Technology advances at a rapid pace. So fast that it often outpaces advancements in education policy and practice. Students are often way ahead of the curve while teachers who learned pedagogical methods in days when there were many less avenues for incorporating technology into classrooms lag far behind them in terms of technological facility. This is compounded by the fact that every student learns in a different way, and with more and more options, it gets increasingly difficult to cater to the individual needs of students. This is what makes the Design Thinking in Middle School: A Human-Centered Approach to 21st Century Learning Vision project really stand out. They aim to bolster the technological aptitude of their educators while designing more individualized curriculum for their students. In pursuit of this vision for student learning, a team of teachers at Southeast Middle School applied with their Board of Education to open a magnet center on campus. The focus of this magnet center is to bring a three “I” – Interest, Impact, and Innovation- driven approach to teaching and learning.
In order to better understand where they find themselves as of their last progress report, it’s important to understand the goals they set out to accomplish.
Students will work on collaborative, cross-curricular projects that center on design thinking, a powerful learning tool that teaches students to use empathy and critical thinking to tackle problems of any kind from a human-centered point of view. In their model, the teacher’s role is to provide opportunities for discovery and to guide students to understanding through their innovation projects. The transition from a teacher-centered, depository learning framework to a student-centered, design-based learning approach requires teachers to work in a highly collaborative environment to develop cross-curricular and student-centered projects.
So, in their first year, how did they go about doing this?
Before they could start they had to answer a few key questions for themselves, and anyone looking to replicate this program would do well to do the same.
- What resources are currently available and/or necessary to obtain in order to successfully realize their stated vision?
- How might the concepts learned in the theme-based professional development activities be applied to their specific school context?
- What effect(s) might a design thinking approach to teaching and learning have on school performance, as measured by five instructional pillars (teaching) and the ISTE 21st century skill standards (learning)?
These questions guided their approach and the following methods were applied.
- Conduct a needs assessment and establish a teacher growth plan,
- Plan and implement teacher developed lessons tailored to the classroom context, and
- Evaluate the impact of the project on student learning and extract teacher learning through reflective practices.
Their first year found its focus in the first two milestones. One of their priorities this year was to help the new magnet teachers build a theoretical grounding in the foundations of design thinking in K-12 education. They found early on in the project that this looked different for every teacher, based on their subject area, experience level, and their personal interests in areas of growth. Because of these disparate levels of experience, as a team, they decided that more experienced teachers would take on a more robust menu of learning opportunities that were designed to fill in gaps in theoretical and clinical knowledge and to prepare themselves to be teacher leaders in the new school. Their primary learning focus as a teacher leader team was to increase their capacity to understand and teach in alignment with a program theme of design thinking through project-based learning.
So, a year in, where are they?
Their collection of professional development opportunities during Year One has helped teachers develop a greater capacity for executing the magnet program’s vision of developing a human-centered approach to 21st century learning. Teacher leaders are using their learnings from model school visits, workshop and trainings, and collaborative planning sessions, to develop a comprehensive instructional technology plan, to plan and implement theme-based lessons tailored to their classroom contexts, and to develop a comprehensive introductory professional development plan for novice teachers. This included the teacher leaders themselves sharing their learnings through professional development sessions that they curated from their experiences in Year One of the project.
Students were able to develop their skills as digital citizens, innovative designers, knowledge constructors, creative communicators, empowered learners, and global collaborators through design-based, project-based learning tasks throughout the school year. Additionally, they were able to showcase their learning at multiple community events at their school site and within the larger learning community of South Gate. News and pictures of the events were shared on the school website at <http://southeastms-lausdca.schoolloop.com/>. Teacher-leaders are currently designing their digital portfolios to showcase their student projects on the magnet program website <www.dreamsmagnet.org>.
But no project is without challenges. What were some that they faced?
The biggest thing they had to contend with was finding substitute teachers within the budget. This allowed the participating educators to take time off from class for professional development. This is being solved in the second year by reallocating some of the grant money to pay for that.
It’s never too late to educate yourself on the latest technology. Even though chances are, by the time you’ve mastered it there will be something new. But that shouldn’t stop us from trying to narrow the technology gap between students and educators, and this project sounds like one way to do it.
