Cloud to Ground Podcast Episode 6 – Beth Mossholder


Cloud to Ground Podcast Episode 6: An Interview with Beth Mossholder

On this episode, we talk to Beth Mossholder of the Challenge to Excellence Charter School about how the cloud is changing education in the day-to-day classroom. Click here to watch it now!

Andrea Bridges-Smith: Hi everyone, welcome to another exciting episode of the Cloud to Ground Podcast presented by Spanning! If you’re using Google Apps for business or for education, make sure your work is protected by visiting spanning.com and trying a 14-day free trial of Spanning Backup. I’m your host Andrea Bridges-Smith, and with me today is Beth Mossholder, Tech Coordinator and Tech Teacher for the Challenge to Excellence Charter School in lovely Parker, Colorado! Welcome to the show, Beth.

Beth Mossholder: Thanks, thanks for having me.

ABS: Now on this podcast, we talk with people who are cloud experts, and Beth here has not only presented for Google on how to use the cloud and Google Apps for Education at the ISTE 2013 conference, which is where we met, but she also single-handedly implemented Google Apps for Education in her school. So Beth, I am officially declaring you a cloud expert. There is no medal or anything, but this is very official.

BM: It’s a cool title to have for today anyway, I’ll take it.

ABS: Alright. So now that we have officially, officially established your cloud expertise, I want to hear your thoughts on using the cloud in education. But first of all, I really want to thank you for taking the time to be on the show. I know this is back-to-school time and it’s been very busy for you, so what’s been on your plate in terms of trying to get things ready for the school year?

BM: It’s been a busy summer, busy start to our school year. We’re rolling out Chromebooks one-to-one in grades fifth grade through eighth grade. So a week from today, I actually launch 200 plus Chromebooks one-to-one for students, so we’ve been writing policies and doing all of that. And right before we started this podcast, I just got news that we’re getting 60 Nexus 7 tablets to roll out and launch one-to-one in third grade this year to go along with my second grade Nexus 7 one-to-one project. On top of that, I’ve been teaching students how to use paperless planners with their Google Calendar and teaching new staff how we use Google Apps so uniquely in our building and lots of other fun stuff like getting ready to teach 500 plus kids in one week.

ABS: Okay. So you’re not really busy at all then, you just–

BM: No. Plenty of time to just hang out, soak up the sun.

ABS: Wow, that sounds like a very busy back-to-school agenda. Congratulations on getting all this great equipment to work with. It sounds like it’s going to be really awesome.

BM: I am so excited, and my kids so far are absolutely loving being so connected to the cloud and having such short boot-up times that they are loving education more than I’ve seen them love education a long time.

ABS: That’s really cool. I know that you were the person that implemented Google Apps for your school. You’re obviously diving head-first into the cloud, and you’ve had a chance to see some of the results. Can you tell us some ways that you guys are making use of the cloud and Google Apps that most people may not have thought of?

BM: Sure. Part of these ways I’ve explained in presentations before, but some of my super-creative staff have also gotten a couple of new ways to be able to use Google Apps. It’s really made me excited about the school year. A couple of the ways that we’re using Google Apps is in our middle school, which is grades six through eight. Our students are on a three-strikes-you’re-out policy where, during the week, we track behavior and if somebody has had behavior instances three times in that week, there is a consequence. My staff all log in to the spreadsheet and are able to log that behavior, but as a staff we’re also able to see how these kids are doing in a certain class – if there’s one class they’re struggling in or a teacher they’re not really working with very well. We also have my principal who logs in and checks to see how certain students are doing to be able to encourage them to keep doing really great things and to stay off of that behavior board by checking in on it because it is live and up to date all the time. My school also doesn’t have buses, so we have 515 students that we have to dismiss in about a 25-minute period at the end of the day. And the one way we do that is we have a Google Doc and we pull up the chat, and all of our teachers log into this and project it on their wall, and we type the names as people call them in through a radio and we’re able to call all of our students and dismiss them throughout the day within a 20 to 25-minute period. And it’s been huge because before, we would have somebody yelling these names on a PA system for about 40 minutes a day. So our carpool system is whole lot better thanks to Google Apps and the use of Google Docs. We also use a Google Doc very similar to that during our emergency situations. So when we have a lockdown, we all join one emergency chat document and are able to list what students are missing & what’s going on without any verbal communication so that our students can stay calm and well-connected without anyone else knowing what’s going on with our staff. One of my really cool new ways that one of my staff members is using it is my brand-new learning specialist is using Google Forms to be able to collect informal data on all of her students, so that when she has to report out on their goals, she has all these people who are working with these students able to report their data and collect it to be able to report on their quarterly report cards, which I thought was amazing. My students also have paperless planners, so they use their Google Calendar to sign up for paperless planners. We also use Google Chat and Google Talk for hall passes and health room passes so that it’s time-stamped immediately and there’s no paper involved. Those are some of the ways we’re very unique in how we use Google Apps.

