Think, Create, Innovate – A Project Zero Adventure

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Project Zero Perspectives conference hosted in Atlanta by Atlanta International School and the High Museum of Art. It was one of the best organized conferences I have attended from a pedagogical perspective as there were 4 themes (educating for global competency, encouraging creativity and maker thinking, growing up in the digital age, making learning and thinking visible)  than ran throughout the entire weekend. The various keynotes and sessions built on these themes and really allowed the participants to see the big ideas emerging as the weekend went on. The overarching inspiration for the conference was the following quote:

Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things. – Theodore Levitt

I could not possibly share everything that I was able to take away from this conference, but here are a few of the highlights.

Day 1

Shari Tishman – Keynote
Big Idea: By looking slowly at things we can understand the ways in which things are complex – complexity is a powerful performance of understanding
– understanding is something that you do rather than something that you have
– slow looking – taking the time to notice more than what meets the eye at first glance, it is a purposeful action that is done intentionally to look beyond what comes naturally
– many of the ‘Visible Thinking’ strategies have been designed to include a slow looking phase
– 3 types of complexity
1. complexity of parts and interactions
2. complexity of perspective
3. complexity of engagement

Designing for Disaster (@BuildingMuseum) – Interactive Workshop
– Resilience is a systematic approach
– The built environment is not arbitrary. It is the result of human decisions making.
– How should be build? Where should we built?
– What does a city need to function? What should a city offer its residents?
– What infrastructure or buildings are needed for each of these services?
– How do we organize all of it?
– Who should help decide where to build?

Fostering Global Competency (Clarkston Community Schools) – Interactive Workshops
– Children grow into the intellectual life around them. – Vygotsky – cannot create a culture of thinking for kids if the adults don’t have a culture of thinking as well – need to model thinking
– importance of the whole person – need to be well rounded to function in a global world
– culture is shared – we all have to be part of creating a culture of thinking
– building culture of knowledge  in community through sharing of authentic information from members in your community

Keynote – Daniel Wilson – Director of Project Zero
– What does it mean to learn for a global competency?
– How can we encourage creativity and maker thinking?
– What are the civic, moral, and ethical opportunities and challenges in growing up in a digital age?
– How can we make learning and think visible? – learning is constructed through the making of artifacts and actions – performance based – highly reflective journey that is done socially not heirarchial, learning from one to another
– learning is not done in one mode
– learning is complex
– learning as a verb, an emerging action
– we cannot ‘control’ learning; the best we can do as designers of learning for others is to create places where this complex actions can emerge

Day 2

David Perkins – Keynote
Theme: Wondering to Learn: Education with Questions for Tomorrow’s World
– develop a culture of questions in contrast to a culture of answers
– What is worth learning now?
– we need to teach students to LIVE WITH questions, they are not done at the end of the day or the end of a unit
– questions need to be part of the content not the drivers of content
– to speak of a culture of questions does not mean that we don’t care about the answers
– if you imagine a culture of questions, you spend your time on looking for good answers – abundant answers but often not final answers

Qualities of Effective Learning Communities – Daniel Wilson
– How to YOU (as an individual) CREATE a learning community? – interesting to think about your own personal contribution to fostering a learning community
– tell your story – “Here’s something that happened …” – invite someone in to you classroom to observe/participate in a lesson
– having a provocative perspective – “I strongly believe…” – Teachers need to be model learners and need to be provided the time and space to do this, not just have it be another expectations
– A puzzle – “Something I really wonder about is … ”
– A probing questions – “Tell me more about this … ”
– Elicit ideas – “What do you think about … ”
– These 5 conversation moves have been show to be strategies from which people learn
– How can we be more explicit about cultivating the routines and space to support the language that creates learning communities?
– informal learning opportunities are the gold mine of learning because the participants set the goals, the process, and the evaluation/outcome
– 80% of professional learning is built informally
– How do we better help capture the informal learning opportunities in our schools for the adults?

