Monday, March 23, 2015

Innovation Leadership in Schools

There's been incredible progress in the past few years with individual, cutting-edge teachers making some incredible gains in innovations like #geniushour, project-based learning, design thinking, the maker movement, and more more more. But how do we SCALE those kinds of innovations wider throughout our schools and throughout the education system? Starting from discussions on Twitter and in our GOA course on Coaching Innovation, Maggie Powers and I have been on a kick about supporting innovation leadership in education...

When our SXSWedu core conversation on exactly that topic - Scaling Innovation in Schools - was accepted, we knew we had our work cut out for us... We co-moderated two separate twitter chats leading up to the conference, one on #dtk12chat and one on #isedchat, to begin building our ideas and lexicon. Our core conversation went excellently: you can find our session resources here and Maggie's reflections here. Over the course of SXSWedu, I also had at least a dozen separate conversations about what innovation leadership means for advancement of K-12 education. (There are also great conversations happening in the comments here, so this idea is still evolving. Please continue contributing!)

My ultimate goal was to pull together all the ideas from our different conversations to craft a "job description" that could serve as a template for building innovation leadership in any school, and potentially even use in defining my own job description as I move into exactly this sort of role in my school (although my job also includes curation of our makerspace, which isn't discussed here).

Following ridiculous amounts of review and analysis of our three sessions, I put together the following Venn Diagram in creately:

So, here goes nothin' -

Job Posting: Innovation Learning Strategist

The _____________ School is committed to strengthening and enriching student learning through innovative teaching methods that put the student and his or her own goals for the future at the center of all learning experiences, and empower students to identify and solve problems, bridge content across traditional "subject" domains, and develop an unshakable growth mindset. We define "innovation" as mindsets, design processes, and teaching practices that challenge traditional norms and assumptions. These can take the form of new strategies or iterations or remixes of existing strategies.

Seeking: A listener and risk-taker to lead and support innovative teaching and learning in our school.

  • Varied professional experience, both in classroom settings and outside of schools. Former entrepreneurs encouraged, having demonstrated ability to independently develop professional connections and skills.
  • Demonstrated expertise in listening and understanding needs, as well as in introducing new ideas without forcefulness.
  • Demonstrated reflection upon and learning from failures. Examples will be requested.
  • Demonstrated perseverance, resilience, and comfort with ambiguity. Examples will be requested.

  • Provide inspiration and support for faculty and students in developing and implementing new innovative learning opportunities. Connect with teachers individually to support each teacher's innovation growth from their own starting point and at their own pace. Publicly celebrate attempts, successes, and failures in new endeavors.
  • Support development of a community-wide common language around innovation, including faculty, students, families, and local community. Reach out to "outside" community to collaborate and form partnerships.
  • Create safe physical and emotional spaces for teachers to explore and develop innovative learning opportunities. Support a cultural shift towards more collaboration and less competition among faculty.
  • Build capacity of faculty and students to independently investigate and design new innovations. Act as a multiplier of faculty and student strengths.
  • Broker relationships between disparate groups both within and outside the school community. Foster ties between groups with different expertise and daily experience to encourage cross-pollination and boundary-crossing.
  • Collect data and track innovation growth throughout the school to support connections, monitor patterns, and provide example cases to others. Data might consist of qualitative project examples and specific feedback from teachers, students, and families, as well as quantitative numbers of students served and events held.
  • Establish long-term and quarterly goals for innovation growth milestones within the community. Meet with education administration team at least once per quarter to share data on innovation growth and solicit feedback for continued progress. 
  • Connect with innovation leaders at other schools, such as:
  • Other duties as assigned.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Scaling Innovation in Schools: New Leadership Roles - 1 of n

#DTK12chat is an amazing Wednesday weekly twitter chat around the use of design thinking in K-12 education. But topics vary across a broad spectrum of innovative topics in education, including courageous creativity, “Maker” education, embracing failure, technology integration, and more.

On Wednesday Jan 28, we - Maggie Powers and Lindsey Own - co-moderated a #DTK12chat on scaling innovation in schools. The idea for this chat came out of our upcoming core conversation at SXSWedu - Scaling Innovation in Schools: New Leadership Roles. We’re both ultra excited about these new roles - Innovation Coach, Director of Learning Innovation, and more! - and are especially interested in figuring out the patterns in how these roles are being implemented. What have been the tangible benefits arising out of developing these roles? What are the best-practices that are emerging? What have been the pitfalls that early adopters have already begun solving?

