Walking the Design Thinking Walk

So….hello, gentle reader….guess what I did today!  For the first time in about 25 years, I walked into a class and said “Hi!  I’m your substitute teacher today!”.  When I was a kid, it was called being a Substitute Teacher, at the start of my career,  we were known as TOCs (Teachers on Call), and then THAT morphed into TTOCs (Teachers Teaching On Call) and along with the name change, so too has the call-out system, pay and benefits changed, but I digress. Today I was called back into active duty because of the desperate shortage of TTOCs we are experiencing.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I was happy to do it, and had a great day.  But for the last 4 years, while I have been a number of classrooms, and have done a not-insignificant amount of teaching, there is a huge difference between showing up cold as “The Sub” and  walking in with an armload of iPads and with the classroom teacher riding herd.  Now, me being the perverse creature I am, that wasn’t enough of a challenge.  I took a look at the classroom teacher’s beautifully prepared day plan (and I mean, this was a thing of beauty– typed, highlighted, times and activities mapped out, aligning with the neat stacks of photo-copied work sheets), glanced around at the orderly desks and pristine white boards, and thought “Well, I could be in for a easy day!” And then I thought…… “Nah”.

Because here is the thing.  I love what I do– I mean I LOVE it.  It’s chaotic and messy and diverse and something different everyday, and I am ever so grateful for the opportunity to help other teachers, to encourage them and help them integrate elements into their practice that I think are valuable.  Ah… there it is…. In other words, I can talk the talk… (you know the rest).  So, despite the well -organized and orderly path presented me, I instead chose, as is my wont, Chaos.  I have been facilitating sessions on Design Thinking, in particular, using Design Thinking Mindframe activities that pull in elements from a variety of sources (see my posts here and here). Although I had seen great success taking adults through the process, I had yet to try it with kids. And so… that was the background that led me to spending the day fully immersed in the an activity that had a group of sixth graders developing emergency safety responses for natural disasters using the Design Thinking Mindframe process. In full disclosure, I definitely see areas where this process can be refined and fine tuned, and there is a risk trying something so unfamiliar to a roomful of kids you’ve not met before, who don’t necessarily have a lot of buy-in to the process.

Pictures and a thousand words, and all that….

 

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Design in the cards

As a follow up post to This One I share a deeper dive into design.  As I’ve dabbled in design thinking, muddled through maker space, and tinkered with tinkering, there is one certainty.  There is no one way to work through a design thinking challenge.  There are good practices, and there are false starts– fortunately, at the very core of Design Thinking is the built-in opportunity to revise, reflect, reiterate. With that in mind, I offer you, gentle reader, my Design Thinking Framework 101 goods.

First, the template. DesignThinkingMindset Template This is a mash-up of materials from Stanford Design School, Susan Crichton and Future Design School.  You’ll notice that the first stage, Empathy, is given prominence, as is the Ideate phase. The empathetic question is at the core of any design challenge. Without a deep understanding of the needs and demands of the target, the rest of the process falls short.  The steps can still be followed, but the resulting efforts will lack authenticity and may not even address the actual core question or concern. Narrowing focus on the empathetic stage is perhaps easier when the challenge is one of problem solving instead of “widget building”.   The beauty of this template is that it is equally applicable to any design challenge, but it reinforces the pillars of the process.

Complementing the template are the Design Mainframe cards.  Created by cleverer people than me at the Institute for Innovation in Education, these mindframe cards are intended to encourage the creative process by re-framing your thinking.  And because the design process is best worked through collaboratively, the mindframe cards behave like another collaborator, offering a divergent point of view, sparking a different, but related conversation.