ABS: Wow, that’s very impressive. It sounds like you guys have really found a lot of uses for it and you’re really able to get a whole lot out of it. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to have you on the show today was because when I heard your presentation at the conference, it was all about how you guys were using Google Apps and it was stuff that I had never even thought of. We use it here at Spanning everyday to do pretty much everything. The latest most innovative use that we’ve found is we’re using a Google Form to track our NFL pool which is very important to the organization so that we can bet on football together.

BM: I love it. I love it. [laughter]

ABS: Yeah. You sound like you’re getting a little bit more out of it. [laughter]

BM: Yeah. And we found with a reduction in paper, we’re saving a ton of money because we’re not using copy machines and printers and paper as much, and we actually have better records now than we ever did before in a much faster way as well. We keep improving. I guess that’s what it’s all about. You always keep trying to improve, right?

ABS: Yeah, absolutely. It sounds like from a practical standpoint, you have your finger very much on the pulse of how the cloud is changing education. So from a practical standpoint as well as from a more philosophical standpoint, how do you see the cloud changing things in education?

BM: So for me, I feel like the cloud has flattened the classroom, and it used to be that a teacher would stand at the top of the room and all the information would disseminate down to students. And now with the use of the cloud and internet and devices that are so easily accessible, we’ve taken that shift and here’s this teacher that used to be up here and have access to all the information. Now, we’re flattening out where kids have all the same access to the information that we have, the difference is how are we facilitating that learning with all of these new access. Our staff and students have really found that being able to collaborate together in real-time and work on something and not have to wait for that piece of a lesson to be spanned or spawned, it’s made a huge difference in how excited students are because they’re valued as just as big of a part as the lesson and the learning as the teacher because they are teaching each other, they are learning together, they’re collaborating in a whole different way that they couldn’t do before we moved to the cloud.

ABS: That’s really interesting to think about. One of the things that I’ve wondered about is– when I think about when I was a kid, it wasn’t that long ago– I’m not that old, but I’m older than I used to be, let’s say. When I was a kid going to school, if you wanted to know something, you had to go look it up. There was an assignment that– to say, okay, go tell us about the chief export of Paraguay. And you would have to go and find a book in the library and look that up. Now, all of that information is right next to you, it’s in your pocket, it’s on your computer, you can have access to any piece of information in the world at anytime if you know how to look for it. And so, thinking about how education is shifting from that, write me a book report on Paraguay, and how many bananas they export a year versus what it looks like now as I have my own child and I’m thinking about what school is going to be like for him, it’s mind-boggling to think about the shift there.

BM: Yeah. It’s been so exciting to see students and see them want to learn and to do something because it isn’t that same plain book report and they don’t have to wait to get started if they’re excited about learning something, and they can ask questions and find out answers instead of just relying on what the teacher knows. I think that’s been really cool and really amazing, and I totally wish I could go to school as a student now instead of back in the age when there was two computers in the whole school and they weren’t for students to actually get to use and the internet made funny sounds every time you had to dial-up and try and access.

ABS: Yes, I remember those days. So it sounds like students are really responding to using the cloud and it sounds like they’re really excited. Is that pretty much the case?

BM: Yes, and my staff is just as excited because their students are there and want to learn right along with them, and a lot of times, we believe in facilitating and letting students be the lead learners in our jobs. We love when the kids come up and say, “Well, I know how to do this or I learned this,” and let them take over the class and start teaching. We really believe in that. So seeing this more student-driven culture in our building has been super-cool, because I can sit back and there’s more learning going on and I’m part of it than me sitting in the class and just talking and teaching all days.

ABS: That sounds really cool. It sounds like a really awesome way to spend the day. [chuckles]

BM: Well if anybody’s ever in Colorado and wants to come out, we’re right off the highway. You can come and visit whenever you’d like.

ABS: Alright. Don’t tempt me, I might do that. [laughter] So what’s been the hardest part about switching over to this new cloud way of doing things?

