As part of my Professional Growth Plan , I am going to be doing the periodic blog post on how I am trying to integrate Design Thinking into my teaching and learning environment. To learn more about the process of introducing and implementing the PGP at YIS, check out Kim’s blog.
Blogging to Ideate.
I am usually pretty open to trying things and not being sure where they are going to take me. That attitude is the one that has served me well. So after a semester or so of reading and learning about Design Thinking. it’s time to start sharing some of my ideas for where I’m going to be implementing. And in the process, I hope to synthesize all the ideas that I’ve been thinking about.
This is perhaps the most natural for me. I really wish I was still teaching the Sustainability Inquiry unit in Grade 10, as this would be the perfect place to implement the Design Thinking in the curriculum. But with my current teaching responsibilities, I’m thinking my Grade 7 unit on the Industrial Revolution would be the best place. I think the focus on empathy inherent in Design Thinking could really strengthen how I teach the unit, as I want my kids to understand what life was like in the historical Industrial Revolution and to make connections with the modern-day work conditions. Last year, I did loads of Visible Thinking Routines in this unit and I think the two could easily complement each other. I’ve kind of let my project on modern day child labor melt away, but Design Thinking could be a way to reinvigorate it. The other place would be the end of Grade 8, when students have to create a sustainable community in Minecraft.
I love my walls in my classroom. They are covered with post-its, I don’t have to decorate them, and they show the process my students are going through in their learning. In some ways, I’ve modeled my walls on the d.School dynamic walls. I love my walls so much, that they deserve their own post.
Sharing with other staff
I’ve already shared a lot of ideas with the other teachers in the Humanities Department. And I think there are other places in school we could use Design Thinking, especially Extended Essay and the Personal Project. This video suggests to me that our Service Learning program could also be informed by Design Thinking.
While I’m not coordinating either of these, one of the wonderful things about YIS is that everyone is open to other people’s ideas and won’t be offended when I send forward some ideas I’ve learned from Design Thinking.
This is perhaps the one I’m most excited about. I’ve been a student council advisor for most of my teaching career. I really love it, as you usually get great kids and you can set them loose. But I’m stagnating a little. We really are a machine in planning our assemblies, our dances, and volunteer work.
So, what I would like to do is for my Student Council members to engage in a Design Challenge to find a way to make YIS a better community. Perhaps they would work with Elementary or High School student council. Perhaps they would work with administration. Or perhaps they would interview their classmates. This is the one I’m going to be really sitting down and working on in the coming weeks. I think my student council can empathize, ideate, sympathize, prototype (repeat as necessary) and come up with some awesome stuff.
Perhaps because Design Thinking is still a bit of niche in education, I find the more I talk about my desire to learn more, the more people people reach out and share. I’m not quite sure what connections I am going to make talking about Design Thinking. But I do think there are some great possibilities to work with other teachers and academics thinking about how design can help our students.
Next step: Prototype
Or like this
Or like this
I am very conscious that my students are on their computers a lot. I am very conscious that eye strain, bad posture, and entering a vortex of wikipedia links is a constant concern in a 1:1 environment. Which is why I’ve introduced mini-breaks, which I try to get my kids away from the computer and moving. And after 5-10 minutes of silliness, they get back to work.
All right. Get up!
At some point in my 90 minute class, I will say the words “All Right. Get Up!”. My kids, with varying levels of groans, will close their computers and stand up. And then we get moving.
“Ms. Madrid Says”.
A variation of Simon Says is, for some reason, a student favorite. This is what it looks like in my classroom.
What does homework look like?
I ask my students to act out what homework looks like. Or ask them to do a slow-motion kangaroo. Or I ask them to spell out the alphabet with their whole body. I love the look of concentration on my students face when they are thinking how to express themselves. Sometimes I ask them I just ask them to yawn.
A bit of Pilates. Or Yoga. Or Dance.
