Friday, February 28, 2014

Using Design Thinking to Inform Future Direction of LASD

Our learnings from 2,535 sticky notes, over 300 participants, days of observation & 60+ interviews.

Earlier this school year, a small team of LASD administrators and teachers met to talk about the strategic planning process for the year.  Three years earlier, our Superintendent, Jeffrey Baier revived strategic planning in LASD and led the development of our “Educational Blueprint.”  This process included representatives of all stakeholders who helped us define our vision (Los Altos School District will be a leader in revolutionizing learning for all students), identified  goals and created objectives to help us reach these goals.  The Educational Blueprint group met twice yearly to share progress, create new objectives and course correct if needed. LASD staff reported monthly to our Board of Trustees on the progress and goals which keep us accountable and on track.  During the past three years, our district has made incredible strides towards achieving our vision.  (You can read about some of these accomplishments here) And yet, even with all of this success we began questioning our approach.  With all of the recent success, we knew we needed to dig deeper to inform next steps to improve student learning and identified design thinking as the appropriate strategy. Design thinking is a human centered methodology for solving problems popularized in our area by the Stanford d. School.   And so we set out to understand & observe.


As a public k-8 school district we have many different users: students, teachers, parents and community. As we moved down the path of developing empathy for our users, we wanted to make sure we were simultaneously gathering broad data as well as doing a deeper dive with our users and created structures to enable both.  We created opportunities for all parents, teachers, administrators and students to have a voice in the process.  We also created a small design team led by Greg Bamford from Leadership + Design to conduct deeper ethnographic research in our district.  Every aspect of this process was geared to help us better understand, “How might we revolutionize learning to meet the needs of all students?”

What we have learned about our own organization in the last few months has been powerful. While this process has taken much longer than a more traditional strategic planning process, I am confident the investment of time will yield more exciting opportunities for students.  There is so much to share from our learnings, but for the purposes of this post  I will focus on the broad input we gathered and will share out the work of our design team in another post.  

For the broad gathering of input, we held eleven input gathering sessions with over three hundred participants.  This process was inspired by and modeled after some of the work taking place at the Design 39 School.  We used the following prompts to generate both conversation and ideas.

  • Why does learning need to be revolutionized for all students?
  • What excites you about revolutionizing learning for all students?
  • What scares you about revolutionizing learning for all students?
  • What changes do you think need to be made to revolutionize learning for all students?
  • What are your learning hopes for your students?
  • What if schools were places where students could….
    • Then we would need teachers who…
    • Then we would need parents who…
    • Then we would need leaders who…
  • An LASD graduate will be able to….

Every single response to these prompts was collected and is represented in the data visualizations.  What was interesting to note is the similarities in responses from parents, teachers and administrators.  Essentially, we all want very similar things for our students and our children. All of the data visualizations can be viewed here, but the ones that excited me most are embedded below.  These images are word clouds representing all responses, but size of the phrase/word indicates the frequency of this response.

Portrait of an LASD Graduate

I can’t help but think of the many ways we can use this portrait of an LASD graduate. How do we develop this student?  What are we currently doing that contributes to this?  What do we need to stop doing?  What do we need to do differently to achieve this for students?

What if schools were places where students could….

Then we need leaders who…

Then we need teachers who…
Then we need parents who…

We will be using these images to generate conversations and next steps with our educational community.  Staff will be reflecting both individually and as a group to generate commitments that will move us closer to our vision.  How will you make your impact on this revolution?

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

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

California Missions, Redesigned with Minecraft EDU

The Historic El Camino re-envisioned in MinecraftEDU

According to Dr. Mimi Ito of Connected learning, Gaming is the entertainment medium of this generation. By capitalizing upon students’ love of Minecraft, we can engage kids in curriculum in ways that were impossible before. The multiplayer aspects of Minecraft and the creativity it fosters within any type of student, opens the doors to deeper understanding.

A bit of backstory, Minecraft is a popular sandbox game, think virtual legos. It is an amazing learning tool because it allows students to discover, to create, and to imagine in ways that are impossible in a traditional classroom setting. It is amazing to see the creative power that students can unleash in the world of Minecraft.

Sometimes it is hard to know where to begin with a new tool. When I started on my Minecraft journey, the first order of business for me was to play the game with no strings attached, just play, just for me, not for thinking about my educational agenda. Once you are comfortable with the game, it is far easier to dive in and think about the powerful tools that MinecraftEDU has that are specific to assisting teachers in utilizing the game in the classroom.  