LAMusArt’s Playmaking project approached their goals with a lot of ambition and spirit. Their program was an exciting one, aimed at engaging students ages 9 – 11 in the fundamentals of playwriting over the course of 10 weeks, culminating in a full scale performance of the student written plays by adult actors. It can be extremely difficult to schedule several adult actors to appear in one place at any one time, but in Los Angeles this difficulty can be compounded. So the fact that they were able to get 11 kids plays up and running cast with professional actors is something that on it’s own should be applauded.
But before we get into what they accomplished, let’s take a dive into what goals they set out to accomplish.
1) to give underserved students in their East Los Angeles communities a public opportunity to experience success and recognition through artistic expression, authorship, and performance regardless of race or gender.
2) to aid the growth and development of each student’s important life skills, including their cognitive and emotional evolution, and their creative, academic, social, and behavioral progress by way of artistic opportunities.
3) to validate each student’s unique voice by giving them an opportunity to tell and see their own stories about their respective experiences.
4) to bridge the gap between our community and the life-affirming power of the arts, which they’ve been traditionally barred from due to barriers like language, finances, and exposure.
5) to provide students with the academic attention they lack in public schools, including inclusive and enriching creative programs and better student/adult ratios.
4) to increase student learning in fundamental theater concepts and practices.
Now, a number of these goals seem a bit hard to quantify. Many of which won’t be fully known until long after the student has left the program. But, you might be surprised by the results that the parents are reporting. But we’ll get to that shortly.
So how did they accomplish their goals?
Over the course of 10 weeks, each student kept a notebook of their weekly writing exercises, vocabulary lessons, and understanding of key concepts. Each student was able to grasp these exercises, as proven by the completion of their original plays. Although some plays were more complex than others, every student completed a play with at least two characters and a central conflict between those characters. The driving idea that was used to emphasize dramatic storytelling was “Want. Conflict. Change.” They started the course by establishing that every character must have a strong want or wish. To move the story forward, they put characters with different wants in a scene together to establish a high-stakes conflict, in which the characters want to get in the way of each other. To resolve the story, they needed a change, from either one or both characters, or an outside force. The idea of “Want. Conflict. Change.” was interpreted in different ways by each student, resulting in wildly different, but entirely vibrant and entertaining works. And having personally attended the event I can say that what resulted was a wildly surreal night of shows. Even though their concepts were simple… or often nonsensical (like the boy and his friend, and a slice of pizza) what they demonstrated was unfiltered creativity. It’s not often that playwrights get to write without self consciousness, and while it’s doubtful that they approached it without self doubt — the final product betrayed a sense of fun, unfettered imagination, and clear encouragement to tell the story they want to tell.
So where are the students now and how are they doing?
According to reports from the parents, the students have seen vast improvement in all areas that the program set out to address.
- 100% said they would recommend the program to others;
- 100% said that the elementary school their student attends does not offer a program similar to Playmaking, which tells us the program is unique and needed in the community;
- 100% said their student’s literacy and writing skills developed over the 10 week course;
- 100% said their student’s listening skills developed over the 10 week course; and
- 100% said their collaboration and creativity skills developed over the 10 week course.
Now, I’m no math teacher, but 100% returns across the board seems to me to be pretty good results. If not pretty great.
But no program is without its challenges. How can this one improve?
The most notable challenge was the coordination of rehearsal time for all eleven groups of adult actors and directors. It was difficult to fit adequate rehearsal time for all eleven plays into a two week period, causing them to schedule additional rehearsals with actors and a prolonged tech period in the theater space.
Another challenge they faced was giving the composer sufficient time to compose an original song for each play. Because the songs and plays were not written until Play Day, the composer was unable to read the plays and lyrics until a day before the first rehearsal, giving barely enough time to compose a new piece. They believe this can be improved by having the composer present on Play Day to aid the students in writing their lyrics. This will also give the composer a better idea of what the student has in mind stylistically for their song.
Completely surmountable challenges aside, this program seems to have legs that are going to carry it into the future and help improve the confidence, writing, and collaboration skills for any students involved.
