Here at New Technology High School, we focus on working with community partners so students can apply their learning in a real-world environment. In planning projects, teachers focus on Authenticity, Adult Connections, Academic Rigor, Active Exploration, Assessment Best Practices, and Applied Learning, The 6 A's.
In my 6th year of teaching, I'm getting bolder about the kinds of projects I am asking my students to do. This year, I threw down the gauntlet, and managed to get sponsorship for a dedicated building for student artwork for the 2nd annual Napa Lighted Art Festival. This means that student art will be projected on a 38 x 70 foot wall of a building during the week of Jan. 12-19 amongst a juried exhibition of over 20 project art projection pieces throughout downtown Napa. They will also be giving a panel discussion talk about their creative process to the community on Jan. 17 right before the evening show starts.
High Stakes = High Engagement
First, let me say how SUPER excited I am to be doing this project in conjunction with Napa Parks and Rec, as well as teaming up with the folks at Adobe to prepare for this event. I've done some really cool projects in the past, everything from designing a real traveling museum exhibit with my Game Design Class to creating an award winning Journalism video for the California Student Media Festival. But I've never attempted something this high profile with this much at stake. The Parks and Rec department expects over 20,000 visitors to the weeklong event, so if we fail, the fail will be huge.
I often meet with my students and wonder out loud, will this be a total disaster? They always say the same thing, "We've got your back, Mrs. Gottfried!" And I believe them. Because whenever someone comes into my class and says, "Can I borrow a few students for an activity in another classroom", all my students shout, "NO! We're busy!" When the end of the period comes, I hear groans around the room. "Can't we just have some more time to work?" Which tells me they are committed and driven to learn. So, yes, I'm worried about failure, but in terms of teaching and learning, we are already hugely succeeding if success is measured by engagement!
But, How to Grade?
For the project, I wanted the WORK to be the focus, not student compliance. So how does assessment come into play? I offered for students to be paid in points (as if they were dollars) and that they would get a paycheck every two weeks. They get $100 (points) for Knowledge and Thinking for the technical work, $100 for Agency, $100 for Collaboration, and $100 points each for Oral and Written Communication. That's $500 for two weeks of work. This averages to $67 an hour since our class meets for less than 4 hours a week, which is really high pay for student work! Last week I had a student ask another student if they were truly earning their $67 per hour or if they were phoning it in.
I meet with each student individually and we do a review based on rubric items chosen by the Product and Project Managers. They negotiate their pay for the two week period based on evidence they bring to the table. They ask for what they feel they deserve. If I would've paid more, I tell them so after they've been paid, and we talk about why and how they undervalued themselves. They learn that next pay period, they will not make the same mistake and will ask for what they are really worth, so they don't miss out on the $$. If they overvalue themselves, we talk about where I disagree with them. I bring evidence to back up my claim and we come to an agreement together about what is fair pay.
This means that instead of the pavlovian cycle of turning in work to get the grade, we are focused more on creating processes that support all the students, so that we ensure success on the final artwork. And grades are negotiated and discussed 1:1 with me, based on observation, team member input and quality of current work.
I also pay them in opportunity. I often have folk contact me when they are looking for an intern, or for a student to do some paid work for them. Guess who I always recommend? And I can recommend them confidently because I've got their resumes in hand, and I've seen their work ethic at play. In the first month of school three out of 22 students had gotten paying gigs or long term jobs with the resumes they created and a recommendation from me.
Is negotiating for pay getting results?
I have to say that it's quite freeing for both me and for the students to not have this constant worry about who, how and when grades will come in and go out. Students get to concentrate on doing meaningful work, without having to deal with the constant disruption of school business. I am feeling as though, some students, who have struggled to find their place and find their stride, have met with their teams and with me and seem to be re-engaged. The team is invested in making sure everyone gets top dollar for their work. Often work is done outside of class when a student is determined to learn a new skill or conquer a new deliverable. In other words, we are rocking and rolling.
Use of Mentors
We meet every two weeks with consultants for the Light Festival, Ross Ashton and partner, Karin Monid, who are based out of London. We are lucky that Karin and Ross are willing to Skype with us when it's late at night in the UK and class is in session here in Napa. Having these regular check-in meetings to get feedback on prototypes, review technical questions, and to talk about sound design has kept the students on their toes and moving forward. I highly recommend enlisting a community partner to do regular check-ins to make sure that large projects do not stagnate between deliverable deadlines.
