Wow. I can't believe we are already in marking period 2! Time in education always seems to fly by. There are so many things I always plan to do and there just never seems to be enough time. I wish I could multiply myself like Michael Keaton in Multiplicity. That would be pretty awesome, but I digress... I started an email to parents on what was happening in the Raven Innovation Lab, but I thought, "This would be a great time to get back to blogging." So here I am, blogging away! :) #woot
I ask my students to blog every week. It's possible that they feel it's 'busy work', but I find it helps with growth, at least it does for me. Thinking about your own thinking/process and why we think the way we do and why we did what we did is hard. Even saying it sounds weird. :) I personally reflect on everything I do. It actually hurts my brain, but in such a good way. I'm not sure how I got here. I would like to think it was some awesome teacher I had once upon a time that instilled this in me. I'm getting older now, so I can't remember that far back, but I'm sure that's the reason or that's what I'm telling myself. :P Reflection is really a skill that I think needs to be practiced. Just like playing an instrument or becoming a better designer. The more you do it, the better you become... and the whole point is to always try to be better.
The marking period started off strong. I would say that I spend the first few months convincing students that it's OK to fail. I love seeing their faces when I tell them I want them to fail and fail miserably in this class. Judging by their expressions and responses, this is a message that they do not commonly hear in their other classes. They have been taught that there is ALWAYS a right or wrong answer. A + B = C. If you don't pick the 'right' answer or do the 'right' action you will definitely have a negative consequence that heavily impacts one's grade. One of the goals of the course is to foster confidence. I want the students to feel confident to take chances - take a risk. With risks there are possibilities of failure. That's life. It happens. The important part of the process is what you do after it happens. Students in the iLab engage in what I call failing forward. Trying something. Failing. Reflecting on why their process didn't work that time. Trying something else. Failing. Reflecting. Researching. Planning. Repeat. It's an endless cycle. I find that this process promotes critical and creative thinking. Two skills that entrepreneurs like Mark Cuban and others have said are the skills of the future. A few years ago everyone kept saying it's coding. I agree that coding is a lovely skill to have. However, what we failed to see is that in order to be a 'coder' one must have developed certain other skills to be successful. It's like being a boss of an employee that is a master of Photoshop, but can't come up with any design ideas. Are they really valuable to the company? Maybe that's a bad example, but that's all I have right now. ;)
Anyway, the process is frustrating, no doubt, but there is so much growth that happens within the process. I too, am learning and growing every day. It has been a process for me to just get to this point in my teaching career to have this mindset.
The iTeam this year has engaged in so many experiences already. We have went through design challenges, interviews for empathy, screencasting, 3D modeling, 2D design, team trips and finally lots, and lots of researching, planning, creating and reflecting.
We are now moving onto product development and marketing. Students will be gaining new technical skills and problem-solving how to use a piece of equipment. One of the things I love about this class is that we are learning together. I do not pretend to have all of the answers (because I definitely don't). I model how I would approach the problem and propose possible solutions for us to try. When those don't work we start proposing solutions to move the team forward together. Learning and growing together. How cool is that?
Upcoming the iTeam will be creating an actual product to sell. We haven't fully moved onto the next step of the project because we are still working through some technical issues. What the students don't know is that they will be working independently to start, pairing and negotiating ideas and then pitching their best marketable idea to the team. The team will decide what direction they will go. This should be an interesting real-world experience. It's moving beyond concept to actual practice. They will be developing, marketing and selling. The money made will go back to the team and they will have to negotiate what they will buy for their next learning experience. This is the first time I have done this. I'm pretty excited to see where the students take it. Much of the class is student-led. I give them a framework to start. The team is starting to realize the box they have been working within and that it's ok (encouraged!) to work beyond the boundaries.
This past week I asked students to write about what they are thankful for. The theme is gratitude. One of my students wrote about how she is thankful for all of the small things that we often forget during our days. Not to steal her thunder (thanks Sleepy Genius!) , but I would agree. I am thankful for all of the small things. I'm thankful that I am happy and healthy first and foremost. I take for granted good health, but I think about it often during my day and I'm thankful I am physically able to move around and engage in the activities I do daily. I'm also am thankful that I have good people in my life and I continue to surround myself with positive people who push me to be better, think deeply and live largely. I constantly tell my students that having academic success is important, but surrounding yourself with good people and continually trying to be the person you want to be is ultimately what will matter at the end of the day. I would argue that being the person you are proud to be is almost all that matters at the end of the day.
Lastly, I am thankful that I get to work in a profession where I get to make positive differences. I tell the iTeam this all the time and maybe it's cheesy ... but they are the BEST part of my day. I love that it's a small group. They have dubbed themselves the iTeam in past and it has stuck in year two. It really is a team. Because it's a small group they have to develop some sort of working relationship. You can't hide in this class. As a teacher, what I love is that their friend group expands naturally and they no longer need the class to bring them together. They initiate it themselves. One thing I have learned about my K-12 education is that every student needs 'their person'. This is what makes their school experience. This is what they will remember when they look back on their time at ROHS and this is what I try to do for students. Connect them together so every student can find 'their person'.
The team and I spend about 1.5 hours (lunch included) together and I love every moment of it. I genuinely look forward class every day and I am bummed if I have to miss class for a meeting or a workshop. I think... or I suspect... this is how one knows they are doing the work they should be in life.
Maybe this is a bit selfish, but I am grateful that I get to have this feeling of satisfaction and good work. There was a moment during college when I could have chosen a different path. Actually, I distinctly remember this moment and this one moment changed my life forever. So now here I am. Just a teacher who loves what they do. :) I only hope that all of the students at ROHS will find something they love to too. #thankful
Here are some photos & quotes from the iTeam. Enjoy! Give the team a follow @ROHSiTeam !