Fourth graders stimulate the thinking processes involved in creativity through an Academic Enrichment Grant
As we face many challenges in educating our children, it is important to emphasize creative thinking and problem solving. Creative thinking and problem-solving are essential parts of the process to turn ideas into innovation and open up avenues to creativity.
What were the goals of the Cigar Box Odyssey project?
The overall goal of the Cigar Box Odyssey project was to teach creativity by integrating the Outcomes of their gifted program with the Objectives of their Fourth Grade Curriculum. Their goal was achieved by emphasizing the gifted process skills of performance, presentation, research, creativity, self-directed learning, group dynamics, and understanding and creating art. The students analyzed the creative process used by musicians to design the cigar box guitar using the SCAMPER (Substitute; Combine; Adapt; Modify; Put to another use; Eliminate; Reverse) technique.
What is the SCAMPER technique?
The SCAMPER technique (introduced Bob Eberle, as described in the design thinking blog, Designorate, by Rafiq Elmansy) is based on the idea that what is new is actually an adaptation of something that already existed. It is considered one of the easiest and most direct methods to creative thinking. The SCAMPER keywords noted above represent the necessary questions students should address during the creative thinking process. For example, for Substitute one could ask, “What part of the process can be substituted without affecting the whole project?” or for Combine, one could ask, “Can we merge two steps of the process?”
What skills did students use to build their Cigar Box Guitars?
The students researched the origin of the Delta Blues and how the Blues form travelled and changed, influencing other American music forms. They used measuring skills, basic knowledge of sound, and creative principles to build their own cigar box guitars. Then the students wrote original songs and performed them in a Blues Café that was set up in their classroom.
The students attended the New Orleans Cigar Box Guitar Music Festival where they were well received and able to meet professional performers. And, to top it off they have been invited to perform at the Festival next year. To prepare for their performance, they plan to invite T. J. Wheeler, creator of the Blues in Schools program, to College Park and help the students prepare for this performance. He taught this year’s fourth graders a few things in just a short time at the festival.
How has this program affected learning?
Because of this program the students have experienced the intersection of research and reality. They have had a taste of living what they researched and were exposed to adults who built the same instruments and performed the same kind of music. They were also able to extend the program to include some cutting-edge technology by 3D printing their own guitar picks.
So, what’s next for the students?
With the purchase of a 3D printer students will learn how to program CAD and create (not just print) their own picks. So, both the technology and the performance components of the program will be lifted to a higher plane when they learn to program CAD and perform formally in front of a festival audience.
While there are always needs in the schools in our own country, it is important to remember that other countries have students that have the same potential but lack even the basic resources available to many U.S. students.
This is what Candacia Greenman is aiming to address by working with the Loreto Primary School in Rumbek, South Sudan. The Village Science Project (VSP) aims to use an inquiry-driven, hands-on and play-oriented approach to improve access to high quality science education for over 200 disadvantaged students over a 3-year period in this MDEF funded academic enrichment project.
How can educators address barriers to high quality science education?
VSP intends to target the four main hindrances to science learning in their community in order to better serve the students:
- Limited resources for practical, inquiry-driven science exploration
- Poor English language acquisition
- Little community engagement
- Psychological barriers to learning
VPS’s proposed addressing these in the following ways:
- Providing students with the resources needed for science exploration through the use of science experiments and engineering and robotics projects.
- Implementing techniques to improve English language skills in science learning by promoting reading through tablets, facilitating peer learning experiences and encouraging student presentations through science fairs
- Stimulating community engagement through science fairs combined with field trips and career talks from local community members.
- Creating low-stress environments for our students, especially our girls to become interested in learning science (students are also given opportunities for “tinkering” or “free play” with science kits through the formation of an after school “tinker club”)
How can teaching methods improve students’ love for science?
Loreto Primary School serves over 600 students, with an emphasis on girls’ education and VSP will benefit about 200 different upper primary students over 3 years. The students live in a community with limited access to electricity and potable water and currently, classes are conducted outdoors under trees.
