Category: innovation (page 1 of 7)

Observations From a (Social) Distance

Child working on computer.

Source: https://images.app.goo.gl/oQKmWhhQ2WG8mx957

Well, hasn’t this been an interesting couple of months? Little did we know when we left for spring break that we would not be returning to our campuses and classrooms for the remainder of the year! It has certainly been a strange, bewildering time. While we miss our kids, colleagues, our schools, and our normal routines, there have been some remarkable changes happening at a breakneck pace, and some real positives may come out of this when we are all back together again. Here are a few of my own, personal thoughts and observations:

  1. Teachers and administrators and support personnel have been amazingly resilient and adaptable. The immediacy of all of this has forced change on the fly and a great deal of professional learning to happen all at once. This has been a great opportunity for the world to see the dedication, talent, creativity, and hard work of educators everywhere. Undeniably, there have been bumps and a learning curve, but obstacles continue to fall. In a time when stories in the press about schools are overwhelmingly negative, this has been like a B-12 shot for education public relations and goodwill.
  2. Digital divide by income level

    Source: https://images.app.goo.gl/rd86LsbGfH1zfDKw5

    The digital divide continues to be a real barrier for our students. We now have a much larger body of evidence that many of our kids don’t have the kinds of technologies and connectivity to make learning outside of the classroom successful or even feasible. Additionally, many parents don’t have the technology knowledge or skills to adequately support their children in their online learning. Schools are being forced to address these inequities, which should be a good thing in the long run. Some are buying student devices to implement 1:1 programs. Others, like Seguin, are purchasing wireless hotspots or are even going so far as to install community wireless towers.  Along with the devices and infrastructure, schools will need to find ways to ensure students and their families have the necessary experiences during more normal times to succeed in times of crisis.

  3. For a variety of reasons, some students are thriving in this new reality. Perhaps learning via short videos, websites, and student-selected online tools provides better opportunities for on-time reteaching. Maybe it gives them multiple styles of presentation of information, allowing them to find what best speaks to them. I think some students can better focus on learning without the distractions of the complexities of the classroom social structures. It doesn’t matter how fluently they read out loud in front of their classmates, what they wear to school, or how disruptive the classmate next to them is. They can do the essential work without the negative, extra “stuff” that goes along with being a kid. For my own son, who generally finds football the only exciting part of the school day, it has been a chance to get the “boring” stuff out of the way of the things he’d rather be doing. He misses his friends, but he manages to keep connected via a variety of online games and networks.
  4. Sad teen

    Source: https://images.app.goo.gl/mjp1vCAccF3UQYxh7

    Some students are struggling mentally and emotionally during this time of physical isolation. Schools provide more than just access to knowledge and skills. They are places where kids can connect positively to other people. They can laugh, share secrets, complain, unload their painful thoughts, get support. Sadly, teachers are often the only positive, supportive, loving adults some of our students encounter on a day-to-day basis. School administrators and counselors provide invaluable support to kids with a range of mental and emotional issues. School lunches are the only reliable meals for many students. These kids, even the ones who are often the most challenging, miss the consistency and positivity that schools provide. The social distancing situation we find ourselves in has to force schools to think about ways to creatively and effectively take care of these kids.

