We did it! I'm still sweating a bit...but I'm still standing.
During the last two weeks of the semester, our Speech and Graphic Design students jointly wrestled with interpersonal conflicts, design snafus, confusion over expectations, and deadlines as they worked through their prototyping and testing phases of a joint design challenge. (See my previous post for details about the challenge.) They experienced triumph when design ideas came together, frustration over incomplete work by absent teammates, and satisfaction over final products being displayed. And on the final exam day, they presented what they learned to the full joint class.
So what did they learn? I decided to dig a bit deeper with a post-project survey. The results were both satisfying and thought-provoking.
Although many students offered positive feedback and comments about their experiences, a few threads in the feedback will need to be addressed the next time we try a project like this.
But one thread of feedback worries me. Quite a few students expressed frustration over not being given specific expectations for the project--in other words, some of them wanted us to tell them exactly what to do right from the beginning. The inherently messy, uncertain nature of a design process clearly made them feel uncomfortable, and they saw that as negative.
This reflects the reduction in resilience and grit that education and youth experts have recently raised as a growing concern (click HERE for a Pinterest board of materials on this subject), and it's one that I have become similarly worried about with regard to my own students. While being able to follow exact parameters and specifications might be easier, it does not prepare them for the astoundingly messy-yet-brilliant experience that is professional life in most fields. Knowing that, I can't help but think we are not serving our students by making their academic experience too predictable. I want students to see a project like this as an opportunity to be creative, outside-the-box solution-finders. But I worry that our society's current systems and parenting styles have made it increasingly difficult for our students to do this.
I'm particularly struck by the research of Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan and many others regarding "self-determination theory"--that people are best motivated when they can see themselves gaining competence, acting from autonomy, and finding personal connection to their work. Daniel Pink similarly argues that people are motivated by "mastery, autonomy, and purpose."
And the reality is that most of our current "status quo" educational methodologies are not designed to engage the intrinsic motivations of our students. So we fall back on extrinsic motivators like grades. And even those are waning as our students discover and connect with other activities--sometimes benign and sometimes not-- outside school and home.
Will I do this again? I hope so. This is my third experience facilitating a design challenge in class, and every time I have worked to reimagine and refine the experience. I never seem to find the perfect recipe, and yet I have come to recognize that teaching is a prime example of the design process at work--so perhaps there is no perfect recipe to find. More importantly, I have learned to thrive on the discomfort that comes from uncertainty. And I believe that my students and colleagues will benefit as a result.
But this time around, I am working in tandem with our Graphic Design teacher whose class meets at the same time as my Speech class. We have created a joint challenge that requires our students to work in small teams of both Speech and Graphic Design students.
The theme: "We Believe" (which is the new branding phrase for our school).
The objective: Create a large display that reflects what a variety of groups within our community believe. Each team is responsible for choosing a target group and, through the Stanford d.School design thinking process, creating a poster-size design that communicates the beliefs of the target group. The designs will all be added together to create a larger display. This students must then formally present their designs to an authentic audience.
The graphic design students are primarily responsible for the visual designs, which can be flat or multi-dimensional. The speech students are primarily responsible for how the information is communicated (either through words on the poster or through an audio/video element that is attached as a QR code) and then designing and running the final presentation.
Week 1 Progress and Reflection:
May 12 (45 min): We launched our project by bringing both classes together for a quick introduction to design thinking, using David Kelley's TED Talk "How to Build Your Creative Confidence" (see above) as the focus. The lively discussion allowed us to help students think more expansively about what it means to be creative, and to introduce the terminology associated with the Stanford d.School design thinking process.
Reflection: I highly recommend David Kelley's TED Talk for this purpose. It's 11 minutes long, leaving plenty of time for engaging discussion. I asked students to come up with the questions a designer would have to ask to fix a product, and that led us very smoothly into the terminology. I was really pleased with this experience.
May 16 (85 min): Students were introduced to their new joint teams, then led through a 70-minute "Crash Course" design challenge, loosely based around the Stanford d.School Crash Course. Students engaged in the Empathy, Definition, Ideation, Prototyping, and Testing phases to create an item their partner could use for their lockers. Not only did this help solidify the concepts of design thinking, but it allowed the new teams to get to know each other a bit better. By the end of the class, the teams had also chosen a target audience for their actual design challenge. Their homework was to interview at least 3 members of the target audience.