Most of these students never get a real chance to find a love of science because it’s taught almost exclusively in a theoretical, teacher-centered manner. As such, VSP is ground-breaking because of its use of a more hands-on and child-centered methodology to elevate student learning. They’ll do this by keeping a strong focus on inquiry-driven science exploration, which will help these students to develop their critical thinking skills. VSP will also deepen students understanding of, and interaction with the local physical environment as well as addressing social issues that adversely affect science education such as gender inequity, trauma-induced stress and poor community engagement.
At the end of year one the educators working on the VSP conducted initial baseline assessments of science performance and interest of Primary 5 and Primary 6 students after the following programs were implemented:
- Teacher demonstrations
- Laboratory exercises/activities
- Robotics and engineering projects
- Tablet usage
- Mathematics manipulatives usage
- Science fair
- Career talks
- Field trips
- Tinker Club
Revealing effective science and math teaching
The VSP team members have conducted baseline assessments in both science and mathematics enabling the teachers to tailor the rest of their programs according to how best to serve the students needs. In light of a mathematics assessment revealing gaps they’ve launched a mathematics intervention program targeting student understanding of number operations for Primary 3 through Primary 6 students. All teachers have adapted their teaching programs to allow for more time for Mathematics instruction and they have expanded their focus on number operations.
In addition, all of the primary school teachers attended a month-long training workshop to learn how to integrate demonstrations into their lesson plans for effective science teaching. In order to maximize the use of the science teaching aids, they expanded their focus to include demonstrations in Electricity, Magnetism and Weather modules.
Best of all, afterschool programs to supplement students’ science education have also been implemented. In these programs, the students use science kits to expand their learning of material covered in their Electricity, Magnetism and Weather modules. Those aren’t the only exciting things going on after school for Loreto Primary School students.
VSP has also introduced programs to introduce students to engineering principles and robotics. In these programs, students have been using Engino engineering blocks to build simple machines and learn how to code using the Lightbot app as a first step towards understanding robotics. The engineering afterschool program encompasses the proposed ‘Tinker Club’ in which ‘free play’ is encouraged and students build simple machines of their choice. Students are also being provided with tablets to use in the afterschool programs to aid them in their mathematics and science courses.
One of the most exciting additions have been the science fairs which give the students a place to shine in front of Teachers, parents and other community leaders also attending the event. The science fair focused on energy and engineering and students gave presentations on the design of solar toys, the basics of electricity, and the design and utility of simple machines.
One of the greatest feathers in the cap of the VSP project is that all of their after school programs and the science fair were conducted in English and has resulted in a vast improvement in English comprehension. In addition, students have learned how to use technology and the basics of coding through the use of tablets. Their teachers have reported that tablet usage has also helped the students with Mathematics anxiety.
Lessons learned in academic enrichment
The accomplishments of this project have not come without challenges. The VSP team have reflected on ways they can improve their program in later years. Their biggest challenge was the field trips due to security concerns. As a result of this challenge, they have shifted their focus and are currently designing a “Mathematics and Science for Life” program in which students will attend weekend sessions to learn how mathematics and science are useful in everyday life. Being able to adapt and shift strategies in response to challenges is a necessity for success for a program like this.
The VSP team also learned the difficulties of relying on applications that are not as readily available on the international networks. Google Play is not enabled in South Sudan. As such, all apps must be pre-loaded before transportation to Rumbek. Unfortunately, this means that updates cannot be installed as needed. Furthermore, a lack of consistent and fast internet access has limited the utility of many apps that would be very useful for the students. And in addition to these challenges, having electricity in the classroom has been an issue. As such, they recently invested in solar energy to provide electricity to their school campus and are have installed solar electricity panels for our primary school which will improve their internet access.
All in all, it sounds like some really exciting things are going on with the VSP in Rumbek. They’re swinging with the punches and adapting when necessary. The McCarthy Dressman Education Foundation is excited to see where they go in the years ahead. If they succeed, other schools in the region will benefit enormously from the pedagogical strategies that these educators are pioneering.