One kid came back from Nepal and taught us some yoga moves he learned. Or I try to get my kids to isolate muscles to create movement like I do in Pilates. And some kids take dance lessons and have taught us a couple of moves, like a plié. What always blows my mind is that all my kids try it.
Last year, on the last class day of the week, my grade 6s would have a shimmy break. I loved that every kids had a shimmy style.
Thursday Shimmy Challenge with Grade 6. Who will last the longest? Grade 6 makes me laugh. http://t.co/pI6cQ7mokn
— Rebekah Madrid (@ndbekah) June 13, 2013
I’m not sure how I came upon the idea of putting up videos of the Wii Game Just Dance.
But this is an absolute favorite of my students. We put on the videos and we dance. It never fails to make make me smile. And every once in a while, we get the whole school dancing. It’s pretty cool to watch kids just let their guard down and just dance.
Back to work.
At the end of the game or exercise, I tell them get back to work. And they do.
And after these silly little mini-breaks I swear they are more awake, more engaged, and more smiley. Hard to complain about that.
This blog is crossposted on the COETAIL site
The Game of School
The particular offense of playing the Game of School lies in the disengagement of our intellect and our feelings from tasks that deserve to be taken seriously; task like writing, reading, thinking, planning, listening, researching, analyzing, performing, applying evaluating. We do harm when we reduce these acts of intellect, creativity, and judgement to rote exercises, perfunctory deeds, or meaningless gestures. Faced with the stress of daily life in school, it can seem easier, at times, to pretend to believe rather than to truly believe in the value of what we are about. The Game of School: Why We All Play It, How it Hurts, and What it Will Take to Change it. By Rober L Fried
I have pronounced, loudly, that I am not a gamer.
In case you haven’t guessed it, games are serious business.
So the next big question, is how are you going to use games in your classroom? Are you going to gamifiy your grading system? Are you going to redo a whole unit as a quest for your students to explore? Are you going to remix an existing game with your own curriculum? Are you going to play games that push your students a little further in their thinking? Are you going to use badges at your school, with students or teachers? Are you going to try to play a game, to see how games really work and how the best ones are designed? Are you going to have students create a game? Can you gamify COETAIL?
Our students are already learning rules for success and failure in school. And some parents (and our students) will be reluctant to change the game. And so, the final question is, are we having them play a game that is worth playing?
My students spent a week coming up with a good question. A single question – average around 10 words – took my 8th graders a week to come up with. In comparison, my students will spend a week actually putting together a final product answering the question. This may be a little crazy. But I think it was the best thing for my students.
I’ve stated a couple times that I am intrigued by Design Thinking as a way to teach my students. I was lucky enough to go to a Creating Space for Innovation with Ewan McIntosh in September and for the first time I was able to actually practice what had been just theory: Ideation. Synthesis. Prototype. Feedback.
While the discussions I was able to have during the conference were meaningful*, I also fully appreciated how I was able to take the concept of ideation into my classroom the next day.
My 8th graders were starting their culmitative world religion project. I’ve never been happy with the questions my students chose to focus on. Even worse, I don’t think my students were happy. This was a project that my students were supposed to care about and their questions were letting them down. And in reality, I know from teaching all levels, kids often don’t know how to create good questions. Moreover, creating questions is an assessed strand in the MYP Humanities criterion “Investigation”. So I figured it was time for my students to learn how to create good questions.
Step 1: Generating Questions. Lots and Lots of questions.
This is the phase that probably looks the most familiar to anyone who has brainstormed. 12 minutes, don’t put your pencil down, write as many questions as you can. Music played**. I wish I would have had them standing up. But most of them were scribbling away.
Not surprisingly, some kids had tons and tons of questions. Other kids, not so much. So we re-grouped.
Depending on how many questions they had generated in 12 minutes, they had different instructions.
- 0-10 questions – meet together and have a conversation with me to try to generate more questions. This was a great chance for me to meet and help draw out interests and establish prior knowledge in small groups. I was surprised how hard this was for some students.
