It's a new year, and in the pursuit of awesomeness we are adding to our Mobile Learning Unit's schedule to create a bigger impact and opportunity for the community. We will continue to support our OPS school buildings like Wakonda and Kennedy Elementary by offering digital citizenship and digital literacy programming for students. The weather is getting nicer and the days are getting longer...we are excited to see our classes again! However, we want to meet families at other locations as well to best meet their needs. Cox Communications has been a supportive partner in this process to expand our wifi and programming coverage.
We would like to introduce the Learning Community Center of North Omaha -- one of our new community partners for the spring! The mission of the Learning Community is "together with school districts and community organizations as partners, we demonstrate, share and implement more effective practices to measurably improve educational outcomes for children and families in poverty." What a positive message that aligns nicely with what we provide on the bus.
To learn more about the Learning Community, check out their website at http://www.learningcommunityds.org/ or follow them on Twitter @LearnComm.
We visited the Learning Community Center of North Omaha for the first time last Saturday. It was great to meet families and students that regularly utilize the Parent University Classes and other abundant resources provided at the location. Our goal was to get a little feedback on the types of classes they would like to see on the MLU. Stay tuned for upcoming programming on digital citizenship, digital literacy, as well as educational student resources.
While we worked with parents on ideas for programming, we had students testing out devices and wifi signals for us! The Learning Community Center offers free childcare for parents who are attending classes. Because we know that students will also be at this location, we can also plan digital literacy activities for them as well!
We look forward to this new partnership and the opportunity to provide digital equity and access to a great community!
We love sharing our Mobile Learning Unit vision with others in the Omaha community, and today we had the pleasure of visiting the 10th annual MOEC Technology Task Force Job-A-Like Collaboration Event hosted at the University of NE at Omaha.
The Metropolitan Omaha Educational Consortium Technology Task Force supports the needs of technology coordinators, facilitators, specialists, technicians, managers, web masters, and other technical support personnel. The Job-A-Like event provides participants an opportunity to solve problems, encourage on-going collaboration, identify solutions, and build networks of support.
Our Mobile Learning Unit was one space that participants had the chance to tour, along with the Creation Lab in the UNO Criss Library. A representative was also present from Metro Community College and discussed their STEM Trailer and Center for Advanced and Emerging Technology (CAET) Building on the MCC Omaha Fort Campus. What a great variety of unique spaces designed to meet the needs of today's diverse learners and emerging technologies. We are #OPSProud to be a part of it!
We ran in to a couple bad weather days over the last month, which forced us to keep Blue Bird parked outside while we took our programming inside. Luckily, we have some great partnerships and friends that step up to provide students and their families the much needed digital citizenship and digital literacy experiences they deserve. Here are a couple great events from the past few weeks:
SnapChat 101: Digital Citizenship
PTO meetings provide us with opportunities to work with groups of parents around topics they care about. The Wakonda Elementary PTO requested a "Snapchat 101" session to learn more about this social media tool and how to keep their students safe when using it. Keegan Korf, OPS Digital Citizenship Lead Teacher with Common Sense Media, provided an awesome overview of the tool, including how to use filters, stickers, add text, and even start an infamous "streak" with your friends! After many laughs, the conversation took a serious turn as parents and teachers discussed the Maps feature as well as SnapCash- two settings better left turned off! Keegan does a remarkable job of advocating for parents to model responsible use of social media for their students. She encouraged them to "be a silent follower" and learn right alongside their kids.
Math Night: digital literacy
Using technology to solve complex math problems is easy for Amanda Trouba, a Microsoft Specialist that brought a Hot Wheels track to a community Math Night event. I barely remember calculating speeds and velocity back in school, but these students had unforgettable experiences as Amanda led them through making predictions, inputting data, and calculating results. Students and parents learned how weight affected velocity and speed, as well as received some highly-rated math resources from Common Sense Media's Top Picks Lists. The winner of the night went to this young lady who guessed which car would travel the farthest...and man was she happy at the results! What a great example of how technology can help engage students in their learning. I wish every student was this excited about math!
