Spotlight Design Blog #2: It’s Not Just An App

A few months ago, we talked about our new app, Spotlight, and how it allows schools to access the roots of social media with none of the negative side effects commonly associated with Facebook and Twitter. Since then, we’ve debuted the app at the National School Boards Association Conference, we’ve signed several new schools and organizations to put the app to use, and we’re satisfied with how the launch is going.

But Slate & Tablets is not just about making great technology to plop into a school and leave there. That’s what every other ed tech company does, and it doesn’t do any good. Since our inception, we’ve been about providing an unparalleled experience to schools that goes beyond just an app. With Planner, we provide a highly customized digital identity and experience for our clients. With Spotlight, we’re pleased to announce that not only will we create a private community for each school, but we’ll also run a free professional development session on social media best practices and how to use Spotlight to begin community building. pd

The rationale behind this is twofold. First, we want to be helpful. Plain and simple. We didn’t start this company to be the hidden tech company sitting in the office somewhere. We want to get into schools, interact with you, and help your staff grow. Do we get to do that by deploying a product and letting it do its job? Absolutely, but we understand that teaching is a human profession, and we want to make the people involved with it better for using our product too. Secondly, we have some pretty awesome partners, and they’re already doing outstanding events in schools. When brainstorming someways to work together, we figured that this was a way to make everybody win: allow our partners to do their magic in a school and let us train the staff on Spotlight to document it.

Interesting in learning more about these sessions and our new PD partners? We’ll be unveiling them at ISTE. See you there!

The End Of A School Year

The number of times I hear from people that having the summers off is the best part of teaching is innumerable. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a perk. The thing is there is a certain melancholy associated with the end of a school year that is indescribable to people who don’t work in a school. It starts for me after AP Exams are finished, because the academic energy is sucked right out of the juniors and seniors, and believe it or not, this trickles down to the underclassmen and the teachers as well. While passion for learning is something that doesn’t actually leave the building, it transforms into new knowledge about material not covered in a syllabus. Like many facets of teaching, it’s not something you can quantify, you just have to feel it.

Our school’s art department does something called “Spring Into Art” where students from the whole school are invited to come to the art wing and participate/demo some of the activities they would do in a typical art class at GHS. I participate every year in this event, and today is no different. When I tell my students that we will be attending as a special treat for the approaching end of year, they are ecstatic, even though they do thoroughly enjoy learning about space. On the way down, we have conversations about their summer plans, which consist of camps for some and hanging out with friends for others. When we arrive to the art wing, the temperature is immaculate. I notice this because in our science wing, it is always freezing cold, no matter how many times we ask the maintenance crew to give us a livable temperature. One of the first things that jumps out is that all of the work that students have been pouring hours into throughout the year is displayed on every wall and in every nook and cranny you see. When I arrive, my students staffing the event are always so eager to show me their work in photography, clay, painting, or drawing. They are eager to paint my face. I sit down and ask for a creepy insect so that I could sneak up behind my fiancee and scare her, since she hates bugs.

The student at the face painting station sits me down and gets right to it. I show the students in my class my painting and (jokingly) offer extra credit for painting a water molecule on them. They all ask me what a water molecule is. I place my palm on my face, and then draw one for them. About six of them take me up on the offer, and now I actually do have to give them something. That’s well worth it, because a group of students who never would speak with each other are now part of the water gang and give each other high fives. They’re pretty slick.

Students joining the water molecule gang.

Students joining the water molecule gang.

I then pop into the henna tattoo room where there are at least six students furiously drawing henna designs on students hands and arms. They struggle to keep up with the demand for the unique body painting, but happily do it anyway. The are photography students having their class in this room too, editing their photos and listening to music in the back, acting as if such commotion was completely normal. I ask if I could get a henna tattoo, and my students let out an audible giggle and quickly suggest designs I should get on my hand. I choose one, and another students gets to work squeezing the substance with the consistency of cake frosting from a tube onto my hand. I ask her how long I should let it dry, and she says that it’s darker if I let it dry for a longer period of time. It’s still on my hand now.

I say hi to one of my former students in the photography class and proceed to the next room, where the electronic music teacher is playing her students’ work for people to hear. She excitedly takes me aside and shows me the new arduino kit she got for building a synthesizer. She then shows me how one of my programming students helped fix the code in one of her wordpress themes on her website in “like three seconds. It was amazing.”

