Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Students solving problems of social media, part 3

Thanks for following this design thinking journey!

In case you missed parts one or two, my students are tackling problems they have identified with social media while preserving the benefits they experience from engaging in those platforms. We replicated a social media dialogue during the problem definition and ideation phases. Blog posts about parts one and two explore these processes in detail.

Now, the students have completed their prototypes and are seeking user feedback. The students had a few options for how to proceed with building their prototype. They could use cardboard and other basic supplies from our makerspace to build a 3D object. They could use paper templates to design or redesign and app. Or, they could storyboard the experience of their solution in action by drawing the sequences on post-its and creating a short video. I used the slides inserted below to show models of what they were doing and facilitate discussion of the prototyping process.

Here are some of the prototypes in the process of being built.

Now that they have finished building their prototypes, it is time for user testing! The students met one-on-one with members of our school community to watch how those people interacted with their prototypes, and they were able to interview those users about their reactions to the proposed solution both in terms of the viability of the concept and its appeal.

In order to solicit a broader spectrum of perspectives, each of the students uploaded their design to a Google Form which they used to ask key questions about their design. Then I added each Form to a Padlet that indexes each of their "How might we..." questions with their Google Form for collecting feedback. The students and I shared the padlet through our social media networks in order to reach a wider audience of social media users and increase the perspectives provided in the feedback. We welcome any comments you would like to offer about the viability and appeal of their designs. You can visit the padlet (also embedded below), and please feel free to share with your students and encourage them to provide feedback as well! Thank you!

Made with Padlet

Monday, November 12, 2018

Mind over Matter: Overcoming Learning Obstacles by Building Habits of Mind

creative commons; john hain on Pixabay
Educators and students all bring particular habits of mind with them when they enter their schools and classrooms. And under the pressure of data crunching and competition for high scores, some of those habits -- developed over an educational lifetime -- become self-sabotaging. As a public high school Social Studies teacher, I had long recognized patterns in student behavior that were concerning: self-put downs, approval-seeking, and excuse making, to name a few. It was not until I read the work of Art Costa and Bena Kallick about Habits of Mind, that I began to understand those expressions and behaviors as being the manifestation of patterns of thinking. What I was observing was the consequence of counterproductive (even destructive) habits of mind. So I let go of content and set out to improve the ways my students thought about and understood learning, each other, and themselves.

Now, I realized that I was facing institutional and cultural and even legislative obstacles. And it was clear that my students were invested in extrinsic measures of achievement, satisfaction, and even happiness. So I adopted a two-prong approach:
  1. Remove, as much as was possible, the extrinsic measurements; and
  2. Provide daily practice and reinforcement of new ways of thinking about learning, each other, and ourselves until those ways of thinking became new habits of mind.

Then, I predicted, the external metrics could be returned with minimized deleterious impact because students would have a new paradigm for understanding achievement, and this focus on continued growth would translate into improved scores when compared to those external metrics.

Step one: I stopped giving grades (for as long as was institutionally possible).
We just stopped using the word. When students stop using that word and learn to substitute so many more specific and meaningful terms and phrases, conversations about teaching and learning become so much more honest and effective. Instead of: “Why did I get this grade?” students began asking, “How can I write better quotation blends?” Even better, was when they started turning to each other and asking for feedback on what they were trying to do and understand! 

Step two: We focused on habits of mind, not patterns of behavior.
To do this, we needed new vocabulary and ways of connecting that vocabulary to our work and our interactions. As a framework for learning and applying this new vocabulary, I built this rubric based on the sixteen habits of mind. Note that the headings of each column have song titles, not points or edu-speak like “Exceeds Standard”. Anywhere an external or summative metric could be removed or replaced it was. Student focus was continually directed to an examination of their habits of mind. When the rubric was introduced at the start of the school year, students were assigned to groups and each group was given a chapter from Denise Clark Pope's Doing School. Working together, the groups examined the habits of mind of the student they were assigned and decided where the student about whom they read would be starting on the rubric. They had to use specific evidence from the students words, actions, and interactions to justify their assessment. My high achieving students from relatively privileged backgrounds were reading about other high-achieving students and identifying with their stresses and learned behaviors for surviving their school experiences.

