Friday, July 21, 2017

Reflecting as a Teacher #innovatorscompass

Through my years as an educator, I heard the term reflective practitioner.  In essence, think about what you did today and whether or not you would change it or how you would alter things going forward.

How do you reflect?  For me it is the time I have in the car on the way home.  Only thing with that is it is usually focused on the stuff I did wrong or the things that happened at the end of the day.  At times, by the time I get an idea of what I really need to think about, I am home and it is time to work hang with the family and then dinner and bed.

I wanted to create something that helped with this.  I go through and think about what I would like to ask other teachers and myself about our practice.  Not for the sake of saying one is right or one is wrong, but for the sake of questioning to remove the answer of "because I have always done it that way.  So I created a YouTube channel, the Reflective Teacher Minute.  The idea is that a reflection is something so small that can make a huge difference.  That, and all the videos are 1 minute long.  It doesn't take long to ask a question.  The hard part is the thinking afterwards.  If you want to see, here they are...



So how do you think through your reflections?  Some people skip around from thought to thought while others work through their day and decisions.  I ask myself questions, mostly because I learned an amazing tool from a great friend.  It is a tool I use for lesson design, lesson improvement, initiative planning, coming up with new ideas, solving problems... so pretty much everything.  I use it for reflection.  It is the innovators compass by Ela Ben-Ur @elabenur.  If you want to learn more you can go to innovatorscompass.org and check it out.


When I reflect, I start in the lower left (observations) and work my way clockwise around the compass.  Through this I have learned to improve my practice, but also always make sure I focus on the big picture (principles).  What matters?  What else matters?  What doesn't matter?  By taking into account what matters I guide my moonshot thinking (Ideas) and eventually come to what I am going to try next time (experiment).  As simple as it is, that is where the genius lies.

So I challenge you to reflect.  Just take a minute each day and think.  If you need some help on what to think about, check out a video.  Even a minute each day is something so small that we can all do that can make a huge difference for our students and for us as professionals, and, more importantly, people.  Have a great day.


Friday, April 14, 2017

My Engineering Feat #ALS #dtk12chat

My mother could no longer grab a fork, spoon, or knife.  That does not seem like a big deal, but it is huge when it is a list of things that you cannot do any more.  She had ALS and was struggling to open and close her hands.  I sat and talked with her on one of my Wednesday night visits.  When somebody is that amazing, you know how to listen or figure it out quickly.  As I listened, I could here how frustrated she was as she struggled to eat her food, though that was not the main point of the conversation.  Thus framed my design challenge.  How might I create something, so that my mom could hold a utensil and feed herself?

I could not put my finger on it, but I could not forget this problem for a few days.  I woke up on Saturday and went immediately to the local hardware store.  I had it.  She could not grab with her fingers, but her thumb worked.  I bought a piece of aluminum and some rubber coating and brought it back to my house (no tools necessary, I already had them all).  Here is what I made.


Here is how it works.  Understand that her hand is smaller than mine, so the black part goes on the palm, use your thumb to hold down the utensil, and the utensil can be used without making a fist.  I also made her a cup holder so she could hold her cups too.


There is a curved opening in the back where the top of a utensil handle goes.  It is nearly closed to hold that part down.  The front is open, but has two sides to keep the front of the utensil from sliding off the side.


Mothers are so special that they will use it when you are around to make you feel special.  What I later found out, it that she used it daily until she was no longer able to lift her arms.

Why do I share this?

I have never been more proud of something I have created.  Not that it is an engineering masterpiece or that it was difficult to make, but that it was perfect for what she needed.

When I talk about teaching through engineering or how I believe that design thinking can change the face of education in our schools, it is not just talk.  I refuse to sell something that I don't buy into myself.

I designed this with empathy.

  • I listened to my mother.  
  • Found a problem to solve
  • I came up with 1000's of possible solutions 
  • I came up with one worth trying.  It took me hours to make a bent piece of aluminum because I failed many times.  
  • I tested it 
and I gave it away.

