Last Week’s Collab Lab gave us a chance to share some updates on two projects we have running with students and the impacts we’ve see running those in a distance learning environment. That set up a longer conversation about what educators need as they look to engage their students in a real-world challenge.
Several of the concerns we talked through were issues prior to the pandemic:
How can I connect and work with local professionals who can offer domain expertise?
How can I figure out who I need to know in Milwaukee (beyond domain experts) to execute the project?
How do I get students to the point of figuring out what they want to explore?
How do I assemble a real audience for students to present to?
How do I get students to recognize that their teacher is not the audience?
How do I give students the experience of doing work in the real world?
Distance learning has imposed new concerns in taking on new challenges. Chief among these is gaining student engagement, but educators also struggle as the find effective ways to use distance learning technology. That this is so new to educators means that everyone is trying to figure things out at the same time. There is no colleague or expert to turn to for a definitive answer.
This, and the conversations that continued after we wrapped up the formal discussion, suggests to us that the key need for educators who want to engage their students in real-world work, particularly in a time of distance learning, is a network of colleagues who can offer support, ideas, and connections.
We kicked off our 5th season of Collab Labs on Zoom last week with a discussion focused on what educators were running into in the early weeks of the school year. We started the conversation by asking about what folks are seeing themselves or hearing from other educators:
Stakeholder involvement pushes teachers and school leadership to learn fast
When we lose control, we latch on to what we can control, e.. following the rules
Star testing on Chromebooks without reliable internet/devices does not work
If students aren’t in synchronous session they miss out
How do you reach the students who don’t come back to engage? Students feel they are so far behind that they can’t catch up.
teachers are overwhelmed, too many subjects to go deep, how do you check for understanding?
One week before start of school, we were told we will be using PBL with our students.
Lack of student perseverance – checking out when it gets to be too difficult
how do you replicate observation in the classroom?
fear of making mistakes?
students go to community centers during the day– how do they help kids when kids have so much work to do. The partners need to understand what is useful to learning.
frustrated trying to get content across, frustrated with attendance. Cuts across city & suburban districts.
kids at same grade level show up at same daycare, all with different assignments.
That prompted some further discussion around getting above a tactical level…
we’re still trying to deliver curriculum rather than learning.
Rethink what is accountability?
how to use tech tools to level the playing field and create empathy among students?
how to use synchronous and a-synchronous teaching in a structured way.
…and what teachers/schools need to make this work:
creating ‘digital citizen culture’ for using technology to learn together
Why is presence needed for learning?
How do we use tools strategically
How does a person demonstrate learning?
How does a person demonstrate learning?
Lots of time up front how to use tools of virtual platform.
We wrapped up with the recognition that post Covid, schools will end up somewhere new:
Systems have been cobbled together overtime. Now we are starting fresh. Can we think about how we ought to fix this?
Can we create a new framework for learning experiences that gives students a choice of opportunities to pursue?
Over the summer we were able to pull teachers from Golda Meir’s Middle School and Escuela Vieau together on Zoom with partners from Sweetwater, Caravela IoT, and MMSD for the design phase of our STEM Studio Adopt a Storm Drain project. We used a modified version of a customer journey map to map out the experience we wanted students to have, touch points with community partners, and connections back to curriculum standards. The project will kick off in the next few weeks as participating teachers have students monitor storm drains near their school or home to begin the research work that will prepare them to take on one of the following challenges:
How can we reduce the volume of litter and debris that collects near storm drains?
How can we leverage IoT sensors to detect when litter and debris has collected at a storm drain?
How can we safely remove litter and debris that has collected at a storm drain?
With teachers, curriculum specialists, and partners in on the design process from the beginning, we were able to map out an approach for a collaborative multi-disciplinary effort that will also give students a chance to explore computational tools. The program guide produced for the project provides an overview of the project structure, timing of project events, and links to resources the team wanted students to be able to leverage. That includes a simple model of waste collecting near, and washing down a storm drain we put together using Starlogo Nova that students can manipulate and revise.
This STEM Studio effort is made possible by a grant from Northwestern Mutual
We’ve been meeting weekly with students and staff from Golda Meir and Washington High School since we kicked things off this summer. The teams put together a quick survey that went out to students at both schools to capture issues their peers ran into during the first week of school. Those results confirmed a lot of what we heard from students over the summer, with a large percentages of students reporting issues connecting for class, getting their assignments, or having distance learning technology work as expected with at least one class.
The team from Golda is now working on two parallel paths– the first has been to define a process where students can step in to offer help. Most calls now run through a tech lead at the school. She’s been logging the types of issues folks are calling about so that we can get a sense of the volume of support requests. She will also be handing off a sample of those calls for students on the tech team to respond to. This will help us understand how well the support process envisioned works, and what students will need to have in place to respond to help requests.
While those experiments are running, we are using the Lean Startup Canvas to capture the team’s vision for effort. Our first pass focused on defining the customer, identifying what customer problems the team will address, the unique advantages a student-led team brings to bear, and the value proposition for the endeavor. At this week’s meeting we’ll take what we’ve learned from student’s experiments taking support requests to flesh out and refine the model in greater detail. Stay tuned!
What if students took a lead role in understanding the issues families face as they adapt to distance learning?
What if we invited them to work with school and district technology staff and industry mentors to design and implement systems to support them?
What if this was done, not as a one-off exercise, but as a student run enterprise that could operate over the long term and evolve to support changing needs?
For the past several weeks we’ve been working with students and teachers from MPS’s Golda Meir middle school and Washington High School to explore what student-led tech support might look like. Over a series of Zoom calls, we’ve talked with students about the issues they ran into as the district moved to distance learning last spring, what the experience was like for peers and family, and where they see opportunities to help make things betterfor all students.
