Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Maine Township High School Visit

A visit to Maine Township High Schools. This was an interesting visit with myself and several staff members from Downers Grove. Maine Township has three high schools of over 2,000 students each. Each high school is startlingly different in its mix of students.
We started the morning early in the administration office. Dr. Thiele, the Assistant Superintendent of Technology and Learning, was happy to answer questions. As it turns out their students are required to pay for books. Two years ago when chromebooks really hit the market a lot of textbooks were up for renewal. The choice seems simple in hindsight, though they took their time and made sure to ask all stakeholders what they thought. Instead of buying new expensive physical textbooks they bought cheaper digital versions and chromebooks.
Those first version chromebooks were pretty fragile, but they changed plans right away and dropped the neoprene sleeves to buy durable cases for the devices. As a result their incidents of broken machines stayed low.
 I was happy to spend most of my day with the technology manager from Maine West, Neil Charlet.  The structure of the department was very impressive. I won’t explain the entire technology department structure because I didn't get into that, but the single school structure was strong. The technology manager seemed to be the bridge between technology and education.
Entrance of the Chrome Depot at Maine West
There he is way in the back

 Under him were the tech support crew who managed the trouble tickets and the chrome depot (we’ll get into that later). He also worked very closely with the instructional coaches. Instructional coaches aren't tech people, they are half time teachers and half time coaches. While it wasn't a requirement to be a tech person, they were all 21st century teachers and were comfortable incorporating technology into their lessons. There was about one coach per 40 teachers, plus one per department who is a full time as a teacher, but worked extra as an instructional coach. Instructional coaches meet with all teachers three times formally and as often as people needed informally.
  Chrome Depot 5 
 Mr. Charlet met with the coaches to plan out the big technology instruction during the year. These would be the monthly in depth trainings on one particular project. These trainings would last half a day and teachers would get subs to free them up for learning. Then on Tuesdays he does a tech lunch n’ learn. Teaching a tool for use in the classroom.
  Chrome Depot 2
The Chrome Depot is a cool looking (Thanks Mr. Charlet for the pictures), repair center for the chromebooks. There is one staff member assigned to manage the Depot, but the students do most of the work. If someone is having trouble with their chromebook they can stop in the Depot at anytime. If the problem can’t be fixed in 5 minutes they can check out a loaner chromebook (through the library system so it is as simple as checking out a book). The student crew can then examine and fix the chromebook, this is also the same system they use if the chromebook battery is dead, you get a loaner for a few hours and the staff charges your chromebook. No questions asked, at least most of the time.
  Chrome Depot 1 (1)
This process also works well if the student has a broken chromebook, but needs to save up a bit of money to do repairs. Parts are fairly cheap and they don’t charge for labor, but sometimes a student needs to check out a loaner chromebook for a short period of time until they save up enough to pay for necessary repairs. Students do not get to take loaners home so there is an incentive to get their own device repaired.
  Chrome Depot 3 
 I also met with three teachers during the day. I asked again and again how they got their teachers so on board with the program. I guess it really boiled down to support and expectations. They did mention that the many of the biggests resistors before they started the program are now it’s biggest defenders.
 According to the site D 207 has created for information about their program teachers had a strong preparation in instruction before going chromebook in their classrooms.

  Teacher Readiness:

Overall I was impressed with the structure and support represented by Maine Township’s program. It seems to me the hardware and infrastructure, though complicated, is actually the easy part. The hard part it getting support to the teachers in such a manner that they don’t feel over burdened and are willing to make the necessary changes in their classrooms. Once they start doing that, it seems they become a programs biggest supporters.  
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