Friday, September 13, 2019

Minecraft and Design Thinking #MakerEd @PlayCraftLearn

My first lesson for my Design and Innovation class needed to be something that would engage the students immediately. Minecraft is huge in our Middle School and I thought that would be a wonderful way to get students thinking about design. Luckily, we have Minecraft Education Edition rolled out for every student in our Middle School.

The goal of the fist design challenge was to design a house for me. The students were not allowed to ask me any questions. They just had to build me a house based on what they think I might like. They were given 20 minutes to put together a prototype. The kids were understandably frustrated, but they all worked very hard to create something that they hoped I would enjoy.

We discussed the mostly completed houses and I would tell them what I did and did not like. Next, I allowed them time to ask me questions and dive deep into what I do like and what I need in a house. The reason they had to build the first house without the questions was to show them the value of listening and asking questions.

In design thinking, you want students to have empathy for the person they are designing and you can do that with the help of asking the right questions. Having the students see the value of asking questions allowed them to embrace this part of the design process. Kids love to jump to the ideation portion of design thinking because it is more fun, but they really need to spend time focusing on empathy.

The kids asked so many amazing questions and really focused on what I liked to do with my spare time and how I move about my own house. I could see they really were looking for questions that didn't just give them one answer (Do you like carpet?), but for questions that could provide a multitude of information (What do you do when you are bored at home?).

Minecraft is a wonderful tool for this intro to design thinking for students because it was so easy for them to log in and start crafting. Students were put up houses of all different shapes and sizes in a matter of minutes. That is what I was really hoping was going to happen and it was awesome to see them all working and helping one another. No grades really seems to help them take their time and try different things. One student built a red stone operated door that was protected by a golem. Ya, that was a weird sentence to write.

After their second version of the house, I walked the students through the rest of the design thinking process following the handout created by the Stanford d. School. I modified their handout that can be found here.  Next week, students will pair up and go through the design process with a partner and try to create the perfect vacation experience in Minecraft. This is their chance to really stretch and see if they can find empathy for their partner and really build something amazing for their partner.

Here is a quick example of using SeeSaw to post images taken from Minecraft to demonstrate what was built.

Stay tuned for more exciting adventures in the design class!


Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Back to work #DesignThinking #PBL

Today I go back to the proverbial front of the classroom.

Over the past two years, I have been working with teachers and building a makerspace for our school. It has been a fun experience, but I have always missed out on having "my" class and the challenges that come with it. Today, I will be teaching a class I will be building from the ground up.

Since I started at University Liggett School, there has been talk about creating a class for the 6th graders that would focus on problem solving and critical thinking. There was talk about a Makerspace class, but I did not want to teach a class on how to use 3D printers. However, teaching students how to approach problems and use different tools to create solutions sounded amazing.

I spent the past 6 months diving into what a class that is a trimester long might look like and I found myself drawn to the Design Thinking model of problem solving to create a base for the class and using that to jump to other design ideas. As a trained ELA and Social Studies teacher, I feel a bit out of my element, but excited to learn with the students and see what happens. I'm also excited to implement things I have always dreamed of doing in a class.

  • Mindfulness - I will be starting each class with a few minutes of mindfulness. I am using the Calm app on my phone. My class is after lunch, so I want to take a few moments to calm the bodies and mind before asking them to dive into problem solving and critical thinking. I'm nervous to as Middle Schoolers to sit quietly and look inward for relaxation, but I feel it is important and I'm going to give it a try. 
  • Portfolio/Project Based - This class is going to be based on what they create. Everything will be stored in SeeSaw and that is where my feedback will live as well. Students and I will be able to have an ongoing dialogue about their work and how it evolves over the course of the trimester. 
  • No Homework - I will not assign anything that requires students to work at home. My goal is to create an environment where students are excited about their projects and want to work at home and share with their family. I refuse to add more work to their busy schedule at home. 
  • No Grades - I will not be giving grades for this class. Students will have a 1 under the assignment if it is completed and we have met to discuss it or a 0 is the project has not been completed and we have not conferenced about it. I feel like giving a grade to a student who solves a problem one way and a different grade to a student who solves it another way is just not what this class is about. I also think by getting rid of the grades, students will be more likely to try big ideas and embrace failure instead of taking the easy route to finish the work. I could be way off here, but I love that I get to try. 
I have some ideas for projects that might be super fun, but I will have to roll them out and see what the kids think. I will be starting with the Wallet Challenge from the Stanford and then moving to a Minecraft for Education challenge to create the perfect vacation destination for a partner. I will be trying Chindogu with my students to bring a fun, light approach to design and I'll see how students might repurpose underutilized areas of the school. I also have an idea for students to create a small line of products that people might want to buy and setting up an Etsy shop to see how that goes. IDK. Lots of ideas and I can't wait to see how much of it works and how much of it blows up in my face. If it does, than I'm modeling exactly what I want to see from the students. 

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Chindogu and #MakerEd

I spend too much time on the Internets. I have accumulated vast amounts of useless knowledge. Sometimes, I uncover something that is simply amazing and it has to be brought into the classroom. While this might not be new to others, the term was new to me and I'm happy to share it with all of you. 


Chindogu was created by Japanese artist Kenji Kawakami in the 1990s, who describes these inventions as "un-useless." He coined the term chindogu using a combination of the Japanese words chin, meaning "strange" or "odd," and dougu, which means "device" or "tool." But chindogu is more than a mashup of words (a portmanteau, if you will); it's a philosophy. There are 10 tenets of chindogu, according to the chindogu society:
  • A chindogu cannot be for real use. If you end up using your invention on the regular, you have failed.
  • A chindogu must exist. No thought experiments allowed.
  • There must be the spirit of anarchy. Build your invention free from the constraints of utility or cultural expectations.
  • Chindogu are tools for everyday life. Everyone everywhere must be able to understand how it works without any special technical or professional background info.
  • Chindogu are not tradeable commodities. Finally, something in your life that you just can't turn into a side hustle.
  • Humor must be the sole reason for creating chindogu. Creating an elaborate way to solve a tiny problem is just funny. Roll with it.
  • Chindogu is not propaganda. This is not the place for your clever commentary on the dumpster fire that is the current state of the world. As the tenet makes clear: "Make them instead with the best intentions."
  • Chindogu are never taboo. If you demand sexual innuendo, cruel jokes and sick humor, the International 
  • Chindogu Society would ask that you find it literally anywhere else on the internet. That's not chindogu's jam.
  • Chindogu cannot be patented. Consider chindogu the openest of open source. They're meant to be shared and delighted in, not owned and collected.
  • Chindogu are without prejudice. Race, religion, gender, age, ability — none of these matter to chindogu. These inventions should be equally (almost) useless to everyone who sees them.
I'm starting my new Design Class this Fall and I'm equal parts excited and terrified. It is a Trimester class in a block schedule. Lots of very new things for me. I will have students for about 27 class meetings and I need to come up with different types of projects for students to create and Chindogu is an amazing project for students. 

I believe that making should be fun and silly. Designing should have its serious and crazy moments. Chindogu teaches so much about the process of design, it doesn't matter if the final product is as useful as we hoped. Too much pressure can be felt by students who just want to make things and learn along the way. 

Here is a great TED talk from Simone Giertz. She is known for making terrible robots on her YouTube channel. (Warning: Her videos are not safe for children due to course language, but they are hilarious for adults. She does kid friendly videos on the GoldieBlox channel if you want to share some with young makers.)

As an added element, I will have students user Adobe Spark to create promo pages for their products to encourage people to buy them or show other how to make their own. I think Chindogu is a wonderful project for a Makerspace and classrooms looking to explore design. Even if it is designing Un-useless Inventions. 

If you have students doing this, please share with me on Instagram or Twitter @TheNerdyTeacher. 

Hugs and High Fives, 


Saturday, August 24, 2019

Why Project Based Learning? #EdChat

Schools are starting up all around the country and teachers are starting to get into the swing of lesson planning and exploring their own pedagogy. I was lucky to spend part of my Summer working with teachers from coast to coast on implementing Project Based Learning into their curriculum. For those who have never used PBL in their classroom, the change can feel a bit overwhelming. I understand  this because I know I was overwhelmed when I made the switch myself many years ago. One of the biggest questions I get from people is the simplest one. Why?

There is some great research on the impact of PBL in the classroom that Edutopia as collected. Check out those articles and share them with others who wonder about the value of PBL in the classroom. I've taken a look at the research and have taken my years of experience using PBL in the classroom and come up with 5 major aspects of PBL that I feel make PBL so great for the classroom.

1. OWNERSHIP is key. When students have a sense of ownership over any assignment, they tend to work much harder. Students know that the work will be represented of their own ideas instead of just following the directions word for word that the teacher has provided. When the students understand that they have control over the work that is going to be completed, they are also more likely to take risks and push themselves. It is important for teachers to let students know the value of ownership and how it can impact the work they are doing. This is a scary part of PBL because the traditional dynamic has teachers in control of everything. Letting go of that control leads to amazing leaps in learning for the students. OWNERSHIP is a major factor in the value of PBL.

2. CREATIVITY is the another major part of the PBL and is closely linked with OWNERSHIP. When students are free to explore learning in ways that are meaning to them, it opens a world of creativity that they have not previously known in class. My move to PBL allowed for students to really express themselves in creative ways I had not expected. Students have created movies, graphic novels. written and performed songs, created amazing photography pieces, coded games, and even performed interpretive dance! The students were given the time and respect to create something that demonstrated understanding of the curriculum and they did not disappoint. Allowing the students to create gives them a bigger sense of OWNERSHIP.

3. Another part of the PBL is COLLABORATION. While not all examples of PBL in the classroom will have collaboration, the projects that allow for it are amazing to watch. Students coming together to collaborate on a variety of projects is an awesome thing to see because they are strengthening their collaboration skills. There is a give and take between students as the work to create their project. Students are allowed to work with their strengths and support their peers who might need help in other areas. Students will learn from one another as the build a project that is best for everyone in the group.

4. Depending on how you set up your project, CRITICAL THINKING, is also an important part of PBL. Some people just assume that drawing a picture is to showcase something a student learned is all PBL really is and not much is truly done by the student. This could not be further from the truth. The best assignments for PBL are the ones that have driving questions that push students to dive deeper into the content than one covered in class to find the things they want to explore the most. The analysis by students done on their own is some of the best I have ever seen when it occurs during PBL. Class discussions are a great starting point for understanding and analysis, but PBL allows students to choose areas that were not covered in depth in class and show why they are still important to the overall concepts that are being discussed. It takes so much critical thinking and analysis to do this correctly and that is what students learn over a full year of PBL in a class.

5. Lastly, Project Based Learning can be FUN! It seems obvious, but I have seen many projects that are very tedious. They have kids go through the motions and leave very little room for FUN or CREATIVITY. Projects are a chance for students to break the regular routine of reading and writing in some classes. Most kids are excited to do a project because they finally see it as a chance to express themselves in a format other than a test or essay. The FUN comes from the freedom students feel. Working with their friends (COLLABORATION), taking charge of their learning (OWNERSHIP), solving real problems (CRITICAL THINKING) and allowing students to create (CREATIVITY) all lead to the students learning in a FUN environment.

It is great to work with teachers and help them go through the process of creating PBL experiences for their students. Just in a small group of teachers across the curriculum, ideas started to generate about possible cross-curricular projects and how students can be more engaged with long and short term projects. PBL not only sparks the creativity of students, but of their teachers as well. I encourage everyone to consider exploring PBL and maybe introduce it a spot for students this semester and see how it goes. It's the start of the year, so let's try something new.

If you have any questions about implementing Project Based Learning in your classroom or across a building or district, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. I'd love to see how I can help make it happen for you and your students.