Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Choose Guideposts over Pavement

My son sent me a preview video of the new Assassin’s Creed Unity game because he knows I’m a huge fan, have played most of the series, and pre-ordered both of the coming editions. It was exciting to see that in this new world, they have provided the player with a large array of options for achieving a goal. Previously, the game play was somewhat laid out before you and if you followed the road and did some serious button mashing in spots you found success. Engaging and fun, but didn’t require a lot of finesse or deep problem solving. This new landscape appears to require some further contemplation, planning, and decision making as you take into consideration strategy, skills, historical context, and reputation.

How does this relate to education? In the classroom, we’re trying to achieve the same goal. Provide our “players” with an engaging and fun learning experience but one that provides depth and many different avenues to the learning objective. That idea of personalization which keeps cropping up but is difficult to achieve on a large scale. In the traditional classroom, standardized curriculum guides carefully lay out a paved road to learning outcomes, with little room for deviation. There is differentiation, but not personalized learning. It gets a bit confusing as we start tossing around terms such as differentiation, individualization, and personalization, because on some level, they address the same idea, but they are very different. I love this Personalized Learning Chart by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey and shared through Sue Strautz’s blog, as it clearly states that the main key to personalization is that it’s learner centered instead of teacher centered, a key difference. This can be difficult to accomplish in a large classroom with various student needs, testing pressure, and technology access that can vary. The good news? It’s not an all or nothing.

In this Stages of Personalized Learning chart from Bray and McClaskey, there is a progression through three defined stages. The first is more teacher centered with a gradual move to giving students more choice and control of their learning. I think of this as teachers starting personalization with a dirt trail. Students need a path to follow as they learn to navigate a new learning trail with a few forks in the road that allow for choice but that ultimately lead them to their destination. As they become more comfortable, teachers can slowly remove the path and replace it with guideposts, suggestions that point them in the right direction but allow them many different routes to the end. When they fully understand how to map their own trail, that’s when we turn them loose. At that point, we’ve given them something that is far richer than anything that comes from a textbook; skills, tools, and grit that will get them through the rough patches and lead them to the finish. It becomes more than just personalized learning, it becomes a way to navigate the world.

Contributed by Kami Thordarson, Innovative Strategies Coach

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

EdSummit LASD - A Stepping Stone on our Journey to Revolutionize Learning for all Students

Over the past four years, Los Altos School District has been on a journey to revolutionize learning. This journey has led our entire team down a path of continuous learning, growth, creation and questioning.   This year, we created EdSummit LASD to help fuel the desire to learn.  EdSummit LASD was a three day learning event designed to begin "breaking silos in education."    While the primary audience for this event was teachers, we also invited parents and community members to join the conversation.  After months of planning, it is hard to believe the three day event has come and gone.  Looking back on the summit, I am happy to share EdSummit LASD was a huge success.  Here are a few of the highlights...

Opening Keynote: Creating Conditions of Discovery & Inquiry in Our Schools

Acclaimed authors, Lisa Kay Solomon and Warren Berger engaged attendees in a provoking conversation about innovation in schools.  Drawing on their insights from their newly published books Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations that Accelerate Change (Simon & Shuster, 2014) and A More Beautiful Question, Lisa and Warren explored new ways of thinking about how to create cultures and conditions for discovery and lasting impact.  The conversation also explored the rationale for why it is critical for us to create more inquiry driven models of instruction that foster discovery and personal engagement.   The opening keynote was held at the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts where we were able to welcome all interested parents, community members, teachers and administrators from across the Peninsula.

Lynn Carruthers, a graphic artist and visual thinker, beautifully captured Warren & Lisa's conversation. (image below)  Lynn  even managed to capture a personal favorite from the talk - depicting a four year old girl as the "Super Ninja" of questioning!

EdSummit LASD Sessions, September 19

Excited to learn more about questioning after the opening keynote, 380+ attendees gathered at our Covington campus to explore, learn, network and collaborate together.  Attendees were able to choose from 65+ sessions facilitated on a range of topics.  Sessions were either 90 mins (allowing for a deeper dive into a topic) or 45 mins (meant to ignite thinking and start conversations).  A special thank you to all  74 of our facilitators!  While facilitators came from all over the state, we are especially proud that we had so many of our own teachers facilitating sessions.  Just under half (46%) of all facilitators came from LASD.  It was incredible to see our teachers taking risks to share what they have tried and what they are learning as we work together to revolutionize learning for students.

