Nothing like a little risk taking to keep things fresh

A couple of years ago I presented, School Leaders Set the Tone by Playing, Experimenting and Taking Risks at the 2011 K12 Online Conference and I talked about the importance of taking risks. Even so, when I turned 50 in August my wife had to really shame me into agreeing to an exciting birthday adventure. In the morning we went hot air ballooning and in the afternoon we went skydiving. Even though Wikipedia states, “Despite the perception of danger, fatalities are rare. However, each year a number of people are hurt or killed parachuting worldwide. (Skydiving fatalities and dropzone.com) About 21 skydivers are killed each year in the US, roughly one death for every 150,000 jumps (about 0.0007%).”, it still felt risky to me. It was certainly an adrenaline rush and I highly recommend the experience. Afterwards, my 15 year old son proclaimed that he was going for his 16th birthday next year. Guess who will be joining him.

My colleague, Ocki Fernandes also joined my wife and I on the adventure. My next challenge is to talk the members of our leadership team into going as a group. Oh, BTW, a few weeks later our business manager jumped to celebrate her 50th birthday. I’m thinking that we’ll have a critical mass when it comes to convincing the rest of the team.

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The best time… Design Thinking part 2

The design thinking work on our annual trips for next year continues as we work to “Redesign the experiences to make them indispensable and unforgettable so that the mission and core values come to to life.” There are three things that I  think that I’ve learned in the past couple of weeks. I’m not exactly sure if I’m on the right track but, as the facilitator, I’m moving forward.

We started our last meeting by watching this trailer for the documentary, Design & Thinking.

Get to work prototyping and plan to fail often

It’s short and clip and one of the take-aways for me was that the teams should work quickly to create a prototype. I’ve found that in education we typically spend too much time on planning. We’re probably cautious and conservative when it comes to making changes. Grant Lichtman is his post Your School and Google’s Nine Principles of Innovation states, “Adults want proof that something new will work; we want a 20-year longitudinal study to show that something different is better than what we have done in the past.” We want to cover all our bases and think through every angle so that we plan it right the first time. In this process the idea is to create something quickly, based on the information that you have and then you test it out. So, we decided to break into teams and start prototyping our trips for next year. At the same time we are talking to teachers and students to learn more about what it would take to make the trips “indispensable and unforgettable” I think that all of us have been also thinking that it’s November (almost December) and we don’t have our plan for the trips set in stone yet. Well, maybe we’re behind schedule but…

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. Chinese Proverb

The second learning from the trailer is that we should plan to fail. When I initially considered this I thought, “No way! This can’t happen because we are the high school leadership team and we’re supposed to come up with the perfect solutions. What will people think if we fail?” Then I realized that it actually may be a good thing for us to fail. Maybe we need to learn how to learn from failure and to model this for our community. Hey, one of our core values is Risk-taking.

The process changes from defining and removing barriers to developing solutions

As I mentioned in my last post, my past experience has been with the quality process and the focus is on defining the problem and barriers and then taking steps to remove the barriers. My last piece of learning deals with a shift from removing barriers to developing solutions. As we speak to students and teachers I find that I’m energized by thinking about possibilities and solutions. We also looked at what other schools and organizations are doing with trips and that was inspirational. It forced us to think differently about what we currently do. While we have defined parameters, we seem to not be spending time coming up with reasons why we can’t make changes. Instead we envisioning what can be and how we can create that amazing experience for students and teachers.

We have another prototyping session next week and each team is responsible for coming up with a plan. We’ve invited two travel companies that we work with to provide us with ideas and options. I’ve also got one more focus group session with 11th grade students. Oh, did I mention that the two groups have are just a bit competitive? It just adds to the fun.

As I learn while doing I need to think about how we can test out the prototypes. Maybe we can present these to students and teachers for comments or for a vote. Based on our expectation of failure it makes sense to not immediately decide to use one of the models for the real thing. Probably better to test it out with our audiences before spending an enormous amount of money on the trips. Anyone have advice for our next step? I welcome any and all suggestions.

Just say yes and …

I am so fortunate to work at a school where we have access to resources and allowed to take risks. While Graded has always worked to be on the cutting edge, the entire community was jump started after Innovate 2013. I still remember watching the flea video just after the conference and saying to myself that I have to keep the lid off as much as possible. While the school has been 1:1 for the past three years, we’ve recently started branching out by giving students learning experiences around other technologies. I have to admit that it’s been fun saying yes to new ideas from teachers and students and then working to support their efforts. My fear of failing had diminished and my attitude is that we will all learn and benefit from the opportunity.  The results have been extremely positive and I love the culture that we’re working in.

In February, Keren Soriano organized the Graded Developers Association. She realized that we had a group of middle and high school students who wanted to learn programming and she brought in Luciano Ramalho to work with our students. She was right because the e-mail advertising the 10 week course was sent out on Friday evening at the beginning of our Carnival vacation and by the next morning the course was full. Several of our high school students worked with Luciano to teach the course and he helped them improve their programming skills. Today the high school students were in my office and we were working on a strategy for Luciano to offer Python courses after school this semester. The middle school course will continue and I imagine that our numbers will only grow in the coming years. Keren was right, there were Graded students who wanted this experience.

Not long after this we were presented with the opportunity for our students to collect data using Arduino technology that was connected to satellites in space. We didn’t even really understand how it worked but it sounded like an opportunity that we could not pass up.  Amy Flindt and Adam Cross volunteered to work with students on this project and it’s been a mix of after school and in class work with the majority of the work being done outside of class. We partnered with Manoel Belem who is a space junkie and Nanosatisfi. Belem is the man behind SpaceTrip4Us. It was challenging for the students to come up with a phenomena to study since they had little knowledge of astronomy. After hours of discussion and research they decided to study solar flares. They’re in the process of programming the Arduino board and the board will be using sensors to collect data for one week. The work has been challenging and the students are learning what it is like to work Nanosatisfi which is a start-up company, project delays that are totally out of their control and a very new subject for them. They look forward to sharing the results and the process that they went through with the world in the coming months.

Finally, Luciano connected us with the guys at Metamaquina, a start-up company that makes 3D printers and we are about to open up Graded’s Maker Space.  Instead of taking a wait and see attitude, Mike Dunlop and his team decided to remodel the space and purchase toys knowing that students and teachers would use them. We’re not exactly sure how people will use the room but we’re confident that Graded teachers and students will figure it out over time. What I love is that the students and adults will all be learners and they’ll be learning from each other.  We’re planning to host events and I’m sure that there will be many times when the students will be teaching the teachers.

Who knows what will be next but I know that it sure feels great to say yes and then figure out how we can make things happen. Anyone have ideas on what our next project should be?