Sunday, June 22, 2014

2 More School Make/Innovation Spaces

Back in November 2013, I visited 4 incredible innovation spaces and blogged the heck out of the experience.  This past weekend, I got to visit two more spaces - Katherine Delmar Burke School and Lighthouse Community Charter - while attending and presenting at Design, Do, Discover at Castilleja School in Palo Alto.  Here are some new notes on those two spaces.

Keeping the same structure as my previous post:

Overall Organization
Student Projects
Fun Toys

Overall Organization
Both Burke and Lighthouse featured many of the same structures as Menlo, Castilleja, and Nueva: wide-open, clear rooms with minimal furniture and walls lined with clearly labeled storage and work zones. I didn't really take any whole-room shots, as the trends were so very similar.

Burke. Labels are vital.

Lighthouse.  Ikea is also vital, such as for those magnetic wall canisters on the left.

Burke's Makery included a few cool organizations features, like the "Go" and "Ask" signs on different storage doors, indicating to students whether materials were open for use or required teacher permission.

Burke also has a a great electricity solution, that one of their teachers cites as particularly better than pull-downs by giving teachers a little more control, as well as the turn-and-lock mechanism that increases safety. That giant plug on the left plugs into one of dozens of outlets in the ceiling, reconfigurable as needed.

Burke boasted very cool trapezoidal tables that clicked together into larger hexagonal group seating.  The top picture shows the "Makery Up" for the younger grades, with their cool duct-tape-decorated stools.  The bottom picture shows the "Makery Down" for the older middle grades, with their wobble-stools.

Burke also boasts the ubiquitous z-frame rolling whiteboard, although they feel like they have *too* many... Jenny rarely uses more than three.  They also have those great rolling parts racks, as well as fold-up tables a la Hillbrook iLab.

Student Projects
Check out this awesome primary covered wagon from Burke.  I love the yellow googly-eyed oxen.

This old-school desk lamp at Lighthouse is infinitely cooler as a dragon.

Lighthouse has a great range of student projects on display, ranging from student-led to more structured building projects. 3D-printed and laser-cut projects like the cardboard UFO, as well as hand-cut and hot glued projects like simple cam-crank automata.

Fun Toys

I spotted these resources at Lighthouse, and found them at the Engineering is Elementary website.  I'll be ordering several!

Phil at Burke is in progress of building two big DIY toys: a giant laser cutter that will ultimately have a 2'x4' bed, and a small CNC router.

Burke also has a handy central, portable 3D printer station for their two Printrbots.

Lighthouse has to Type A Machine 3D printers.

I still highly recommend Vinnie Vronty and Sheryl Peterson's video on the development of Quest Academy's makerspace and maker culture.  As they say in the video, you can't build the space without building the culture and pedagogy in with it.  Also consider joining the K-12 Fab Labs email list to chat with others either beginning or advanced in building and using these spaces.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

"Alternative Circuits" at Design, Do, Discover 2014

You don't have to have soldering irons and Arduinos to dive into electronics with your kids!  You don't need  an extensive 1-to-1 laptop program or really any digital technology at all.  Simple alternative circuits are an excellent gateway for all ages to have quick and exciting success in circuitry with minimal chains to preconceived notions of one's aptitude in technology.

The awesome Jenny Howland and I are presenting workshops at Castilleja and Marymount Schools' Design, Do, Discover in June 2014.  Here are some tips and tricks in preparation for those workshops!

Copper Tape and LED Art

Copper tape (or other conductive tape, like aluminum) provides great opportunity for creative use of circuitry in art or even academic work products like posters.  One of my students made a marble run that incorporated copper tape to complete an LED circuit whenever the conductive metal marble rolled by certain sections of the run.  Others made cute artwork to hang on the walls.

Copper tape is easily acquired as "snail tape" from places like Amazon and hardware stores, although sometimes that tape is not as conductive on the adhesive side.  Adafruit also carries copper tape that is conductive on both sides, but more expensive.  LED and battery sources can be found at the bottom with other materials for sewn circuitry.

Tips and Tricks

1) When mounting your LEDs on the copper tape, put tape on both sides of the LED lead, as shown below.

2) You don't really need a holder to put your batteries in place... You can just use the tape itself.  Make a loop of the tape, and place the tape loop such that it is part of the circuit.  For example, if you need to double your batteries to get enough voltage to light your LEDs, you can use a loop of tape to connect the positive side of one battery to the negative side of the next.  As shown below...

Also take note: DON'T attach the batteries by wrapping the tape around!  Notice how the tape is touching the positive side of both batteries? (I was nervous just taking this picture!)

