For the fourth year in a row, I have spent part of my summer teaching high school students up at Camp Newman in Northern California. In the past, I have concentrated on teaching video storytelling in the Arts-based camp session and also in the Social Action-based camp session, alternating between the two. This summer I decided that I wanted to bring something different to the campers, something that would marry head, heart and hands together to engage the whole camper. So I decided to enlist my friend Hillary Homzie to help me create a new class called "Poetry and Claymation" You can read all about what we did in the article "Fearless Campers Use Clay and Poetry to Express Emotions."
Both of us decided that it would be best to split the 90 minute sessions by using the first half of each class to write poetry and the second half, working with clay and cameras. Having this nice balance between head and hand-based work really worked for the campers.
Mental Note to Self: When working with students, use two seemingly different activities happening at the same time to balance out left and right brain engagement.
Campers were surprised at how two very different activities could complement each other so well. They felt that when they could move freely between the two activities, depending upon their mood, or their process, it really helped to keep them engaged. Once we got them going with a few days of splitting the class in half, time-wise, we let them decide how they wanted to spend their time thereafter. Some campers chose to spend 90 minutes one day focusing totally on claymation and then the next day, totally on poetry. Other campers chose several days of just claymation and then poured out their poetry on the last day of class. They seemed unsure at first about writing poetry, but seemed to grasp the concepts on their own time, and then, really surprised us at the end!
Natural Differentiation: Having two simultaneous and intertwined activities gave each learner the chance to engage in each activity when they were ready and at their own speed.
Even when we, as teachers, worried about a camper missing out on one activity, they all came through in the end because it was creative, it allowed them to find their own voice, and ultimately, they saw value in balanced end product. It took trust on our part, as teachers to allow that unfold. I will be taking this dual-activity concept into the school year next year, for sure. I may even have to do this project with my Video Storytelling class. It would be a great way to start the year off!
I'd had my eye on taking the Innovative Learning Master program for several years now and got my chance to attend, thanks to a generous grant from NapaLearns and a scholarship from the Napa Valley Retired Teachers Association. I finished by degree in 18th months because Touro gives some credit toward the degree through the work already done by teachers when they go through their credentialing process. Finishing my degree in December of 2016, I've had the remainder of the 2016-17 year to apply some of the great knowledge I had attained through the program.
The time and money was extremely well spent. I had time to explore new technologies, study educational models and theory, connect with motivated and wonderful teachers from around the district (K-12) and explore what innovative and successful education looks like across our nation and around the world. We were asked to create an action research paper to study how to use qualitative and quantitative practice to deepen our teaching and solve problems for our students in our classrooms. We had the chance to really understand what a rigorous inquiry cycle of learning looks like, both for us as teachers and also how to apply that to student lessons.
Pedagogy Shmedagogy, What's that all about?
After having gone through this process, I can truly say that I feel so much more rooted in pedagogy and theory. It's one thing to instinctively know when you are succeeding in the classroom, and another to take the time to explore all the data points, triangulating as needed to verify what you know intuitively, and to be able to apply new approaches to the problem when that data gives you the clarity you need as a teacher. It means that I'm not just shooting from the hip as a teacher, but have backed up my teaching practices with known strategies of success AND I can measure the success of my students over time with student work, observation, survey data and more.
Expectations that Touro grads will take on leadership positions
I feel much stronger as a leader, both in my school and in my district. After graduating, I became a PLC (Personal Learning Community) leader for a group of five teachers who met on a regular basis to help examine student work and deepen teaching practices. When faced with a lot on our plates to do as teachers, there is often push back from teachers when they are asked to conduct an inquiry cycle. And, as expected, there was pushback from my PLC, even from myself. But I knew, having done several inquiry cycles in graduate school, that the work is worthwhile and really does get results. If I had not had those experiences and understood the value of doing that kind of work, I would not have been able to effectively lead my PLC team toward the findings and learnings we came to. I felt that, in some wonderful way, that I helped other teachers to also find the value in data-backed inquiry learning. At the end of the year, we all agreed that the work we had done was exciting, useful, fulfilling and got us some great results with student outcomes.
I've also had the opportunity to serve on the Deeper Learning Team at New Tech High, exploring ways that we can continue to innovate as a school. We are the flagship New Technology school, the first of over 200 across the country and abroad and we continue to innovate and looks toward the future of education. I didn't feel like an imposter on that committee, but instead felt a sense of pride that I could contribute my knowledge and experience to the team after going through the Innovative Learning program. It felt as though my master education prepared me well to serve on that committee as I will continue to serve next year, both as PLC leader and committee member.
Lastly, I took a lot of my newfound technical skills and turned around and taught what I had just learned to other teachers through the Digital Innovators program sponsored by Napa Learns. I hope that many of the teachers who attended my workshops on the Start-up Classroom decide to also get their masters in the Touro program and that we continue to build a strong community of engaged and excited teachers who understand best practices as we move forward in innovative learning.
Surprises along the way
As a Digital Design teacher, I was unsure as to how I would be challenged in the program, since I work with some high level software and am very comfortable on the computer. Although it was true, that often times, I already had the technical knowledge being taught, I do not always get the time to explore the apps and processes that I would like to. The class gave me the time and structure to explore some new apps, try on skills that I often teach, but do not have time to practice myself, and to see what other teachers and other grade levels need and want in the classroom. Often working in teams, I got better insight into what would work and not work for other teachers who don't have the same level of technical knowledge I have. This in turn helped me to create workshops for the district that better met the needs of ALL teachers at all different levels of technical comfort levels.
The other learning that touched me deeply and really surprised me had to do with the educational models such as TPACK, The Pebble in a Pond Model, Design Thinking, and The Gap Model. I am a practical person who does not always like to think in abstract ways. I struggled, at first, to find the relevance of such models in my classroom. But once I realized that these are just tried and true structures upon which one can hang lessons and curriculum, it became clear to me how valuable they were. They provided the much needed teaching templates for me to structure some really big programs I had been working on. These models guided me as a developed a whole school eportfolio/blogging program for New Tech and helped me to organize and clarify my thinking about a huge project.
I'm in the process of working with the Digital Innovators program to leverage the work that we as Touro Fellows have learned in our program. We envision graduates getting together in more informal, relaxed settings to share ideas and concepts that are working in the classroom, while providing some basic structure for continued engagement. I am also working on leveraging the success we've had at New Tech with our school-wide blogging program to bring this concept to other schools throughout the district as well as on a national and international level. I like to think big and have a big impact when the innovations are really showing results. If it's working, others should know and be able to harness the newly tested strategies and my focus next year will be on refining those innovative practices and then sharing with the world. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to have gotten my post-graduate degree at Touro and would recommend the program to any teacher considering it. It will only continue to strengthen our district and ultimately, our students.
New Tech High is featured in a great Edsurge article about online student blogs.
Read the Edsurge Article Here!
It's the end of the year and we have one more project to work on. We are providing feedback for a major software application developer on a new product they are working on. Each student group consists of two interviewers and two interviewees. We are conducting Empathy Interviews, the first step in the Design Thinking process.
I gave the students the option of getting a grade for this project or doing it just for fun. Some chose the grade and some chose to be ungraded. This morning a student pulled me aside and asked, "So, if I don't get a grade, then why do the project?" "It's a real-word chance for you to help a software developer with a new product. You get to have a say. Are you interested in doing that?" Long pause. "Yes, I am." "Ok, then. Get to work." "Ok!"
And therein lies the value of authentic project-based learning. And what an interesting low-stakes test for me as a teacher. Most students are still in and working. Even though it's the end of the year. They meet with the product manager tomorrow to go over their data. We'll have to see how it all shapes up, but I'm hoping they come through!
