Innovative and Creative Learning Spaces

Recently, a team of various staff members from the American School Foundation of Monterrey had the opportunity to explore innovative and creative schools and spaces in the Bay Area. Within the three days of learning walks to multiple campuses, we witnessed a wide variety of physical spaces, pedagogical practices, and core values. While each of these attributes looked different in practice at each site, what stood out between these eight locations were the consistencies between them. Passion, flexibility, a willingness to grow, a sense of community, and student centeredness were easily visible during each visit. (Schools and work spaces are listed in the order we visited them.)

1. Gunn High School, Palo Alto, CA

With a robotics team 20 years old, this was the heart of passion, sense of community, and student centered learning that were visible at Gunn High School. Students work collaboratively on creating a robot that will maneuver through a challenge or set of obstacles in a competition put on by FIRST Robotics. The learning space (which might also be referred to as a Maker Space, though it is used most heavily in the robotics field) is equipped with materials you would find in a professional wood shop or mechanical garage. Students have full privileges to use the equipment and space as they see fit in order to complete the challenge. Local businesses and parents also contribute their assistance to the team by providing guidance to students throughout the process, as well as setting up the mock obstacle course based on the theme of the robotics challenge that year. Students in this facility are in a “real life” scenario- working with professional equipment with professionals practitioners, applying knowledge and learning in the moment.

 

2. Everest Summit School, Redwood City, CA

Blended learning was the highlight of student centered learning at Everest Summit School. Working with programmers from Facebook, Everest has a Learning Management System that is original to the school itself. High school students work through a personalized learning plan and monitor their own learning, with guidance from their teachers as mentors. In math, they are bordering on a system that would eliminate grade levels completely- as students would move at a pace based on their skills and benchmarks, no matter their formal grade level or age.

3. The d.school at Stanford University, Stanford, CA

Everything at the d.school encourages flexibility, creativity and collaboration. Just walking into the building gets you excited to begin creating. In a space well known for its use of Design Thinking it is easy to see why students at Stanford University flock to the building to work, redesign, and learn. The learning space can be made into any type of model the user desires. Whiteboard walls are moveable and nearly every table, storage device and seating arrangement is on wheels, which allows the transformation of an open space to be altered into sectioned off, more private work spaces within a matter of seconds. To assist in keeping organization among rooms that promote chaos, reset displays are posted so users can put the room back together after using it.

 

4. Google Merchandise Store, Mountain View, CA

Since we couldn’t get into the Google offices, we did the next best thing and headed to their flagship merchandise store. Biking around the headquarters, playing around in the Android playground, taking pictures of a Google maps Street View car, and purchasing some Google merchandise was a fun way to end the day.

 

5. Brightworks, San Francisco, CA

Gever Tulley himself, co-creator of Brightworks school provided us with a tour and description of how things work at this “extraordinary school.” With five years in its history and approximately sixty students in total, Brightworks offers a unique learning experience where passion, flexibility, a sense of community and student centeredness are definitely present. Teachers are referred to as “collaborators,” and students advance, and sometimes move back, through “bands,” versus traditional grade levels- depending on their skill set and maturity. Students have a large amount of autonomy over the direction their learning will take them. The physical space in Brightworks is just as unique- it resembles a maker space and indeed there are multiple tools to be used for making. It has an open concept which encourages collaboration among bands, while smaller, more private work spaces are also incorporated. Students learning in Brightworks will without a doubt feel comfortable moving into a creative professional working environment.

 

6. Double Robotics, San Francisco, CA

The office at Double Robotics is another unique and creative space. We had the opportunity to test out a Double and have a conversation around how the robots might be used in an educational setting. Another young company, just five years in making, Double Robotics provides employees with a physically open concept with smaller workspaces also available. It is easy to witness flexibility, collaboration, and a sense of community.

7. New Technology High School, Napa, CA

Student Centeredness and community are at the forefront of what can be seen at New Tech High, with Problem Based Learning at the center of the school’s pedagogical approach. Students collaboratively work through the PBL model with the opportunity to take classes at a local community college to prepare them for college careers. Students are given privileges to reserve rooms throughout the school to work on projects or present information to peers- rooms that may be completely empty or fully equipped with production technologies.

8. Remind Offices, San Francisco, CA

Culminating our visit were the Remind Offices- a very flexible, collaborative, fun, and “teacher-obsessed” space. Walking into this office invites you to be playful and creative. By approaching a ruler-lined desk with hopscotch, swings, and enlarged paper airplanes hanging from the ceilings, it promotes creativity from the very beginning. The Remind app encourages collaboration between teachers, parents and students- and their offices encourage the same collaborative theme. Again, open rooms and flexible furniture allows the space to morph to any format the user desires. It is easy to feel the sense of community the employees have while walking around this innovative and creative work space.