Now that they had practice with the new vocabulary and had applied it in a safe way to other students, it was time for my students to self-examine and decide where they were starting. For this step they journaled about their past school experiences and talked with other members of the class they thought knew them well. Once they had identified their origin on the rubric, each student wrote a goal and a specific action plan for the first marking period. Together, we reviewed their goals and plans and I offered feedback. The action plan was very hard for most of the students to write. They struggled to get past statements like: I will try harder, I will get my work done on time, etc. A huge point of growth was when they could see that one vague goal statement is not the action plan for achieving another goal. Eventually they learned to write action plans that included steps like: I will visit the humanities help center each Monday to review my primary source annotations, I will reserve 8-8:30PM as reading time every weeknight, I will complete essay drafts one day before the due date in order to have a partner give me feedback before I submit it, I will not speak in a group conversation until the quietest member of the group has contributed, etc.

Just as they did with the student they examined in Pope’s book, the students had to curate evidence of their own growth and achievement. At the mid-quarter we met to review progress and the accumulated evidence and revise their goals and strategies as necessary. And this was key, I didn’t want students setting goals they knew they could achieve. That’s not a goal, it’s a given. It was also important to acknowledge when a strategy wasn’t working or a goal was not going to be obtainable… yet. At the end of the quarter, students wrote self-evaluations and had to present three pieces of evidence to justify each claim they made about their habits of mind development. All of this thinking about thinking and learning and the evidence was accumulated in a web portfolio.

We repeated this process each quarter and then met one-on-one at the end of the year when it was time to restore the external metrics of grades. To prepare for this conversation, each student converted their web portfolio into an exploration of their growth that we reviewed together in our meeting. What did we find? Because students continued to:
  1. set goals;
  2. reflect and evaluate their work and habits;
  3. set new goals and modify their work, habits and effort accordingly;

they all realized increasing success and achievement throughout the year. In other words, all assessments were formative. Thus, when it came to determining grades, rather than penalizing a student who began the year as “a believer” on the rubric and ended the year with “nothing compared to him/her” by averaging a lower earlier grade with a later higher one, the students were evaluated according to mastery and achievement and their grade was an authentic reflection of their progress made and growth consistently demonstrated. Best of all, they carried these new, positive, practiced and ingrained habits of into all of their other work and relationships. Constructive habits of mind are essential to overcoming obstacles, making progress, and being fulfilled by the process regardless of the product.

Costa, Arthur L and Bena Kallick. Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind: 16 Essential Characteristics for Success, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2008.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Students solving problems of social media, part 2

In case you missed part one of this posting series, in it I described the design thinking process we used to define "social media", identify the pros or benefits of it as well as the cons or detriments. Then each student chose one "pro" to preserve and one "con" to fix when crafting their "How might we..." questions. You can read about the specifics of each step and see pictures in the part one post.

Here is how this process is unfolding.

Once the students each had a "How might we..." (HMW) question they were ready for the next design thinking step: ideation. On two occasions earlier this year, we used Crazy 8's, and for this experience I wanted to expose them to a new brainstorming technique. I chose a round robin approach because that process would continue emulating social media posting, which is the focus of our problem solving.

We started out with blank paper covering the table. Each student wrote their HMW question across the bottom of the paper at their spot at the table. Then, they began to draw what a solution to their problem might look like. They could use a combination of words and graphics to convey their vision. We spent 15 minutes drawing ideas, and the room was silent almost the whole time. At one point, one student said, "I'm not sure..." and then trailed off. I responded by saying: "Try drawing what it would like if your problem didn't exist."

After 15 minutes we rotated seats. I asked the students to review the idea captured on the paper in front of them and then add to it. I said they could add clarifying questions about elements they were not sure if they understood, they could add ideas in the form or words and more drawings. The only thing they couldn't do was cross anything off the page. Once an idea was written or drawn, it was there to stay -- just like social media. The only thing I did allow students to cross out, was something they had written, there was not erasing other people's thoughts. And, we were all working in pen or marker so even cross outs left a trail. In this way, our pen and paper process emulated social media posting. We stayed at our new seats for several minutes to give each student ample time to reflect and contribute before rotating again.

With six students at a table, the mid-point of the exercise was after the third rotation. At this point we stopped to reflect on the process. I directed the students to talk about what they were doing and how that compared with their typical role or conduct in class. I asked them not to talk about the ideas on the paper, just to talk about what they were doing, how they felt or what they thought about the process. I was struck when my student who is most anxious about contributing to class discussions said that she had time to thoroughly consider her ideas and write them carefully so that they would make sense. She remarked that when she tries to talk in class she gets wrapped up in her thoughts and can't articulate her ideas clearly. But with this process she had a lot to say. How cool?! And a happy by-product that I didn't anticipate.

We continued rotating seats and adding ideas until everyone returned to their original spot. We ended class with students sharing with the group how their idea was evolving and collecting for themselves follow up questions they want to ask the group during the next class.

