Wednesday, December 24, 2008

At the holidays, not as much progress as I would like

 When is begin this blog, I committed to doing an entry every week. You can easily see that I have not done well in keeping this current. I can only say that the past weeks have been extremely busy. Most days have been filled with so much to do that the have stretched to 10 to 14 hours each. The blog has just suffered in the face of so much other work to do. I plan to correct that in the coming year… hopefully! Here is a project by project update on what is going on at this point.

Projectors and Interactive White Board Alignment
N our project we had a decision to make early on. Do we install the 75 inch IWBs that have the 4:3 aspect ratio (like the old television sets) or do we install the 96 inch IWBs that are the wide screen 16:10 aspect ratio (like an HD television set). We made the commitment early on to install the more modern 16:10 aspect ration boards that are like the HD television sets.

There has been a serious challenge to the our plans to use the 95 inch IWB. Initially we had selected the Epson W6 projector in our classrooms. This is a WXGA projector that will match the aspect ratio of the IWBs. Unfortunately, the projector does not have any management connections and only one input. It will not work in our present wiring scheme. That sent us looking for a projector that would work within our system. In trying different schemes we have found that most projectors put in extra pixels to accommodate for keystoning or to match at certain aspect ratio. In effect they add pixels that are not really there on the computer image. The extra pixels create dead spots on an interactive white board. As you try and make a line across the board it turns into a dotted line as it encounters the “dead spots” where the added pixels are. This will never work in a classroom!! A teacher would try and activate an image on the dead spots and the board will not respond.

We are continuing to test for the best combination that will not produce these dead spots. Until we do, we cannot go forward with a system that will not work flawlessly in the classroom. We will be testing next week and I believe that we will come up with a workable solution.

Valadez Middle School
Although the school was bid with the classroom wiring and controls installed, there have been a large number of items that still needed to be completed. One was the audio system called Voice Lift that was donated to the school from Extron. It is the first school to be outfitted with the new system in the first Week in December. There have been some small issues with crackling with the student microphones and Extron is looking into how to correct this. It may be that the many cabinets in the classrooms that have glass fronts are not reflecting the Infrared light to the receiver causing the crackling.

The second question is how to mount the Promethean Boards. The teacher walls were not designed to accommodate the interactive white boards so the question of how to mount them has been a quandary. We had the teacher wall redesigned to house the IWB and that was supposed to cost $400, but the final cost to do this work was $1400 per room and way out of the budget. This would be two computers per room that would not be there for kids. We tried a sliding mount that would attach to the front to the teacher wall and that is just too unstable. Every time you touch the board it moves and keeping the calibration on the IWB would not be easy. Teachers would have to be constantly re-calibrating all day. This is not the solution we were looking for. We are still looking at adapting the mount or by installing the boards like the in the pilot classrooms on the front of the teacher walls.

Yorba Linda Middle School and Glenknoll Elementary Schools
The projector issue has halted work at these schools, but most of the electrical and sound wiring has been completed.

At these schools there are a couple of different classroom configurations. At YLMS there are either portable classrooms that are rectangular and permanent classrooms that are generally square. After much thought and consultation with the pilot teachers we decided NOT to use the teacher walls in these classrooms. The teacher walls are of the “C” variety that have only three very small boards. The 95 inch board would take up all the space of the existing three small white boards and eliminate all the storage in the rooms.

Instead we will mount the IWBs on the other walls and build a waist high cabinet on one site of the IWB to house the equipment and to provide a working space for a computer, document camera or other peripheral equipment on. To do this we will split the existing white boards and mount the IWB in the middle of the existing white boards. On the square rooms the IWB will be mounted on the wall 90 degress to the teacher walls and opposite the classroom doors. In the portable classrooms the IWB will be installed opposite to the existing teacher walls.

The new science classrooms at YLMS are like the rooms at Valadez. We are looking at how to mount the boards on the cabinets.

Glenkoll Elemetary has two kinds of permanent classrooms on that is on the end of the classroom wings and 4 rooms that are at the center of the wings. All of these rooms have the small teaching walls. We will need to mount the boards on another wall similar to YLMS. The end classrooms will have the IWB mounted opposite of the existing teaching walls, splitting the existing white boards and placing the IWB in the middle. The center classrooms will have the IWB mounted opposite the classroom doors and 90 degrees to the existing teaching walls. The Kindergarten classrooms will have the board mounted on the teaching wall and the portables will be identical to YLMS.

The Unit Bid
The majority of the classrooms in PYLUSD will be constructed under a unit bid. This is a bid with will provide a vehicle for us to get the classrooms constructed. The 2 classrooms at every site and all the remaining classrooms in the district over the summer and next year will be installed using this bid. So the timing of this bid is all important. We had been taking small numbers of classrooms and finding other avenues to get them constructed, prior to the unit bid, but that has been met with resistance. We will now wait for all classrooms to be done as part of this bid.