Following the chat, Maggie posted a full-conversation Storify archive of the chat. A little later, Lindsey curated the tweets a bit more to get summaries of answers to each of the formal questions. This lost a bunch of the amazing side conversations, but hopefully captured the participants’ answers to the official chat questions.

Executive Summary of the Discussion

We agree that it is vital that PreK-12 education support learners in becoming change-agents, and learning to create and bridge knowledge rather than merely absorbing. We want our learners to learn to think flexibly, apply a growth mindset, and be human-centered in our world of diminishing human connection. These, essentially, are the desired outcomes of “innovative teaching and learning.”

Bringing innovation into schools can be a very challenging proposition, even if it is just into one’s own classroom! Therefore, scaling innovation across a whole institution takes some very deliberate action… In many institutions, it requires a major cultural shift towards collaboration rather than competition among faculty, and willingness to fail publicly, as administrators, as faculty, and an entire school community, and demonstrate the learning that comes from each failure.

From within the classroom, teachers can lead innovation through modeling, collaborating with colleagues, and making their students’ work - successes and failures - publicly visible. But having an individual in a formal role of supporting innovation school-wide can have greater impact: A single individual - who can keep a single pulse on programs across the whole school - can better see where the programs can go and how to inspire and connect others. In addition to providing scaffolding and follow-through support as colleagues take new risks in their teaching, that individual must first and foremost deeply believe in, model, and encourage learning from failure and growth through exploration.

A grand summary:

The Keys To Innovation might just be: willingness to fail, a culture of innovation throughout the school, a growth mindset, and perseverance perseverance perseverance.


To view my (probably excessive) question-by-question reflections of the conversation, you can check out this GDoc. Please leave comments, thoughts, questions, and suggestions for deepening this conversation, as we fully intend to continue it into our SXSWedu session and on and on as this role grows!

Friday, January 9, 2015

A first pass at "Science Innovation Time" (Science #GeniusHour)

We have officially finished our first round of 7th grade Science Innovation Time! I'm still so awed by my introductions to #geniushour by Gallit Zvi and to #20time by Kevin Brookhouser. Also to Dan Ryder for his inspirational blogging with his students.

There are a few kiddos left who need to present on Monday, but really - it's done, and it was a smashing success! Here is about how it went...

1) Laying the groundwork

Our first project of the year launched from our 7th grade camp at the Elwha River really helped lay the groundwork for deep, varied, open-ended projects. (This is something my science team and I realized more in retrospect, but chronologically it came first...) The kiddos developed understanding of Bloom's Taxonomy for articulating questions, and practiced asking questions along the whole range. They also experienced all sorts of project end-products, ranging from engineering and design to persuasion to investigation of scientific phenomena.

2) Introduction to the concept of Science Innovation Time (#GeniusHour)

At the end of that project, I announced to the kids that they'd next have the chance to expand their deep investigations beyond just issues around hydroelectricity and the Elwha River ecosystem... In order to even begin this, we had to blow up the whole field of science... We started with a massive brainstorming on our wonderful showerboard white-board tables. Click on the thumbnails below to see the brainstormy goodness.

Part of the justification for using time for Science Innovation Time was that these projects would ultimately become their Science Symposium ("Science Fair") projects... so we were just spreading the several weeks of Science Symposium time over the whole year.

3) Project Proposals

Students then narrowed down their first project ideas, with the expectation of completing 3 SIT projects before choosing one to present at the all-upper-division Science Symposium.

You can find the proposal form I used/created here. I took MANY ideas for this proposal structure from Kevin Brookhouser's designs for his Language Arts "20% Time" projects, and based my rubric heavily on rubrics from the Buck Institute for Education.

I emphasized to the kids that they would be "graded" on:
  1. trying to do something awesome, and
  2. tracking their learning via their blogs
They were not being assessed on successfully achieving their project goals... I wanted them to really shoot for the moon, and not be afraid of getting a bad "grade" so proposing something easy. And shoot for the moon they DID!

