Monday, October 28, 2013

Student Edcon: Next Steps

Student Edcon 2013 was an amazing opportunity for students to get their voice in the room! Our students did an incredible job working through the design thinking process to come up with creative and innovative ideas that bring significant change to their educational landscape. We chose three ideas that we will move forward on here in the Los Altos School District. Below are the Haiku Deck presentations created by each group along with a description of how we will work to prototype and test their ideas.

Elective Shopping: Students felt that at the end of sixth grade, they were asked to choose electives without having a clear picture of the class. Currently, they are given a short written description and choose from a list. Our prototype: a student elective fair. Sixth graders will attend an elective fair during their preview visit in the spring. There, current students of the elective classes will create a table where they will show artifacts from the class and be available for students to ask questions. Run by students for students.

Project Me: Students wanted more choice in their schedules and classwork. Our prototype: a small group of students, 4-5, will work with a teacher to design their own coursework for one semester. They will choose which classes to attend based on the class syllabus and propose ideas for how they will show their mastery of content.

Democratic Classroom: Students wanted their voices heard regarding school policies. They want to be part of the decision process and be represented in discussions of policies that effect them. Our prototype: a group of students, similar to a student council, will create a space for students to voice their issues. They will then collect data and further investigate challenges or creative ideas brought into focus by the student body. They will create solutions and proposals that they will then be invited to present at staff meetings.

Our students did an excellent job identifying issues that were important to them and then brainstorming creative solutions. We are excited to work with them as we test their ideas and build on their solutions. Stay tuned.

Watch a recap of the experience.

Contributed by Kami Thordarson, Innovative Strategies Coach

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Storytelling Through Design Thinking

Every teacher knows the power of a good story. We weave story into our teaching to engage students and all adults have been using story to help children navigate and make sense of the world through the ages. Stories are at the heart of how our brains develop and how we learn. Storytelling has actually been proven to be interwoven into our DNA. Scientists have discovered that “if you slide a person into an FMRI machine that watches the brain while the brain watches a story, you’ll find something interesting--the brain doesn’t look like a spectator, it looks more like a participant in the action,” from Jonathan Gottschall.

In Jonathan Gottschall’s book, The Storytelling Animal, How Stories Make us Human, he says, “We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night telling itself stories.” He explains that most stories are almost always about people with some sort of problem and “that the human mind was shaped for story, so that it could be shaped by story.” Perfect for design thinking.

Stories are used to help you think of new possibilities. They give you tools to increase empathy and encourage self-reflection. Design thinking relies on both of these so you can imagine designs that improve the lives of others. Stories explore ideas from user research. Through the first part of the design process, story informs, drawing a picture of the present and how it exists for users. During the second part of the process, a new story is created that inspires, reframing the picture with new ideas that make things better.
From Design and Innovation Through Storytelling

Focusing on the story helps you think it through and sharing the story will help you clarify the details. Through story, you can paint a picture of the future where the people you are designing for interact with your idea. You have created a story they can participate in. Storytelling and design work together to enhance creativity and inspire innovation. As Plato once said, “Those who tell the stories rule society.”

Design Thinking is just one area where students and teachers can hone their storytelling skills. Like any skill, storytelling needs practice. Try some of these resources to improve the storytelling talents in your classroom.

Contributed by Kami Thordarson, Innovative Strategies Coach

Monday, October 21, 2013

Let's Discuss Discourse

Student discourse is not just students talking about a topic. It is the ability to discuss a topic and go deeper within that conversation to find out what students know and to identify any misconceptions. Once a misconception is identified, the next step is to have the class work through the misconceptions in a meaningful way.

In mathematics, students need to be discussing math with each other whether it is in small groups or with the whole class. These discussions can happen through various means like

problem solving, game play, whole class activities or a student asking a simple question. Another way is to have questions ready for a math discussion. These questions should be carefully written in order to promote deeper thinking and conversation. During these conversations the role of the teacher is facilitator, asking good questions and helping students work through their thoughts.

