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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Google vs. Microsoft... What are Minnesota Schools Using?

One of the biggest questions in education today revolves around the industries two powerhouse word processing giants: Google and Microsoft.  In 2006 when Google first launched Google Apps for Education, there was not a lot of real competition. Fast forward to 2018 and you have a real debate on your hands.
For that reason, the district I work in began researching into what other schools were doing.  We have had both Outlook and Gmail accounts for many years but were looking to narrow it down to one.  The choice seemed obvious, all our K-12 students have Gmail accounts... but that led us to bigger questions.  “How many schools in the US use Google vs. Microsoft?” “How many schools in Minnesota do the same?” “What about the business world?”  The more we looked into it, the more questions we had. If that wasn’t hard enough, finding those answers was even tougher.
It was easy to look up that there are over 70 million active G Suite for Education uses, but what were the stats in my state of Minnesota?  Long story short… there’s nothing. No one has the information out there involving statewide data and Google vs. Microsoft usage.  So I decided to do it myself. I made a survey with Google Forms and sent it to every Superintendent in the state of Minnesota and asked these simple questions:

1. Email
2. School District
3. City in Minnesota
4. Are you a public, private, or charter school?
5. Does your district have G Suite for Education for staff, students, both, or neither?
6. Does your district utilize a combination of Google and Microsoft? (Including students, staff, district office, HR, etc)
7. Which is your primary service? (Google or Microsoft)
8. If primarily Google, how long? (In years - 1-3, 4-6, 7+)
9. Any other thoughts or questions?

I ended up getting 25% of the schools in the state to respond with 135 replies out of about 500 districts.  That’s a pretty decent sample size and a much higher percentage than any other poll that is taken around election time.  It was great to get information from both large and small districts ranging from Duluth to St. Paul, Alexandria to Pine City, and Windom to Wabasso.  With all that in mind, let’s take a look at what the results had to say.
For my first question, I was looking to see if there was a correlation between usage in public vs. private vs. charter schools.  However, upon looking at the results, we can say with certainty that there is no direct correlation between them. That’s not entirely surprising, but I thought it would be a good base to cover and see if we could find any trends between the different types of schools.
In the second question, I wanted to find out how many schools have G Suite for Education as a whole.  How many staff members have it? How many students? Do both? Neither? This was one of the most interesting questions I had on the survey because it would set the tone for the questions that followed.  After viewing the results, it’s interesting to find that a very large majority of schools have G Suite for Education for both their students and their staff (85.9%). Now, compare that to those districts that only have it for staff (5.2%), districts that only have it for students (0.7%), and districts that don’t have it all together (8.1%), you get a pretty good picture of just how widespread Google is in education.   I believe Google has swooped into the education market for three main reasons: 1) G Suite for Education is free, 2) offers collaboration like never before, and 3) the amount of tools and other services Google provides is extensive and really plays to the education marketplace.
For the third question, I asked how many districts use a combination between Google and Microsoft to get a handle on how the two are being used together.  Not surprisingly, 65.9% of schools reported that they are using a combination of both services. I did leave this question open to comments to get more insight and found that the majority of schools that are using both rely on Google for students and staff as a primary, but tend to have Microsoft products for business classes and office personnel.
For the fourth and most interesting question on the survey, I asked Superintendents what their district’s primary service was, and it was a resounding GOOGLE!  88.7% of the 135 schools districts across the state of Minnesota that replied said that their primary provider was G Suite for Education. I had anticipated it was going to be a high number, but that surprised even me.  It got me thinking about the bigger picture of Google. Not only Google in education, but our daily lives. Often, I hear the comments, “Why Google? What about the business world? Nobody uses it there.” To that, we do have some good answers. According to Amit Singh, former VP of business and operations in emerging computing platforms for Google, 60% of the Fortune 500 companies are paying for Google for Business, with more than 1,800 customers signing up each week. We also know that it can work in very large corporations, with examples of HP, Asics, Colgate, Whirlpool, and Shaw Floors all using G Suite products.  Also, in 2017, Google passed the 3 million users mark with businesses paying for G Suite.
We are also seeing a shift in higher education.  7 out of the 8 Ivy League schools use Google. The University of Minnesota, Arizona State University, Georgetown, University of Michigan, and many more have made the jump.  This is the first time in history where our K-12 institutions are directly influencing the higher-education and business worlds. It’s no longer a “top-down” landscape and many people are taking note.  One of the more intriguing articles to help explain what I’m talking about was published by the New York Times called, How Google Took over the Classroom.
 This article states that, “In the space of just 5 years, Google has helped upend the sales methods companies use to place their products in classrooms.”  Interestingly enough, that article was released in 2017 (one year ago), and my research states virtually the same thing with that timetable. 84.8% of schools in the state of Minnesota have made Google their primary within the last 6 years.  That is an undeniable correlation and speaks to both sets of data and their legitimacy. All in all, we are seeing a trend that Google is becoming the favorite in districts and classrooms across the country. What does that mean? Only time will tell.  Either way, Google has a great marketing strategy by getting students comfortable, familiar, and hooked at a young age. After all, where are the next office workers, business owners, and entrepreneurs going to come from? Easy... K-12.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Math and Science are Cool with SpheroEDU

