This week, my class of fifth and sixth graders began the culmination of their IB Primary Years journey, the Exhibition. A self-directed and collaborative project, it is my favorite part of the year and a deeply enjoyable challenge to facilitate.
Before setting out, I organized a meeting with all Exhibition stakeholders including students, parents, teachers, and administrators. We discussed everyone’s ideas, questions, and concerns in order to draft our Essential Agreements.
The Exhibition Guidelines provide clear expectations, which I have synthesized for the students to provide support for their projects. One helpful practice I have chosen is to clarify five required components of the project. Specifically, every student must choose a global issue, deliver a persuasive speech, write an expository essay, create a work of art, and engage in community action. Among our first activities was introducing the organizer below.
Each student has a shared Evernote notebook which functions as a portfolio. Throughout the year, we gather photos, audio reflections, links to blog posts, scanned work, etc. During Exhibition, I am particularly active trying to catch them in the act of deep learning. These artifacts will be extremely useful for them as they curate their documentation wikis.
To scaffold these reflections, we conduct weekly interviews which are uploaded to YouTube. The students are encouraged to include them in their reflections, but it is not required. I have some preplanned questions and we also plan questions together at the beginning of the week. Knowing the questions in advance helps us to have a similar perspective on our activities and helps them to speak and reflect more fluently.
The inquiry has also included researching the effects of music on brain development. After a brief coaching conversation, we agreed that the importance of Arts Education would be an ideal global issue around which her Exhibition can grow.
She rushed to complete the poster. Her work led to a frank discussion about aesthetics and time management and she decided to start over, taking more time to create a more visually appealing product.
Call to action
A keen observer will notice that I haven’t exactly followed the assignment here. Rather than revising a unit of instruction to attempt to redefine learning, my goal is to utilize educational technology to empower students to redefine their own learning. In a sense, I am reimagining every unit I teach. I started by trying to revise a single unit, but every change I made toward increasing student choice, voice, and agency, resulted in thinking less about deciding what I wanted students to do, and more about how I was going to document and curate what they would decide to do. A class wiki was needed first to act as a home base. In theory, it contains and organizes links to every online resource and tool we use in class. The link is jiesgradefiveandsix2014-15.wikispaces.com, and it’s the only link you will find in this post because it leads to a page containing links to everything my class does online, including our Inquiry Tasks Organizer.
The Inquiry Tasks Organizer is the hub of our inquiries and assessments. The public ‘class’ organizer feeds private organizers for each students, to which they add links to their learning artifacts and self assessment rubrics. Over the course of the school year, this document will be used to empower students to take more control of the direction of their learning by providing a flexible and agile model for documentation and reflection.
Currently, our inquiries and tasks are quite structured, but as the students become more fluent inquirers, more freedom will be transferred to them without changing any essential procedures. This ‘Project Management’ aspect of my COETAIL final project, creating an interface that can maximize agency and transparency in the classroom, is an inquiry I look forward to pursuing further along a design process in which all participants’ experiences are documented and utilized to inform ongoing iterations.
This ‘Design Thinking’ approach to classroom planning ensures that a unit is never ‘finished’, and that refinement and revision are designed in rather than being added or changed later.
The student experience thus far has been mixed. Some students enjoy the freedom that this approach affords, yet might be too easily distracted from relevant inquiries. Some are reluctant to let go of the traditional models of instruction, either our of confusion or lack of experience as independent learners.
Consequently, the full potential of this project has yet to be realized. That’s great, because it is evidence to me that the project is working. Surely if students could easily adapt and thrive, it would imply that the learning environment hadn’t changed much and certainly wasn’t redefined.
Learning won’t be redefined in one unit, but in the ongoing cycle of innovation and reflection that connected learning communities like COETAIL encourage and promote.
A Maker Faire often includes digital production, as well as arts and crafts, engineering and construction, cooking, scientific experiments and demonstrations, and the visual and performing arts. There are no artificial limits.
Every week, we update a Maker Club Projects spreadsheet that both serves to document our activities and as an archive to inspire innovation and collaboration.
The framework for assessment in our Maker Club is from The Tinkering Studio’s Design, Make, Play and consists of the the criteria of Engagement, Intentionality, Innovation, and Solidarity. This rubric emphasizes process over product and social interaction over individual achievement. These principles guide me in my role as facilitator in coaching young makers.