- 10-20 questions – share with each other for 4 minutes and write questions for 2 minutes
- 20+ questions – share with each other for 6 minutes.
By the end of day one, all kids had a least a dozen questions. Some questions were absurd. Others were intriguing. But we had started.
Starting to synthesize
Now students need to do something with their questions. They need to sort, purge, combine all their questions. And it needs to happen quick. 13 minutes laters, students had their questions sorted.
Making it MYP
My students need to know the official IB Command Terms. If they know what “identify” or “explain” or “analyze” means, they know how to answer a question. If they can start to get this in 8th grade, they’re golden.
I gave my students the IB Command Terms sheet. They then had to classify the terms into Level 1 (these are easy questions) to level 3 (high-level question/non-googleable). They were actually really good at it. Basically, they created their own Bloom’s Taxonomy.
— Rebekah Madrid (@ndbekah) September 24, 2013
Creating the Question: Next Step
Students had to create three possible questions, using a Level 3 command term. I want them using terms like “analyze” , “evaluate”, “justify”. They submitted them via a GoogleForm. I started getting excited because the questions I were getting were good. But now we needed to get to the final stage.
I learned at Ewan’s workshop about the “New, Useful, Feasible” Matrix.*** I changed it for my kids to “Interesting, Answerable, High-Level” Matrix. Students ranked how each question to figure out what they really wanted to do and what was actually possible. This was knocking out questions like “Why is there a God?” but keeping in questions like “Analyze how religion affect family and communities”?
I then did individual conferences with each student using this matrix as a guide for discussion.**** Sometimes I disagreed with their classification, particularly about how answerable a question was. I helped them refine their questions. Sometimes, we narrowed the questions. But a week after we started, they had questions they were excited about and questions that challenged them.
I had Parent Teacher Conferences this week and when the kids were telling their parents about the questions they were working on, I was a little blown away. Hearing 8th graders talk about the role of women in religion or why religions go extinct is amazing. And the kids are excited (for the most part) about the work they are doing.*** We’re also refining their questions. I want my students to be comfortable changing the question as their research develops.
I don’t know if I’ve spent this much time thinking about writing questions since I was in grad school. I think we assume kids know how to do this. But I don’t think that’s true. And I’m still so new to this process. I know that I have loads to learn about how to make this ideation phase better for my students. And while it’s been hard to be patient at times, I am convinced every second has been worth it.
** Pro-tip- Jack Johnson is a good choice for this type of thing.
***Basically, take ideas and rank them out of ten on how new, how useful, and how feasible the idea is. This helps figure out what the next step is.
**** I liked doing this on paper to hang up in the classroom. While I was absent, though, I created a GoogleDoc of the matrix. Having done both, paper was better.
**** I haven’t talked about the research phase or the prototyping phase. Another time.
Two days after arriving home from Learning2.0 Singapore, two tweets seem to summarize how I am feeling…
Happy to be back at work but think I’m suffering from a #learning2 brain hangover. Anyone else feeling similar?
— Ben Sheridan (@B_Sheridan) October 15, 2013
— Adrian Camm (@adriancamm) October 14, 2013‘
It’s with this dizzying mix of exhaustion and exhilaration, on the edge of a (literal) typhoon, that I start the bullet points.*
- I’m excited that Learning 2.0 is really Learning to_________. The blank can be filled with verbs like “tell stories”, “code”, “capture stories” ,”build robots”, etc. The palpable excitement around the maker movement, the focus on pedagogy, and the desire to find a way to bridge student passions with classroom learning suggests to me that things are changing. And they are changing quickly.
- There have been a couple (dozen) times when I wonder what I have done to be so lucky to be in the room learning from such amazing and impassioned educators. I thought this when I was in the conference hall with all 400+ participants. Or when I was in the room of COETAILers. Or when I was was working with the amazing Learning2Leaders. But I honestly believe hard work (coupled with willingness to share) has given me this opportunity. And I will be working just as hard to stay in that room, because the amount that I learned from every teacher I met is a gift
- International schools in Asia actually form a giant/global school district. I’m amazed how many teachers I have met in different countries and continents and how many people I know when I go to a conference. Not needing to “meet and greet” means we can get to the big issues we are dealing with in our schools.