We were also thrilled to have several incredible authors join us to share their thinking:  Grant Lichtman, author of #EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education; Patricia Ryan Madson, author of Improv Wisdom and Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate.  If you are not familiar with these books, I encourage you to read them - collectively they paint a picture of the future of education that we hope to create for our students!  With so many sessions happening simultaneously,it is nearly impossible to capture all of that took place.  Thankfully twitter helped us capture and share some wow moments from attendees.  Below are a few, more can be seen by searching #edSummit on twitter.

EdCamp Los Altos, September 20

After a full day of facilitated sessions, we intentionally scheduled a Saturday morning EdCamp Los Altos.  EdCamp is a participant driven learning event, which means there are no formal plans, or presentations.  The attendees decide what they want to learn and how they will facilitate these conversations.  We had about 60 EdCampers attend bright and early Saturday morning - the topics included formative assessment, to rethinking report cards, student centered learning, using technology to simplify your life and many others. To understand more about the why behind EdCamp, take a look at this recent article by Kristen Swanson, founder of EdCamp:  Why We EdCamp  Fueled by the previous day of learning and networking, EdCamp Los Altos was the perfect ending to EdSummit.

It's a Wrap!

That's a quick summary of EdSummit LASD - an incredible event and one that we certainly hope to continue.  Creating high quality teaching learning experiences is one of the most important things we can do to improve student learning.  It's necessary and greatly appreciated by our teachers.

"Thanks for all of your effort in providing us with the most useful and inspirational learning day that I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending!" 

"I left EdSummit feeling so inspired, reflective, excited, and eager, which is food for an educator's soul.  The format of today, the choice, the presenters, the content, the time with was priceless."

Stay tuned for more information on future EdSummits hosted by Los Altos School District.  Join us next time and add to the conversation.

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

LASD a Leader at the CA STEM Symposium

In the spring of 2013, Los Altos School District with the support of the Los Altos Educational Foundation made a decision to invest in STEM education for all elementary students.  We hired a STEM teacher for each of our seven elementary schools and created STEM learning opportunities for all students beginning in Kindergarten.  It has been wildly successful!  Our STEM teachers are incredibly motivated and dedicated individuals who have helped us create rich experiences for students both inside and outside the structure of the traditional school day.  In our first year, our team focused on building out a new computational thinking strand, engineering, and physical science. We are proud of our accomplishments and are equally as excited to continue learning, growing and improving our STEM program.

While we are only in year two, it is very exciting to see that Los Altos School District is a leader at this year's California STEM Symposium.  This annual symposium brings together 3,000 teachers, administrators, students, high education representatives, program providers, philanthropic representatives and industry representatives to engage them in STEM education by providing strategies and resources for program implementation.  The Symposium is designed to highlight leaders in classroom innovation from across the state.  Los Altos School District STEM teachers presented nine different sessions over the two day symposium.  Below are the topics/sessions presented by LASD STEM teachers:

  • Maker Movement
  • Creative Circuits
  • STEM in K-5: Bee-bots to Lego We-Do
  • Bring Creative Computer Science into STEM for all Students
  • Bee Bot Buzz: Computer Science in Kindergarten, First & Second Grade
  • Computational Thinking in STEM through Scratch
  • Khan Academy Spout Bot: Building a Robot
  • Literacy & Engineering
  • Teaching in Depth: Implementing Virtual Labs in the Classroom

We are thrilled to have our district acknowledged as a leader in developing STEM education programs as we know providing these new learning experiences enhances our students ability to think critically, problem solve and work collaboratively. Thank you to our parent community for donating to Los Altos Educational Foundation, the LASD STEM program is a direct result from your contributions.  

