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!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Physical Computing for Kids

This past week, I taught my "Physical Computing" camp for 6-8 year-olds... and we actually learned some programming in 5 3-hour days! (And I really mean "we"... there's no better way to learn something better than to teach it.) The idea was generally: Scratch and MakeyMakey. Here's how our general week went:

All of the pre-made-by-other-wonderful-people programs I used with our MakeyMakeys are here at this Google Doc.
Four ultra-simple games I created as teaching tools for this camp can be found here in my Scratch studio.

Day 1:
- I set up the MakeyMakey banana pianos before class began, and wrote 6 partner-pairs on the board for kids to team up. (Luckily, I already knew almost all of the 12 kids, as my daughter's friends.) I created a single Scratch account that would hold all of our projects... this made it easy for me to make copies of projects for each kid to manipulate.  I made 6 copies of the drawing game we'd use later, so those were ready for the partner pairs later.
- Kids enter to the 6 MakeyMakey banana pianos, and explore how to play the pianos.  After about 15 minutes of just exploring, I asked a few questions like "What do you have to do to play the piano?"
- I demonstrated for the kids how to change the alligator clip leads, and they worked in pairs to move from asdf for the piano to up, down, left, right for the next activity. During recess, I assigned partner pairs and wrote them on the board, as... well... their choice partners weren't working so well.
- Next, the kids - in their assigned pairs - explored the simple drawing game in the group copies I'd previously made for each pair. I briefly demonstrated how to change parameters such as how far the pen traveled with each keystroke or changing the pen size, and then they worked with their partner to modify those existing parameters. One interesting teaching point was + and - in moving on x, y coordinates... they certainly hadn't learned cartesian coordinates yet.  :-)
- Finally, the kids worked in their pairs to create a new controller - not bananas - for their MakeyMakey to operate the drawing game.  Most of the kiddos made simple squares of foil taped to a sheet of paper, and many needed some troubleshooting to remember ground!

Day 2:
- I wrote new partner pairs on the board, and set up 6 *new* MakeyMakey controllers on 3 new games: Awesome Synth Drums, Bouncy!, and Flappy Birds on my sample programs doc. The controllers included gloves with foil tips, feet-on-the-floor contacts, a ruler lever to see-saw back and forth, and a few cool others...
- The kids came in and began exploring with their partners. I asked them to try each one and try to figure out how it worked so they could share later.
- After about 30 minutes, we gathered as a group and went around to each station, with a kid or two explaining how each different controller. This took longer than I expected. In retrospect, I should have sat down with some circle time to begin talking about how the different controllers worked. That would have helped these young learners focus... lesson learned for this middle school teacher!
- Finally, each pair endeavored to create a different kind of controller for one of the games.  They could apply mechanisms used for one of the *other* games, but couldn't - for example - make another feet-on-the-floor controller for Flappy Birds.

Day 3:
- Before class, I created a very simple Scratch interactive and set it up this time on all 12 laptops in programming mode so they could see the scripts - only using asdf, but demonstrating a few different scripts with each key.  I also wrote up a 3rd set of partner pairs.
- Kids came in and immediately began exploring the simple interactive, but on their own laptops sitting next to their partners. After about 20 minutes, we stopped to discuss what each keystroke was doing and why. I used the projector in this classroom to also show the scripts on the board.  Again, this would have been much better as a circle-time conversation instead of them sitting at their different laptops trying desperately not to continue playing.
- Finally, they each created a new project and started by setting up events for green flag, and asdf. They then practiced placing different scripts for different actions for each keystroke.

I'm not totally sure why these series of events took so long... I think most of the time was in creating their own asdf projects... many kids began throwing in new sprites and backgrounds.  This *should* have been when I emphasized "ask your partner before asking me," but instead we got into the habit of me running around for every little question.  Again, lesson learned.


Day 4:
- I set up each of the 12 laptops in our Scratch account, but not in any particular project. I also made a 4th set of pairs.
- As the kids came in, I told them they could continue working on their asdf projects, or even start a new project if they wanted to.  The kids essentially just continued playing with their asdf projects, asking questions, and showing each other cool findings until recess... a little over an hour into camp.  Again, I really should have emphasized "Ask your partner first."  Several kids became very reliant on me for even simple scripts and it was tough to support them in developing their own troubleshooting skills.
- While the kids were at recess, I made a quick maze game and a simple chase game to demonstrate moving from keystrokes just doing "stuff" to having a game with a goal.  I challenged the kids to either make a copy of one of those games to manipulate, or to try starting to make a game of their own.  A few of the kids who were really understanding started their own games at that points, some made copies to manipulate, and some continued working on simple asdf interactives.
- At the very very end of the day, I finally had the bright idea to have a circle-time. We all sat in a circle to discuss what we wanted to do for our final day. The big question was: Do we want to invite other camps to come play our final games? Even with anonymous voting, it was a unanimous yes! Especially for camps with siblings!
- I told them their assignment for the final day would be to create a game with a purpose or specific end, and to create a custom controller for their game.

