Sunday, August 26, 2018

Island Life

Tropical Paradise
I want to talk about island life for a moment and full disclosure, I have never lived on a remote island, so no offense to those who have. Living on a remote tropical island really sounds good though, at least for a short amount of time, but long-term, being on an island can become isolating. Not interacting with others, sharing, and working alongside peers that challenge you, will keep us from growing as individuals and we can become stale.

Stay Fresh

It is easy to become isolated on internal islands within our own technology departments. With the grind that comes with answering help desk tickets and trying to maintain normal daily responsibilities while pushing ahead with additional projects, communication between our peers becomes increasingly more difficult. If we layer on top of that the rapid pace that technology changes and the amount of content generated on a daily basis, the island starts feeling like a safe place to be. We all know however that isolation will not help us solve the problems in front of us, keep us fresh with new ideas, and increase collaboration amongst our peers to better serve our students and staff. 

PLN Strong
The concept of a professional learning network has been around for quite some time now and still, in my opinion, the most effective way to connect with peers. The power of a PLN is the informal manner that a person can participate, share content as well as consume, and take advantage of a global community. Having a staff that has strong PLN's will benefit our internal technology teams that often struggle with getting out and allows that isolated island feeling to creep in. Although the PLN and PLC terminology is synonymous with teachers and administrators, there is a vast community of technology-related professionals waiting to connect. A few places to connect with other technology-related professionals.
  • Twitter: Search hashtagsie. #itdirector, #networkadministrator, #datasecurity, #programmer
  • LinkedIn
  • COSN: Consortium for School Networking
  • ISTE: International Society for Technology in Education
  • State and local listservs 

Creative Time
I am not sure that creative time is a thing, my point here is that time is the magical piece that there is never enough of. Instead of using the old saying that you will find time for what is important, be creative with time and find different ways to get together other than the traditional meeting. A recent post on Engage, an employee engagement blog, on "7 Fun Ways to Host Team Meetings", points out a variety of simple common sense ways to make meetings not boring. Three of my favorites are mentioned below that I have added some ideas on how to make these easily happen with minimal time involved in preparation. 

  • Use grouping: We know birds of a feather flock together right, so instead of having everyone count off from 1-5 then split up, which is boring, pass out different pieces of candy to everyone when they arrive and find their table of like sugary fun. Substitute anything you would like if candy isn't your thing. 
  • Change the scenery: This one is very self-explanatory and why not meet at the local coffee shop, nothing makes a meeting more enjoyable than sitting in a comfortable chair with an iced coffee. One notable mention here is as the leader, you need to reassure your leadership team that this is OK. Let them know your expectations, traveling an hour across town to a nice speakeasy is probably not what counts as productive for most organizations. 
  • Switch up positioning: This is similar to grouping in moving people out of their comfort zone by not having them sit in the same exact chair every week. Here is where you need to lead by example, the next time you walk into the meeting room, you start it off by sitting in a different spot every time. If we expect others to venture out of their comfort zone, we must lead by example.

Sharing is Caring
I would love to hear what others are doing with their staff for staying fresh, building their PLN's and being creative with time. Leave a comment, tag me on Twitter @jcastelhano, share the great things you are doing!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Soft Skills vs Tech Skills

Dark Cave
One of the most common things I have heard from business owners about high school students is the lack of soft skills they possess. The technical skills are there and they can learn, but it is difficult to teach the soft skills. The issue is not specific to high school students, but in the tech world, that generalization has been there for many years. The dark caves stories that make up an IT shop exists for a reason, many are like that. If you only know that your help desk ticket goes into a secret cyberspace and eventually someone assists without any human contact, is a giveaway that your IT department is operating under the dark cave model. This model does not promote soft skill expectation or development.

