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.