Sunday, March 6, 2016

Getting Our Heads in the Clouds

I am thrilled to be writing about Hack 1, Meet Me in the Cloud from Hacking Education; 10 Quick Fixes for Every School  by Jennifer Gonzales and Mark Barnes. I met Jennifer in the cloud (Twitter) when our district began to use  her single point rubrics that she referenced last year in her blog. I've learned so much through my cloud PLN  that I jumped on it when the #D100BloggerPD group decided to read the book together. Of course, I got it immediately on my Kindle, not wanting to wait for a real book to arrive. I did admire +Kristin Richey 's real version. I admit that the cover has a great texture, but I was able to read my book in the long line at the post office.

My school district has been forward-thinking regarding the use of technology. We have been 1:1 for several years and experienced first-hand all the ways that technology has enhanced learning- including the adults’ learning.  The first time I read the chapter, “Meet Me in the Cloud,” I didn’t even see the word, “meeting.” We rarely meet at my school to pass along information. My brain substituted “professional learning” as that is generally our purpose in meeting. Then, when I re-read the chapter, I realized that Jennifer and Mark were not including planned professional development in the chapter.  By planned PD, I think of workshops and EdCamp sessions that we’d have after school, throughout the summer, or at Institute Days. However, these same principles can be applied to planned PD as well as school and district meetings.

Here’s a visual that Jennifer and Mark use to show the difference between a traditional meeting and a cloud meeting. The hack is that the participants are not physically present and yet, they’ve collaborated together virtually and their documents are in a virtual environment.

Clouds Add Beauty to Your Day

How you wonder? Your work (think “task”) can be completed when you have time, not at a time set arbitrarily for you. Our teachers add to this planning doc (Google Doc) and then, when they meet, they are able to look at students’ work or come to consensus on what should be on the pre-assessment. 

RtI meetings are held on a rotating schedule. Teachers fill complete information that is stored on
Pivot. When the group meets, teachers that have worked with that student, look at assessment data, share insights and come to consensus on next steps.

We started using MAP this year so have had to learn a new system for periodic assessment of learning. We recently gave the 2nd assessment and got growth scores. There were several stored webinars  available in the MAP PD related to growth, so teachers watched one of three and then jig-sawed learning for each other. There was no need to gather together to view webinars when each of us could find a time most convenient to do that. I viewed all three videos while I made chili for my family.

A private discussion board on Schoology, our student learning system, has provided a cloud venue as well as a storage bin for our documents. Most recently, I met with a group of teachers across the district that are developing single point rubrics for writing assessments (thanks Jennifer!). The threat of winter weather as well as efficiency, moved our meeting to the cloud.  

Other learning management systems provide discussion boards. Give some thought to where you’re holding the discussion as well as the docs. I’ve found that quick comments are fine on a Google doc, but getting everyone’s thoughts on a topic are more efficient on a discussion board. 


Jennifer and Mark define a backchannel as a “discussion platform that allows for back-and-forth conversation between multiple parties. They cite Voxer (an app that you use on your phone similar to a “walkie-talkie” system) and TodaysMeet, a free, on-line storage of the back and forth conversation gathered in the meeting.  I haven’t tried Voxer for meetings, but we have used TodaysMeet successfully.

Backchannel prevents interruptions

Using TodaysMeet when teachers were learning how to establish workflow when we moved to iPad classrooms from MacBooks was a godsend. I was in charge of the TodaysMeet page. We set up two displays in the room. Participants were seated so that they could see both. The presenter showed the Keynote.  I shared a link with the participants to the TodaysMeet “room” that I set up on-line. Everyone was logged in to the “room” while they viewed and listened to the presenter. Instead of interrupting to ask questions or to clarify with a neighbor, all questions were posted on the TodaysMeet. I responded to the questions immediately, allowing the presentation to flow seamlessly.

Meeting With Students in the Cloud

School principals should do their best to protect learning time in school. Keeping this in mind, we rarely have an assembly. When I hear about schools assembling weekly, I cringe. Just thinking about the amount of time taken to get to the venue, get 500 kids seated and quiet, and return to class, is like nails on a chalkboard to me. Every Sunday I gather up the data on the top performing classes and students on the many apps that they use to practice skills, and I record it on a Google Doc. Teachers can add any additional shout-outs they want to give on to the doc. On Monday mornings, I broadcast a Google Hangout with the entire school. Classrooms can join live or view it recorded when they have time. I get real face-time with all the kids who are being recognized. The kids feel like Hollywood stars because they are being broadcast across all the screens in the school. 

Work and learn more efficiently using this great hack and do read the chapter to get the blueprint for full implementation. Thanks +Kristin Richey for launching this book study on your blog last week. Kristin has the schedule and links to the blogs that will be discussing each chapter. Next up on Wednesday, March 9, +Leah O'Donnell will discuss Hack 2; Pineapple Charts; Boost Teacher Collaboration with a Public Chart of "Open Door" Lessons.


  1. Insightful post with valid examples of how we hack learning, Marilyn. After reading the book, it is truly impressive how our district uses so many of these hacks already. We have been meeting in the virtual cloud for years. It's nice to know we're part of a forward-thinking district.
    Literacy Loving Gals

  2. I am envious of your forward-thinking district. We are working to have iPads in every classroom. Teachers currently have 4 distinct iPads per classroom and a cart of 40+ that is shared amongst 400 students. I like the idea of meeting in the cloud. I will start sending student information to teachers through Google (docs, sheets, etc.) Atempting to move out of the dark ages.