Tech Savvy?
Make no mistake, hard or technical skills are necessary to keep any environment running smoothly for the end users. Problem-solving, project management, coding, and technical writing are all important hard skills that make this possible. Under good leadership, mentoring, and training, these hard skills can be learned by a motivated person. The question becomes can someone be taught the soft skills necessary to balance and provide the best customer support possible to the end user? In January this year, LinkedIn released the "The Skills Companies Need Most in 2018-And The Courses to Get Them". Top four soft skills include leadership, communication, collaboration and time management. According to LinkedIn, 57 percent of leaders say soft skills are more important than hard skills, makes sense in a customer service focused environment. 

Organizational Chart     
We know the dark cave model does not work in today's world, but what organizational structure best works for an IT department to provide the best end-user support with customer support as the ultimate goal? If we are working to shed the stereotype of the dark cave, then our IT team needs to be visible and accessible to the end users. So where do we start with setting the customer service expectations desired?

Job Description
When researching job descriptions recently for technicians that are in the field with our end users I noticed that technical skills are still the priority. It was not until I searched for "customer care representative" that I found the soft skills listed on job descriptions that are needed for any technology department to be successful. If we are going to set an expectation that relationships are the number one priority for our teams, then soft skills should be on the top of any application.
  • Positive attitude
  • Build and maintain positive relationships with students, staff, and stakeholders
  • Go the extra mile to engage end users
  • Greet customers warmly 
  • Customer orientation and ability to adapt/respond to different types of users
  • Resolve end-user issues via an in-person visit, phone, help desk, or email, based on the individual needs of the user
Get Out
It is not a new concept that creating an environment that places end-user support at sites, allows access and relationships to develop between end users and technical services support. Knowing that shoulder to shoulder support is nearby is comforting for those that still feel they are not good with technology and at the same time gives the early adopters a place to bounce ideas and be innovative knowing someone has their back when needed.

Soft skills and relationships are not an option, they are key to a successful customer care environment. Take the time and step out of the dark cave and look around, you may find it is a great place to be!     

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Computer Science For AZ?

It's Been Awhile
I have to say that this has been the longest absence of blog posts that I have had since I began blogging in 2010. I am currently in my second year at Gilbert Public Schools and my last post was the same month I began my new position, so I have been a bit busy making the transition. However, no more excuses, it is time to get back to sharing, collaborating, and growing on the Interweb.

CS for All
If you have been following Computer Science (CS) for the last couple of years, you are most likely familiar with the various CS initiatives at the federal and state levels. President Obama brought attention on the federal level when he addressed the need for better CS education in his 2016 State of Union Address and followed with his initiative calling for $4 billion in funding and $100 million to districts for teacher training, materials and partnerships. We all know now that $4 billion was not committed too, however, the attention brought to the topic and movement from smaller initiatives have continued to gain momentum and CS initiatives are growing across the country. The current administration under President Trump, in September 2017, issued a memorandum directing the Department of Education to spend $200 million in grants to supporting STEM programs, including CS. Ivanka Trump, who is an adviser to the President, has also been active in supporting STEM education and more specifically for girls. In September, Ivanka, Hadi Partovi (, and Brad Smith (Microsoft President), visited an elementary school in Virginia to discuss women in STEM fields, Hour of Code, and support for CS in schools with students. This type of awareness and support will need to continue from multiple levels to move CS for all and STEM related education in the right direction.

Why CS
I often hear the question, why is CS important for our students, not all students are going to become coders. True, not all students will be interested in coding, but CS is more than coding and the computational thinking process applies to more than CS. Computational thinking is about the process of solving a problem and potentially using technology for the outcome. The process involves collecting and processing data, looking for patterns, creating the steps to solve the problem and testing the solution for accuracy and efficiency. These are skills that all students can use in a variety of disciplines.

If we take a look at the data around open computer science jobs in the United States, from an economic and innovative perspective, we are in danger of falling behind the curve. According to the Conference Board's Help Wanted Online service, there are around 500,000 CS openings across multiple industries and states. With CS career opportunities being the second highest paid starting salaries according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, where is the disconnect?

