Waltham Integration Network: Connecting Teachers to Investigate and Improve Digital Learning Across Contexts
It’s easy, as an educator, to feel like an unmoored ship in a vast sea. Pricks of light in the distance indicate other ships, largely unreachable. Even though teachers in the same districts and schools work closely in a physical sense the gulf of communication can be vast and many good ideas and techniques are not shared and refined amongst a larger pool of minds.
This is what Elizabeth Homan, of Waltham Public Schools in Waltham, MA, is changing with her program Waltham Integration Network: Connecting Teachers to Improve and Investigate Digital Learning in Urban Settings. While the name is complicated, the aims are simple. This project proposed to bring together a small group of teacher leaders from across an urban school district to engage in collaborative inquiry and teacher-research related to the integration of digital technologies in classroom practice. The goal of this project is twofold: (1) research the challenges and possibilities of digital integration in a high-needs urban school district, and (2) increase the capacity of the district’s digital professional learning opportunities for teachers.
How can collaborative inquiry for teacher development work?
By keeping research at its center, engaging teachers in conversations about “what works” for their digital learning, and helping teachers support their colleagues in reinventing their teaching to meet the needs of today’s very “plugged in” learners. The first year was largely preparatory with an articulation of goals and a formulation of an action plan that would turn into quarterly meetings.
At the start of the project, cohort members worked to identify the student learning goals for the year and articulate how their goals could be measured using qualitative or quantitative classroom data. These goals could be as simple as learning how to create and fully integrate a new tool, such as a classroom website, or it may involve an entirely new approach to instruction, such as “flipping” the classroom. Later in the year, team members shared classroom artifacts, lesson plans, and examples of videotaped practice from their classrooms with other team members in quarterly face-to-face workshops, connecting their practice with research-based approaches and examples.
The project will continue to meet these goals through recruitment of additional teachers, teacher mentorship of new recruits, sharing teacher work through the blog and, in the summer, development of video evidence of teacher practice with technologies.
How can collaborative inquiry impact educators?
The educators at Waltham Public Schools have been busy. In their first year they have recruited research assistants to help mentor teachers at the middle and elementary school levels. They have also developed a number of #WINproj spaces for sharing practice. From their blog (walthamintegrationnetwork.org) to their twitter hashtag (#WINproj) and Facebook page, these educators have worked this year to foster a digital voice for the network and to develop consistent expectations around the content and design of their website/blog and social media interactions. The teachers have worked throughout the year to archive photos, examples of student work, or videos of their practice, which they will use this coming summer to develop video reflections on their experience and what they have learned. And because the project and leader are new to the district, much of this year has been about building relationships, learning what’s happening in the buildings, and building excitement for the project.
How can collaborative inquiry improve instruction and pedagogy?
The first and most obvious benefit is a larger network of teachers and educators who have bridged the communication gap. Partnerships between teachers have formed both online and in person. The teachers are also becoming increasingly proficient with web writing and familiarity with the online tools such as the blogs and message boards. It’s clear they’ve been doing something right as they’ve been asked to present at the National Council of Teachers of English in November which will serve to get the word out about the program and widen the network of the educators involved.
How could this program be improved?
According to the team, the biggest challenge the program participants faced was that of time. Not expectantly they had trouble with the temporal logistics of getting so many teachers in the same space physically. More support and training for online meeting spaces is paramount for the growth of this project.
On a lesser, but no less important note, they found that some teachers needed to get acclimated to blogging. While they’re perfectly proficient in the classroom, the public articulation of methods of pedagogy doesn’t come easy for everyone. More support for first time bloggers would have a large impact on the productivity and communication between all parties.
Jane Abe was a member of the Board of Trustees of the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation
from its inception in 2000 to her death on March 15, 2016.
During her years of service Jane brought to the Board her passion for teaching, her extensive experiences working with children in the elementary grades, and her dedication to the profession. She deliberated over every proposal we received at the Foundation with deep empathy for teachers, a sharp eye for ideas that would make a difference to students, and a deep concern for the impact grants could make for teachers and students. Her mentorship of each project made a lasting impression on classrooms and all who had the opportunity to work with her will remember her commitment, guidance and care.
We miss Jane and will forever be grateful for having the opportunity to work with her on the Board.
App Development and 3D Printing for At-Risk Youth increases Learner Confidence and Problem Solving Skills through Maker Magic
“Failure is a good thing in the development world, it teaches developers quite a bit.”-App Development Instructor
Becoming good at anything is a process. Educators know that students must develop confidence in the face of mistakes and failure, because they are truly an opportunity for learning. As Bob Lenz explains in Edutopia, “failure is an opportunity for students to receive feedback on their strengths as well as their areas of improvement — all for the purpose of getting better. When reframed as a good, constructive, and essential part of learning, failure is a master teacher,” (Failure is Essential to Learning, 2015).