And the focus of the next class is: prototyping!

Once again, stay tuned for more about how my students are using design thinking to solve the problems of social media!

Link to Part Three!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

VR Big Takeaway? Empathy!

When I think about Google, I tend to really be focusing on Google for Education. Last year I learned about a different team, Google’s Trust & Safety group. First, I was struck by the seriousness with which Google considers the online conduct and interaction of all of its users. Consider the comments section in a YouTube video, the Trust & Safety group works on policies and technical mechanisms for trying to maintain civil and constructive dialogue within that platform. They may not use the term digital citizenship to describe their focus, yet, in essence, that is their mission: supporting positive and productive digital interaction, globally. And I thought just trying to do it in my school was a daunting mission!

Last year, the Trust & Safety group brought their work to schools in the form of a virtual reality anti-cyberbullying curriculum. Partnering with the media production group, Harmony Labs, researcher Dr. Dorothy Espelage, and others, the team unpacked some important research:

Furthermore, they learned that more than half of bullying incidents stop when a peer intervenes which lead them to the curricular objective of empowering bystanders to intervene in bullying situations. And, they chose virtual reality as the means of delivering the program they developed because VR provides a private, immersive experience. Participants do not have to be concerned about how they are being perceived by their peers which results in sincere and thoughtful engagement in the content.

With that introduction to the program I jumped onboard with a class of ninth grade students. With a little advanced planning, implementation was easy! I do not have access to a class set of Daydream viewers and Pixel 2 devices so we substituted our Google cardboards and the students’ smartphones. I asked (and reminded) them to bring their own headphones so they each could listen to the videos without disturbing each other. The curriculum guide that Google provides is easy to follow with thorough teacher directions and talking points. I could easily modify it to meet the experience level of my students. Here is a quick schedule of what we did:

Day 1: I posted this Google Classroom announcement: For the next week you will need daily access to smartphone and headphones. Please let me know if you would like me to provide you a device. (For those students I had iPods in our library they could borrow). If you do not already have it, please install the YouTube app.

Day 2: I made this in class announcement and posted it as a Google Classroom reminder: please bring your phones and headphones to class tomorrow with the YouTube app already installed.

Day 3: The lessons began with a quick discussion of “what is virtual reality?” Then we followed the instructions in the curriculum guide for the first video lesson which included immersing in the 360° video experience. Students watched the 8 minute long video twice. The first time, the students watched on their own. The second time, I divided the class into three groups and assigned each group a character or group of characters on which to focus as they watched. Then we dove into a deeper conversation about the content.

Full disclosure: I was nervous. I was so concerned that this would just be one more forced conversation on a topic they didn’t want to discuss where a couple of students say what the teacher wants to hear just to get the lesson over with while the rest of the class stares into space and disengages entirely. Spoiler alert: the exact opposite is what happened, and I was amazed!

In small groups the students engaged with each other in a thoughtful discussion of what they had experienced, virtually. They discussed whether they thought the scenario was realistic, they considered the authenticity of the characters, they commented on identifying with certain characters based on their past experiences. When we reconvened as a whole class to talk some more they started to share experiences and talk to each other about how those real situations unfolded and what they could be doing about it. One student said, “It doesn’t end like that. We aren’t going to be friends in the end. We can’t be. When something like this happens, your friend group shifts. I want these programs to help us with that.” Lots of students added their agreement to that comment. Another student said, “Just like Kacie in the VR, sometimes you are bullied because of something you have done. And if I did what she did, and was bullied, I’m not going to tell an adult what I did so I’m not going to get help. I need someone else I can talk to for help.” Finally, another golden comment from a student: “I once did exactly what this told us to do: I told a safe adult and that person didn’t help me. So I’m not going to tell an adult again.”

Whoa. On the surface, this may sound like the experience missed the mark, but it didn’t at all. Look at all of the important information it exposed: Students want us to understand (empathize with) their experience so we can help them accurately. Students want and need peer support, so we need to train peers to help peers. And, students want us to be equipped to help them and many of us might need training to do that well.

Days 4 and 5: We continued with the two remaining VR experiences following the curriculum guide outline. Then I asked students to compare the VR lessons with other digital citizenship and bullying lessons they have experienced. They were in 100% agreement that this experience was different in a meaningful way. Here is how one student explained it: “We were there. I mean, you couldn’t avoid what was happening because we were in the scene. I had to admit what was happening was real.” When I pushed them to comment on why that mattered, another student said, “I felt bad about what was happening to someone so I wanted it to stop.” And that is the magic of this experience: it helps build empathy. VR is more than bells and whistles when it is used to quite literally help students walk in someone else’s shoes!