A HUGE thank you to the EdTechTeam and Amanda Hensley who did an amazing job scheduling each day, driving us around, providing facts about the Bay Area, supplying great snacks, and being a wonderful guide.

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Where Are You in Your PLN?

We are now in the middle of Connected Educator month 2016. This is a great time for educators to reflect on their Personal Learning Networks. In my opinion PLNs run in three stages. While it is definitely possible to flow between different stages depending on what is going on in life, take some time to reflect on where you are momentarily. Now might be the time to take it to another level.

Develop

1. Development. Teachers are constantly learning from each other within the school walls. This is a great thing, as there is a wealth of knowledge and experience we can learn from. It takes about the same amount of effort as walking down the hall to a colleague’s classroom, as it does to begin learning from educators beyond the brick and mortar of a school building. Once the development of your PLN is underway, the process eases as you can begin blending your learning and can grow from information on any mobile or digital device. To develop your PLN and become a connected educator, decide which tools work best for you personally. If social media is your venue, try Twitter, Facebook groups, Google+, Pinterest, or Linkedin. For alternatives to social media, check out educational blogs, webinars, or curating articles through bookmarking websites. There are plenty of avenues to take in terms of developing or broadening your PLN. Decide which you tool(s) you want to use, how you want to learn, and when you want to learn. If you already find yourself in this developmental stage, I challenge you to broaden your reach. Stretch yourself to find people to connect with outside of your immediate region or even outside of your content or grade level. Push yourself to connect.

Consume

2. Consumption. Most people enter the digitally connected arena by participating through consumption. This may include reading Tweets, searching for articles, maneuvering through blog posts, watching YouTube videos, or viewing webinars. The learning and growth generally comes as a result of what is being read or taken in by the user. The learning, while more passive in the digital sense, may be shared with colleagues actively or implemented into daily practice in the physical world. If you identify yourself within this stage, I challenge you to consider sharing content or articles of your own. Try Retweeting an article you read, or reflecting and writing a blog post about a lesson that went well. It can be intimidating to put yourself out there, but take an initial step and begin to go beyond consumption.

Contribute

3. Contribution. The natural next step after consuming content is a progression of participation within the PLN. Contribution may grow in the form of writing Tweets, sharing articles, or reflecting on learning through blog posts- to hosting a webinar or sharing educational videos created on YouTube. The individual at this point is in a give and take environment, where they are not only learning from others- but others are learning from them. If you already contribute within your PLN, I challenge you to push yourself outside your comfort zone. Try creating and sharing beyond the medium you are accustomed to. If you are a YouTube creator, try writing a blog post about your learning, or vice versa. If you solely learn through Twitter, try Google+ for a change. Experiment with not only broadening your PLN but also yourself as a contributor to open educational resources.

PLN

If you are finding it tough to define yourself within any of the categories above, it is never too late to exercise your growth mindset and learn from those around you. Connected Educator month is a great time to begin, as you are among many educators who are ready and willing to provide you with the support you need.

Flat Stanley Redefined

This Flat Stanley traveled among 22 cities and 10 countries including Brazil, Chile, China, England, Iceland, Italy, Mexico, and the United States!

A group of second grade teachers was looking to reach a broader range of friends and global connections with the Flat Stanley project. They had progressed from the traditional stamp and envelop model to emailing and receiving Microsoft Word Documents that contained text and photos from different countries around the world. While this switch did increase the breadth of connections- the organization of emails, ever increasing size of Word Documents with numerous images added, and desire to compile all of the incoming information in one location proved a hassle. Upon sitting down and investigating which universal collaboration tool might create a more streamlined experience, we decided on Google Slides. The free tool allows for real-time collaboration and the only thing needed for functionality is an internet connection, as Slides is cloud based and software is not necessary.

The process was as follows:

1. The team of 8 teachers collaboratively created a single Google Slides template.

2. Each teacher “made a copy” of the original document, adding some minor personal adjustments pertaining to their classroom.

3. The presentation’s share setting was set to “anyone with the link can edit.”

4. A screen cast tutorial was made to provide directions for recipients on how to add content to the Google Slides presentation.

5. An email was sent out to parents introducing the project, and parents assisted in forwarding the link of the presentation and tutorial out to friends and family living abroad.