Reflection: A crash course is always an exercise in structured chaos, and students who are used to more "traditional" methods of learning often scoff a bit at this experience. But by the end of it, they are having fun and usually asking for more time to prototype. I was happier with my revisions to the instructions this time around--having them design something for a locker worked well--but I found that trying to run this with 50 students was a lot more challenging and left us less time for reflective discussion. Next time, I would split the teams into two classrooms and have each teacher run a challenge.
May 18 (85 min): This was Day 1 of our actual design challenge. Today we focused on definition and ideation. Class started with the Stanford d.School post-it note activity, found in The Bootcamp Bootleg (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0). From there, students filled out a modified definition statement, then jumped into ideating potential designs and plans.
Reflection: Students expressed confusion and discomfort at not having exact instructions on what to do. We had deliberately chosen not to give them too many parameters, fearing that it would limit their creativity. But I did worry that perhaps the confusion was also getting in the way. After the class, the Graphic Design teacher and I decided to spend a little time separately with our classes the next day to clarify our expectations.
May 19 (45 min): We spent 30 minutes in separate classrooms, going over our joint rubric and the specific expectations for students in each of the two classes. We then got the teams together again for 15 minutes for quick team meetings before heading into the weekend.
Reflection: This was a much needed and appreciated "time-out". Going over the rubrics helped us clarify the general expectations and alleviate confusion over process and final product. My Speech students were more relaxed by the end of the 30 minutes and therefore more excited about the process moving forward. I saw more creative thinking as a result.
That brings me up to date--this week we have two class periods, both of which will be dedicated to prototyping and testing designs. I'm looking forward to seeing what our students can do!
Look for upcoming blog posts on our progress!
I sat in my car this morning at 7 am finishing my coffee and browsing my emails on my phone as usual. It's been a good but challenging week--I'm trying hard to get my colleagues' spirits lifted and moving in a positive direction despite Spring Break fever weighing everyone down. And I'm working on some new sub protocols that I've decided to approach as a design challenge...which means listening with an open heart to both the enthusiastic and critical comments.
I opened George Couros' "The Principal of Change" post for 3/16/2017 and had to laugh. It was as if Couros has been watching over my shoulder this week. "I would rather be a creator than a critic," he writes. What a relief to have someone succinctly state the tension I've been feeling all week!
Thanks to what is now my mantra (and yes, I even made a graphic in it's honor!), I will keep up my SMA Inspiration Padlet project--which is picking up speed, thankfully! I will keep seeking opinions about how we might revise our substitute protocols to take advantage of technology--even from those I know will only want to criticize it. And I will keep working on outside-the-box activities for my Speech class. And to connect it back to Monday's #IMMOOC week 3 live cast, I think it is through focusing on creation that we find the groove rather than the rut.
George Couros' third #IMMOOC video chat with Amber Teamann and Matt Arend not only gave me a chance to attempt sketchnoting (see below) but also offered some validating insights into leadership. One that stood out for me was Amber's point that when faculty think they will be judged for failing, they will stop taking risks. This same message was shared by two principals at a recent leadership collaboration group I attended.
"Two-way trust" is imperative, of course, as both Amber and Matt discussed. But you don't get trust by just waving a magic wand--as much as many of wish were true!
It seems to me that that one cornerstone of building trust is honest, clear, transparent communication. Most people are willing to accept constructive feedback as long as they don't feel like it is part of a "gotcha game." Leaders create a sense of security when they communicate clear, consistent expectations and are patient with process. If it's necessary to evaluate or critique a teacher, good leaders reduce tension by giving the teacher time to think about and prepare for a conversation--no drive-by meetings or cryptic emails! Leaders build relationships by asking lots of questions and really listening to the responses. And leaders demonstrate that they are part of the team when they invite honest feedback and act on it.
I may not be an administrator, but I can certainly incorporate these elements into my daily practice as a coach and teacher. Here goes!
I truly did not understand at first why so many others saw a battlefield of deadly traps instead of a wonderland. And that was often my kryptonite; it's nearly impossible to work with someone when you fail to observe their needs, feelings, or perceptions.