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


Monday, August 18, 2014

What will you add to the conversation? EdSummit LASD: Breaking the SIlos in Education

The start of a new school year holds so much promise.  There are so many questions to ask, opportunities to explore and learning experiences to design...all that will positively impact the lives of our students.  This year is especially exciting in Los Altos School District!  For the past four years, we have been on a journey to revolutionize learning for all students. We have encouraged all of our teachers to question, experiment, and take risks, but most importantly we have created a culture of learning in LASD that includes everyone.  We have created a culture of learning that we are eager to share and broaden. For the first time we will open our teacher learning experiences beyond LASD by hosting the first EdSummit LASD: Breaking the SIlos in Education.  

You may be wondering, “Why would a public school district voluntarily take on additional responsibilities and attempt to engage educators beyond LASD in the vision of revolutionizing learning for all students?”  

As a district, we have decided to engage more educators because we are eager to continue learning. The more we learn the more questions we have and the more we value collaborative dialogue.  The more we experiment, the more we value experiences of educators also engaged in improving student learning.  We see value in adding new and different voices to the conversation and invite you to attend EdSummit LASD.

It is guaranteed to be a gathering of innovative educators who are interested in pushing the boundaries of learning.  Every session will be interactive with opportunities to discuss ideas, connect and create actionable next steps that will actually translate to improved learning experiences for students.  We recognize that learning must be networked and have intentionally designed time and space to help foster the growth of your network. We offer you time to learn, time to connect, and spaces to do both.

EdSummit LASD will kick-off on Thursday, September 18 at 6:30 pm by exploring the power of discovery and inquiry.  Below is a preview of the first of many conversations to be had during EdSummit-  

Creating Conditions of Discovery and Inquiry in our Schools
A Conversation about Innovation with Lisa Kay Solomon and Warren Berger

How can we best prepare our students with the foundational critical thinking and creative problem solving skills required to thrive in times of increasing ambiguity, complexity and uncertainty?  What will it take to shift our classrooms from stand and deliver models to more inquiry-driven methods that foster discovery and personal engagement? How can our teachers, administrators and parents create environments that promote questioning, experimentation, co-creation and collaboration? And, how can we do this all amidst the realities of performance demands, testing requirements and quantified measurement assessments?   

Join authors Lisa Kay Solomon and Warren Berger in a provocative conversation with power to influence schools, classrooms and community organizations. Drawing on their insights from their newly published books Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations that Accelerate Change (Simon & Schuster, 2014) and A More Beautiful Question, Lisa and Warren will explore a new way of thinking about how to create cultures and conditions for discovery and lasting impact.

Then on Friday, we will engage all participants in a variety of learning experiences facilitated by incredible authors/teachers.  Here is a glimpse of a few of the incredible facilitators that will be joining us on Friday -

Dave Burgess -Dave is a teacher and highly sought after speaker, well known for his creative and outrageously energetic style. He is the New York Times Best-Selling author of Teach Like a PIRATE: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator.

Grant Lichtman -Grant is a nationally recognized thought leader in the drive to transform K-12 education. He speaks, writes, and works with fellow educators to build capacity and comfort with innovation in response to a rapidly changing world. His most recent book, #EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education, chronicles more than three years of research and visits with more than 70 schools on a solo tour of the United States to find how schools are successfully moving off of the assembly line model of education.

Dan Meyer - Dan taught high school math to students who didn’t like high school math. He advocated for better math instruction here and on CNN, Good Morning America,Everyday With Rachel Ray, and He currently studies math education at Stanford University, speaks  internationally, and works with textbook publishers, helping them move from education’s print past to its digital future. Dan was recently named one of Tech & Learning’s 30 Leaders of the Future and an Apple Distinguished Educator.

Patricia Ryan Madson - Patricia is the author of  IMPROV WISDOM: DON’T PREPARE, JUST SHOW UP.(Bell Tower, 2005) and a professor Emerita from Stanford University where she taught since 1977. In 1996 she founded the Creativity Initiative at Stanford, an interdisciplinary alliance of faculty who share the belief that creativity can be taught. Patricia has taught Design Improv for the School of Engineering, and was a guest lecturer for the Stanford Technology Ventures Program and for the Mayfield Fellows Program.

Please join us and add your voice to a unique experience where we strive to break the silos in education. What will you add to the conversation?  

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

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) .

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.

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.


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