6. Friends and family added to the presentation.

7. As the presentation was updated, students and teachers witnessed how far their digital Flat Stanley was traveling.

8. Students and teachers broadened their global connections and understanding of different cultures.

Here is the “Travel Journal”

With Change Comes Frustration… and Learning

With the desire to encourage students to develop creativity and collaborative skills, a 4th grade team of teachers was willing to scrap a traditional project that had been implemented for years, relinquish control, and provide students with some autonomy over the demonstration of their knowledge.

For about 10 years, culminating a unit on electricity, approximately 160 students showcased their knowledge through the creation of an electrical quiz board. With this particular project, there were limited opportunities for creativity and problem solving to be explored. Because technically, the quiz board was limited to 2 formats of completion.

The approach to the final project needed to be shifted. Students were given the prompt to work with group members to address, “a problem in their lives that could be solved applying their knowledge of electricity.” The final products would be presented at an “Electrical Engineering Fair.” With a more open ended task at hand, students had the opportunity for multiple problems and solutions to be addressed- which increased student agency as it provided autonomy over their task, technique, and team- 3 of the 4 “Ts” Daniel Pink refers to in his book, Drive, which examines motivation.

To encourage creativity, students explored different Maker Kits and alternative forms of electricity that allowed them to address their problems from an unconventional perspective.

A FaceTime call with David Patrick, an engineer and green home designer in New York, also allowed students to witness adults as life long learners who address their problems with solutions- as well as the process of developing prototypes and having to learn and adapt to unforeseen obstacles along the way.

The project was a roller coaster of emotions and learning for students. Initially, there was quite a bit of hype over the amount of ownership they had for demonstrating their learning. However, as the building phase began and students ran into hitches and stumbling blocks with their plans, emotions changed. Frustration levels escalated for both students and teachers- as failure was a territory that was rarely experienced and did not play a role in their culture of learning. Students were challenged with the need for adapting their blueprints or starting over completely from scratch. Teachers were confronted with the hurdle of not simply providing answers for students, but responding to students with questions to push and stretch their thinking, while boosting tenacity. On top of experiencing these frustrations, it was an additional challenge for students and teachers to move forward through the process, and reflect on the amount of skill development and learning that was ongoing simultaneously. However, as both stakeholders proceeded, perseverance and creativity around problem solving were exhibited and cultivated. By the time the Electrical Engineering Fair arrived, emotions and excitement returned to where they were at the introduction of the project. What was most exciting to witness was the authentic enthusiasm students had over their own learning, and how devoted they were to completing their product, as they had a personal investment in solving a problem they themselves had identified. Teachers walked away with a wealth of learning as well, upon reflecting on questioning techniques and being a partner in their students learning versus a leader.

While change can be a difficult experience to manage and frustrations have the potential of running high, great learning is there to uncover when willing to reflect and find it.

Tech PD and Speed Geeking with Digital Teachers at ASFM

Since the implementation of the first Technology Integration Specialist and Technology Vision at ASFM 4 years ago, so much has changed. Professional Development went from nothing… to teachers reflecting on adopted tools and using staff created video tutorials to improve their tech knowledge and purposeful use of technology in lessons and units. Whether most of the staff know it or not, the teachers at ASFM are in a very good place, especially considering where we were just 4 years ago.

This year, we have 3 Tech Integration Specialists and 1 Director of Technology Integration- all who work collaboratively with IT, administration, curriculum coaches, teachers, and students to make the learning experience at ASFM the best it can be for everyone.

For our first “official” Tech PD session of the 2014-15 school year, the Tech Integration team decided it was time to move away from our standard PD practice. In the past we met together as a full staff for a few nuts and bolts and then headed in separate directions for teachers’ individual needs. Again, while this has helped develop staff knowledge and capability, we wanted to begin the year with energy and excitement and something different. We decided on Speed Geeking- ASFM Style.

6 volunteer Digital Teachers were each willing to showcase and share what they were doing with technology in their classrooms, a solid start. With these 6 volunteers leading different Tech Sessions, we were able to divide the 100+ staff into groups of approximately 18 teachers per group. Since we decided to showcase the talent in ASFM, we wanted to be sure every staff member was able to see exactly what each DT was implementing. Therefore, we set up a time table for our Speed Geeking:

  • 6, 2 minute presentations
  • 2 minutes for staff to travel from classroom to classroom (a chance to see each DT session)
  • 6 tools/practices would be showcased
  • 24 minutes to complete the entire cycle

Following the 24 minute Speed Geeking format, grade level teams met to discuss their individual needs and to reflect on how they would be able to implement/adapt one of the ideas presented during the Speed Geeking time into a lesson, assessment, or unit.

