Just ask the students…

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For the past several months we have been working on hacking our curriculum for 2017. Our Upper School faculty has been collaborating on new courses for next year. The discussions have been driven by three questions from our Manifesto.

  • How might we make school more reflective of real life?
  • How might we empower all learners to be seekers and explorers?
  • How might we inspire one another — and the larger world — through the work we undertake together?

We initially posted displays in the Hive for teachers and students to comment on during a 2 week period. There were several informal meetups organized during our lunch/enrichment period. We provided examples of courses and schedules from other schools, documents from our current academic program, prototypes from our faculty members and external constraints that we have to consider. The process led to lively discussions between faculty members but we knew that there was something missing. So, we decided to include students in the process.

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After the two week Pop-up Lab faculty members formally proposed new courses for the 2017-18 school year. During the course review process we brought in students to find out what they …

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This gave our Upper School Leadership team additional information to consider during the approval process. As you can imagine, we learned a ton from our students that informed our decision making process. The end result is that we’ll be rolling out new interdisciplinary courses that are inquiry based and incorporate real world connections. All were vetted by the students prior to approval. Let’s see how the students respond in January.

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I would love to hear how other schools include students in academic program discussions. Please share what you are doing.

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Best Practices Just Aren’t Enough These Days

Best Practices – Aren’t. Mike Myatt. Forbes Magazine. 15 Aug. 2012. http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikemyatt/2012/08/15/best-practices-arent/

Just over a year ago I read George Couros’s post, Ignoring the Status Quo and after this I have been campaigning against best practices. I was in search of alternatives to looking at “best practices”. Unfortunately I’ve been doing a poor job of communicating the concept that best practices keep up the status quo without taking us to a new level. Thanks to Brett Jacobsen at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School I started reading Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath. They clearly explain the benefits of best practices mixed with “bright spots”.

“They’ve long since learned to “benchmark” competitors and absorb industry “best practices.” While these habits are useful, they are rarely transformative. Good ideas are often adopted quickly.”

In Decisive, they give the example of how Sam Walton replicated practice that Ben Franklin was using where customers paid for their items at one location at the front of the store. In the past customers would pay separately in the respective departments. As more stores starting adopting this strategy it became common practice. Walton would frequently ask, “Who else is struggling with a similar problem, and what can I learn from them?” I find that we do this all the time in schools. In the international school community, The Principal’s Training Center listserv is buzzing with colleagues who are gathering information on what others are doing (“best practices”). This type of sharing is necessary and very helpful. For example, about a year ago we asked schools (see The Best Time – Design Thinking Part 2) how they were organizing their classroom without walls trips. We received some excellent ideas and ended up piloting trips based on the best models that we found.

The Heath Brothers present a case for a combination of best practices and “bright spots.” The bright spots are solutions that come from alternative thinking within the organization. Thinking that is tailored to meet your needs and takes the solution to the next level. This type of thinking can lead to mash-ups or innovative practices.

“The search for options might lead the manager to search first for best practices. In a world with thousands of other organizations, someone has surely faced this problem before. Next, she might look for bright spots within her own organization, …”

Using the classroom without walls trip example. We’re basically at a point now where we need to develop brights spots that will improve our school trips. Based on the feedback that we received from teachers and students, the pilot trips were excellent, but they weren’t innovative and we didn’t quite accomplish our objectives. We’re now in the process of developing a new iteration for next year’s learning experiences and we plan to take them to another level. A level that better meets are needs and will hopefully be seen as a “next practice”. Notice that I said “learning experiences”. We’re realizing that the activities for the week don’t have to be trips.

I’m changing my campaign in support of best practices and bright spots.

Jumping Right into Design Thinking – Part 1

Jumping in Pool

I have always been someone who likes using defined processes groups. Probably the most useful workshop that I ever attended was David Langford’s Quality Learning seminar. I have used his tools for problem solving as an individually and with groups for years. For several years now I have been wanting to learn more about design thinking because the concept seems sensible and interesting. Instead of solving problems this focuses on finding solutions by learning about the  stakeholders. So, instead of taking the time to attend a workshop I decided to jump right in and learn by doing. Thankfully, IDEO has a free online toolkit to guide me through the process and my colleagues are game for trying something new.