- I will be taking Visual Notes from now on. Even though I don’t draw.
- I will be learning more about Design Thinking. Stay tuned for more blog posts.
- Sub-bullets from Everything is a Remix: Learning2 Edition.** Huge thanks to the positive and energetic participants who I learned a tons from.
- Remix is the current word for Creativity. This resonates for all teachers. Imitating then innovating – in multimedia, products, text- is a concept worth exploring and I found myself really geeking out.
- The skills of remix are really non-technical. After watching a series of remixes teachers noted that skills were: research, visual literacy, background knowledge of content, being able to recognize tone, storyboarding and more. The technical skills were editing. Even those of us not comfortable with editing can and do teach all the other skills.
- Creative Commons, citation, and attribution and Fair Use is a quagmire for schools. But I think one way to have this resonate with schools is to teach this line with academic honesty and plagiarism. We teach students not to Cut and Copy, to chose a little bit of text and create something new, and that citation is required by IB. Why aren’t we teaching this with new media as well?
- Our students are remixing. Check their YouTube channels. So why aren’t we embracing this in our classrooms?
- Preparing for a five minute talk takes about 76% more energy than preparing for a three hour session. I can teach all day. Talking in front of an audience is scary.
- This is the third conference in six months where I have thought about moonshot thinking.
— Rebekah Madrid (@ndbekah) October 12, 2013
It’s not a surprise that people who are Moonshot Thinkers don’t love traditional high school education. Let’s change that. #gafesummit
— Rebekah Madrid (@ndbekah) July 14, 2013
— Rebekah Madrid (@ndbekah) July 14, 2013
— Rebekah Madrid (@ndbekah) May 7, 2013
I still don’t know what my moonshot is. Jeff Utecht challenged us to find our moonshot and not knowing what mine is making me a little nervous. But I’m pretty sure that I’m on my way. And I plan on dreaming BIG. And I have some amazing people who inspire me and who will have my back (to push or support) when I know which moon I’m shooting for.
* I reserve the right to add more bullets, as I think of them. I just wanted to write it down before life got super busy.
** I’ve been thinking about remix for the past six months in preparation for this session I knew I would be leading at Learning2. I’m not ready to stop thinking about it.
Teaching is easy…Learning is Hard.
At Google Teacher Academy, I had the honor of presenting an inspiring idea about how I use technology in the classroom. I really wanted to talk about how I try to get my kids thinking about technology. And I wanted to show how I tried to help my students to really understand how all the free services the use work. How many times have I taught something by saying “you click this and then you click that” and then I’m surprised that the kids forget it two seconds later. This lesson was one way I hoped to avoid that. So here is my presentation with a little summary of my speaking notes.
— Wendy Gorton (@WendyGorton) May 7, 2013
I wanted my students to think about how GoogleNews works, instead of using the service without being critical consumers.
With my Grade 8 students I used the Visible Thinking Routine: See, Think, Wonder
Normally, Visible Thinking Routines are done on paper and post-it notes. I love that my classroom is covered with visual evidence of my students thinking. It’s messy and crazy and fun.
But for looking at GoogleNews, we used Padlet/Wallwisher. If you use the Chrome extension, you get to save all your walls. Which is messy and fun in its own way.
I started by having my students look at a zoomed in image and notice everything they could. (Did you notice I was using Chrome? Or I have two google accounts? My kids did)
Here are my Grade 8 See, Think, Wonder Walls. Click on the wall to see the big wall. What I love most about the routine in this context is that by taking the time really look at GoogleNews they could see how it was organized and then they had room to jump into inquiry about how it worked.
I think there are dozens of uses for this routine (and the many other Visible Thinking Routine) and digital literacy and digital citizenship.
