Sunday, October 31, 2010

Did You Know?

It has been a very busy weekend around the Downing household.  With three little girls to get ready for trick-or-treating, Halloween can be a hectic time!  It was still a ton of fun and the girls had a marvelous time trick-or-treating in Milford.  Between the Sugar Shack house, the garage full of toys, and all of the other wonderful houses that so generously filled our little beggars buckets, our girls are set for quite some time!

This week I am going to keep my writing short and (hopefully) sweet - rather appropriate for the biggest candy night of the year. :-)

In the past two weeks we have discussed two different aspects of technology integration in schools.  First we discussed the idea of exponential change and what it has meant in terms of computing power.  Last week I shared a story that outlined the power of technology to be used as a tool to increase engagement.  Thank you to all of you who took the time to fill out Grace's survey by the way.  She sits at 112 responses right now and I can't tell you how many times we have reviewed her data.  This week I want to share with you two videos that really made an impression on me when I first saw them and I think they will with you as well.

They are two videos in a series called "Did You Know?"  They are produced by a team of researchers that includes a professor from Iowa State named Scott McLeod.  Scott is the leader of CASTLE (Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education)  Scott is also a well known speaker and blogger.  He often discusses the need to increase technology integration in education and you can find his blog HERE

The Did You Know videos are filled with facts about technology and the changing nature of our world.  There have been four official releases of the video series.  The two that I will share with you are Did You Know 2.0 which was produced in 2008 and Did You Know 4.0 which was released in 2009.

It is quite possible that you have already seen the videos since quite a few people have seen them on YouTube alone (11,631,097 for DYK 2.0 and 1,970,730 for DYK 4.0 or there abouts.)  Check the videos out and I encourage you to leave a comment about the facts or statistics that surprised you the most.  Some of the information is hard to believe but you can check the bibliographies at the end of each video to see where the research is coming from.  I think you will see that these videos really do present some startling information that makes you think and makes a strong case that we are truly living in exponential times.

Have a great week!


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Moving from Compliance to Engagement...

Note: This is the second in a series which, over the next few weeks, will hopefully help everyone understand the reasons behind the 1:1 learning initiative in the Okoboji School District.  Today we will talk about the power of student engagement...

Our oldest daughter entered kindergarten this year.  She loves school.  She loves her teacher and all of her classmates.  She loves sharing with us what she is doing each day in school.  She is very compliant by nature.  If the teacher says we are doing "X" today, she will do it with a smile on her face and she will enjoy doing it.  If for no other reason than that's what the teacher said we're doing.  I believe a lot of students are this way.  Even in high school I see a lot of students who will slug their way through hours of homework and have a smile on their faces when they turn it in.  Compliance is often a good thing in education.  It is the idea that the "teacher knows best" that keeps kids going even when they don't necessarily find the assignment intrinsically motivating or relevant.  I am glad we have compliant students. 

I have however, long believed there is something much more powerful than compliance.  The level of student-buy-in that is several steps beyond compliance is engagement.  A compliant student will work hard to please the teacher, an engaged student will work hard because they are intrinsically motivated to do so.  Student engagement can be an ambiguous concept until you see it.  I had a great chance to see it this week. 

Earlier this week my daughter mentioned that she had been learning about surveys and graphs in class.  I asked her if she would like to make a survey on the computer.  She was excited about the idea and wanted to start right away.  We used Google Apps (which many Okoboji teachers are already using and we are offering training on for all staff members) to make her survey.  It took about 3 minutes with her creating the questions and me typing.  The longest part was her picking the picture to go on the survey.  She thought that was great, then I asked her if she wanted some people to answer her survey.  She was very excited about that idea so I shared her survey on Twitter, included the link, and asked people to take a minute to fill it out.  As soon as I sent it out I filled out her survey.  By the time I hit "submit" and returned to the spreadsheet that is automatically created when you make a Google Survey, 4 other people had already responded.  That was the light bulb moment (or moment of engagement) for Grace.  Throughout the evening she watched as more and more people responded to her survey.  As the responses poured in we analyzed the bar and pie graphs that Google was creating for us out of the data.  She took pride in telling us which season most people were saying was their favorite and how many brothers and sisters her respondents had. 