BM: Our biggest thing and our biggest jump to the cloud has really been Google Apps, that’s been our biggest jump. And the hardest part for us has been infrastructure because we are all running so heavily – especially with wireless – we are running so heavily that we have had to really change how our wireless infrastructure has been. Especially now that we’re moving one-to-one, we went from having ten access points in our entire building to doubling, almost tripling that so that there’s an access point in every single room to be able to support that many users. The other part of it has been not just staff fear of change, but I have had some students that were very nervous about moving to a Google account and moving to having everything stored, and this is not Microsoft Word with 10,000 templates and it’s not a server on our school domain anymore. This is all saved in one place, and it was a really big change for them, and their fear was really just how’s school going to look because I don’t know what schools ever look like with this kind of learning and saving and collaboration going on. Once we got students to see how things looked and how it was, they were so excited that there was no more save button, or the computer crashed and I lost all my work, or the teacher didn’t have the same version of the program that I did this at home. And the teachers were just as excited because those were all the problems that really made using technology feel like it was difficult. Now, it’s not that hard because we’re all on the same playing field and it stays no matter where they are, and especially students with spectrum disorders, it was really hard for them to save something on a flash drive or save it on one computer and realize it wasn’t going to follow them and now that that all follows them, their learning environment is consistent no matter where they are, and that’s been really cool.

ABS: Yeah. That sounds amazing. This is all stuff that I never would have thought about before, but it’s really fascinating to think about. I would say that everybody has a stake in education whether they’re a student or a teacher or they have kids or even if they don’t. It’s really something interesting to think about how that works now. What would you say have been some of the biggest wins of making this switch?

BM: Well, like I just mentioned, our students with spectrum disorders who have a hard time organizing themselves and everything else, being able to share new notes with students without there being any extra attention brought to the fact they have a learning difficulty has been huge and amazing in a lot of ways. Some of our other really big wins have been how it’s changed our school culture and how– we used to kind of be a divided building where we had an elementary school that lived on one side of the building and a middle school that was on another side. And now, because they are so connected, they literally are communicating and feeling more like a connected culture instead of two separate schools living in one building. So, we have people communicating and talking and even our middle school teachers working with our elementary teachers on projects and collaborating has been a really huge win for us, as well as seeing our students just thrive in that excitement. I keep saying that but it’s– you look around and you see kids excited and they’re learning and they’re deepening their own learning just because they want to, not because somebody made it part of a grade or made them do something or they were finished early and it wasn’t an extra project or it’s an assignment. They’re just doing it because they like to learn. So, that’s been really, really I think probably the biggest two wins that we could get out of this.

ABS: Yeah. I think anytime that you can get students excited about the process of learning, then there’s really not much that can hold them back.

BM: No. They are a force. Even the younger kids, like second grade, are looking things up, and we had a student who– we have a lot of students who travel to other countries for family, and he took his Nexus 7 tablet with him on a trip to India, and his class was able to follow along with the entire experience. He did a whole virtual field trip for his class where he took pictures when he was in Washington D.C., and then we went on Google Earth and checked out where he was and we followed all of the places he went to in India, including the Taj Mahal, and the students were able to look those things up. And then they were on Google researching snake charmers and everything else and totally extending their learning. This is not part of their curriculum but they have that personal connection and they learned so much about this different culture that we would have never been able to have taught as part of a curriculum. So it’s pretty cool.

ABS: Yeah, that’s amazing. That is really cool. Just thinking of the possibilities of it is just really– I’m really excited, and I’m not even in school. [laughter]

BM: We have teachers that are tweeting about what the– as a collective they are coming together at the end of the day and talking about what they’ve learned for the day and having to sum it up in a 140 characters or less. But we also have parents, they’re able to follow or interact, and we have other educators interacting with these kids with Twitter, asking questions and having kids do research and they’re loving it. It’s something we would have never been able to have done if we wouldn’t have had all of these different ways to be able to connect.

ABS: That is awesome. That is amazing. This has been a really great discussion and I really appreciate getting to hear from you. It’s nice to hear the perspective from the education world and how the cloud is changing things in real life. We normally have a business perspective. We’re a business and we use this stuff every day. We’re committed to the cloud, but there’s this whole other side of it in the education space that we don’t get to see as much of just on a day-to-day basis. So thank you so much for being here and for taking time out of your incredibly busy schedule to talk to me today, and thank you for turning our next generation of kids into productive members of society, we appreciate it.

BM: Thanks for letting me talk about what I love to do.

ABS: Thanks for loving and doing it. It’s great [laughter]. And to all of you out there in podcast land, I want to thank you for watching and listening. And as always, if you need to back up Google Apps, and I strongly suggest that you do, please visit us at spanning.com to check out a 14-day free trial of Spanning Backup. Thanks for watching and we will see you next time.