In order for discourse to happen, a classroom culture needs to be created for students to feel comfortable discussing what they know or don’t know about a math topic. They need to be able to disagree with one another or elaborate on each other’s ideas. Teachers need to be good listeners allowing students time to think through their math reasoning and allow students to talk to one another. One way a teacher can try to promote students talking to one another is to write down what students are saying during the conversation. By doing this, a teacher will be looking down at a notebook or computer which will help to avoid eye contact with students. Now I know that this might sound odd, but students are conditioned to talk to the teacher, if she is looking away they might be more inclined to address the class.

Another behavior students are conditioned to do is raise their hands to speak. My son will raise his hand at the dinner table sometimes when he wants to say something. I thought it was kind of funny at first, but now I view it differently. I recently read an article that pertains to promoting discourse. It was called “Changing the Rules to Increase Discourse,” by Lisa Brooks and Juli Dixon, published in NCTM’s journal Teaching Children Mathematics. They suggested that in order to keep discussion flowing students have to break the rule of raising their hand to speak. It allows the students to talk to one another by adding or elaborating on

the topic or learning to disagree with each other and supporting their reasoning with evidence. Before an iLearn class, which are classes for teachers after school, I had the teachers read this article for discussion. I happened to be in front of the class and asked them what they thought of the article. The first thing that I observed was multiple hands being raised in the air seeking permission to talk. I thought that it was ironic that we were talking about an article regarding raising your hand and now here are all these teachers with their hands raised. See how we are all so conditioned! After calling on a few I thought, Wait... this not how I wanted to discuss this article! We stopped, grabbed our chairs, and moved to the back of the room in order to form a circle. We continued the conversation, but the whole dynamic changed... No more raised hands, just discussion. It became more natural and more interesting as the teachers went on supporting each other in discussion and elaborating on each others thoughts.

Two of the main topics we talked about were how to build that culture and how to practice so students can get the hang of it. A few of the focus points included learning how to take turns, adding to other’s points, knowing how to disagree appropriately or ask a question of one another when you don’t understand and giving each other time to think. This all won’t happen the first time you try it. It takes time to build those skills, but it’s worth the practice. Students will begin to feel comfortable revealing their misconceptions, which will make it easier to address as a class. So the next time you want to promote discourse in your class try some of these practices. You never know what you will find out about your students’ knowledge.

Any questions? - Was your first thought to raise your hand?  :)

Contributed by Karen Wilson, STEM Coach


Brooks, L.A. & Dixon J.K. "Changing the Rules to Increase Discourse." Teaching Children Mathematics. September 2013, Vol. 20, No. 2.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The "iPhone" affect. 

As a district technology coach, my job is to show teachers amazing ways to use technology that allows them to be more efficient and to redefine how they teach.

I want to start viewing my job more like a business rather than like a school. I offer classes to teachers twice a week on a variety of educational topics, but do not have many teachers attending. Why?

I need to market this professional development more effectively so that teachers want to come. My job is to "sell" professional development to teachers, who might not even realize they need it. My job is to market the classes to teachers so they want to give their time after school. My job is to focus on my users' needs, not only on what I want the product to look like.

Our passion for our "product" or rather "professional development" should be evident to all and should spread to others in captivating ways, causing them to pause, rethink what they do, and realize they want something they didn’t realize they wanted before, but are now willing to "pay" anything for it. Teachers' payment is their time.

The iPhone affect, you didn't know you couldn't live without one until you realized how much is changed your life.

Professional development needs to be like that. It shouldn't be a chore to learn, but rather it should totally alter the way in which we teach and how we support our students in their learning.

We want teachers to readily and eagerly giving their time to us in order to learn.

