Wednesday, June 25, 2014

How Might We Design Innovative Learning Experiences for Students & Teachers?

Last week we spent five days exploring this question with twenty-three teacher leaders in LASD who all committed to being “Lead Learners” on their site for the 2014-2015 school year.  During the iLearn Summer Academy, we explored how different learning can look, connected with our inner creativity and engaged with innovative instructional practices.  The entire week was a journey of discovery and learning for everyone involved!

As a “Lead Learner”in Los Altos School District, teachers commit to spending a full week immersed in rethinking learning experiences for students, but more importantly have also committed to being a force of change at their school site.  With the encouragement and support of our school principals, each “Lead Learner” has autonomy in how they choose to share the work with their colleagues.  We require each Lead Learner to document their year long journey using an ePortfolio with three general areas:

  • iLearn:  What is their journey like as a learner?  How are they continuing to learn and grow as an educator?
  • iTeach:  How is what they are learning impacting their instructional practice?  What is different in their classroom as a result of this learning?
  • iInspire:  How are they sharing what they are learning with colleagues?  

Teacher Adventuring Through MineCraft
iLearn Summer Academy is different than many teacher learning events, because we don’t set out to make sure each teacher walks out feeling competent implementing a prescribed solution for a specified content area.  Instead we engage our teachers in active conversations, questioning sessions and collaborative experiences to develop possibilities that might be implemented across content areas to meet diverse needs of their students. We trust our teachers as professional educators and value the ability “to learn, try, fail, reflect and try again” together.  We recognize that this isn’t an easy process and build in support along the way.

During this active learning experience, questions guided both our learning & our schedule.  Here are a few of the questions we explored together:
  • How do you incorporate passion driven learning into the classroom?
  • What are the qualities of innovative practice?
  • What does it mean to be “a designer of learning?”
  • What does blended learning look like? sound like? feel like?
  • How might we improve teacher collaboration?

Active Learning & Playing Go Together
While we may not have explored each question to it’s fullest, we have certainly planted seeds and inspired passion in our teachers that will positively impact students across LASD.  This is our third year investing in “Lead Learners” and we couldn’t be more excited by the cumulative impact our Lead Learners are having in LASD.  This unique learning experience is created and facilitated in-house by three amazing instructional coaches and financially supported by the Los Altos Educational Foundation.  A big thank you to Kami Thordarson (Innovative Strategies Coach), Karen Wilson (STEM Coach) and Erin Zaich (Technology Integration Coach). To get a glimpse into the iLearn conversation via twitter, check out the #iLearn14 Storify.   Stay tuned to learn more and follow the collective journey of our “Lead Learners” during the 2014-2015 school year!

Additional Background Information on iLearn Summer Academy:

Contributed by: Alyssa Gallagher, Director of Strategic Initiatives & Community Partnerships

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Rethinking Lois Lowry's The Giver with Minecraft EDU

In embarking on the challenge of leveraging Minecraft in an English classroom, Lisa Waxman, 7th grade English teacher, and I, learned and realized that the basis for the project was to focus on a culture of innovation and exploration. Structuring a culture of innovation requires a focus on certain principles. One of the main principles we focused on is summed up well by Soren Kaplan in an article titled “6 Ways to Create a Culture of Innovation”: “Giving up control when the pressure is greatest is the ultimate innovation paradox.” Thus, a huge aspect of this project was to turn over control to students.


By challenging our own interpretation of an “English Project” we discovered the benefits of thinking beyond simple tools and challenging ourselves to integrate something new. We debunked the myths that students need a specific rubric to follow in order to produce a well-thought out assignment. Rather, we forced a close reading of the text by giving kids less structure, again relying on principles of cultivating innovation: “ A better option: Give just enough structure and support to help people navigate uncertainty and tap into the creative process without stifling it, ” (Kaplan from FastCo 6 ways to Create a Culture of Innovation) .


video
Using the principles of connected learning, we decided to tap into student interest in Minecraft as a way to bring students more deeply into the world of the Giver. Moving through a variety of stages in production, we originally thought about having students adopt roles in a dystopian society and then switching halfway through the project to have them operating in a utopian society.


