Friday, October 18, 2013

Worth Reading...

Sharing a few highlights from the past couple of weeks.

1. Improving School Lunch By Design (Martin)- design thinking approach to improving school lunches

“Sure, we could close all the campuses and get the same results,” says Sandy Speicher, an associate partner at IDEO, “but designing with the kids’ desires in mind makes them feel valued. Kids learn about what they’re eating through their choices. The district learns about consumption patterns and reduces waste. Everyone gets smarter.”

2. Setting Norms (Richardson)- comments on the newly opened Workshop School in Philadelphia

Today, each of  five advisory groups were sharing out the results of a norms building exercise that was pretty cool. Each group of about 15 students had spent a good chunk of time over the first few weeks trying to select four words that they would use to represent their group to the school. Surprisingly, there was some pretty wide variety…one group had even briefly considered the word “chivalrous,” though most others had landed on words like “intelligent” and “hard-working” and “creative.” Students in the advisories were selected to present the word to the rest of the classes as they moved around the building, and they all asked questions of one another: Why did a particular class select that word? How were they defining the words? What words didn’t they choose and why? It was fun to watch.

3. The Onescreen IS My Eduslam (Reich)- different way to look at the flexibility inherent in the iPad

 the #onescreen idea, the notion that iPads are best understood as portable multi-media creation devices rather than repositories of content apps, and the few apps that you need should fit on one screen.  

4. Being The Teacher (Reilly)- thoughts on what it means to be a teacher 

I am reminded while watching a really super intermediate grade teacher work that teaching well requires a commitment beyond what one thinks one can do and know.  Really fine teaching is edgy, unknowable in some primary ways as it happens in the present.  In such classrooms, emergence is perhaps the only constant leaving teachers to continuously work hard reading/misreading/rereading while on their feet.

5. Learning By Making (Dougherty)- learning by doing, engaging students in creating physical products

 I see the power of engaging kids in science and technology through the practices of making and hands-on experiences, through tinkering and taking things apart. Schools seem to have forgotten that students learn best when they are engaged; in fact, the biggest problem in schools is boredom. Students sit passively, expected to absorb all the content that is thrown at them without much context. The context that’s missing is the real world.

6. Casey Neistat- any of the films on the page are worth viewing but the one below is a personal favorite

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Moving On

Today was for the most part my last day before starting a new job in another school district.  I am excited for this new opportunity and the next set of challenges I am going to face.  This is not the first time I have changed school districts.  However, in the past I was a classroom teacher and now I am experiencing the transition as an administrator.

The feelings are the same regardless of whether I experienced the transition as a classroom teacher or administrator.  Just like it was bittersweet because I was not going to be able to continue working with a group of kids I established relationships with, the same goes for teachers I have had the pleasure to work next to every day for the past four years.  Heading into this last week I was not sure as to how I would feel about walking out of my office for the last time.  I have been part of some terrific initiatives and programs and will miss not seeing firsthand these ideas continue to grow. As the days dwindled, memories about the past four years were about people and not about any program.

These past few days have been a subtle reminder of how much education is about the relationships you establish with students, parents and peers.  So much of public discourse about education is focused on how to "fix" the system.  I certainly agree that the system needs be altered and potentially radically altered to meet the demands of a rapidly evolving global society.  I have posted numerous times on this blog thoughts about what I would like to or think should be changed.  Still at its core, education or school is about building trust, developing empathy, showing compassion and being committed to something or someone. Without these core elements in place, no paradigm has the chance to prosper.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Invent to Learn

Sharing a few select highlights from Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering and Engineering In The Classroom by Sylvia Libow Martinez & Gary Stager.  

While school traditionally separates art and science, theory, and practice, such divisions are artificial. The real world just doesn’t work that way! 