Thus, the past five years have been a journey in educating myself in empathy and observation. And from that has developed a deeper commitment to celebrating not just my own learning, but the triumphs of my colleagues as they battle through their discomfort in the face of change, challenge, and new choices.
Lasting innovation becomes a reality when that educator in your building who fears social media finally lets her students use their phones in class to post their work on an Instagram account. Or when that stalwart "stand-and-deliver" lecturer next door finally trusts the students in her room to learn for themselves through a project-based assessment. Or when that veteran tech-opposed administrator finally uses Twitter to shout out the work of the teachers in her building. Lasting innovation is in the hands of ALL of us. And we owe it to our students to set aside our nerves and join them as learners side-by-side.
What a treat to listen to George Couros, Katie Martin, AJ Juliani, and John Spencer talk about design thinking and innovation in education during the first #IMMOOC event! Their discussion about taking risks and sharing learning hit home for me, especially their comments about fear being a main reason for risk aversion in education. No matter how innovative or enthusiastic we are, I think all of us worry about the potential consequences of stepping outside the safety zone.
I’ve certainly had my fair share of blows. One of the hardest ones happened last year, and was, ironically, related to design thinking.
I had just participated in a school-sponsored Design Challenge that was intended to help us ideate some options for a new library space. Inspired by that experience, I reframed the last unit of my high school speech class into a design challenge to give students a chance to design spaces for a new building we were in the process of developing. My students’ ideas impressed me so much that I asked our administrators to join us for their final presentations.
But here’s the part of the story that I didn’t tell in my previous post. One of the administrators who watched the final presentations called me into her office the next day. I thought she wanted to talk about about the students’ ideas—after all, she had been the one to champion the design challenge I participated in. Instead, she told me that the presentation skills demonstrated by the students did not meet her expectations of what students should be able to do at the end of a speech class. The implication was that I had failed to teach my students what they were supposed to learn.
I was left speechless (no pun intended) and crushed. She had completely missed the point of the exercise—which was not about giving a formal presentation. She passed judgement on an entire curriculum without asking a single question about it. And worse, she seemed to have completely missed the students’ ideas—I felt like I had let them down.
What did I do? Well, I certainly wallowed in anger and hurt feelings for a while. I toyed with giving up on doing anything innovative. After all, if my ideas weren’t appreciated, then why bother?
But then a friend helped me realize I had another option. I could look past what felt like an injustice and ask myself “What constructive feedback can I take from that conversation that would help me improve learning?” And as Martin put it in the #IMMOOC discussion, I could choose not to wait for permission to try again.
The next semester, I ran another revised design challenge (take 2!) in my speech class. Included was a requirement that students formally present their ideas—this time with an expectation that they demonstrate the speaking skills I knew they had learned in the class. With much trepidation, I invited administrators and faculty to join us for the presentations. My worries came to nothing. Faculty and administrative feedback to the students was positive and encouraging. The students felt heard. And I felt validated in retaining design thinking as an experience in the class.
As a coach, this experience was also invaluable. It helped me better understand the concerns that many of my colleagues feel about change and risk, and yet also encourage them to take those chances when it will help kids.
So…change is absolutely a chance to do something amazing. But I think it’s also essential to recognize that the “amazing” part may come after a few stumbles or even flat out face-plants. Innovators like Couros, Martin, Juliani, and Spencer succeed not because they are just that awesome (which they are!) but because they don’t give up. And that’s something any of us can aspire to.
George Couros, author of The Innovator's Mindset, is one of my inspirations in the world of educational philosophy. I was recently thrilled to discover that Couros has offered yet another way to engage educators in a discussion about the concepts presented in his book--the #InnovatorsMindset MOOC (or #IMMOOC for short.)
Built around a series of YouTube live presentations and Twitter conversations, this five-week opportunity to further explore ways to create a "culture of innovation in education" looks to offer fantastic professional development and connections with educators from all over. As icing on that cake, participants will be urged to blog as a way to reflect and share their ideas. Kuddos to Couros for offering such a unique opportunity for meaningful online learning!
I can't wait to participate--and I hope you will too! Check it out at http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/7070.