In this, we thought it would be fascinating to use Minecraft as more of a player versus player interactive game rather than a sandbox building game as it is so often used in the education setting.


However, as we drafted the world, we thought about what draws students into Minecraft. Realizing that the way into the game for kids is through the building, we shifted our strategy and simply laid out gray spaces for the buildings in a flat world.


Then, students were challenged with the task of figuring out what squares corresponded to what buildings in an open class discussion. This in and of itself was a bit tricky as students all interpret text slightly differently based on the author’s description. Therefore, this act on its own forced students to take a close reading of Lois Lowry’s text and infer based on relationships of buildings what would be next to what.


Prior to building, students drafted a set of parameters within which they would all act. Actions that were unacceptable in Minecraft, for example griefing or destroying others buildings, students would face a consequence.


When building started, students at first were hesitant to admit their interest in the project. Having taken about 45 minutes to move through the tutorial world, students were at a variety of levels of comfort. That being said, students were very willing to help and to work with others to build their skill set up.


As we progressed over the course of three weeks with 5 to 6 hours of building, the speed of the students and the uniqueness of their creations were incredible. Rather than giving students a rubric with requirements, we left the details and the justification of their building decisions up to them.


Checking in throughout the period with hints and suggestions about color and material use, (the world of the Giver is gray, uniform, etc.) students began to understand the need to draw upon a close reading of the text in order to construct their buildings accurately.


With five different periods, it is incredible to see the variety of buildings that students create, each depicting a personal touch while still relying upon the novel. Every building session, students came in eager to craft away, many even brought in their own external mice! Their dedication to the tasks at hand solidifies the importance of meeting students where their interests exist.


Students did decide to launch firecrackers and build underground trap doors and tunnels during the project, but kids are kids right? And lets be honest launching firecrackers in Minecraft is pretty sweet. So we simply had individual conversations with them and kids were incredibly responsive as they were eager to not lose the privilege to play in Minecraft.


As the project came to a close, we used our final two sessions to have students write about their building as well as take on a role from the book. During the first of the two sessions, students used an essay block from Minecraft EDU to use textual evidence to justify the aspects of their building. Rather than writing out an essay, students were able to write within Minecraft.


During the second session, students will take on an assigned role. Students will be prepped with a task they need to complete. During the course of the period, students will take a two to three minute quicktime video of their interaction with the building where their character spends most of their time. If we had more time to complete the project, ideally we would drop the screencasts into iMovie and add in title slides as well as tim the video and fix the audio.


video
Finishing up the project, we will conclude with a survey to collect data on how students interacted with the unit and where we can make improvements for next year. Additionally, they will self-evaluate using guiding questions we create.  We decided that because the outcome of the project was to encourage students to focus on their own justification of their buildings and interactions, that a self-evaluation would be most suitable.



Overall, the project allowed us to look at Minecraft through the context of the Giver which allowed for a unique experience for both the students as well as us as instructors.


Documents:


Day by Day basic Schedule


Monday, May 26, 2014

LASD STEM Connects with Engineers

What does a closed box with only two small openings have to do with surgery?  A group of 10 engineers from Intuitive Surgical, located in Sunnyvale, came to LASD and presented at each of the elementary schools, speaking to our 6th graders about what they do and how it’s related to what the students learn in STEM.  Intuitive Surgical introduced the first daVinci robotic Surgical System in 1999 and are the pioneers in robotic-assisted minimally invasive surgery.  

During the presentations the 6th grade students of LASD participated in a hands-on activity where they were asked to figure out how to get objects out of a box without their hands and only using a handmade tool.  The boxes were closed except for a small hole on each side of the box.  The students used pipe cleaners, created tools out of popsicle sticks, chopsticks, tape and other items supplied to create their instruments.  It was challenging enough to pull the objects out, but they also could not move, shake or pick up the box.  As they worked together it was interesting to experience the creative and innovative thinking flowing from the minds of the students at work as they attempted to get the items out.  Some of the interesting tools they came up with could give an engineer a start on something big! All students were successful in pulling the objects out of the box, discussion followed to probe into how the students came up with their prototype designs.

