Posts Tagged Forsyth County Schools

Opening the Floodgates? Making the Move from Acceptable Use to Responsible Use

(Cross-posted at Bold Visions and BYOT Network and cowritten by Jill Hobson, Director of Instructional Technology and Dr. Tim Clark, Coordinator of Instructional Technology – Forsyth County Schools)

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We’ve written previously on our decision to implement a Responsible Use Procedure rather than an Acceptable Use Procedure. And while we’ve shared some of the philosophical reasons why we believe in the idea of a Responsible Use Procedure, we’ve not spent much time on strategies to make that move successfully.

Grappling with and being ready to break from a long list of things that users shouldn’t do and moving to a shorter (and more memorable) list of responsibilities is both a philosophical and operational shift that takes consensus building. And it might seem like this would be opening the floodgates of disciplinary issues without the necessary “rules” to shore up necessary response. We have found that through consistent communication and ongoing training those things are not happening.

These strategies have been essential to our successful transition.

Engaging the Stakeholders

Is everyone swimming in the same direction? Are you involving members of your Safety, Academics, Student Support, Special Education, Educational Leadership and Technology Services departments? Did you consider all levels of school leaders? Don’t forget to include Media Specialists. By being inclusive and transparent throughout the process, stronger support can be garnered.

Educating Everyone

Don’t drown as people start considering their worst fears. Take a look at the research, blogs and tweets about responsible use. SEDTA’s Broadband Imperative is a helpful white paper as is Grunwald and Associate’s Living and Learning with Mobile Devices. Look at other school systems’ policies on responsible use. A few that were particularly useful in our process were Katy ISD, TX, Canyon School District and Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Separate Regional Division. Check out this post from Katrina Schwartz on MindShift: Teach Kids to Be Their Own Internet Filters. NPR’s All Tech Considered blogged about this issue in “For The Tablet Generation, A Lesson In Digital Citizenship” as well.

Focus on Digital Age Skills

The vision for instructional technology within our district is embedded within the FCS Learner Profile. This profile describes the attributes of students attending and graduating from a Forsyth County school, and digital age skills are reflected within those hallmarks.  When highlighting how the responsible use of technology is an essential digital age skill rippling through each student’s path to success, it is possible to achieve a growing groundswell of support and buy-in throughout the district.

Review Data

What are the statistics on current issues with “appropriate use” in your district or school? What percentage of students is being reported for inappropriate use? Is there a surge of issues or is it a small minority of students (maybe 5 percent or so) and the imagined problems are bigger than the reality. Maybe the “rules” are being written for the 5% of students who may make poor choices rather than the 95% who will usually make appropriate decisions.

Incremental Changes

Are there ways to ease up on filtering (for example, unblocking YouTube for teachers and then later for students) to test the waters? What about allowing students to use devices before and after class as a first step (like in the lunchroom or between classes)?

Technology Rules Shouldn’t Be Separate

In Forsyth we were able to take some of the most important ideas from our Acceptable Use Procedure and have them flow into the Code of Conduct. For instance, we had an AUP rule about not vandalizing computer equipment. So we incorporated that statement into the existing statement about not vandalizing school property. Since we already had a statement in Code of Conduct, we didn’t feel that we should have a separate and different rule for technology.

Provide Learning Resources – For Staff and Students

By providing videos and other resources to educate staff as well as students on the new procedures, we were able to ensure a consistent message throughout our schools.  Whether you develop your own materials or rely on those from places like Common Sense Media, consistency of message is essential.

When we started on our implementation of BYOT about six years ago, we would never have been able to predict that our community would embrace changes to our Appropriate Use Procedure as they have. We’ve gradually seen the rise in the tide of support as we have all been able to understand how much our students need us to model being a responsible digital citizen and learner.


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Spotlight on BYOT Teacher – Jennifer McCutchen

A Note from Tim: Forsyth County Schools in Georgia is in its fifth year of implementing Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT).  The first year was spent on developing the infrastructure, and the last four years have focused on piloting the initiative, developing personal and professional capacity, and eventually spreading the practice of encouraging students to learn with their personal technology tools throughout the district.  I have been so impressed with the dedication of our teachers to transform their classrooms with BYOT!  In this series of posts, I am sharing some of their experiences from different grade levels in their own words.

Guest Post by Jennifer McCutchen (@fcssjmccutchen)
Eighth Grade Teacher – Little Mill Middle School

 My BYOT Transformational Journey

Jennifer McCutchenUsing technology in the classroom was a paradigm shift for me as an educator. I can tell you it was hard to let go of the idea that I needed to somehow take all of my knowledge and transfer it to my students. After quite a bit of self-reflection and the BYOT initiative in our district, I came to understand the true meaning of becoming a facilitator of learning. I shared with a colleague that, as teachers, our job is a lot like a parent teaching our own children to ride a bike. As parents, we know how to ride a bike, but until our own children try it out on their own, they will never learn. It doesn’t start very pretty, there may be bumps and bruises along the way, but very quickly our children ride the bike…and do it well! The same can be said of my own classroom and using technology.