Making is a way of bringing engineering to young learners. Such concrete experiences provide a meaningful context for understanding abstract science and math concepts. For older students, making combines disciplines in ways that enhance the learning process for diverse student populations and opens the doors to unforeseen career

What is needed at both the university and secondary level are teachers who indeed know their subject but who approach it from a constantly interdisciplinary point of view – i.e., knowing how to give general significance to the structures they use and to reintegrate them into overall systems embracing the other disciplines with the spirit of epistemology to be able to make their students constantly aware of the relations between their special province and the sciences as a whole. Such men are rare today.

digital fabrication had the potential to be the ultimate construction kit, a disruptive place in schools where students could safely make, build, and share their creations. I designed those spaces to be inviting and gender-neutral, in order to attract both the high-end engineering types, but also students who just wanted to try a project with technology, or enhance something that they were already doing with digital fabrication.

Now you can make the actual thing you are trying to test. Best of all, gone are the days of helplessness, dependency, and consumption. Making lets you take control of your life, be more active, and be responsible for your own

From constructivist theories of psychology we take a view of learning as a reconstruction rather than as a transmission of knowledge. Then we extend the idea of manipulative materials to the idea that learning is most effective when part of an activity the learner experiences as constructing a meaningful product. 

Tinkering is what happens when you try something you don’t quite know how to do, guided by whim, imagination, and curiosity. When you tinker, there are no instructions – but there are also no failures, no right or wrong ways of doing things. It’s about figuring out how things work and reworking them. Contraptions, machines, wildly mismatched objects working in harmony – this is the stuff of tinkering. Tinkering is, at its most basic, a process that marries play and inquiry.

We teach children science and math so they can make the world a better place, not so they can pass tests. Edith Ackermann says: In the practice of design, the purpose is not to represent what is out there (or model how things are) but to imagine what is not (or envision how things could be) and to bring into existence what is imagined. Creators are fabricators of possibilities embodied: They both make and make-up things!  

“I’m done” are two words you should never hear in the maker classroom! When a student (or team of students) thinks they are finished, they should seek opportunities to improve

Friday, October 4, 2013

City Modern Trip

On Thursday several teachers traveled to New York City with 15 11th and 12th graders to participate in City Modern, a week-long festival celebrating design in New York.  This is the second year in a row we took students in to NYC for the event.  In both cases students were part of a small theme based academy.  As part of the academy students work on a capstone project and take courses in which they explore the concept of design and delve into the creative process.  

What's great about the trip (the itinerary is provided below) is that students are exposed to a broad spectrum of design.  As the day evolved students were naturally compelled to reflect on distinct design elements.  Additionally, students are afforded the chance to interact with professional designers.  In particular during the last stop of the day students spent time in a working studio reviewing products and projects as well as listening to professionals present an unfiltered view of the design process.  

The unique ways students are exposed to design makes the day worthwhile.  Whether it is observing artifacts in a gallery or the A & D building or listening to designers passionately talk about their craft, students are engaged in truly authentic learning experiences.

Furthermore, we asked students to take as many photos throughout the day.  Looking at an object through the lens of a camera often presents a different perspective.

We wanted students to examine a product or larger installation from varying vantage points.  The hope is that we can compile all of the stills into a rough slideshow.  Collaboratively, we could move through the slideshow commenting on and discussing what the cohort experienced during our trip to NYC.

City Modern Trip Itinerary
  • Stop #1- Paula Cooper Gallery to view the Sol LeWitt exhibit
  • Stop #2- walk on the High Line exploring the transformation of the old west side rail lines
  • Stop #3- apprentice talk moderated by Dwell magazine:
    • Built in Maine, Thos. Moser furniture is 100% American-designed, engineered and built. Each piece celebrates the natural beauty of wood with unembellished, graceful lines that echo numerous historic antecedents including traditional and modern forms. This year, Thos. Moser invited two aspiring furniture designers to Maine where they experienced first-hand, the techniques and philosophy that has defined the Moser aesthetic for 40 years. The panel discussion on Oct 3 featuring Thos. Moser designer Adam Rogers, the emerging designers, and a Dwell editor will examine the importance of melding craftsmanship into the age of high-tech design. The “apprentices” will share their experiences, and using their own pieces, describe their appreciation for the Thos. Moser approach.
  • Stop #4- self-guided exploration through the A&D building
  • Stop #5- travel to Brooklyn to spend time at Snarkitecture 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Worth Reading....