Learn more about the topics in this post
- Science and Math Education for Development
- SIAM: Developing Mathematics in the Developing World
- Science Education in Developing Countries
- Revealed: World pupil rankings in science and maths
- Redefining education in the developing world
Two things that are rarely taught in tandem, outside of college elective courses, are Art and History, yet these two disciplines are inextricably linked. Art gives us a window to the minds of humans living in another time. Every detail can tell a story, from the subject and the setting to the style of a time period. Each of these things gives us hints as to what life, attitudes, and technology were like when those pieces were created. Art as old as ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs as well as that created in modern day can shed light on how humanity has evolved and provide a glimpse to human potential. Some might argue, if you don’t know the history – how can you create the future?
This important connection between human expression and history has inpired the educators at NYOS Charter School in Pflugerville, Texas, in the Art History Enrichment Club. According to the project team, the goal is for students to better understand how history and art are interwoven throughout the ages. This understanding will allow students from all backgrounds to connect the art they studied to the community and world around them. By studying the craft of painting in a variety of techniques, they will not only grow as artists, but also make connections between advances in art, history and culture, from paintings in famous museums to those found in their local community.
How does art history after school enrichment support cognitive and social skills in intermediate grades?
The Art History Club was open to students in 4th and 5th grades. Students applied, with parent permission, and thirty of them decided to stay after school one day a week for an hour. This allowed the school to serve up to 20% of their student population. The classes were offered for 20 weeks and were capped off with a trip to the Blanton Art Museum in Austin, Texas. Not only did the project allow students of all backgrounds to connect with history and their communities, it also gave them a new visual language to identify styles and techniques. Research has shown that students who are enrolled in art programs increase cognitive and social skills that are then applied in daily classroom activities.
An important part of this enrichment program is that it wasn’t just passive observation. These students received hands on experience, so to speak. Not only did students see and study the art and varying techniques, they also put those lessons to the test. A weekly display of the information about an artist and the students work was also shared in a common area for all students to view. Additionally, there was an art show displaying student’s artwork open to the NYOS community. NYOS also has a collaborative relationship with local business. These business were able to display artwork allowing students to share their achievements with their local community.
What other benefits came from this project?
According to Melissa Hefner, project awardee, the project was designed to make broad connections between art, history, and real life: “The first goal of the project was to teach how history and art were interwoven. The second goal was to show the different styles of art that have been created throughout history, starting with Egyptian Art and ending with Modern Art. The third goal was for students to identify famous pieces of artwork on clothing, TV shows, movies, posters, etc. making the connection that masterpieces are all around us. The fourth goal was to have them identify art in their community and then add their own art to the community.”
The students have discussed art throughout many historical periods and created pieces of artwork in many different styles in the after school program, every Thursday for an hour. In April, students showcased their work at Fine Arts Night, and even the parents managed to learn a little something they didn’t know previously. In the beginning of May they took the field trip to a local art museum and graffiti wall. A great contrast between fine and street art, and a great lesson about the importance and impact of both. As a direct result, students have become aware of how much art exists around them in the books they read, historical events they study, current events they hear about, and even in their social media feeds.
This project is off to a strong start and continue to impress us at the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation. Here’s to a few more years of making art and creating history!
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)
Creating a Collaborative Co-Teaching Culture: Building Teacher Relationships to Improve Student Achievement
Developing a common language for teachers pays off
The goals of the Teacher Development Grant: Creating a Collaborative Co-Teaching Culture project lead by Seol Moon and Barbara Onofrio, Principal, at Stone Scholastic Academy were multiple:
- Build strong, cohesive, collaborative relationships amongst educational professionals within the school,
- Work collaboratively to raise student achievement, improve climate/culture and build teacher capacity by having teachers work collaboratively on tailoring content to match the needs of all students in the classroom, and
- Move toward a more inclusive environment for our special student populations.
Supporting the Teachers in Collaboration through Professional Development
Stone Academy started the first year of the project (August, 2014) by enlisting a consultant, Dr. Meg Carroll from the St. Xavier University. Dr. Carroll presented a 2 day workshop to all staff which included the following topics:
- Co-Teaching: A presentation of the Illinois Professional Teaching Standards, particularly Standard 8-Collaborative relationships: “the competent teacher builds and maintains collaborative relationships to foster cognitive, linguistic, physical, and social/emotional development. This teacher works as a team member with professional colleagues, students, parents or guardians, and community members.” Included were common Co-Teaching Models, Team Teaching key concerns and a Co-Teaching Checklist.