Well, how does this activity relate to surgery?  The students found out…

The engineers connected the activity the students performed to the challenges surgeons face everyday during minimally invasive surgery.  The precursor to the activity demonstrated open surgery.  They had a student volunteer come up and unwrap a gift quickly and then had them try to put it back together neatly with tape.  They all discovered it did not look the same as how the box was originally wrapped.  It was discussed that open surgery is easier and faster, but it’s harder for the patient to recover and there is also scarring.  

The importance of the human factors element of the engineer’s job was pointed out when creating a system as well as instruments that will be used to operate with the surgical robot.  They need it to provide the best care for the patient as well as being precise and ergonomic for the doctor.  These are important factors when they start to design.  Engineers talked about the design process and how they solve problems.  The students heard about the many iterations of prototypes the engineers create and the extensive testing that needs to be done through each stage of the process.

The daVinci Xi
The engineers also discussed the different positions within the organization and how they all work together to develop and market a product. The engineer presenters included mechanical design engineers, clinical engineers, as well as human factors and technical marketing engineers.  The students were fascinated with holding some of the actual surgical instruments and enjoyed viewing a short video about the latest daVinci robotic system, the daVinci Xi.  They had very good questions for the engineers.   

The students can now see and connect why design thinking and design challenges are used in the classroom.  These are some of the same processes that are used in a high-tech industry; therefore, it provides relevant meaning to students when these strategies are used to solve a problem.

It was very exciting to see how inspirational these speakers were for the students.  One student went up to one of engineers after their presentation and told him that she wanted to be a surgeon and hoped someday she will be able to use the da Vinci when performing surgery.  As we all smiled with her I thought to myself, I have no doubt that this experience helped to solidify her goal, because she was able to connect what she does in class today with what she dreams of doing in her career!

Contributed by Karen Wilson, STEM Coach

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Power of zSpace: Two Teachers Reflect

This year, LASD, in partnership with a local tech company called zSpace, developed a one-of-a-kind pilot program to bring the innovative technologies of zSpace into four of our elementary schools’ STEM Labs.  As this year comes to an end, we would love to share with you a small part of our amazing experience with using zSpace in our labs.  

Springer Elementary
Contributed by Joanie Craddock, STEM Teacher  
 
Working with zSpace was an unbelievable opportunity! We were given the challenge to create lessons for grades 3-6 during a 6-week pilot period. With only the heart lesson as an example, it was quite an undertaking. Luckily, it was a team effort, which included our STEM teachers and coach, zSpace employees, classroom teachers, and anyone else I could get to listen to me. Together, we were able to come up with a few ideas to implement zSpace into the curriculum at each grade level.
6th Grade Lessons