Halloween happened to fall on one of our regularly scheduled Mobile Learning Unit visits this year. What a great opportunity to introduce the Microsoft HoloLens to students and staff! Microsoft describes their HoloLens as "the first self-contained, holographic computer, enabling you to engage with your digital content and interact with holograms in the world around you." Using various apps, users can experience an augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR). To learn more about the HoloLens, check out their website here. We are fortunate to have access to TWO of these awesome devices through our partnership with Microsoft.
Mixed reality is a form of augmented reality that is somewhere between VR and AR. This is where I would place our experiences with the HoloLens thus far. Mixed reality augments the real world with virtual objects that aim to look as if they are really placed within that world. Mixed reality brings people, places, and objects from the physical and digital worlds together. This blended environment becomes a "canvas" for each user to create and enjoy a wide range of experiences.
In keeping with the Halloween theme, we used an app called Action Grams to place themed holographic objects throughout the Mobile Learning Unit. Everything from pumpkins, to laughing ghosts, a chattering skull, and various blinking eyes lined the counter tops and carpet. Welcome to the Haunted Bus! There are some awesome zombies to use as well, but we kept it pretty tame as to not scare the little ones. When students entered the bus, we talked about virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality. Students couldn't see anything else in the bus until they put the headset on, and we worked on using our fingers to manipulate the holograms in real time!
One of the best "Ah-Ha" moments happened when a second grader started to ask how the holograms were made. "Ms. Chambers, how do I make one of these?" he inquired. I asked him what he wanted to make, and after much thought he settled on a red dragon that would breathe fire. I guided him through locating the main menu in the app (It was hovering right behind the driver's seat on the bus) and let him click around a bit to see what he could discover. The closest he could find to his vision was a blue dragon. "Well, then try to make it red!" I challenged him. And this 7-year-old did just that. Within 10 minutes, he had figured out how to turn the dragon red and make it breathe fire. He was so proud of his creation.
I was proud of his work as well! Our goal as educators when it comes to integrating technology is for our students to move past experiences and merely consuming content. We want our students to understand the power of creating their own content- whether that is writing blog posts about events happening in the community, to solving complex problems with someone in another part of the world, or even just making a red dragon that will breathe fire when you tell it to. When students are empowered to create, amazing things can happen. This second grader now already knows that he can make something that doesn't exist in real life...I wonder what he will create next? We need this out-of-the-box thinking to happen more often in our students' education so they are prepared to meet the challenges of the future. It makes me super #OPSProud to be a part of it!
Our OPS Mobile Learning Unit just finished up her first two weeks of programming with students and parents. Yes, it's a "her." The model name "Blue Bird" is spelled out right on the front of the bus, so our students decided it had to be her name. I think we have a couple kids working on a mascot design as well. What great ownership already!
During these first couple weeks of programming, Blue Bird made it to Kennedy Elementary and Wakonda Elementary a couple times each week. We were able to work with the after-school directors to plan for multiple rotations of student groups to experience it for the first time. (Shout-out to Mr. Q and Mr. Raymone- you guys are great to work with!) We had some great visitors on the bus as well- check out our #OPSDrivesChange hashtag on Twitter and Rob Dickson's Blog to learn more!
We had a couple specific topics to focus on with students, varying a bit with grade level. Like any other classroom teacher, we had to introduce ourselves and go over rules and expectations together. Students brainstormed ideas on our whiteboard walls about staying safe on the bus, as well as staying safe online. Some comments that came up in multiple groups were: "No food or drink on the bus," "No running or jumping in the bus," "Don't give away personal information online," and of course "Don't bring your pets on the bus." Ha! This was really a formative assessment technique for myself to get an idea of what students already knew about digital citizenship.
Our K-2 grades took a "virtual field trip" to the San Diego Zoo on the bus. We watched a video from Common Sense Education's digital citizenship curriculum about going places safely online and in real life. It's never too early to begin making connections between the real world and online world for students- they are growing up as digital natives in our schools, and as these two worlds quickly become one in the same for them, it is important to have conversations about what that should look like.