I built this for her and she used it.  It solved a huge problem for her.  After she passed away earlier this month I asked my step-father if I could have it.  He gave it to me and told me how much it helped and how she used it, even when I was not around.

I know this was not about education, specifically, but I know there are many who are trying to figure out this design thinking process.  Hopefully this helps out.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Add Design Thinking to your Lessons

I recently wrote a blog post for the Center of Digital Education on how districts can focus their PD efforts on a single transformative teaching practice, Design thinking.  Rather than focusing on a slew of teaching practices and diluting efforts, a single practice taught to all teachers concentrates efforts and allows instructional leaders to focus on a single initiative.  By making that practice design thinking, teachers can make any classroom, lesson, or activity a student-centered engineering activity that addresses all the initiatives that you would have taught anyway.  You can read more HERE.

The point of this post is more practical for the teacher.  What does a design thinking lesson look like?  How can we change any lesson into one that incorporates engineering and design.  This is more of a stretch in an english or history class than in a science or math class, seeing as how they are both in the STEM and STEAM acronym.  So here is an example of a transformed lesson.

A Social Science Lesson Transformed by Design Thinking

Imagine being a teacher and revisiting a lesson from last year, a lesson on the democratization of eastern Europe. Last year this was done through an amazing lecture with slides and photos.

   With Integrated Technology

This year, add in some technology. Students will research the topic online and complete some task regarding the topic. Add in collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. The lesson is now a collaborative Google map where students gather and post information about one of the eastern European countries that gained their independence, for the last time, in the 20th century.

With the addition of 4 things (technology, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking) the lesson is a student centered, engaging learning opportunity.

   With Design Thinking

Take this same lesson and add design thinking. Design the perfect house for a person living in [select country] during the last time they gained their independence. Take into account the culture, people, budget, climate, natural resources available, and time period to ensure that the house is attainable for the average citizen.

By adding design thinking, the lesson is transformed into a small project that requires students to learn, empathize, and build. The incorporation of empathy in the design process requires students to use technology to learn about the people and culture of a certain country. The task requires students to think critically, create, communicate their choices, and collaborate to create the house. By focusing on one thing, design thinking, five others were added to the lesson. Further, students who would not have normally cared about social studies, let alone eastern Europe in the 20th century, are now engaged in building a house for people of an eastern European country during a time of historical significance.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Creating a Makerspace/Fab Lab - Space and Big Ideas

I have yet to mention the stuff that I have put into the space.  I may mention some here, but this takes a back seat to the people that will or will not decide to make the room a success.  The stuff isn't going anywhere.

Consider Your Perspective


So, the perspective that you have depends on your position relative to the space that you are creating.  If you are a teacher, principal, or district admin, then there are different considerations.  I am a district admin, so I have a set of things that I need to think about for successful implementation.  Namely, I cannot be the cheerleader for this project.  If I swoop in and deliver a great room, but have not gotten the principal involved or worked with the principal to have a shared and clear vision, then they will not be the cheerleader for it.  Regardless of all the work that we do, if there are not teachers who want to own the space, then this work is going to fail.  Just keep that in mind as this drives the rest of this post.

Stuff vs Space


Stuff is cool.  Students need stuff to use to create.  Teachers need to have a buy in that the stuff will help their students create and learn. Should "stuff dominate the room?"  I think that it shouldn't.  Many of our spaces are coming from old computer labs, they have enough power and data going to the space (see last blog post for why).  So, I want to gut these spaces.  I do not want a computer lab to continue to be a computer lab.  I want to make sure there is space.  2 reasons.

  1. It can cut cost by focusing on the space.
  2. Students need space to work with the stuff.


Large Ideas to Consider


Here are some pictures that I created for what I want our spaces to look like.  I was using the chrome app Floorplanner so there are definite limitations to what I can make.  What I was trying to make.

  • The tables in the center of the room would be standing height, folding, with wheels for storage against the wall.
  • The long bench against the wall under the tools would be the shelf provided by Trash for Teaching.
  • The computers in the corner would be connected to the 3D printer and vinyl cutter depicted by laser printers.
  • Greenscreen is actually fabric hanging from PVC.