I’ve put some mindframe cards together as a resource that can be checked out of our resource centre, and included this poster which maps the cards to the relevant section of the template, and includes a brief overview of the Design Thinking process.  IMG_8523.JPG

You can order a set of iie. Mindframe cards here: Printer Studio Canada  They include a breakdown description of each stage, as well as a glossary of terms and explanation of activities. Follows is some examples of awesome “AHA!” moments I had using this activity for a whole school district recently. I was invited to a small northern BC community called Bella Coola (located in the Great Bear Rainforest– how cool is that!?) with a goal of walking the entire school district through my Design Thinking Challenge. In sum total, that includes about 50 personnel, including teachers, assistants and administration serving a student population of around 250. So, in terms of scale, some of what we achieved would be challenging to reproduce in bigger settings, but great conversation and thinking came out of the day.  I divided the group into 9 smaller working groups, and used one mindframe template per group, and then circulated with 2 decks of mindset cards.  It didn’t matter if some tables had the same cards.  I also provided them all with the same question, though they were encouraged to modify it as they wished.  Here are snapshots of the process.

Empathize (Discover):

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Simple questions, but not necessarily the ones you remember to ask…
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Everyone wanted the sketch artist in their group…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Define the Issue (Frame):

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There was never a lull in the conversation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ideate (Imagine): I run this as eight rounds of 45 seconds each to ideate as many potential solutions as they can.  There is resistance, and often participants don’t enjoy being rushed through, but it’s important to do this section “rapid fire”, because it encourages the most “out there” and blue-sky thinking possible.

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…and even then they find it difficult to not just focus on one.
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The hardest part for participants is waiting until this stage to start offering solutions…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prototype (Feedback): Finally, they get to choose a solution and start to build it…

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The Prototype cards include examples, but many are more suited to a longer-term process.
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Even though this process is not about building a “thing”, there is very much a building and constructing component.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this phase, once the solution is arrived at and a prototype version of it created, the groups are then combined in order to give one another feedback.  What was particularly fascinating with the Bella Coola group that despite it being a small community and sharing common experiences, each group came up with a very different focus and solution, and so the feedback round was critical, and authentic.

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These cards really supported the feedback process by prompting and framing helpful and insightful reflections

 

Test (Reflect): This is the part of the cycle where it can kind of bog down a little, and where I can see having a longer time frame would be valuable.  It also underscores how critical having a deeply authentic question is– why the Empathize round is essential.

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The participants returned to their original groupings and revisited their solutions, and then:

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Had the opportunity to share with a new group their revised prototype, based on round-one feedback.

And THEN the whole group got to listen as each small group shared out their ideas.  This is a spot that can be challenging.  In a room full of educators, it’s not difficult to find the willing performers to stand up and share.  I can imagine that being a challenge in other settings.  However, remember how I keep going on about the Empathy piece?  If this whole activity is anchored in empathizing, rather than, say, competition, you have set the stage for understanding and support…. as well, the final cards in the Mindset deck do exactly as advertised– they Spark a refreshing perspective.  I would go so far as to say I was shocked at the “meant to be-ness” of each of the Spark-urtunities (yes, now I am just  making up words… )

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It requires stepping off into the unknown to do this process successfully… expect to be uncomfortable, and to be deeply rewarded…

Designing Design Thinking

 

Hello dear reader– I’ve been off the grid for a while (well, you have to understand that “Off the Grid” means something a little different to me… I still require a coffee maker and a curling iron, I’m not a savage for heaven sakes).  As the whirlwind of September abates, I have the opportunity to reflect. Several years ago, I moved out of a classroom of my own and into the broader system of classrooms that make up our school district.  And I use the word “system” with intentionality, as understanding a system, or organization, is a much different prospect than I realized when I was looking in from the other side of the glass.

Educational fads, or as I call them, Flavours of the Month, come and go with regularity.  A good rule of thumb for educators thinking about a retirement date is to recognize Ed Trends coming around for the second or third time in a career…

And so it is, because I am in my 26th year as an educator, I do tend to view the Next Great Thing with a somewhat jaundiced eye. When Design Thinking arrived at my desk, I gave it a cursory glance and thought “Oh yeah, I’ve seen this before…”. And there it is… THAT is the critical piece. If we go back to the “Flavour of the Month” analogy for a sec, there is a reason why there is ALWAYS Vanilla ice-cream, and probably Chocolate. They are classics for a reason.  Often the Feature Flavour is a stand alone (Pumpkin Spice Maple-Moose Ripple) ((yes, I meant Moose– that’s the comedy portion of the post)), and frequently it’s a twist on a classic (Salted-Caramel Pretzel Chocolate) ((oh what!  “twist” and “pretzel”!  That wasn’t even intentional)). But my point here is a simple one– sure, sometimes trends come and go (please don’t let low rise jeans come around again….), but more and more I realize we have, over time, cherry-picked the critical bits and used them to highlight or accent standard good practice. And sometimes, you need to look at a concept from another angle.

