Monday, December 17, 2012

Elevator Pitch Tool from HBS

Just stumbled upon this great tool from the Harvard Business School for creating Elevator Pitches.  I love Elevator Pitches as a focusing tool to help people get clear on what they are working on and why. There is something incredibly powerful about the notion of having one-minute in a confined space to share your idea with someone who could potentially make it come to life.

As a tool in PBL, an elevator pitch makes for a great benchmark or portion of a final product.  A common early stage benchmark in a project involves groups choosing a topic or direction for their project.   While this is an obvious step in any project that involves choices around topic, medium, audience, etc, we often miss opportunities to engage students in deep critical thinking by allowing them to pass through this step without doing the real comparative work that making choices involve.

Having students work through a full elevator pitch using the HBS tool focuses their critical and comparative thinking, scaffolds the writing process, and gives them some really neat features for analyzing the quality of their potential pitch.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Project Idea? Granted!

In the constant quest for authentic project ideas and contexts, one potential direction is the use of grants.  Despite challenges in public education funding, there are always numerous small-medium sized grants floating around the educational world.  Often, teachers simply don't have the time to set aside to pursue these grants, or they "need something now" and can't wait until the grant kicks in to begin the project. 

What if writing the grant WAS the project?  In purusing the wonderful set of Grant Resources our good friends at Edworks put together on their Facebook page, I ran across several that would not only fund great projects, but that the grant application process itself could be an opportunity for a great scenario as well. 

Verizon Innovative APP Challenge - "provides the opportunity for middle school and high school students, working with a faculty advisor, to use their STEM knowledge, their ingenuity, and their creativity to come up with an original mobile app concept that incorporates STEM and addresses a need or problem in their school or community." $10,000 for school plus Samsung Galaxy Tab phones for winning team!

Lowes Toolbox for Education Grant -  looking for a great "space design" project for geometry?  Why not connect it to the grant and make it happen?

InventTeams -Looking at a Global Challenge?  Now you can fund your solution! "InvenTeams are teams of high school students, teachers, and mentors that receive grants up to $10,000 each to invent technological solutions to real-world problems. Each InvenTeam chooses its own problem to solve."

Disaster Relief Grants - many classes and schools have responded to and been impacted by recent natural disasters.  This grant program could allow you to channel awareness raising and concern to a project context and funding to make a difference.

Sodexo Foundation - Taking Hunger Personally - several New Tech schools have done projects on Global Food Security.  Sodexo has a grant that aligns with Global Youth Service Day.

Got more ideas - post them below or hit me up on Twitter @edutwitt

PBL to Close the Opportunity Gap

Just read a nice post from my KnowledgeWorks colleague Michelle Timmons about the Opportunity Gap.  As a general rule, I am a fan of moves that help us change the conversation in education.  I like this idea of the opportunity gap in particular because it implies a focus on both access to resources and also to the mindset we have for students and that students have for themselves.  

On the resource side, I agree that thinking about an Opportunity Gap is a great way to think about creating powerful schools and learning environments for students.  Additionally, I think the degree to which our schools embrace personalized learning opportunities emerging through more distributed channels is a way of directly addressing the notion of a digital divide.

While I think access to technology gets a lot of public attention - maybe because it involves easily quantifable factors like student/computer rations, budgets, and 1:1 initiatives - I think the idea of expectations may actually be much more powerful to address.  Part of the purpose of education should be to expose students to a variety of "future selves" and give them opportunities to interact with the different ways adults live and work in the world. This is especially true for traditionally undeserved communities where we have an even stronger obligation to provide a wide view of future pathways which may not be as available outside of school.

I am always struck by the limited sense of future pathways students often have.  Educators often make the "Rip Van Winkle" joke  , but I think an equally jarring comparison could be made between the list of future careers that a student might have come up with in 1912 vs the list they would come up with today.  While video game maker and graphic designer might make it onto a few lists these days, my own experience with students tended to hear a great deal of "doctor, lawyer, teacher" type responses.   There is nothing wrong with these, but as the face of work is increasingly dynamic, it feels like our work to help students imagine their own futures has also failed to keep pace with the times.