Interactive Session – Making Learning Visible – Mara Krechevsky
– importance of relationships and listening – documentation – practice of observing, recording, interpreting, and sharing through different media the processes and the product of learning in order to deepen learning
– we don’t document what happens – we document what we think happens
– “making learning visible makes learning possible”

Closing Keynote: Tina Grotzer – Thinking About Complexity
– human cognitive architecture is not particularly well adapted for perceiving, attuning to, and reasoning about complexity- complexity doesn’t have to be wicked – it can be engaging and beautiful
– complex, ill structured problems offer terrain for some of the deepest, most rewarding learning
– different forms of complexity – spatial (space), temporal(time), perspectives

Day 3
Keynote – Howard Gardner – Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Re-Reframed – wondering about and wondering at – Teaching for ‘Wonder’standing
– Technological Challenge – young people see and think of the world very differently than before
– media is a two way experience now
– the fast changing yet also oddly permanent digital world
– need to focus on teaching students methods of discovery/verification of information
– critical examination of information
– establishing truths is a distinctly CONvergent experience
– neighbourly vs. ethical good
– What does it mean to participate in a community whose size and extent you cannot know?
– There is no easier way to completely go wrong than to think you can solve a complex problem on your own.

The Global Lens Project – Veronica Boix Mansilla
– preparing youth for our times through interdisciplinary studies, quality journalism and global media – the best starting point for our curriculum is the world
– the media is where we get almost all of our information about the world
– we need to teach students to navigate the world of media
– understanding the world, our place, and ourselves through quality journalism and global media
– we consume around 92-95% of our media from domestic sources
– journalism as a mediator between us and the world
– quality journalism can be a tool for provoking learning about global issues

Finding Meaning
What’s the story? What is the human story? What is the world story? What is the new story? What is the untold story?

Finding Significance
Why might this matter to me? to my community? to the world?


iPads: First six weeks

I have had iPads in my classroom now for approximately 6 weeks. With 8 school iPads, 3 iMacs, 1 laptop, and my personal iPad we can almost reach 1-to-1 if we need to.

Although my students had mostly used iPads previously, they really didn’t know how to “use” iPads in the context of learning.  They knew the basic functions (how to turn on and off, navigate to a specified app, change settings in the system preference), but having them think of them as a learning device instead of an entertainment device was the first shift in thinking that I broached. Developing an acceptable use policy, as a class was a great first step in getting them to view them as a tool for learning. I also have been very careful in selecting the ways in which students utilize the apps to so they are not used as an extra activity students can do when they have finished there work. I think that the time spent in this page was critical to future success with iPad/1-to-1/BYOD type programs. It is important to not make any assumptions in students knowledge when it comes to technology – they may be very good with technology, but they have often not learned how to use it for learning.

Prior to starting the iPad project, I did a fair bit of research to examine how other schools and teachers were implementing iPads in the classroom. There was a huge spectrum of usage – from drill and kill style digital worksheets to individualize personal learning. I wanted to be deliberate, focused, and purposeful from the introduction in my classroom as I could see there was a lot of experimentation that had already taken place and I didn’t want to waste anytime. From my research, my belief was that iPads were great devices to increase student engagement, allow students to demonstrate their understanding in multiple ways through content creation, and provide students with a medium to share their learning with a broader audience.  This has formed the basis for how the iPads are being integrated into my teaching practice.

The next challenge was to select apps for the iPads that would facilitate these goals. I also wanted to select apps that would be easy for students in Grade 4 to use independently (without assistance – but not necessarily as only 1 student), flexible across subject disciplines, build students digital literacy skills, and complement each other (weave together). Although this was not a requirement, all of the apps that I have utilized so far have been free. There are a great deal of free apps out there.

How have we been utilizing the iPads to support learning in the classroom and work toward our goals?

Increase Student Engagement

• A favourite activity so far has been utilizing the website Today’s Meet to have a back channel going on during a lesson or activity. One iPad per group of students (2-4) allows the students to share and post there ideas that are going on during the activity. Often students thinking will get deeper during the session, as they see each others ideas and build a deeper understanding.  As I teach in the PYP, our programme is designed to be inquiry based the back channel has been a great way of recording students thinking and wonderings during our lesson. As the website Today’s Meet allows the ‘room’ to be archived the conversation can be saved and utilized for in the future.