While purely technical issues like an inability to upload files, access video, or the stability of a video call session were certainly present, what stood out were issues related to the use of technology. For example:
The need to constantly check if new assignments had been posted
Competition for use of a device or internet bandwidth with a sibling
Finding a distraction free place in the home to work from
Having access to technology when the student is cared for outside the home.
Student Generated Solutions
As the start of school approached for MPS, the team put together two things to help prepare for distance learning this fall.
The first was a video by the students at Golda Meir in which they talked through several issues they ran into last spring and what simple actions their teachers might take to help address those. That video was shared with Golda staff who were appreciative of the opportunity to hear directly from their students.
Second, the team put together a survey to go out this week to capture the type and frequency of issues students ran into with the first week of distance learning. The data from that will inform a larger effort this fall to identify where and how a student-led team can provide support.
Interested in getting involved as educator, sponsor, or industry adviser?
This week we started our discussion with a conversation by asking about the fears participants have for what might happen in the fall. Much of that focused on the current uncertainty of whether schools will reopen in the fall, and if so, how. There is an expectation that the coming school year will still require distance learning, whether that is for part of the year or part of the day. Given the experience of the last couple of months, educators want to be prepared to teach effectively in whatever environment that turns out to be.
As we dug into these fears, we made note of a series of observations around what drives them. These focused on the decision making process, training and guidance available to educators as they experiment with distance learning, and factors which drive or limit student engagement when they are forced to work from home.
We also captured some initial thoughts on what changes might be necessary when students return to the classroom, as well as aspects of the in-school experience that educators would want to capture should distance learning return. The Jamboard we used to capture our thoughts is below.
Wondering how you might engage your students in an authentic experience from a distance? Erin Magennis, who you may know from Code For Milwaukee, is working on Ask3Gens, a social media project to create opportunities for students to connect with and learn from older generations. With Covid-19 driven isolation, now is a great time to build connections and share experiences.
Typically, questions are posted on social media with the #ask3gens hashtag, and seniors participating in the project will respond, but students could as easily reach out to seniors in their family or neighborhood to start a discussion. The shared experience of forced isolation creates an easy bridge to start a conversation:
What is your isolation experience like? How is your isolation different than mine?
What in your prior experience was anything like this? As you were growing up, what was most like this Covid-19 experience?
What from your experience would help me get through this?
If you’d like to create an opportunity for your students to connect with seniors over Zoom with a trusted 3rd party to monitor the conversation, let us know. We’ll offer eight slots and provide a recording of the conversation students can use to craft the story they’d like to tell. For more information on the Ask 3 Generations project, or help connecting with seniors to interview, contact Erin at firstname.lastname@example.org
Covid-19 threw a wrench in our plans for the final design review for students engaged in our Zoo Train Challenge. MSOE had planned to play host for the session, but as schools and universities first closed and then moved on-line we adjusted as well.
As schools reopened for distance learning, five teams were able to continue work on the challenge to redesign the process used to store and load coal for the Zoo’s steam locomotives. In most cases, they were forced to do so without the resources and physical prototypes they had started to produce. On Wednesday, four teams were able to join a review session on Zoom where they presented their ideas to and took questions from a review panel representing the advisory team for the project. That group included industry professionals from We Energies, Kumatsu, County Materials, as well as faculty and staff from MSOE and UWM’s College of Engineering & Applied Science.
While the virtual format was less than ideal, two things stood out across the presentations. All of the teams were able to leverage feedback and ideas from the conceptual design review UWM hosted in December to improve not just their designs, but their ability to talk through and communicate their design decisions. When asked by panelists about where they saw value in the experience, students consistently mentioned both the experience of figuring out how to work effectively as a team, and the opportunity to leverage and learn from outside experts.
Congratulations are due to all of the teams involved in the project. Thanks are also due to their teachers. Nothing interesting happens in a classroom without a teacher willing to say yes. Their willingness to involve their students in an open ended project, coordinate student participation in project events, and help their colleagues at other schools with ideas on how to manage project teams is the key ingredient in efforts like this.
Zoo Train Schools and Teachers
Elmbrook Launch – Ryan Osterberg
Golda Meir – Tina Gleason
Menomonee Falls – Robert Regent-Smith
New Berlin Eisenhower – Devin McKinnon
New Berlin West – Bill Trudell
Pathways High School – Angelique Byrne/Chris Kjaer
This week our discussion focused on teaching practices — what has been left behind as a result of Covid-19 school closures, what educators are testing as new ways to keep students engaged, and what is now happening that ought to continue even after schools reopen.
What stood out to us were the ways teachers are going above and beyond to help students stay engaged. That ranged from hosting a daily two hour drop-in video call for students who wanted to work on assignments in a setting where they knew their peers were doing the same to dropping off materials (and snacks) at the homes of students who lack online access.
Looking for ways to keep your students engaged from a distance? We’re happy to help.
Connect to outside expertise: We can tap our network to connect you/your students to outside expertise to provide input and guidance on student projects.
Project ideas: Over the past four years, our Collab Lab participants have generated a number of project ideas. While there isn’t a lot of time to ramp up a new project before the end of the school year, we can help you craft experiments or exercises for students that can give you a better sense of what you might want to do on a larger scale next year.
Materials: Over the course of our experiments in up-cycling, we’ve assembled a small inventory of materials students might use to develop physical prototypes. If we don’t have what you need, we can help find it and pull together kits for you to get to your students.
If you’d like help with any of these, or would like to tap us for something else, just let us know what you need here.