I recently traveled a great number of miles to attend Graded’s Innovate 2015: Re-imagining School in my home country, Brazil. What I’ve seen, other than a school committed to ensuring an exciting, well-rounded event, was an effort to get international teachers to rethink practices, exercise more creative thinking and problem-solving skills, and make students the center of their efforts.
Below, you’ll find my efforts to summarize and comment on the sessions I attended, trying to bring them closer to our context at the American Embassy School, New Delhi.
Creative Conflicts or Resolutions?
It all starts with an eager Ewan McIntosh talking about one’s “intellectual fumes”. According to the author of How To Come Up With Great Ideas (And Actually Make Them Happen), one should go beyond using them to get new ideas. And ideas, he suggests, should be generated by the dozens and then hand picked. Encountering conflict can be valuable for the process.
In a nutshell, McIntosh recommends the use of a similar process as the Moonshot Thinking one from Google. It basically means that you should try to reach the unreachable with your thinking. With a twist on the Design Thinking framework, the author’s “Design Thinking Enquiry Space” is more focused on the idea of cultivating mindsets as a fundamental step.
In McIntosh’s own words,
When we talk about Immersion, mindsets should be open and divergent, provoking children to investigate their own personal zone of proximal development , while working collaboratively to digest and understand a wide array of experiences, activities and resources. Synthesis is a collaborative exercise, too, but one that requires more convergent thinking – finding and defining a problem worth solving. Ideation, Prototyping and Feedback often go as a cycle of processes, fluxing from divergent creativity of ideation to the iterative, highly specific and convergent activity of building prototypes and refining them on the back of feedback.
It’s not necessary to go through the entire process every time. Actually, identifying the mindset that one is trying to cultivate in students can be more effective at harnessing the relevant part of the process.
“Most ideas fail because we love them too early.”
Creative conflict brings value to innovation. When an idea is laid out in front of others, the perceptions will differ and the presenter might find immediate opposition. Reintroducing the same idea at a later stage will likely be pointless. McIntosh affirms that taking the time to rethink what was being proposed and potentially identifying components that are non-negotiables and others that can be changed or ditched altogether can prove more successful to getting a revised version of your idea across. This is what the presenter calls the “Dilemma Space”, as seen in the map below.
Another idea that resonates with me, and I suppose most of the Twitter-sphere, is that having good ideas, executing them and not sharing what made them great or not is not productive. In such a hyper connected environment that we live in, it is essential to share our findings, successes and failures, so others can learn from us. It’s good karma, says McIntosh, and comes right back at you!
Other resources shared during the session:
From Thinking About Innovation to Thinking About Innovating With Games
Next in my agenda was gamification and game principles, with Dr. Joey J. Lee, currently a Research Professor of Technology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Starting with the a visual statement about the need to upgrade our teaching practices from a 19th century model to one where students are actually engaged in contemporary and relevant activities, Dr. Lee led us through the basic topics of his research work, which focuses on student engagement and motivation through gaming.
At the college level, Dr. Lee has led his students into choosing tracks for their learning and/or evaluation of their learning. It’s a path he defines as quest-based, and it involves completing missions and challenges and earning badges or bonuses. Depending on the assignment, students can choose to be researchers, designers, educators, etc, and their achievement levels will be dependent on the product they designed, as well as the process.
The presenter also introduced the project he has been developing with other scholars that can be found under teachertinker.com and invited us to collaborate. It’s an online community that includes various resources teachers can refer to and some tools. An interesting one is the Card Editor, which allows teachers to personalize pre-made cards for their own purposes. We were invited to create sample cards for our class as a final activity for the session.
In all honesty, one thing that intrigued me a bit was the fact that the learners, us, remained passive for almost the entire duration of the session, while the presenter spoke and created only but a few bits of interaction with the audience and/or among participants. In my mind, though I understand time constraints, this workshop could have been more engaging if we had been led through a game that showed us the components and ideas Dr. Lee was trying to get across.