Days 6 and 7: I am fortunate to have a 360° camera so the final exercise for the students was to create their own VR video which we loaded to our library YouTube channel. Just as with the curricular videos, the student-created ones can be launched in the YouTube app and watched with a Google cardboard for an immersive experience. I gave students one day to examine how a 360° video is different from a traditional one and plan their script for a one minute video. The next day, five student groups each filmed their videos. This might be the fastest video project I have ever facilitated!

Day 8: We took out the cardboards, phones, and headphones one more time so they could watch each others videos and provide feedback. The students were able, in their own voices, to explore what cyberbullying looks and feels like in their own peer groups and begin the process of starting a conversation in our school.

Of course this curriculum is not a one-stop, surefire solution to a problem we all face in our schools and communities. It did start a conversation among my students that had more depth and buy-in than anything else I have experienced with students on this topic. And it all comes back to how the virtual reality helped them develop empathy.

To Story Is Human

Note: This post was generously cross-posted by EducateLLC.

I would like to tell you a story. It is about my son when he was in fourth grade.

By the time Zach reached fourth grade he said he hated school. This wasn’t entirely true. All evidence suggested he loved gym, recess, lunch in the cafeteria, and the bus ride to and from school. Unfortunately, by fourth grade he didn’t like reading or writing or much of the academic side of school. These likes and dislikes were well-known by his teacher by the point in the year that the first round of report cards were issued and it was time to launch the annual penny book project. For this project Zach had to find a one penny minted during each year of his life, he had to attach that penny to a piece of paper and on that paper write a story from that year of his life. Then, he was to assemble all the pages into his penny book. You might be able to imagine my parental response to learning about this project! How was I going to get him to do this?

Thankfully, Zach’s teacher was as interested in Zach’s happiness and success as I was. I presented her with an idea: Zach would create a different project, he would meet all of her curricular objectives, we would document all of his work so she could see that everything was authentically his, and he would submit it on time. She agreed.

So Zach set out to collect pennies. He reminisced with all of our photo albums to find the perfect story from each year of his life. He digitized on our printer/scanner all of the photos that were important to each story. He took a video camera and interviewed anyone he could find about their memories of those stories. Then, he collected all of his ideas into a storyboard which he used as a guide to create a digital movie of his life. He showed each penny, he narrated the stories in his voice, he chose the soundtrack, and made a final screen of rolling credits. I don’t think he was ever been so proud of any school project. This was in 2007.

When Zach brought his project CD and his box of pictures, pennies, and storyboards to school, the teacher played his video for the class. Then she called me to say she cried. “He had this in him all this time,” she said. His teacher asked if I would come to the school and show her how to make a movie like that. I politely declined, and suggested that Zach would be happy to show her anytime!

Telling our stories is so important. It is a very human thing to do. Cave drawings are the stories of our very early ancestors. The printing press enabled the widespread distribution of stories. Some cultures have traditions of oral telling of stories passed through generations. The scientific development of photography in the mid-1800s with the daguerreotype resulted in widespread making of tin types so people could leave them as calling cards when they visited one another’s homes. Business cards, school pictures, home movies. The list goes on of all the myriad ways we make ourselves known and build connections with other people, document our existence, tell our story. Technology may change, but our need to know and understand one another, build common ground, and work out differences is eternal. And we do that through our stories.

Social media platforms know how much this matters to us. They enable us to combine our pictures and words into the stories of our important moments. We and our students have been using social media to tell our stories ever since we subscribed to those platforms. The actual story format started in 2013 with SnapChat stories and other services have followed suit including Instagram in 2016 and Facebook in 2017. Those aren’t the only ways we tell stories; Skype has highlights and YouTube allows us to create reels.

When it comes to engaging our students in sharing their stories, the possible formats are endless! Within the Google Apps realm students can write and illustrate interactive stories in Slides, Docs, Sites, Draw, Maps or Tour Creator. They can record themselves and publish to YouTube where channels and playlists host videos students make and others they curate.

Beyond gSuite, students can tell video stories in Flipgrid, they can annotate visual stories in ThingLink, and they can publish ongoing stories as podcasts. And when we consider the possibilities for synchronous and asynchronous interaction, students can share stories in Twitter chats, in private Facebook groups, and in Google+ communities. Building an audience for their stories by publishing them not only validates the importance of their experiences, it fosters interaction with new people which expands their horizons and their learning community and allows for authentic, embedded lessons in discourse and digital interactions.