As I walk into the photography room I begin a conversation with the photo teacher who hurriedly shows me all of her students’ work over the course of twenty minutes. I am always awestruck by the things kids choose to photograph before and after instruction. Whereas before a class they will shoot pictures of whatever they see, after a class they will begin to shoot pictures of what other people see through a different perspective. I vote for my favorite and walk away to begin collecting my students, as class is almost over.

As I walk back towards the science wing, I hear the band rehearsing the song they play at every graduation. There’s something always nostalgic about hearing Pomp and Circumstance, no matter when or where I am.

I proceed to my next class which involves tutorial with out AVID students, who present me with a signed thank-you flyer for my efforts all year. I love the AVID students who are always so grateful for the attention given to them. Humility and grace are great qualities to leave high school with and these students have them in spades.

My lunch block programming class begins by looking at web design fundamentals. On a beautiful sunny day before lunch, getting students excited about learning anything is basically impossible, however with these new programming classes, it’s easy. Before five minutes we’re having a vivid discussion about why newspapers are printed in columns, where to find free photography and graphics for their new websites, and how to look at other designers’ work and incorporate pieces into their own projects. The block flies by.

Last block of the day involves my advanced computer programming class, who make a proposal for playing frisbee outside that I couldn’t refuse: “since computer programmers are a. not athletic and b. always inside, I propose that we spend today outside in the beautiful weather throwing this frisbee around the field.” As he says this and whip out the frisbee, I admit that I was already thinking it was a good idea, and I spend the rest of the hour throwing a frisbee with the students I’ve spent an hour per day for a year with, debating senior prank ideas, what they’re looking forward to most about graduating high school, and how the younger students in that class should carry the torch next year. Students are always told to go outside and play when they go home, even in high school, when they arrive and attempt to spend their afternoons with video games. For some, playing outside is associated with bad memories. It’s important to put good ones into their heads.

As the day, week, and year comes to a close, you take solace as a teacher in knowing that these memories and conversations are your doing. When a student is in college and is asked by a new group of friends to go play Frisbee, perhaps that one student on the fence will deliberate. Their inner voice will argue with itself until their brain stumbles across the memory of that one Friday afternoon in which they convinced their teacher to take them outside and play just because it was a particularly beautiful day. They will agree to meet with this new group of friends, and you’ll know that somehow, in that moment, they give you a quiet mental fist bump before turning and confronting the newest phase of their lives.

Some Questions People Ask During a 1:1 Rollout

This past Wednesday was a big day in the history of my school. In an enormous rollout of Lenovo Yoga Chromebooks, all 285 teachers in the building were provided their device and training on it for the first time. For many, this created a large amount of anxiety and stress, for some, it created an opportunity to innovate in their classrooms that may have been starving for it, and for the select few of us who have been struggling with the implementation, deployment, and PR behind this event, it was a time to sit back, relax, and watch the results of several years of labor and meetings. Normally, I’d post a reflection on the day’s events, the training session I ran, and the feedback from the staff. I decided it would be more prudent to list some of the questions I heard throughout the day from staff members at varying levels of tech readiness. This is not meant as a shaming exercise, and in fact some of the questions were quite good. It is meant simply as a profile of what kinds of knowledge teachers have of the use of computers in their classrooms. Also, keep in mind that these were asked directly to me, a colleague of the questioners, who was leading a training session.

It’s not connected to WiFi already; why are you making us do this if it’s not already going to be connected to the Internet?

What is the difference between an App and an Extension?

What does the “mute” button do?

Should I turn it off at the end of the day?

If it starts to work slowly is it the Internet’s fault or the computer’s fault? What should I do to try to make it run fast for as long as possible?

How do I double click on the track pad?

What is the difference between backspace and delete?

Why did we spend so much money (~$430ea) on these?

It doesn’t have ____some app name____ so it’s useless. When will they put it on here?

What does the school cover in regards to theft?

Do we have to use these? Why would the school spend so much money on a device for students who don’t want one? Why couldn’t they just spend that money buying a better device for students who need it?

Can I watch Netflix on this?

That’s the list I have. It’s most interesting to me that many of these questions are quite insightful without intention. Many people don’t actually know the difference between backspace and delete as well as some other “somewhat obvious” technology pieces, and a lot of teachers have a lot of great ideas about how to efficiently deploy such a large quantity of devices. Any thoughts from your 1:1 deployment? I’d love to hear!



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