Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Understanding Life in 1800 When You are 12

This week I am wrapping up a project with my 7th graders that is about traveling to Texas in the year 1800. All of my design students take either French or Spanish and I have them in corresponding "delegations" with a student governor. Within the delegations are groups of students (3 to 6 in a group) who are working together as a sort of travel company.

Their task is to create a diorama of a settlement for a certain number of people that will be going on a trip from a country, of their choosing, to somewhere in Texas. They also are creating a presentation where they are to "sell" this trip to the rest of their classmates.

Tasks they must perform include figuring out how many people they will take (including their skills) and the number of ships that they will need to transport these people to the New World. They have researched where the ship will land in the New World and how long it will take to get to the place they plan on settling from the ship landing.

Throughout this task I have been bringing it back to the importance of building empathy. The latest paper I had them write me was to tell me about a young person who is planning on taking their trip. As this person, they have to describe their home that they are leaving; how long it will take to get to the ship; what it will be like on the ship (including what they plan on doing to keep from getting bored); and what it will be like when they first get to Texas. I want their character to be about their own age.

My students didn't have much of a problem doing basic research and calculating things like speed and distance. They had a harder time with calculations of scale for their buildings in their dioramas. But when they had to write that empathy paper there were some fun thoughts shared with me by these young folks.

While the majority of students told me of one room, broken-down, huts that they were leaving, several told me about these huge multi-room mansions that they were leaving. And one student told me all about the apartments he would be moving into when he got to Texas.

When it came to getting to the shipyard most walked or rode on a wagon but several said they would take a taxi - (what, no Uber or Lyft?).

The ship ride for most students was cramped with not much to eat. But many of my students planned on having 3 meals a day provided by the captain. And a few had very nice accommodations - "Better than the bed they had at home!"

It is interesting to see students struggle with understanding of what life was like prior to 1980 - never mind what life was like in the year 1800!  I'm only hoping that this process will help them with their Texas History class that they are taking at the same time.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Let's Make a Maker Space

Right up front I want to say that any school that has a Maker Space because that's what great schools have, is missing the whole idea. I think playing with things and trying out things is really cool. I do. But if we haven't thought through what we will have in our space then will it truly be a space for all students?

There's that WE again. When WE are thinking about a maker space, then the first thing to think about is who is this WE we are talking about. WE should include anyone who controls the purse strings for purchasing items. WE should include the students who will be using the space. WE should include parents who might want to be involved in the space. WE should include teachers who might want to encourage students to use the space but also might want to use the space themselves.

Purse String Holders - How much will it cost for the initial purchase of items, for the maintenance of items, and for the replacement of items? If WE haven't thought about those items then the space won't be a success.

Student Users - What do the students want to do in the space? And, at the same time, what should be included in the space that the students haven't even thought of wanting?

Parent Participants - Some parents always want to be involved with the school. Some parents feel that they just don't have time but they are willing to purchase/collect/make items for the school. What do the parents want for the space? Do they want time when they can use it? Do they have expectations for what happens when their child is in the space? Do they want to volunteer to be in the space so that other adults (from the school) won't have to be in there?

Teacher Participants - Do the teachers have a certain expectation for what items should be in the space? Do the teachers want to be able to send students to the space at any time, knowing that there will be an adult presence to monitor the kids? Are there other ways the space can be used?

Last year was my first year at my current school. Several times I was told that there were parents who wanted the school to have a maker space. Well, where would this space be? What are the hours of the space? Will there be a requirement that there has to be an adult in the space at all times - or could we have a certification program for our older students who could be in the space during their study hall or after school.

Here are my top dozen questions compiled into one list:

      1. What do the parents want?
      2. Where would the space be located?
      3. Who would monitor students while it is open? 
      4. What would be the hours that the space is open?
      5. Will parents be able to provide items for the space? 
      6. What is the initial budget for materials for the space?
      7. What is the annual budget for materials for the space?
      8. Would there be a certification process for any tools and for general safety?
      9. Will teachers monitor the space? And, if so, when is this going to happen?
    10. Will parents sign up to monitor the space? How does that look from an insurance stand point?
    11. What do the students want (at each level. We're K-12 2nd graders and 10th graders have different desires) ?
    12. Will students be allowed to leave their classrooms to go to the space to work? If yes, how do we make sure that there aren't too many students in the space?


And now, for my readers, help me compile a list of materials that should be in a maker space (leave your thoughts in the comments section). Who knows, maybe there'll be a grant with our school's name on it and we can get this thing off the ground.  Here's a general list to whet your whistle -

     A. Legos and a Lego Table, KNEX, Blocks
     B. Basic hand tools (screw drivers, hammers, allen wrenches, adjustable wrenches, pliers)
     C. Yarn and Thread
     D. Tools for knitting, crocheting, sewing
     E. Painting Supplies (But what, exactly???)
     F. Computers/laptops for online access
     G. Rulers, T-Squares, Straight Edges
     H. Paper of various types
     I. Nails, Screws, Bolts
     J. Circuitry and wire
     K. Various types of tapes and glues
     L. Storage Containers and Shelves
     M.Craft supplies (Popsicle sticks, tooth picks, material, card stock, cotton balls etc.)

