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Looking Back

It’s been almost three years since we started talking with folks about the change coming to education, the implications should Milwaukee lag behind, and what might be done to help move things along. We put together a brief manifesto that called for for connecting area educators who are doing interesting work to learn from each other, applying ideas from lean entrepenuriship and agile development to help educators seed the pace at which they are able to develop and implement innovative practices, and raising the visibility of that work.

Those early conversations led to a short series of workshops we ran in August of 2016.  We took what we learned there to kick off our Collab Lab series in earnest that October, with a session focused on maker spaces and Fab Labs. Our friends at The Commons were kind enough to loan us use of  space in Ward 4 for our initial pilots and the 21 Collab Labs that have followed as we reach the midpoint of our 3rd season.

Our roster of attendees now includes more than 400 individuals from public, private, and charter schools, universities, non-profits and area companies. The focus for a growing number of sessions have been topics which partners including Milwaukee Succeeds, M7, Marquette, UWM and other area organizations have asked us to cover. In January we’ll host our 24th Collab Lab in collaboration with faculty from UWM who have NSF funding to help teachers develop curriculum that leverages spatial data. The aim of this session is to identify projects on which schools might collaborate and help educators connect with expertise within the community well in advance of the UWM training so they can come well prepared to take full advantage of it.

Our hope when we started was to use the sessions to identify ideas that collaborative efforts could help move things forward. This has proved to be the case and we’ve run a number of experiments in different areas. Most notable of these have been around how we might develop an upcycling network to get excess material from industry available for use in school maker spaces. Our goal is to set this up as a network of student run business that can help build connections not just between schools, but between schools and the firms that surround them. Our efforts there include work with a number of schools and partners, among them MSOE, MIAD, The Commons, Goodwill, Discovery World, Betty Brinn, SHARP Literacy, and COA Youth & Family Centers.

Other experiments over the past couple of years have led to two major initiatives– an effort with Milwaukee Succeeds to address the dismal math performance in Milwaukee schools, and a set of engineering challenges for the Milwaukee County Zoo. Our math initiative is illustrative of our bottom up approach to driving change. We’ve been working with teachers and staff from MPS, private, and charter schools, with help from UWM faculty to understand what teachers need to make meaningful discourse a regular part of their math lessons– a practice that not only helps students build understanding of math concepts, but helps create a positive classroom environment and gives teachers a chance to experience more of the “Aha!” moments that energize them.

We have pilots running now with Brown Street Academy and LaCausa, where math coaches at each school are working with teachers who have chosen to make Number Talks a regular part of their routine. We launched those efforts this fall after spending much of last year working to understand what would need to be in place for teachers to feel comfortable with the practice. That support includes a community of like minded practitioners willing to help each other out, so we pull a group together every six weeks at Milwaukee Succeeds to do just that. That group includes teachers from other schools who are working with Number Talks now, or want to embed the practice in their school next year. Our January meeting with that group will be a planning session to lay out what needs to happen between now and September for schools that want to start in on the effort or expand the number of teachers involved.

Our Zoo Train initiative came together in collaboration with the Coalition for Sustainable Rail, which has been working with the Milwaukee County Zoo to test a bio-fuel on the Zoo’s steam locomotives. They would like to test the fuel on a Zoo scale locomotive of modern design.  We’d like Milwaukee area students to design and build it.

This year we have 65 students from six area high schools working to design a replacement for the wooden water tower that services the Zoo’s steam locomotives. We’ve paired the teams with near-peer mentors who are engineering majors at area universities, and given the schools a pool of industry experts to tap for help. Over the course of this effort we are also creating opportunities for students to get on-site experiences that can inform their designs. This has included a design thinking workshop hosted by Briggs & Stratton, and a structural design workshop at MSOE.