Sixth grade spent the most time using zSpace in the STEM lab at Springer. We were able to teach lessons in math, science, and social studies. All three 6th grade teachers were on board to use this innovative technology to enhance learning for our students.
One of my 6th grade teachers met with me to discuss using zSpace for a project with her math class. They were about to start a unit on ratio, scale, and proportions. Together, we came up with a plan to use SketchUp and zConcepts to create physical models from 3D models. The students were able to manipulate the 3D models, take measurements in zConcepts, and then adjust the scale to build their cardboard model. We had quite of few issues with the rulers, size adjustment, and other aspects of the program but the zSpace engineers have fixed most of it for the next version of zConcepts. The students spent hours cutting cardboard and taping their models. It was powerful to see the same building model in varying sizes. After finishing the project, the students used zView to present their struggles and successes and to compare the physical model with the virtual model. It was a longer project than I had anticipated but watching the perseverance of the 6th graders as they measured and built their models and listening to them explain the process to their parents made all the hours of prep worth it.  
Although our current 6th grade science curriculum does not include life science, Kami Thordarson suggested teaching about the parts of the brain. Having years of experience with 6th graders, she definitely knew what would interest them. We started our lesson with a quick song from Pinky and the Brain. It stuck in their heads throughout the lesson. Students were assigned different sections of the brain to research online and given the opportunity to dissect the brain using CyberScience. On zSpace, students created slides to demonstrate the placement of their section of the brain and what would happen to a human if that part was damaged. It was a quick and enriching lesson.
Finally, we were able to make a connection to 6th grade social studies. My 6th grade social studies teacher hasn’t been able to utilize STEM this year and we were hoping to figure out something we could do together. We thought it might be possible to do some archeology in virtual reality or walk through ancient civilizations. At this point, we couldn’t make it work. However, one of the benefits to working on a pilot is being able to ask for something to be created.  zSpace found a model of the Parthenon just for us. One of their engineers even spent an entire day enhancing the original model so the details of the engravings on the frieze could be seen. It was beautiful!  The students were able to explore the Parthenon for the first lesson. The next lesson was a building challenge. In teams of four or five, students were given scotch tape, scissors, white paper and a foam board to build on. Each team could send two people at a time to review the 3D model on zSpace. They all worked diligently on the task and even requested another building day to finish. I was so impressed with their enthusiasm.                  

Covington Elementary
Contributed by Katie Farley, STEM Teacher

Now that the zSpace systems have moved out of my classroom and into another, I can say with confidence that my STEM curriculum was far more enriched than it is without them!  Using zSpace in my STEM Lab offered me the opportunity to motivate my students to learn about some very complicated concepts that can often be difficult to visualize.  The 3D technologies of zSpace allowed my students to become fully-immersed in their learning experience by being able to pull apart and analyze various parts of cells, compare and contrast skeletons from various points in human evolution, and to identify pathways for blood flow in the human circulatory system.  
Throughout my seven weeks with the systems, I was able to develop lessons and activities with zSpace across three grade levels.  From the beginning of the pilot program, it was obvious that we would need to have some classroom management variation in order to best utilize the new technology.  We had only six systems in the lab, and with almost 30 students in each class, there would be no way to have every student active on a system at the same time.  This challenge offered me the opportunity to rethink my activity formats, and to begin embracing the idea of blended learning in my classroom.  Making use of centers in my classroom allowed my students the chance to become immersed in learning instead of waiting.  The following depicts two sample lessons and one example of using zSpace as a support resource for learning in the Covington STEM Lab.
3rd Grade Lesson
           Our third grade classes decided to transition into the NGSS standards this year, which means that they needed some additional resources to support the transition.  We decided to use zSpace to help the students better visualize and understand the concept of evolution, particularly from a scientist’s perspective on human evolution.  In order to do this, I set up two centers - one for computer research, and another for zSpace model comparison.  We set up the zSpace systems with a pre-designed CyberScience 3D model of three skeletons from various points in human evolution.  The computers were opened to a teacher-made Google Doc of links and information on human evolution.  Halfway through the class period, the groups switched centers.  The following class period, we reviewed their discoveries, which led into a discussion of human evolution from a scientist’s perspective.
4th Grade Resource
Our fourth grade classes were already active in a clubhouse redesign project to correlate to their scale, ratio, and proportion when the zSpace systems came into my lab for Phase 2 of the pilot.  The students were building physical models of their clubhouses, as well as creating “3D”, virtual models of their clubhouses on Google SketchUp.  We decided to integrate the zSpace systems into this project by allowing the students to upload their “3D” models from SketchUp into the zSpace systems to see them in “true 3D”.  The students were able to independently upload their models onto the systems to view their models for precision and accuracy.  
5th Grade Lesson
Our fifth grade classes were preparing to learn about plant and animal cells in their classroom science lessons at the beginning of Phase 2 with zSpace.  The fifth grade classroom teacher and I decided to create a blended learning activity where students would rotate between three centers in the classroom - a computer research center, a microscope slide creation center, and a zSpace center.  The students were split into three groups before entering the classroom, and they were assigned to a center.  At the computer research center, the students were asked to open a teacher-created Google Doc with information, links, and labeled images to introduce the concepts of plant and animal cells.  The microscope slide creation center had students creating slides from scratch, using various materials to view under the microscope.  On the zSpace systems, we had adjoining systems pre-loaded with two CyberScience 3D models - one model of an animal cell next to a model of a plant cell.  The students were asked to compare and contrast the two cells, using either observation of both cells or discussion and communication between each group to compare parts.  The groups were rotated every 15 minutes to allow each student to visit each center one time.  
FUTURE HOPES
           zSpace will be coming to all the LASD schools next year for Phase 3 of the pilot program.  During that time, we will have the opportunity to utilize the curriculum- and standards-aligned software that is currently in development.  This software will give us the capability to extend our lessons past using models, and into creating opportunities for students to build their own unlimited learning experiences in a virtual world.  They will be able to explore forces, electricity, magnetism, and atomic composition, all while having fun. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for the zSpace and STEM curriculum alignment in LASD!  