The State of CS is a non-profit organization that has been a leader in the vision that every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science. The Hour of Code was launched by in 2013 and today millions of students in over 180 countries participate in the event during Computer Science Education Week yearly. also tracks CS policy and implementation across the United States which provides valuable information in a central location for stakeholder access. A deeper dive into the statistics reveals that only 10 states have currently adopted CS standards and in 34 states CS can count towards high school graduation math or science requirements. If we take a look at the current job openings and percentage of graduates in STEM fields with computer science, we will have a lack of workforce to meet the demand and this affects innovation in our country.

CS for AZ
Arizona is seeing momentum towards CS for all in the K-12 school setting and for good reason. There are currently 9,677 open computing jobs in AZ and with only 546 computer science graduates in 2015, the numbers speak for themselves. Of all AZ schools in 2015-16, only 10% offered AP computer science courses and this amounted to the least number of AP tests taken in any other STEM subject area. Of the 438 AP tests that were taken by students, only 23% were female and 68 were underrepresented minorities. Not only are these two demographics underrepresented, but we are missing their perspective, which is something we need to change.

CS for AZ, a non-profit organization, is working with a large group of stakeholders to bring CS to all students in AZ. The organization has brought together a diverse group of educators, AZ government, business leaders, college-level educators and students, working together to provide information and support for CS standards in the state. The positive movement towards their goal can be seen, the Arizona Department of Education has recently opened the call to collect public feedback that will help guide the development of K-12 Computer Science Standards. The working groups that will be formed to develop these standards will represent K-12 educators, higher education, parents, and industry representatives in a collaborative process to ensure the standards represent a diverse population.

If we want to provide a relevant education for our students we should be supporting them with the skills and exposure necessary to be able to leave the K-12 setting prepared to pursue whatever path they choose. Computer Science skills are not limited to coding but can be used to reinforce such areas as problem-solving, data collection, testing, and analysis, in engaging ways that can apply to a variety of disciplines. Working together we can provide the opportunities for our students to have the skills to solve today's problems and tomorrow's challenges, in whatever capacity they choose.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The State of Digital Citizenship

The Big Four
Over the years I have worked hard at providing a reliable environment to support K-12 staff and students in a relevant and meaningful learning community. A simple rule of thumb that I have done my best to follow is focusing on what I have called, "the Big Three". The Big Three is made up of three categories: infrastructure, devices, and professional development. As the years have passed and mobile devices have found their way into the hands of all staff and students, the Big Three is no longer enough, enter the new “big” on the block, digital citizenship.
Digital citizenship is not new, but in many cases it has not been part of the foundation when creating technology plans, nor has it been part of the conversation at administrative team meetings. However, we can no longer ignore that the number of student devices in the classroom is on the rise. By the 2016-17 school year, half of all school districts in the US will be 1:1 with mobile devices, according to Futuresource Consulting. This fact, combined with the decreased cost of mobile devices, means that digital citizenship must be taught and addressed.
Where Are We?
In the state of AZ, Jeff Billings, technology director at the Paradise Valley School District, has generated a bit of buzz around digital citizenship. Billings has created the Arizona Digital Citizenship Statewide Data Collection Project and hopes to have all students in the state represented when the project is complete. He has already collected data from over 250,000 students; the plan is to begin sharing the data next fall after the results have been disaggregated. The goal is to have a reliable source of information on digital citizenship across the state and promote further discussion and collaboration.

The picture painted by some of the early data shows that the local education agencies are at various places with respect to a shared vision of digital citizenship implementation in the classroom. It appears that a shared vision within districts is not the norm, which should prompt concern among all stakeholders. The way in which respondents prioritized the eight elements of digital citizenship is also notable. To be consistent in the delivery of digital citizenship, is any element more or less important than the other?
This project holds promise for bringing together districts from across Arizona and providing talking points that could lead to positive collaboration and common language among educators. We should applaud the effort and look forward to the data.