This is where my love affair with Design Thinking began. My first glance at Maker (another hot EdTrend right now) was via this gem: Caine’s Arcade. Again, there is nothing new here– kids have been making stuff out of cardboard boxes since the first Easy Bake Oven shipped.  But this was different… there was more here than just whacking things together, there was intention and deep thought, and then there was social impact. Next came Design Thinking as a natural complement to the ADST Curriculum (Applied Design Skills and Technology). And certainly this framework allows learners to create on a much deeper level than just sticking a pipe cleaner to a Pringles can and calling it good.

But THEN…. I started to think about applying the steps of Design Thinking to Problem Solving and Critical (as opposed to Creative) Thinking, and the Thinking core competency. Now, full disclosure.  All the materials that I use in my Design Framework activity are all borrowed (stolen) from those that came before me.  So standing on the shoulders of giants, here is a break down of Design Thinking Framework– Uncoordinated style.

The Giants:  Susan Crichton of UBC, Elizabeth Childs of RRU, Remi Kelir of U of Colorado, the Future Design School and the IIE –Centre for Innovation in Education. And perhaps the Giantest Giant: The Stanford Design School.

The Goods: A (so far– it keeps growing!) Five page “workbook” that walks participants through the stages of (good) Design: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test,  Reflect/Implement. Sometimes these steps have slightly different names, but the idea, process and goal, is the same. It’s easy to see design thinking applied to creating a Something. “I’d like to invent an automatic sock-putter-on-er” and the steps go something like this:   Think-Sketch-Create_a_model-Try-Ta_Da!   But what if you aren’t creating something concrete, but rather trying to arrive at a solution to a problem or a concern? And what if there are a lot of people involved and one solution doesn’t fit all? And what if it’s just MESSY.

That is when I love it the most. You can envision a Maker Space full of kids being messy and chaotic.  The same is true of the process inside the brain when people are grappling with a thorny issue. One of the most empowering facets of the Design Framework is reflection and feedback are built in and integral steps.  Here is another “borrowed” piece of my presentation:

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The Neilson Norman Group provides this model as an education tool with a business focus. I like it a lot, because it shows the “map” for reflection and feedback.  The Stanford model has a simpler visual, but the steps are the same, the reflection implicit as you move through them. triple-aim-design-thinking-stanford-medx-2014-30-638

 

My workshop begins by introducing the basic description of what Design thinking is, and where it comes from, and then the participants do a rapid-fire design cycle on their issue or problem.  Three hours seems to be the sweet spot for this as an overview.  I tell my participants that as an authentic experience, Design Thinking to solve a problem would be a days-weeks-months proposition to get the greatest value out of the model. I have, at the time of this writing, run a few large groups through “my” process, and each time I do it, I learn a little something more, and in true Design Thinking style, I incorporate that into my next iteration…

Here are some highlights:

BCIT Teaching and Learning Summit.  I offered this imaginary problem to a roomful of Instructors and IT support:  “You have been mandated to incorporate some element of technology into 25% of your coursework.”

My best learning nugget from this workshop was a lightbulb moment from one of the IT guys who said “Oh!  I didn’t realize how we are always just jumping to a solution! As if to say ‘Don’t bother me with the details, here are some things that will probably fix it!’ ” Going forward I remember to emphasize Empathy and Ideation– and NOT even THINKING about a solution until the Prototyping phase.

VIU Year 5 Pre-Service Teachers. My learning from this session was definitely that the collaborative question was the right approach– they all had the same concern, and listening to all of their solutions was of benefit to them all.  The drawback was that it was difficult for them to give deeper feedback, as they were all too close to the problem.  However, the problem (or challenge) was most definitely authentic.