• Other apps/websites such as NearPod, and Socrative allow you to embed assessment questions into a presentation and allow students to become active participants.

Content Creation

• Apps like ScreenChomp, Explain Everything (fee), and Educreations turn the iPad into an interactive whiteboard screen with a recording feature. This allows students to write and explain their thinking orally. We have utilized this for explaining how we are solving math problems so far, but can also be used for explaining sequences of events such as the water cycle, or explaining a diagram. This apps can also be utilized to create “flip-classroom” type video lessons.

Share Learning

• I selected KidBlog as our online sharing platform. This allows the students to post their work so that it can be shared with myself, the other students, and their parents. It also allows them to develop an e-portfolio of there work over the school year.

MAET Makers: Round 4: The Final Chapter (…for now)

I just couldn’t let the Raspberry Pi beat me, so I brought it out for one more round to take it down. We have yet to be able to get the Raspberry Pi working despite our best efforts using our “network” to assist.

Unfortunately, I think I discovered my problem was greater than I could fix given the resources I had due to a possibly incompatible SD card, although I was able to assist another MAET student in the online cohort in discovering her problem, and getting her Raspberry Pi working, so all was not lost. As we knew that the problem was with the SD card set up I discovered a wiki that addressed this issue.

SD Card Setup Wiki – http://elinux.org/RPi_Easy_SD_Card_Setup

This led me to discover that perhaps the SD card we were using may be incompatible.

SD Card Investigation – http://elinux.org/RPi_SD_cards

After locating this information I feel slightly better in my networked learning journey. At this point I have been able to find information to confirm that challenges that we were experiencing, and it would seem like this is a common problem that occurs. Without the internet, I would not have been able to access this wiki and discover this information and I may have been left feeling defeated and broken; however, now I feel like the problem is resolvable with the proper SD card.

With this information I was also able to assist another MAET student to get her Raspberry Pi working. As this seemed to provide a solution to her problem, it made me feel positively about networked learning, as I was able to continue to pass along the knowledge that I had gained to assist someone else who was experiencing the same challenge. This is the beauty of having a network where you can reach out to other people and ask for assistance, or get new ideas that you may have not thought of. Although I don’t think I will be using Raspberry Pi in my own classroom in the near future,  my Personal Learning Network on Twitter has been a huge factor in my professional growth, as at times teaching in an independent school can be an isolating experience when you are the only teacher in a specific grade level. I have learned about great books to read with my class, gotten ideas for assignments, found classrooms to Skype with, and so much more. It is great to know that you can also find networks online for learning other new skills like Raspberry Pi.

As part of my “maker” journey, I decided to learn how to utilize a new piece of video creation and editing software that we were fortunate enough to be given access to this week – Snag It and Camtasia. I personally find that learning a new piece of software is much easier when you have a meaningful purpose to utilize it for, and I thought that it would be a great introduction. The tutorials that are available on the TechSmith website are very helpful and there is a healthy online community accessible from their webpage. Personally, I know that sometimes I forget what an asset the internet is and how much is available for assist you out there if you are willing to take risks and be open minded to learning new skills.

Please take 4 minutes to watch my MAET Maker Journey that I have documented for all to see. I hope that it will inspire you to want to utilize the “net”work in order to learn something new or share your knowledge to assist someone else.

MAET Makers: Learning Through Frustration

If I was being evaluated on how successful I was using the Raspberry Pi, I would fail miserably because it has yet to work; however, just because we haven’t gotten the Raspberry Pi to be operational does not mean I have not learned anything. I might not have learned what I expected to when I began this project, but there has still been learning that has occurred.

Credit: Rob Breedlove

Credit: Rob Breedlove

Throughout the process of getting the Rapsberry Pi to work, I was glad to have a partner so I knew it wasn’t just me who was unable to follow directions that seemed fairly well explained. After many attempts to get the Raspberry Pi working including crawling under desks, hooking up HDMI cables up directly to projectors, borrowing wired mice and keyboards from the local university, and multiple USB cards, we only have a red light showing on the Raspberry Pi, and I am okay with that. Now typically, I am not the type of person that is happy when things are not completed properly, but I know that the reason the Raspberry Pi isn’t working is not for lack of trying. I think that having a partner working through the same frustrations helped us to both stick with the project longer than if we were working at it alone, because there was also some investment at the social level.

