12, and New Schools Venture Fund,

I am the director of a national network of visionary early-vangelist educators who love play testing beta ed. tech. We work with lean ed. tech. startups who use our feedback to develop awesome educational technologies.

As you may already know, the education market has some broken bits. I’m writing this letter because there’s one particular bit that I’m having trouble fixing. The problem was brought to my attention by Karen Cator, Director of the Office of Educational Technology, during her discussion of excellence and innovation in education at ISTE. In her talk, she identified a critical flaw in current frameworks used by entities like the Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse (WWC)-which sets standards for reviewing scientifically based research designed to determine if an intervention shows a positive effect on student learning.*

To be in accordance with the WWC standards, entrepreneurs must freeze the development of their product for the duration of the study. As Cator explained, its like the researchers are telling these entrepreneurs “Hold it still and don’t change it while we do a study against something else.”

This requirement flies in the face of lean startup methodology and becomes straight up absurd when one considers how many updates would typically occur during the 1-2 years it would take to complete WWC compliant research. These standards are fit for the educational technology that was made in the 1980s. Back in the day, aka 1986, The Learning Company created Reader Rabbit. Three years passed before they released Reader Rabbit 1.0 on floppy disk. Having won multiple awards back then, the first version for the ipad Reader Rabbit 1.0 ipad app. was updated to version 1.01 in less than five months. Today’s technology can’t “hold still” for 1-2 years and it shouldn’t have to.

The bottom line is that my students and I don’t have 1-2 years to wait for someone to figure out what works; nor do we want entrepreneurs and technologists to hold back from making important updates for that long.  I’m on a mission to give all teachers and students access to awesome technology and I’m not willing to watch us stand in our own way.

We’ve developed lean methods for developing a product, now we need to do the same for researching their efficacy. There’s incredible work being done in this field by genius researchers like Dr. Roland Fryer, Jr, the Robert M. Beren Professor of Economics at Harvard University, and faculty director at Harvard’s Ed Lab-an education research and development laboratory devoted to closing the achievement gap. Its going to take the most innovative researchers, teachers and entrepreneurs to raise the level of excellence and innovation in our nation’s education system. I want to thank you for the work you’ve already done towards this end. This summer I’m going to do everything I can to find a rapid and equally valid research methodology to demonstrate the positive effects  that innovations have on student learning.

Sincerely,

Jennie Dougherty

@betaclassroom | English Teacher at Brockton High School | Director of Innovative Teacher Network at edUpgrade

*For more information see awesomely clarifying post by Lesson Cast and 3 part article on “what works” platforms by Center for American Progress. 

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Resiliency is a 21st Century Skill

April 7, 2012

betaclassroom

A DIGITAL LESSON PLAN

CO-CREATED BY Ben BerteJennie DoughertyBrett KopfEric Simons 

Regardless of the subject you teach, you expect your students to rise to the challenges you present them with. With that said, many of us have had to take time away from a particularly challenging content objective to help our students develop the resilience necessary to face these challenges.  This form of perseverance is perhaps best described by Dr. Robert Brooks of the Center for Development and Learning.  Dr. Brooks describes resiliency as “the capacity to deal successfully with the obstacles in the road that confront us while maintaining a straight and true path towards life’s goals.” Students who develop a “resilient mindset” can handle the challenges we give them with greater effectiveness and success.  When we take the time to help our students develop a “resilient mindset” we teach them to believe that they have the ability to solve problems and make decisions and thus, “are more likely to view their work as challenges to confront rather than as stressors to avoid.”

Resiliency is a 21st century skill that can enable our students become the gregarious and ingenious thinkers we know they can be.  With this in mind, we at edUpgrade set out to create a  to create a technology-rich opportunity to bring innovative ed. tech. entrepreneurs into your classroom via digital media. The clips below provide your students with an opportunity to engage with the real-world and practice critical skills.

The first clip provides a link to a typographic edition of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If”. Following that are links to videos of ed. tech. entrepreneurs reflecting on the meaning of Kipling’s poem. In 1-2 minutes clips, each innovator discusses the creativity, self-motivation and emotional intelligence needed to overcome challenges.  Use these clips as a catalyst for discussing resiliency with your students. This discussion can be easily integrated into all subject areas and used to foster a productive classroom environment where students rely on coping strategies that are growth-fostering rather than self-defeating.

Poem Handout

 
Animated Typography of Kipling’s poem “If”

The Back Up

April 2, 2012

betaclassroom

THIS PREVIEW WILL HAVE YOU ON THE EDGE OF YOUR SEAT! CHECK IT OUT!

Whenever I’m bringing a new technology or program into my classroom, I always want to have a backup plan. That way I can be sure that my students will continue to learn when, for whatever reason, the original plan doesn’t work out as I’d imagined it would. Below is a preview of the lesson I’m making for every teacher whose wanted to try something new but worried about what he/she would do if the program/device didn’t work as planned.

Class Connect: Because A Lesson Is More Than A Plan

TEACHER APPROVED TECHNOLOGY

 THE LATEST TEACHER APPROVED TECHNOLOGY: CLASS CONNECT

By Jennie Dougherty | English Teacher | edUpgrade’s Director of Teacher Innovation

When I first alpha/beta tested this program back in July I could see its potential, as well as the fact that it was having an identity crisis, and didn’t really know what it wanted to be. Suffice it is to say, I was thrilled to continue collaborating with the genius mind behind this program, Eric Simons a member of ImagineK12s first cohort and a recent high school graduate who lives in Silicon Valley building insanely awesome edtech apps! This is always a point I like to bring up with any of my Juniors who doubt their potential. Since releasing the alpha version of Class Connect, Eric has made strategic pivots and redesigned every last line of code to meet the needs of the educators who tested class connect’s earliest iteration. I have never witnessed a more thoroughly responsive developer/entrepreneur. Today, it is my pleasure to honor his program Class Connect with the distinction of being a Teacher Approved Technology.

Class Connect is a web based application, which means that you can use it from anything that can access the internet-no downloading or installation required (score!). This application allows educators to gather, organize, and share their entire curriculum-from the documents, to the documentaries to the awesome digital resources our students deserve. Here’s a quick overview of the reasons Class Connect earns the distinction of being Teacher Approved:

  • Recognizes that a lesson is more than a plan
  • Gives me a place where we can save and organize all of the content required for the 21st century curriculum.
  • Makes Curriculum Design a Rewarding Experience
  • Saves time! gives you back the time you would have spent emailing lesson plans to admin., copying documents from lesson for students who were absent, and scheduled for working collaboratively with colleagues.
  • Students and Teachers can be better protected from the content that lurks around the edges of the valuable digital resources we want our students to access, analyze and ultimately create.
  • Save money would have spent on binders and paper…for more specific details see previous post
  • Provides a catalyst for making every classroom a blended learning environment.
  • Makes it easier for every teacher, and thereby every student, to use digital technology and digital materials. – It will help us defy the dismal stats. from 2000 that you can check out below
  • Its free! Yay!
  • Promotes collaboration! ***More to come in a follow up interview with Eric!
  • Its not going to automatically share your work with the world! I can share my entire unit (digital items and all)

Clip Art Illustrations of Teacher, Binder, Computer and Stacks of Books are from Discovery Education’s Clip Art Gallery created by Mark A. Hicks, illustrator.

What a Teacher Wants

February 24, 2012

betaclassroom

 THE LATEST TEACHER APPROVED TECHNOLOGY: CLASS CONNECT

By Jennie Dougherty | English Teacher | edUpgrade’s Director of Teacher Innovation

 

A lesson is more than a plan

Exhausted by the task of scanning and tagging thousands of pages of curriculum, I was overwhelmed and vulnerable to the kind of pictures Evernote was posting online.

With a super cute pic like this, why would I have any reason to doubt that Evernote could meet my needs. The artists and marketers who drew this knew what a teacher wanted. But it wasn’t just about looks, we also had a lot in common. Here I was trying to get rid of my binder system and there it was offering me digital notebooks for all my content.

I used the Evernote clipper tool to grab websites and add them to my digital notebooks, which helped me overcome the disappointment I felt when I realized the actual program was less attractive than I’d anticipated.

Things began to fall apart the second I got seriously involved. Uploads took too long and there wasn’t enough storage capacity, so I had to wait an entire month to get more space before I could continue transferring my curriculum from paper to PDFs. It was making me doubt my decision to leave my old binder system.

It wasn’t like Evernote was the only curriculum management system I’ve been using since school began. I’ve tried Learn BoostBetter Lesson and InstaGrok. Heck I even gave Pinterest a shot! I will be the first to admit that unlike the first three champion programs listed, Pinterest was completely void of substantive features. So why was it that I wished the other programs were more like it? I found my answer in in last week’s New York Time’s Magazine cover story written by Charles Duhigg. And no, its not because I’m pregnant.

While this article was primarily focused on how corporations use shoppers’ data to target consumers, it contained a paragraph that made me realize what it was that I was looking for in a curriculum management program and why it mattered so much.

Duhigg’s description of habits made me confident knowing I wasn’t destined to drive around a trunk full of binders for the rest of my life. According to Duhigg, “[h]abits aren’t destiny — they can be ignored, changed or replaced.” A teacher can escape the fate of driving around with a trunk full of binders for the rest of my life.  Eager educators should be cautioned that the author also acknowledges the difficulty of resisting old habits. “Unless you deliberately fight a habit — unless you find new cues and rewards — the old pattern will unfold automatically.” So, unless we find the new experience of lesson planning more rewarding than the old one, we may want to start thinking about investing in a trailer hitch.

Further explanation of my struggle to transfer my curriculum creation and organization to a digital medium was found in Duhigg’s concise explanation of habit formation. “The process within our brains that creates habits is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use.” For me, this is every Sunday night, when my anxiety level peaks and prevents me from avoiding the reality that the coming week’s lesson plans are due in less than 12 hours. “Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional.” Lesson planning is obviously a mental routine, and anyone who read the sentence about my anxiety can figure its probably an emotional one as well, but for those who are not educators let me tell you that pulling all-nighters once a week 36 weeks a year-as I did my first year teaching-is excruciatingly physical.

“Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.” Putting the all nighters, overwhelming anxiety, and mental strain aside, what I remember most about lesson planning is that clean white binder in which each item is carefully selected, organized, articulated, in a standards based, objective driven lesson plan-complete with daily agendas, objectives and assessments. For those who read last Sunday’s article, flipping through the pages of that binder, and placing it neatly in my LLBean tote is my “Febreze moment”. It is the reward I enjoy at the end of an established lesson planning routine. “Over time, this loop — cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward — becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become neurologically intertwined until a sense of craving emerges.” So its not that I crave the binders. Nor is it that the programs that I used were unable to fulfill the needs of my established lesson planning routine. The problem lay in the fact that creating curriculum online was not providing a reward equal to that I experienced when I used Pinterest or my old binder system.

So what was it that I was looking for in these programs? It wasn’t a specific feature, it was a feeling of reward. The reason I liked Pinterest more than those other programs is that it gave me a huge reward for gathering the materials I would use in my lesson. I was able to instantly see when others repined my  resources and what they grouped them with. Not only that, having all of my materials gathered in one place gave me a calming perspective and let me to recognize and admire the work I had accomplished as I began organizing each of the materials that I had gathered. Unfortunately Pinterest is all looks, and does not, I repeat DOES NOT, provide a platform suitable for anything more than the most superficial lesson planning. So what was a teacher to do? Where would I find a program that would support a digitally enhanced curriculum and provide the reward I was seeking? Turns out, I’d already found the alpha I was looking for all along. Check out Review of Teacher Approved Technology of Class Connect to learn more about this rewarding program.

 

 

Dear Innovative Educator Network,

February 21, 2012

betaclassroom

Dear Innovative Educators,

I am excited to announce that the initial vision of beta classroom is getting bigger and better! Our name is changing but our mission stays the same as we build off of the lessons learned in Beta Classroom and launch a new venture, called edUpgrade.

No longer the mission of a single teacher, I’ve got two soul-driven co-directors and as a team we’ve got the collective expertise and excitement to maintain the mission and do even more to conntect innovators, support teacher insights, and make technology access more equitable. edUpgrade wants to provide every teacher with the platform to create and manage their own “beta classroom” and become part of a bigger collective movement to put great innovators-the people-not just the institutions-at the center of the ed. tech. conversation.

As a member of Team Beta Classroom, you are among the first to hear the news, and I hope you’ll be among the first to become founding members of the new edUpgrade Teacher Innovation Network. As a member of edUpgrade you’ll get access to the latest educational technologies (for free!), and the chance to share your thoughts and insights with developers and other teachers.Today, I am calling out every rock star educator, punk technologist and friend of our revolution to join edUpgrade and continue our adventure to disrupt the way ed. tech. is created and adopted.

I’ll look forward to seeing you there!

Sincerely,

Jennie Dougherty

edUpgrade’s Director of Teacher Innovation

| English Techer | @BetaClassroom

Dear Karen Cator,

February 14, 2012

betaclassroom

I love everything about Digital Promise’s mission “to harness the increasing capacity of advanced information and digital technologies to improve all levels of learning and education.” I was immediately drawn to its formation of a League of Innovative Schools to drive innovation in America’s classrooms. When Digital Promise was first launched, I took the opportunity to post an idea to the League’s idea board in order to express my passion for beta classroom’s “league of innovative teachers”. This idea made it to number 3 on the list, but I never heard back from anyone at the organization and assumed that it had no takers. Just this morning, I had the pleasure of receiving the first edition of Edsurge-Instruct from the awesome team at Edsurge. I was overjoyed to read that you, Ms. Cator, the Director of the Office of Educational Technology were currently at the chalkboard drafting out what such a League might be about. In case you missed my post four months ago, I’ve republished it below and hope you will rely on myself and the rest of the rock star teachers in our network to help you create such an extraordinary opportunity.

Sincerely,

Jennie Dougherty

edUpgrade’s Director of Teacher Innovation

English Teacher, Brockton High School, Brockton MA.

Captain of Team Beta Classroom

Beta Classroom 2.0 = edUpgrade

February 4, 2012

betaclassroom

Calling All Rock Star Educators, Punk Technologists and Friends of our Revolution…

Beta Classroom is the blog of a teacher (me!) who went on a mission to get technology for my classroom, which is situated in one of the largest urban high schools East of the Mississippi. My mission led me to established relationships with programers and CEO’s who are currently developing the latest educational technologies.

I gave them free feedback and they gave me, and eventually a whole team of teachers from across the nation, access to the technology of tomorrow. Our feedback shaped the development of these innovations to meet the needs of our classrooms. These connections provided our students-many of whom are taught in technology deserts-the opportunity to be the first to try cutting edge programs and to have a voice in shaping future development.

From these relationships, I also gained mentors who provided me with angel-like protection and guidance as I continued to discover the value and potential of connecting innovative educators and entrepreneurs. I am honored and humbled by the extraordinary individuals who have supported me in this endeavor.

Today, I am excited to announce that I’ll be making the initial vision even bigger and better with the launch of a new venture, called edUPGRADE, that will build off of the lessons learned in Beta Classroom. In order to do this, I’ll be joined by two soul-driven co-directors. As a team we’ve got the collective expertise and excitement to continue this awesome journey.

At edUPGRADE, we will be getting feedback from our users– teachers and developers–seeing what works, trying new things, and tweaking our model as we go. Right now, our activities are pretty instrumental– connecting teachers to tools, providing feedback to developers– but we see all of this as the means to our even bigger vision where visionary, innovative educators and technologists can come together to  disrupt the way ed tech is created and adopted.

No longer the mission of a single teacher, edUPGRADE will provide every teacher with the platform to create and manage their own “beta classroom” and be part of a bigger collective movement to put great innovators– the people, not just the institutions– at the center of the ed tech conversation.

I am calling out every rock star educator, punk technologist and friend of our revolution to join edUPGRADE and continue our adventure to  disrupt the way ed tech is created and adopted. I’ll look forward to seeing you there!