Our 3-5 grades discussed staying safe online as well, just in a little more detail. I wanted to get some feedback from this older group regarding future programming on the Mobile Learning Unit. As we begin to plan for more in-depth digital literacy sessions, I wanted to know what their interests were and what they were most excited about. I gave students a few choices to pick from in a Microsoft Form, and a space to add in their own thoughts and questions.
We had the great opportunity to work with Wakonda's PTO this past week. Keegan Korf, our OPS Lead Teacher of Digital Citizenship, led parents through the registration process on the Common Sense Media website and directed them to the family resources, including reviews and ratings, device-free dinner information, as well as a whole Latino section. It is wonderful to have her knowledge and expertise in the area of digital citizenship to answer parent questions, provide resources, and plan future parent activities. As we move into National Digital Citizenship Week (October 16-20th), we are planning on utilizing the Common Sense Education resources to celebrate and spread awareness.
We visited Wakonda Elementary's Open House on September 14th as our first "official" event. Our goals going into the evening were two-fold:
(1) To test out basic logistics, like connecting devices to a network, finding the best place to park at the school, and determining the best flow of traffic through the Mobile Learning Unit. (Shout-out to Greg from OPS Transportation Services for building us some awesome stairs!) and (2) To have as many families as possible experience the Mobile Learning Unit and give us some feedback on programming opportunities.
What a great night! The Mobile Learning Unit was one of multiple activities happening at Wakonda that evening. We kept it pretty simple as far as programming went- basic tours, talking about the purpose, Common Sense Media handouts, and an opportunity to provide feedback. It was busy, but a couple of us remembered to snap a few pictures to document the experience.
Our programming for the Mobile Learning Unit has been designed around Digital Literacy and Digital Citizenship skills for students as well as adults. While our main focus is to provide the North Omaha community with these skills, we also realize that the community needs a voice in programming options. We don't want to do this FOR the community, we want to do it with WITH the community. So we are asking for feedback. During PTO meetings, after-school programs, as well as open houses, we are asking parents and family members what they would like to see happen on their Mobile Learning Unit. We are getting some great ideas!
I think we are most excited about the category "Educational Resources for Your Student." Parents let us know that they really want resources and ways to help their students with homework and practicing skills at home that are being taught in the classroom. What a great opportunity to pull in some classroom teachers to help with programming! This is one of my biggest hopes for the Mobile Learning Unit- that it acts as a catalyst to bring together many groups of people in the community to do what is best for students.
They say there's a first time for everything, and this day was one of those times! The work on the Mobile Learning Unit was completed the first week of September, and as soon as we got word it was good to go, we rushed across state lines to Council Bluffs to pick it up.
Stepping on the MLU for the first time was a surreal moment. As the newbie on the team, I had been a part of so many conversations from afar regarding this project, but had never actually seen it before in person. It was absolutely beautiful. Way cooler than the pictures and sketches I had seen up to this point. I was impressed by how much room there was inside (this is going to be great for students!), and the wrap on the outside looked awesome as well. We spent some time turning on every switch and trying out all the buttons and keys to see what they all did. It was like being a kid again! I immediately started envisioning what programming was going to look like-- here's where the projector will go, I will line the Surfaces up right here, parents will love to sit on this couch area...
Rob Dickson, OPS Executive Director for IMS, had the vision to make this possible to begin with. He drove the MLU back to the TAC Building that day, and I wanted to make sure I got his initial reaction after his first drive.
It's hard to explain how excited I was about the MLU...so I can't begin to imagine how these two felt. Rob Dickson along with Keegan Korf, Lead Teacher of Digital Citizenship for the district, both put in a lot of hard work to make this vision a reality. Two years of planning, meetings, conversations, and articulating the need for something new like this is not easy. It is uncharted territory, and these two did an extraordinary job of leading the way. I so appreciate Rob's vision and ability to think "outside the box" when it comes to serving students and families in our district. Keegan's ability to consistently advocate for what's best for kids and give others a voice makes her a huge asset to the team- I am so lucky to be on this "ride" with her as we provide programming for students and families! I am #OPSProud to work with such great people.
Now the work begins! Our first event is scheduled for September 14th at Wakonda Elementary's Open House. Stay tuned!