Stand-up Meetings, Roles and Leaders
At the beginning of the project each student developed resumes and did an interview presentation, a SWOT analysis of who they are, what their strengths and weaknesses are and where their opportunities are for learning. I then hired certain students as product managers, project managers, technical leads and designers. Making use of those roles, I often meet in smaller groups with project managers and leaders for status check-ins and to troubleshoot team dynamics. Each team consists of 4-5 students, each one playing a specific role in the process. And ALL students are designers in that they are expected to create new artwork, as well as play the leadership role for which they were hired.
Project Managers are also Scrum Masters for their group and we use the Agile framework for product development. Srum meetings are an excellent way to break larger projects into bite size chunks while maintaining accountability within a group. They make progress visible through the use of a Scrum board and they help me to diagnose when a team might need some extra support from me, as the instructor.
The Real Test: Can They Function Without Me in the Room?
There have been a few days when I could not be in the room to teach them during critical phases of the project. One of those planned absences fell at a time when they needed to make some important decisions about the overall vision of the project. They elected one of their product managers to run the class discussion and another to take notes, so I would know what happened while I was away. The substitute let me know that they were very impressed at the level of work happening in class without having the assigned teacher in the room. Everyone participated in the discussion and they came out having made some clear decisions. I left town that day knowing they could handle things, and they did!
l think that, overall, when we treat students as though they can handle large and risky projects, that they most often rise to the occasion. Teenagers are so hungry for real and meaningful work and a chance to show Agency. I am hoping that this project becomes a yearly occurrence and each new Digital Design Lab class gets the chance to work on such a high level project. And if not this particular project next year, I'll just have to find another amazing partner and another amazing project. Anyone out there want to do something incredible with my Digital Design students? We are up for it! I hope people can come out and see their work in January and come meet the students at their talk on Jan. 17th. More details to come!
Sneak Peak Prototypes
Welcome to my Lantern building project here at New Tech High. I'm excited to share some information about how I built my 9th grade lantern prototype here on my blog post. We are creating lanterns for the Napa Lighted Art Festival.
Below you will see photos of my geometry rationales that prove to you that the shapes I am using are Regular Polygons.
How to Create Regular Polygons
1) First get a compass and a straight edge
2) Draw 2 circles
3) Label on X and the other Y
Rationale or Proof
Here's the explanation to why the regular polygon appears the way it does. For example, I made two circles with equal radii so each side of the triangle is equal to the radius.
We often make the mistake, as educators, of going to community and industry partners with our hands out. We ask, "What can industry do for my students? How can industry help" It wasn't until I was talking with a team member at an Adobe field trip that I realized that I tend to swap that request around.
My first question, whenever I meet anyone in industry is, "How can my students help you with your business?"
It was in the asking of that question, with a team of people from Adobe who happened to be touring my school, that I began what has been a powerful relationship with their company. It turns out that Adobe often wants the feedback of students on product that is in development. They want students who can speak up, are not afraid to offer clear opinions, that are interested in making beautiful images with their products, that understand the basics of project management, and who are generally mature enough to work with a team of adults to communicate clearly what they want and don't want.
To that end, a group of my students were invited to come visit Adobe Headquarters this week, to work with a team of researchers and developers on product. Students got to show the team how they use the product, discuss what they like and don't like, review marketing preferences, and answer a whole host of questions. To some students, it would be intimidating to meet with 15 adults and to be put on the hot seat, but because we concentrate on building collaboration, and oral and written communication skills at New Tech High, these students were up to the task.
After having a great working session with the crew and speaking with their research folks, we has an incredibly powerful career panel, where a small team of people with varied job titles at Adobe, spoke to the students about their path from high school to Adobe. They talked about their trials and tribulations, as well as where they chose to pivot to pursue their interests instead of staying on whatever path they thought they were supposed to pursue. The general message was one of supporting students to think about following their bliss, considering design your own majors or double majoring in seemingly disparate subjects, or choosing minors that support their creative passions.
The entire trips was eye opening for all the students. They were super grateful to have the time and the special connections they made with folks at Adobe. Surprisingly, the Adobe folks were also super grateful to have the students there. I think that in making industry partners, the relationship has to go both ways. We can not just take, take, take, but also offer added value to our partners, such that we help companies in some way, by offering insight into a demographic they don't normally hear from, or by creating great product that can help companies in their endeavors.
What an incredible day. I know it has helped my students gain confidence, gain more clarity about what their next steps are in college and beyond, and it's opened doors for them that would not normally be open. I hope all teachers are on the lookout for ways to partner with industry. Just remember, ask not what your industry partner can do for you, but what you can do for your industry partner!
Externships can give you some of the biggest payoffs in terms of time spent. I KNOW teachers need their vacations to regroup and recharge. However, if you invest a few days or a week of your time during winter or spring break, it can really change the way you bring your game to the classroom and change the support that you get from outside businesses. In the long term, I'll work during a break any time to get that kind of support from outside business! I'm a better teacher and the opportunities it has opened for my students are amazing. Read on to find out why it's worth it....