So what have I learned:

– There are lots of resources out on the internet to learn how to do new things – some resources are good, some not so good, but in general if you want to learn how to do something, you can generally find it on the internet. One of the frustrations of using resources on the internet is that even though they are fairly recent, they can still be out of date in comparison to the version of the software or tool you are trying to utilize.

– People are generally out there to help you. There are lots of message boards where you can ask for assistance and help if you are trying to do something. In general, people want to help you.

– Having the availability of an expert who you can interact with at a face-to-face level when you run into challenges cannot be completely replaced by technology.

When I think about how I can apply this experience to teaching, it is a wonderful reminder of a number of important lessons:

1. Technology can get in the way if you don’t know how to use the tool – As we did not know how to get the Raspberry Pi going, we were not able to use it for anything constructive. In the classroom, if enough time is not spent learning the basic skills to utilize the technology tool, the tool will serve as a barrier to learning, instead of complementing or enhancing the learning.

2. Learning from someone where you can ask questions and receive immediate feedback cannot be replicated identically online – There are many wonderful places to get assistance for using the Raspberry Pi, but in this case I feel like having access to someone where I could talk to them and show them the problem and the trouble shooting we had tried, might have been useful in getting us to the next step. We were obviously missing a step or doing something incorrectly that we were not able to get the SD card formatted properly, and someone with expert knowledge might have been able to recognize our error and assist us in correcting it.

3. Frustration in the learning process is good, to a point – When you struggle through something, you develop perseverance and grit, and when you accomplish something that you have worked very hard at it is a wonderful feeling, but if you never get past the frustration stage, you are still left frustrated and I am not sure that the next time I had a Raspberry Pi with no access to an expert I would be as willing to work as hard to figure it out.

Day 6: QuickFire Thimble Memoirs

Today’s Quick Fire challenge involved creating a six word memoir and thimble using Mozilla Thimble to express the concept.

My creation was: https://marcielewis.makes.org/thimble/thimble-memoir-by-marcie-lewis

Screen Shot 2013-07-01 at 7.02.58 PM

When thinking about this as a learner, I had some initial reflections about how my students may feel sometimes. Within the applet, there was a lot of text to read in order to begin to tinker with the different components. When reading the “code”, I lacked the basic knowledge or understanding of what was plain text and what was instructions that the computer was going to follow. It was like reading another language – even though some of it was written in English, it placed high demands on my cognitive skills. I found myself rereading sections, trying to think carefully about what it means and how the code was creating the image I was viewing at the right hand side.

After a little while, I was able to decipher what was actual code and what was explanatory information. The next challenge was figuring out how to adjust the code to have the image appear as I wanted it. As the code involves utilizing numbers to explain color, and positioning. This required some additional exploration at other websites to try and locate the information that I was seeking. I discovered very quickly that identifying the information I was searching for would not be as easy as I originally thought because I didn’t have any prior knowledge of what actually I was looking for, and what to even type into a search engine. The first few websites I explored I couldn’t seem to find what I wanted so I decided to go back and give the good old “trial and error” method of problem solving a try, given the time constraints.

When thinking about how this connects to my students, as a teacher I have to be very careful to make sure they have enough technical and content knowledge to engage in the task successfully. Sometimes because we have enough knowledge about the task, we forget how many steps are actually involved, or what knowledge the students will require to complete the task. A simple task to me, can be a very complex task for my students without the proper preparation and scaffolding.

Obviously, this activity was structured to lower the entry point for coding through the use of explanatory code that was included in the applet, but the entry point still required some basic knowledge in order to complete it smoothly and without too much frustration. Developing strategies to help our students be placed in their “zone” – where the task is a “just right” task (not too easy, not too hard, just right) requires teachers to know their students – both their technological knowledge and their content knowledge.