One of the questions she had asked was where everyone was from.  One of the early responses was from Utah to which she asked "where is that?"  We opened a Google map, named it "Graces Survey" and began marking the locations of her responses.  Grace spent the rest of the evening eagerly checking her spreadsheet (the reading of which was another new skill she was eager to learn) to see if any new responses had come in.  We had to force her to finish her dinner and her dessert because all she wanted to do was check on her survey.  This young lady was engaged.  A fire had been lit.  In the glow of that fire she had eagerly discovered and learned about subjects ranging from surveys to spreadsheets to graphs to geography.  It was truly an amazing thing to watch.  She took pride in telling her teacher all about what she had done and that real people from all over the place and answered her questions.  At last count she is up to 94 responses from 18 states and 4 countries including England and Sweden.  At 6 years old she has interacted in a very real way with a global audience.  That is real world engagement. 

Please understand, I am not claiming we must use technology in order to engage students.  We have a high level of student engagement going on in our classrooms every day.  We have teachers engaging students in real world, authentic, relevant learning both with an without technology.  The amazing thing about technology is its power to connect.  We could have used made up data on a just for practice survey to analyze canned data and make charts and graphs.  Had we done that, Grace would have listened politely and worked hard to follow my instructions because she is compliant.  The magic of our activity was the fact that it was real.  We used the power of technology to connect in real time with a real world audience.  The fire that was lit in that little girl's mind last Wednesday night was real and intense and it has led to a much deeper understanding of surveys, graphs, and geography than I had at her age.

One of the goals of the Okoboji 1:1 computing initiative is to put these kinds of tools in the hands of every teacher and every student.  We want to empower teachers to engage every student.  Not all students are compliant, but all students can be engaged.  If we are to accomplish our school's mission, student engagement is key.  Using real world technology to enable students to make real world connections allows us to build on the strong tradition of teaching and learning in the Okoboji School District.

By the way, if you would like to take a minute to view and fill out Grace's survey, she would love to get your input.  You can access the survey here: 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Exponential growth is a funny thing...

Note: This is the first in a series which, over the next few weeks, will hopefully help everyone understand the reasons behind the 1:1 learning initiative in the Okoboji School District.  Today we will talk in general terms about the world we are preparing our children for....

There is a legend that is told about the invention of the chessboard.  It goes something like this;

When the games inventor brought his chessboard to the king, the king was so pleased that he asked the inventor to name his price for the game.  The king was surprised when the man asked simply for one grain of wheat for the first square on the board, two for the second, four on the third, and so forth, doubling the number of grains with each square.  Since the king did not have a great handle on arithmetic, he quickly accepted and ordered the treasurer to count out the wheat for the payment.  The image below illustrates how this accounting would go.

Much to the king's surprise, by the time he got to the 64th and last square he would have owed the inventor 2 to the 63rd power grains of wheat.  This equates to  9,223,372,036,854,775,808 grains of wheat.  That amount of wheat is approximately 80 times what would be produced in one harvest, at modern yields, if all of Earth's arable land could be devoted to wheat.  This type of growth, in which the amount of something doubles at each time interval, is known as exponential growth.  As you can see, on the first half of the chessboard, the number grew but it is the second half of the chessboard in which the number skyrockets.  When plotted on a graph, exponential growth looks like this:

At first, exponential growth is not that distinguishable from linear or geometric growth.  The funny thing about exponential growth, as you can see from the graph, is that by the time the rapid rate of growth is noticeable, it is about to take off at a rate you could not have imagined before.

Examples of exponential growth can be found in nature.  One example is the rate at which bacteria in a culture will grow until one of the essential nutrients is exhausted.  Another is the rate at which a virus can spread until there is a vaccine.  Population growth can also be exponential at certain times under certain conditions. 

By now you are probably wondering why I would devote so much time to explaining and discussing exponential growth.  The reason has to do with the rise of computing technology and specifically the processing power of computers - which is defined as the number of discreet calculations that can be completed per second.  Below is a graph that displays the increase in processing power over the past 100 years.