- Neurology of Learning: Brain-based Applications and types of learners: concrete, abstract and reflective.
- Executive Functioning and Organizational skills: focusing on planning, emotional control, attention, self-monitoring, organization and the working memory.
- Accommodations and Modifications: definition and examples of each. Included in this session were the characteristics of various disabilities and matching instructional strategies.
After having built a common language collaboration centered on two things:
(1) building strong collaborative internal relationships and
(2) digging deeper into what successful Co-teaching is and how/when to use various models.
We purchased several copies of Dr. Marilyn Friend’s publication, “Co-Teach! Building and Sustaining Effective Classroom Partnerships in Inclusive Schools.” We formed a book club, broke down chapters and held discussions related to the content. (Meetings were held on 10/20/14, 10/27/14, 11/19/14, and 4/6/15).
In addition to our book club, on January 16, 2015, 9 teachers were sent to the Dr. Marilyn Friend’s workshop: “Best Practices in Co-Teaching.” Both grant and local funding were utilized.
Teachers were sent as partners in an effort to strengthen their professional bond. They learned first-hand the components and intricacies of Co-Teaching, and had a bit of experience working with different models so that they could be more effective.
As Co-teaching is a new strategy to this school, it was important for teachers to feel supported, yet not threatened. It was felt that teachers should have the autonomy to work with the strategies and would benefit from a mentor or coach. They needed to be able to be observed and receive feedback on their progress and performance, without this being used toward their professional evaluation. Dr. Meg Carroll was commissioned to do this work. She visited the school on numerous occasions (10/20/14, 12/15/14, 1/29/15, 4/6/15, and 4/20/15) to observe teachers and teacher teams, discuss, document and provide critical feedback.
Throughout the year, the project team needed to enlist the assistance of substitute teachers and also provide extended day opportunities for teachers to work together, both of which were utilized. This time was used to have teachers observe colleagues within the cohort, provide feedback and have professional conversations. Teachers also began to work on lesson planning together. As time passed, and they were able to work together as one generalist and a specialist, and we agreed it would make sense to look at an entire year’s curriculum. A couple years ago, Stone teachers began work on curriculum mapping, but the task never fully developed. Now, with newly learned instructional strategies and stronger relationships, teachers decided to revisit that activity.
Fortunately, Dr. Carroll has experience in curriculum mapping, and provided guidance to teams of teachers as they worked together to develop grade level curriculum maps which concentrate on the areas of literacy and math. Once curriculum maps were complete for a grade level, the plan was to then meet as a team to look at vertical alignment so that the end product would be complete and cohesive for grades K-8. From there, they can begin to delve into examining and creating effective student assessments.
At the end of the 2013-2014 academic year, Stone was cited by the State of Illinois regarding student placement of students with disabilities. The school houses 629 students, with roughly 12% of our students receiving special education services. Once notified, our special education team met with administration and outlined a plan to correct these measures. We collaborated, and through teacher discussion, we identified a small group of students who could perhaps benefit from receiving instruction in a more inclusive environment.
Parents were consulted, IEP meetings were reconvened, and the internal structure was adjusted so that more Co-teaching environments were made available. Co-teaching helped us be successfully removed from the state’s Focused Monitoring after only one year, as opposed the customary two year process.
How teacher collaboration impacted learners
Students were asked directly to write about their experience in a Co-teaching classroom. Overwhelmingly, students indicated they preferred this type of teaching and offered the following reasons:
- I like having two teachers because we can learn from two different ways.
- I’d say having two teachers is good due to the fact that if there’s a long line for one, the other is able to help you.
- I like having two teachers because all of the stress is not on one teacher.
- I enjoy having more than one teacher around because if we had one teacher and 32 students, the teacher would be yelling A LOT!