How do you offer captivating professional development in your school? 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Educational Publishing and the Future: CONTEC 2013

I was lucky enough to be invited to take part in a panel discussion around the future needs of educational publishing at the CONTEC conference in Frankfurt, Germany. There seems to be much conversation around the future of textbooks and worries regarding the digital landscape. Publishers are unsure of which direction to focus and are working to define the needs of the constantly changing educational market. Schilling, a publishing management consultant company, has produced a white paper focused on the educational publishing market. Schilling conducted qualitative interviews asking for the most important challenges facing educational publishers in the coming years. There are four general, value-creating areas: didactics, market focus, technology, and politics.
As an educator, my contribution to the discussion revolved around the importance of didactics. Valuable content that reflects the current pedagogy must continue to be the focus with the acknowledgment that this content must be distributed in new ways. All four areas are important to both sectors, publishing and education, and in order for both to be successful, there needs to be greater collaboration and conversation between the two. New business models are needed in publishing with new workforce skills as well as new concepts for strategic positioning within the market. Educators and students, as the end users, should be seen as valuable sources of creativity and innovation as they move forward to design new solutions. What we don't want, is a substitution of current textbook materials being "upgraded" to digital formats. Today's students have very different needs that are not met by our traditional textbook approach.

Hewlett-Packard, a sponsor of the conference, presented on the still necessary need for printed materials, but with their own Blended Learning hybrid model. They are proposing a content management system in which teachers design customized textbooks, which are then tagged with interactive content through apps such as Aurasma. Information and student learning data could than feed back into a learning management system that would then drive changes to content, allowing more individualization. Student textbooks could be printed as required and even customized for individual students based on their needs. An interesting prototype, and one worth further investigation. 

Frankfurt, Germany
A model of blending old with new.
It still comes down to what is best for students. We, publishers, educators, and political leaders, must never lose sight of the end target, student learning. Greater empathy between all parties will lead to better solutions. In all of my conversations around the topic, I never heard a developer or publisher discuss any information they had gathered from teachers or better yet, students. The best way to meet the new demands of the current market? Ask the right people.

Contributed by Kami Thordarson, Innovative Strategies Coach

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Connected Educator Month? Yes, Please!

I’m not usually a huge fan of specially designated days, weeks or months. Don’t get me wrong, I like to celebrate and am a fan of Mother’s day and Father’s day.  I just start to draw the line at Octopus Day & World Lizard Day. (Although, Talk Like a Pirate Day does sound like fun! Don’t believe these days exist?  Check out this calendar of all specially designated days)  

There is however, a new designation for the month of October that I am paying attention to. The Department of Education has designated October as “Connected Educator Month” and strives to help educators thrive in a connected world by:
  • getting more educators “connected” (to each other)
  • deepening and sustaining learning of those already connected
  • stimulating and supporting collaboration and innovation in professional development.

These goals are more important than ever as we prepare students for an interconnected world. Just recently I read Five Essentials to Create Educated Students, by Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher) which further emphasizes the need for educators to be connected as a foundational step towards positive change. Not sure what connected learning looks like, check out this New York Times article that shares twenty-eight examples of connected learning.  

There are real conversations happening about changing education on so many different levels.  I encourage you to get connected and start participating in the conversation.  Whether you are a parent or teacher here are a few things you can do:
  • connect using social media (Twitter, Facebook, and/or Google+)  follow @lasdk8, but also follow other educators for a broader sense of what is happening in education
  • engage in the connected educators book club or read one of the books they are suggesting to help push your own thinking (Invent to Learn, The Connected Educator, Teacherpreneurs)
  • join a twitter chat - not sure there is something for you?  Check out this list of all the education related twitter chats . I personally contribute weekly to a Design Thinking chat every Wed night (#dtk12chat) and try to join an Administrator Chat on Mon night (#edleadchat). I couldn't ask for better professional learning and have connected with some amazing educators who help me grow ideas and challenge assumptions.

Already connected?  You aren’t off the hook.  I challenge you during the month of October to help your colleagues become more connected.  Are all of the teachers on your grade level or in your department connected?  If not, start there.  During the month of October, I hope we can get every LASD teacher connected to global conversations about learning! 

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

Photo:  World-social-media-network-19958630 from