As you can see, the white line is the graph of an exponential curve.  The graph shows the number of calculations per second, per thousand dollars of computing investment.  In short it shows what $1,000 worth of computing power will get you in processing ability.  The red dots are actual data points showing, in that moment in time, the processing power, or calculations per second, that could be achieved for $1,000 of computing investment.  As you can also see, for the past 100 years, the increase in processing speed and ability has followed an exponential curve - exactly.  This is not an estimate, this is not a theory.  This is fact that has been documented over the past 100 years.  If the increase in computing speed has followed an exponential curve for the past 100 years, it stands to reason that it will most likely continue on this track.  

The dashed lines show specific benchmarks of computing speed.  The data points are a bit dated but the trend in the past 10 years has stayed the course.  The number of calculations per second accomplished by the average computer now exceeds the speed of a mouse brain.  Assuming the trend that has stayed constant for the past 100 years remains so, we can expect that a $1,000 computer will be able to conduct more calculations per second than a human brain sometime within the next 15 years.  Projecting out further, we would expect that $1,000 computer to have greater computational power than the entire human species somewhere around the year 2050.  Some of those reading this may not be around by then.  But this post isn't about us. It is about our children and grandchildren.  This year's kindergarten class will be 45 years old that year.  They will need to be able to live, work, and thrive in what can only be described as a "brave new world."  

When sharing this information recently, I was asked - do you think this advance in technology is a good thing?  My answer was and is - it isn't about good or bad.  It simply IS.  Barring some unforseen intervention or obstacle, this rate of technological advance will continue at an exponential rate.  We have two choices - do what we can to prepare our children for the future, or stick our heads in the sand.  Our job is to prepare them for their future, not our past.  

Have a great week!


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

OHS is now on Facebook

Hello Parents and Students!  Okoboji High School now has a page on Facebook.  You can find us here:

Be sure to click "Like" to receive daily updates and information about the school and activities.  The Facebook Page will be one more way for us to increase communication with students, parents, and all stakeholders. 

Make the day great!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The kids got it right....

As a part of our homecoming festivities each year, it is the responsibility of the student council to select a Grand Marshall.  Often this person is someone who has given of themselves to make our school and community a better place.  Often times this is a difficult decision as so many wonderful people contribute of their time and resources to our school.   This year's student council selected Lynn Johnson as our 2010 Homecoming Grand Marshall. 

To give you a little background on Lynn, he has lived in the Milford area for 44 years.  Much of that time he has spent providing our town with the much needed service of groceries through Buy-Rite and Fareway. Lynn has given his time in many ways to Okoboji. In the community he has been involved in things such as Kiwanis, City Council, Mayor Pro-Tem, Church Boards, and he is the longest ever member of the Milford Volunteer Fire Department.

Besides all of Lynn’s community involvement, he has also helped out in many various ways in the school. Especially helping out in sport activities. For football Lynn ran the press box and the chain gang for many years and more recently has been a spotter in the press box.  For basketball he ran the scorer’s table and also worked track meets.  As you can see, Lynn has always been a huge supporter and actively involved in so many activities and events associated with the Okoboji School District. 

Recently, however, this has become much more difficult for Lynn.  Not long ago he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.  Lynn has endured many painful treatments in his brave fight with the disease.  And although his condition, and his treatments, have limited his ability to be as active and involved as he has for so many years, it has not limited his enthusiasm, support, and spirit.  

For all of these reasons and more, our school was proud to have Lynn as our 2010 Homecoming Grand Marshall.  He played the part perfectly.  He attended our pep rally where he was introduced and given a standing ovation.  He presided over the parade in fine fashion on a beautiful fall day.  Lynn ended the night, as he has for so many years, cheering on the Pioneers and helping in the press box at the football game.  After the game was over we chatted about what a great first half it was and how, except for a couple mistakes we would have had them.  We also agreed we would get them next time.  It truly was a great day for Lynn and for all of us.  

Life is a lot of things.  Unpredictable, sometimes difficult, and often times ironic.  All of those things came true this Friday when we got the news that Lynn had passed away.  It seemed inconceivable that a man that was so full of life one week prior - a man that had literally spent the afternoon soaking in the sun and receiving the thanks of an entire community, could so quickly be gone.  Hearing of his passing on Friday and thinking back to the decision to ask him to be our Grand Marshall is one of the experiences I will never forget.  Throughout the week several people close to Lynn commented to me what a highlight it was for him.  