For several years we have struggled with our annual week long trips in the high school. For one week in September the entire high school travels to four different locations in Brazil. The groups are organized by grade level and there have been two objectives.

To gain a deeper appreciation and knowledge of Brazil – The trips provide students with real life experiences within Brazil. Trips may focus on…

  • exploring various cultural aspects of the respective community.
  • environmental issues in the community.
  • sustainable development and the economic environment in the community.
  • fun activities that are representative of the community.

To develop relationships within our community – The trips are an excellent opportunity for students and teachers to start the year off by learning about each other in a non-classroom setting. In doing so, students and teachers can build an appreciation for others and a respect for differences. Relationship building may occur in the following ways: 

  • team building activities
  • discussion groups focused on objective #1
  • group projects
  • informal dialogue throughout the trip

We have also been working, with mixed success, to link the trips to course curricula. Each year we get mixed reviews from students and teachers and we feel like we just haven’t gotten them right yet. The factor that tipped the scale is that for two years in a row we had a large number of seniors decide to not travel with their classmates. So, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to give the design thinking process a chance.

After reviewing the trips from this year and that past we have defined our challenge, set a timeline and gathered the information that we have on hand.

“Redesign the experiences to make them indispensable and unforgettable so that the mission and core values come to to life.”

We’re now in the research phase where we define exactly what we need to learn from our students and teachers and look for inspiration from various sources. With that information we’ll work in teams to develop prototypes of trips for review. There is still much work to do but we all seem to feel that there are plenty of possibilities for making the trips “indispensable and unforgettable”

I’d love to hear ideas and suggestions from design thinking experts that are out there. We’re definitely going to need support throughout the process.

This photo, “8579 S jumps into pool” By WoofBC under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, modified slightly from original

How do groups work in your learning environment?

Fairly early on in this MOOC we had to form teams. I’m very interested in how this process works because it seems quite different than how we typically assign groups in the classroom. Note that I used the term “assign”.

Below is detailed information on the assignment, team formation and suggestions for teams. Are you using any of these during your team or group work? Do you provide the groups/teams with detailed information? Can the kids self -select? Are the students coached on selecting teams based on interest and complementary skills and knowledge?

The Following information was taken from the Designing a New Learning Environment, Professor Paul Kim, Stanford University

  • There is no deadline to form a Team, but it is an important step to complete so that you can begin meeting, working, and innovating together!
  • Anyone may create a team. When you create a team you are the Team Leader.
  • The Team Leader can add new members by contacting classmates and asking them for their registered email addresses.
  • When creating a Team, use detailed descriptions and information so that others will be able to thoughtfully consider whether your Project idea and interests may be a good match.
  • If you have started a Team and are looking for members, you should use the Students menu (under Community) to find recruit your classmates.
  • If you are looking for a Team to join, you should use Teams menu (under Community) to search for different teams. Use the contact button on the team page to contact all Team Members the Team Leader to join the team. Every time somebody invites you to their Team, you will receive a new invitation under your Conversations, Team notifications tab. That message contains links to accept or reject an invitation.
    • Team formation has a very open dynamic, at any point you can decide to leave a Team and join a new one, without penality. The Team Leader can decide to remove inactive or uncooperative members from the Team. (In that case the member will receive a team notification about this decision, and if you think that the Team Leader has made a mistake, you can appeal Team Leader’s decision. If half of Team Members agree with you; you will be added back as a member of the Team. If a Team Leader chooses to leave his/her Team, he/she can assign Team Leadership to another user. Continuity among Team Members will be important to successful execution of the Team Project, however all users have the option to switch a Team that is not a good fit for them.
    • The recommended Team size is 4-7 people.
    • You may only be a member of one Team at a time.
    • One of most important variables in Team composition is shared passion about the project idea / topic area. We suggest that Teams be made up of people with a range of backgrounds and technical skills, but ultimately a shared interest in the idea is what will support project momentum and involvement. It is useful to think about geographical considerations in a variety of ways: if you are considering an educational innovation for primary education in Tanzania, for example, it would be very useful to have a team member from, or knowledgeable Tanzania, to help inform analysis of needs, barriers, implementation, and sustainability. However, geographical considerations, such as time difference, may also come to play when collaborating or scheduling Team Member tasks. We encourage you to think and be transparent about these in terms of what is important for your project and for your working style, while also demonstrating the flexibility and generosity of spirit that will help us grow from each other’s perspectives and experiences.