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend an entire day with with Kindergarten through 6th grade students in the Bertha-Hewitt school district in Bertha, MN.  I was there to help them with some new makerspace technologies that they had recently purchased for their district. I primarily helped with the Sphero Bolt’s they bought and was able to share some of the awesome things we’ve been doing in Alexandria, MN.  It was an incredibly fun experience because students can learn so many skills while using Spheros. I hit on them more below, but a few include: basic coding, problem solving, fine motor skills (detail oriented), perseverance, angles/measurements, velocity, momentum, and more.
Once we broke the Spheros open and got down to work, the students were off and running. However, we all know that the hard part of using Spheros in the classroom is that some people only use them as fancy remote control cars… but that’s not where the real learning takes place.  Therefore, I brought an example lesson plan to share with them so they can see how we use them educationally.
Picture from Bertha-Hewitt Public Schools
Students can get so much out of Spheros relating to math, science, and coding. That’s where the idea initially came from. I work with some pretty talented teachers and together we came up with a way to incorporate them into the math and science curriculum.  Before the students arrived in the gym, I had multiple stations set up for them to work on. The stations are quick and simple to make, only requiring some masking tape and some floor space to work on.  I made 3 lines on the floor, connecting the tape in a capital U shape with square corners at the edges.
While using the Spheros, students had to keep track of the length of the tape lines and how long it took to travel the line (we used a Sphero speed of 90 so we had a constant).  We then used these two measurements to calculate and teach velocity. It’s a difficult topic to teach to students and Spheros made it easier to do. For example, when we set up our tape lines initially, we set them at one meter and connected it to a two meter line and then a three.  When students figured out that it took 1.1 seconds to travel down a one meter line, they automatically assumed it would take 2.2 seconds to travel down the two meter line… but that’s not the case. Due to the momentum the Sphero picks up, it travels a farther distance. Afterwards, we converted the meters per second into mph.  And just like that we were hitting some awesome science and math standards, along with a basic understanding of coding! You can easily make it more challenging by adding extra lines, making them uneven, etc.
Picture from Bertha-Hewitt Public Schools

We like to start the students off this way because it is simple, yet challenging for the students. After I give the students a device and and Sphero, I give them a 2 minute overview of how to use it, and we’re just about ready to go.  The only direction I give is, “Set the Sphero on the line and code it so the Sphero follows the line the whole way around and ends up back at you.  Be sure to make it start, stop, and turn on the line.” And away they go! It truly is incredible to watch them go to work. Students are so engaged and focused and don’t settle for mediocrity.  Their attention to detail is inspiring. Even when I say, “That’s awesome! You got it!”. They say, “I’m not done yet, I missed the line on the turn and can make it better.” Even students who are normally disengaged get into these lessons and want to make it perfect before wrapping up.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Inauguration

Welcome to the inaugural post to my new blog.  I’m thankful you’re taking the time to give it a look. I’ve been wanting to start a professional blog for quite some time now, so I’m excited to get started!
I suppose it makes sense to start with a little “about me” with my background and how we got here.  I went to Winona State University and received my degree in Social Studies Education. My first job was in Windom, MN (my hometown), where I taught one section of 8th grade social studies and 4 sections of different business classes.  It was quite the learning curve teaching Excel... commonly spending hours on Youtube learning it the weekend before teaching it. But the year went well and I loved every minute of it. Late that year, I decided to follow my heart and apply to other schools chasing a full time Social Studies position, but I had been bit by a bug… tech in education.
I accepted a job in Alexandria, MN at Discovery Middle School in the spring of 2014 teaching 8th grade Geography. I had finally done it!  I landed the dream job: not far from home, subject/grade I loved, and where most people go to vacation. To say I was excited was an understatement.  I could spend all of my free time hunting, fishing, or hanging out on one of the 50 lakes around the area… I was set. My first year there couldn’t have gone any better.  I had a lot of friends, the students were incredible, and I was coaching middle school football, girls basketball, boys basketball, and baseball. I also got involved in as many committees as I could to learn as much as I coud.
Fast forward two years to 2016 and our district decides to create and hire a Tech. Integrationist.  I was just finishing up my Masters of Education in Learning Design and Technology - a Masters that revolved around Human Centered Design and technology in education.  It was the perfect program for me and I applied for the tech integration position. I was offered the job and accepted it a few days later.
My first year in the position during the 2017-18 school year I was excited, nervous, and not entirely sure what to expect.  There weren’t any examples for me to follow in the district, no templates... I was the only one. So I focused on on learning as much as I could.  I became a Google Certified Educator (Level 1 and 2), then a Google Certified Trainer, and later a Smart Certified Trainer. I met some awesome people at Tierney Brothers in the Twin Cities during my Smart Certification and later became an Independent Professional Development Contractor for the company.  I got several opportunities to travel and teach for them last summer and can’t wait to get into it again next year.
Now I’m in my second year and I feel like I have a much better idea of what’s going on.  I’m blessed to work where I do because my district has been nothing but supportive of me and always listens to the crazy ideas/suggestions I come up with.  I have a lot more to share, especially about #edtech, but the beginning is always a good place to start.