Collaboration: Computers connected to LED TV's are great.  So are tables with whiteboards on them.  I was thinking about cost and durability.  So I was using tables with regular tops and wall mounted whiteboards.  Low tech, but who cares.  put too much tech in a room and teachers may be intimidated to work there.  This is to be a room for all teachers to bring their students to create.

Creation: Students working at the tables need space to put things and space to try things out.  I know there are fancy shaped tables, but large rectangles have space on them.  Between the space they have on them and the stuff and tools that they can use (see t4t.org) students will be able to create in this space.

Sharing: How can students take what they have done in this room and integrate writing standards and communication?  How can this room fuel the communication of the amazing things that your school does?  Let kids be creative and create videos to articulate their thinking and design.  Give them a green screen to open some doors.  Mine are mobile. Why? Painting walls can be expensive and there are laws about putting flammable articles on the walls in a room.  This allows for green screen use in a corner or somewhere else (in or out of the classroom).

Remember that if you are not telling your school's story, then somebody else is.  If your students are telling the story, then there is huge buy in to what you are doing.  It is impossible to fake student voice.

People


Don't forget.  All of this is worthless if people are not involved.  Not only is the design and the big idea important, but the people who you are relying on to make this a success.  Like computers in the classroom, they are not innovative.  It is the teacher and the instructional leaders who implement and push for innovative implementation that makes the experience great for teachers.

Putting a bunch of cool stuff in a room without getting their input and buy in will just tick them off or overwhelm them.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Creating a Makerspace/FabLab - Planning Considerations

First, it goes without saying that I hate the words fablab and makerspace.  I will call it a space, but come up with your own term.  Better yet, have teachers and staff come together to name the space (design studio, innovation lab, NG-Yes-Yes).  Now that I have gotten that off my chest I can start.

My district has charged me with designing and creating these spaces in 8 elementary schools across the district.  the parameters were simple, make them innovative and as economical as possible.  simple enough.

Currently my position in the district is Director of EdTech, but I have a background as a science teacher, mostly my experience is in chemistry, which has a fair amount of math.  That being said, I am guessing that the thought is that I have a good rooting in the S, T, and M of STEAM.  I am like 60% of the way there.  Through a bunch of research, relationships with principals, and connections with others in my digital and real life PLN (personal learning network) I have gone from make a space that is awesome to a plan.  That is what I am wanting to share through this blog and subsequent posts.  Not that anything that I have done, or am going to do is earth shattering, but I figured that somebody may benefit from reading this.

Shared Vision

There is no mystery that without people, stuff will fail.  From my current position at the district office, I feel that my mantra has been a shared vision and ownership.

Every space needs a champion and a group of teachers who "own" the space.

I am going to work to create and install these spaces, but at some point I am going to step back and this will be solely in the hands of the schools and teachers.  If I am the only one who is bought into the vision, or if the shared vision is only between me and the principal then the students will not benefit from the space.  My job is to purchase and gather materials.  The job of the principal is to get the teachers and students involved in the process. The more that I can do to help that, the better off the efforts will be.  Every space needs a champion and a group of teachers who "own" the space.  Without it, things will fail.

Keep Grounded

For room selection, be careful.  There are places that we like to spend money and places that we don't.  When selecting rooms work with your technology and maintenance & Operations departments to determine if the rooms that you would like to use have enough data drops or access points to support the computers and technology in the room as well as power.  These can get pricey and take away from other things that can be done.  I would also look at the walls and floor to with M & O to ensure that the space is capable of supporting equipment and students.  Finally, how secure is the room?  Is it indoors and more secure or is it an outside portable that can be easily broken into from the outside.  It would be horrible to complete the project to watch everything get stolen.

Teachers are overwhelmed.  Even if doing amazing things in the space, it is ok to leave some things out in the beginning.  If teachers begin working in the space and there are too many things in there, they will get overwhelmed.  Scaffold the equipment.  Start simple, gradually introduce items to the space.  Provide just-in-time training for teachers as they ask to work with robots, building materials, or other equipment that is in the room. It might be nice to have a list of coming attractions to the space, so teachers know what to ask for, but make sure they are asking for it.  It is also a good idea to introduce things to the teachers so they start to think about how they will use the new equipment in the lab.