You could use it to teach Google Advanced Search….
Or have kids think about Facebook privacy settings?
Or how about having kids think about how to use Creative Commons? Or why it’s fair to use Creative Commons?
This is simple way to teach something that is complex and I hope others are able to use it. And huge thanks to everyone for your support for my presentation. It’s a little intimidating talking to such great group of educators and I appreciated all of your good vibes!
Update: I presented as session at California Google Apps for Education Summit entitled Thinking about Google: Using Visible Thinking Routines. Check it out for other ideas of how to use technology (including Google Cultural Institute and others) to practice Visible Thinking Routines.
Other related links:
- Summative Assessment on Global Issues and Perspectives - For MYP Humanities Teachers, this assessment address Criteria C where students are asked to evaluate sources. Evaluating sources is so much of of what it means to be digitally literate and it felt like a very natural fit.
- See, Think, Wonder Walls from my class
- Visible Thinking Routines Booklet
- Artful Thinking Routines Booklet
It was from my Australian friends that I learned the phrase “Tall Poppy Syndrome“.* So it’s somewhat appropriate that I try to write about my time at Google Teacher Academy in Sydney with a measure of humility and gratitude and quickly followed with how I’m supposed to change the world.
Sitting in the room.
Never underestimate the power of teachers meeting face to face, sharing quality time together to develop their thinking and networks #gtasyd
— tombarrett (@tombarrett) May 8, 2013
In a conference room in Google HQ Australia, I look around a room and saw strangers, twitter acquaintances, and friends. There were fifty-two educators from 13 countries, directly influencing 32,727 students, 40,311 teachers, and therefore indirectly influencing 410,885 students. These were amazing teachers who want to do amazing things for their students. In other words a powerful bunch of educators.
Nominally it was a tech conference (here’s a really great write up from another Google Certified Teacher about the Google Teach Academy from Gretel for the nitty-gritty). It was Google-y. We saw demo-slams. We learned techs and tips. But it was really about meeting people, re-connecting with people, and finding a community of innovative, positive, supportive educators. There were a lot of people who had the right to act like a tall poppy, but everyone just rolled up their sleeves and got to work. I can’t tell you how great it was to sit in the room with teachers who didn’t need to be convinced technology would benefit our students’ learning.** The energy in the room was crackling and buzzing. People were excited to play around with new technologies and brainstorm ways to use it in the classroom. I can’t tell you how privileged and lucky I was to sit in that room.
Things I’m geeking about.
In reading about the conference, many describe the Google Teacher Academy as a “fire hose” conference…in other words lots and lots of talking about tools and things Google can can do. For me, high-pressure spewing of information doesn’t sound the most enjoyable way to spend the day. And while the days were crazy, the emphasis of on pedagogy from all the Lead Learners was noted and truly appreciated. The days were spent talking about teaching and learning, which is always the forefront of my thinking. A few days later, here are things I am still geeking out about***.
- I am already trying to figure out how I can get Google Hangouts turned on at my school. My kids are already informally using Skype and GChat to do homework and I think I can use this innately social nature of my kids to help them learn, locally and globally. And I honestly think Google Hangout, Google Hangouts on Air, working on GoogleDocs in a Hangout and Hangouts on YouTube are going to be transformative to student learning.
- Using Google technologies and critique protocols – I learned about this from Chris Harte and I’m always geeked to find out ways to help my kids learn from each other.
- Geek Gurl Diaries! Created by a Google Certified Teacher Carrie Ann Philbin, I am very, very intrigued by this. Getting girls into the tech world is important and complicated. I hope I can beg, borrow, and steal things from Carrie Ann to help my girls enter that world.
- Design Thinking. I had the good fortune to talk to Tom Barrett about Design Thinking, an inquiry method using real-world strategies for solving real world/ungoogleable problems****. I have a feeling I’m going to be embarrassed very soon about how little I knew about the pedagogy behind Design Thinking. I also have a feeling I’ll be bugging Tom about it as I figure out ways to integrate it into my classroom.
