Monday, April 29, 2019

Using Technology to Think Critically About History & Engage Students' Creativity

Teachers are passionate about the subjects they teach. Sometimes however, students are less so--they might not share their instructor’s enthusiasm and/or find the topic inherently exciting or motivating. Middle school social studies teacher Jim Malewig at Minnetonka Middle School West is familiar with this scenario. One of the topics he teaches seventh graders about is the Reconstruction post Civil War, and over the years Jim has come up with some creative ways to make it more engaging and memorable for his students. 

Recently I was in his classroom during this unit of study and was amazed to see the students’ engagement on their “Road to Reconstruction” projects. Students were working to answer the question, “To what extent did Reconstruction bring African Americans closer to full citizenship?” A few years ago Jim began having students make a timeline of the events during this period and used a road map as an analogy. Then after working with Lisa Reed, Tonka Coders and Makers Teacher on Special Assignment, they decided to integrate Ozobots with the project. Ozobots are programmable robots that read special colored markers to gather their instructions. Depending on what colors and patterns are used to create the code, Ozobots can be programmed to turn, change direction, color, speed and more. 

Now as part of their learning, students identify the key events of the time period, create a roadmap/timeline of ten major events during the Reconstruction, decide what actions the Ozobot will take while traveling this path to symbolize the each event, and then film an Ozobot on their timeline. But the project doesn’t stop there. Students import their video into iMovie and add in historical photos to illustrate each of their selected events. Then they write a script and record their narration into their film. 

Throughout the project students are very motivated. This project is a great example of learning at higher levels on the Minnetonka Framework for Teaching and Learning. Students are communicating and collaborating in small groups, critically thinking and analyzing events and their effect on history. They are able to use their creativity and technology to illustrate their learning. Perhaps without realizing it, they are coding their Ozobots and debugging issues to get things to work, too. Rather than just reading about this in a textbook and taking notes, students are deeply learning and understanding the material and historical time period. Perhaps some of them will become future social studies teachers, too, motivating their students in unique and creative ways!

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Monday, April 22, 2019

Earth Day at Minnetonka Schools Family Makerspace Event

On Saturday, April 13, Minnewashta Elementary hosted a makerspace event to celebrate Earth Day. Families could select from two 75 minute time slots for an open-house style event with opportunities using makerspace materials to create, code, and play. A year and a half ago Minnetonka officially launched our “Hub” Makerspace program at all K-8 schools, providing supplies and instruction to integrate maker activities for students into the curriculum.
I attended the Earth Day event with my fourth grade daughter who had a great time. There were five stations which we rotated through. At the first station, she cut up an old t-shirt to make an “upcycled” bag. Then she was on to the next stop, coloring an animal mask and using DoInk Green Screen to place a photo of herself on an Earth Day themed background (pictured).
There were also multiple stations set up for coding and robotics. Attendees could use Ozobots and program paths and patterns for the robots to follow. At the Makey Makey stations, students could use both circuits and coding with Scratch to play a piano made out of fruits and vegetables, play drums made from potatoes, and play and reprogram the code in an “operation” type game. My daughter enjoyed playing “Ode to Joy” on the food (watch video).
At the another station, students could make light up insect critters using LED lights and circuits along with craft supplies. There were also Rig-a-ma-jig, Keva planks, and straw building areas where many families spent time creating, designing, and constructing things. The event was sponsored by the Minnetonka Public Schools Foundation, Executive Director Melissa Streit, and led by Minnewashta High Potential teacher, Joy Curran and Minnewashta Information and Digital Learning Coordinator, Shelly Traver, as well as Andrea Hoffmann, Middle School East Tech Coach and Tonka Coders & Makers Project Lead and Julie Baeb, one of our Innovation consultants.
The event was a great way to build community awareness and support of our makerspace program and the Minnetonka Foundation which provides the funding for so many opportunities for our students such as this. It gave parents a firsthand experience using the great materials that their children get to use at school. It also was a great way for parents to spend some quality time with their children in fun activities!
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Monday, April 15, 2019