Play, passion, projects, peers
Starting Year 2
Two intersecting areas of study which have captivated my interest this year, Design Thinking and Project Management, have significant promise as I consider how to apply new principles to planning a year of learning in my Grade 5/6 classroom.
The two disciplines are strongly intertwined and have profound implications when applied to designing learning experiences. This post seeks to define LX Design as an approach to classroom planning and as a framework for ongoing iteration and reflection.
For example, when designing a machine to make coffee, one must consider not only the cost and suitability of the materials used, but also the likely moods of users, often early in the morning, while using the coffee machine.
Meanings of use
Klaus Krippendorff’s lecture, The Key Concepts of The Semantic Turn, and in particular his explanations of ‘meanings of use’, challenged and transformed my thinking about learning. I recreated the graphic below to represent what I consider an essential model for educators. It is the foundation for my approach to LX Design.
To summarize, when a person encounters a thing, whether it’s a product or an idea, they must first recognize it and the opportunities it presents. Next, the thing can be explored, or used to try to accomplish a task. When a person becomes engaged with the thing, they might find it so useful as to become reliant upon it, using it naturally on a regular basis.
A great physical example is shoes. If you had never seen shoes before, you may or may not recognize how their shape resembles feet. If you did, you might try wearing them, even adjusting the laces for a comfortable fit, and walk. Before long, you would find yourself always wearing them for their comfort and safety until you can hardly imagine living without them.
Design Thinking in the classroom
The same model applies to knowledge, concepts, and learning tools.
In fifteen years as a professional educator, I have observed that everyone wants to learn what they can use. I suppose that is the reason the why Professor Krippendorf’s model resonated so strongly with me.
In my inquiry based classroom, I have been moving away from the ‘what students should know and be able to do’ model. Instead, I seek to design learning experiences that empower rich opportunities to construct understanding.
The next stages in the design process, Interpretation and Ideation, represent ‘purposeful Exploration’ in the Krippendorff model, and the bulk of the learning experience design in the first weeks of the school year. As the students and I collaboratively make sense of our current understandings, hypothesize approaches to learning that will lead to constructing deeper and more relevant meaning, and pursue those inquiries through Experimentation, our ‘Reliance’ on that learning provides the foundation and raw material for the Evolution of our thinking, according to the IDEO process.
That evolution begins with ‘disruption’ in the Krippendorff model, which in terms of learning I consider synonymous with cognitive dissonance. As our understandings evolve, ideally, we engage in an infinite learning loop, constantly reflecting and reevaluating, utilizing various models of inquiry or design to guide and share our learning.
As this project unfolds, an overriding goal is that the students begin to harness the processes of Design Thinking. In this way, the entire class can become a cooperative and collaborative LX Design Team engaged in constructing their own independent yet connected lines of inquiry.
The LX Design community
There are several excellent educators and organizations sharing their ideas on Design Thinking in education. I recommend exploring Jackie Gerstein’s The Educator as a Design Thinker for its enlightening graphic and wealth of well organized information and links to essential resources.
Maureen Devlin has explored learning design on her blog, including the provocative post, Learning Design: Center Stage in which she asks the essential question, ‘How can I synthesize materials, tools, strategies, standards, and students’ needs and interests to serve students well?’
Ewan McIntosh’s article, Design Thinking: Tools to help make thinking visible, provides an invaluable model for design thinking in action in the classroom.
I also recommend exploring IDEO Desing Thinking for Educators, the National Center on Universal Design for Learning, and Learning Designer, an exciting website for unit planning, sharing, and collaboration.
I have begun by considering this school year as a project ten months in duration, with the primary goals of students demonstrating academic mastery, practicing 21st century fluencies, and engaging in meaningful and significant community action. The pursuit of these goals will be on display during our Exhibition.
Reflecting on last year’s Exhibition, I utilized MindMup to organize essential tools and skills necessary for success in the document PYP Exhibition. By visualizing in this way, I was able to identify which elements would be best to introduce early in the school year and how the different elements could compliment each other.
For example, the one element which I found to be most foundational for success is Expository Writing. For that reason, in the first weeks of school, we have emphasized heavily the writing process and tools for gathering and organizing research data. As students engage with other tools and practice other literacies in their inquiries, this writing practice will continue to develop to become an increasingly reliable communication tool.