In this report from App Development and 3D Printing for At-Risk Youth, you’ll hear more about how a partnership at Helensview Alternative High School in Portland, Oregon, helped students build confidence and work through failure by developing 3D printed objects and apps. By integrating “maker” culture which focuses on DIY (do it yourself) engineering, students gained confidence and developed problem solving skills. Learn more below!
Why support students in making and developing?
According to the funding proposal “When Google released their diversity stats it came as no surprise that nearly every field was dominated by white men” so with an interest in building interest in STEM careers, the non-profit organization ChickTech partnered with high school teacher Brian Granse to offer making opportunities in the classroom. ChickTech, which focuses on increasing gender diversity in technology through hands-on activities, supported Helensview educators in pursuing the following project goals:
- Provide at-risk students from Helensview Alternative High School with technical workshops
- Allow students to create unique 3D printed objects and apps
- Improve students’ confidence and interest in learning
- Create lessons that can be improved upon next year and shared with others
How can you use 3D printing and app development to enhance learning and student interest?
In this project, students were offered access to workshops instead of their regularly scheduled classes. For five weeks, regular 3 hour sessions were offered on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Initially, others in the school were concerned about the length of the sessions, given that most students had a hard time staying involved in 45 minute classes. As the students became engaged and interested, the school community was pleasantly surprised. Students were not only engaged, but some stayed after school had ended to continue to work on their projects, a feat the report called “unheard-of” for this school.
Workshops focused on two types of making, 3D printing and app development.
3D Printing Layers Learning in Geometry and Measurement with Practical Knowledge
In the 3D printing workshops, students created multiple unique 3-D printed objects they could later take home. These included:
- personalized name plates
- custom-shaped containers
- bracelets (also personalized)
- toy cars
The workshops supported the students in learning important concepts and skills for 3D printing (explained here by 3Dify) over the course of creating the various designs, including:
- creating 3D objects using basic sketch tools such as rectangles and circles
- customizing objects with text
- adding loops to an initial sketch to build a 3D object in successive layers
- using a computer to navigate three-dimensional space
- drawing complex sketches using geometry for practical objects such as containers
- creating objects based on real-world measurements
- creating objects with functional wheels
- sketching flat designs onto curved surfaces
The more that the students learned, the more creativity they expressed. The most rewarding project for the instructors was the most complex and required the students to integrate all of the skills they were learning over time. By creating a custom built car model including customized mufflers, tailpipes, headlights, spoilers and wheels the students moved way beyond 3D modeling and into the real world – their designs even had to follow strict guidelines in order to be printable. “By the end, the students who clearly wanted to be designers stood out as did the students who wanted to be the builders of 3D printers” (Project Report) highlighting the effectiveness of the workshops focused on these skills.
App Development Builds Confidence in Problem Solving and Learning from Failure
The second series of workshops focused on app development, which also required the students to demonstrate complex problem solving skills. To get started, students followed a tutorial to learn TouchDevelop, an app creation tool, before brainstorming ideas for apps they would like to create. Once they decided what apps they wanted to develop they worked in teams to create them.
Learning how to develop apps required the students to practice and apply the following skills:
- problem solving
- content creation
- following directions
- managing time
- working in teams
Each app went through several iterations over the three week period. Two groups worked on two separate apps. One app taught about telling time on a conventional handed clock and the other taught about geometric math formulas that many students must learn for exams. Students also worked to incorporate a quiz feature that would test the app user’s knowledge of the content presented. Through trial and error, students learned about the complexity of app creation. According to the report, “Because the focus was on the process and not the finished app, students were able to explore many issues involved in developing technology for a wide audience of users. Students expressed how appreciative they were of apps that effectively solved problems as they understood how difficult it was to create and maintain a bug-free application.”
Although students came into the app creation workshops enthusiastically having already explored 3D printing, they needed a fair amount of encouragement to work through the challenges of app development. The instructor of the app development workshops wrote:
“Successful developers (app or otherwise) have a unique ability to manage frustration well, and this skill really only comes with practice and time. I did see students give up quickly at first. There was a lot of waiting for instruction rather than self guided discovery. My impression was that there was still a lot of fear attached with “failure.” Failure is a good thing in the development world, it teaches developers quite a bit. After explaining that to students, they were more inclined to try and try again without feeling frustrated. I noticed around this time, too, that students were starting to share what they were learning. If a student came up against the same bug or error message as another student had previously, it became an opportunity for those students to collaborate, and learn from one another.