Proposals ranged from building a perpetual motion machine to designing a technology for artificial photosynthesis to performing a dissection to building a piezoelectric generator to designing a vaccination method that doesn't require needles to researching the changes in animals driven by domestication to designing an eco-friendly flying car to researching the benefits and current challenges with Deep Brain Stimulation to designing a test strip to identify bioaccumulated mercury in fish you're about to eat to researching the evolution of human speech. Seriously. 

A few key bits to the proposal:
  • The main focus of the proposal is why this project  is awesome and why it matters
  • Because it's science-focused, I'm relying on the NGSS to define "science." The kiddos had to identify both the science and engineering practices, and the science core concepts that would be addressed by the project (this tie to standards also hugely helped justify the project to my admin).
  • Each kid also had to write two rubric criteria for themselves, defining not meeting, meeting, and exceeding expectations for those criteria.
4) Moving forward with the projects

For the next 5 weeks, my 7th graders spent their 45-minute science period each Friday working on their Science Innovation Time projects.

Many kids, honestly, were also working on research-heavy projects that - while quite interesting! - don't make for as engaging pictures.  :-)

Following each of those Fridays, my kiddos also wrote a blog post to track their progress and learning. They also left feedback for at least three peers, asking questions or giving suggestions to help make their classmates' projects even more awesome. Those blogs are currently in walled-garden, but here are a couple screenshots... Again, I borrowed the blog prompts heavily from the fab Kevin Brookhouser. Jump in line to buy his book!

Blog Prompts:

3 Blog Samples:

5) Final Presentations

Finally, now after winter break, my students have given their final presentations! Again with the emphasis... these aren't big formal presentations, but rather just letting their classmates know what they learned, what their challenges and successes were, and whether they'll continue this project into the next "round" of S.I.T. or start a new project.

I have been *so* impressed with my students' presentations, and from the questions they asked each other after each presentation!

One of the most fantastic bits has been how well my students have confidently announced that their projects *failed* but that they still learned a lot and were able to overcome many challenges!

Fantastic outcomes:

  • Great science content improvements
  • Skill improvements from reliable researching to engineering
  • Self-monitoring via the blogs
  • Strong, confident presentation
  • Comfort with failure of the original plan, and seeing the success in the "pivot"!

6) Next Steps

Next week, before we start our new "official" science unit (genetics!) and our new round of S.I.T. proposals, I've got an idea for a wrap-up activity... I've made 5 sets of notecards with the "titles" for each project, and I'm going to have the kids sort the notecards into "types" of projects. I want to use this sorting activity for the kids to gather and analyze some data about the proportions of different types of projects, and to look for any types of projects that might be missing... My hope is that this will help kids expand their potential ideas, rather than my fear that ideas will narrow by latching onto only the most successful ideas from this round.

We shall see how that goes!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Design Thinking our school courtyard

Holy wow, I never actually published this! We're now 6 months into construction, and it's floating along excellently! I have a great view out my classroom window and none of my walls are being impacted by the construction... best of both worlds. Some of my poor colleagues...

--------------------- Written back in February 2014 ------------------------

We're breaking ground this summer on a huge new addition, which is particularly tough for a small campus in a tight residential area!  We don't have huge tracts of land.  Much is already set in stone by our architects, but our central campus courtyard will undergo a great renovation, including removing a small central building we call "The Cabin." This opens up exciting opportunities to redesign to better meet our community's needs!

Four colleagues and I led a fun all-faculty meeting to practice using the design thinking mindset in re-thinking this beautiful space on our campus.  You can find our slide deck for the activity here.

(1) We started with a great energizer - Zip Zap Zoom!  The whole faculty gathered in the paved area of the existing courtyard, and we had a rousing laughing game for about 5 minutes.

(2) We distributed mini white boards and dry-erase markers, and invited everyone to spend some time wandering the courtyard recording personal observations: What is important and special about this place?  What are the feelings we want this place to elicit?  What could be added to keep these feelings?  Our colleagues wandered - some in small groups and some independently - and shared stories from the courtyard and feelings about the different features.  I noticed some benches in a low-elevation area of our courtyard for the first time!

(3) We came back inside to the learning commons and gathered at small-group tables to share those observations and brainstorm.  Everyone wrote out their thoughts - one per post-it note - and shared them on a group butcher paper sheet.