Another aspect of Project Management is sharing information. Using project management principles to identify stakeholders and establishing processes for increasing transparency can be a highly effective utilization of technology.
Another of Maureen Devlin’s posts, Transition to Transparency, is an insightful reflection on how and why ‘keeping communication fluid and transparent really helps to support a dynamic learning community’. An indispensable tool in this process is A Useful Framework For Transparency In Education, a graphic model around which I am attempting to design a robust online system for collaborative document and data sharing. In a world connected by digital technologies, connectivist tools are essential to learning.
Indeed it is easy to see how our processes may quickly become inseparable and indistinguishable.
The timing of the Deeper Learning MOOC, a massive open online course dedicated in large part to Project Based Learning, could not have been better. A host of organizations were introduced and resources shared and discussed, as well as models and frameworks that I could use to inform and enrich my role as a facilitator and coach.
During the Week 9 Participants Panel, moderator Rob Riordan remarked to me, ‘If you want to get engaged in deeper learning, a good way to start is to schedule an exhibition.’
His words reminded me of a quote by the prolific composer Duke Ellington: ‘I don’t need time. What I need is a deadline.’
If an exhibition is the overall objective of a school year, I discovered that it provides a strong structure on which to practice skills and pursue inquiry. But more importantly, it provides a deadline to complete a project. Deanna Mascle recently reflected in her post, Why Project-Based Learning?, ‘In project-based learning (PBL) the project is the learning – and the teaching and learning take place through the project.’ The trick for facilitators is to maximize, document, and curate the learning throughout the process.
Designing the framework
My solution was to use individual wikis as ‘home bases’ on which each student could document all aspects of their inquiries according to an outline of requirements. As they worked, we held regular consultations to discuss and document the formal elements, such as applications of academic skills and conceptual understandings, of their projects.
Looking back, I should have done more to structure these formal elements on a calendar. For example, while reflection with a teacher or mentor is important, it would have been more effective to schedule activities in which students cooperate to assess and discuss each others’ projects-in-progress by focusing on particular elements in each session.
Limiting the scope of the products was very effective for increasing student agency, although in the future, I plan to focus on each as an assessment task by itself during the school year to develop applicable skills.
Rubrics were also a key feature for setting expectations. These were created collaboratively as a class early in the process and were based on the model that we have used throughout the year. By clearly defining success criteria for the formal elements, I believe that we maximized opportunities for students to exercise choice and direct their own learning.
Synthesizing the theme
Unfortunately, few reflections were ‘deep’. They generally lacked emotion and personal connection. This is my greatest challenge for future long term projects. How can we utilize technology for formative reflection more effectively?
One idea is to provide prompts for each reflection. Similar to the documentation process needing more structure and opportunities for peer-interaction, I think that the reflection process needs more scaffolding, at least in the beginning. There are rich possibilities, such as choosing prompts at random or me, as a coach, writing prompts that become increasingly complex and challenging.
If the project is the learning, then formative reflection and self-assessment is the most important facet of its documentation. This is an area that requires significant attention and a line of inquiry that I am excited to pursue and would welcome collaborators!
The resolution of the cognitive dissonance students experience occurs when they assume responsibility for their learning processes, agency for their choice of actions, and ownership of their learning artifacts.
This week, I am excited to continue my connected learning inquiry as a participant in a new course, Teacher Practice in a Connected World, taught by Meenoo Rami, author of Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching.
I feel very grateful to be enrolled in the course on a scholarship from The Rendell Center for Citizenship and Civics.
Our first task is to write a statement of goals. It’s a perfect opportunity to reflect on my connected learning and teaching journey which began about one year ago and summarize my hopes and goals for the future.
A connected learning manifesto
During the past year, I became a connected educator. Locating other teachers actively sharing and interacting on social media, developing a robust professional blogging regimen, participating in the Making Learning Connected MOOC, and progressing into a participatory flow through a myriad of online learning communities has led me to a place in which the distinctions between teaching and learning, virtual and real, online and offline, have all become blurred beyond recognition.