Day 5:
- I've never seen young children get *straight* to work like they did on this morning! I didn't assign pairs, since some kids wanted to choose partners to work together on their final projects. However, almost all of the kids sat exactly where they had been the previous day.
- About 20 minutes into the day, we had a beginning-of-the-day circle time to share our plans for the day. Here's my stroke of genius I should have had earlier in the week: I asked who in the class felt like they could be a go-to person if another camper had a question. Then I finally emphasized to all this kids: First, ask your partner. Second, ask one of the volunteer helpers. Third, ask me. Holy monkeys, what a difference that made!  Two campers in particular took the brunt of the questions I would have been answering, and they loved the leadership.
- Before recess, the kids worked on their games! After recess, they made their MakeyMakey controllers! At 3:30, three camps that included siblings from our camp came to play! It was a resounding success! You can see and play their final games here.

A few quick reflections/learnings:
- Use circle-time for any whole-class conversation with elementary-aged kids.
- Identify volunteer helpers as early as possible, and insist on ask-your-partner-first from Day 1.
- The sample games were awesomely helpful, and kids were able to feel quite successful modifying those sample games. However, some were then reluctant to start something new from scratch. I'm not sure what to do about that...
- Scratch is even more awesome than I thought. But why the heck isn't there an "on mouseclick" event option???

Thanks so much to all the parents who gave me permission to post pictures of their kiddos to my blog!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Teacher relationship-fatigue extends beyond the classroom

(This post co-written by me and my buddy Steve Isaacs, cross-posted to his blog.)

“Relationships” are a hot topic.  Social media is all about streamlining and scaling social and business relationships, social relationships are studied closely for their effects on psychology and health, and “building customer relationships” is a frequently discussed goal of both startups and established businesses.  This certainly applies to the education technology world as well - building relationships between schools and technology providers is critical in driving the disruptions and growth we’re all striving for.

Simultaneously, a thoroughly established “pain point” in education is lack of time for teachers. Gunnar Counselman even recently wrote on EdSurge about how teachers struggle to maintain deep relationships with the very very many students they are tasked with educating.  Although Counselman’s article is ostensibly about teacher-student relationships, much of it applies to teacher-edtech relationships as well. To quote the EdSurge Innovate introduction to his article: “But there's a natural limit to how many bonds teachers can create and maintain.”

Take these two points - (1) customer relationships are critical, and (2) teachers are so overwhelmed with lack of time that even maintaining relationships with their students is challenging.  Based on those two points, the current most common method used by well-meaning technology providers to reach out to new customers makes absolutely no sense.  From where we sit, that method seems to be cold-calls declaring a hot new product “perfect for your classroom!” and requesting beta testing, watching informational videos, or even setting up a coffee date. This is the opposite of relationship-building.

We are two enthusiastic and vocal classroom teachers, who probably expend far more energy than is really sustainable on our pursuits of excellence in driving forward innovation in education.  We hope that this means that, being so visible, we receive far more of these cold-calls than our beleaguered colleagues.  They come in every online format - Twitter, email, LinkedIn, and more - and are relatively constant at about one per week.  Often, they are for products with little relevance to our classrooms, demonstrating the clear shot-gun approach being used in sending out the requests.

As we see it, this method of reaching out to potential customers has some of the following effects:
  • teachers are fatigued by the constant onslaught, resulting in less willingness to try any new technologies
  • teachers are less likely to become an advocate for the product in the future, left with a bad taste from the impersonal introduction
  • receiving few responses, technology developers may continue to sit in the myth that teachers don’t care enough to try new innovations

We are working hard to support stronger, more lasting and meaningful relationships between teachers and developers of those products that are meaningful to their classrooms. Steve co-moderates the #edtechbridge chat with a partner who works at BrainPop, building a great community to develop the authentic relationships that will ultimately provide a larger impact towards creating an understanding / buy-in for new education technology products.  Lindsey co-organizes the Seattle EdTech Meetup with a partner who works at Seattle’s ActivelyLearn.  We both spoke - on separate panels - on exactly this topic at 2014’s SXSWedu. We continuously try to support positive interactions, including trying to explain to shotgunners why their emails were poorly received.

We have a few ideas for how to support building the kinds of relationships that will connect education technology developers with teachers who will become their advocates and even partners.
  • Target recipients of your contacts carefully, and describe why they are the type of teacher you are looking for. Comment on something *specific* about that particular teacher that caught your attention (and not just that it said “teacher” on their LinkedIn profile).
  • Start conversations, rather than jumping straight to the “ask.”
  • Even better, before sending any emails in the first place: immerse yourself in teacher conversations as a fellow learner, and get to know the individual contributors to those conversations. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other sites all have great conversations happening every day. (See the second sentence of this opinion.)
  • When you do ask for feedback, do so in a way that will elicit deeper answers.  (Reading the answers to boring questions is almost as miserable as answering them.)

We believe that innovative technology has the power to genuinely disrupt education for the better, improving learning outcomes for all students.  We are strong advocates within our schools and in the larger edtech community for driving the meaningful use of technology throughout the learning process.  And we are dismayed when our colleagues express fatigue at being hounded by too many options in finding the right technology tools for their classrooms.

We continue to hope and work towards strong, positive, and deep relationships between teachers and education technology developers.  We hope to see more developers thinking critically about how to reach out to teachers in a way that builds relationships rather than generic shotgun emails - again, as Gunnar Counselman said - “for the sake of efficiency, making them cold, transactional and unmotivating.”

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.

(Edit March 2015: Three more blogged here.)

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.