My take-away from this group was to think of a way to improve/support the feedback cycles.  Also, because they would be working with Elementary – age students, several of the learners re-worked my template and created a “kid-friendly” design thinking package.

Bella Coola District Learning Day. Most recently I traveled to the beautiful Great Bear Forest to visit School District 49. The entire staff: teaching, admin, and support gathered for the day to share their learning.  Because this was a diverse group, it was challenging to construct a question that they all shared as a common concern.  I landed on a 3 part problem that allowed groups to pull out 1,2 or 3 aspects of the question. My learning from this event was that, again, the Empathy part is critical, the authenticity of the question makes a huge difference in engagement, and by supporting groups tailoring the question, the feedback rounds become much richer. Next time, I would, if possible, more purposefully arrange the groups.  My goal is to make this a full day workshop, but begin with rapid-prototyping activity, then use a Liberating Structures activity to help participants self-select groups based on need/interest, rather than proximity or “alikeness”.

By far my best take-away from the Bella Coola group was when one of the participants came up to me at lunch and said that he found my approach shockingly subversive.  I asked him to tell me more (!!) and he said simply that it was so refreshing to have done my workshop– that usually on these days an “Expert” flies in and talks about themselves the whole time.  I had done very minimal talking and they got to work with their colleagues on a problem or question that was at the heart of their professional lives right now. I was flattered, humbled and energized knowing that I was Designing a path that was addressing the needs of those I was serving…

The Eyebrow… and other things Teachers recognize.

I was presenting at a conference the other day.  Actually,  I’m being a tiny bit modest– I was delivering a keynote to about 300 post-secondary instructors.  I was honoured to have been invited, and chuffed that my talk went quite well. (At least, that’s how I feel until I see the video recording….)

I was speaking about the changes to our curriculum, and general changes in practice, and how, particularly, those changes are going to affect post secondary institutions welcoming our learners over the next few years. 17082_0615-7467jpg_35177553282_o.jpg

It is very different presenting to adults than to children– adults tend to be quiet… almost freakishly quiet. And sometimes it’s hard to read the crowd and know if you are hitting the right notes. But there are other universal truths about being a teacher that never leave you.

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My talk was to have taken 45 minutes, and while I had prepared and practiced and primped and tweaked my slides, I had not actually timed myself delivering the talk. My internal teacher clock that knows the imminent end of the 50 minute period is nigh still functions.  I looked at the clock on my second to last slide and I was bang on time.

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But the best universal teaching-truth came when a fellow approached me, and as I smiled in greeting, smiled back in a very particular fashion.  Even though this was a adult man, even, actually, an adult man approaching middle age, with school-aged kids of his own, he smiled at me in that way I recognized.  Teachers know it, whether it’s in a grocery store at the weekend, or on the sidewalk during summer vacation, days or years after having a student in one’s class. It’s the look on a child’s face that shines with the message “I know you, and I don’t know if you recognize me, but HERE I AM!!”. You will be forgiven if you can’t remember the name– although again, teachers have tricks for that too– but you always know that THAT grin and slightly abashed look is that of a former student.  And so, I knew this fully – formed human had at some point been a student of mine,  but I hadn’t quite placed him yet.  I said , “Hey!  How are You!?” and the abashed look grew into amazement and the grin to a wide smile of delight and he responded “You remember me!?”.  That’s when all the teacher tricks come out, and my memory for all my learners, which borders on the savant, is challenged.  The pieces fall into place, and I can remember the campus (Yes…) the building (Yes!) and that his first name begins with …. (YES!!) and I am secretly amazed and delighted, for I never knew this man as a child– he was one of the adult learners I had taught at University, probably 5 or 6 years earlier.  But here’s the thing.  As soon as he knew I legitimately recognized him, his response reminded me of a lesson I keep getting: Relationship is all. I may or may not have been his favourite prof, or taught his most or least favourite class, but what was important was that I care about my learners. That that relationship we form in the class extends forever and everywhere. And all learners, regardless of age or situation when I meet them, understand that they will live forever in my head.

I feel like my whole audience that day sort of understood that — even if they didn’t agree with what I had to say, my message was being delivered on behalf of my learners who would become their learners- that I insisted they care for them as I do, and relationship is the only way to do that.