Passing along some personal favorites from the past few weeks.

1. The Missing Link In School Reform (Leanna)- the article makes a case for investing social capital and challenges to long held belief that improving human (teacher) capital is the way to increase student performance.

Social capital, by comparison, is not a characteristic of the individual teacher but instead resides in the relationships among teachers. In response to the question “Why are some teachers better than others?” a human capital perspective would answer that some teachers are just better trained, more gifted, or more motivated. A social capital perspective would answer the same question by looking not just at what a teacher knows, but also where she gets that knowledge. If she has a problem with a particular student, where does the teacher go for information and advice? Who does she use to sound out her own ideas or assumptions about teaching? Who does she confide in about the gaps in her understanding of her subject knowledge?

2. Why Teaching Mindfulness Benefits Students’ Learning ()- another reminder about the need to focus on the development of non-cognitive skills.

Mindfulness has the potential to be a very useful component in prevention and treatment efforts because of its effectiveness in reducing emotional distress and promoting emotional balance, improving attention, and contributing to motivated learning.

3. In Pursuit of Passion... not Carrots or Sticks (Moran)-fostering passion-based opportunities in the classroom.  The post also touches on the concept of student motivation and in particular, the connection between motivation and following one's passion.

It’s the sweet spot that comes with how humanity has learned best for millennia, through play, storytelling, movement, creation, performance, authentic problem-solving, and purposeful projects. We are incorporating what we’ve learned from these and other “test-bed” settings and innovation zones across all of our district’s schools with the idea that transforming, not reforming, contemporary learning environments creates pathways for our learners that are vastly different from those of 20th century factory schools. In doing so, we move from a Gutenberg teaching model of write, print, read, listen, and recall to a post-Gutenberg learning model of search, connect, communicate, and make. 

4. When Complexity Is Free (Friedman)- more stories about the "new" industrial revolution and how concepts such as crowdsourcing and 3d printing radically alter the way business is conducted.

In the old days, explained Iorio, when G.E. wanted to build a jet engine part, a designer would have to design the product, then G.E. would have to build the machine tools to make a prototype of that part, which could take up to a year, and then it would manufacture the part and test it, with each test iteration taking a few months. The whole process, said Iorio, often took “two years from when you first had the idea for some of our complex components.”
Today, said Iorio, engineers using three-dimensional, computer-aided design software now design the part on a computer screen. Then they transmit it to a 3-D printer, which is filled with a fine metal powder and a laser device that literally builds or “prints,” the piece out of the metal powder before your eyes, to the exact specifications. Then, you immediately test it — four, five, six times in a day — and when it is just right you have your new part. To be sure, some complex parts require more time, but this is the future. That’s what she means by complexity is free.
5. Creativity Rules from Master Builder, Master Designer Thomas Heatherwick (McIntosh)- interview with London bus and Olympic flame designer, Thomas Heatherwick. 
 "Making is a way to do practical analysis. Anyone can relate to models. But it's not a tool for others, it's to show yourself, to make sure you're not fooling yourself." (Kids who 'prototype' one or two versions of their work aren't prototyping at all. Kids whose early prototypes are graded, assessed too early by their peers or teachers, don't have a chance to show themselves whether their ideas stand up. They need more than a few goes at getting things right, and several of those attempts have to be made for the purposes of self-assessment above all.)

6. A Trip Into the Field: Collecting Stories of Design, Learning and Place (Kahl)- importance of field trips and getting students out of the classroom or rather their normal environment.
We make excuses to go on field trips because what we take from "the field" is immeasurably valuable to us as people and designers alike. It's so important that it grounds each of our projects. We go in the field during the discovery phase to live with our schools during an "insight week" and on "inspiration trips" to places and spaces we admire. Occasionally, we will reserve time to debrief or get "heads down" work done at the museum, cafe, or new co-working space. We find that these immersive journeys illuminate more insights than desk research alone... they are energizing and inspiring for every one.