3) Get creative with your switches!  An easy switch is just to fold over a corner of the paper, but try making flaps, buttons, and other innovative switches as suits your needs!  Check out the cool matching game I made using copper tape and LEDs, with simple paper flap buttons.  The cute purple flowers are just for show... the actual switch uses a piece of copper tape on the bottom of the paper flap to connect with the battery only when you press it down.

Sewn Circuits

I've had great fun sewing LEDs into cute cuffs, patches, and even my rad green hoodie.  It's a particularly gender-agnostic activity that boys and girls across the spectrum of gender-conformity can enjoy, and that builds excellent craftsmanship skills and understanding of circuitry.  I have tons of blog posts about sewn circuitry at conferences and with my students.

Find my general guide introducing Sewn Circuits here:

Tips and Tricks

1) Sewing an LED and battery holder in place is relatively simple, but having uninsulated wire (thread) makes it extraordinarily easy to short your circuit.  Neat trimming of loose threads and small neat stitches can reduce floppy wires that short your circuit and prevent your LED from lighting up.

2) Sewing in the battery holder has been among the most challenging aspects for my students.  Here's a little help:

Loose battery holders, explaining contacts and sewing tips

Sewn-in battery holders, showing neat stitch structure.
Note that the negative-side stitching *only* touches the bottom of the battery.
The positive-side stitching *only* touches the side of the battery.

3) Ensure you're acquiring conductive snaps if you're planning to use snaps as switches! The conductive thread can be used directly for sewing the snaps in place, giving a nice solid circuit when the snaps are closed. Nickel-plated works great for me.

4) There is not much more hilarious than watching someone first navigate the topography of sewing in snaps. Both ball-sides up (rather than one ball and one socket), both snap pieces on the same side of the fabric, losing one of the sides entirely... Be sure to plan out your snap placement and test its functionality before actually sewing in place because, yes, you'll have to start over if it doesn't work.

Some places for handy snap tutorials:

From Makezine's baby pants snap mod

From Purlbee's bib tutorial

Materials List / Sources for Sewn Circuits
You can put together a whole kit for several classes for a little more than $100!  I've had several requests for info for my materials sources, since I've managed to find my way around, so here they are!

lithium ion coin batteries (digikey)
coin battery holders (digikey - these are not "sewable" and you have to use needle-nose pliers to bend the surface mount components to render them "sewable."  You can also sew directly across the bottom of the holder to reach negative and across the side to reach positive.  But MUCH cheaper)
simple, low voltage red LEDs (digikey)
simple, low voltage green LEDs (digikey)
conductive thread (sparkfun)
packs of felt (Jo-Ann Fabrics)
packs of needles (Jo-Ann Fabrics)
some colorful thread for decoration (Jo-Ann Fabrics)
sewable snaps (Jo-Ann Fabrics)
- scissors
needle-nose pliers for bending battery holder leads and LED leads (Jo-Ann or wherever)

Sewn Circuit kits provided for Design, Do, Discover participants!

Have fun!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Prompting for Great #EdTech Feedback

Dedicated software developers design and craft new tools, and we teachers beta test and tinker to test out those tools - often in live learning activities with our students. For the software developer seeking critical feedback to find the perfect feature set for a game-changing product, this is the moment when magic could happen!

But often the moment is lost to a basic question: “What worked well, and what didn’t work as well?”  We respond about workflow, user interface, and maybe that we didn’t like the shade of blue (which, as any designer will tell you, is really low on the priority list!). And now the moment has passed, even if we are really excited about the product. How could it have gone better? We’ve heard both edtech entrepreneurs AND edtech-enthusiastic teachers bemoan the challenges product developers face in getting meaningful feedback from potential users. The answer is simple, but challenging to master: ask a better question. You can look to similar professional strategies in the classroom to start.

One thing that makes a great teacher is an ability to ask probing questions to deeply understand students' thinking... Phrasing questions just right to get to the understanding we're looking for takes years of practice and honing. For example, Lindsey knows that asking students to diagram and explain why we cut the ends off cut flowers before placing them in a vase, why plant leaf stomata close on dry days, and why sugar snap pea vines wither from the ground up will all demonstrate their knowledge more clearly than a request to define botanical transpiration. This is part of our "pedagogy," and especially "pedagogical content knowledge" - techniques (in this case, questioning strategies) that work particularly well for specific content.  

How can software developers use these educator skills to elicit the feedback they need to move their tools in directions that will really improve learning outcomes for our students?