Brainstorming and Sharing

(4) Finally, each teacher received a modified drawing of the plans for the new space, showing the new building outlines, the large older trees, and a few existing features.  For the remainder of the faculty meeting, my colleagues drew, colored, and sculpted with Play-dough.

Drawing and Sculpting

(5) We're still in the share, prototype, refine phases now... All of the teachers' drawings are on display in the treehouse (the teachers' lounge... no, it's not really a treehouse), and we have both post-it notes and sticky dots on hand for everyone to comment on each other's brilliant ideas.  In a few weeks, some ideas with a lot of traction will be delivered to our architects.

Teacher designs on display

What about the kids?

Well, of course the kids are participating too!  Our faculty meeting was intended both to gather teacher input AND as a model for teachers to lead their students through re-thinking the courtyard.  Many classes have already spent time observing and brainstorming, and a few have created drawings.  Each class - 3-year-old preschoolers through 14-year-old 8th graders - will deliver their favorite ideas to the student council, who will also choose a few ideas to deliver to the architects.

7th and 2nd grade buddies brainstorming

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Very Big Project

A few weeks ago, my students completed what I will confidently call my first full-blown Project-Based Learning endeavor! Quite frankly, I'm really effing proud of it, and excited to share my successes and learning for future PBL, and get whatever feedback I can.

Middle School science project-based learning? Heck, yeah!

Our overarching prompt:

The dams on the Elwha River used to provide local hydroelectric power. 
Now the dams have been removed and the ecosystem is changing.

I was very lucky to have an extensive field experience to incorporate into our PBL - a week-long class trip to NatureBridge Olympic National Park, where we quite literally immersed ourselves in the project topic. It was an INCREDIBLE experience.

The very general timeline was:
Week 1 - Question-storming, practice observational drawing (collaboration with art teacher)
Week 2 - Class Trip
Week 3 - Learning dump, concept mapping, project proposals and feedback
Week 4 - Introduce Project Organizer template, begin projects
Week 5 and 6 - Work, work, work, projects due!
Week 7 - Elwha Symposium!
exploration to synthesis

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

"You Matter" Year Launch

So... this was really awesome. This summer, I started following the #YouMatter movement on twitter, especially checking out the amazing bulletin board and other welcoming messages to students to start the year with this critical message: The World NEEDS Your Contribution! However, most of the messages seemed very primary-grades-focused, and I spent a chunk of angst worrying that my middle schoolers would find such messages cheesy or inauthentic... But I swallowed my nerves, and created this giant poster welcoming my students to my science classroom (which is also my "advisor" class's homeroom).

Along with this, the teacher who shares our science room and I did some significant re-arranging of our learning space... the most important of which is that we moved the work tables back away from the whiteboard to leave a large open space. Now, we start almost every class with a circle of chairs near the whiteboard for discussions and launching into new ideas! This showed immediate effects from day 1, with students sharing more readily and the quieter kiddos already speaking up more... an intimate conversation rather than shouting from all the way across the (actually quite cavernous) classroom.

Here's how the first days of science class went:

1) Students arrived to their name-labeled science binders ("assigned seats") and a clipboard with paper on their chairs. Arrival and seating was easy-peasy.

2) The kiddos immediately wanted to know what "kind" of science we'd be studying this year, which was a perfect segueway... We talked a teeny bit about life sciences and what all that entails, but then I asked them to zoom way way out to think about science in general... What *is* science? What links everything that *is* science together? If you tell someone you're a scientist, what are you telling them? I asked my students to divide their paper in half and to take two minutes silently writing out their own answers to those questions in the top half. (Hello, Think-Pair-Share!)

3) I then invited the kids to share their ideas with a neighbor for about a minute, then to add any new ideas they got from their neighbor to their own answers.

4) Rather than having them do the full share as a group, I made three posters that I spread around the room: "Science Is..." NOUNS, "Science Is..." VERBS, and "Science Is..." ADJECTIVES. I asked the kids to share with the whole class by silently walking around to the three posters and add their own nouns, verbs, and adjectives to each poster. Silently because that would allow everyone to get their ideas out without being distracted, and would let everyone read without being influenced by other people's comments.  The results were impressive, and significantly not domain-specific! The lists were not dominated by "animals and plants" or "electricity" or other "types" of science.