As I teach my class, The Raven Innovation Lab (ROHS iTeam), I find many similarities that overlap with my own day-to-day activities on the job. I am tasking these students to be collaborative and team together in productive ways. What does that look like? How do we do that in order to get a result that meets their goals? How do we know we were successful? What are the success indicators? Then, of course, students have to practice effective communication skills- giving everyone a space to voice their perspective and making sure each member is heard. Practicing Empathy. Mindfulness. Understanding that 'failing forward' is ok, there may not be a "right" answer (there rarely is) and there aren't many careers in which you aren't managing multiple projects at once. We are working on many of the Approaches to Learning Skills. Honestly, by the act of just teaching, we are utilizing the Approaches to Learning Skills (at least some of them). However, I have to constantly remind myself to explicitly teach them to students and essentially tell myself to 'slow down.' It may be silly, but since I'm visual, I need visual reminders. I not only have to explicitly teach these skills... I feel like I need to lead by example. The things I ask of my students are the things I am constantly working on as well. Some of them will come naturally, but others I know I need to work on.
I not only have to explicitly teach these skills... I feel like I need to lead by example.
The Raven Innovation Lab is built on the foundation of Design Thinking. It's actually a big connector to design, engineering, science, and quite honestly I can make a case for its connection into every course that targets project based learning (PBL) in some way. It's a process, and in part, it's really a thinking process. I'm not educating students on memorizing the steps. I am educating them on intuitively navigating through problems and finding solutions. Would you say that all teachers do this? I totally would! As an instructional coach that moves around the PLC circuit, I am finding that we all have a different language. Why is that? This may be my own naivete, but why is 'thinking like a scientist' different than 'thinking like a writer,' or engineer, designer, artist, mathematician? The piece of the ATLs that I love is that it gets us to develop a common language. I started with the basis of Design Thinking because it's a cycle that I personally go through with all of the projects and problems I encounter, either at work or in my personal life.
So for example, when sitting down with a teacher I use empathy. I am trying to see what their needs are. Look at things from their perspective. Then we have to define the problem and set goals. Ideate and come up with a plan. The two of us may have to prototype items (this can look so many different ways if you are not linear about your definition of prototyping.) Then you test it out and fully implement to affect change and reach the goals. What happens if it doesn't work? Do we pack up and go home? Or continue doing something that doesn't work? Nope. :) It's back to the drawing boards! To me, this is the exciting part about teaching. It's not about perfection or the 'right way.' There are so many ways...
It's not about perfection or the 'right way'. There are so many ways...
I said previously in this post that I need to slow down and explicitly teach some of the ATL skills. I would like for the big area of focus for the iTeam to be reflection. I think reflection is a huge part of learning and it's something I do every single day. I would like to think that I do a decent job about leading by example with regards to reflection. As I'm writing this blog post, I am hoping that my students are also reflecting on their week and their learning. I can't ask students to be reflective learners without being one myself.
Now with that said, as I continue reading my students' blog posts, I am realizing they are giving me a recap of what happened in class. A rather surface level response to 'get points' or fulfill the requirement. That to me says, I didn't do a great job modeling and teaching what reflection is. I should preface, there isn't a right or wrong way to reflect. However, I do want them to go deeper and think deeper on their process. So maybe I should rephrase: I didn't do a great job at modeling and teaching the depth of reflection I was looking for. As I look at the list of ATL skill indicators under reflection skills I can't help but think- 'Man, why didn't I start off using some visible thinking routines?!?' This would have helped us develop a routine and also an understanding of the level of reflection I would be looking for on the blog. I think I may just slow down... be flexible... and change it up... possibly tomorrow. :)
The design process I am asking students to go through is challenging for them. Mostly it's because they have to team and direct their own learning in some way. When asked to select a problem and address it with the given resources I was met with, "This is hard! If you give me the problem I could solve it." Yes, they totally could. We have students who are excellent writers, readers, designers, etc. In public education we give them many things and sometimes I think we forget that frustration and failure is not bad. They have to work through it. My philosophy professor would always tell me, "Alyssa, frustration means you're learning. You're stretching your mind." I can tell you that every time I left his class, my brain was entirely stretched and I didn't always feel awesome about it. Thanks Chris Bocklage!
As we move into the marking period, the students are working on multiple projects at one time. Again, they are having a tough time because they aren't sure how to navigate and balance these projects even though we have gone through multiple smaller scale projects which modeled the various steps and approaches. The format for the course is structured, but not in the way that I give them a task in which I already know the end result. The hard part for them is honestly the scary part for me... I have no clue how it will turn out. But what I do know is there is going to be a lot of learning forward and failing forward.
Beyond the Design Thinking approach, I want the students to start working on skills they will be able to use in the real world. Being balanced (LP characteristic) and managing workload (ATLs) is a real life skill. I am not asking students to do something that I am not doing myself. Students see that I am constantly juggling several projects at once. From being someone who addresses inquiries to working on building goals with teachers. It's a lot of work. Good work. I'm passionate about building relationships and helping to provide rich experiences for students. As I am leading by example in my efforts to try to be balanced and project manage... I am hoping that they see something more important than being efficient at balancing and managing tasks. I hope that they are developing an understanding that the work becomes more meaningful when you are passionate about it. Because when you love what you do and are doing real meaningful work it gives you a different perspective. The job becomes less of a 9-5 and more of a piece of who you are.
I know I only highlighted some of the skills in which I am either indirectly or directly modeling for students that come naturally to me. There are many that don't come naturally for me. I am deeply aware that there are many things I need to work on. I know I will have to dedicate extra space and time to work through those. Maybe I'll talk about those in another post. :)
I will leave you with a few questions to reflect on: