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 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 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.


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.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Connecting the Dots - Design Thinking - #dtk12chat

What is at the nexus of the things that we have learned.  Yesterday I attended a Design Camp.  A one day design thinking conference-ish learning, mind blowing, experience.  It was an amazing experience.  The learning and ideating through design thinking was phenomenal.  However, one of the things that stuck with me most came from a single comment the night prior.

The evening before the conference, there was a meetup to get to know each other.  Honestly, one of the most important thing that I learned was the connection that happens just because of the empathy involved in the process.  It was here that I met Grant Lichtman, author, keynote of the conference, design thinking guru.  As we talked, he asked about my story.  Throughout the process of telling the story, I mentioned about 5 different that I wore and buckets that I lived in through my career.  He let me know that I had done this and asked, "Why not just call yourself an educator?"

It is 3 days later and I can't get that out of my head.  I like the buckets that define the type of educator that I am.  Not because I think it limits what I know, but because it adds lenses that I have used to critically examine the art I call education.  They have also constructed my current roll.  I enjoy the fact that I have come from several different areas and have experiences with conflicting ideas of what education should look like. I think of each of the experiences that I have as a dot.  Every time I learn something new or engage with someone new, about a topic, I get a dot.

I have a lot of dots. Not as many as some that I have met, but I enjoy the fact that my dots are scattered. I have dots that seemingly contradict.  I use these dots to look at similar problems through different lenses, and each of the dots alone may provide drastically different solutions. I even have dots that, taken alone, would view some challenges that I face as solutions to other challenges.  I have come to think that, like the empathy in design thinking, I need to understand and be able to empathize with people who exist solely in one of the dots that I have. I guess that I view this as an internal conversation with my experiences occurring in my brain.

So is our job to just go and learn, accumulate a bunch of dots to understand different points of view in regards to the problems we face. No.  I think that our job is to connect the dots.  When we connect the dots, we connect our different lenses and our experiences to the challenges we face.  Once we have done that, we take the input and critically make the decision in the our best interests.

Notice that if we connect the dots, the solution (orange dot in the center) lies "within the box" defined by our experience. (sorry about the molecule, but I was a chemistry teacher.

So is that the design thinking process?  Not really, the way that I understand it, the design thinking process is realizing that there are stakeholders who have completely different dots. Ones that you will never know unless you ask, empathize, and work with to solve a problem.  When you bring people together, empathize with them, accept their prior experience and knowledge (their dots) and incorporate that into the problem solving process, you get a different solution.  An out of the box solution.

Bringing more than one person's ideas to the table brings another set of dots.

When this happens the solution (black dot) is somewhere else.

The more people, the more empathy, the more expertise that you bring to the challenge, the more dots you have and the more outside the box the solution may be.  I say "may" as bringing together people with the same dots can bias the process and yield a manufactured solution.  Through this method we can create more outside the box thinking, innovative ideas, future-ready solutions, and think for the future rather than think about it.  

I hope that this is a complete over-simplification of the process, especially for those who have been doing this for years, but this is my brain hashing it out.  As I am thinking through this, I wanted to clarify some things.  
  • The dots are not static.  They flow as we continue to learn.  It is only when we stop learning that our dots stop moving. 
  • If the dots keep moving, then does the solution change?  Yes, the solution is based on a snapshot of where our dots were at that point in time and what dots we found related to the problem.  That is why there are so many solutions to the problems that we have and so many applications and processes for this method.  
  • Lastly, notice how the last picture show, though the black solution dot is outside the "box" of each individual person, it is inside their collective "box."  Ideas, experiences, and imagination beyond reason create moonshot ideas that, though they may not be the answer, are a catalyst for moving the solution outside the box of participants.
I am not arrogant enough to think that this could be a dot for you.  My goal is that you comment and add another point of view to my jumbled brain mess and help me turn it into a deeper understanding of the process that has had my brain running since I learned about it. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Communication and Bandwidth

I was sitting in a presentation today and heard a man discuss how students are communicating and telling stories through video.  The stories were emotional and conveyed a sense of the student being connected to content.  A light bulb went off in my head.  I had been thinking about what we are losing with the communication through video, what we are gaining, and how did we get here.  I sit here and type, knowing that very few will read this.  I am ok with that.  This is how I process and how I put my internal thoughts onto something tangible.  If you are reading this, then I hope you get something out of it.  My epiphany was simple.  Our communication is determined by our bandwidth.

How we communicate has often been determined by the medium available for communication.  That medium has grown from story telling around a small gathering of people, to spoken word, to written work published in a book or a periodical.  There was also radio and later TV, but, except for a select few, these were mediums that a select few used to produce.  The majority of us were consumers.