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Design Thinking or PBL, A Chicken/Egg Scenario? My journey.

Last night I missed a great conversation during a Twitter chat hosted by #MeritKCI and involving my friends who frequent the #dtk12chat. As I was scrolling through the tweets from the chat I noticed some discussion of PBL and how different Design Thinking (DT) is from PBL. A blog post that was referenced (and also one of my favorites) was written back in 2012 by Ewan Mcintosh of Notosh.com.

What's missing in these 140 character exchanges is some historical perspective and some grounding in where classroom teachers are in 2016. Before going further though, it's important to understand where my belief system lies and where I come from. I love student exploration - fueling inquiry and that innate desire to learn about things. I am against grades and, instead, am for student assessment through creativity, self analysis, and reflection. I believe in backward design but also in problem creation. I am also grounded in where the education world is today.

Parents, and I'm one, want their kids to be able to "be a kid," to explore, and (at the same time) get into great schools that will introduce them to unique learning opportunities. These school should then provide a foot into the door of a company that will help the students pay off their college debt. Many (most?) of these "great" colleges require a certain score on a standardized test (SAT/ACT) and a certain class rank based upon a 4.0 grade point average.

High schools are charged with getting students college and, lately, "career ready." Students must learn certain things mandated by their community, their state, and by the national government. The national government creates a list of "standards" that must be met. The state government creates a list of standards that must be met. And then school districts create standards that their students must meet to be labeled a high school graduate. More and more of these standards include the words "Explore" and "Hands On" but it really is up to the the teachers to bring in the "how" to do that exploration.

At some point years ago teachers started finding ways to engage students in their learning through an idea of centering the learning around a specific task or problem.  Although the idea of teaching in a mode that was focused upon a project had been around for about a century, it was a couple of dozen years ago that this was labeled (as we know it today) as Project Based Learning or Problem Based Learning - PBL. Schools/Companies/Corporations in Northern California jumped into this and we suddenly had the Buck Institute for Education (BIE) and the New Tech Network (NTN).  As these entities trained teachers and/or opened PBL schools the popularity of this PBL-thing increased and more groups started training teachers in their version of PBL.

Around the same time this was happening schools were rapidly removing "Shop" classes and other hands-on classes for students because schools wanted to focus on courses that were academically rich. But this wasn't happening everywhere. In Upstate New York a company was created that focused on engineering principles - Project Lead the Way (PLTW).  In 2010, as I finished my 2nd year as a math teacher in a New Tech Network school, I was given the opportunity to teach a PLTW class, Introduction to Engineering Design (IED), and I went to my first PLTW course. That same year I saw for the first time a Nightline piece about a company called IDEO.

I started thinking about the marriage of the design process and the pbl process. And, coincidently, I found out about and read a new book called Make Just One Change from the Right Question Institute.  If we could get students to ask more questions at the start of each project might we improve the student inquiry process? And, in turn, might we not help teachers see that we can allow students the opportunity to explore the content and not just follow a road map that we (the teacher) created?

In 2012 as I was about to "finally" figure out this PBL-thing that I was floundering in, I was promoted to an Instructional Coach position with the charge of helping a middle school bring in PBL as the primary mode of instruction. So, before I was able to perfect my own teaching practices I was asked to help a staff of nearly 50 learn and perfect the art of being PBL teachers. That's when I started to really see the push back from teachers who felt that they were in a no-win scenario: state test scores must improve and they must be doing PBL in their classrooms. We were a NTN middle school with a NTN coach but we weren't doing PBL the "right" way. After two years we all decided that the school and NTN needed a break from each other. And I felt like a completely incompetent instructional coach. Why didn't PBL succeed in this school?

Later that year I started the training to become a National Faculty member of BIE so that I could reflect on my own PBL knowledge while facilitating training for teachers in school districts who were looking for a way to bring this PBL-thing into their schools. While immersing myself in all things PBL I came across a group of teachers who were talking about using a design thinking approach (DT) in their classrooms. In discussions with some of the folks I considered to be PBL guru's I was told that these DT teachers weren't going deep enough with the content and that PBL was what really got students going deeper. "Wait," I thought, "wasn't the big push back to PBL the notion that in projects students didn't go deep enough - it was just bells and whistles?"

DT was undergoing the same scrutiny that PBL had when I first was exposed to it years earlier. And, I should add, I was still hearing that push back from teachers in PBL trainings - "How do we know that the students will understand the content to do well on standardized tests?" -and- "This will never fly with our parents/school board/students."  In 2015/2016 BIE and the National Faculty members took a hard look at what PBL should look like for all students and in all classrooms. Because every classroom is different we wanted to create a "standard" that all teachers should be striving for in their schools. We came up with what we now are calling Gold Standard PBL.