Board Games to Teach about Mental Illness
This is my third year doing a board game project for my Game Design Class and this year's crop is just fabulous. It's a tough thing to make a board game that is fun to play, new and exciting, actually teaches a topic and is designed in such a way that it is visually pleasing and consistent throughout the each game piece. This year's Game Design students have managed to hit all the notes.
This year we teamed up with the Psychology class to create board games that would de-stigmatize Mental Illness. The games were geared toward therapists, diagnosed patients and their families, as well as the average board game player. We covered topics such as ADHD, Body Dysmorphia, Schizophrenia, OCD, Anxiety and Depressive Disorder. Students went through a minimum of 3 rounds of playtesting, sometimes doing up to 5 rounds. After each playtest, they would take the feedback, adjust the game mechanics and then get more feedback.
What did they learn?
Beyond learning about what makes a board game play well with different mechanics, and tightening up their Photoshop, Illustrator, and 3D Design Skills, students learned about project management, and Design Thinking. Every class began with a Scrum meeting and students set their own benchmarks over a 4-month period. They wrote their own rule-sheets, designed their own boxes, wrote their own copy, and even printed some custom game pieces that were 3D printed. For the sale of the board games, they found ready-to-order pieces so that the average board game buyer could still buy the game and not have to worry about printing their own custom playing pieces. Game designers consulted their Subject Matter Experts in Psychology often in the beginning and moved forward with implementation once they understood their particular mental health issue.
I am over the moon with how the board games game out and am chomping at the bit to share these games so that others can purchase and use them to teach about mental health issues. Students are proofing their games now and making last minute fixes so that they will be published for sale in the coming weeks. More details to follow!
I am hearing now, from my students who have checked online that Betsy DeVos has been confirmed for Secretary of Education. Many students understand the mistake this represents, understand her lack of experience, her lack of desire to uphold public education. It did not go unnoticed that last night, as Democratic Senators spent their 24 hours on the floor speaking against the choice of DeVos, many chose to read letters from high school students. They were well, written, well reasoned and backed by real stories and evidence. They were letters that were more cogent than most communications written by adults on either side of the aisle.
One student in my class, in response to hearing the confirmation said, "What can I do? I'm not going to college to become a lawyer. What difference can I make?" We talked about protesting, writing our representatives, writing letters to the editor of papers across our country. Writing blog posts that make their thoughts and perspectives known to the adult world. Their voices need to heard. Need to inserted into the political landscape, as they are the ones who will be most effected by this appointment.
And as an adult, I will do everything in my power to amplify those voices, both online and in person. This is my job, as a teacher, as a role model and as parent. It has never been more clear to me.
We've started our annual board game project in my Game Design and Visual Effects class at New Tech. This year we are collaborating with the Psychology students to create board games that educate about mental health disorders. We are partnering with local mental health organizations and hope to use the games to help educate the public and those who have been diagnosed to better understand these issues:
Students were allowed to choose the disorder that they wanted to work with and it's no surprise that those with certain issues wanted to be the Subject Matter Experts for their team. This blog is about one such student who lives every day with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
E. started out having a hard time finding his place in the project. He struggled with the 3D modeling tutorials I provided for students to learn Maya. But one day he came in with a fidget and asked if he could try to model the fidget. "Sure! Let's see what you can do!" He set out to make his fidget, working off something he had prototyped at home with a piece of a ruler. He had cut a hole in the ruler the size of a ball bearing from one of his old skateboards and could turn the ruler slice around and around in his hand. As a student with ADHD, having a fidget can be beneficial to helping with focus in class. This is also true for those who have Sensory Integration Dysfunction.
The Switch Went On!
For the next week E. spent every moment he could in front of the computer and the 3D printer making iteration after iteration. Every step along the way, he would show other teachers and students what he was up to. Frankly, it just had that cool factor to it, a weight and feel that was so satisfying. He started collected pre-orders from staff and students alike and got some startup money for his creations from the Assistant Principal. His math teacher wanted in on the action. "How do I get him this fired up about Math?" She tried looking at fractions and ratios in relation to his fidget.
You know what else would be cool, E? What if we made this your player piece for your board game and there has to be some game mechanic that involves each player fidgeting with their game piece? What if you created places to put tokens in the fidget so that as you progress with the board game, you can put the tokens in the fidget? Now his whole team was excited about the project and a board game idea was born: Fidget to Finish. It is still under construction, but there is now extra excitement to make sure the board game matches the fidget in it's function and level of interactivity.
Moments We Live For
There are moments when we as teachers are so excited to see a student find their passion. This was one of them. Ultimately, it takes a whole lot of flexibility to find the sweet spot for each student. But when it happens, mmm, mmm, mmm. What really excites me is the idea that we are creating a board game to help others understand what students with ADHD need to succeed. And E. is a living example of that. AND, I'm buying a fidget when they are ready for sale just so I can fidget in class too.
Update: May 12, 2017
Here's the finished board game! A group of 3 ADHD students and one who does not have that mental health issue COMPLETED their board game, on their own. An amazing accomplishment for all involved. They were really happy with the final result and so was I. We are working on getting the 3D print files to upload to thegamecrafter.com so you can buy the board game and print your own playing pieces (spinners.)
What I learned
At New Tech, teachers are always scratching our heads as to why projects always seem to take way longer than we expected. Now I get it. Collaboration and creativity takes time. I have a much better sense of why students look like they are goofing off and are not using their class time wisely. It is so tempting to just talk the time away. If it's hard for adults, under a deadline to stay focused, it must be doubly hard for teenagers, where the importance of being social is so key to developmental growth.
Strategies for Staying Focused
Interested in learning about how to stay focused? Here are a few related blog posts with great strategies:
One of the things that continues to keep me actively engaged in the process of creating Innovative Learning, is the clear alignment between what is important to me as an educator and what New Tech's Mission Statement.
MissionOur mission is to inspire students to be responsible, resilient, and personally successful in the rapidly changing 21st century, and to be a student-centered model for educational innovation.
I love that the concept of relevance is the leading concept in our school's vision. As I continue to explore personalized learning in my classroom, the main push has been to foster Agency. Helping students to find personal relevance for their learning is a critical part of exploring and discussing Agency.
In my Level 3: 3D Printing and Video Storytelling, my students have just completed 7 weeks of learning where they got to choose their own projects, set their own deadlines and follow their own creative and technical noses. I have never been prouder of my students when they presented to the class and defended their learning. They included information about their learning journey, where there were stumbling blocks, what they did to surmount those obstacles, and took total responsibility for their end results.
Below you will see two examples of student presentations. Many students said that they would be continuing on with their projects and learning outside of class and were clear about their next steps. Even those students who struggled to find their "groove" have hinted that they would like to try the personalized learning format again, perhaps in the Spring Semester.
As a member of the Deeper Learning Team at New Tech, we continue to explore how we envision the next 20 years at our school. As long as we keep our mission statement and vision at the forefront of our minds, I know that we will continue to do great things. I am hoping that we continue to move more toward personalized learning, whatever that may look like.
In our PLC, (Professional Learning Community) we are working in a new cycle of inquiry.
Our question is:
How can we better support students to document their growth over time?
We are finding that some students just DO NOT like to write reflection pieces, or planning documents, or documents that show what they are learning. We believe there are several factors at play in these situations.
1) Students can have resistance to writing no matter what
2) Students just want to learn, but not document their learning.
3) Students feel that writing about their learning is just a thing that needs to be done to appease the teachers.
We have a theory that if we make documentation easier for those students who resist, that are percentage of participation with increase. We will be mining our data from the last two progress reports to see what percentage of participation we got for past reflections and documentation activities. We will then provide video blogging as an alternative to writing and compare percentages of participation again. This will be a 2-3 week research action cycle.
Lisa Gottfried is a CTE teacher with 20 years experience as CEO of her own Video and Motion Graphics Production house. She currently teaches Intro to Digital Media, Video Production and Game/3D Design. She loves her job and her students!