Friday, September 27, 2019

No Homework: Easier Said Than Done

One of the things that I wanted to make part of my new design class was a strict no homework policy. I wanted students to use the time in class to complete their work and not stress over completing things at home. If they wanted to work on their project at home, they could, but only if they really wanted to. Students loved this idea and parents were on board. I was excited to get rolling and I just realized that I failed on the first assignment I gave in class.

The first unit was exploring Deign Thinking and creating in Minecraft. We spent two weeks interviewing and building in Minecraft. When the students were done, they were suppose to post snapshots of their creations with some captions to SeeSaw. I walked students through the process and some students struggled to get the process done correctly or they forgot to add captions as was required for the assignment. Typical student behavior. The problem was that I had a schedule I was intent on following and felt I needed get ready for the next project.

I simply told the students that could not finish the upload in class to complete the work at home by the time we met in class next. That was a Friday and we met next on a Tuesday due to our block schedule format. My traditional thinking was that the students would have four nights to upload the work. I even created a video to help them with the process. I thought everything was great. Until I reflected on the assignment.

I make it a habit to reflect on my lessons, especially new ones, to see how things went and what I would change for the next time. For these new reflections for a new class, I really wanted to make sure I was sticking to the basic tenets of the class of no homework, no grades, and student choice and voice. The very first thing, no homework, stood out to me right away. Are students being required to do work for class outside of class time. The answer was an easy yes and I felt very defeated. The first lesson and I managed to give homework. I needed to fix this right away.

The next class I started with an apology to the students about dropping the ball and promised that I would fix the issue by setting aside class time for us to all work together and post what needs to be posted. The kids were very understanding and bit surprised that I was apologizing for making the mistake. The kids are just so used to being given homework that they did not really think much about it.

Breaking old habits is something that is very hard to do. I was surprised at how quickly I fell back into giving homework when not doing that is a core part of the class. I am glad I noticed it early and the only thing I can do is be more mindful of this for each assignment. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Using @PlayCraftLearn and @SeeSaw to showcase Design Thinking #MakerEd

I'm excited to showcase some student examples from the project that I created for my design class. These examples come from students in grades 6-8. First, I'd like to share the steps that were taken to get to this point in case anyone would like to mirror the project. Note: We are on a block schedule, so I see students for 75 minutes every other day, so feel free to adjust the timing to meet your needs.

Step 1:

I ask students to build be a house in Minecraft. They are not allowed to ask me questions or work in groups. They have 20 minutes to build me the best house I could ever have.

Step 2:

Students showcase their builds and I provide honest feedback on what I do like and what is not for me.

Step 3:

I asked students if they could do a better job if they asked me questions and they said they could. I gave them about 10 minutes as a class to ask questions to help them better understand what I would like in a house. Then they were allowed to build another house or edit the one they had already built.

Step 4:

Once students have built the second house, I pass out a form similar to the one created by the Stanford d. School for the Wallet Design Thinking Challenge. You can find it here. I go over the full design thinking process with students and we discuss how creating something for someone without asking them is a terrible way to create. We walked through the full process to understand each part of the design thinking path.

Step 5:

Once the students have a strong understanding of the Design Thinking pathway, I give them the Vacation Home assignment. They are asked to pair up and design a vacation home that is perfect for their partner. They need to use a copy of the Design Thinking handout to guide their process.

Step 6:

After completing the interviews and drawn rough drafts, students can use Minecraft to create the vacation home.

Step 7:

Once the students have built a vacation home they like after a couple of days, they present it to their partner and get feedback. They have half a class to change anything they want and share with their partner for one last time.

Step 8:

Once the final piece has been shared, students are requested to take at least 3 photos of their build and write a minimum of three sentences in a caption that explains what was built and why it is was built of their partner.

Step 9:

I provide feedback on the private SeeSaw posts in the comment section where we can have a dialogue on what they created and how it might be improved. (I have shared with SeeSaw that I wish the projects could be shared publicly for other students and the exchange between student and teacher would remain outside of the public view for our eyes, and parents eyes, only.)

That is the process of using Design Thinking and Minecraft to build a vacation home for a peer. Here are just a few examples of what students have submitted.

These are just a few of the builds that students have created for this project. Not having grades did not mean students were not going to try. Not having homework did not mean that the students would not work on this at home. Students put in more effort because they were free of grades and worked on the project at home because they were engaged in the creative process. 

By bringing Minecraft Education Edition and SeeSaw together, students were able to engage in the Design Thinking process and showcase their work in a space that allows to have a dialogue about their work and document that for their portfolio. The focus is always on growth and learning. Using Minecraft and SeeSaw together help make that possible 

If you have any questions, please feel free to drop me a line on Twitter @TheNerdyTeacher and check out my Instagram for more creations from students. 

Beyond the Poster Board: Project Based Learning in the English Language Arts Classroom is a book is all about the different ways that an ELA teacher can integrate Project Based Learning into their classroom. Order on Amazon today!

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.