Calling All Rock Star Educators, Punk Technologists and Friends of our Revolution…

February 4, 2012

betaclassroom

Calling All Rock Star Educators, Punk Technologists and Friends of our Revolution…

Beta Classroom is the blog of a teacher (me!) who went on a mission to get technology for my classroom, which is situated in one of the largest urban high schools East of the Mississippi. My mission led me to established relationships with programers and CEO’s who are currently developing the latest educational technologies.

I gave them free feedback and they gave me, and eventually a whole team of teachers from across the nation, access to the technology of tomorrow. Our feedback shaped the development of these innovations to meet the needs of our classrooms. These connections provided our students-many of whom are taught in technology deserts-the opportunity to be the first to try cutting edge programs and to have a voice in shaping future development.

From these relationships, I also gained mentors who provided me with angel-like protection and guidance as I continued to discover the value and potential of connecting innovative educators and entrepreneurs. I am honored and humbled by the extraordinary individuals who have supported me in this endeavor.

Today, I am excited to announce that I’ll be making the initial vision even bigger and better with the launch of a new venture, called edUPGRADE, that will build off of the lessons learned in Beta Classroom. In order to do this, I’ll be joined by two soul-driven co-directors. As a team we’ve got the collective expertise and excitement to continue this awesome journey.

At edUPGRADE, we will be getting feedback from our users– teachers and developers–seeing what works, trying new things, and tweaking our model as we go. Right now, our activities are pretty instrumental– connecting teachers to tools, providing feedback to developers– but we see all of this as the means to our even bigger vision where visionary, innovative educators and technologists can come together to  disrupt the way ed tech is created and adopted.

No longer the mission of a single teacher, edUPGRADE will provide every teacher with the platform to create and manage their own “beta classroom” and be part of a bigger collective movement to put great innovators– the people, not just the institutions– at the center of the ed tech conversation.

I am calling out every rock star educator, punk technologist and friend of our revolution to join edUPGRADE and continue our adventure to  disrupt the way ed tech is created and adopted. I’ll look forward to seeing you there!

Teacher On A Mission

December 22, 2011

betaclassroom

My name is Jennie Dougherty. I am a teacher at one of the largest urban high schools East of the Mississippi. Everyday I work within the inequitable opportunities given to students from districts with limited resources. Last summer I went on a mission to give my students access to awesome technology. I created partnerships between my classroom and ed. tech. entrepreneurs who were looking for opportunities to test their designs and programs. Our collaboration gave my students access to technology with the potential to empower their education and future. After talking with other teachers, I realized I would be selfish to keep this opportunity for myself and my students.

What began as a single teacher and a beta classroom blog, grew into a network of 150+ innovative educators from around the United States. While we are from all over the K -12 spectrum, we are united in our joy of beta testing ed. tech. and giving our students the opportunity to be the first to try out and use new programs.

On Feb. 15th, Beta Classroom will relaunch as the incorporated nonprofit edUpgrade. While the name is changing, the mission stays the same.  The edUpgrade co-founders are dedicated to supporting the work of rock star teachers and the punk ed. tech. entrepreneurs we work with. On the 15th, we will be presenting the national network of innovative educators with a portfolio of betas that have the potential to optimize our practice and our students outcomes. In exchange for free access to beta innovations, these classroom rock stars will be providing the highest quality feedback-telling what we love; what we dream it could be.

We ask each beta to be in our portfolio because we think it is awesome and has the potential to positively transform our classrooms. As such, these betas have the greatest potential to benefit from the powerful feedback that comes from classroom facing teachers who are hungry for the chance to shape the technology of tomorrow.

We are looking for classroom agents of change, tech. visionary, or friend of this revolution to support our mission.

Earlier this summer, I worked with 3 extraordinary entrepreneurs to collaboratively co-author a response to Edsurge’s beta bill of rights. What we came up with was a best practices for educator and entrepreneur collaboration. With these principals in mind I continued my mission this fall and quickly learned several important lessons.