Moving Forward
It is becoming clearer everyday that digital learning is on the rise, even if our schools do not provide these opportunities. The 2014 SpeakUp Survey showed that 75 percent of students think every student should have access to a mobile device during the school day to support learning. Many of them have taken matters into their own hands, as 58 percent already use their own smartphones in class and perform such tasks as taking photos of assignments and textbook pages.
So where do we start with such an overwhelming responsibility that affects our classrooms and the teachers that ultimately set the example for our students? A quick Web search will return numerous sites with digital citizenship resources. Common Sense Media is a popular choice and offers scope and sequence materials that are age appropriate for the classroom and a certification program for educators and schools. It takes much more effort, however, to find actual programs that exist in schools-examples of digital citizenship embedded in those teachable moments that are so relevant to our students. We need to shared successful programs and hold them up as models for others to see (#digitalcitizenship).      

A Partnership
Digital citizenship is no different from good citizenship in general-the only distinction is the medium where that community exists. If we expect our students to be responsible members of the digital community, we have to collaborate with all stakeholders to create successful learning opportunities, encourage parental support, lead by example, and include our students in that discussion. Technology is no longer a once-a-week event or a trip to the computer lab; it is embedded in our classroom and personal environments. It will take more than the librarian or tech teacher to instill the values of digital citizenship into the lives of our students and make good digital citizenship part of the Big Four.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The ISTE Blues

Data Overload
Like most of us returning from ISTE, you are probably experiencing the emotional roller coaster ride that accompanies the flight or drive home. The data overload from the content filled sessions, keynotes, poster and playground spaces, and endless conversations can be overwhelming. It is possible to keep the "ISTE's Over Blues" from setting in, but do not put it off for later, jump into your content while it's fresh and take charge! 

From the Middle
It doesn't matter what your role is in your organization, you have just spent four days gathering content that you need to share. Take the lead from the middle approach and decide how you can share what you have learned with your peers, administration, technology staff and any others that could benefit from what you have learned. This could also be an opportunity to use a new medium to share information with a presentation platform, blog site, or creative new app that you experienced at the conference. With the pace at which new technologies and classroom practices evolve, technology, curriculum, and professional development teams will appreciate the benefit of the information you provide. 

Stay in Touch
I have said a number of times that the best place to make connections at ISTE is standing in line waiting to purchase that delightful ice coffee or refreshing bottle of water. I do suggest we change the phrase "standing in line" to the "PLN line", because we ultimately exchange email addresses, Twitter and Instagram handles and district names for future collaboration, with educators from around the globe. Now that you have these new contacts, don't hesitate to reach out and continue the conversations and sharing of ideas that you started while waiting in that PLN line.
The power of social media can assist, so take advantage of the new account you just created in those power sessions and use the #ISTE2016 hashtag to share with your new friends. 

Bring ISTE Home
Coming together with 15,000 like minded educators is something magical that ISTE has
managed to create for many years. What many ISTE members may not be aware of is the ISTE affiliate groups that exist in virtually every state in our country, as wells as international affiliates in Australia, Canada, Europe, India, The Philippines, and the United Kingdom. These affiliate groups are all a bit different and have a variety of benefits and professional development opportunities that happen year around. Joining a local affiliate is another way to continue to grow your PLN, attend events in your state and become involved with advocacy movements that can directly affect your classrooms and students. To find an affiliate in your area, check out the affiliate directory and continue making connections!

Small World
CC BY-SA 3.0
Staying relevant in a world continually growing smaller is not an easy task and each new generation of students brings a fresh mindset that as educators we must be able to connect with. Attending events like ISTE, connecting with others through social media, and remaining outside of the four walls of our classrooms, cubicles and offices, will allow us to continue growing and remain the most important part of the classroom. See you in San Antonio! 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Big Four

CC0 1.0
Mix IT Up
There was a time when I would focus my discussions with others on how important infrastructure is when planning any type of technology integration project. My opinion on the importance of infrastructure has not changed over the years, however the conversation about the other ingredients that must go into the foundation for integrating technology in our classrooms are not independent of the infrastructure. As relevant as it is to have a robust network backbone and a great Internet connection, that by itself will not give our students the opportunities they need to be successful when they leave the K-12 environment.