A crew from Adobe walked through my classroom last year, wanting to see what we were up to in Digital Media. I had just read an article about externships, where teachers work at a business for a period of time to get outside of the classroom bubble, and happened to ask one of the visitors if Adobe ever did anything like externships. The response was, "Not that I know of, but if you do some research and get back to me on it, we can keep exploring that idea."
Fast forward a year and I've had the privilege of externing twice as Adobe, once during Spring Break for a week and then for another week and half this summer. Needless to say, it was a huge success and one which I can't speak highly enough. Bottom line, both teachers and students can benefit greatly from teacher externships.
So what was it all about and why should you explore your own externship possibilities?
Externships are defined as a set amount of time that teachers work at a company, usually a few days to a week or two. On-site tasks for teachers can include attending meetings, shadowing a variety of jobs, doing research, providing support that college-aged interns might provide, and just being a useful employee. Externships can be paid or unpaid, depending upon the business, the district or the pre-created externship program. I was lucky enough to get some grant money as a stipend for my first externship and was then invited back by Adobe on their dime for a second externship a few months later.
For both externships, I was embedded on a product development team, worked on providing valuable insights into the education community, what teachers and students need, gave feedback on product iteration, had conferences with heads of various product teams to talk about what is most important for students, met with people whose focus was on forward-thinking educators, met with designers, coders, marketing people and more.
I observed what types of physical environments in the workplace support creativity, problem solving and productivity, learned about how teams collaborate in the real world, learned what tools people use to communicate remotely and in person, and was steeped in project management approaches in the professional world.
And because I was embedded at a company that uses the very skills that I teach my digital design classroom, I got a chance to connect and geek out over digital design concepts, such as font choices, color choices, use of hierarchy, and design thinking as it is applied to product creation. I saw, in action, how to conduct user interviews, user testing sessions, conduct my own research and create user profiles and more. I helped my team better understand the very students, teachers, creative professionals and business folks they are developing product for. It was beneficial for both me and for Adobe. I got to see how the sausage is made and they got unique insights into what really happens in a digital media classroom.
How my experience changed what and how I teach
The amazing things is that I have now brought best practices back to my students in all areas of learning, including how to best collaborate on projects, how to use more elevated and practical knowledge of design principles and how to best manage workflow. I can speak with confidence to my students about why certain things that I teach are important and where they come into play in the day to day operations of a tech company. I have a much clearer idea of what sorts of jobs are available to them once they leave school and how to direct them toward those opportunities.
Once you are in the door, the possibilities are endless
There were all sorts of outcomes that were completely unexpected that came out of being in the Adobe office.
NONE OF THE ABOVE THINGS WOULD HAVE HAPPENED WITHOUT PHYSICALLY BEING AT THE COMPANY.
If you want to make things happen for your school and open up opportunities for your students, you have to show up and get some face time with the business people who can make that happen.
The truth is, businesses are wanting to help us in the classroom and with our students. But in order to forge those relationships, you have to go where the businesses are, and not the other way around.
That means getting out of your classroom, pushing yourself to make some calls to businesses that align with what you are doing in your classroom and asking for connection and help.
And even without all these amazing connections that I've made, if I did nothing else, I've learned about how business operates, how adults use the skills I teach every day, and how students can plug into that adult world, once they enter the workforce. That, in and of itself, makes the externship experience worth while.
(The secret truth about externships)
I was worried that I would be exhausted after giving up my vacation time to work outside of the classroom. It turns out it was surprisingly energizing. It's not like working at school with students. I worked with adults, had real hour long lunch breaks, had time to think and complete my thoughts without interruption, and generally marveled at how adults outside of the education field work every day. It's all very civilized.
If you have any questions about externships, just comment below and I'll be happy to answer them!
It all started when a teacher friend of mine at Bel Aire Park Elementary (Tere Charney), shared some of her student portraits on Facebook. The portraits were beautiful and, in my mind, begging to be animated. I asked if she would like the 9th graders at New Tech to take a shot at animating the images and then it became clear that we'd need to actually DO something with the animations when we were done. More meetings, more brainstorming and voila, we came up with the idea to have the 3rd and 4th graders talk about what is important to them in the world, so we could help give them a platform for their voices.
We collaborated by having the elementary students record themselves on an online recording app called Vocaroo and send us the links to their recordings. They also sent us the original artwork and we scanned them in and got to work in Photoshop, creating GIFs of each student with different mouth positions and stringing them together.
