Monday, February 26, 2018

Reboot Your Teaching Practice with Design Thinking: 5 Tips to Get Started



Here's a sign of a powerful professional development event, your laptop, and cell phone never leave your bookbag once.  The idea that a 1-day workshop won't grow dendrites for teachers, has been exclaimed by researchers for decades, yet if the one-day event creates disequilibrium in the way you view teaching and learning it's possible that change can take place immediately.  Researchers say professional development needs to be ongoing and continuous, but when an adult learner experiences a surge of inspiration in a moment in time, the intensity of the experience can disrupt your practice.  

This was my experience at DesignCamp Monterey.  For those of you unfamiliar with #DesignCamp it is rooted in the philosophy of Design Thinking in which designers tackle problems by rethinking an issue in a human-centric way as a means to explore possibilities and unleash creativity.  This is possible with hands-on tasks that have a "low-ceiling and high floor" to engage all learners and promote as many solutions to a problem as possible.  Design thinking gets kids to think just like an engineer and view learning as ongoing process which occurs when designers (a.k.a students)  partake in an iterative cycle of sketching, prototyping and testing concepts and ideas. 






This model of instruction definitely shifts the role of the teacher from the director of information to coach and facilitator.  Students immediately take an active role in constructing learning and everyone has a voice and a choice for participation. The process of design is authentic in the sense that children quite naturally are curious, flexible in thinking, and willing to take risks (this reminds you of preschool right).





It is teachers who are most likely static in their approach to instruction, afraid of taking chances and rigid in their thinking.  So your biggest challenge might not be will my students be engaged in Design Thinking, but will I be able to get outside my comfort zone.  You see the process is learner-directed so the sage on the stage, is more like the coach on the sideline, you still have the expertise and the plays, but it's your students who will make all the moves.  

So what might design thinking look like in your classroom? Think of a concept you might be working on like:  
Common Core Math 5 MD.C3 Recognize volume as an attribute of solid figures and understand concepts of volume measurement

Then provide your students with a problem in which they must design a solution: 
Students will create and use a model that can transport freshwater over long distances with no human contact in between locations, design a water transportation model to scale, test it to ensure success, and then show and explain how it works.  Students iterate and record data as they improve their designs.


 This approach to instruction is interdisciplinary in construct and connects various disciplines across the framework of the Four C's: Creativity, Communication, Collaboration and Critical Thinking.  




At our #DesignCamp we participated in several tasks from designing a suit for the Winter Olympics Mardi-gras event based on the users' needs and interests, to building a rocket, and creating solutions to transport water.  

Children as young as Pre-K can engage in an activity that allows them to think creatively and apply solutions.  This is what children do naturally from the time they are born.  They are testing out their environment and seeing what works.  

Here are my 5 Tops Tips for Implementing Design Thinking: 

1. Begin with Empathy: when tasks are rooted in empathy the collaboration and culture of the school and classroom shifts to recognize all students as individuals, who they are, what they believe in, and what is important.  Building on students' funds of knowledge is what makes Design Thinking learner-centric, but when the task has meaning and value then students will go deeper with their learning and become passionate about what they are doing. 

2. Don't Go It Alone: If you are new to design thinking you need to share and reflect on your process and what you learned about your students during the task.  Create a team of teachers at your school site who can observe your students in action and help you make interdisciplinary connections across subject areas.  This is especially important at secondary schools as you will want to consider how you can integrate subjects: Want to see what this looks like in a middle school? Check out Vista Innovation and Design Academy in San Diego 



3.  Start with a plan and connect the standards:  Trying out Design Thinking without a solid plan might be the last time you take a big leap.  Your students might think it's fun, but are they learning?  Determine what your goals are for your students, consider the materials and resources needed, and the kinds of tasks that will hook your learner. Without structure, Design Thinking can turn into playtime at Chuck-e-Cheese. Look at these Design Thinking Challenges from Raft Resources that includes standards-based lessons, planning, and include materials and resources to get started immediately. 

Check out this video on how students turn trash into fashion for a deep dive into mathematics skills, environmental principles and fashion construction. 


4. Stay Connected and Continue to Learn: social media and twitter can get you digitally connected to teachers who have been developing Design Thinking tasks for quite some time. But it's important to know who to follow on Twitter here are my recommendations:  
Principals Dr Chagala  @drchagala and Kaleb Brashad @kalebrashad are leaders who are charging their schools forward with Design Thinking.  Science teachers Brian Delgado @bluedotbrian and Andrew Lerario @bluedotandrew and English teacher  Dan Ryder (@wickeddecent) are forging the way for teachers to jump on board with Design Thinking.  