Support is another place to stay grounded.  We currently have less than 10 teachers on special assignment (TOSAs) to support all of our elementary schools (36).  Of those, I have 1 to support technology.  Be practical with technology purchases.  Standardize on 1 robot district-wide that you can support, 1 3D printer and software that you can champion, and 1 of any other purchases of technology that you put into the space.  If not, then you will overload your tech people and support and training for the material will be diluted.  Not to mention that having the same tech across schools fosters collaboration through lesson creation in PLC (professional learning communities).

Forward Thinking

Many places have had makerspaces for years, even decades, but they have been called arts and crafts rooms.  Same or similar things will be in the room, but the focus of the use of the materials is slightly different.  We do not hear too much about those spaces any more.  When building the labs, ensure that there are plans to adapt the lab as teachers continue to innovate and get students innovating.  In our labs, that is a focus on growth through the incorporation of computational thinking (thank you Jeremy Shorr for that idea).

Our introduction of computational thinking will be through robots that can extend and build upon the groundwork and lessons of the hour of code.  Namely sphero and Code-a-pillar for now, but that list is sure to change as we move through the years.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Technology Sucks

If you read through my posts, you will find that this is a theme that keeps popping up.  Not necessarily spelled out this same way, but the fact is, technology is just a tool.  It really sucks.  Sit down in front of a computer when you are bored and chances are, you will not learn a whole lot.  Same thing with a computer in education.  Throw a computer in front of a kid, they will sit there with a computer in front of them. If you are bored and that is how you stumbled across this, here are some things that you can read on this topic (the third one is a video).

The last one is my personal favorite.

Google drive added something called My Maps.  When I was a kid, I liked maps.  I would spin a globe and find out where I would live when I grew up, though the middle of the pacific ocean was not very appealing to me, I liked that I could see where things were.  I never did learn where the east coast states were though, they were so tiny on the map that I couldn't figure them out. I went to the University of Delaware and quickly learned where they all were.  By the way, for those of you who do not know, Delaware is not the smallest state in the USA, that is Rhode Island.  Delaware has the smallest population.

What the heck does that have to do with Technology?  Well, maps are way better now.  

Check out the map that I posted below.  While on that map, complete the following:



  1. Find Japan and trace the tectonic plate that goes from Japan to the USA.
  2. Find 3 pieces of evidence that shows the pacific plate is moving.  Explain how this evidence supports the movement of the plate (direction, straight, spin, etc.).  Find the direction that it is moving and compare that with evidence from a reputable scientific source.
 Wow... Its a Map (Click on it)

If you had to give your students one of the 2 options above, one would suck and one would be kind of cool.  The trick is that, in reality, the thing is just a map.  Yes you can do cool things with it like add videos, images, customization, zoom in and out, change the base map, etc., but it is just a map.  

How often have you spent examining maps to learn something new?  Put it on a computer and POOF, its a learning tool.  No, its a FRICKIN map.  They kind of suck.  What makes it cool is using it as a tool to get students to see something that they are learning, explore more deeply and find evidence of something that was discovered around 100 years ago by really smart people. Alfred Wegener, 1912, thought plate tectonics happened because he looked at a map and thought the continents fit together.  Later the things was confirmed by Harry Hess in 1960.

It is kind of cool when you can take a process that happens at the same rate as fingernail growth (roughly 1 in per year) and show students that it is really happening and that it affects them.  
  • Follow the ticker tape leading northwest of Hawaii and see that there is a weak spot in the plate and Hawaii almost has a lot more islands.  
  • See the nexus of 3 plate boundaries and find out where there are so many earthquakes in Japan. 
  • See how close Bermuda is to the mid-ocean ridge and ask students to defend a thesis of why they think there are navigational issues we know as the Bermuda triangle.
Maps don't have to suck, technology doesn't have to suck.  So don't make them.