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Working to Define Blended Learning


In the world of education, many people have heard the term “blended learning.” If you Google the term, you will find over 9.3 million results. Within those results are many definitions but most agree that blended learning is a hybrid educational model where students are learning through traditional classrooms along with an online component. There are many recommendations for how to implement this type of program along with many different models. As an instructional coach, it’s difficult to paint a clear picture of a blended learning classroom due to the many interpretations of the term. In Los Altos, we have been working to more clearly define our blended learning model in order to help teachers with successful implementation.


Our blended learning journey began four years ago with our Khan Academy pilot. The four of us who began working with Khan Academy in our math classrooms began discussing those emerging best practices and sharing our experiences. We were often labeled in the media as “flipping” the classroom, and at that time, flipping had somewhat of a negative reaction from educators. As we explored and developed our practice, we knew that we were not flipping the classroom but creating a more blended learning environment. Blended Learning was a new term and the Christensen Institute was taking lead on defining this hybrid learning model. As we began to roll out Khan Academy across our fifth and sixth grades, we started looking to define our own unique definition of blended learning.


Fast forward three years, and we are still looking for that allusive definition. It isn’t that we disagree with the basic idea that blended learning is the combination of an online learning platform mixed into a traditional instructional model, we just believe that it’s so much more.
While Khan Academy has gone through its own growing pains and iterations, we too have struggled with clearly defining and painting a clear picture of what blended learning looks like in the classroom. It’s difficult for teachers to step out of textbook routines and try something new that seems to be continually shifting and changing, and that is a part of how blended learning works. It’s not a procedural approach but rather a dynamic and multi-faceted teaching strategy.


As we build our model, we are focusing on the math classroom. This year we pulled a small focus group of fifth through eighth grade teachers together and really examined the tools we are using and our approach. We started with the “why.”  Our top three reasons:
  • To meet students where they are
  • Textbooks alone will not meet both teachers and students needs
  • Allows students ownership of their learning


We then built a working definition of blended learning:

Blended learning is a data, driven instructional approach, that offers personalized learning in a flexible, adaptive model that draws from multiple resources and an integration of technology.
Our definition is still a bit lengthy and needs some iteration but we have a starting point. One of the key pieces to remember is that the core of blended learning is technology and teaching informing each other and that using dynamic material helps reach students of varying learning styles. While Khan Academy is a valuable component of our model, it is simply one online tool that teachers can access from their blended learning toolbox. While the online component is important, the question we are most focused on is "How might we increase the value of our face to face time?" Less worksheets and more collaborative work with an authentic purpose is the real benefit of blended learning.


As we look at how to share this vision with all teachers, we discussed the value of “seeing is believing.”  Our focus group teachers have volunteered to create learning videos that can be shared with all teachers where they record and then annotate a blended learning math lesson.

We will also spend some time re-introducing Khan Academy and the many new features added in the last year. Our approach may be a somewhat modified blended learning model, but in the world of one size does not fit all, it seems to be a starting place.