Blend It Yourself: In-house PD Development Ideas From UNIS, NY
I had an insightful session with Jeremy Birk and Sochenda Samreth, from the United Nations International School, New York. The idea behind their presentation is great: assemble a group of teachers who are content experts, but that also have excellent interpersonal skills, and have them attend a two-week-long retreat, or a Summer Institute, and discuss and take action over professional development options that might be valuable for them and their peers. A handful of students, previously selected based on their personal and academic profile, attends the same retreat and acts as consultants, so that teachers have their own perspectives and those of their students to take into consideration. In addition, startups and innovators of various backgrounds are also invited to join this diverse academic group to help them with yet more diverse perspectives. Sounds difficult? Well, it is indeed not an easy process. What it has achieved, however, is outstanding in the way in which addresses teacher and student concerns and personalizes PD. Take a look at this video for a more complete feel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yJ7cEDXJHU Of course this would have to be tweaked according to each school’s context and actors, but the process used can serve as a framework. According to Jeremy and Sochenda, the idea was first brought to their staff during a meeting, so that they could have a show of hands of individuals interested in being a part of it. A stipend was offered to teachers, and bonus points/credit hours provided to students who were giving away their Summer time to be there. With the design thinking framework as a starter, the team at UNIS used a set of guiding questions to help teachers and students identify common questions that arise from their classes and/or peers. They could either be tool, content, or skill-related. They, then, worked in collaboration to start creating video tutorials, visual guides and documents to try to answer those common questions. At the end of that stage, their work was published onto a common platform (they chose Schoology) and the link made available for all of their peers.
Here is the presentation and a list of additional documents Mr. Birk and Ms. Samreth shared with us to be used as resources. It’s important to notice that for this process to be considered “blended” learning, participants have to work together in a physical environment to create the digital material that will form the database later. The cycle should be repeated more times and it is suggested that different schools join the existing group or form other groups and work in collaboration. For AES New Delhi, for example, I believe this process is feasible if performed during the school year, or during the first week of Summer Break, granted compensations are an option. With a good mix of grade levels, specials and classrooms, the participants could be excused for a week and work in collaboration in some sort of retreat-like facility. Maybe a stipend would not be an option, but the covering of all expenses would attract individuals to dedicate themselves to this project alone. I believe this would be an incredible opportunity for in-house PD where learners would own their learning and produce authentic and relevant work that would be well-targeted for the rest of our community. This Edutopia post by Suzie Boss also sheds some light on involving students in teacher PD.
Suzie Boss’s Project-Based Learning and Innovation Practices
In Make Room for Innovation, Suzie Boss, who’s usually regarded as a spokesperson for project-based learning, invited participants to think about the practices that welcome innovation in our classrooms. In order to create more opportunities for an innovator’s mindset, Suzie talked at length about the role of failure and of a feedback-rich classroom. Mentioning websites such as failfare.org and admittingfailure.com, the presenter insisted on the idea that allowing students to experiment and learn from their failures through project-based learning is one way to truly change learning dispositions and lead to achievement. An interesting video that was shared to ignite participants’ imagination and prepare them for the following activity was the promo for Soccket: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5gqoYkL8To Suzie, then, had us gather in groups of four and select one idea that someone in the group wished to bring to reality. We were also to skim the resources offered on the website Suzie created for the event. The group I joined was formed by two U.S. educators teaching at international schools in Rio de Janeiro and Brasília and one British administrator working at São Paulo’s Saint Nicholas School. Together, we were to address a common problem we face in our classrooms/offices daily and think of ways to resolve it. Interestingly, many of the problems raised by our group and others had to do with redesigning learning spaces. As much as I understand the need for this upgraded environment that honors a student-centered model extensively more so than the old fashioned classroom lecture hall setting, I wonder if this can sometimes be a bit of a conformist excuse for maintaining the ordinary in our classrooms and disregarding change through instructional practices. I believe that promoting change and enabling individuals is possible in any environment where at least two people are willing to work together as co-learners.