— Amy McCauley (@AmyMMcCauley) May 7, 2013
Part of being a Google Certified Teacher is creating an action project that will bring about change and then get it done. People have done intimidatingly incredible action plans. The change can be local or global, but we were encouraged to dream big. To-The-Moon-Big. It’s a little scary really, because I really feel that if I come up with something good, Google (and all the Google Certified Teachers out there) will help me. That’s no-excuse territory.
Share early. Fail fast. #gtasyd
— Rebekah Madrid (@ndbekah) May 6, 2013
So what I’m thinking is a global conference, similar to Google Teacher Academy, for students. It would be run by students for students, supported by Google and Google Certified Teachers. It would help them develop the skills and networks needed for Moonshot Thinking to become a reality for them. This is a nutshell of an idea. There is more for me to think about and for me to figure out. This will evolve and I plan on failing fast, getting feedback, and to keep on moving. But I know that my passions lie in helping kids become empowered learners and active world citizens. And if Google can help me just a little bit, then I plan on exploiting my tall poppy status to make that happen.
—*Of course, as an American I don’t believe in cutting down the tall poppy. In the States, we’re all tall poppies. It’s what makes us awesome. And at times, annoying. **It’s not to say I don’t have these communities elsewhere (Coetail, Twitter, people at school). But it’s always incredible to find another group of people who will help you get better. ***Here are the notes Katie Christie and I took during the conference which shows a small amount of all the amazing things we learned. And there are dozens of things I still need to explore (scripting!). I had to take out a few sections that fall under the Non-Disclosure Agreement. Mentioning the Non-Disclosure Agreement does suggest that I’m a tall poppy. I’m okay with that, because it’s kind of cool. ****This is simplistic. Also, a sign of how being in the same room allows for some serendipitous conversation. And seriously – check out the No Tosh site.
See, Think, Wonder
Back in February, I signed up to take the Making Thinking Visible course offered through Harvard Project Zero. I had seen the teachers in the elementary school at YIS go through the class and heard how they felt it improved teaching and learning in their classroom. I thought that Making Thinking Visible would be a set of teaching routines that would help ensure that I no longer got the blank stares I was used to seeing when I ask “Everyone understand?” I also thought that the team of teachers was made up of people I wanted to learn with. (the amazing Kim, Simon, and Frank make up the indomitable Team Kangaesaseru* ) And really, I wondered how the routines would change my teaching and my students learning.
10X2: Describe 10 things you have observed. Then do it again. (I’m going to cheat and only do it once)
1. My students are incredible thinkers. By using the routines, every single students gets to show what they understand and what questions they have. And the routines are non-evaluative and low-stakes, so my kids are really open to showing their thinking.
2. The routines get easier for both me and my students each time we do them. I’m constantly referring to the booklet**, but as a class we’re figuring them out.
3. It really, really helps that other people are doing the course. The students are practicing the routines across many classes. Hopefully we are starting to build a culture of understanding across the school. Also, seeing how eight teachers are using the routines is inspiring.
4. Being a student is hard work. As part of the course, my team is constantly trying to figure out what expectations our teacher has, how are we going to get it done on time, and how to balance it with all the other things going on in our lives. It’s tough and it’s good to remember that.
5. My class is zippier. The routines are quick. I can do multiple routines in a class depending on what concept I want my students to focus on. With these routines, my students are constantly moving, changing directions, and thinking about different aspects of the concepts we are studying in class. Time goes fast.
6. My classroom looks crazy. Their learning is visible everywhere. On butcher paper. On post-it notes. There are papers on top of papers on all walls. Other students, other teachers, and parents can see what is going on in my class and we’re talking about it.
7. Paper is good. A lot of the learning is becoming visible using paper and pen. It’s a quick way to see what they are learning. If I really need it, I’m taking a picture so we can use it again.