We were also lucky enough to have the chance to have the 4th graders visit our classroom so that the 9th graders could teach them some basic photoshop skills. You could really see that having the 4th graders in the classroom really engaged the high school kids in an authentic manner. We got to talk about how you work with all different kinds of learners and used that to reflect on their own learning styles. Many of the 4th graders are now eager to attend New Tech High School when they get older. The videos will be previewed at Bel Aire Park's open house happening next week.
The Digital Design students learned many techniques in this process, how to use the puppet tool, how to animate frame by frame, how to use the clone stamp tool, how to edit in Premiere Pro and how to craft a message that maintains the viewer's attention through use of music, zooming in and out, and editing an engaging script. We are hoping to make this collaborative project a tradition for years to come!
I'm teaching a workshop right now on blog portfolios and how to promote blogs online so they get seen. Teachers are learning great stuff. Hey blogosphere, let's show the teachers that they can get their writing seen. Comment below or share this on twitter and Facebook and prove why blogs rock!
1) Not enough time!
2) Too personal and I worry that my students will read it!
3) I don't know how or where to start
4) I don't want to be too honest or offend someone in the public space
5) I don't think my ideas are good enough
6) My interests are so varied, I don't know how to narrow my focus down
7) I only have one interest and it's school, and who wants to hear about that?
8) I'm not sure if it will be fun, or more like another work thing to do.
9) I don't have the discipline to do it regularly.
10) I'm hiding out from the law. Shhhshhh.
Tony is a rockin' 10th grader in my Game Design class, who, amongst his classmates in American Studies, created amazing thoughts about Frankenstein and the modern day problems of our times.
Here's an example of a fun After Effects project that my Intro. class is working on. Some are doing simple animation like this one and some are learning how to create a camera layer to do a fly-through, which is a more 3D experience.
I'm left at the end of a 9th graded group project wondering how the heck I'm going to grade group collaboration and individual agency. I was in the classroom every day, but didn't see how each group actually worked together to accomplish the end goal. I may have gotten snippets as I walked around and visited, but how do I really understand who did what, where they need more support and where the areas of growth lie for each individual?
The truth is, I don't need to be with every group every moment of the class period in order for students to benefit from feedback about how they are doing. Enter: rubrics and group assessments as one of the most powerful grading processes that I've found in my teaching career. It takes time to meet with every group and give the space to review each team members roles and results, but it is well worth doing this process at least once a semester, allowing for depth and incredibly productive conversations about areas of improvement, as well as places to celebrate.
How it works
After a 3-6 week project, the teams meet with me. I give them laminated rubrics that cover Agency and Collaboration from the newtechnetwork.org. As a group, we look at only 2-3 points on each rubric. Students are asked to assess themselves on those 2 points for Agency and then 2 points on Collaboration. We go around and each student shares out which column they think they fall in for the specific topics on the rubric and why. Then I ask the team if they agree with that assessment and if not, why they disagree. Then I give my feedback about whether I agree or disagree with the assessment. There are no letter or number grades on the rubric, but rather designations of Emerging, Developing, Proficient and Advanced (shown below.)
Critical piece of the puzzle: Underlying Love and Support
The most important part of these conversations going well is a general assumption that everyone has something to work on and that being honest, yet supportive is key. It can be hard to have a conversation about a team member's emerging skills. However, how do we expect to ever learn or improve if we are unwilling to discuss these issues with the very peers that we are expected to work with on future school projects? I like to say that these are important conversations because these students will be with each other for the next 4 years. "Wouldn't it be good to know where people's edges lie and what strategies we can employ to help our classmates in the future? And we also can talk about a person's strengths. Everyone has them, no matter where we fall on the rubric."
When a teacher asks the group how they can amplify the strengths and shore up the weaknesses for each individual, it does several things:
What Students Have to Say About It
"Wow, this takes a really long time!"
"Can we get all our grades this way? It seems so fair."
"That was a hard conversation to have. Are we still friends?"
"It's really hard to give myself grades. I graded myself lower than my team mates graded me. I do that a lot."
Oh! I thought you weren't joining in with team work because you have a bad work ethic. I had no idea it was because you are so shy!"
"That was extremely helpful!"
Establishing Culture and Expectations
The biggest win for me as a teacher is that I feel each student is really seen and heard and cherished for what they bring to the table. If we can do that within a school environment, especially early in a high school career, then we are building strong foundations for learning into the future. People say that New Tech High students are a special breed of kids, but I disagree. They are normal teenagers who are asked to be self-reflective in a nurturing environment. That alone changes the dynamic of learning in every classroom and builds confidence, awareness and trust. That's some powerful education magic right there. Try it and see if you can create your own special breed of student!
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!