Exploring the Respiratory System with Augmented/Virtual Reality & More in Seventh Grade Science

Students in Kaylene Boos’ seventh grade life science class at Minnetonka Middle School West are studying about the respiratory system. In the past the lesson involved a lot of lecture and note taking. Naturally students didn’t find this past method of content delivery very interesting. Teachers are always improving their instruction, and over the past few years, middle school science teachers have restructured the learning activities to be more engaging for the students. On Monday afternoon when I was present, students were rotating among eight different stations for five minutes each, very engaged in activities.

At one of the stations students used the Virtuali-tee app. This augmented reality app allows students to scan a special T-shirt with their iPad and see the body systems inside the torso of the person/shirt, including the respiratory system. Funds from the PTO were granted to purchase the shirts for each seventh grade science teacher. As pictured, students could hold their iPad like a window into the respiratory system. As they moved it around, they were able to see inside a lung. Augmented and virtual reality show a lot of promise in the opportunities that will be available for learning, and activities this seem to just be the start of what’s possible. 

At another station students watched a video about the respiratory system and answered questions, recording their answers in Notability. At a third station, students completed an online labeling activity in which they had to race to beat the clock identifying the parts of the respiratory system. Another station consisted of sorting vocabulary terms and then photographing and inserting the image of the result into the Notability file. Students also researched answers to questions online and took a Schoology quiz at two other stations and the last station had a model of a working lung made out of a 2 liter pop bottle.

These activities cover multiple dimensions on our Minnetonka Teaching & Learning Framework: communication, collaboration, personalized learning, critical thinking, use of technology for learning, and more. Switching stations every five minutes kept the students active and moving around. They also worked on each activity in shorts bursts, so I did not see them losing interest or becoming bored with the learning. I certainly would have preferred to learn in this manner myself back in school. Plus when I was teaching, I should have designed more active learning opportunities like this for my own students!

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Monday, April 8, 2019

Student Innovation Teams- Part II: High School

Last week in Part I: Middle School, I explained how Minnetonka has added secondary student innovation teams over the past few years to our annual crowdsourced idea hunt  (for more on this, see Innovation is Now Our Strategic Plan). This week I will highlight the work of our high school Student Innovation Team which recently presented to our School Board. The group is advised by Ann Kaste, Information and Digital Learning Coordinator and Nicole Snedden, Innovation Coordinator and Design for Learning Project Leader. One of my sons is on the high school team this year, so I have been able to hear his perspective, too.

As you will learn from the video of their presentation to the School Board, the high school innovation team is split into small groups. The group presenting was tasked with redesigning a newly created open space after the removal of an old locker bay. They used the Human Centered Design process to get to the final design pictured. They identified their challenge with “How Might We..?” statements:
  • How Might We design a quiet space that would allow for classes to remain uninterrupted while others were using this space?
  • How Might We construct the space to not only foster quietness, but also collaboration?
  • How Might We create a space that allows for easy maintenance and vigilance?   

The students met with different focus groups such as hall paras, custodians, students, and teachers. They learned about all sorts of concerns and hopes from the groups they interviewed, from the ease of cleaning the space, to the visibility of and collaboration opportunities for students meeting there, to the sound levels and the quality of the furniture. After gathering all this input and feedback, the students began to prototype options. 

They created two different prototypes and brought them to Intereum who designed a space using the student feedback. The final design includes movable walls that have acoustic panels to eliminate sound and whiteboard panels. The students explain in their proposal that “the panels allow the space to be separated and relatively private, but still allow for enough supervision that kids are kept safe. The walls also include school colors to blend in with the space around it”

The group applied for and was awarded a Design for Learning grant. Last week they were selecting fabric colors for the furniture. It should be done later this year and the team as well as all their classmates will be able to use the new space. Some quotes from their presentation show just how much the students learned from this process:

“Change takes work,” said Kristine. “It takes time, revisions, empathy… [I’ve learned] what it means to get things done. 