LESSON 1: “Ms. D., B.Y.O.D.?! DO YOU WANT ME TO GET JUMPED?”
It would have to reward teachers with the opportunity to earn devices that are inequitably distributed among this nation’s classrooms. This lesson came from one of my students and is therefore the most important of all. I went into this academic year psyched to get the B.Y.O.D. message to my students. 20 minutes into my first day of class, a student raised her hand and asked, “Ms. taking out your smart phone can get you jumped. I don’t care if other students see me take out my smart phone, but I know some of my friends would be worried that taking out their phone would make them a target.” Time stops and I feel my face flush with shame at not being able to predict the infinite ways that inequality saturates every pore of my classroom. As a teacher, my first priority is to keep my students safe. 20 minutes into the school year and I had received my first major set back. I tell my students that resiliency is a 21st century skill, and feel my determination calcify as I inform them that I refuse to deprive them of the opportunity to have their education positively transformed by 21st century technology. After a momentary pause, I explain that I will be bringing enough devices for the class to work in small groups and experience the awesome betas I had the privilege of testing over the summer. The next day, and every day since then, I have brought a laptop computer, two ipod touch devices, a smart phone and an ipad with me to school each day. Moreover, I’ve become resolute in my commitment to creating an opportunity for teachers to be classroom agents of change and obtain the devices that they and their students need.

LESSON 2: ALONE, I CAN AFFORD 2 IPADS
I am not satisfied with solving the problem for just my classroom. The fact is that I promised the lead teachers of the network that I would find a way to get them the devices they deserve. These educators are leaders because they have used technology to innovate the classroom and powerfully optimize the education of their students. So I took it upon myself to get the devices, and as a full time public school teacher, living at home, and paying off student loan debt, I learned another important lesson: I can afford 2 ipads. As a full time public school teacher paying off student loan debt, I can afford 2 ipads.

LESSON 3: A LETTER TO THE BIG DOGS
How could I get them the devices? The network of educators testing out these betas realized how profound an impact they could have on the classroom. Yet, many of our students did not have the devices to access these programs and no teacher would ever put a student’s well being as risk no matter what the benefit. So what to do? The network was created to give teachers a voice in shaping the technology of tomorrow as well as providing fledgling entrepreneurs and visionary technologists with the opportunity to get feedback necessary to develop extraordinary programs. I can’t ask these entrepreneurs to buy ipads for classrooms; they don’t have the funding and it would create a conflict of interest and undermine the integrity of our feedback and thereby the strength of teacher’s voices. Last summer, I wrote a letter and even shared it with my students as an example. I titled it “Letter to the Big Dogs”, and sent it to the heads of Gazelle with the hopes of getting one set of devices. While that failed I wasn’t deterred and went through with setting up a page where the money earned from old devices could be donated. This idea has not had the success I hoped it would. Another option that became very clear was to sell reports of these betas to investors. I may be a teacher and without an MBA but I know what evil smells like, and that kind of thing reeks of wrongness. It would be like publishing a wedding announcement with a photo of you from middle school…you know the one before you got your braces taken off, when you thought that nothing was cooler than a baby-t and overalls. While the last of these assumptions was in fact correct, not every decision we make as tweens was equally wise. While this period of growth is a necessary part of self-discovery, a summary of that mistake filled journey does not capture the magnificent person you are and the bright future ahead of you. While I am sure there are hipsters with save the date announcements featuring snapshots from their respective tween years, the other 99% of us get why its not okay to sell information about the highs and lows of a beta’s early development.

LESSON 4: I CAN’T DO THIS ALONE
I couldn’t not do this alone. Even with the League of Friends supporting me as mentors and guardian angels, the mission deserves more than I alone could give. Thankfully I met the individuals with the audacity, energy, and rock star status to join me. Together Beth Rabbitt, a doctoral fellow at Harvard innovation lab, Ben Berte, a co-founder of Socrative, and myself co-founded edUpgrade. During this founding period we addressed each of the lessons learned and sketched a plan of action to ensure the ideas and voices of betas and educators have the chance to work in symbiotic collaboration and produce new and awesome technologies.

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