  5. Inexperience or misguided priorities have been an issue for some schools or districts. As I have followed the news and the Twitter-sphere, I have seen some likely well-intended but hopelessly off-base policies and practices being advocated or implemented. For instance, some schools have sent full-day, detailed schedules for students to follow while learning at home. Such schedules reflect a complete disregard for the home life realities of students and parents, many of whom are either at work or working from home. Other schools have issued edicts that students continue to wear school uniforms, or that teachers wear “professional dress” while working from home. While certainly sensible during virtual meetings by video, it is dubious that a teacher is less effective in a t-shirt and pajama pants while grading essays at the breakfast room table. Still other schools have reminded staff that lunch breaks should be limited to a half hour. These kinds of administrative decisions are likely rooted in experiences limited only to normal, physical school, and we will, hopefully, learn better how to structure the schedules and environment of online learning, as we have no guarantees that we won’t be returning here next year or in the future.
  6. Now that we are mastering the basics, the next step is empowering online learning. The past few weeks have required on the fly learning and transitioning curricula into the online learning environment. Now, we need to work on the work. How can we move beyond viewing a video and completing an electronic worksheet? How do we make learning more relevant and meaningful and engaging? Can we use this opportunity to empower students to construct their own knowledge, with teachers serving to prompt and guide? I think there is a hesitancy among some educators thus far to give students more open-ended, student-driven tasks online. However, if the learning activities online would not have been good enough for the physical classroom, should they be acceptable in the virtual setting? The reality is, students have access to more diverse, powerful tools for learning and for creating, collaborating, and sharing online than in a typical classroom. We need to structure our online courses to take advantage of these.
  7. Professional development may be changed forever. This is not to say the face-to-face workshop or conference will become a thing of the past. However, more teachers are taking part in PD through book studies or Zoom or Google Meet. Having offered these types of professional learning for years, I know I have seen countless more participants joining in now. Will this be a positive experience that affects how they choose the grow as educators in the future? I think it is a real possibility, so long as they find it worthwhile in the present. A related benefit is that a lot of educators have become much more familiar and proficient with the use of technology tools that they might not take the time to learn in normal circustances..
  8. Teacher hugging student

    Source: https://images.app.goo.gl/QgqmiuUb1vQzr8Xd6

    The heart of the educator is all about the kids. Given an unprecedented time of separation from their students, teachers have shown time and again how their love for their students is at the heart of all the work they do. Teachers genuinely miss their students (and vice versa). I have read countless stories of teachers going out of their way to express how much they miss their students. Teachers in my own neighborhood and many others put together parades, honking, waving, shouting support. They have hand written personal letters to students. Others have read bedtime stories to their students at night. They have organized Zoom meetings just to catch up on the latest news from their students. They have worked to put together virtual proms and graduations. It has been a remarkable and touching display of the deep affection of educators for their students, and that is truly encouraging to me in such difficult and challenging times.

Something else just occurred to me. There will continue to be successes and stumbles in our new, virtual existence. We will learn from this in the most effective way there is, through real-life experience. I hope that may be the biggest takeaway for educators. Just like their teachers, students benefit from authentic learning experiences. It makes learning relevant to their real lives and makes it durable. After we return to the classroom, perhaps we can work harder to create these kinds of experiences.

Best wishes for success and continued good health all of my education peers.

What IS School For?

Our Matador Innovative Teaching Academy participants are winding up their first book study, discussing What School Could Be, by Ted Dintersmith. In the discussion materials on the book’s website, I came across this video, which I promptly sent out to our innovative teachers and our district leadership. It is a fundamental question that, frankly, we don’t really hash out like we should: What is school for? Watch the video and think about it. Talk with your colleagues, your students, your stakeholders, and see how tough it is to come up with a consensus on the topic. Share your answer in the comments, if you reach a conclusion!

Team 3D Design and Printing Challenges

Image source: https://3dprintingindustry.com/news/interview-dana-foster-3d-printing-education-18133/

3D printers have been the absolute rage in education and in maker spaces for a few years now.  While the printer itself is a magical and fascinating piece of science and technology, the price tag makes it imperative that we use the printers to engage students in activities that will help them grow more creative, adept at solving problems, and skilled at applying knowledge across the curriculum. In order to have a justifiable reason to pay $500, $900, $2000, or even more for a 3D printer, there needs to be a higher purpose, laser-focused on student learning. The following are just a few ideas that might stimulate your own, better plans to get kids engaged in design thinking and applying content knowledge as they work with design teams to create original 3D models.

  • All Together Now. Split class into teams who will design and print separate components of a single project. For example, teams might be producing the doors, roof, window, interior walls, or exterior walls of a model house. They might create components of a small toy, such as a car or action figure. The emphasis here is on effective communication between groups and precise calculations, as poorly planned or executed parts will not fit. This is very similar to actual manufacturing today, where components of the same object are often made on opposite sides of the globe.