I also was reminded that no matter how we grow, what we experience and how long we live, we are all secretly 10 years old at heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Conference

Actually, you know, I think a person could make money with this scheme:  Have a conference where all the workshops, sessions and keynotes are all about How to Run a Conference.  Plus, all things Meta are hot right now.

In any event.  Here are my reflections based on a couple of recent experiences.

Now first of all, full disclosure.  I am often a little resentful when I find myself in a situation where an outside expert has been engaged to provide service or information already curated by a local professional/member/citizen.  In other words, the idea that because someone is From Away, they are inherently better qualified to speak with expertise, regardless of the topic.  Now, of course, if I am the Out-of-Towner invited in to speak or present, I don’t regard myself (in the mirror) with such a jaundiced eye. Interesting how that works….speaking of metacognition…. but in the events I refer to today, I was in one case a local, and in the other case a visiter– a stranger, in fact, to the parts.

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Here is how the situations were similar:

Both events were one-day school district-wide professional development days.

Both events were run by pro-d committees/ local members

Both events included a keynote speaker and multiple break-out sessions

The break out sessions in both cases were of  varying lengths, and hosted by local teachers, out-of-town guests and community partners.

Attendance was similar at both events, as was the size and configuration of the host buildings.

And here is where the events were different….

The out of town event provided and booked my hotel

The local event gave me a gift card as thank you

One event provided coffee-tea-fruit-pastries at coffee time, lunch was provided only the presenters, but was also open to support staff and organizers. As well, students of the school were tasked with checking on presenters and distributing water bottles.

One event provided lunch for all attendees, all together, with frequent reminders to only take one sandwich until everyone had a chance to eat, and them more frequent reminders for people to come and take all the leftover sandwiches.

At one event I was welcomed, given a package of information which included a claims form, a gift card, and attendance lists, with email addresses.  Two committee members jumped up to ask if they could show me my room, provided me with some paper I had forgotten to bring, asked if I needed anything else.

The other event…. “welcome” would be too strong a word to use.  A person, sitting at a table, clearly tasked with “helping” people, did notice me when I came in.  That is, she did look at me with a blank stare when I said who I was.  The blank stare continued when I said I was a presenter. A clarifying question replaced the blank stare: “Do you know where you are going?”.  Now it was my turn to assume the blank stare.  I had received an email some days before from the local secretary giving me a room number, so I proffered that tidbit.  “Ok”, said Blanky McWarmWelcome, “you should be good to go.”

Erm.

The offer of a map? Or someone to help carry my things? Possibly a hand out containing pertinent information, like the floor plan, the wifi access, washroom and lunch locations.

But no.

So, I stumble about the unfamiliar school until, quite by luck, I find the room….and also find a locked door.  Back to Helpy McUnHostess. She seems quite surprised that my door is locked, and quite perplexed as to how to deal with it.  A staff member from the site overhears the issue and finds yet another staff member to provide unlocking assistance.

I happen to notice a Wifi password posted on the wall as I pass and am able to figure out how to connect.

I eventually figure out where lunch is being offered by following the crowd.

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So, I’ll leave it with you, gentle reader. Think about similar situations you’ve been in, as visitor or as guest. Regardless of which set of events happened at which location, the basic fundamentals should have been similar.  Even the dictates of common courtesy should have laid some groundwork for protocol.

In lieu of a hint, let me say this…. our local event did have a few out-of-town presenters.  I am so proud of they way I know they were welcomed and treated. Were any of them to ask me, I would have said they might not care to visit the town I just did…..

The Secret Stand Up

In the ever-shifting culture of an organization, there are good ideas that fly, and good ideas that die, and sometimes there are just funny things that happen.  I have been out of town the past 2 Fridays, so I have missed an activity we started last year called “Friday Stand Up”.  It’s a brief staff meeting, in a sense, with a view to dispersing important or timely information regularly.  We still have formal Staff Meetings once a month, but the Friday Stand Ups give us an opportunity to more casually share what we are working on, to celebrate good news, and even to learn a little something. Incidentally, it’s called a Stand Up because it’s intended to be an informal, just gather around and share for a moment-situation, not a formal sit down and follow the agenda-deal. At times, though, it does not seem out of the realm of possibility that the Stand Up could refer to a comedy act.