The timeline for this bid is still a bit murky, but we hope to get the bid out in mid-January and get it to the board at the second meeting in February.

The Pilot Music Classrooms
After months of work, we finally got an equipment list and a classroom construction plan agreed upon. On receiving the equipment list from the vendor who was helping us construct our model, I submitted a Purchase Request to get the pilot classrooms underway. It has been held up in purchasing to get all the equipment quoted from different vendors. We will have to wait unit the quotes are finalized to move forward.

So much work has been done, most of it no one will ever see.  I wish that we had many more classrooms completed, but I remain optimistic that we will have a great conclusion.  Its Christmas eve and I want to wish you all a great holiday.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

First Classrooms Starting Soon!!

After what seems like an interminable delay, we have our bid complete and we should be starting classrooms at Yorba Linda Middle School and at Glenknoll Elementary Schools: a total of about 40 classrooms in total.  This was only possible through the great work of our purchasing department and Facilities folks who were committed not to let this go to the =next board meeting, which would have bee November 28th!  The bid was finalized three working days prior to the Board Meeting.  Our purchasing people completed all the review of the bid, the licenses and the bonds in that time, putting aside all the other things that they had to do.  Our school board, like all school boards do not like last minute surprises.  They want to be able to carefully review the items coming to the school board so that they can make an informed decision.  Our superintendent and board were agreeable to a walk up item.  That is we could print the approval of the contract without the name of the selected vendor and then provide the name on the night of the meeting.  

Finally facilities, who handled all the accounts for the bond, were able to move money and provide accounts so that we could get the purchase orders for the equipment out.  As always, my assistant, Terry Loyd was superwoman.  She coordinated it all and made all the phone calls to be sure that the details of the paperwork were in line and moving along.  Nothing gets done in my office without the masterful touch of Terry Loyd!

So we will have construction meetings this week and the vendor says they can start as soon as the end of this week.  At  long last we are moving!

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Politics of Education in a Virtual World

This year, the web has radically changed politics more than ever. Citizens from across the nation are using the resources of the Internet to post comments, photos, recordings and challenge facts. It seems obvious to anyone looking on that technology has certainly come to a vast majority of the households and that many many of them are using them in the online virtual democracy. Every flyer or robocall is being scanned and shared, and every fact is being checked via live blogs, text mails and news programs. Here are just a couple of interesting examples:

  • The day prior to Sarah Palin's introduction as vice president, there were 464 entries into her Wikipedia page as the spin doctor's tried to create her image. On the day that she was announced as the Republican Vice Presidential Nominee there were nearly a two thousand entries correcting and posting new information.
  • Barack Obama's conversation with a plumber in Ohio was recorded on a cell phone and posted on the Internet, leading to the "Joe the Plumber" phenomenon.
  • YouTube videos of event goers entering a political event making racist comments went viral and lead to an online debate on race in America.
The challenge for educators is to keep up with this real time world where everyone can post a comment. While most school districts do not solicit comments, or create avenues where parents and students can state their opinions, this does not mean that they will not create their own. If educators close their eyes to the virtual democracy that is the virtual world, then the forum will be created without them. Politicians certainly did not create YouTube or blogs where their deeds are discussed. A parent or students will not be asking for permission to have your assignments and policies vigorously debated online. I hear all the time from teachers and principals that we can't use electronic communications because not every home has a computer. Although that is certainly true, I believe that the majority of homes do have a computer and many of them are active in online communities. The time for us to acknowledge this reality and to learn the lessons of the events around us has come. We need to think carefully about what and how we do things today, before they are done to us.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Slow Progress

Well after pushing and several issue for a couple of weeks, we have made some progress. I am sure that most folks would not be impressed, but these little details make the difference between being able to get the materials that our classroom teachers are asking for.

First, we are on the verge of releasing our first bid to install the infrastructure in the classrooms at Yorba Linda Middle School and at Glenknoll Elementary. That bid should be available for vendors and we are planning to make a choice and get the recomendation to the School Board at the second meeting in October. Work can begin on classrooms immediately after.

The remaining classrooms need to have engineering comleted. We got a first estimate on the cost of completeing that engineering but that cost was too high for us to proceed without reducing the nmuber of classrooms completed. No teacher would want their classroom to be a victim of increased costs. We are working with our vendor to try and reduce the costs. I am confident that we will get this completed and I would love to have work beginning next week. That would put us aon a timetable to have everything done by Christmas.