    Not my favorite idea!!

  • A Better Mousetrap. Have students design a simple and effective humane mousetrap. Students will need to apply knowledge of biology and simple physics in order to lure, trap, and keep their quarry until it is relocated to a new home (Pro tip: Probably not a good idea to test by letting live mice loose in the classroom.)
  • Baby Shark Tank. Student teams design a simple, easily reproducible and customizable object to sell for a class fundraiser or to raise money for a charitable cause. Teams will pitch their idea to a committee of teachers, volunteers, or other students. Those chosen as best will be produced and sold for the designated cause. In addition to the technology and design skills being developed, through the planning and marketing of their idea, students will build math, speech, and writing skills.
  • Base-ic Math. Every math teacher has a set of base-10 blocks somewhere in their room. In this challenging activity, have students create blocks to represent different math systems, such as base-4, base-25, etc. This is a great way to really reinforce student understanding of a challenging math concept.
  • Even Better. Find an existing design and improve it. There are countless sites online where students can find and download free 3D designs. Have them use an existing design, such as a pencil holder, a drinking cup, or plastic toy, and work with their team to make it more practical, stronger, more aesthetically appealing, or just plain cooler. Daniel Pink’s chapter on Design in A Whole New Mind might be a good text to accompany this activity.
  • Now We’re Cookin’. Teams will design or re-engineer a utensil to perform a specific kitchen task. For example, students could create a stopper to keep opened canned soft drinks from losing their fizziness. They could create a chip bowl scoop that lets dining guests get chips without using their hands or without the frustration of using tongs (which just destroy the chips, am I right?). They could create a pepper corer that protects skin from jalapeño juice. Students could begin by interviewing parents, grandparents, or even professional cooks and asking what tasks frustrated them. They will get to practice effective communication, critical thinking, and creativity.
  • All Geared Up. Students will work together to create a machine that using no more than 4 gears to produce the highest gear ratio they can. In other words, turning 1 full turn of a gear produces as many turns as they can design of a final gear. This is the principle that makes one crank of a bicycle pedal spin  the back wheel several times. They could also try to turn their work into a useful object, such as an efficient fan, “motorized” toy, etc. This is a relatively easy to grasp challenge but has a lot of practical knowledge of simple machines and physics involved.

Hopefully, these are helpful as starting points for student design and will inspire you or your students to bigger and better applications. If you have ideas you would want to share, please include them in the comments, and I will put them into the post.

Make Your Words Visible: Lumen5

In need of a spark of creative energy, I checked out this great post by Kathleen Morris over on The Edublogger. I found a prompt that mentioned making a blog post into a video using a tool called Lumen5. This tool uses AI to create attractive videos by pairing and animating images or GIFs with pieces of text. The text can either be copied and pasted or pulled from a link. So, for example, a student could link to a blog post and create a very cool video in just a few seconds. In fact, Lumen5 lets users add a site or blog’s RSS feed to automatically create a new video whenever a new post or article is added. You can go in and pic specific design styles, change images/GIFs, choose music, etc. as needed, but it really does a pretty amazing job automatically.

Lumen5 does require membership to use, but you can currently join for free and create unlimited videos. Paid subscriptions allow for HD rendering and removes branding (in the form of a slide at the end of each show) from videos. Paid subscriptions also allow for the creation of collaborative teams, while free accounts do not.

I dug up a recent, quickie blog post and created the following in less than 15 minutes the first time I signed on:

I have to say that I really like the potential here. Like most folks, I will admit I am more likely to watch a catchy video than read a long treatise, at times. I like how this opens up both options. One tiny improvement that would be useful is the ability to embed videos in blog posts. While they can be automatically shared to multiple social media sites, I cannot find a way to embed beyond downloading a copy, uploading it to Youtube, and embedding the video from there.

10 Big Student Goals For the New Year

The following are a few ideas intended to promote future-ready, critically- and creatively-thinking students during the coming school year. They have been rattling around my head as a result of several road and plane trips this summer where I’ve been able to pass the time studying computational thinking, design, innovative schools, etc. Some could feasibly tie easily into content standards in multiple subjects. Others are big-picture, broader actions that involve life skills beyond the scope of subject-area objectives.