You - edtech entrepreneurs seeking our feedback - can take advantage of our years of experience to start to change this paradigm by carefully crafting your prompts and questions to specifically target the feedback you need. Here are a few ideas to make magic happen:

To get deep with understanding how your product could improve learning activities in a classroom: Ask your teacher collaborator to consider a real potential use case in the classroom.  Think of an existing lesson that could be modified using your product. Follow up with questions like:
  • What are the learning goals of this use case?
  • How would you normally conduct this lesson?
  • What would this product allow you and your students to do that your previous style of conducting this lesson would not allow?
  • What would this product NOT allow that your previous style of conducting this lesson WOULD?

To probe levels of engagement possible with your product:
Ask your teacher collaborator to break down potential use cases for your product according to the SAMR model.  If several teacher collaborators can’t imagine M or R level learning experiences with your product, that may be a red flag! Ask your teacher collaborator “What is one learning activity that you could imagine a teacher developing at the _________ level of technology integration, using this product?”  Those levels are:
  • “Substitution,” in which teachers directly replace paper-based activities with computer-based activities, with no change to the activity itself. (An important first step for many teachers!)
  • “Augmentation,” in which the technology provides a functional improvement and the activity itself is essentially the same. (The technology may simplify peer editing processes, for example, or forums may support clearer book group discussions.)
  • “Modification,” in which the technology affords different and perhaps more engaging individual learning activities than would otherwise be possible, and the greater overall pattern to the learning may be unchanged. (Student work products may include multimedia or interactive elements rather than static posters, but the topic or driving question to the learning is unchanged.)
  • “Redefinition,” in which the technology fundamentally changes the learning opportunity in ways that were inconceivable without technology (For example, through a wider network of collaboration, student-driven content creation, and/or the application of concepts towards global problem solving.)

To get suggestions for tweaks and feature improvements that would lead to broad learning improvements:
We know that teachers will suggest features left and right that they think would be spiffy, but do those meet a broad need? And are they necessary for the learning goals supported by the product? To narrow your feedback to features that genuinely meet your goals and the learning needs of kids, you again need to narrow your feedback prompts.
  • What are two or three specific learning outcomes that this product supports well?
  • What are two or three specific learning outcomes that this product *could* support, but currently doesn’t do well?
  • What adjustments could be made to support a specific learning outcome? Please describe that learning outcome, and how it could be met through this product?

To get more detailed feedback on the issues you already know to ask about:
You want to find bugs. You want users to hammer on your product, but keep in mind that most teachers are not professional software testers.  Phrase even those simple questions well so that you’ll avoid “Well, I didn’t really like the blue color…”
  • As you worked through your example lesson use case, did you encounter any opportunities for improving specific features or aspects of this product?
  • How easy or challenging was it to move from one part of the learning process to the next?
  • What features did you find useful within the teacher dashboard? What barriers prevented you from accessing the student data or crafting the learning activity from within the teacher dashboard?

Carefully phrasing your feedback prompts can definitely lead to much deeper and more meaningful feedback from your teacher collaborators, and it can also support your own deeper unde
rstanding of learning trajectories in the classroom as well as your teacher collaborators’ varying pedagogies. If you ask what each of us likes, that doesn’t give you a strong window into our classrooms or into our individual instructional designs. Why each of us makes instructional decisions can be quite different from why another teacher makes instructional decisions. The best edtech developers will have a heuristic understanding of overarching pedagogy to create the best products that will work for a range of teachers, supporting effective pedagogy and (big finish!) improving learning outcomes for all kids!

*jazz hands!*

- Collaboratively written by me and Stephanie Sandifer
- Thanks to Jay Goyal of ActivelyLearn for critical target-audience feedback on this article!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Semester 2 of "Wired For Art" #MakerEd

We began semester 2 - a new round of "Wired For Art" - back in the beginning of February, with a few tweaks to get the kids' skills built up a bit more before launching into their personal projects.  Here's been our structure so far:

Week 1 - MakeyMakey intro and playtime
Week 2 - Intro to parallel v series circuits with alligator clip wires and LEDs
Week 3 - Coppertape circuit art
Week 4 - finish coppertape circuits and install laptop updates in prep for 3D printing

(Week 5 hasn't happened yet... we've lost a couple weeks due to student conference days and a student musical performance, but it will be a guest-speaker workshop on 3D printing, and their last teacher-directed project will be a soft circuit cuff with a personal 3D designed/printed "medallion" to hold the LED... Gonna be rad!)