5. Start Small and Stay Humble: this process is definitely not about perfection it's all about the process.  So be gentle with yourself and know that kids are still learning even if you're not getting the exact results that you want.  Learning can occur when mistakes are made and projects fail.  Failure is an opportunity for growth and a chance for kids to know that just because you fail does not mean you need to give up.  Here's an inspiring video of kids at HighTech High building a rocket 

So if you've got a growth mindset and a willingness to step outside of the box, then creating, implementing and facilitating a Design Thinking task is the right step for you.  Let us know what works for you, what are your challenges and where you need to grow, because that's what being humble is all about, and if we can't own our mistakes how can we teach empathy to others?

Join the digital conversation on our Facebook Group: Teacher Prep Tech 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Making Multiple Representations in Math with Digital Tools


Let's be clear counting in small quantities is a skill most kids do naturally without much prompting or coaching needed, in fact the region of the brain we use for counting includes the same portion of the brain that controls our fingers. Research suggests this may be attributed to the fact that our ancestors first experience with numbers involved the fingers (Devlin, 2000).  However counting and calculations that go beyond our friendly finger tips are likely to result in errors. 


When it comes to calculations students need strategies and not just one.  Research suggests students will most likely use a particular strategy that they find to be a more efficient solution for a particular type of problem (Sieger & Jenkinds, 1989). Take for example the problem 6 x 42 . Students who have proficiency with breaking apart numbers can determine they will need to calculate 6 X 40 (240) and 6 X 2 (12) and mentally calculate the total of 252, but when these numbers become much larger 656 X 3245 the standard algorithm becomes more efficient. 

Common core mathematics shifts the focus from learning one-way and one-algorithm to understanding the underlying principles of a concept and applying multiple algorithms.   This approach certainly lends itself to going deeper with math through multiple representations and ways of showing what you know.   

The idea that students don't begin with the end in mind but begin with understanding and developing concepts is at the heart of the common core. 


This shift in standards does not guarantee a shift in learning, this will only happen when teachers change the way they teach and curriculum evolves from focusing on some learners, to all learners in the classroom.  From gifted and talented to students with special needs and English language learners, our approach and modes of instruction need to be flexible and supportive of our classroom population.  Students need a variety of pedagogical approaches from number talks that support discussions of strategies and mental calculations, to manipulatives (virtual, concrete, and student-created) that allow students to construct models and make meaning of concepts.  


So when parents ask, "Why can't they just memorize their multiplication facts"  we can assure them that memorization does not promote understanding and automaticity will develop with practice.  Elementary teachers should begin introducing concepts by building on what children already know and albeit this may be intuitive, it can lead to a deeper understanding of the concepts.  

Rooting math in the lives of the students we teach can support building conceptual understanding as well as transfer the learning of math  (number words, symbols and quantities) into their informal learning experiences such as the park, playing games and with friends.  Take for example the idea of using arrays to introduce the concept of multiplication.  Arrays are all around students but this knowledge needs to be brought forward during instruction and through practice.  It's not enough just to talk about where you might see arrays kids also need to  construct , discover, apply and identify. We should understand that what works for one kind of learner might not work for another.  

Woodward and Baxter found that students with disabilities in math tend to make significantly less growth in discussion-oriented classes (1997) than traditional ones.  This findings suggests just because conversations are happening does not mean learning is occurring. 


Technology can be a great mediator to support, and challenge students with open ended tasks and flexibility.  It can also be useful to move from the abstract to the real-life connection.  
Available as a Google Slide here

Repeated addition is the knowledge students can start with to build an understanding of multiplication, but some students in your class might not have developed automaticity of their addition facts.  Working with arrays that are highly contextualized and not just on a piece of graph paper can provide practice in addition while also introducing the concept of multiplication.  In this video a second-grader works on a Google Slide presentation his teacher made to drag and drop cars into a parking lot.  




If our ancestors first counting tool was their fingers then digital devices might be consider the cultural tools for our students today.  


 Using this digital lesson teachers can scaffold instruction and allow students to work at their own pace.  While some students might work with benchmark numbers 2's, 5's, and 10's to construct an array, students who understand the concept of multiplication and have strong number sense in this area can move to more complex equations.  




Are you using technology to support students conceptual understanding in your math class? Share your ideas here and join the conversation on our Facebook Group! Don't forget to check out my list of digital tools and add your favorites as well.