There were multiple reasons why the TIS team chose to follow this Speed Geeking PD style.

1. Being a risk taker. Sure- things could go exceedingly well, and we could celebrate innovation, staff learning, and DT leadership. Or- they could completely fail, especially during our first attempt at something new. But no matter what- we spoke to teachers about how we would reflect on the experience and work on improving the portions that did not work so well, and work even harder to replicate the sections that did prove successful.

2. Learning from Within. We can pay a lot of money for consultants and outside sources of knowledge to come in an guide us- and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that- when it’s needed. However, there are such power practices coming from right within the walls of our school, this was a great time to give exposure to those practices, and recognize the fact that- we have experts right in our building!

3. Developing Leadership Skills. DTs had the chance to lead a PD session, and for some of them this was their first experience in participating in such a task. It was a great time to provide them with an opportunity for planning and executing their own session, in a supportive and comfortable environment.

4. Enjoying learning. The teachers at ASFM work harder than in any other school I have witnessed. If there is any chance to take a moment and have fun learning during a PD session, take it! Why not sing and dance between sessions? Why not Tweet your learnings? Why not leave an afternoon of PD feeling energized and inspired?

5. Promoting Creativity. Not only were the 2 minute presentations in need of being creative and energetic, but how teachers ended up adapting what they learned from the Speed Geeking sessions proved creative as well. The very next day, teachers were implementing tools and practices into their lessons in ways we hadn’t imagined.

Based on feedback from teachers, it appears as though Speed Geeking at ASFM proved a valuable learning experience.

6 Sessions Presented:

  1. Use of iPad app Coaches Eye by P.E. teacher, Ernesto. @ernestoer5
  2. Flipping the Classroom with librarian, Fiona. @FiMora71
  3. Clamation and Stop Motion with art teacher Babbi and Monica. @BabbiArt @MonyGdD
  4. SMARTBoard usage by Nursery and Kindergarten aides, Paula and Miriam.
  5. Use of Chatterpix app by 1st grade teacher, Mireya.
  6. Appsmash of Explain Everything and ThingLink by 5th grade teacher, Laura.

Multiple Tech Tools Don’t Get in the way of Good Teaching

Be sure to read Laura’s reflection on the experience at the bottom of this post and video.

Last week I had the chance to head into a 5th grade homeroom teacher’s class for an hour of learning. Teacher and Digital Teacher at ASFM, Laura Blanco, had informed me that she was going to be using a few new tools she had not tried out with students before. While she was not asking for help by any means, and was simply sharing this information… I invited myself into her room anyway out of sheer intrigue with what she had described. Luckily, she accepted.

One day prior to this experience Laura first heard about the creation tool ThingLink (upload an image and add links to text, images, and video, then share) in a DT meeting. Just over 24 hours later she decided to try implementing the tool into a lesson with 20 fifth graders. That was the first thing that excited me. Laura had no fear about trying out something completely new to her. She recognized that if the tool proved unsuccessful, she would learn from the experience and either adapt, try again, or accept that this was not the appropriate tool for the lesson.

thinglink

After creating the ThingLink, Laura then embedded the image into her class Edmodo site for easy sharing and access for her students. Within just a few weeks of school starting, Laura’s students know their Edmodo page is a place to consume, create, and share content.

The ThingLink contained screen cast tutorials (using Screencast-O-Matic), made by Laura, which linked to directions for her students to follow. These directions could be paused, repeated, or fast forwarded so the students were able to learn at a pace that was suitable to their needs.

With the teacher creation and student consumption complete, it was now time for students to begin creating.

Students used the tutorials to create slides in the Explain Everything iPad app- for the creation of their own math tutorials. Based on the results from students’ math assessments, they were assigned a math problem they had mastered, and were asked to solve/record a problem and describe their thought process or steps for completing the problem along the way.

The next step in this project is to go even further. The tutorials the students created will be shared and uploaded into ALEKS (a web based, individualized, and adaptive math program). The videos will be available as a resource for other students to use when they reach a problem of the same skill level they do not know how to answer. These tutorials will act as support for other students with their learning.

Two final pieces about Laura’s implementation of technology caught my eye- beyond being a risk taker, flexible and a problem solver. First, throughout the hour, the focus was never on the technology tool. Sure, there were some nuts and bolts in the beginning of the lesson, but the primary focus was on the learning and development of 21st century skills in her students. Technology did not get in the way or become the star of the hour, student learning was clearly the focus, and technology just provided a means to that outcome. The second, and final, piece, was that students were provided with an authentic situation for the development of these tutorials. Students will witness the direct implementation of the videos, and watch how their own planning, collaborating, creative thinking, and creating are able to help others with their learning.