Here are some of our outcomes so far:

MakeyMakey intro and playtime:

Coppertape Circuit Art! (Yes, that's a light-up "POOP" in the bottom left corner of the collage.)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Myths, Reality, and Relationship-Building in the EdTech Community at #SXSWedu

SXSWedu this year has been incredibly different from last year.  Last year, I presented a workshop, met incredible new colleagues, dove into big new-to-me ideas in education, and visited two fantastic schools in the Austin area.  I also ran into terrible tensions between educators and entrepreneurs, including a habit of belittling and "teasing" teachers.

This year, I've been more focused on reconnecting with my many friends and colleagues from twitter and other conferences, rather than really reaching out to meet many new people.

Most heavily, though, I've been focused on supporting positive growth in the educator/entrepreneur edtech community.  Prior to the conference, Houston teacher Stephanie Sandifer compiled all the community-building sessions at SXSWedu so that we could coordinate and cross-pollinate.

My panel Tuesday morning with Stephanie and two fantastic edtech startup CEOs - Jay Goyal of Actively Learn and Dion Lim of NextLesson - went excellently.  We had outlined a careful sequence of introduction, our view of the state of the community, clearing up some specific myths about both educators and entrepreneurs, and finally giving some specific ideas for how each side can improve our relationships within the community.

My own summary is below, and a collection of the backchannel conversation tweets of the session can be found here.



Myth #1 - Entrepreneurs just make a cute product, then kick back and let the $ roll in.  Teachers work so much harder, and entrepreneurs are livin' easy.

Reality - Entrepreneurs are *stressed!*  They have multiple stakeholders to be responsible to: investors, employees, customers.  They're actually more similar to teachers than not: we're both responsible to a wide variety of stakeholders with different needs, and are trying to satisfy a huge number of constraints.

Myth #2 - Teachers don't want to pay for things.  They want free free free.

Reality - Free is nice, but we're both willing and able to pay for products that meet a real need.  Although the individual teacher doesn't always hold the checkbook, we have the ear of the person who does hold the checkbook, and will advocate purchasing those tools we need!

Myth #3 - Entrepreneurs only care about selling.  Selling is everything... Selling is the only thing!

Reality - EdTech entrepreneurs care about improving outcomes for kids.  If they only cared about selling, they'd just make the hot new Facebook app or timewaster game like Candy Crush.  Everyone who goes into education - teachers or entrepreneurs - cares about kids.  We might not always have the same understanding of the HOW, but we all agree on our ultimate goal: better learning outcomes for kids.

Myth #4 - Teachers don't respond to your requests for beta testing and feedback because they don't care and aren't interested in educational technology.

Reality - We receive dozens of shotgun requests without personal connection.  The signal-to-noise ratio is LOW!  We have professionally-established priorities for meeting our kids' needs, and those often don't match the requests that are thrown at us.

(An audience member also tweeted a myth that we added: Myth #5 - Schools want edtech materials that will "do it all."  We want silver bullet solutions!  The reality is that we DON'T want silver bullets.  I'd prefer a variety of small products that do one thing excellently than one big product that attempts to do everything but really doesn't succeed in any of them.  BUT we don't want dozens of logins!  As another tweeter said: "FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY please implement SSO in your product!")


So what do we DO?

We Build Relationships.  Personal relationships based on mutual professional respect and human connection.  I love to tell the story of how I met Dion Lim, one of my co-panelists.  At SXSWedu last year, several startup entrepreneurs approached me - business card already in hand - to tell me about their product and ask me to beta test.  This is a sharp turn-off.  How do they even know whether their product has any relevance to my classroom needs?  Dion, however, wanted to ask me about a comment I had made in the session we had just been in, and to better understand my needs in my particular classroom.  I didn't even know until several minutes into our classroom that Dion is a startup CEO.

This highlights the importance of relational  interactions rather than transactional interactions.  I don't have time to commit to starting a formal consulting relationship where I'm paid to give feedback, nor to I care to spend hours and hours of time giving feedback on products that have little or no relevance to my classroom.

However, I'll walk through fire to help a friend.  And, through professional conversations and shared learning, Dion Lim and Jay Goyal are my friends.

So how do you make these friends?

- Go into your interactions with teachers as a fellow learner.  Drop in on education twitter chats, and engage in those conversations as a fellow learner.  Ask questions - and NOT question for which your product is the answer. (#sessionbomb) Ask questions about what happens in the classroom, about the organization of learning activities, or about different learning goals.  Take the time to get to know teachers - even in these crowded twitter chats, you will learn so much about education and the state of the classroom, and you will meet and get to know teachers who can be friends and colleagues.