- I like having two teachers because if you asked one and you didn’t understand it, you can ask the other.
Not all students like working in a co-teaching classroom. One student is quoted as saying, “I don’t really like having two teachers around because I can’t get away with secretly playing with Smartape 360 or reading.”
Teacher’s comments related to co-teaching express positive aspects as well. One teacher commented “the best results have been having the opportunity to give the students two ways to look at solving problems. Because my co-teacher has a background in Special Education, she naturally uses ways to explain the concepts in a more concrete way, for example, drawing pictures on the board. etc. “ They also said there is less stigma for children and professionals use a common language. Teachers stated they are able to do more small group work, and feel they are better supported. They also say they have developed a greater professional respect for colleagues because they learn from the others’ expertise and find out what each brings to the table. They illustrated their Co-Teaching experience by creating the attached display which they proudly placed in the staff lounge which was the only available space due to overcrowding.
Addressing challenges for future implementation
The most significant challenges we faced this first year was to find time for teachers to meet. Since we are now on a longer school day, our regular day starts at 8:00 a.m. and ends at 3:00 p.m. For a good portion of the school year, many teachers also work an extended day program for some part of the week, as approximately one half of our children attend the After School All Stars program from 3:00 until 4:15 p.m. Teachers were accommodated by giving them a choice of being provided a substitute teacher, or earning an extended day stipend.
Teachers are also concerned they will have to change partners every year due to different assignments or staff leaving. Fortunately the staff at Stone is relatively stable, and administration is making a commitment to keeping as many positive teaching partners intact as possible in the upcoming year.
Grading is another area of concern. Teachers must have time to discuss individual student progress and agree on a fair and equitable grading system.
Finally, there is one teacher who is still showing reluctance to “let go” and collaborate. Offers continue to be extended to her to participate in discussions and administration is working with her to lessen her concerns. It is my hope that giving this teacher time, and keeping her exposed to her co-teaching colleagues, she will see the added benefits to utilizing this model.
A fun, creative approach to growing scientific thinking for all students
As educators, we’ve found ourselves spending most of our time and resources finding ways to better convey the STEM subjects to students that live an increasingly technology dependent world. The problem with this way of thinking is that it, without really even trying, devalues the arts and humanities as non-essential. Although no one is going to cure cancer by reading Shakespeare and we aren’t going to solve world hunger by painting pictures, we lose something by leaving these essential subjects by the wayside. The humanities help us understand what it means to be human and art is almost always fun. It’s easy to engage students, especially young ones, when you can incorporate dramatic play into your own lessons. So why not teach STEM lessons through the lens of theatre?
Triggering the joy of discovery in STEM
This is exactly the kind of creative idea that Elizabeth Bruce at CentroNia in Washington, DC is doing with her Theatrical Journeys Project. Drawing on over 35 years of experience in the arts, Ms. Bruce has developed this project as a homegrown, community based initiative, with funding from the DC Arts Council and similar organizations contributing (including the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation). According to her proposal “The Theatrical Journeys Project is innovative because it fuses child-centered, dramatic play with simple STEM phenomenon. The STEM phenomenon is explored thoughtfully through experiential lessons. STEM content is made concrete through simple simulations and multi-sensory explorations rooted in play and the joy of discovery.” Elizabeth Bruce has also ensured that visual aids are bilingual, reflecting the needs of the students in her school and making sure that all students are able to participate.
How a science lesson becomes a theatrical journey
Bruce’s lessons are simple, real world situations that kids may find themselves in some day. For example, in the sick teddy bear journey, the children (”doctors”) will diagnose their teddy bear (”patient”), checking it’s pulse, or taking a mouth swab. They then will “culture” the bacteria in an incubation oven. The next step of the lesson is figuring out which bacteria has grown and how best to cure it using antibiotics. It may seem silly at first to imagine a group of young kids diagnosing a teddy bear. But when you look closer, you can see those gears in their minds starting to shift. Connections are being made between this lesson and the real world. By taking scientific inquiry and couching it in make believe, educators are making learning more digestible, turning a lesson into into a playful treat.