It feels like a long way from my teacher preparation courses nearly ten years ago. In those days, ‘educational technology’ was a set of multicolored markers and making a gradesheet with spreadsheet software. My college of education, one of the largest in the United States, had exactly one SmartBoard that I am aware of.
Technology has been redefined in the past ten years and is now on the cusp of being used to redefine education.
I believe that connected learning, specifically digitally networked learning will replace schools as we know them in the not too distant future. I also believe that this is a change that will benefit learning as a function of being human, education as an institution, and the world as a whole as our capacity for international understanding and cognitive empathy increases.
Connectivist Massive Open Online Courses (cMOOCs) are a prototype of this development in learning, as are the many various online spaces from student blogging platforms to maker spaces, interest focused forums to social media. I have learned a lot as a participant in the COETAIL community of international educators. Edcamp is also a revolutionary development and I was honored to help organize the first Edcamp Tokyo.
I am joining this movement and the ‘Teacher Practice in a Connected World’ course because I want teachers, as professional learners, to wrest and maintain control of educational technology and connected learning. We must master and use technology to continue to alter the course of the education so-called pendulum so that it swings ever more strongly toward learner empowerment.
Hopefully, we will be able to begin to design networks that can realize the potential for connected learning that already exists. In fact, the networks already exist. We need to coach ourselves and our colleagues to use them and take ownership. I am hopeful that one aspect of this course will be to create channels to encourage more teachers to join the digital collaboration that has already begun.
To do this, I think I need to understand the attitudes and practices that currently exist beyond my school and connected learning networks. Why isn’t everyone sharing online? When I invite colleagues in my school to participate in a MOOC or join a discussion forum, they literally never do. Am I selling it wrong? Is there something I could do to make it easier for them to begin?
I have approached connected learning from a totally practical perspective, as a learner, and I would like to spend some time exploring a more theoretical point of view. I believe that would enable me to better apply what I have learned as pedagogy.
Design thinking, experience design, and learning design are disciplines that I believe are essential to my goals to transform my classroom into a connected learning space. This has been of interest to me since I blogged about it in the post, Metateaching: Teachers as anthropologists and designers. The Macromedia Design Thinking MOOC has been an eye opening experience and something very different than learning that I have done in the past, particularly compared to ‘education’ classes. I see the potential of design principles to create environments in which interest driven learning and standards based education can connect and thrive.
The Maker Education Initiative is particularly interesting to me as a vehicle for supporting authentic learning and connecting it to the expectations of institutions and governments, particularly with so much emphasis being directed at STEM education (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). This year, I started an after school Maker Club. It has been fascinating to see our young makers’ attitudes toward creativity and collaboration change in the first few weeks from trepidation to confidence and enjoyment.
Another project I look forward to developing further is Independent Inquiry. I started it two years ago as a way to replace homework with more relevant learning. Now, it incorporates values and principles from many of my favorite learning organizations including Connected Learning and the 21st Century Fluency Project. This summer, I plan to revise and reiterate the reflection tools once again for the next school year. Ideally, I would like to collaborate with other teachers interested in connecting students pursuing similar inquiries or to inspire each others’ curiosities. Many classrooms are applying Genius Hour, but I don’t see the kinds of sharing that existing networks could facilitate. I would like to help improve that situation.
Finally, my goal is to have fun again this summer. Last year, the Making Learning Connected MOOC showed me how connecting formal and informal learning is enjoyable. I would love to invite and engage with more wonderful people and excellent learners!
[Edit 2014.05.30 This post reimagined as a Frank Zappa fueled multimedia blitz: http://zeega.com/165935]
The notes from the sessions are all linked to the Collaborative Organization Document (aka the schedule), a resource which I hope can help to maintain the connections we have made.
I blogged about the meeting in the post, Exhibition Week 0. It was successful, but there was something missing. From the perspective of visual literacy and storytelling, I realized that my efforts could accomplish much more if I aimed to persuade rather than inform, or, to use Seth Godin’s terminology, ‘persuade’ rather than ‘convince’.
The presentation and slides are effective at delivering information and provoking thought, ‘convincing’, but they wouldn’t inspire anyone to join the adventure. They don’t ‘persuade’. They lack emotion.
What I needed was a video.
My own inspiration
I do everything the hard way
Without further ado
EDIT 19 March 2014 – View the final video in the post, Visual Literacy Achievements Unlocked!.