5) Next, we visited each poster together as a whole class, and I asked students to identify a comment written by someone else that they thought was particularly important, and why! Some great conversations came out of this, such as the difference between "ponder" and "wonder," and how the verb "to hope" is an important part of science!

6) Finally, I officially introduced the kiddos to that giant poster pictured at the top of this post... and talked about how the actions taken by scientists are the kinds of actions that *everyone!* needs to take. I asked kids to share how the three first actions - Question, Innovate, and Take Action - related to science, but also to every day life. I told them that each class would choose two or three additional actions that the world NEEDS them to take, and we'd nominate and vote on options.

7) On the bottom half of that sheet where they earlier wrote their initial definitions of science, students individually brainstormed what actions they would offer to the class brainstorm list.  Back in our circle of chairs by the whiteboard, students recorded a giant list of those actions - approximately 30 for each class. We then narrowed and narrowed and narrowed until the class agreed on two or three that would be *their class's* offerings to the poster.

8) Following voting, each student wrote their name on a slip of paper that would constitute their "signing" this giant document as our contract for the year, and as our highest goals for moving forward in the world!

I think it's beautiful! And the kiddos are *totally* bought in. They see their importance in the world, and they are prepared to take on the responsibility that comes with the world NEEDING their contribution!

Next week, we're spending the whole week at "7th grade camp" - near the site of the huge Elwha River restoration project, one of the biggest ecological restoration projects on the planet. The kiddos have begun articulating questions, we've begun sorting them using NoTosh's Googleable/NonGoogleable procedure, and today we'll sort a level further to Bloom's Taxonomy. They are preparing to ask questions and launch into a major PBL to answer some IMPORTANT questions stemmed from our experiences in the Elwha. (I'm also using lots of resources from the Buck Institute for Education in my own preparation.)

The PBL "prompt" is currently planned to be: The dams on the Elwha River used to provide local hydroelectric power. Now the dams have been removed and the ecosystem is changing. 
And comments/suggestions are TOTALLY welcome!

Armed with a beginning wealth of questions, as well as practice in photographic observation and observational drawing (thanks to my awesome art colleague!), they'll collect their observations, take notes, and ask yet more questions while at camp, and return with all of their ideas and notes to ultimately craft a project that MATTERS.

*Whew!* Great start to 2014-2015 so far!!!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Buzzwords Decoded - A Seattle EdTech Meetup

Thursday, July 24, we had what I think was among the most successful Seattle EdTech Meetups! About 35 members joined to consider different "buzzwords" in education and education technology, graciously hosted by ImpactHub Seattle. Prior to the meetup, there was a pretty active conversation suggesting buzzwords to discuss, which also had the great effect of getting folks excited leading up to the event!

The evening of the event, Steve and I were hustling to get set up, and I was also fretting about whether I was over-structuring the conversations... A common worry I have... But we rolled forward, fingers crossed that everyone would be enthusiastically engaged!

We set up the ImpactHub big room with a ring of rolling whiteboard surrounding a few tables, creating a smaller room of sorts.  Each whiteboard had a term or two, with a three-column chart underneath: IS, ISN'T, and ? (ImpactHub also graciously provided beer for the meetup!)

After about 20 minutes of arrival-chatting, we called everyone together and introduced the general outline for the evening:

  • 30 minutes to circulate to all the different buzzwords and write thoughts in the three columns
  • form into small groups to focus on a particular buzzword and create a graphic highlighting newfound understanding of the word
Everyone really jumped into the activity! There were some great conversations happening verbally and on the whiteboards! Gamification vs Game-Based Learning, Common Core, and Rigor elicited some particularly... erm... controversy-filled discussions.

After filling the whiteboard with intense discussion, groups shifted to choosing buzzwords that particularly caught their attention, or were particularly important to them.  Small groups, ranging from 2 - 7 or 8 people, got together to brainstorm how to capture the essence of the buzzword definitions as the group had described them. Some groups came up with some particularly cool visual metaphors, like a brick attack game for "Inquiry"!

We had a little gallery walk at the end... and that was that!  The structure worked really well, brought out some great ideas, and created some great common understanding among our group. And group members - at least the ones who left feedback :-)  - felt it was a good experience, too!