In introducing this new Gold Standard to teachers one aspect jumped out to me: we now want teachers getting their students to ask questions through the use of the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) from the Right Question Institute. I had first learned about the QFT when I read Make Just One Change. BIE was now specifically stating what I had thought about way back in 2012.

Now let's overlay the flow of design thinking. Here are two representations (with notations) of this:

Empathy is the obvious thing not mentioned in the Gold Standard. So, in my mind, a good PBL teacher must get their students looking at why we are doing this project. Who are we doing it for and why should the student care about doing it? Along with empathy at the start is building what I call empathic inquiry throughout the project. Are students getting feedback from those whom they are creating for throughout the project? 

And so, again from my perspective, doing gold standard PBL while following a DT path is the best of both worlds. These are not (and should not be considered) separate entities. What are we looking for in all of this? We want students who are aware of their surroundings; are aware of the needs of others; are inquisitive about how and why things are the way they are; and, who are given the chance to experience the creative process of imagining a result, attempting to create the result, reacting to feedback for improvement on this initial result, and persevering to complete their final result. 

I am now back in the classroom in an International Baccalaureate (IB) charter school in Texas. I am creating projects in coordination with my fellow teachers. I organize my project ideas using Project Based Teaching Practices from BIE and I use the DT flow shown above. I have found that it doesn't matter whether you think DT is better/different than PBL or that PBL is better/different than DT. What matters is that you are creating a classroom where students feel safe to take chances, make mistakes, and build resiliency. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Things That Piqued My Interest This Week (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Thanking a Teacher In My Life

This past weekend I heard about a project being run by People Admin. They offered money to hear stories about people who inspired you to become a teacher.

So I sat down and whipped up this thank you to a teacher who inspired me to become a teacher. Enjoy -----

In 1990, at the age of 32, I was at a crossroads. My wife and I were both active duty Naval Officers serving aboard ships. Her ship was out of Norfolk, VA and my ship was out of Long Beach, CA. One of us needed to leave active duty. Over dinner we discussed the pros and cons of each of our futures in the Naval Service. My wife turned to me and said the magic words, “ At least you know what you want to do if you get out.” 

At that point she told me that I had always spoken of being a high school math teacher and a baseball coach. I never realized how often I had said that,  but I knew she was right. By the end of 1990 I was out of the active duty Navy and I was enrolled in graduate school. By the end of the Summer of 1992, I had my MSEd and my certification to teach math and science.

Where did this desire come from? Partly from the fact that I had two Great Aunts who were both teachers and my mother was a secretary in an elementary school. It seems that I had always been around educators and their “school talk.” But the main reason I ended up taking this route was because of my high school junior varsity (JV) baseball coach and math teacher - Mr. Pete Austin. 

Mr. Austin was a very demanding coach. You played his way or you didn’t play at all. Our JV baseball teams were a force to be reckoned with in our state. We played hard and we played the game with passion - just like our coach. He showed us that you would be rewarded for hard work.

In the classroom he was equally as demanding and he rewarded students who worked hard. He expected us to stand up and be bold with answers to questions. Wild guesses and “maybes” in a student’s answers were discouraged. And he wasn’t afraid to throw a chalkboard eraser in your direction to keep you on your toes - (always followed by a smile, I should add). 

One of his ways of helping us with low grades was to give a minimum grade of 50 on any assignment. The downside of this was that he would announce the members of the “50/50 Club.” I was a proud member of that club. But at the same time, my math skills were at such a high level that I went on to be a math major. At reunions we still talk about being in that infamous club.

My take away from this interaction was that teachers can be tough and demanding on their students while being compassionate and loving at the same time. There was never any doubt that Mr. Austin cared about us and he wanted us to be the best. That held true whether we were on the baseball diamond or in the classroom. 

I never made it back to thank this person who so inspired me in life. I only hope that one day his family will be able to see this and will take pride in knowing that he made a difference in our lives. What he showed me then is making a difference in my students lives today.

As I work with new teachers I make sure to encourage them to be firm and consistent in their classroom management. I make sure that they understand that they also need to show love and compassion. That’s the way I was treated in my high school pre-calculus class, that’s the way I treat my students, and that’s the way I want my own children to be treated in their classes. 

Thank you Mr. Austin for inspiring me to pursue this incredible journey.

---->   For those of you who remember Mr. Austin, feel free to leave your own memories in the comments below. I know that there are those who were afraid of that chalkboard eraser and Mr. Austin's style in the classroom and on the baseball field. I obviously loved how he worked and I know it helped make me a better person. So, if you do have any unpleasant memories, please remember to numb the sting before hitting submit.  Thank you.