I began my journey by letting go of the fact that I am not going to be an expert on every device that walks into my room. Where I am not the expert, there is a student who is in every class! They love to be the expert and are eager to help each other. I asked students to find apps that they felt like were helpful to them to accomplish tasks that I would normally ask them to simply write and turn in. Students showed my apps such as “Show me” and  “Skitch” where can draw my diagrams from the board, and then use them to make their own about different concepts.  I could see a shift in how students communicate results in the lab. Students create lab write ups with rich discussion posts on WikiSpaces. They were now able to capture video to show chemical reactions. They could use voice overs to explain what happened in their own lab. They began sharing and analyzing student work; applying what they were learning to other situations. They asked such enlightening questions of each other, and made comments that I had never thought of!  They compared data points on graphs, and analyzed why and how their results were alike and different than others. I could see the “light bulb” go off for students regarding human error and the scientific process.

A student summed up BYOT saying, “It used to be that just you (the teacher) saw our work, now everyone sees it. I want mine to be the best.” Peer pressure can be a great motivator, and combining it with technology makes it even greater!

I have learned to leave fear out of my classroom. I have learned to look at technology as a tool that allows students to learn more, do more and become more than they had been. My classroom has become an inviting and exciting place to learn, not just for my students, but for me, too!

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Spotlight on BYOT Teacher – Erin Curry

A Note from Tim: Forsyth County Schools in Georgia is in its fifth year of implementing Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT).  The first year was spent on developing the infrastructure, and the last four years have focused on piloting the initiative, developing personal and professional capacity, and eventually spreading the practice of encouraging students to learn with their personal technology tools throughout the district.  I have been so impressed with the dedication of our teachers to transform their classrooms with BYOT!  Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing some of their experiences from different grade levels in their own words.

Guest Post by Erin Curry @ecurry07
Third Grade Teacher – Chestatee Elementary School

After listening to the information regarding BYOT, my initial thought was that my students were probably not responsible enough to be entrusted with the devices.  I also questioned my own ability to utilize them effectively inerincurry a classroom setting. I was not at all opposed to using technology in the classroom; in fact, my research paper for my master’s degree focused on the potential positive impact of employing technology in an inclusive classroom.  However, the thought of my students bringing in outside devices greatly concerned me. I was worried about the possibility of the devices getting stolen or ruined. Were my students ready for this responsibility? I also worried about my students losing focus on me and becoming distracted by their devices. Lastly, I wondered if I was prepared and equipped to effectively use the devices in my classroom.

Despite my concerns, I decided to dive in and I asked my students’ parents to join me on this unfamiliar journey. I worked with the parents to ease the children into their new responsibility.  When parents felt that their child was ready, they could send a device to school a few days a week with their child to use. It took a while for many of the parents to get on board with this, but once they learned what we were doing with the devices, they slowly became more comfortable with this new approach. By January 2013, 75% of my class was bringing in some type of device to enhance their learning.

When it came to helping my students become familiar with this new technology, I started slowly. I found an app that we could use on my IPAD–the Socrative app–and we practiced using it for about two weeks. Socrative allowed me to do a question/response type assessment with my students.  Once I felt my students were comfortable with this app, I began integrating more apps into our lessons.  They soon learned how to use the devices effectively at center time (reading and math app games), during writing (recording and listening back during editing and for voice dictation for my struggling students), for research, and for small student presentations.

This journey has undoubtedly led to more engaged learning opportunities in my classroom, but more importantly, it has propelled my students to become more responsible learners. Unlike I originally thought, my students’ focus has not strayed, but rather improved. They are more excited about our lessons and the role that they are able to play in their own learning process. I am thankful for this opportunity and I honestly cannot imagine my classroom without BYOT.

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Strategies for Taking Flight with BYOT

(Cross-posted at Bold Visions and BYOT Network and cowritten by Jill Hobson, Director of Instructional Technology – Forsyth County Schools)

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills identified 4 critical areas of learning for students that include creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration.  In Forsyth County Schools, we’ve been working hard with parents, teachers and students to embrace learning with student-owned technologies; something we call Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT).  What we know for sure is that BYOT is really more like Bring Your Own Learning because we’ve discovered that it is NOT about the technology – it IS about the learning.

The video, Above and Beyond, by Peter H. Reynolds and produced for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, is a wonderful illustration of what is possible when students are given the freedom to personalize the learning experience for themselves.

As you watch the video, you might consider the following questions:

  1. What happens when designers of learning recognize that students are always volunteers in learning?
  2. How can designers of learning create a “kit” and still allow students the freedom to produce individualized results?
  3. In a world where we feel pressured to cover everything within a given time frame, how do we schedule innovation and deeper learning?
  4. How do we honor each child’s strengths and still nurture collaboration?
  5. How would the meaning of the story change if Maya and Charlie were to lose the race?