With the onset of the internet, that written word became digital.  With the limited bandwidth we could view what others had created, download, make endless copies, and distribute.  That has become simple.  In the early 2000's we created and communicated through audio podcasts.  We were able to listen to what others were saying, both synchronously and asynchronously.  Some of the more "techy" people produced their own podcasts.  This took more time initially, but that has since gotten faster.  As bandwidth increased even more, services like youtube, vimeo, netflix, and hulu (among others) became a reality.  We no longer needed to open a cupboard or have the "Don't scratch the DVD" conversation.  We just hit play and magic brings the video to our screen.  Not only that, but these sites are easy to use and there are millions out there creating and editing their own videos

For as long as I can remember, I have written papers.  My thesis and dissertation were well crafted, static documents that are arguably irrelevant now as they were written 3 to 5 years ago.  Accompanying these papers was a presentation.  A story that I told my committee about the paper, summarizing years of research into a 15-30 minute presentation.  Though my presentation could be seen as a story, it is one that utilized very little bandwidth.  In fact, only 5 people saw it.  It was the best presentation ever... Prove me wrong.

Our students write, just like we did.  They present, just like we did.  But have we increased their bandwidth.  They have the ability to turn their stories into videos that others can stream in their classrooms and on their computers.  Are we letting them?

What are they losing in creating a video?  When students write, who reads it?  Is it an authentic audience?  What if we let the students move beyond simply writing a story?  Would we be losing anything if our projects were no longer write something, but produce a video?  Students would still have to write.  They would then storyboard the video with pictures and video that they could create and curate.  They would need to record a narrative, practicing enunciation, public speaking skills, the English language, and academic vocabulary.  They would record, fail, record again, fail again.  but when they were proud of the video, they would have constructed meaning from different sources of media and produced a project on content that they will never forget.

If we have the capability to communicate with so much more information, why don't we?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A different kind of innovation

When I taught, I was the master of my classroom (self proclaimed).  My goal was to give students an education that was not only exciting, but that required students to tap into their own genius and experience to learn.  When I innovated, I only needed to convince students to give my ideas a chance.  I promised to make the material more relevant and interesting to them.  I tried new tricks all the time and when I failed, students learned a lesson about the scientific method.  It was my hypothesis that things would work.  My experiment showed otherwise.  Revise the plan and try again.  Students and I would build together, work together, and learn together.  We had fun learning chemistry together and applying the concepts to new situations.  That was my brand of innovation.

I have since transitioned out of the classroom.  My goals have not changed, but I have had to adjust my brand of innovation.  I still want to improve education for every student I affect with my actions.  The difference is that the pool of students has gone from about 200 per year to an ongoing 50,000.  We have a big district.  My roll has changed from teaching students to teaching teachers.  I want to get other teachers to teach in a way that allows students to create and students to relate to material.

So how have I changed my brand of innovation?  I still enjoy learning new tricks, apps, websites, and tech, I do not use most of those technologies in the same way that I used to.  Rather than using the latest and greatest technologies with other teachers and students, I use a handful of old tools.  Innovation has changed from 1,000 cutting edge tools to do 1,000 cool things to 3-4 tried and true, simple tools to do 1,000 things each.

I use the term expandable.  What are the tools that are the most expandable?  Teachers and students can learn to use them in one sense, then the tool can be repurposed to accomplish hundreds of different things and support learning in 1,000 different ways.  Innovative, for me, has changed from the innovative tool, to the innovative way teachers use the tool to teach students.  The teacher is the innovation and not the app, device, or program.  I, like others, have seen innovative programs, apps, and devices used in amazing ways and in ways that, for lack of a better word, suck.

My brand of innovation is less about finding teachers the next tool and more about showing them that they can use the tools they know to do amazing things.  Slideshows can be used for ignite or pecha kucha presentations or repurposed for collaborative spaces, posters, feedback, discussion forums, and developing theories.  Documents can be used for papers, hyperdocs and research or repurposed for collaborative notes, groupwork planning documents, resource documents.  Innovation becomes more like Sir Ken Robinson's idea of a divergent thinker than a search for the next program.

Educators often just need a nudge in a direction and they begin creating.  I have found that once teachers see that they can be creative with the same old programs, they are eager to create amazing learning experiences with the programs.  Not that they need to learn something new, but seeing something in a new light can be invigorating.

I often think that my brand of innovation is less about showing people new tools and more about getting teachers to take the risk of looking at something they know in a new way.  Innovate by seeing a program from a new perspective and transforming classrooms by repurposing the use of that program.

Hope you enjoyed the brain dump.