8.GoogleDocs/Surveys/Wallwisher/Tech is good. Graphic Organizers with the Thinking Routines are fantastic. Wallwishers where students post their understanding is the perfect way to show their thinking. I’ve sent out a Google Survey asking students to submit Headlines. When pedagogy changes, technology can follow.
9. I want to use the new iPad mini to capture learning. School has given me a new iPad mini to pilot*** and I’m trying to figure out how to use it to show student learning. Yesterday, I used YouTube Capture to record students practicing a Thinking Routine, uploaded to YouTube and linked in my blog in less than five minutes.
I think there are lots of similar quick, easy, and effective ways to capture my students thinking visibly. And I want to find out what they are.
10. The Thinking Routines is about the process of student learning, not the perfect final projects. This is a very, very good thing.
I used to think….Now I think
I used to think, Visible Thinking would be quick little tricks that would make my teaching a little more varied and that it would be interesting to learn about. Now I think that though none of the ideas are revolutionary, they are helping me understand what I can do to help every single one of my students, in every grade level. Now I think, I am on my way to being a better teacher.
*The course is online and I may have been a little crazy to sign up. I’ve learned a lot, but I feel there is a lot to say about distance learning after this experience. The best part has been working with my team, Team Kangaesaseru. Kangaesaseru means “to think” in Japanese.
**This fantastic booklet (from which I stole the visuals used in this post) was made by Frank and it’s my go-to for this course.
***Way more on this later.
Every single professional success or accolade has started with me wanting to learn something new. Every single time I have said “Let’s try it and see what happens” I have been showered with the opportunities.
I applied for the Google Teacher Academy on a bit of a whim. I had just learned about YouTube video editor and I wanted to play with it. I am really, really pathetic with movie editing and I wanted to see if I could figure it out. Knowing that one of the requirements for the Google Teacher Academy was a 1 minute video, I made a video on the topic of “Innovation”, just days before the deadline. I never really felt I would be accepted and I was thrilled with the possibilities of YouTube editor for my classes. But, because I wanted to learn something new, I have now been invited to Google Teacher Academy summit in Sydney with 52 other incredible educators. I’m a more than a little thrilled about this opportunity. And I hope I am exposed to dozens of new ideas to try and explore, because who knows where that will take me next.
Here’s my video (not too bad for a first try).
My kids are failing and struggling and I’ve never been more proud of them. We are in the midst of a project and I don’t know if they are going to get done what I thought they were going to get done by the deadline. But I’m pretty sure they have never been more engaged in their learning. After this experience, I wish my kids could fail a little more often
Anyone who knows the history of Japan (including the triple disaster of March 11th) knows that the ability to power this massive industrial nation has always been a struggle. At YIS we have started to think about how to go “off-the-grid”, even in a small way. Teachers from all three divisions of the school and from a multitude of different departments have been brainstorming ways we can conserve and create energy for our school.* It was obvious from the start that we needed the kids. And so with Grade 10 Individuals and Societies, it was clear we could introduce the topic in out Sustainability unit.
My co-teacher, Ben McKewon, and I decided this would be an entirely inquiry based assessment. We gave them was the inquiry statement: “In order to create a more sustainable YIS community, we must be innovators.” They were told they would need to work as an entire class to come up with something to present to the Board of Directors and other bigwigs. And armed with an authentic audience and a statement of inquiry, they were set loose.
Questions, questions, and more questions.
The first step was to list questions. I asked them to write 20 questions they had about statement of inquiry. And then I asked them to write 10 more. Some questions included:
- What are innovators?
- Who is the YIS Community?
- Do we have to make something?
- Can we create a sustainable community?
- Will is cost a lot of money?
- Should we create a sustainable community?
- How are we already sustainable?
- How much energy do we already use?
- What is sustainable?
- What are we going to have to do?
“What are we going to have to do?” was just long list of questions that I did not have an answer to.
Students Take Control
My students did three things that set the tone for how they would run the project.
