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Friday, April 20, 2018

Reflecting on my first #SXSWEdu

This year I had the opportunity to attend my first SXSWEdu event in Austin, Texas. It was an experience unlike any other conference I've attended, bringing together educators and school administrators with industry professionals, scientists and engineers, researchers, media and policy change-makers to talk about issues and innovations in education.

"South by" sessions and panels went beyond traditional Ed Tech conference sessions on new tech tools and lesson ideas, to pushing education stakeholders to consider innovative models of learning; future technologies impacting education and the world of work; equity in education and access to information; and global issues in education. Below are snippets of my biggest take-aways from this year's event:

Artificial Intelligence & the Future of Work

One of the most impactful sessions that I attended was a  panel on artificial intelligence and it's impact on the future of work. The panel was made up of professionals from the artificial intelligence and machine learning field, as well as educators from both K-12 and higher ed. One of my biggest take-aways from this session had to do with children's and educator's understanding of artificial intelligence and machine learning, and the implications in education and society at large. While many think of artificial intelligence (AI) in terms of Westworld-like androids, really we are already surrounded by AI technologies and many of us use them on a daily basis-- think Google Home, Amazon Echo, and Siri. Recently I heard a talk at another EdTech conference about a 6-year old who used her Amazon Echo to help her do her math homework ("Alexa, what's 6 + 5?") and while it was a powerful talk on how education needs to shift, what wasn't addressed was the fact that in using an AI device to do her homework, some of that 6-year old's data is being shared with Amazon.

And then there's machine learning. Our computers, phones and televisions already use machine learning to track our clicks and web history and use that information to suggest shows, songs, websites and ads that might be of interest to us. But if all we're seeing online is information that we're already interested in (based on Google's or Facebook's opinion, that is), what are we missing?  And how do we ensure that we're seeing or hearing a well-rounded account of stories?

While listening to the panel, I started wondering whether teachers and parents are having deeper conversations with children about AI and machine learning and how those things work. Likely, not, as the biggest barrier to having these conversations is our (educators and parents) own understanding of AI and machine learning.

Reflecting on Cultural Inclusion in the Classroom

Dr. Melissa Crum pushed us to question our "blind spots" and think about our life experiences and how they inform what we see. I was struck by her comment that " is important to think about what we don't think about..." when reflecting on cultural inclusion practices in our classrooms. I may more naturally think about the situations that relate directly to me when designing a culturally inclusive classroom, but do I remember to think about the situations that I don't relate to on a day to day basis? For example, in taking personal inventory of my identities, I may think of myself as a white, middle class female pretty naturally and therefore remember to take inventory of my students' races, genders and socio-economic situations and develop an inclusive environment around those needs. But rarely do I also think of myself as able-bodied (even though I am) and so I need to be more intentional in designing an inclusive environment for those that may not be able-bodied.

Crum commented that "...[someone else's] truth and my truth may not be the same, but they both still live here," and so both need to be considered in our interactions with each other. Our different truths will also impact the different stories we hold about people and our implicit bias. She reminded us that it is sometimes challenging to determine where some of our implicit biases come from, but that working through that process is the first step in ensuring that our implicit biases do not have a negative impact on our students.

The Question of Media Literacy

danah boyd's keynote on the question of media literacy left me feeling, well, uneasy... but also inspired, and was by far one of my favorite SXSWEdu experiences. Boyd commented that we are currently "in a culture war" in which "everyone thinks they are a part of the resistance", and questioned whether, in a society in which the right to free speech also means the right to amplified speech, should we really all have the right to be amplified?
She challenged educators to think about the way we are currently teaching media literacy and suggested that we're doing it all wrong, by dangerously creating a general distrust in students of the media and Internet sources. If we distrust all media, where will we find information that we can trust? Boyd suggested that the conversation shouldn't necessarily be about "fake news" as it's not fake to the people writing the story; the writers of "fake news" and propaganda know what they're doing. Perhaps media literacy instruction needs to focus on identifying our own "fault lines", understanding how media can be manipulated, and being able to critically analyze the information that we read and see in the media. It's not about "fact checking" (as there isn't just one truth or else who gets to decide that truth?) so much as it is about understanding various viewpoints and interpreting the facts.