The work of Theatrical Journeys is to produce simple lesson plans. Twenty was the original goal, though that may be exceeded as of this update. Documentation and video of the project will also be uploaded to YouTube for other educators to consider. Like the art it imitates, Theatrical Journeys is constantly evolving project, driven by the needs of the students in every way.
Increasing respect between peers, opening minds to STEM careers and capturing disengaged learners
As mentioned before, the project has already produced a number of new and exciting journeys, so how are the students responding? According to the progress report “the tactile and kinesthetic child-centered nature of the journeys has become a model of how to effectively engage young children who often present behavioral or disengaged learning challenged in the PreK classroom. Happily, these children consistently engage fully with the hands-on, “there-are-no-wrong-answers” approach to the Theatrical Journey Project.” Not only that, there has been the unexpected, but wholly welcome side effect of increasing respect between students. By exposing students, especially minority ones, to moments where they are refered to by their peers as “Doctor” has fostered an aspirational attitude that wasn’t there previously in many of the students. And this is a good thing.
I said earlier that no one is going to cure cancer by reading Shakespeare, but if by playing doctor with this teddy bear in PreK even one student is inspired to grow up to become one… they might just.
Microfinance in Action Revisited
It’s been an exciting, tumultuous, but ultimately productive three years for the educators and students at Southwind High School in Tennesee. Those involved with the Microfinance in Action (MFiA) project have seen a lot of success despite some setbacks along the way. But the outpouring of support from the community and other educators has helped keep the flow uninterrupted.
What is Microfinance in Action (MFiA)?
When MFiA was originally proposed, it was proposed as a three-year project that would take students through the process of learning about microfinancing, and how important it can be to stimulate the economy. Especially in resource and job depressed areas in this country and abroad. They were also tasked with learning about and distributing KIVA loans to small businesses. It also proposed that students travel to low-income areas, or areas affected by natural disasters to get a real look at what poverty looks like and hopefully become passionate about ending it. In our blog we explored what an integrated curriculum exploring globalization and economics looked like and heard about the real world skills and field experiences (Microfinance in Action, August 2013). Results were inspiring.
Exploring Local Economics through Field Experiences
One of their main goals was to leave the textbook behind and create an environment of practical learning, where students would interact with their community, and communities beyond theirs to get a greater perspective on what economics and Microfinance in particular means in their day-to-day lives. So they started a journey to some of the most economically devastated states in the nation. Beginning with their own.
Making a Global Impact
They began this journey along the banks of the Mississippi in Memphis and worked their way down through the Delta to New Orleans. From there they moved to the home of the Lakota Tribes and finally to the sugar cane fields of the Dominican Republic. No one could accuse them of being lazy travelers, that’s for sure. And while I could spoil you with the details of their trip, that would ultimately take away from what was the end game goal for this project; creating a book entitled Microfinance in Action: A Guidebook for Teenagers. They just recently returned from Guatemala where they finished filming the documentary portion of their proposal, which should be edited later this summer. That documentary, along with the book they plan on publishing, will be a great resource for educators who might want to try this model at their own schools.
Other goals they had proposed were setting up a KIVA Club loan program where students could work with accredited loan companies to set up microfinance loans for those in need at home and abroad. This ended up being far more successful than they had anticipated but came with an unfortunate cost. Biba Kavass, the innovative educator behind this proposal, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. And while she continues to work on the project, she will soon have to take a step back and let others lead in her place. But the community rallied. Roughly to the tune of $150,000 and climbing. Because of this community support they’ve already made 148 loans out to people in over 50 countries. The next step is setting up a larger and more focused KIVA Club loan program, working with SME Uganda to make slightly larger loans available to people in need.
Follow MFiA Online
The project website, microfininaction.weebly.com, is also doing well, having received it’s 1000th unique visitor recently. This website is where Biba, and those who will continue in her stead, chronicle their work as well as get in contact with prospective partners.
Despite the unforeseeable setbacks they faced it would seem like MFiA has been a great success, in every avenue they proposed. The students, educators, and community all benefited from this project, which is something we value here at McCarthy Dressman. We hope to see many more innovative projects, like this one, funded in the future.