- Once you get to know them, let your teacher colleagues be your advocates.  Support them in fleshing out use-cases, hit the deck with tech support when they're enacting live in their classrooms, and they will be your best advocates!  Their colleagues are far more likely to adopt when this teacher promotes the product than if the principal pushes it down or if you send a shotgun of emails.


And teachers have their role to play in building this community, too!

Teachers: Just like we support our students, parents, and colleagues in improving all of our learning, we need to be active in supporting the growth of this important community as well.  Educational technology isn't going away, and we can't create the tools that will rocket our students' learning ourselves. (Well... Andrew Stillman can...)

- Be willing to give negative feedback.  If you get an impersonal shot-gun email, send some quick feedback that that email did not meet the sender's goal of finding a new teacher colleague and advocate.  Encourage them to reach out more positively and relational-ly.

- Be willing to ask clarifying questions when giving feedback.  If they ask "What did you like?" help narrow that question down... "What worked well towards some of your specific learning goals for your students?"  "What were the smooth parts of the user interface vs the parts where you/students weren't sure what to do next?"  Professionally, we know how to get AND give feedback.  Use this professional expertise to support this community.

- Be ready in environments where you know you will have short impromptu interactions with entrepreneurs.  SXSWedu and other conferences are perfect examples.  Keep a few "pain points" and anecdotes in your pocket to share when asked, so when you're just thinking of the last awesome session, you'll still be able to give a nugget of support to the asker.


The EdTech entrepreneur/educator community is incredibly important to me, and should be important to any educator who knows that technology genuinely has the ability to dramatically improve learning outcomes for kids.  Collaboration, global connection, personalization, student-driven content creation... All of these things are afforded by technology, AND we know that children and all people need human connection, social/emotional support, and plenty of offline learning too.  We need to work together to keep aligning goals within the community and supporting positive relationships.

Our ultimate goals is excellent learning outcomes for all kids.  Let's do this.  Together.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

#MakerEd at #NAISac14!

Yesterday, I delivered a workshop with Vinnie Vrotny, Jaymes Dec, and Andrew Carle on Maker Education to over 40 people at the National Association of Independent Schools conference!  It was AWESOME!

Found the room Tues evening!

Everyone really started pouring in at about 12:50, and Vinnie launched at 1pm with introductions to the team, and introduction to the importance of kids persevering through tough hands-on projects, designing and creating for themselves, and experience the art and science of engineering even with the simplest materials... A very brief intro, and then we showed our stations!
- Paper Speakers
- Sewn Circuits
- MakeyMakey
- Copper tape circuits
- Lego WeDo Rube Goldberg devices

(Have you ever used Fotor to make collages? So fun...)

Our participants spread out and dove into their projects by 1:20.  Most participants spent a solid 20 to 30 minutes at each station, creating their speakers, wonderful unique MakeyMakey controllers, cute sewn LED circuit accessories, copper tape circuits, and intricate Rube Goldberg devices.  A few people stayed intensely focused on one session for the full 2+ hours, like a few on the Rube Goldberg team!

Here is the brief intro guide I made for the Sewn Circuits table:

Find my materials/sources list for Sewn Circuits activities here!

Paper Speakers:

(I want to a see the video of this teeny speaker in action!)

Sewn Circuits - hard at work!


Sewn Circuits - a couple finished products!

Copper tape circuits:

MakeyMakey Projects!

A demo Drum Shirt made by one of my 6th gr girls

Four-player Pac Man

 Participant-created controllers, including my new fave kit element: gloves!

Rube Goldberg device:

Ball rolls down ramp, triggers WeDo motion sensor, WeDo lifts lever, knocks over dominoes, 
domino falls onto lever on floor, launches astronaut lego people!


As a presenter, I had a FANTASTIC time supporting teachers in exploring these different tools, creating their own unique items, and growing their perseverance, prototyping, and grit!  In our wrap-up, Vinnie shared a ton of resources that we'll make available here, and participants shared their learning.  Wonderful share-outs included anecdotes of developing their own confidence in this type of building, discussions of pedagogy of supporting such open-ended exploration, and ideas for getting started back at participants' own home schools!

My own new learning:
One participant shared a great new acronym that I'm hoping to bring home with me... Instead of "STEAM" (which is too science/tech focused), their school uses "IDEA" - Innovation, Design, Engineering, and Art! I like that focus on design, as well as rolling "technology, science and math" of STEAM (and "robotics" if you're "STREAM") all into "Engineering," since that's really what it's all about!