Although all people present at the Stand Up can, and do,  share, it is run by various members of the Senior Admin team.  As it happened, there were two meetings/conferences running in Vancouver this week, and all of the team and most of the Coordinators were out of office.  I didn’t realize they were all away until I went over to our usual stand-up space and waited.  About a dozen or so colleagues had gathered by start time, and so I texted the member of the team I thought was still in the building.  Jokingly, I said in the text that he and I were the most senior people left in town, was he still going to come over for stand-up? His reply I shared with the large crowd: ” I am in Vancouver.  That means you are in charge.” And that was when the first cheer went up.  And then it got even better… as new people came into the room, cheers and applause exploded.  And each colleague had the same reaction: Confusion and Delight, in equal measure.

So I ran the meeting, after a fashion, and people contributed authentically, as they always do, and we shared our learning as we could. I made a connection between our impromptu stand-up and a little piece of learning that was shared earlier– it was around a community event where some of our First Nations elders were offering a drumming station. As the children took a seat and were given a drum,  the circle learned to beat the drum in time, and to sing or chant a name of one of the drummers.  As each child had a turn to have their name sung and drummed, you could see their pride and delight in being acknowledged in this ancient and authentic way.

I saw that same bashful delight reflected in my colleagues faces as they received applause and acknowledgment from their peers.

The more I learn about learners, the more I realize we all have the same basic needs…

Road trip! The C’s, philosophy, Harvard and me.

Hi Kids.  I had the opportunity to attend a conference in Toronto last week.  It was an Educational Technology “summit” (what ever those are when they’re at home) and it was designed to address EdTech in both the K-12 space as well as post secondary, so, given my day job and my other adventures, it was a great fit.  As I listened to a variety of speakers in both streams, from public and private enterprises, I could see a few themes emerging.  In my presentation (which, as a side note, I thought I would be doing in the K-12 stream as a small workshop turned out to be a presentation to the entire contingent, directly after the keynote….delivered from a professor….from Harvard Business school.  Yes, THAT Harvard.

So, here’s the thing– I was, admittedly, a touch, shall we say, wide-eyed? But then I reminded myself of 2 things.  I had been invited by the conference organizers (who don’t like losing money, so must have seen value in what I had to offer and then I did what I always do in these situations: said to myself “Remember who you are”. And as I launched into my talk it did all come together in a neat package, with connections to other speakers (I call them the Core Competencies, others referred to them as 21st Century skills, and still other “The C’s”– Creative Thinking, Critical thinking, Communication).

It was satisfying to feel we were following the same path, if in different ways.  For example, during my talk, I expressed how due to a variety of factors, financial and philosophical, we were not working in an 1:1 scenario.  I said this out loud and with anecdotal comments to back up the philosophy part, but I still said it knowing that the presentation directly following me was going to speak to their successful 1:1 Chromebook program. I also said to the audience, nay, beseech-ed them, to please stop referring to our learners as “digital natives”.  They did not come out with any more of an innate ability to compute than any other generation, and we are doing them a disservice by using a sexy term to excuse ourselves from teaching them.  This after the Day 1 keynote had particularly used this term several times, and on top of which I really liked her and didn’t want to disagree with her, and yet I did.  Respectfully, but I did.  It was worth it, too, for when I pleaded with the audience of EdTech teachers and leaders to please drop the term from their lexicon, I actually felt a ripple of energy move through the room, and heard a couple of affirmative claps and muffled “whoop whoop!”‘s.

So all this to say that as I take our learning out of our district, I find more similarities than differences, which is heartening, and I find that we are still, despite our path, trailblazers in many ways, but especially around  pedagogy– that is, our craft and practice.  Well done, my friends– you made me look good up there.

Here’s a “Storify” about my presentation: https://storify.com/LisaRead/the-edtech-summit-story

 

When Passions and #meatonastick Collide

So, here’s the thing about going to a conference.  It’s about the learning, sure, but also there are hotel soaps, door prizes and meals on the town with colleagues.  That’s the situation I found myself in the other night, sitting at a large table of colleagues that included senior admin, teachers and other coordinators.  I mention that specifically, because it was a rare opportunity to be immersed in an experience that we could all take back home and share– instead of going in one direction, up or down, this time it would spread organically and laterally.  At least that’s my hope. Because I learned an ancillary lesson at this event, which underscored the importance of having context.

Allow me, dear reader, to set the stage for you…. so, this large table of our contingent was situated in the middle of a Brazilian Steakhouse Restaurant. The concept is awesome– gorgeously roasted meats of all manner of mammals, ruminants and fowl appear on large skewers at table side, and diners enjoy as much variety and as many servings as they wish, indicating surfeit only when turning over the card on the table from Green to Red (or, The Quitter Side).  An unlikely place for a conflict over educational philosophy, no!? And, that’s the funny thing, there was no conflict, but there was passion, and isn’t it interesting that when taken out of context, that can look very different from what it really is.

And so. I was making a point. We had all been laughing and joking and enjoying the Meat-on-a-stick experience when I and a colleague sitting kitty-corner to me got into a deeper conversation. She made a kind of a self-deprecating comment about herself (well that’s redundant), and I was trying to make the point that she shouldn’t feel even remotely awkward about it, that she was advocating for her learners, and to me, that trumps everything.  After all, they are our whole reason for being. Now, because the atmosphere was light, and loud, and celebratory, I didn’t want her to think I did not take her comment with the utmost seriousness.

That’s kind of where it all went south.

I realized what had happened when I suddenly became aware of a hush falling over the table, my boss appearing at my shoulder, and HIS boss speaking my name in a kind of a shocked manner. Here’s what they saw/heard: I was leaned forward in my chair, making fervent eye contact (if that’s a thing) with my colleague, shaking my pointing finger at her (that wasn’t really well thought out) and remember how I said it was really loud in the restaurant? I was also SPEAKING REALLY LOUDLY. And I was saying: “I don’t care what you say to me, you are advocating for your learners and that’s all that matters.  My feelings are irrelevant, and I will always support you.”  And I meant it, and I meant it in only the best, most positive way, but somehow it didn’t look or sound like that to the rest of the table (and possibly restaurant, maybe even people on the street). My friend knew exactly what and how I meant it, and I think SHE was a little surprised by the attention our conversation attracted too.

But here is my point (not that I am an over-loud talk-too-much-er)– despite the fact that I should have modulated my voice and could probably have done without the finger pointing– people didn’t recognize what they were witnessing. They mistook my emotion for anger, our passionate conversation for conflict, and felt the need to intervene.  Part of the problem was that we were talking shop at a social event– but I felt I HAD to say what I did– it was imperative to me that I not let her own self-criticizing comment be allowed to slide by unaddressed. And it was imperative to me that she know I was in DEADLY EARNEST. I think I actually used those words (to preface the finger shaking). It was the Teachable Moment in a few ways.

So the upshot of all of this was that I had another opportunity to learn some things about myself, and I reflected why it was SO important to me that she knew I 100% supported her advocacy of her learners. I’m still mulling that over 3 days later.  So this event was on my mind this morning when asked for a reflection on the conference we attended.  I said: “I would like to share that the richest learning for me is always the loudest, most chaotic and sometimes includes arguments and yelling.  Sitting quietly and passively and absorbing knowledge never worked for me.  I need to wrestle it to the ground and see if it keeps fighting back. That’s how I know it’s good learning– it keeps kicking me in the butt.”.  And yeah, I felt a little butt-kicked, in that I was embarrassed, both by causing a scene, and by having it misconstrued. But in the same situation again, I’d probably react the same way– hopefully a little less yelly, and with my pointy fingers out of sight.  Screen Shot 2017-04-09 at 11.34.22 AM.jpg  But seriously, MEAT ON A STICK, people… that alone is worth yelling about.

Come stai, Cubetto?