So often in life, those who are most important to us slip away before we have a chance to tell them exactly how thankful we are for them.  We are often left with regrets wishing for the opportunity to have that one last conversation to tell them how we feel.  That did not happen with Lynn.  He spent one of his last days on top of the world, as the entire Okoboji Community got the chance to show him what he has meant to us.  Even today as I write, it gives me the chills and warms my heart at the same time. 

Thank you.  Thank you to Lynn and his family for all you have done for our school and community.  Thank you for the energy and time you have poured into generations of Okoboji students.  Thank you to our student council for your foresight.  One of the reasons Lynn was nominated was that students were concerned about his health.  They wanted to make sure they got the chance to thank him before it was too late.  They had no idea how right they were.  Without a doubt, the kids got it right this time. 

Happy trails Mr. Johnson.  I know you're smiling down right now with your Pioneer cap, cheering on the students of OHS as you have for so many years.  

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Turning over a new leaf...

Homecoming 2010 has come and gone and was, by all accounts, extremely successful.  OHS students enjoyed dressing like cavemen, rennaisance lords and ladies, robots, and more.  Our cheerleaders and student council carried out a very entertaining pep rally complete with a whip cream pie fight and Mr. Paulsen in a dress (don't ask).  The evening featured the crowning of our 2010 Homecoming King and Queen - Mr. Kelly Kaufman and Miss Jenna Tschetter.  Congratulations to Kelly, Jenna, and all of our spectacular court.  The football game was a hard fought contest and although the final outcome was not in our favor, we had a lot to cheer about as our boys showed a lot of heart and made us all proud.  The dance was well attended and a lot of fun was had by all. 

Now we turn the page and refocus on the mission of our school - academic success for all and the mission of creating productive citizens in a changing world.  Academically speaking we are just past the midway point of first quarter - or approximately 1/8 of the way through the school year.  Midterm grades were recently sent out which is our first official measuring stick of progress for students.  The staff members of OHS are committed to success for all and, like many schools, we have a system of interventions to assist those students who are struggling to realize that success.  One of those interventions is called Academic Tutoring. 

Academic tutoring is a program aimed at freshman and sophomore students.  Many studies show a direct correlation between success during the transition years into high school, and other variables like graduation and post-secondary success.  We work for the success of all students, but we focus especially intently on the 9th and 10th grade years.  Research and past history show that if students are given extra support in these years, it helps them develop the habits and traits necessary for future success.  If you would like to read some of the research that supports this position you can find a great article here:

If you have a son or daughter in 9th or 10th grade who received a D or F grade on their first midterm you should have received a letter about Academic Tutoring.  Here is a brief explanation of the program:

Academic tutoring is a program for 9th and 10th grade students who are struggling academically as evidenced by grade reports.  Any student who received a D or F midterm report will be enrolled in the program.  Academic Tutoring takes place from 3:15-4:00pm Monday through Thursday afternoons.  Students who are in a school activity and therefore are expected at practice during this time may report for Academic Tutoring before school Monday-Thursday at 7:30am.  Academic Tutoring is NOT designed as a punishment.  It is an organized program focused on giving students time to work on the subjects in which they are struggling at a time when teachers are available for help.  Many of the students work under the supervision and with the assistance of Mrs. Derner, although often times they will have the opportunity to work directly with the teachers in whose classes they are struggling. 

Every two weeks we re-check grades.  Any student who is passing all courses with a grade of C or better at grade-check time may choose not to continue attending tutoring.  Any student who is still at a D or F level at grade check will continue in tutoring until they are passing all classes with a C or better at a subsequent grade check. 

Again, I want to stress that although many students are not crazy about being placed into Academic Tutoring, it is NOT designed as a punishment.  It is a structured time and way to give additional support to students with a demonstrated need for that support.  It is NOT a form of detention.  The focus of the program is to provide assistance and academic support. 

If you have a son/daughter who is being placed in Academic Tutoring, I encourage you to have a discussion with them.  Share with them your concern for their success.  Find ways to help and support them at home.  Encourage them to see this intervention for what it is - an intervention designed to support their success. 

If you have any questions about the Academic Tutoring program, please contact me at your convenience. 

Make the week great!