Lauren said she “improved my public speaking and presentation skills [and] learned through our own mistakes.” 

Colette explained that this work “pushed me to learn the value and benefits of seeing other people’s viewpoints.”

Nate described how “empathy is really important to the Human Design Process… Something’s that really stuck with me is the importance of talking with people and understanding their opinions and seeing where they come from...this will definitely help me later in life working on various projects… in college or future job. Empathy is the basis of everything.”

In addition to the locker bay remodel, student innovation teams at our high school are working on a variety of other ideas from improving the parking lot to therapy dogs. As I mentioned last week, students are engaging in motivating, real work meeting multiple dimensions on our Minnetonka Teaching & Learning Framework during this process: real-world learning, communication, collaboration, creativity, authentic problem solving, use of technology for learning, and more. All students, not just here in Minnetonka, can have these opportunities. Districts outside ours are partnering with Minnetonka to do both crowd-sourced innovation and establish student innovation teams.

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Monday, April 1, 2019

Student Innovation Teams- Part I of II: Middle School

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About eight years ago Minnetonka moved from traditional strategic planning annually done by a representative committee to crowdsourcing ideas from all employees to gather and rank needs and ideas--read more in a previous post, Innovation is Now Our Strategic Plan. Over the past few years we have started getting students involved in this process, too. Three years ago our high school launched a Student Innovation Team and two years ago these teams began at our middle school. Recently, both levels of Student Innovation Teams presented to our School Board about their work. There was so much content presented I decided to post about it in two parts--this week an overview of the middle school students’ work and next the high school.

As you can see in the video of their presentations, both middle schools have student innovation teams that meet regularly to identify, brainstorm, and come up with solutions to problems affecting their classmates and school. They learn about and use Human Centered Design which is grounded in empathy throughout this process. Students immerse themselves in the problems by interviewing and surveying classmates, teachers and other stakeholders to work toward a possible solution. After ideation, students prototype and test out possible solutions, then revise and repeat the process testing iterations. Students work cooperatively with one another in groups and communicate their efforts and progress. Throughout this process, students are engaging in motivating, real work meeting multiple dimensions on our Minnetonka Teaching & Learning Framework: real-world learning, communication, collaboration, creativity, authentic problem solving, use of technology for learning, and more.

The student innovation team at Minnetonka Middle School West is named the WISH Team- West Innovation Student Hackers Team. It is led by Dr. Paula Hoff, Principal, Sara Hunt, Instructional Technology Coach, and Lisa Reed, Tonka Coders and Makers Teacher on Special Assignment. One of the projects they showcased in the video (watch here) was their work with Moving Minds, a branch of Gopher Sport, designing classroom furniture products that are comfortable and  allow movement. Students helped provide feedback and design suggestions on products. Students took a field trip to the headquarters and were able to and tour the facility, seeing the products they helped work on and meeting staff working to name the product, make a logo and photo shoot to bring it to market.

At Minnetonka Middle School East, over thirty students in grades 7 and 8 are part of the student innovation team. It is coached by Lisa Reed and Julie Baeb, one of our Innovation consultants. There are seven groups of students who work on team projects/tasks as part of the student innovation team. Students have worked to improve the lunchroom experience, redesign learning spaces, product design, and more. The group highlighted in the video (watch here), named the Innovation X Team, tackled ways to provide their fellow classmates with brain and body breaks throughout the day.

As Eric Schneider, Associate Superintendent and Nicole Snedden, Innovation Coordinator and Design for Learning Project Leader stated in the opening of the presentation, we continue to embrace innovation as a strategy. By engaging not only our staff but our students, we are helping all those involved in education be change agents. This will improve the educational experience for everyone and lead to even more innovative solutions.

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