Further reading/watching:

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Awe & Wonder & the Aurora-- a middle school digital making & recycled art project

A couple of months ago, fellow TOSA (teacher on special assignment), Misty Kluesner, and I partnered with middle school art teacher, Kimiyo Cordero, to brainstorm a multimedia art project that involved cross-curricular instructional elements (specifically math, computer science and science) and would challenge our middle schoolers to create something beyond the scripted art projects that they were used to, to design a piece more contemporary, and would push their creative thinking.

Kimiyo's goal of designing around the theme of "awe and wonder" led us to design a project in which students learned about the Aurora Borealis and then designed abstract art from recycled materials, inspired by the aurora and including digital elements programmed by Raspberry Pi computers.

Our learning goals?

    • Students would be introduced to the following Art, Science, Math & CS standards:
      • CSTA 1B-A-5-4 Grade 3-5: Create programs that include sequences, events, loops and conditionals. (Most of our middle school students were working with very little to no programming background, so we centered our work around elementary standards to bring them up to speed.)
      • CSTA 1B-AP-12 Grade 3-5: Modify, remix, or incorporate portions of an existing program into one’s own work, to develop something new or add more advanced features
      • CSTA 2-AP-16 Grade 6-8: Systematically test and refine programs using a range of test cases.
      • MS PS1.A: Gases and liquids are made of molecules or inert atoms that are moving about relative to each other.
      • CCSSM.7.G.A.2: Draw geometric shapes with given conditions. 
      • VA:Cr2.1.8: Demonstrate willingness to experiment, innovate, and take risks to pursue ideas, forms, and meanings that emerge in the process of art-making or designing.
      • VA:Cr1.1.8: Document early stages of the creative process visually and/or verbally in traditional or new media.
      • VA:Cr2.1.7: Demonstrate persistence in developing skills with various materials, methods, and approaches in creating works of art or design.
      • VA:Cr1.2.7: Develop criteria to guide making a work of art or design to meet an identified goal.
      • VA:Cr1.1.7: Apply methods to overcome creative blocks.

First steps

    • Using the Google Expeditions VR kit, students learned about the Aurora and studied the colors and movement in the natural phenomena.
    • Kimiyo also taught the students about geometric and organic shapes, and how both show up in contemporary art.
    • Students needed to develop confidence in creating abstract art. Unfortunately, at this point in their school careers, our middle schoolers are so used to producing work that has been dictated for them step-by-step, that developing a unique piece of abstract art was incredibly challenging for them. Kimiyo and Misty did a lot of work around building creative confidence in students and encouraging them to not be afraid to just start creating and see what happens.
Smiling through struggles

Learning to code

    • I started the grade 7 and 8 students with a few introductory coding & physical computing lessons using the Python task cards I created based on the Raspberry Pi organization's free online lessons.
    • In the process, students also learned basic circuitry and started thinking about how to wire up LEDs and buttons into their physical works of art.
      • It was exciting to see some get really creative with their LEDs right away!
      • Others were annoyed at the initial coding lessons in their physical art class, but once they started lighting up LEDs and Sense HATs they became excited at the possibilities.


    So many cables!
    • Designing an abstract piece of art from scratch was a big struggle for most of the students. 

      • We (the teachers) ended up making examples of recycled art that represented the Aurora to us, with motion or light built in. The ideas started to flow once students saw a few examples of what was possible.
    • At the start of the project, we received a bit of push back from the students. Some didn't like coding at first, and others were willing to give it a try, but didn't see the purpose of learning to code in art class.
    • We had A LOT of technical difficulties during those first few coding lessons... it would have been easy for our middle school students to check out at that point, but they were patient while we spent days troubleshooting to solve our technical problems.
    • Figuring out how to attach the computers and related wiring to the art work; teachers and students both had to be creative in figuring out how to "hide" our electronic components inside or behind the art.
    • Creating a to-do list and project calendar
      Learning to create a plan
    • Timing! We spent about two months on the project, but even with that much time we noticed a lot of students unable to schedule their work plan independently. For that reason, we had to build in a mini-lesson on calendaring out project work, and asked the students to create a plan of action for the remainder of the project. 