Next, we have a contract that our purchasing department and the county will agree to use to purchase the equipment for our rooms! This will eliminate our need to bid the equipment as we finish the rooms. We are in the process of putting the order together for our first round of classrooms at Yorba Linda Middle School and Glenknoll Elementary. I am hoping that we can get the equipment at the same time that the classrooms are completed.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Smart Music Classroom

c ClSmart Music Classroom
As we started the Smart Classroom Project, I always had the idea that music classrooms would be very different. The most obvious reason is that the classroom is already very engaging, with each student participating, but the center of the class is audio and not video. The elements of our smart classroom are all visual elements. We needed to design something that would be very different.

I started work with a vendor who had ties to the music recording industry and two teachers who were very tech savey and had already cobbled together a set of microphones, cassette recorders, and speakers into the first smart music classrooms. The first meeting was very exciting. How to get multiple recordings, immediate playback, mixing various levels of audio, music editing software and studio speakers to represent sound at high quality levels. Lying on top of all of these elements would be the trademark of our smart classrooms: ease of use.

We decided on a cart that would contain a mixer, a processor for recording\, a power supply, various microphones for recording sections, two omni directional Microphones, music software, a mounted projector, a cd burner, and 1400 watt studio speakers. This will have the ability to record a band and drop out different sections so that kids can go home and hear the rest of the band as they practice their part. A teacher can record on the fly and play back to class providing immediate feedback or display notes on the projector as the students play the notes.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

I met with our engineering firm today and they have completed the site work and drawings for Glenknoll Elementary School and Yorba Linda Middle School.  We will need to put these specs and drawings into a bid document.  We met with our purchasing manager and it appears that we can have the bid out next week.

Although we could probably get the bidding done by the end of September, there is only one school board meeting in September and the next board meeting is October 14th  We fully plan to make this date, so the work could begin thereafter.  

Casework Update

Good meeting this morning with the our casework company that constructs the teaching walls.  Our big issue has been on how to mount the interactive white boards (iwb)  on the teaching walls.  Teachers are concerned about the loss of storage with the 75 inch board we used in the pilot.   We are trying to design a mount for the iwb that would swing or pivot upward like a garage door to allow access.

A secondary, but equally important issue is what size iwb to use.  I would like to use the 95 inch board that has the 16/9 high definition aspect ratio.  Although not much of what we use in the classrooms is in that format, in 5 years it will undoubtable dominate the landscape.  The bigger board is heavier and more diffcult to mount and it would obscure more of the storage.  

Our best thinking is that we would like to have 95 inch board installed in a demo classroom at Valadez Academy nest week.  I provided them with a board to use in the demo.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Last year we set out to define what would be the focus of a smart classroom, a classroom that was focused on Active Learning and Student Engagement. We visited several districts, went to conferences and concentrated on sessions that focused on technology in the classroom and took a trip to the NSBA model school visit at Minnetonka Minnesota. You can see my report on Minnetonka at:

Each of these added information to our concept of what direction we would go with our classrooms. Finally I met with every vendor that I could find, because they do this stuff everyday and usually have the most up to date information.

From this investigation, we compressed the ideas and decided what elements would be part of our version of the “Smart Classroom”. Now I have to say that I really don’t like the “Smart Classroom” name. Obviously it connotes visions of the SMART brand of products and we really have not used them in our project. I didn’t want to call it the classroom of the future because I don’t believe it is the classroom of the future, it is the classroom every teacher should have NOW. Plus, I did not want anyone to say that we do not need some futuristic classroom, but something more pragmatic and grounded. I could not think of anything that resonated with people except for “Smart Classroom” and started to use it. Now everyone in our district uses the name, so now it has “legs” and there is no stopping it now.

We had to decide what different inputs we wanted to bring into our classrooms. Most of the off the shelf systems are designed to accommodate 4 different inputs. We decided that we needed six to provide the flexibility to bring any instructional resource into the classroom. Our inputs are:

• Broadcast video
• Desktop computer (side of room)
• Laptop computer (front of room)
• Document Camera
• Auxiliary video (RCA inputs)
• DVD Player

The only real twist that we added, was that we were intent on making the system easy to switch from one source to another. I guess that this came from my home experience with our home entertainment system switching from the DVR to the Cable box, to the DVD player. Each switch requires powering up a new device and switching the audio and video inputs. It wasn’t until I discovered the Harmony remote, that we had harmony at home. This remote had buttons that read “play the DVD” or Watch TV” and the remote makes all the correct changes in the audio and video equipment to make it happen. What we designed was the Harmony remote for the classroom. When you have a classroom audio system and a number of inputs, you need to switch things seamlessly.

Here is a link to a Slide Show of the Smart Classroom Elements