 Laura’s reflection on the experience:

Creating the videos had two main benefits. First, as the students created the tutorials and tried to figure out how to best explain a concept, they deepened their understanding of it. The second benefit was having these tutorials available for other students to learn from. I knew that the students in my class were in different places with their knowledge and their comfort in using the app and I also knew that some of the math concepts they would be explaining were more difficult than others and some students would need to review first.

I decided that the best way to do this was to design a way for each student to be able to get the tools they need and work at their own pace. As I was planning this, I became more and more interested in seeing how much the students could figure out and problem solve on their own when given a few resources as a starting point. I wanted students to be able to realize their own ability to figure things out, teach themselves through trial and error, and search for answers and tutorials online. Our students have so much technology available, both at school and at home, but sometimes they still fail to recognize that they have a powerful tool right in front of them that can give them all the information they want!

Thinglink provided a great platform to give the students a starting point for this work. I created an image with the instructions and added the resources as links on top of the image. Each student had a laptop to access the Thinglink image and to research and an iPad to execute their video.

Students could use the resources I gave them if they felt like they needed them, or find others on their own. Some students felt comfortable with Explain Everything, so they jumped straight to the Math, while other students watched the entire tutorial, and followed along on their iPads to familiarize themselves with the tool before starting.

This activity was asking a lot from the students. They had to learn about the app, review the math concept, think of the best way to explain it and then plan and execute their video tutorials – and I challenged them to be as independent as possible. I was interested in seeing how much they could take on and how they could problem solve and figure things out on their own.

It was very exciting to watch them work as they figured out what their needs were and how they could find resources online to answer their questions (both for Math and technology). If they didn’t know how to add images on Explain Everything – they found a tutorial for that! If they needed to review partial products before doing their video, they looked it up! Part of the ‘challenge’ was for them to be very independent with this, both the math part and the technology, and the kids were able to go with it, recognize their needs, find answers to their questions and then create their own videos.


DTs SCAMPER with Tech Tools

This SCAMPER activity was adapted from the MSU, MAET Overseas Cohort Year 2, lead by Sean Sweeney and Emily Bouck.

SCAMPER is a mnemonic device representing: Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, and Reverse. Generally, questions are asked around each of the different focus areas to provide a protocol when brainstorming ways to improve, repurpose, or create new products, from existing products.

Prior to getting started with the actual SCAMPER-ing during our DT meeting this morning, a few DTs voiced how they had heard of teachers using this tool for creativity lessons in the classroom before. Therefore, some prior knowledge existed and was shared. In addition, DTs were also asked to pre-read a brief article prior to our session together, so everyone who entered the meeting had at least a minimal amount of exposure to the topic. We then provided pairs of DTs with a random technology tool that is widely used at ASFM; a laptop, headphones, a remote, a USB, a wireless keyboard, an iPad, and a landline phone. Next, pairs of DTs worked through the SCAMPER model, inserting their ideas collaboratively on a Google Spreadsheet.

After approximately 10 minutes of working through the SCAMPER process, DTs were asked to use an additional lens while looking at their assigned tech tool: How would you put this tool to use without a power source- no electricity, battery, or alternative source of energy? Pairs were provided 5 minutes to develop their lists, they then shared their top 2 ideas with the rest of the group. Below is a screenshot of how our DTs altered the use of technology without the use of power.

Scamper

Of course, after the process we reflected on how teachers might use this SCAMPER process with their students to promote learning, or within their own daily teaching practice. Some discussion points were:

  • It is a great problem solving tool, it provides a process for considering multiple ways to complete a task.
  • It provides an opportunity for the exploration of alternate uses for a tool, and questions what you consider to be the original purpose for that device.
  • It opens the door for developing 21st century skills naturally.
  • It creates dialogue when tools are viewed as obsolete, if people were in need of a tool or device, how could we reuse it without throwing it away?
  • It allows for the repurposing of tools.
  • It promotes creativity and thinking outside the box.
  • It allows students to combine ideas and tools to improve what they are already doing.
  • These tools were not initially designed for educational purposes, yet we see them being used in education frequently, which means SCAMPER-ing has already been done in both education and at ASFM.

In our next meeting, the ELEM DTs will be preparing for a full staff tech training. Following that, we will be having guest DTs sign up, plan, prepare, lead, and reflect on their own activities during our team meetings. I’m looking forward to further collaboration, creativity, and learning from within the DT team at ASFM.

Here is a video that might be used for introducing the concept of SCAMPER to students: