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Sunday, December 16, 2018

Empathizing with the Enemy: 2nd graders use design thinking to try to empathize with a 'misunderstood' character

"How do you think the character feels?", I asked one of my 2nd graders as she worked on completing her empathy map for our latest design work.

"Mean, callous, cruel..." she replied, utilizing some of the latest vocabulary she had learned in our story.

"Okay, but I think that's really what we feel about the character. Usually people don't describe themselves as mean. So, looking at the character's actions, can we think about what might make the character do those mean things? I'm not a mean person, but sometimes I might do or say something that comes out mean if I'm feeling a certain way. Why do you think that is?"

As we worked on designing for "misunderstood characters" in Cinderella stories this week, it was fascinating to hear how students struggled to put themselves in someone else's shoes, especially when that person is the villain in the story. For 7-year olds, who are developmentally still growing out of their more egocentric mindsets, asking them to understand other people's mindsets and needs can already be challenging, so asking them to empathize with an enemy has been an even bigger stretch.

After reading several versions of Cinderella, I asked my students to choose a character to design for from one of two versions that they had access to in their reading curriculum-- Rough Face Girl or Yeh Shen. Their only constraint was that they were not allowed to choose the Cinderella character. Using templates adapted by my colleague, Kami Thordarson, each student recorded their "observations" of and "inferences" about the character before being asked to write a "needs statement" for that character.

Empathy map
Writing their needs statements was by far the most challenging for my 2nd graders, who always want to jump right into thinking about what they're going to make. In writing their needs statement we guided them to think about a list of verbs to describe what their character needed. Then they would choose one of those verbs and fill in the frame: (USER) needs to (VERB) because (INSIGHT). Initially, many wanted to write something along the lines of "step-mother needs a robot (because for some reason, all of the characters seemed to need a robot...) to do the chores for her". Pushing them to think beyond objects to actions took a lot of conversation and rewrites. However, both the students and I found that struggling through the 2nd, 3rd and 4th rewrites on the needs statements made this the most insightful part of the work that we did.

For some, the needs statements even became a way of communicating aspects of themselves that they don't often understand or share. One of my students, who often struggles with anxiety, wrote that her character needed to "let things go" more often in order to be happier, while another of my students, who has a sibling of his own, focused mainly on sibling rivalry between step-sister and the Cinderella character and how helping step-sister find a place where she might be able to feel noticed and important could solve her problem.

The experience of designing for a villain has also led to some powerful conversations related to the social-emotional learning that we've been focusing on in class. As we think about why our peers might act in mean or teasing or bullying ways sometimes, how can we think a little more deeply about why they acted that way? If a friend gets angry and lashes out as us, do we assume them to be a bad person or try to figure out what really made them act that way and perhaps even try to help? Instead of getting even or feuding with a friend or sibling, how can we assume best intentions and give second chances?

Moreover, developing empathy for others is also helping our 2nd graders learn to understand their own emotions, and how to take time to think about those emotions before they act. How will our actions effect others, and is that the influence that we want to have?

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Just because election day's over, doesn't mean the conversation has to end in our classrooms

Just because election day is over, doesn't mean conversations about voting and civics with our students need to end!

With the midterm elections at the forefront of many of our minds this week, I decided to focus last Sunday's #caedchat on strategies and resources for teaching the election and government, and was lucky to have friend, former social studies teacher, podcast host and educator extraordinaire, Ryan O'Donnell, join me to co-moderate and offer his extensive repertoire of social studies pedagogy and resources to the conversation.

We had a great turnout of educators from all grade levels, who shared fantastic resources, strategies and insights to help other teachers get the conversation around the election and the voting process going in their own classrooms. The prevailing theme of the evening? All agreed that more needs to be done to teach students about our government and their role within it. And our chat participants had some great ideas for teaching civics not just in our history classes, but cross-curricularly in all grade levels and subject areas, including articles, lesson plans and protocols from iCivics, Newsela, and the NYTimes, just to name a few.

So to help us do that, below are a few of my own classroom resources for teaching government/election across the curriculum, as well as some of my favorite resources and teaching tips from Sunday evening's #CAedchat:

Introduction to Government hyperdoc for our 2nd graders  

Scratch Project with our 2nd graders: They wanted to create a voting app to help improve the vote counting process.

FYI-- slide deck is an ongoing work in progress based on what my students need as they work throught their project :)

Raspberry Pi voting Booth project-- breadboarding buttons & LEDs 

(created for grades 3-5)

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

"I don't want to get up in the morning!" -- Design Thinking for Developing Empathy & Community in our Primary-aged Learners

The first day of school at Campbell School of Innovation looked different than first days I've done in the past. Our focus at CSI is on cultivating design thinking mindsets and empathy in our young innovators, so we kicked off the school year in 2nd grade with a design thinking challenge. With the goal of getting students to start thinking about how they learn best, our essential question for the day one quickfire challenge was: "What does your ideal learning space look like?"

Our 1st design challenge was so hugely successful, my teaching partner (@thehughes2) and I were excited to launch our 2nd quickfire challenge last week with the second graders. Born of a "thorn" that came up numerous times during our closing circle meetings, students were this time tasked with the challenge: "How Might We Make it Easier for Our Buddy to Get Up in the Morning?"

First Steps:

Now that we're several weeks into school, students have already begun to make friends and connections, and Mrs. Hughes and I want to continue to push students to get to know everyone in our class a little better, so we started the challenge by partnering students up with others they may not normally socialize with. This also meant that we needed to take time to lead a mini-lesson on how to react kindly to being paired up with someone that they may not have chosen on their own (kind words, kind reactions, kind body/facial expressions)-- "yay!", "thanks" or a smile and a nod were reactions we practiced as students were partnered up (mostly) randomly.

We also introduced students to the idea of innovation, what it means to think like an innovator, what
design thinking is, and what the CSI design thinking model looks like. During these first two quickfire challenges, we focused mostly the empathy piece of the design thinking mindset, or SEEK in our CSI model. What does it mean to empathize? How can we seek to better understand our classmates and those in our community?

Interviewing a Partner:

Our quickfire challenge cycles involve empathy interviews (ask your buddy questions to get to know them better), ideation sketches, prototyping time and presenting to our partners. Before releasing students to work on the challenge, Mrs. Hughes and I acted out what an interview might look like, and what types of questions we might need to ask to learn about our partner's morning. On our first day of school challenge, we had students brainstorm potential interview questions whole class before connecting them with their partners.

After modeling how to interview, we gave students a simple template for recording their learning (based on a template I used at the training at Stanford) and gave them 3-5 minutes to take turns interviewing each other.

Ideating and Prototyping:

Students then took what they learned about their partners and quickly brainstormed their prototype ideas, and sketched and labeled those ideas on their recording sheets. We timed the process (about 5 minutes) to keep everyone on track and moving towards their final goal. After a quick "teacher check" of their designs and reasoning, we launched them into prototyping. We limited the number of materials students were allowed to use to 5 items to start (both for creating creative constraints, but also out of necessity-- we didn't want to run out of materials) and gave them only 25 minutes to put something together.


Before presenting their gifts, we asked our 2nd graders to record themselves in their Seesaw portfolios explaining their projects. It was a great way for us to check in again on their thinking, how well they listened to their partners, and for parents and families to hear how their children spent the day focusing on someone else's needs. As students presented to their partners, the smiles on their faces were priceless. Even more heartwarming was the fact that while many started the challenged bummed that they couldn't work with their friends, by the end they were running up to us asking us to
take pictures of them with their new buddy. We couldn't have asked for a better outcome!

Another success was watching some of my students who regularly do not want to read or write or speak for me in class, jump into to all of those tasks with enthusiasm when it was it was a part of a maker and design task.

These quickfire challenges have also provided great insight for me into which students in our classes need more support with executive functioning skills (like time mangement, organization), which students are struggling with perfectionist tendencies that hinder their ability to get projects done in a timely manner, and which of them are having a tough time thinking divergently or outside the box.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Teaching, TOSAing and back again-- reflecting on my return to the classroom

After spending the last 3 years out of the classroom as a district TOSA (teacher on special assignment), I am beyond excited to return to the classroom this school year as a 2nd grade teacher at CampellUSD's new Campbell School of Innovation (CSI).

When I first announced to colleagues last winter that I'd be returning to the classroom, I got a lot of questions as to why I was making another move and especially "back" into the classroom-- Was my position being cut? Did I get pushed back into the classroom? Did I dislike being a TOSA? Why not administration next? It's funny that so many of the comments made it sound as if I were moving backward in my career, or questioned whether I was making a move out of necessity.

Rather, I've always been the type of person who loves to be challenged and thrives on the opportunity to do something new from time to time. And so, when the "teacher and design team" positions opened in our district, applying for a new job teaching in, and helping to design, a brand new school in CampbellUSD was an easy choice for me.

While I loved working as a TOSA, and spending the last 3 years getting to know and work with so many teachers and admin district-wide, I am excited about getting into a classroom again and working directly with students. In my role as a TOSA, I was lucky to do just as much learning as I did teaching and coaching, and I cannot wait to take all of the learning that I've done (and shared with others) and put it into practice for myself on a daily basis. Time to practice what I preach, as they say, and actually live on a daily basis the #K2CanToo mentality that I'm so passionate about by developing a classroom of my own in which we empower our primary-aged learners.

Am I nervous? Of course I am! I feel a little bit like a first year teacher again. While I do have some tools in my belt for sure, I've been out of the game for a bit, and planning for CSI feels a bit like starting with a blank page again as we try to rethink most everything we may have done in a more "traditional" school setting.

I'm more excited, however, to help build something new. I'm learning a lot as we start up a new school from scratch, and it's such an honor to be a part of the team that's working together to reimagine education, develop new models of learning, redesign spaces and truly make it a priority to empower students to lead the learning, in all classrooms and all grade levels.

That being said, I also wanted to take some time to reflect on all of the good work that I've accomplished with my TOSA teams over the last 3 years (shout out to Eve Lindsay, Cathy McAvoy, Lindsay Blass, Julie Goo, Misty Kluesner, Sherry Burch & Tiffany Spaulding). It's been a whirlwind couple of years of unit writing, demo lessons, grade level meetings, newsletter mailing, PD facilitating, living out of my car, and "other duties as assigned..." and I loved every minute of it.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Share the Love 3-Act & supporting language in a Kinder math task

I recently had the pleasure of co-teaching another one of Graham Fletcher's 3-Act math tasks ("Share the Love") with one of my Kinder colleagues, Michele von Richter, giving me a chance to refresh my Kindergarten skills, model open math inquiry in Kindergarten and do some more work around language supports in primary math instruction, because while we traditionally think of math as all numbers, there is a lot of language in mathematics that can become a barrier for mathematics students down the line if we do not support that language instruction early on.

In our district, we've been transitioning to a PLC culture and our focus this year has been on learning targets, how to write them and how to engage students with the targets. So to open our lesson, we started with a learning target. Reading the learning target was a good opportunity for students to practice reading math language, so I pointed to each word while Mrs. von Richter had students choral read the target with her. Then, we broke down the word "strategies" to make sure students understood what we were referring to. Our learning target was also helpful in making sure that the Kindergartners understood their final goal for this 3-Act, without taking away from the open middle (i.e. various paths to finding the answer) aspect of the task.

As I do with each 3-Act, I played the Act 1 video all the way through one time just to hook the kids in the task, and then played the video one more time, this time asking the students to pay attention to what they notice or observe. In order to ensure that students understood the meaning of "notice" or "observe", I sketched an icon for observe on our notice/wonder chart and used a TPR strategy (total physical response), pointing to my eyes each time I told them that they were going to make observations, then defined the word notice before pressing play on the video that second time. In order to support students' responses, I also provided them with speaking stems before our share out. We read each stem through together, whole class, and then asked for students to share out their notices.

Once we'd set up the problem ("If they share the bag, how many M&Ms will each girl get?"), our Act 2 (solving the problem) became a 2-parter. First, we had the students work on figuring out how many M&Ms were in the bag all together. Again, we used TPR to support academic vocabulary, holding our two hands open at our sides and then bringing them together and interlacing our fingers to represent parts to whole while saying the words "all together".

Typically, the next step is to make an estimate before working on the problem. I decided to have students estimate the number of M&Ms in the bag rather than estimate the number each girl would get (since the whole to parts/division aspect of the task was a bit more advanced and I wasn't sure what background students had with estimating). The estimation was a big challenging for some, even though, I discovered, they already do estimation tasks in class. Looking back, I wish I had brought in an actual Peanut M&Ms bag so students could see the size of the bag and the size of one M&M before asking them to make their estimations. Even so, the task provided good insight into each students' current understanding of numbers & their values, as many guessed pretty reasonably while some made guesses like 100 or 1000.

Next, it was time to figure out the actual number of M&Ms in the bag and Mrs. von Richter chose to display the graph depicting how many of each color M&M were in the bag, as she wanted her students to practice their addition skills. It also became a great opportunity for the Kindergartners to practice reading color words, and it was exciting to see the way that Mrs. von Richter used sign language to support students' reading. As we pointed to each color word on the chart, students used both the colors on the graph and the signing that they'd learned previously to remember, or decode, the color word. As a whole group we'd point to each bar on the graph, then point to the word, then say the word while signing it. The combination of kinesthetic, visual and textual clues provided students multiple access points to the language needed for this task.

We brainstormed some "strategies" whole class, and then students got started adding up all the M&Ms. It was exciting to see the different paths students took to total up the candy! While some Kindergartners decided to draw circles to represent each M&M, others redrew the graph making each bar look more like unifix cubes stacked together, while others jumped right into an addition algorithm. As is typical with 3-Act Math, the embedded differentiation of an open task allowed those students who were comfortable working on their own were able to move quickly through the task, giving Mrs. von Richter and I time to support others who needed extra guidance. Anyone that finished totaling the M&Ms accurately was then asked to move forward to determine (and prove) how many each girl would get if they shared the bag evenly... basically a sorting activity, but, also an extension opportunity to introduce division strategies (we didn't actually use the word division here, but rather, prompted students to visually represent their sort in ways that are very similar to early visual representations of division).