Getting Started with Your Team:

    • Start communicating about your Team Project idea. Complete and maintain your Team Profile with an up-to-date (brief) Project Description (these may start simply as general interests, and may change or evolve over time).
    • Every Team has a Team Journal. You should feel free to write on it about your Team activities, post pictures of your meetings or collaboration strategies, and write about your new ideas or progress for the Team Project. The Journal can also be used as a discussion tool. Your classmates will be able to follow your team blog and receive updates.

Team Project:

    • Teams will design a new educational technology or learning environment catering to 21st century environments and learners. Designs should include interaction activities and learning support features in ways that are effective and appropriate for today’s computing and communication devices, and that consider the classroom, school, and community ecosystem in which it will operate.
    • Presentation of your design should include details about the users, environment, and educational objectives of your design (the “who? what? when? where? why? and how?” questions).
    • Your presentation should also address how your designed innovation would implemented and sustained, including considerations about idiosyncrasies with various learning devices (e.g., web, iOS, mobile devices, and Mac/PC) and infrastructure requirements (e.g., cellular network, wi-fi, Bluetooth).
    • Your team should create and defend a business model (non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid) for the launch and scale up their solution.
    • You will not need to conduct an actual needs analysis or develop an actually functioning technology or solution. You may describe a hypothetical solution in detail through text, visual mock-ups, and prototypes.
    • Additional consideration will be given to teams that come up with system feature ideas presenting meaningful learning interaction and performance analytics.

Evaluation:

    • The Final Team Project will undergo the official Peer Review process.
    • The broad criteria for Final Team Project Evaluation (these will be addressed further later in the course):

1) Creativity and originality of the system design (Is the design substantially distinguishable from existing and conventional solutions?);
2) Educationally sound (Does the design promote higher order learning or generate learnable moments?);
3) Engagement and interactivity (Is the design engaging and interactive for the learner?);
4) Accessibility (Is the design accessible for people with disabilities or for people living in underserved communities?)
5) Scalability and sustainability (How sound is the implementation plan and business model?)

    • At the end of the course, you will also be evaluated by your other Team Members on your contribution to the Team efforts and Team Project. In addition to your Assignments, this peer evaluation will affect your Rank in the course.

Intellectual Property and Confidentiality Considerations:

    • Some of the major goals of this course are to instill the mindset for thinking about innovations aimed at improving education, and to create a space for developing those ideas into thoughtful designs. We would like you to continue to develop your work and Projects beyond this course into the real world. The Intellectual Property rights relating to your Individual Assignments, Team Assignments, Journal entries, and other materials created by you remain with you (and with the Co-Creators for Team Assignments and Jointly Authored Works)–they are not Stanford’s, not Venture Lab’s, and not Dr. Paul Kim’s.
  • At the same time, this space is public to others in the course–all Journal and Forum posts, as well as all Assignments will be visible to all others enrolled in the course. Viewing and learning from each other’s discussions and work products will expose us to new ways of approaching different problems and will help us develop a more critical eye for the benefits and limitations of technology solutions. Because all projects are shared with other DNLE-ers (strictly for educational purposes), an idea or product requiring strict confidentiality or formal business agreements would not be a good candidate for a Final Team Project. Please consider this when creating or joining a team.

Learning from my first MOOC Experience: I’m taking a course from Stanford!

A colleague of mine and I are taking “Designing a New Learning Environment” course taught by Paul Kim, Chief Technology Officer and Assistant Dean, School of Education, Stanford University. I have no idea how many thousands of students there are but I’m looking forward to the experience. The course is a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) which theoretically sounds really cool.

I signed up before I read the MOOC Guide.

“The effect of a MOOC is not to be taken lightly! Many of the participants who went through a MOOC experience have had a powerful learning experience which in some cases resulted in strong personal or professional projects with impact. On the other hand the drop-out rate in a non-credited MOOC is high and some participants simply do not like the approach of a MOOC for it has specific dynamics. The diversity in appreciations and feelings is not new: the playground felt like a mental warzone to some and a great adventure to others.”