In no particular order, every student will have the opportunity to:

  • help design the most effective learning space possible.
  • go through a process of creating something, testing it, failing, and doing it better the next time.
  • communicate with someone in another part of the world in real time.
  • share an accomplishment or work they are proud of with an audience beyond the walls of their home or school.
  • study something they choose and do something they want to do with it.
  • work with a team and, at least once, as a leader of a team.
  • teach something to the entire class.
  • ask lots of actionable, open-ended questions.
  • read books of their choosing from multiple genres, including non-fiction.
  • effectively defend a viewpoint on an issue of importance to them.

Technology Doesn’t Matter (Unless…)

Last week, I was reading a blog post written last fall by Tom Murray that popped up in my Twitter feed, “No. Your 3D Printer Does Not Make You Innovative.” I enjoyed the way Tom categorized the roles these exciting tools are playing in classrooms, ranging from “bandwagon” devices (which get purchased with great fanfare and excitement, only to go on to live sad, lonely lives gathering dust in a closet .somewhere) to “MVP” devices that powerfully transform learning.  I have personally witnessed the full range of these types of implementation over the past few years. Tom’s big point was that exciting technologies such as 3D printers aren’t worth the investment if schools do not evaluate what they are doing in the classroom to ensure they are leveraging the full potential of the devices. As he states in the post, “Innovation is not about tools. It’s about people, processes, and pedagogy.” 

Taking this idea one step further, let me say that the same principle applies to all educational technology resource we decide to invest in for our classrooms. Technology resources are significant investments for schools, and they are at times purchased with inadequate focus and vision for what they will be used to accomplish. This goes for 3D printers, laptops, Chromebooks, iPads, VR/AR systems, interactive white boards, desktop computers, robot systems, document cameras, LED projectors, software tools, etc. These technologies may well have the potential to transform learning by increasing student engagement, involving students in real problem-solving, facilitating innovation and invention, building curiosity and creativity, etc. However, this is much more likely when implementation follows planning to evolve instruction and create new, powerful kinds of learning experiences. On the other hand, each has the very real possibility to go down in flames as huge wastes of precious school dollars.

How do we ensure, then, that we are getting the most from our exciting, new investments?  Here are a few questions that might be helpful for schools to consider before investing in the latest, hottest technologies:

  1. What student need or learning outcomes will be met by this technology?  Does it fit our overarching “why?”
  2. Are there existing resources or less  costly alternatives that meet the same goals as effectively?
  3. Are current classroom structures well suited to make the most of this tool–furnishings, arrangement, schedule, grouping, management, etc.?
  4. What training will teachers and students need to effectively and powerfully  use this technology?
  5. How should instructional time look when this technology is in use by students?
  6. Could students adapt the tool to new applications that go beyond the curriculum? Beyond the classroom?
  7. How will success be measured?

In summation, for me it goes back to something I heard more than a decade ago in a workshop led by Dr. Bernajean Porter. Dr. Porter proposed that the highest use of technology was “transformative”, allowing students to do and experience things otherwise not possible. If an education technology is truly an advancement in student learning, this should be obvious in what is happening in the classroom. Even the most amazing and powerful tools, however, can be significantly handicapped by a lack of planning, training, or vision. The priority for successful and impactful implementation should be planning to ensure opportunities for students to successfully use the technologies they are provided to solve problems, create, invent, design, connect, communicate, and engage in ways they could not imagine doing without them.

5 Things Schools Never Question But Should

Presented in no particular order, here are 5 deeply engrained ideas or practices in education that we follow, zombie-like, without asking if they are the best ways to promote student learning:

  • Number grades
  • Subject areas (science, English, reading, math, history, etc.)
  • Daily (and yearly) schedules
  • Report cards
  • Age-based grade levels

I think we could have some REALLY interesting faculty meetings just based on these pillars of education. What else should we question more? Could we do better, or are our current conceptions and applications of these things sound?

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