Creating the right mix that goes into the foundation for integrating technology in our classrooms is similar to the science of creating the perfect batch of concrete that supports our houses, buildings and roads. The science used to arrive at the finished product is far more complicated than buying a few bags of concrete at your local Home Depot for the backyard swing set. Building a foundation for today's digital learners is as important as the base for the tallest skyscraper, and requires the proper mix of four key ingredients that I believe are critical for our classrooms. Let's take a look at the ingredients in no particular order.

Professional Development
Historically PD is the afterthought when integrating technology in our classrooms and becomes the first reason cited for technology integration failure. The excitement of having support to integrate the devices often allows a structured PD plan to be pushed aside, making it difficult to play catch up. If our foundation is going to hold up, we need our technology and curriculum departments working collaboratively with our site leaders, teachers, students, and parents to craft a PD plan. One way to accomplish a baseline for building a plan across all stakeholder groups is to leverage data. Participating in a survey, such as Project Tomorrow's Speakup Survey, allows educators, students, and parents to have feedback on their current and future technology use in education. The data provides starting points for discussions during the PD planning process and gives voice to all stakeholders involved. 

Digital Citizenship Digital citizenship is not different from the general definition of citizenship other than the medium where that community exists. If we expect our students to be responsible members of the digital community, then we have to collaborate with all stakeholders to create successful learning opportunities, have parental support, lead by example, and include our students in that discussion. A digital citizenship road map is a key ingredient to our foundation and one that will lead to many cracks if ignored. Having the proper resources and embedding digital citizenship within the everyday curriculum will allow teachable moments while not adding another layer and demonstrating real world application. Develop or adopt digital citizenship standards or elements that can be made visible throughout your school district and community. Providing a common digital citizenship language for all students, educators, and parents will help in changing the culture and support behavior in the digital world.

The million dollar question has long been, which device is the best choice for our classrooms. The simple answer is there is not a "best" choice or one size fits all device that exists, and the reason for that is simple in my opinion. Every classroom, school, and district is a little bit different than the next, the magic is finding the device that works best for you. There are a few ways to gather feedback from stakeholders that may take a bit of time, but will provide valuable feedback before making a commitment.
  1. Try and buy. If you are committed to purchasing devices, there will large amounts of budget spent, why not purchase a small number of devices first and distribute those to teachers, students, and technology staff. It is amazing how fast word spreads among teachers and students when they have a new device that allows them to improve what they are doing in the classroom. 
  2. Student devices. Once a decision is made, allow your teachers to have access to a device prior to them being implemented in the classroom. Our teachers need to know the device before there are 30 of them in their classroom. 
  3. Plan to manage. The technology team needs to understand the devices and be able to craft their plan on how they will manage devices in their network environment. Every device type will have it's own characteristics and the tech team will need to be able to support them in the classroom.
Remember that devices can be the most difficult ingredient in the foundation and cause the biggest cracks if not well thought out. Buy in from all stakeholders is important so that everyone is supportive of the device through its lifespan.