On December 10th, MSOE hosted the Conceptual Design Review for the water tower challenge. Teams presented their design concepts to panels comprised of Zoo train staff, civil engineers and railroad historians. UWM will play host for the detailed design review in May. The design approach selected there will be the focus of a summer workshop for high school students at MATC where they will produce detailed engineering drawings. We’ll distribute the fabrication work across area schools next fall.

Our goal in all of this it to develop a process where schools can collaborate with university and industry partners, as well as each other, to take on complex work that has value to the community. Having a well defined project with a lofty goal has made it very easy for both schools and partners to say yes. This summer we’ll work with teachers to put together the next challenge– an automated coal handling system for the train. That will follow a parallel sequence with the design phase starting next fall. After that, it’s a caboose, perhaps a passenger car, and then we start in on a new steam locomotive.

Throughout all of this, we have been consistently amazed by the ease with which we can find educators doing great things, willing to share what they know, and try something new. We have also found no shortage of people from area organizations who want to help– they simply need to know where and how. This is a really interesting time. Education is shifting and those who see the change coming are excited by the opportunity to work together to help speed it along.  We are grateful both for the opportunity to be a part of this and for all of the support, feedback, and ideas an amazing group of people have provided us.

— Pete & Joost

 

 

 

Collab Lab 23 Recap

The idea for last night’s Collab Lab came from Chris Willey after a conversation we had last summer.  Chris runs UWM’s Immersive Media Lab, and had recognized that there are a bunch of organizations in Milwaukee doing interesting work in innovation and entrepreneurship at the edges of K-12.  He suggested we use one of this season’s Collab Lab as a way to help educators understand what the organizations are up to, and uncover areas for collaboration.  We started with a list of organizations– UWM’s Immersive Media Lab, MIAD’s Open Lab, Kohl’s Innovation Center, The Commons, 88.9 Labs, Islands of Brilliance, Brinn Labs, and brought a group together to talk through what this might look like.

Collab Lab regulars know that our aim is not to talk at attendees, but to foster conversation among them, so a series of presentations was out from the start.  Since real collaboration requires alignment of more than just short term interests. Real collaboration comes out not just shared goals, but shared values.

This notion gave us both the first step in our process– having participants describe what it is that drives the work they do– and the idea to have Marvin Pope come in as a guest facilitator.  Marvin’s passion is helping others understand and share their purpose, so it was a natural fit. We were delighted that agreed to do so and was willing to work with us to refine the process he’d lead participants through.

Here’s where we landed…

To start, Marvin asked each participant to capture in a sentence or two, their purpose, and the work they do that is guided by that purpose. Participants then shared what they had written, first with whomever they were seated next to, and then within their discussion group.  Here’s some of what participants shared:

  • I’m on a mission to connect math teachers and transform classrooms
  • To facilitate others to become life-long learners
  • To expose students to opportunities and experiences
  • Helping students and teachers rethink learning through new means of instruction and student centered practices

We followed that by asking participants to note what they need to keep moving forward with their work. This too was done first individually, and then shared within the discussion group.  One of the goals here was to illustrate that it is not just educators who need help getting to where they want to be.  Representatives from each of the organizations were part of each discussion group, and they talked through their purpose, work and needs as well. Here we heard things like:

  • A support system that believes in the work I do
  • Teachers willing to collaborate
  • Ideas and perspectives that augment my own

Collab Lab 23In past sessions when we’ve led discussions about how to move past barriers, these focused on the common barriers to common goals of the participants.  Last night we focused on the specific needs of each participant. Participants had been documenting their thoughts on paper form we created for the session.  At this point we everyone pass their forms to the right, to gather ideas from each of the other participants within their discussion group. Once those made it all the way around the table, we let the groups talk through what they had written. The most interesting feedback I got was after the session ended when one attendee, commenting on this process noted “I was expecting a lot of You shoulds.  What came back was a lot of I can help withs.