Outcomes & Successes

  • We were excited to see an organic collaboration happen between students-- as some were ahead in their own work, they'd offer their help to others (without our prompting!) in class to make sure that all of their peers had a project completed in time for showcase.
    • Students discovered their unique talents throughout the project and offered those to others who needed support with that particular skill!
  • After all their hard work, most students were really proud of the productive struggle they
    endured and of their final projects. 
    • In those last 2 weeks before our art showcase, many put in optional extra work during their breaks and lunches in order to complete their art work! 
    • Several who struggled through learning to code verbally expressed their pride in themselves for working, learning something new and persevering to make it work... for anyone who teaches middle schoolers, you know this kind of unprompted declaration is a HUGE deal!
  • In the end, we organized an art showcase that took place the day before our December break, inviting parents, students, teachers and admin from across the district.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Playing to Learn-- Launching my Digital Makers Playground for educators

Last weekend I had the pleasure of presenting at the CUE NV Silver State Conference in Las Vegas. The CUE NV team did a fantastic job of organizing an diverse event that gave educators in attendance the opportunity to learn a variety of tech skills and teaching strategies from educators/presenters both local and international.

As a frequent presenter, I am continually looking for ways to differentiate content for my audience, who, just like our students, always come to my sessions with varying levels of experience with the content being presented. My session for the Silver State Conference was on digital making and I wanted to find a way to expose people to a selection of resources and tools appropriate for all levels of experience.

My solution-- the Digital Makers Playground!

It was the first time that I'd planned a session of this kind for a conference and I had no idea how it would all work out (especially me traveling to another state with all the equipment that I'd need), but the playground turned out to be a huge success!

I opened with a short overview of what digital making is and what types of tools are out there for digital making. Then I provided a quick description of the tools that I brought along for the playground (Scratch, Makey Makey, Micro:bit, Raspberry Pi) and set participants free to explore at their own pace. I set up my presentation in a hyperslides format, so that those interested could look at lesson examples and read about/watch videos on specific tools. I also brought along activity cards that I've created to help teachers and students get to know a new tool at their own pace. While teachers, played, I had a chance to walk around and answer questions or provide personalized instruction to attendees.

The feedback was overwhelmingly positive! Especially because the thing about learning digital making is that the best way to learn the tools is to just sit down and play. Teachers in my session said that even that little bit of playtime (my session was only an hour long) helped them get a better sense of the possibilities. And hopefully teachers also saw the possibilities in the learning format itself, and how we can use the "playground" structure to better differentiate or personalize instruction in our classrooms.

Session Resources 

(task cards are also found on the "STEAM &CS Resources" page of my blog)

Intro to MaKey MaKey task cards

Intro to Micro:bit with Javascript blocks or Python 3 task cards

Physical Computing on Raspberry Pi with Scratch or Python 3 task cards

*Yes, the CUE NV Silver State Tech Conference in Las Vegas did take place the same weekend as the tragic mass shooting on the Strip. I am thankful to report that all of our CUE NV friends, presenters and attendees made it home safe.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Reflecting on TOSAing in the 2016-17 Year & Looking Forward to This Year

Although the 2017-18 school year has already officially started for me, I did want to take a moment to first reflect on my work from last year. As I'm making plans for this school year, it helps to look back at last year's successes as well as areas in which I can improve my work with teachers, staff and students.

So first, the areas of success...

  1. I partnered with eight teachers last year to write project-based digital making & computer science lessons for their classes, in grades TK-5. Working with those teachers exposed both they and their colleagues to a form of making that most had not seen before, and built excitement for bringing more digital making and computer science into their general education classrooms.
  2. The "Math Revolution" as Jo Boaler calls it, has officially made it's way to CambellUSD. I hosted two 3-day long "21st Century Math" PDs early in the year and had unprecedented interest! Nearly 40 teachers signed up for the first workshop series and about 30 for the second...making these the largest math learning circles, by far, that I've ever held! We talked about everything from visual math tasks to inquiry-based learning, blended learning to student choice in math. And with follow-up coaching and co-planning embedded into both learning circles, I was able to watch math lessons evolving first hand last year. Number talks, Which One Doesn't Belong? and Estimation 180 were some of the most popular tasks to make their way into classrooms.
  3. Breakout mania reached my district in the last month and a half of school after I facilitated a
    BreakoutEDU game for our Technology Teacher Leaders. After that game, I helped facilitate 16 Breakout games in classrooms in a matter of just 30 days! (And several of those teachers that I worked with then went on to co-facilitate with others on their staff in those last few weeks of school!). 16 games may not sound like a lot, but when you're resetting locks and prepping Breakout boxes 3x a week, it definitely feels like a lot! I was excited to see so many teachers and students get so excited about their game-based form of learning.
  4. 110 individual teachers-- wow! My colleagues definitely kept me pleasantly busy last school year and I am excited to be able to to say that in just my second year as a TOSA, I was able to learn and collaborate with so many talented teachers in my district.

Next steps for this school year...

As I embark on my 3rd year TOSAing in CampbellUSD, I have a couple of goals for myself this year, based on the last 2 years of work:

  1. I am super passionate about expanding computer science education in my district, and with just 2 more classes to go to complete the Computer Science Authorization for my credential, one of my goals this year is to continue to grow CS instruction in CampbellUSD. I already have one unit in the works with a 4th grade teacher who reached out the first week of school, and I plan to get in touch with a couple more teachers in the coming weeks to see if they're interested in co-planning & demoing for their colleagues a fleshed out CS integrated plan this school year.
  2. Bring CodeClub to at least one of our schools. Unfortunately, bussing schedules tend to rule the world, but I'm hoping to find a way to schedule either a before school or after school CodeClub at one of our sites as a model for others sites. I also want to invite parents and teachers in to join the students at CodeClub so that they can learn more about computer science concepts hands-on and experience the math, science and ela connections in coding that helps some of our students understand those subject areas in ways they may not have before.
  3. Along with my CS goal, I also want to introduce more teachers to in my district to digital making. I've already included a couple of lessons into our new online personalized PD platform (via Alludo Learning) and, along with continuing to demo and co-teach digital making lessons in classrooms, I hope to plan a couple of in-person workshops for teachers to learn more about Raspberry Pi, Scratch, and more!
  4. Focus my support. I was so happy to work with so many amazing educators last year, but
    it's hard to follow up regularly with 110 people. The most impactful work happened during long term projects and collaboration with teachers. There were 2 classrooms last year in which I worked co-planning & co-teaching with teachers over a significant period of time-- those were the classrooms where we saw the most student growth. This year, I'd like to find 2-3 more teachers who want to partake in a similar support model.
I am excited about the possibilities this year brings, and can't wait to get started!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Inspiration from #ISTE17-- looking back on #MyISTE

Inspired by Kyle Hamstra's ignite on Sunday afternoon, I focused my time in San Antonio on not just attending ISTE, but experiencing ISTE, and spent the last couple of weeks reflecting on the moments and people that stuck with me at #MyISTE this year.

Digital Equity

A prominent topic of discussion at this year's ISTE was digital equity, or the lack thereof in many communities around the world. It is becoming more and more apparent that students without access to a digital device and the Internet at home are at a major academic disadvantage compared to those students who do have access to the Internet at home, and can choose to continue their learning on their own time.

From CoSN Digital Equity Toolkit
One impactful session that I attended in particular was a panel on digital equity and the homework Dr. Darryl Adams, Dr. S. Dallas Dance, Keith Krueger and Dr. Kurt Steinhaus. Each participant talked about the importance of access to student performance (Dr. Adams talked about how graduation rates increased by 20% in his district after he provided every single student in his district with an iPad and access to the Internet at home) and ways in which they addressed digital inequities and homework gaps in their own school districts as superintendents. The panel reminded me that we do not need to take 'no' for an answer; if something is important enough, we can make it happen. What each of these men had in common was their tenacity and creativity in solving a sizable problem within their school districts. I was also reminded that sometimes, "we have to go slow to go fast." Problem analysis, planning, getting to know stakeholders, iterating solutions, and providing intensive trainings for all involved (students, parents, teachers) -- these all take time and are essential to developing an effective program or solution. I can sometimes be impatient for change, so it was valuable for me to hear that the changes that these superintendents impacted did not happen overnight.
gap with

I also learned about the Digital Equity Action Agenda (from the Consortium for School Networking, or CoSN) during that panel session-- a tool that I am excited to take back to my own district. In the last 6 months or so my district's tech team made significant strides in the effort to provide digital access at home for all students, but we still have a long way to go and I think that the CoSN tool kit and advice from the panel might help us grow our program significantly in this coming school year.

EdTech Adoption Chasm

EdTech Coaching

One of the foremost reasons that I appreciate being able to attend ISTE is the opportunity to connect with others like me-- educational technology/innovation/digital coaches who strive towards goals similar to mine, and also struggle through similar challenges. It's a chance for us share successful strategies and help each other brainstorm solutions to coaching challenges we face.

Virginia Satir change process by Michael Erickson
I gathered fantastic ideas from peers about managing our newly developed online personalized PD system at the ChromeWarrior happy hour (our virtual book clubs will get their own game, rather than get wrapped into our main district game, for one...), and was again inspired to get reflecting (and get my teachers reflecting) after chatting with Knikole Taylor and Cicely Day at their "Reflective Coaching" table at the #ETCoaches playground. I got some great ideas about gamifying my coaching and trainings from EdTech Mason during his poster session and was reminded over breakfast with my #TOSAchat friend Margaret Sisler that it is indeed, as George Couros says, about "moving people from their point A to their point B." Sometimes that growth is slow moving (very slow moving), but as coaches we need to honor people's positions on the change curve during the growth process.

Digital Making & Creative Computing

Chatting with the Fullerton crew
As this was a topic I was actively searching out, it was bound to be a discussion that had a major impact on me at ISTE this year. I both presented on the topic and made it a point to connect with others in the field to gain insight on how they were growing computer science and digital making programs in their schools and districts.

As always, I was inspired my friend, Jason Chong's, ongoing work in computer science and robotics in Fullerton School District in Southern California. I had an opportunity to chat with Jason, during his poster session, about how he is growing his district's program and supporting teachers along the way. My biggest takeaway was the involvement of teachers in the process; Fullerton invested in sending teachers to workshops to learn more about robotics and computer sciences to build capacity, and then asked those teachers to work with the TOSAs on developing a district-wide computer science pathway and sample lesson plans.

Although I didn't get to see it live, I did get a chance to follow Carrie Anne Philbin's ignite talk via social media, during which she touted the importance of robotics in a real world context if we are really to make an impact, validating my passion for project-based computer science instruction. And Mitch Resnick of MIT's Scratch made some exciting announcements about Scratch 3.0, including a tablet app, new blocks and formal integration of Scratch X; updates that mean better accessibility for students and classrooms to physical computing projects with Scratch, robotics and creative computing in general.

Presenting & Connecting

I've really only been presenting at conferences and workshops outside of my district for the last two years, but in that short time I quickly learned that presenting is not just a good opportunity to share, but also a great way to connect with and learn from others. And the best part of any conference experience for me is always the people. Doing the digital making panel with Raspberry Pi and my poster session on computer science in TK-5 was a great chance to reconnect not only with the Raspberry Pi community, but also with the computer science and maker communities in general-- some of the most impactful communities that I've connected with in my career so far.

I also had the great pleasure of connecting with friends new and old in less formal settings, and often those are the moments when the most impactful learning and reflecting takes place. Dinner with the Pi-Top and Raspberry Pi teams, happy hour with PBS Digital Innovators and Chrome Warriors, cruising the Riverwalk with my #TOSAchat and #ConnectedTL and #CUE friends, meet-ups at the Bloggers Cafe and Playground sessions... often these are the moments where reflection happens, resources are shared and support systems are developed. It was during these face-to-face, unstructured moments that Rodney Turner empowered me to be bold, Sylvia Duckworth encouraged me to consider taking my CS passions to the next level, Tom Whitby had me questioning how I can get more of my colleagues connected, and Carrie Anne Philbin reminded me that it's not always about badges or certifications-- sometimes all it takes is passion for us to make a difference.