“There are two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots. The other is wings.” ~ Hoddin
Photo Credit—KJH Photography

We have spent a great deal of time watching BYOT unfold its wings in the classrooms around our district.  And we’ve seen so many great strategies that support the 4 C’s of creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. These strategies are ageless and cross all content areas. We teach them in our professional learning sessions and coach teachers to consider these as they begin to incorporate BYOT themselves:

  1. Backchanneling while watching a video:  In this way the teacher is able to foster collaboration and communication by having students answer questions and post observations as the video proceeds.
  2. Take a picture or create an image which demonstrates understanding of a concept: This is a powerful way to encourage creativity as well as critical thinking.  A variation on this strategy is having students annotate on the image using an app on their device.
  3. Arrive at consensus and submit one answer per pair: It’s not necessary for every student to have a device. In fact it’s preferable that students are forced to collaborate on their thinking and agree on the answer that will be submitted via a student response system like Socrative. This strategy enhances critical thinking as well as collaboration.
  4. Sharing tools for learning: There is a magical thing that occurs when BYOT is first introduced in a class.  If a teacher encourages students to share their devices with each other while talking about the ways in which the apps and device can be used to support learning, the great ideas flow and student excitement about learning blossoms.  And meanwhile students are thinking critically, collaborating, communicating and getting creative.
  5. Demonstrating how to do something: We’ve seen some fantastic examples of critical thinking where students are using screen sharing apps to demonstrate how to solve math problems.  We’ve even seen some examples where students have to incorporate a mistake into the problem and show why that mistake is incorrect and how to fix it – requiring some creativity to communicate as well.
  6. Turning a standard into a driving question: When teachers gain some comfort with implementing BYOT and have begun to give up some of the control in the classroom, this strategy works very well.  The teacher will share a particular standard with students and together they will write a question that is compelling, asks “so what” and results in a product that useful and beneficial beyond the classroom.  This strategy definitely addresses all of the 4 C’s in the process!
  7. Finding a new way to show what you know:  Another great strategy to use once students have become comfortable in the BYOT classroom is to ask them to demonstrate their learning in an innovative way.  Students cannot repeat any of the previously used strategies as a way to represent learning.  Students are forced to think critically about ways that they can demonstrate their mastery and to do so creatively.
  8. Building a community bank of ways to show what you know: The teacher has to utilize the ingenuity and critical thinking of the students in the classroom for instructional and technical support.  By suggesting ways to learn with their technology tools, students begin to own their learning.  Teachers can posts these ideas throughout the classroom or online in a wiki, so students can use them as creative resources and communicate with each other for additional expertise.

Implementing the above strategies can strengthen the learning community of the classroom.  The real transformation begins to occur as teachers realize that they can and should learn alongside their students to explore new ways to utilize personal technology.  Not only do students strengthen their digital age skills, but they also feel more connected to each other, their teachers, and their learning.  As shown in Above and Beyond, our students will one day truly take flight, and hopefully their experiences today will successfully pilot them in their different directions.

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Supporting Inquiry with BYOT


Kim Simshauser describes the 4 C’s Cafe

Learning at Liberty Middle School in Forsyth County, Georgia, begins with a focus on inquiry in its newly remodeled media center. Through a combination of school funds and the ingenuity of the instructional technology specialist, Kim Simshauser, the media center has been reimagined into a hub of digital age learning.  In fact, Kim refers to the new space as “The 4C’s Café” in reference to the skills of collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking evident throughout the school.  Students are welcomed into the media center to begin learning before the start of the school day.

inquiry1School personnel and volunteer students act as baristas (much like Starbucks) and serve up hot chocolate, decaffeinated beverages, and instructional advice while students browse the book collection, use their personal technology tools for research, study individually or in groups, or watch the news being streamed over two monitors.  Kim notes that since the changes have been made that the learning environment is being used more than ever by teachers and students, and now the media center is packed with activity from morning until the end of the day.


Principal Connie Stovall explains the iTeam

The classrooms at Liberty Middle School also support inquiry through guiding questions and learning projects that are facilitated by the students’ personal technology tools.  Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) has been implemented school wide.  Students are encouraged to bring their own devices to school, or they may use the school’s technology resources to develop their digital age skills.  Principal Connie Stovall provides a scaffold for this emphasis on inquiry by working with her staff and students to develop an inquiry-based team or iTeam.  The teachers and students in this seventh grade team applied to participate as trailblazers in the school’s inquiry initiative.  They work with each other, their students, and Kim Simshauser to plan lessons that empower the learners. The iTeam students realize that they have a big responsibility to be leaders throughout the school, and their teachers were recently named Team of the Year by the Georgia Middle School Association.  In the 2013-2014 school year, the seventh grade team will loop with their students to eighth grade, and new sixth and seventh grade iTeams will be added.  The eventual goal is to implement inquiry-based teams throughout the school.

inquiry4Teachers and students at Liberty Middle School discover that inquiry can be more easily facilitated when students bring their own technology tools to school.  Guiding questions can lead to in-depth research, and students can explore new ways to show what they have learned about a topic.  These explorations surpass typical standards-based performance tasks and content.  They become authentic representations of real-world problems in context.  One goal of inquiry is to lead to more questions that become even more relevant to students as they become interested and passionate about a subject.

Here are some additional links and resources related to inquiry-based learning:

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