In January 2017, my school implemented a Digital Learning Day protocol during a three-day closure due to an unusual snow and ice storm. It was an act of quick thinking combined with a dollop of desperation and a dash of hope.
Overall, the protocol was even more successful than we could have hoped. Students and teachers used digital tools in smart, effective ways to continue the momentum of learning and review. But as snow day after snow day passed and finals week quickly approached, some students who were unhappy with grades or policies resorted to sending grouchy emails to faculty and administrators and posting snarky messages on class Schoology pages. While only a small group of students engaged in this behavior, it sparked questions from faculty directed my way.
"Who teaches email etiquette? Isn't that something students are supposed to learn in Digital Literacy?"
I was a bit taken aback, and then it got me thinking. Even though every faculty member in my school would agree that digital responsibility is an important skill for 21st century learners, not all of them actively think to incorporate the idea into their curriculum. Why?
The answer is simple. The term "digital responsibility" has become a catch phrase that many educators assume belongs only in a technology class. This is not surprising--most current educators did not grow up using technology or communicating online like our current students do. It often does not occur to them that digital etiquette and behavior could belong in a humanities or math or science class. And those educators who already feel uncomfortable with technology worry about looking incompetent in front of students.
But the reality is that online communication is an integral part of life for our young people. In 2015, PEW reported that nearly 75 percent of teens owned or had access to smartphones and 92 percent went online daily, especially to use texting and social media services. Those numbers have likely increased since then. And it's not just young people anymore--according to a January 12 PEW report, 77 percent of American adults own a smartphone, which is more than double than in 2011, and 69 percent of American adults use social media. The new norms of written communication are much shorter and less formal, and often less cognizant of audience reaction.
So does that mean we should just give up and accept those short snarky emails from students? Absolutely not. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Students need us to set expectations for good communication and smart online choices, just as we set expectations for good communication and social behavior in our classrooms. This can be as simple as having a frank class conversation at the beginning of a term about concrete strategies for good communication, such as:
--Beginning an email or post with polite address: "Dear Ms. Tormala" or "Hi friends!" or "Hello classmates."
--Asking polite questions rather than making demands.
--Using "please" and "thank you."
--Ending an email with "sincerely" or "warmly", etc.
Teachers can take this even further by having more in-depth conversations with students about audience, purpose, and tone--concepts that apply to every form of communication--and offering real examples and comparisons. And when a student inevitably makes a mistake, we can seize that meaningful opportunity to help her learn. If every teacher and administrator in a school consistently applied this strategy, I'm almost certain we would see immediate, noticeable improvement in student communication overall.
After all, as George Couros so succinctly puts it, it's up to us to help our students be digital leaders.
Denver was a blast. And this time around, I had four fabulous colleagues from St. Mary's Academy attending ISTE2016 with me. Between the five of us, we represented a wide range of content areas, experience levels, and tech-comfort, and as we discussed the highly positive learning that all of us were experiencing at the conference, a question arose.
How can we bring this amazing work home?
A daunting prospect, to say the least. We all knew it would be next to impossible to remember and/or summarize everything we learned over the five intensive days of Denver sun and fun.
So instead of trying to bring it all back, we decided to each create an artifact of some kind that answers four questions. And during our inservice week, we will engage in a speed-geeking activity where the five of us, plus two other colleagues who attended MasteryCon with me this month, will share our artifacts and offer a few inspirational highlights about what we learned.
My artifact is still in progress since I'm attempting to make it a bit more organic and visual, but here's a sneak peak at what I've got so far. Enjoy!
About this blog...
Learners Together is designed as a forum for sharing ideas, experiences and epiphanies about master teaching and technology integration. Comments and sharing are welcome.
"Getting Girls into STEM: The Power of Blended (and All-Female) Instruction". (Tormala) EdSurge, March 21, 2017.
"Confronting the Abominable Snow Day". (Gilbert & Tormala) Edutopia, Feb. 2017.
"Video Interviews with iPads: The Power of Mobile Technology". (Tormala) EdTechTeam, Jan 2017.
"Discomfort, Growth, and Innovation." (Tormala) Edutopia, Oct. 2016.
"5 Epiphanies on Learning in a 1:1 iPad Classroom." (Tormala) Edutopia, July 2014.
Recent and Upcoming Presentations