We wrapped up the process by having attendees jot down what their path forward now looks like. At the end, the form they completed, told the story of the purpose behind their work, the hurdles they face, the help they can get within the community, and where that help will take them. We invited participants to share their story with the group as a whole, by posting their form on the wall, or telling their story on a digital voice recorder to be shared more broadly.

Sorry, no big, overall summary of the discussion to report, just the good news that the process seemed to spark a lot of ideas around how attendees may work together to get where they want to be.

 


Thanks again to The Commons for providing the space and to Marvin and our featured participants for the experience and insight they brought to the discussion:

Marvin Pope – BU

Tarik Moody – 88.9 Labs
Bill Pariso, Becki Johnson, Pete Prodoehl – Brinn Labs
Nick Grbavac – The Commons
Mike Klug, Tanmay Mhatre, Josh Delzer – Kohl’s Innovation Center
Mark Fairbanks & Amy Mason – Islands of Brilliance
Chris Willey – UWM’s Immersive Media Lab
Ben Dembroski – MIAD’s Open Lab

Zoo Train Challenge – Conceptual Design Review

Teams participating in our challenge to design a replacement for the wooden water tower that services the Zoo’s steam locomotives presented their concepts at MSOE on Monday.  We have more than 65 students involved, representing ten teams from six high schools.  Given the number of students involved, we ran parallel sessions for the reviews, with each team presenting before a panel that included civil engineers from Excel and MSOE, experts in railroad history from The Center for Railway Photography & Art and the Coalition for Sustainable Rail (our partner in this effort), and the staff which maintain and operate the Zoo’s train.

We asked teams to cover, not only their designs, but how they organized their efforts, alternatives they considered, and where they need additional help.  Students from Elmbrook’s media program stepped up to record all of the presentations for students and teachers to review.

After a short break for lunch we pulled everyone back together for a recap session with all of the reviewers.  That provided an opportunity for the panelists to summarize what they saw in their session within a few broad themes.  One of the most interesting things for us was to see the different ways schools with larger groups organized their teams– by functional area of the tower, expertise of the team, member, or into smaller teams who would each produce a design concept.  We used the recap session to engage students and teachers in a discussion of how that worked and what it felt like over the course of the semester.

We’re pulling the teachers together next week for a debrief to guide adjustments we’ll want to make as we go into the detailed design phase next semester. That work will begin and end with visits to UWM– first, for a chance to play in UWM’s structures lab, and, on May 2nd, for the detailed design review where the review panelists will select an approach to be fabricated and installed.

We are very grateful to MSOE for hosting the event and working with us to get everything in place.  They provided a beautiful setting with the 4th floor conference area inside the Grohmann Tower.

The Journal Sentinel was also on hand to cover the event. You can find their write up here.

Number Talks Workgroup – December Recap

Number Talks Quick Reference CardThis month we joined the Milwaukee Area Math Council at City Lights Brewery for conversation about math and math education. We were also able to distribute copies of the latest version of our Number Talks quick reference card, which Milwaukee Succeeds had printed for us.  We’ll have the final version laminated, but we’re taking advantage of a mix-up when the printer forgot to laminate these.

The unlaminated versions make it much easier for a teacher to highlight key things they want to pay attention to or write additional prompts. We’ll check back early next year with the teachers these have gone out to to see how they may have modified them and what other feedback they may have before we finalize the design.

If you would like to get a couple of the quick reference cards for yourself or colleagues, let us know. We’d love to hear what you think.

 

I'd like to test drive the Number Talks Quick Reference card.

Have Stuff, Need Stuff?

As we continue to test ideas around up-cycling, we have folks offering to give us material and run across others who can make use of what we have.  To date we’ve gathered and distributed equipment for tear-down activities, parts salvaged from that equipment, and everything from postage stamps (cancelled) to plywood (new).

We don’t want to be the warehouse for everything that might come and go.  Since it gives us a better view into what schools can make use of, we are more than happy to facilitate an exchange.

If you need materials for a project or have something a school might use, let us know.