At a very practical level.  I love the idea of an opportunity gap as a way to stay continually motivated around creating highly rigorous projects and PBL experiences for students.  One of the core attributes of a quality project has to do with authentic role and adult connections.  We tend to think of these as being motivating factors, ways of getting to greater rigor through increased engagement.  I would encourage us all to think about the extent to which creating projects that allow students to try on emerging work roles and to interact with adults outside the school are powerful ways to help young people have a greater sense of themselves and and their own potential and opportunity.  

Friday, November 16, 2012

Five for Friday

Five blog posts from this past week for a little Friday/weekend reading.  The unintended theme of the week would be ownership of learning I suppose:

Homework: It fails our students and undermines American education (Mark Barnes)

Daddy, I want a book buck. (Joe Bower)

The Power of Ownership (Talent Code)

I Didn't Get Stars, Points, or Pizza's for Reading (Theresa Shafer)

The Writing Revolution: Dealing with the bitterness  (@babsaj)

Read something great? 

Tweet me maybe?

Cool idea to stimulate exploration and inquiry

Kudos to Teresa Fuller from Cross County New Tech for this nifty little idea:

Putting a QR code in for the project icon feels like a nice little mystery and invitation to exploration.  
Interested in QR Codes?  You might check out:

50 QR Codes Resources for Education (ZDNet)

How are you using QR Codes?  Tweet me @edutwitt

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How to give students voice

Here is the scene:  Nine children, ages 6 to 11, standing in front of an audience of roughly 250.  An adult choir standing on the stage behind them.  The children begin to sing a simple song, quietly and hesitantly.  The kind of quiet where you can easily pick out the individual voices fading in and out as they scan the audience for a reaction.  The song is simple and the verses repeat.  On the second pass through, the sopranos from the choir behind them join in.  The children stand a little straighter.  The next pass, same words, and the tenors join in.  The children are locked in, now smiling and singing straight ahead.  Third pass, and the baritones swell as the song fills the room.  With the full force of the choir behind them, I catch a look at one little girl, eyes closed, head tilted back, signing for all she can.
Note: Photo merely representational.  Courtesy of: OLX

This is how we give our students voice.   Many of us are getting better at giving problems, giving questions, giving the work back to our students and letting them lead the way.  What we neglect to do, however, is remember to follow them when they go somewhere. 

What I learned from the adult choir a few weeks back when I observed  the scene above is that we can share the stage with our students without stealing the spotlight.  That performance was always about the children's choir, but when their words were picked up by the adults around them not only were the words themselves amplified, the children singing found more strength in their own voices. 

Giving a space for student voice allows them to speak.  Picking up and joining with their own words is how we elevate a recital into a movement.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Professional Video Rubric

A while back there was a New Tech Network call-out for a really good rubric for videos.  I don't know that we found one, so I am thinking we need to make one. While there are a number of possible ways you might have a video be a final product for a project, I want to use the term "Professional Web Video*" to refer to those nearly ubiquitous videos used to explain and promote products, ideas, and services on the web.

Getting a really quality rubric together for professional web video seems important to me for two reasons:

1. Our schools make A LOT of videos.  In the past I have had some mixed feelings about this as worries over the time involved and limited attention to critical thinking around important concepts that often accompanied video products for projects.  But in taking another step back on this, I am coming back around to the value in time spent on this due to its relevance as a medium and its potential value in creating meaningful work.

2. Quality video really is a separator for effective web communication.  As someone grounded in print communication, it has taken me awhile to really appreciate the value of quality videos, but it is clear now that short, engaging and informative videos are vital for the success of most online ventures.  It is mainly due to this emergent reality that I think we need a rubric that pushes our schools and students towards creating these types of videos.

A few examples to prime the pump:

Software tools: Evernote Clearly
Hardware: iPad Mini
Kickstarter: American History Z 
Google Drive Challenge
Everything the People at CommonCraft do!

And now for the work. I've started an open google doc here for the purposes of starting this rubric creation.

I'm going to follow a fairly typical rubric design process of articulating key skills, identifying possible missteps or things to avoid, and also collecting example or relevant resources.  

If you would like to contribute, but aren't sure how, I'd encourage you to simply watch a few of these videos and describe what makes them good. 

Feel free to tweet great web videos at me @edutwitt

*If any of you are more "insiders" in the video world - let me know if there is a more "industry standard" term for this. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Agendas, calendars and scaffolding work ethic

I've had several conversations with principals and teachers recently about the role of agendas in PBL and the ways in which they might be used to help students develop work ethic and the ability to self-start and work more independently. 

A few questions you might consider if this is a relevant focus for you:

To what extent are students “self-starting” in my class?  Where are there additional opportunities for them to do so?  What resources or supports (like a calendar) might give them the tools they need to do this?   

In a given project, what would a “professional work environment” look like for the role or type of problem students are solving?  How might I re-articulate or adjust my classroom organization or expectations to allow the emergence of this sort of environment?

What can you tell about the quality of PBL in a classroom by merely looking at the agenda?  

What are the characteristics or criteria of an effective calendar or agenda that supports student-centered classrooms and problem solving?

How far in advance should a teacher in a PBL classroom be able to effectively post agendas?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Protocols as Scaffolding for Culture

During last week's Meeting of the Minds, we attempted to model the intentional use of protocols in multiple situations as a way of facilitating effective participant-centered learning.  One of the more interesting take-aways that came out of our debriefs of this process was the relationship between the use of protocols and classroom and school culture. 

Several participants arrived at the conclusion that protocols can serve as scaffolding for culture.  To unpack this a little, what we noted was that by having students use clear and structured protocols we:
  • Give them the opportunity to collaborate in more structured settings.
  • Often make use of "sentence stems" like "I wonder" or "A next step might be" to 
  • Provide replicable models of language and interaction that they can apply in less structured settings.
  • Provide a safer space for group and peer accountability.
  • Are able to model the above accountability in language they can borrow for their own use.
  • Have common experiences we can reflect on and reference in conversations about larger class or school culture.
I think many of us have seen the effect of the regular use of the Critical Friends Protocol in shifting language to more of a "Likes and Wonders" approach - which is very conducive to culture building.  I am excited to see what might come from a refocusing on the use of protocols and the explicit connection of these protocols to culture building.

A few protocols you might take a look at for easy use in your classroom include:

Why Abundance?

I just finished reading Will Richardson's book Why School.  Among many compelling ideas and insights, in the book he promotes the idea of abundance as a key driver of change in education.  Things that we have long thought to be scare (i.e. effective teachers and learning materials) are now, in fact increasingly abundant.  Yet many of our practices still reflect a view of the world that sees them as limited.  More on this in future posting for sure, but the immediate application here is that Richardon challenges us to do more sharing and contributing to this vast array of resources.  I think he is right, and so I will.

As a School Development Coach for the New Tech Network, I am frequently attempting to establish and maintain lines of communication with schools and teachers to support their work to create meaningful learning experiences for students.  In the past, this has taken the form of a weekly (or bi-weekly) email blast to all of the teachers I am working with.  These emails have been a mixture of logistical network announcements, probing questions, strategies and resources, and enticements to share.  While I received some positive feedback at times about these blasts, I have increasingly struggled to send it out - due to the following I think:
  • Too many purposes and audiences (bad practice to mix logistics with resources with attempts to collaborate.  
  • Artificial structure - a weekly email seemed to imply a structure to the collaboration and communication that was never really there. 
  • Too many goals meant emails were TOO LONG!  I am very guilty of being overly verbose and I am certain that my emails have been less effective for some teachers due to their length.  
 Part of my new solution to the above issues is this blog.  I try to remind myself to do more "publish, then filter" when it comes to sharing resources and thinking with my colleagues.  Rather than having a regularly scheduled email with strategies and resource sharing, I am going to try to push all of my PBL thoughts and resources I find to this blog space.

My hope is that this will have the benefits of allowing me to push things out more regularly and in smaller doses.  Additionally, I hope it becomes a place that teachers can seek out on more of an "as needed" basis.  It might also stimulate greater discussion and sharing via the comments features.  I am also hoping to promote some forms of digital literacy (RSS Subscriptions, Twitter, etc) through the blog as well.