We are fortunate enough to live in a world where apps are plentiful and most are very well made and fun to use. Once students learned how complex and time consuming the process really is, they were initially put off by the amount of work that loomed in front of them. Students came up with ideas that were really fun but ambitious. And once the hard work started, it was a struggle to keep the students motivated. The enormity of making an entire app that looked as flashy as something already on the market started to seem like a “why bother” scenario. But, by breaking our apps into smaller, more manageable pieces, the students had consistent success with creating new features.
There are almost infinite solutions to solving even the same problem in computer programming, so we really tried to communicate to the students that giving up is not an option. There is always something new to try. At points I know the students would have preferred to give up altogether, but I did see them gradually start to shift away from one problem to tackle another-rather than abandoning the entire project altogether. That is a very evolved problem solving technique, and one that even professional developers don’t learn until years on the job.”
Celebrating Results of a Maker Nurturing Project
After 5 weeks of workshops, the project team held a celebration party for all students, teachers, school and school representatives, and the workshop instructors. During this celebration, students showed off their projects and received feedback from the community.
Positive Response from Administration
The response was outstanding; Helensview High School administrators highlighted the value of partnerships for academic enrichment, explaining in writing:
“Schools are constantly challenged with the task of offering varied, meaningful hands-on projects, while public education is placing more focus on core academic standards and high stakes exams. Most programs lack the personnel, money, and equipment to experiment with cutting edge technologies. However, outside organizations can help tremendously with this challenge. In the case of our program, both the
McCarthy-Dressman Foundation and Janice/ChickTech have made incredible contributions that have provided at-risk youth with eye-opening, confidence-building activities that are both inspirational and academically enriching. The workshops facilitated in this program are the perfect example of how collaboration between schools and outside organizations can deliver fresh experiences that are meaningful, cutting edge, and connected to real industry people who operate beyond the walls of the public school system.
By producing 3D printed objects and phone apps, our students learned that acquiring new skills isn’t just for passing tests and earning diplomas. They learned to take an idea, develop a plan, and create something real with several weeks of dense, action-packed courses in 3D printing and application development. We are grateful for the foundation’s support, and thrilled with Janice’s/ChickTech’s implementation of the programming. For everyone involved, this is time and money well spent on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for youth who will remember
this experience forever.”
Strong Evidence of Student Growth
According to results of pre and post surveys, students were definitely enriched by this program.
Of the group (93% non-white students – mainly African-American and Latino/a with a 63% parent education level of high school educated or below), some exciting increases were noted:
- “I plan to go to college”: 21% increase
- “I can work through problems”: 22% increase
- “I have resources I can go to when I have tech questions”: 22% increase
In addition, students self-reported an increase in technology skills. On a 1-4 reflective scale there was an increase from 1.9 to 2.9, a 52% increase. In addition, responses to the question “Would you be more interested in school if more classes were like this?” also on a 1-5 scale, averaged 4.2. The project team found this especially exciting, writing:
“Although this is a great experience for the students who attended, what if all of their classes were hands-on and interactive? What if they got to solve interesting problems, learn how to work as a team on things that affected them, and learned useful skills in every class? Can you imagine what the above numbers would look like for these students? I can, and it gives me hope for our society’s dismal track record of serving its highest-risk students.
All but one student said they would recommend that their friends take this class next year. We expect to see a strong increase in students who want to attend next year, and our instructors are so excited to improve and continue increasing their impact.”
Lessons Learned and Ideas for Improvement
ChickTech described the challenges for project implementation included finding experienced instructors, curriculum developers and drag and drop software for app development. They also noted that the educators involved were already meeting many demands in the classroom which affected the overall timeline – in fact, the student post-surveys were obtained after the project concluded which may have decreased the amount of enthusiasm shown in comments on the surveys.
In the future, the team plans to work with the same instructors so that less time can be spent on planning and their existing rapport with the students can be leveraged for more enthusiasm and interest.
Even though some of the students are moving on before next school year, some of them plan to come back as teaching assistants or to work on more advanced projects with the support of the instructors.
Funding for the project provided by the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation supported this effort in several areas including instructor fees, teaching assistants, curriculum development, materials and evaluation costs. Sixteen students participated (50% male/50% female) which was perfect for the availability of resources within the school and the number of instructors.
Learning More about Making Projects in Education
If you would like to learn more about integrating maker culture in the classroom to build student confidence, increase gender diversity in technology, and develop complex problem solving skills, we recommend the resources below.
- MakerEd Resource Library (Maker Education Initiative, 2016)
- Jaw Dropping Classroom 3D printer Creations (Edutopia, 2015)
- MIT App Inventor (MIT, 2015)
- Mobile Makers Academy brings Mobile App Development to Schools (Tech Republic, 2014)
- App Creation Inspires Student Entrepreneurs (EdWeek, 2012)
- A Guide to Teaching Mobile App Development (Scholastic)
Teachers and students need textbooks to be useful and relevant. With the release of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in 2013, the Science Department at Chapman High School in Chapman, Kansas, wanted to find a way to incorporate the NGSS as well as the Common Core Standards into classroom curriculum. In the process, they discovered that the textbooks they were currently using no longer met the needs of their students and classroom. In this update from Future 2,000 Common Core, you’ll hear about how educators used eBooks to meet curriculum goals for Physical Science, Biology, and Chemistry and improve understanding of standards while improving the students’ access to resources and increasing their motivation.
How does eBook creation improve curriculum?
Chapman High School science educators led by Sara Cook explained that starting with a blank canvas enabled them to “include the essential curriculum that students need to know rather than having them sifting through unnecessary material.” They planned to integrate multimedia, virtual labs, student work samples, projects, activities, and more. eBooks would allow their curriculum to come alive in ways that would engage students more than normal textbooks do. They focused on featuring student work to increase the expectation for projects over time. “They will make studying and teaching more effective,” Cook stated, “most importantly, we have the ability to revise and edit the books to best meet the needs of their students.”
According to project report, the goal was to create a book that met “the individual learning needs of their students, and better incorporates the Common Core Standards as well as the Next Generation Science Standards.”
An additional goal was to produce a textbook that the students would be able to access at anytime that could be easily updated with a changing curriculum. By saving a .pdf copy of the iBook and uploading the iBook to a website, the students could have access to the book on any web-based device.
How did educators evolve their curriculum with eBooks?
Participating educators started the project with a professional development day to learn how to use iBooks Author, a free software created by Apple for eBook creation on the Mac or iPad. Throughout the year they scheduled 4 other professional development days to work on eBook creation. During the school year, they collected student work to be featured in the book for the next group of students. Sara Cook published the eBooks online for all students to access and to share the project progress, you can view them at:
Below are some screenshots from a few of the eBook offerings created by Future 2,000 Common Core.
What did they discover?
All of the iBooks, except one, were used with students over the course of the year. The students are enjoyed viewing and using the books on the iPad and Computers. Students liked having access to the book at home especially when they were absent from class. Also, students loved competing to become “published.” They seemed to be excited about their work being used as an example for future classes.
As far as teaching, the creation of the eBooks allowed the department time to become more familiar with both the NGSS and Common Core standards. They were able to find better videos, animations, labs, websites and other resources to meet the needs of the new standards. Cook stated, “We personally feel like we have a better understanding of strengths and weaknesses of our curriculum than we did last year at this time. Since our iBooks are Standards Based, this has also allowed us to start discussing the possibility of integrating Standards Based Grading into our Curriculum. This would allow us to better see what our students know and don’t know in relation to the NGSS. Most importantly, this grant has provided us with time to collaborate and develop content that can be used in our classroom, which directly benefits our students.”
What advice would they give to others?
The biggest challenge for this team was the time that it takes to complete the eBook. It was their hope that they would complete more curriculum during the first year of the project. After the first work session, they quickly realized this process would take many more hours than initially expected. eBook creation is a time-consuming process to obtain content and find media appropriate to make the books as interactive as possible. However, they do feel that the time they are spending is well justified if it helps them meet the needs of their students.
One area of improvement for next year will be to come to the work sessions with all content, pictures and other resources already saved into files on the computer and ready to place into the book. This would allow more time to be spent on implementation & editing instead of gathering content. They plan to continue with work sessions during the summer and through next school year.
From a budget perspective, the project team learned that there were subscriptions for interactive simulations and labs that they wanted to incorporate into the eBooks. They decided to consider that as an important item in the next year’s grant budget, as the funding was not available from their institution.
If you would like to useeBook creation as a way of improving your curriculum, we recommend the following resources.
- Build Your Own Textbook (Audrey Watters, Edutopia, 2011)
- How to Create Your Own Textbook With or Without Apple (KQED Mindshift, 2012)
- CK12 Standards Aligned Flexbooks (CK-12 Foundation, 2016)
- Students as eBook Authors (The Creative Educator, 2014)
- NeBooks Teacher Resource Center (Nebraska Department of Education)
- Reading and Teaching with eBooks (EdTechTeacher)