Building Water Rockets, or How to Learn From Your Decorating Needs
On the second day, I attended a workshop led by Mike Anderson, who is an Instructional Technology consultant currently based in the U.S. Using much of the same approach we chose to use at AES during our Design and Build challenge night, Mike shared a goal with us, which was to build a water rocket. He, then, shared an outline of the process, showed us a counter packed with resources, had us form groups, and set us off to it. Our group got to work right away. First move? Google it. None of us had any idea of what a water rocket even looked like! And, thus, with a handy visual in mind, we started engineering our rocket. Findings: after much discussion over weight, thrust, lift and drag, we decided two pet bottles would do the work better than one. We cut the bottom off of one and attached them with the mouth side facing opposite directions. We used tape to stick them together and created fins out of a file folder. As we were nearing completion, someone decided it needed a bit of decoration because “we’re all Elementary teachers, after all!”. Using a glue gun, one of my group mates stuck a little pink heart to the bottle, and we all proudly carried it to the soccer field, where we were to find the pump and launcher.
We hook it to the launcher, pump it long and hard, and…fail. That little decorative heart of ours has poked a hole in the bottle. Bummer! We run back, stick a bunch of tape on top of it, and try again. Fail! The hole still allows air to escape, so there never is enough pressure to launch it. Ok, designers keep trying! We replace the bottle with the hole and excitedly run back to the launcher, only to find our design was what was preventing the success of our launching. We should have placed the top part of a pet bottle on top of the bottom one, and not cut it off like we did. At least, that’s what helped the other groups launch theirs.
The international teaching couple Alisha Feitosa and Kley Feitosa led a workshop on the ways in which they’ve made use of choice time in their classes. After introducing the concept to a full classroom, they specifically shared how they’ve managed to allow their students to explore their passions. The most interesting part, in my opinion? Alisha is an IB Writing teacher and Kley, an IB Physics teacher.
We understand the time constraints and different pushes that High School teachers have, so much so that pushing for choice time in that division is always slightly subdued. However, what these two teachers have done with their classrooms sheds a light on the possibilities that come from innovating our practices and allowing students to pursue their passions.
Alisha, for example, implemented what she calls a “Free For All Friday” program. On Fridays, students are allowed to write about anything, anything they are interested in, or care to research on. All students need to do, in order for the occasional teacher check in, is fill out a form that quickly covers the topic and where she will be able to find it. So that students can be held accountable, they need to present a piece chosen by them to class once a month.
As a Physics teacher, Kley has had his students work on all sorts of design and build projects. He has brought them resources such as Makey-Makey kits and Arduino boards and has encouraged creation in his class, believing that students can hit standards and learn necessary skills by engaging in such projects. Kley is very proud of their work and made sure to show us a interesting artifacts created by students. For accountability purposes, Kley also has them present their products once they reach the end of the period.
What this initiative tells us is that choice time is possible across divisions. It takes a combo of a supportive school community + innovative teachers to embrace the cause and make it happen for students. AES certainly has it all. We might just need to take it up a notch. : )
ASB’s DATA Visualization System
There is a lot that can be said about the last workshop I attended at Innovate 2015, and it’s all very positive. The system that centralizes student assessment data that was developed by the American School of Bombay is fascinating and provides a great deal of detail for teachers, counselors and parents (although the school’s Research and Development Studio [Re.D] is still working on a way to share the info in a parent-friendly way).
Interesting points learned in the session:
— ASB hired a data specialist to develop the system for them. It is open-sourced and other schools are invited to join the collective
— The platform allows for all sorts of visualization of behavior, dispositions and academic data. MAP information is also seen there. The research team is working on a way to collect data on curiosity, engagement and other pieces related to the school’s mission
— It currently pulls data from Veracross (ES) and HAIKU (MS/HS) every 2 weeks
— Students don’t have access to it. When they do, they’ll likely have a simplified view of their records
— There’s a Technology Audit section linked to their data set on teacher professional development
— To understand what kinds of skills students were practicing with technology, the system is layered according to the revised version of Blooms Taxonomy and ISTE standards
— Not all faculty has been trained on how to use it quite yet, but with a protocol called WOCQ (Wonderings, Observations, Connections, Questions), the administration hopes to introduce it to all soon.
Here is the presentation shared by Dr. Shabbi Luthra with an overview of what the platform can do.
Back-channeling by the Graded Live Team
I loved seeing the work of the High School student team who secured the back-channeling during the Innovator’s Panel that Graded hosted the first day. These guys did all the work, from coding to create a Twitter timeline that would fit the screen more properly to curating tweets and ensuring that the live feed was working as expected. Kudos to them!
— GradedLive (@GradedLive) March 5, 2015