Contributed by Kami Thordarson, Innovative Strategies Coach

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Fraction Fun


IMG_3138.jpg
When you first walk into the classroom you see buckets of math manipulatives along the wall.  There are tiles, cubes, little bears, people, bugs, geoboards, etc.  The room is bright and full of energy!  What is about to happen is a math lesson where students have an opportunity to show what they have learned about fractions.  
The students have been working on fractions, learning about regions, sets, and fractions on a number line. Mrs. Pomposo, a third grade teacher at Covington Elementary, wanted an activity where the students can demonstrate their knowledge in a fun unique way. She came across a video of a lesson that did just that. The lesson is called "Fraction Museum" and it allows students to be creative in the way they express their knowledge of fractions. It was very enjoyable to watch the students as they thought about what fractions to display in their museums. 

Above is the video of the original lesson.
The students received the following instructions at the beginning of the class:

As a curator of a museum your job is to design five exhibits of fractions.  Be able to explain your factions collection and what you know about fractions.Try to incorporate a variety of exhibits, include an exhibit that shows fractions with a region, a set and a number line. Write a small tag to go along with each exhibit.

You can feel the excitement in the room as the students picked out all sorts of colorful objects to build their museum. Allowing the students the choice of how to display and explain their museum brought about so many creative and thought-provoking discussions.
One student had 7 bears lined up and had a fraction of 5/7. I looked at his bears and said there are 7 bears and your fraction is 5/7. Is it 5/7 because you have 5 blue bears out of the 7 bears? He said no, the 5 bears are something else. Hmmm, I said, then I noticed the way the bears were facing. He explained to me that he had 5 bears facing left and the other 2 were facing right; therefore, the faction represented the 5 out of the 7 bears were facing left. I thought to myself, how clever! The students had great fun creating and explaining their museums and were proud of what they created. One of the important parts of the activity was the ability of the students to explain their fractions to their peers.They were all calling me over to their exhibits wanting to show them off and explain them to me. Some students realized that their fractions where a little off when explaining, but quickly added or removed a piece to make it correct. They were able to self-correct through their explaining.
IMG_3155.JPG
The exhibit they had the most fun with was the mystery fraction.  The students created a fraction with the objects, but labeled this one with a question mark.  It was up to the observer to figure out what fraction the exhibit displayed.  For most of the students this was their favorite part, in fact during our class discussion one student suggested that next time they do this activity that they would like to have all of the exhibits be mystery ones.  
At the end of the activity there was a class discussion about their exhibits, what they found challenging, what they liked, how would they change the activity.  The student voice and choice in their learning is extremely important.  It not only helps the teacher in finding out what students know, but also how to connect with them.  One of the students made a comment about the activity saying “we had fun, but we were learning, but we were having fun.”  It is my hope that students feel this way for every lesson.

Contributed by Karen Wilson, STEM Coach

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Connecting the Dots


I recently came across a short blog post by Seth Godin around the topic of connecting the dots. He says, “Connecting dots, solving the problem that hasn't been solved before, seeing the pattern before it is made obvious, is more essential than ever before.”

Problem solving in today’s marketplace requires everyone to hone their dot connecting skills. With the vast amount of information available at the click of a search button, being able to prioritize and process data as well as see hidden patterns and connections within a system is invaluable. Design challenges rely on these dot connections to stay ahead of the curve and meet the oftentimes, undetermined needs of the user.
In school, we often assume that students are connecting the dots. We focus on handing out various dots; facts, timelines, grades, and we put them in neat stacks according to topic. Here are your math dots, here are your history dots, here are your science dots. Students walk out at the end of the day with a carefully labeled stack of isolated information ordered into binder sections. Do we give them enough opportunities to make the connections? Do we teach them the skills needed to see the patterns before they are made obvious?
Part of changing teachers’ mindsets is helping them understand that today’s students have access to many dots. No longer are teachers the primary providers of these dots, but we are responsible for helping students connect them. How might we make that the priority? How might we help them practice that skill?
As Seth mentions, “Their big bag of dots isn’t worth nearly as much as your handful of insight, is it?”

Contributed by Kami Thordarson, Innovative Strategies Coach