The topic is of interest to me and if it works I will be able to:

After the completion of this course, students will be able to:

  •  Identify advantages, disadvantages, limitations, and potentials of at least 10 interactive learning models and solutions.
  • Describe how online communication, collaboration, and visualization technology play a role in the behavioral, cognitive, constructivist, and social dimensions of learning.
  • Describe the major components and processes involved in development of interactive education systems.
  • Communicate rationales of learning technology design approaches through team-oriented collaborations.
  • Evaluate the value of ideas, principles, and techniques used in educational media or systems.

While we have lectures to watch, assignments to complete and discussion forums to contribute to, our major assessment is a team project that is due at the end of the semester.

Let’s see how this learning experience goes.

 

How often do we limit our students’ learning?

A couple of weeks ago our lower school academic technology coordinator, Jennifer Peterson, and a 4th grade teacher, Maranda Schwartz, were grappling with whether or not to use Google SketchUp on the medieval unit on castles. Maranda had heard that 4th graders at another international school were using it so Jennifer decided to test it out. In the process, Jennifer learned that Google SketchUp is an extremely powerful tool that takes time to master and understand. She consulted online tutorials and used trial and error to create her own castle. Maranda and Jennifer were not sure that their idea was even realistic. There was little time for them to prepare and students only had a few sessions to create their castles. At one point the two of them were going to scrap the project in favor of traditional castle building. At the last minute they decided to test it out and see how it would go. Jennifer presented the tool to the students but made sure that they knew that she was not going to be the expert with the tool and that they would all need to seek online resources and help each other out. What happened then, surprised everyone. Many of the kids picked up the tool much quicker than Jennifer and Maranda had expected. The students helped each other out and they sought out resources for their learning. In the end, the project turned out to be a success.

Imagine if Jennifer and Maranda had decided to not take a risk to introduce this to students.  It would have been a lost learning opportunity for the everyone. This story got me thinking about how often we decide to not  do something because we think that the students can’t handle it or that we don’t have enough time to become the experts. One of the most powerful learning experiences from this example came from the teachers not being the experts. They were just learners alongside other learners. Kudos to the both of them for taking a risk that benefited the students.

Check out the final projects to see for yourself.

Back Channeling and Socratic Seminars

In May of 2011, I wrote about my experience using backchannel at one of our schoolwide assemblies. A few weeks ago I was so happy to see the tool used in one of our English classes. The teacher used it during a Socratic Seminar on John Updike’s short story, “A & P”.  The twist is that the student seminar leaders and the teacher were backchannel chatting during the discussion. The original purpose behind the use of the tool was to archive notes for students who were out for school trips. While they were able to archive the notes, they found out that it was helpful in other ways.

Seminar Logistics
The seminar leader and the teacher were in the circle and both had access to TodaysMeet. There were two other students who are adding notes to the backchannel and they were outside the circle. The other students participated in the seminar and they were not able to see the chat.

Prior to visiting the class the teacher told me that one of the unintended benefits was that the co-leaders were able to use the chat to coach the leader during the seminar. In this situation the teacher prompted the leader with the following:

“either ask for clarification or ask them to expand or move on to next question. :-)” Teacher at 2:28 PM, 17 Apr 2012 via web
“follow-up questions?”
“Good …”  at 2:32 PM, 17 Apr 2012 via web
“5 to 10 minutes more–only time for one more question after this…”  at 2:44 PM, 17 Apr 2012 via web
This instant feedback from the teacher really helped the student leader develop skills at facilitating a discussion. Imagine the power of the entire team of seminar leaders coaching each other during the seminar.
The seminar also provided students with the opportunity to show their knowledge and abilities that match with the  following IB aims:

IB English A2 Aims

  • communicate clearly, fluently and effectively in a wide range of situations
  • understand and use accurately the oral and written forms of the language, in a range of styles and situations
  • understand and use an extensive range of vocabulary and idiom
  • express ideas with clarity and fluency
  • structure arguments in a focused, coherent and persuasive way, and support them with relevant examples
  • engage in detailed, critical examination of a wide range of texts in different forms, styles and registers
  • appreciate the subtleties of technique and style employed by writers and speakers of the language