Thursday, August 13, 2015

Early Forays Into Empathy (7th Grade)

Today my 7th graders created questions about "Empathy." This was their first week of school and today was the second day of class for them (they are on an A/B Block schedule). As a Design class I want them understanding the idea of Empathy. As an International Baccalaureate (IB) school the students are expected to understand empathy as well. So here's what I did and the results of their work:

Step One - I gave them a quote about empathy from Seth Godin - -->

Empathy doesn't involve feeling sorry for someone. It is our honest answer to the question, "why did they do what they did?"
The useful answer is rarely, "because they're stupid." Or even, "because they're evil." In fact, most of the time, people with similar information, similar beliefs and similar apparent choices will choose similar actions. So if you want to know why someone does what they do, start with what they know, what they believe and where they came from.
Dismissing actions we don't admire merely because we don't care enough to have empathy is rarely going to help us make the change we seek. It doesn't help us understand, and it creates a gulf that drives us apart.  

Step Two - I asked them to experience the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) to create questions about the quote that we will explore in the future. The one problem? They had never experienced the QFT either. So we walked through the process - slowly. 

The result (from two of my classes) follows. Considering they are 7th graders and it is early in the year, I'm pretty happy with their questions. See for yourself (the categories are mine and were done after I collected them):

1. What is empathy?
2.How was the term “empathy” created?
3.Where did empathy originate?
4.Why do humans feel empathy?
5.Why is empathy so important?
6.Do a LOT of people show empathy?
7.Does this mean that empathy makes you a better person, or not?
8.Is it easy to express empathy?
9.Why is empathy often described as “feeling sorry?”
10.How do we know if someone is expressing empathy?
11. What are the reasons we show empathy?
12.Do animals show empathy?
13.Why do we as human species feel empathy at all?
14.What is the difference between empathy and reason?
15.What is the difference between empathy and pity?
16.Why is empathy so complicated?
17.Why does empathy make a big difference in who we are?
18.Why is it important for people to have empathy?
19.How is empathy different from person to person?
20When does empathy between two people fracture?
21.When does empathy hinder someone?
22.Why is empathy an IB Learner Profile Trait?

1. Who is Seth Godin?
2. What caused Seth Godin to write this?
3. What did Seth Godin want us to learn from this?
4. Why should we be empathetic towards people who are “stupid” or “evil.”
5. Is violence ever the answer?
6. What should the “useful answer” be?
7. Why do people hate people?
8. Why is accusing someone rarely the answer?
9. Why can’t everyone be honest?

1. Why is sympathy easier to show than empathy?
2. Is empathy worse or better than sympathy?
3. How many people don’t know the difference between empathy and sympathy?
4. What happens when you combine empathy and sympathy?
Many of these questions are closed and can be answered quickly with a little help from Google. But there are some very open questions as well. I like several of them.  For example, the one about whether empathy makes you a better person.

We will be exploring these questions over the next few weeks. Some of the questions may never get totally answered. But I have a feeling these students are on the path to becoming great design thinkers. And that gives them a swinging chance at being a great person. That's my personal goal in every class I teach -> Have I helped my students become better citizens of the world? I'll keep you posted. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Putting Together a Design Class in a IB World School (Part 2)

Screen Capture from - https://goo.gl/VoUfRT
[NOTE: Originally written a week ago]
"So much time and so little to do. Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it. Thank you." Willy Wonka.

 Right now I'm feeling like a cross between the Scarecrow ( giving directions in OZ) and Willy Wonka these days. One minute I'm heading one direction and the next I'm heading in a completely opposite direction. But, the bottom line is that, wherever I end up heading needs to be a direction that helps our students and our school. I can live with that.

A long time ago (yesterday) I wrote the first part of this group of posts. At that time (yesterday) I felt like I was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel - the tunnel of planning what my class would look like this year. Evidently the light I was seeing was a warning sign that said "Detour Ahead."
It now looks like my focus needs to be around the word Community. What does it mean to be a part of a community:   The classroom community, Our school community, Our "local community," and the world community?

The first project, that I will be doing with my science teacher neighbor, will now focus on my helping my teaching community. We will do the Rube Goldberg Machine because of the teacher's needs to teach certain concepts like momentum and speed.  We will build because of the need to have visual representations of the science concepts they will be learning. We will be doing all of the other components of the project so that everyone in my classroom community understands the parts of the design process.

For the school community I will be making sure that my students are learning the IB concepts at the MYP level. This will build on their years of learning these concepts at the PYP level. And throughout this unit, and the rest of the year, I will be referencing how our learning impacts (and is impacted by) the local and international communities.

It will be a time for me to join the Meridian World School community as well.  Let the school year begin!

[END NOTE: Stopping here. This was to have gone out last week. It's time to start writing the next post. School started today. And we are rolling! Come join my community. ]

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Putting Together a Design Class in an IB World School (Part 1)

Well, that title should get some good SEO Google Juice. But I didn't write it for SEO reasons - it's what I've been doing today, and yesterday...and the day before that....

In an earlier post I stated that I would be updating my preparations for the school year. Well, that didn't happen. But now that I'm only a few days away from students in the classroom I thought I'd give an update about where I am in the process.

 I may be a 20+ year veteran of the classroom, but I am feeling like a  newb again because this is a new school, new subject matter, and I have to learn the IB specific items. For example, we had a PD day this week and the lingo, acronyms, and other words were flying by me at mach speed.  But I have now completed 3 days of planning and things are feeling a bit better.

On Monday morning I really had NO idea where I was going to start with my design class.  On Tuesday I met my hall-neighbor who teaches science. She told me "I want to do a project with Design this year!" (exclamation because she was very excited and animated). After some discussion it came out that she wanted to start the project in the first week of September! (exclamation because of my internal reaction to this news).

My PBL training/experience took over at that point.  No panic. It was time to do some backward designing. Of course this will be a project in two content areas, so I will need to have her thoughts and input on this. The science will be handled within her science classroom and I will handle the planning, building, and marketing of their design.  I drew an initial mind map:

The project will be the standard "Rube Goldberg Machine"  (not my choice - but there's always NEXT year, right?) that has been done by every science and/or engineering teacher over the years. Heck, the kids might have even done it in their elementary years. The spin I will take on it is purposefully looking at the design cycle. I will use this Design Thinking Cheat Sheet from a post by Guido Kovalsky:

Post test (where the line comes back over to the left and says "start all over...") is where we will go deeper with each of these parts of the design process before we get into our next design challenge. The key is that students will be building empathy, asking questions, reflecting on their work, and creating something. 

Design in the IB World is the KEY subject in the program. My early years of being a Math teacher taught me that math is the KEY subject that my students have to be good at because every year builds on the previous year.  My later years, especially my years as an Instructional Coach, taught me that reading is the KEY subject that we need all students to be good at. And these last 6 months have taught me that questioning, reflecting, and perseverance are the KEY traits we want our students to possess. Design, and in particular the design thinking process, is the one subject that teaches students to ask question, reflect and persevere.  

So, using my very poor knowledge of logic, it follows that Design is the KEY subject in the International Baccalaureate Program.  My job will be to teach my fellow teachers (like those math teachers) that Design is an important class and NOT just some elective. 

In the next post I'll talk about how I am putting together a computer science class for 20 10th and 11th graders who requested that the school have the subject - Gee, I wonder if any of these kids might know a LOT more than I do about computers?  Stay tuned.