The idea of gaming melding with education may seem odd to some, but according to Katie Salen, a game designer, animator, and educator:“Playing video games is a kind of literacy. Not the literacy that helps us read books or write term papers, but the kind of literacy that helps us make or critique the systems we live in…. When we learn to play games with an eye toward uncovering their procedural rhetorics, we learn to ask questions about the models such games present.”

Gaming teaches students skills we want them to have in the real world. It teaches perseverance and risk taking. It allows students to work together to solve problems and to discover solutions. It allows kids to understand how steps of a puzzle fit together to allow a person to reach a goal. All of these skills are essential to real life vocations.

Currently, I am working with grade 4 students on crafting improved missions in Minecraft. The project stemmed from the question: “How might we modernize the California Mission project and focus on student learning?”

Working in the tutorial world in Minecraft EDU

Beginning with a far fetched idea of integrating philosophical questions of colonization on future alien planets (see original assignment), the teachers and I reached a consensus to utilize MinecraftEDU as a way to leverage connected learning in the classroom (see final version).

Connected learning is about the crossroads of interest and education (see a good introductory article on Edudemic, What is Connected Learning? ) In order to capitalize upon student learning, tapping into their interests is an ideal place to start. Thus, Minecraft was a go to platform.

Surveying the classes, (see survey)we found in each room there were several self-proclaimed experts which we realized would make the project both easier and more challenging. As a team, we brainstormed skills we thought would be tested while utilizing the game as a learning platform: risk taking, perseverance, patience, collaboration, and team-work all came up continuously.

Each mission will be designed by two students. They have had the opportunity to work through a Minecraft EDU tutorial world, and are now diving deep into planning out their missions on paper before constructing it in Minecraft. Students must propose the materials that they need to their teachers and justify why they feel they need the items.

We are thrilled about the possibilities of combining gaming and PBL and more.

Minecraft resources as well:

Minecraft Introduction
Collaborating on navigating the tutorial world in Minecraft EDU

Can Minecraft be Educational?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Power of zSpace: Phase I of LASD Pilot

Do you remember learning about human anatomy in school? Most of us remember the textbook diagrams surrounded by instructional text describing the body and all of its parts. Now, picture being able to put on a pair of glasses and have those illustrations come to life in a 3D format, one you can reach in and interact with. That’s the power of zSpace.

In November, LASD embarked on a partnership with zSpace to find out how this new technology can enhance student learning.  The company zSpace provides an interactive and immersive 3D platform where students can explore many areas such as motors, animals and human anatomy.  With a stylus, students can pick objects up and rotate them around in open 3D space in order to see all sides of the object.  Then they have the ability to peel or pull the object apart to see inside functions of the object.  In the area of STEM, zSpace partnered with CyberScience3D to deliver a specific experience which allows students to interact with virtual dissection.

Fifth grade students at Covington were able to experience a new type of learning through our pilot program with zSpace. As part of their study of the circulatory system, students learn the parts and functions of the heart.  Through zSpace technology, they were able to view the heart and the pathways where blood flows inside and around the heart.  They were able to see all the sides of the heart, including the chambers, veins, arteries, and learn the purpose of the valves. Seeing the heart and it’s functionality in 3D offered students a more realistic view versus seeing pictures in a textbook or watching a video online. In a 3D reality, students were able to virtually dissect the heart and carefully examine each part.

The 5th grade teachers experienced students’ excitement. High engagement and student curiosity increased with the use of this new interactive technology.  Our zSpace pilot was brief, but students and teachers are looking forward to having more time to explore and use the system.

Katie Farley, the STEM teacher at Covington, felt that zSpace was a valuable tool to enhance learning of very abstract concepts.  Here are some of her students’ reactions to their experience with zSpace:

“We learned about how z-space works and we got to see inside the human heart. You could feel the heart beating and put a camera through the heart. It was AWESOME!”

“I learned about the inside of the heart. I mostly liked how to look into the heart and lungs. The challenging part was when I had to figure out how to put the heart back together.”

“I liked using the camera and seeing what was inside the heart. I also used the camera to look at the inside of a house. Picking up objects with the stylus was great and when the heart turned transparent, it was really cool.”

“It was an amazing experience for me. In summer school, I learned a little bit about the heart, but when I worked with the interactive 3D model of the heart, it was a whole new way of learning.”

We are excited to see where this technology will lead in the education arena and the way it will integrate into the curriculum.  Stay tuned to more as we continue with this partnership and pilot. 

Contributed by Karen Wilson, LASD STEM Coach