1) Every day they set the room up in a circle. They debrief each day at the start of class and one student has been designated note-taker. They also debrief at the end of the period and assign homework**. I try to stay silent. When I do talk it’s usually to say “I don’t know” or “What do you think?”. Occasionally I repeated the statement of inquiry: “In order to create a more sustainable YIS community, we must be innovators.
2) They set up a Trello Board.
I had never seen this project management tool before my students introduced it. It’s worked incredibly well for this type of project. If I assigned it, I don’t know if they would have bought into it the way they have.
3) They love to do pitches. They have pitched ideas about solar panels, energy-generating bicycles, algae farming, and dozens of other things. Every single pitch has created more and more questions.
Wandering down the wrong path.
Ben’s class quickly decided to research the feasibility of installing solar panels on the school roof***. My group was far from decisive. After much, much discussion they decided to try to install Enefarm (a household fuel cells unit).
They quickly broke into the following groups:
- Science behind Enafarm.****
- Architecture of the school/feasibility.
- Case Studies of Fuel Cells in Japan and/or schools
- Cost and government subsidies for fuel cells
- Communications Group
- Aesthetics/Everything else
The kids started to work. They learned, when trying to get the blue prints of the school, you must be very nice to the school secretaries because they hold the real power. They found the month-to-month usage of energy at YIS from the physics teacher and how fuel cells worked from the chemistry teacher. They practiced their Japanese trying to find a school in Yokohama that uses this technology. The learned who could be a leader as different students stepped up and took on new responsibilities. And they kept asking more questions.
To get some answers they called the company selling Enefarm units in Tokyo and the answers they got were not the ones the wanted. Disaster.
They realized it would take our school 186 years to recoup the cost of the fuel cell unit. And the Enefarm would only last 10 years. And it would require an outside energy source (gas) to start the process and it didn’t meet the requirement of sustainability. And what power it does generate would probably power about 10 computers. We had failed. And they now have 10 days to come up with something.
In the real-world, when we have a deadline, we have to produce something. So in about 10 days my students will have to come up with a proposal that they could present to important school officials that addresses our statement of inquiry**** . I’m not sure what they will present. I am liking that in the last class they talked about what they can “create” and “make” instead of what they can buy. I’ll report back what they actually do. But despite (or because of) this major problem they are facing, I am loving watching them learn. Their feedback to me (which they are documenting on Gdocs) has been nothing but positive. Different students (and not the obvious ones) are taking on leadership roles. Every student seems engaged and knowledgeable about the topic. No one asks me what they are being graded on. It’s fun, and it’s intense, and it’s stressful. And they are learning.
On the day after they realized Enefarms would not be a good option for the school, I was wondering how I would redirect their energy and make sure they didn’t get discouraged. Before the bell rang, one of my students walked to the front of the classroom and said he was going to address the class.
This is what he said:
To be honest, after talking to Mr. Duffield [their physics teacher], Enefarm isn’t going to work. All the time that we spent, looking this stuff up, it wasn’t a waste of time. We found a lot of stuff out….Riding on train yesterday, looking at the posters, I realized that…sustainability can be closer….Remember our statement was: In order to be a more sustainable YIS community, we must be innovators. In order to be a more sustainable YIS community we must be innovators. (link for video)
At the end of his speech, the rest of the class (me included) did this:
And then we got back to work. We have a lot to do.
* A lot of people smarter than me have been leading this initiative. The science department in particular has been doing a lot of research that was incredibly helpful to this project.
** They seriously volunteer to do homework. I actually got in trouble because I didn’t upload my profile picture to trello when I was supposed to.
***This would be a very different post if written from Ben’s point of view. His group has invited people from solar companies to see the feasibility of our roof as a place for solar panels and they are creating a documentary. Our classes were given the option to work together, but they got a little competitive.
**** I had never heard of Enefarm before this project and I’m still not 100% sure how it works. But I’m pretty sure you could walk into my classroom and find out the answer.
*****They will present, but probably later in the spring. The unit is ending in 10 days and they do need an end-date.