Watching the discussion relating to infrastructure change with the transition from desktops to mobile devices has been exciting. The good old days of deciding where to locate the 5-8 drops per classroom now revolves around supporting a 1:1 environment and wireless connectivity from the front office to the football field. The challenge becomes where to begin when planning your infrastructure needs and how to build for the future. Taking the time to properly plan, it is much easier than chasing connectivity and bandwidth down the road, here are a few things to think about.
  1. Take a field trip. Don't underestimate how much can be learned by visiting other districts, asking questions about their planning process and why they made the decisions that they did. Having prior knoweldge and learning from others before starting your journey is invaluable. 
  2. Schools and Libraries Program (E-rate). The e-rate program was established in 1996 to assist schools and libraries with making their telecommunication needs more affordable. The program has gone through a modernization effort and is focused on assisting schools with obtaining affordable access to high-speed broadband and funding internal connections to support the connectivity. Participating in the program can make a difference in the planning process.
  3. Use the resources available for baseline data. There are national resources available such as Education Superhighway, who's mission is to bring internet access to every public classroom in our country. They have spent time putting together tool kits to help with the infrastructure planning process. Their resources were put together by working with districts from across our country and provide starting points.
  4. Outside assistance. Reaching out and working with experts in the infrastructure field is not a sign of weakness, it's a smart move. Bringing a consultant to the table is not only beneficial for collaborating on designing the appropriate infrastructure but offers large amounts of knowledge transfer throughout the process.
How to Finish
The last stage of pouring concrete is known as finishing and like many aspects of construction is a form of art. A good finisher brings that smooth, consistent look to the end product, that makes the weekend construction warrior so envious of. Finishing can also be considered the last step in tying together the ingredients of a strong foundation. Building an environment for today's digital learners is challenging, strenuous at times, and absolutely rewarding when student and teachers have a great experience integrating technology in the classroom. Remember, it's the ingredients working together that is supporting the foundation of your structure. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Move Over Flair

Probably the most common issue we hear about in life has to do with not having enough time for, and fill in the blank. Often the counter to that statement is we will make time for what is important, which is true to an extent, but doesn't change the fact that in our professional lives we still must prioritize. What has been a struggle for a number of years now from a technology integration perspective, is how we provide solid professional development to our teaching staff that is relevant, timely, and doesn't require the traditional hour before or after school that teachers may not have time for. 

Short Meaningful PD
I like to use the average length of a YouTube video to provoke discussion on just how long someone will stay with you when providing PD. Depending on what day you check, the average length of the top five most popular YouTube videos vary from 2.5 to 4.5 minutes long. When I checked #popularonyoutube when writing this post, the longest video was 5.31 and the shortest was 31 seconds. I would imagine that some may say if the content is good, it doesn't matter how much time it takes to view and to some extent that may be true. However in the hustle and bustle of the K-12 setting, moving at the pace of 140 characters at a time seems to make more sense if we want to reach a larger audience. At AJUSD we have made the conscience effort to change the way we are providing PD to our teaching staff that provides short, meaningful bursts of sharing content while staying as close to the 15 minute window as possible. Bethany Ligon, AJUSD's Technology Integration Specialist, has taken this approach with our collaboration coach tips and tools videos recently and we are monitoring feedback on video length to see what is most effective for our staff. 

Badge Up
Another area that takes time and attention is growing our professional learning networks and sharing what our teachers and administrators are doing on their campus. Social media has obviously been a game changer in this area and blending this with the traditional walking by a classroom and seeing evidence of the great things happening, has led us into the badge game. It is difficult for just one district TIS, to get around to every classroom and see what is happening. With a quick Google Site and Forms, teachers and administrators can apply for a badge, share their artifacts, display their accomplishment, and share with others how they are integrating technology in their classrooms. Bethany summed up nicely what she enjoys most about implementing this program:

The best part for me, is that teachers are able to request training on exactly what they want. It's not a one size fits all professional development setting anymore. But it's me meeting with one teacher or a small team of teachers who want to grow their instructional toolbox in a specific area or with a particular tech tool/app. And because I now have documentation on which teacher is proficient on each tool, I can use them as a resource as needed. 
Another "best part" for me is the teacher's reaction when I walk into their rooms on a Thursday afternoon to hand them their badge. Yesterday, a teacher literally jumped up and down and clapped her hands because she was so excited and then her little first graders started cheering for her. That totally made my day.

Find A Way
Time doesn't have to be a monster that keeps us from growing and sharing on a professional level. If we look around and see what others are doing, share what we are doing, and be willing to try new things, great things will happen. In the words of Ian Malcolm, life finds a way.