Where we've Been
As I began this journey as the Mobile Learning Unit Lead Teacher for the district, I wanted to learn as much about the MLU as I could. As the old cliché goes, you can't know where you are going until you know where you have been. Where did this bus come from? What was it used for? How do we continue to best transform this mobile learning idea to meet the needs of our students today?
I did a little digging and found some great information on our district's Title 1 website. You can find the website and information here. Our "Mobile Learning Laboratories" were originally purchased in the mid 1980's to provide Title 1 (then called Chapter 1) services to nonpublic schools in the area. As you can read from the timeline below, these laboratories evolved over a decade to include technology and the Title 1 program continued to expand across the district.
1986- Mobile Learning Laboratories purchased to serve Chapter I students in nonpublic schools following a U.S. Supreme Court decision which halted the provision of services in classrooms in nonpublic schools.
1993- Fifteen mobile learning laboratories and computer assisted instruction help provide Chapter I services to nonpublic schools.
-The Pre-Kindergarten program is expanded to 22 half-day classes at 14 schools.
-More than 200 members of the Chapter I instructional staff participate in a Summer Seminar, the first event of its kind in OPS history.
-A school-wide program is started at Wakonda Elementary.
1994- New emphasis is placed on helping students build thinking and problem-solving skills and then using them in reading and math. More in-class services are started.
-Approximately 240 Chapter I staff members participate in a two-week, 30-hour Summer Seminar on computer technology.
1995- The Improving America's Schools Act changes Chapter I to Title I. New Title I school-wide activities are started at Miller Park Elementary and Sherman Elementary.
-Title I funds are used to support Family Rooms for the first time.
-A year-long series of six different workshops is developed to support families in helping students find success in learning.
-Technology is incorporated into all Title I programs.
-Services for neglected and delinquent youth are expanded to seven sites.
1997- School-wide activities started at 13 additional schools.
-Parent Resource Center is opened at Spring Lake Elementary with Title I funding.
-The U.S. Supreme court reverses its decision from 1986, saying Title I may provide services in religiously affiliated school.
Mobile learning laboratories, "classrooms on wheels", are no longer needed.
Where we're going
The website noted that in 1997 "mobile learning laboratories, "classrooms on wheels", are no longer needed." And they were right. Today, in the year 2017, we don't need classrooms on wheels that provide basic resources to schools, small group lessons to those students who need more practice, or differentiated instruction to meet the needs of all learners. This happens every day in our schools across the city. We are lucky enough now to have all these resources available to our students and teachers in each school building...it's just part of how we do what we do in education. And the law allows for our non-public schools to have access to the same resources as well.
But that doesn't mean there isn't an equity problem anymore. That doesn't mean we don't have schools and communities that can't provide the same level of education and access that others can. It just looks different in the year 2017. In today's schools, this looks like the digital divide- the disparity between those who have access to computers and the Internet, and those who do not. Even as technology has become more affordable and internet access seems to be everywhere, a digital divide remains between segments of our population. The rich and educated are still more likely than others to have good access to digital resources. The digital divide has especially far-reaching consequences when it comes to education. For children in low-income neighborhoods and schools, insufficient access to technology can hinder them from learning skills that are crucial to succeed in today’s 21st century work force. The conversation has also shifted to include the digital use divide. Not only do we need high-speed internet access and devices for our students, but we also need quality education and programming around these tools. What students DO with the access is just as important as having access to begin with. This means providing opportunities for students to actively use technology to create, communicate, collaborate, and critically think through real-world problems versus just passively consuming information.
And that's where we are going. The goal: to use a whole-community approach to bring high-technology learning and digital citizenship skills to students and their families. We want more than merely high-quality access and devices for our students - we want to build the knowledge and skills necessary to address the complex community challenges in today’s digital age. Every Student. Every Day. Prepared for Success. We can't wait to share with ride with you!
Rebecca Chambers serves as an Instructional Technology Coach for the Omaha Public Schools by supporting the district’s Turnaround buildings in their instructional technology initiatives, including the first Mobile Learning Unit which serves the North Omaha community.