I have a new best friend.  He’s a bit of a square, and for a quiet guy, sure understands a lot about communication.  I mean, he can’t even talk, but can teach any language!? It’s no wonder I adore him….

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Meet Cubetto, the Little Wooden Coding Robot from Primo Toys. I first learned about Cubetto from a colleague in Vancouver.  She had seen the kickstarter campaign and knew, as I did when she showed me the promotional video, that THIS was a great thing.

I have been using Cubetto in classrooms with his own story books and accessories, and it is obvious they were created by educators, or developers with a deep grounding in pedagogy. Additionally, there are rich resources, case studies and supporting documents freely available on the website. Even though it’s not implicitly stated, Cubetto (and his creators) understand that learning how to code is so much more than entering what appears to be gibberish onto the screen and hoping that something happens. What needs to comes first is computational thinking and logical processing. But wait…there’s more.  Coding, computational thinking and logic are not just the domain of computers and programmers. In fact, art, music, sports and other creative pursuits benefit or are enhanced by this approach.  The underpinnings of Design Thinking, a tool that results in the most creative of inventions, relies on a linear and iterative logical process.

But enough of that… what have I been doing with Cubetto? Well, the first thing I did was make a customized mat for him, squared off simple brown parcel paper with masking tape and adorned with words, art and images of Hul’qumi’num culture. Cubetto then visited a class learning Hul’quimi’num and practiced their language knowledge by directing Cubetto around the mat, from ’Uy’ skweyul to ’Uy’ snet.  I made a second mat that was laminated squares, but no images, with the thought that teachers or kids could tape words or photos, draw in the squares with dry erase or window markers, and create their own Cubetto adventure.

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Kindergarten/Grade 1 Class

What I LOVE about this picture is the learners are immersed in language right now– English, Hul’qui’menum and American Sign Language

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Close up of the Vocab- Mat

 

AND that’s not all… there are some neat fabric panels you can purchase that would lend themselves well to another Cubetto journey. Photo-2017-03-28-09-12-47_6410.JPG

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Oh the places you will go, Cubbetto….

My next mission is to have kids use Cubetto and another of my favourite tools, Book Creator, to create an eBook filled with Cubetto stories and adventures– even a “choose your own adventure”? The possibilities are endless…

I’ve also discovered a few accessories for Cubetto that change the possibilities for play and discovery.  See all attached photos for all the goods….

Options and Choice in a System

One of the BIG lessons I’ve learned in my position over the past 3 years is about Scale.  As in, “Will that *insert great idea* scale?” For example, as we began rolling out our iPad fleet, one of the common questions was around apps and control of.  For example, at home, Apple allows you to share apps among up to 5 devices.  So, you can extrapolate that to mean a $10 app only costs $2 per device. It looks like false economy, then, when we say we are going to handle all the apps on all the devices, because when we volume purchase more than 20, we get them at half price.  So, in the above example, the $10 app costs us $5 per device.  That’s when I bring scale into the conversation.  If you have 5 devices to manage, you can log in to each device and install that $2 app onto each one and be done in a matter of minutes. Now, multiply that process by 200.  Now 400. Now do you see what I mean about scale? And incidentally, the number of installers does not increase at the same rate.  We have one, maybe two, technicians we can put on any one job at any time.

We refine the process as we go, as much as possible, and always through the lens of what is best for the most people.  For example, we are on the brink of a major technology investment for teachers.  Finally, after years of really lean tech budgets while still leading the march towards smoother adaptation of all Ed Tech, we have the opportunity to start to replace some really old gear, and provide equipment where there has never been any.  So, here’s the thing.  First, we asked teachers what they did with the tech they could access, what would they like to do if they could access more/better tech, and in an ideal world, what would they want.  In analyzing the survey results, very obvious trends emerged. Here is where transparency is paramount.  Slightly shy of 300 responses were recorded, and there was one overwhelming choice on equipment, and an obvious trend in “What I would do if I COULD do” goals. Only 2 respondents wanted equipment different from the rest. So, when a 400+ teacher solution is provided, you can see that the Systems answer is one obvious one.  But… how does that make those 2 individuals feel? Stay tuned for Part 2 of “Choice in a System”.