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.
On Wednesday we kicked off our Learn Deep Lunch series with a discussion about the challenges educators face with coronavirus driven distance learning. Participants shared their experiences and ideas on a Zoom session and captured their thoughts on a shared Google Jam Board.
The common struggles were keeping kids both connected and engaged. It’s not enough for students to simply to have access to technology. If they have not used the tools deployed for distance learning, have adults or siblings at home that can help troubleshoot, or simply compete for time on the device with another sibling, they are much less likely to participate. For educators that had not used distance learning tools in the past, or where district or building standards or expectations about how distance learning ought to run, the need to figure all this out creates an additional burden.
In spite of these challenges, participants had developed a number of strategies to adjust to the current situation. A number of educators recognized that their students are looking for ways to feel connected to their classmates, and had found lightweight ways to do so– from Instagram challenges to virtual lunch tables. The recognition that students need intrinsic motivation to stay engaged has a number of educators using the last weeks of the school year to help students identify and pursue passion projects.
Learn Deep Lunches run from 11:45 to 12:30 on Wednesdays. Our next session is April 29th. Details and registration info are here.
From the beginning, our approach has been to give educators and folks from the broader community the chance to come together to explore and move forward ideas about how to engage students in meaningful collaborative work that builds connections across Milwaukee’s many silos. We also recognized that the best way to build the relationships and trust that allows effective collaboration is for people to have the chance to meet and work together in person.
Unfortunately, this in-person, network focused approach to the spread of ideas is just what we don’t want in this time of cornoavirus. We’re making a number of adjustments to keep things moving forward while keeping our network and the students they work with safe.
Review sessions at the UWM and Marquette’s 3D visualization labs, as well as the the session scheduled with Operating Engineers Local 420 have been cancelled.
The final design review scheduled for April 28th at MSOE has also been cancelled. We will work with the Milwaukee County Zoo and participating schools to explore alternatives for students to share their designs to rework the coal handling process for the Zoo’s steam locomotives.
Fabrication of a new water tower for the Zoo’s steam locomotives based on the designs from last year’s challenge has been postponed until fall.
MPS STEM Studio
The STEM Studio sessions with MPS teachers working to design real world projects that engage students in computational thinking are on hold until teachers return to work.
Making use of this time
We’re exploring opportunities to help keep things moving for you. Let us know what challenges you see ahead and let’s see if we can’t find some new opportunities out of the present chaos, in our one question survey here.
In our work with schools over the past 4 years we’ve noted some key gaps in experiences and skills that limit what students are able to accomplish on K-12 engineering projects. We’ve also noticed that pulling in the resources that can support students as they take on more complex work is much easier when there’s a chance to see students do great things.
There are systems in place that allow kids coming out of high school to perform at a very high level in music or sports.
What if we did the same for engineering?
At Learn Deep we see the potential for a great K-12 farm system to develop diverse engineering talent in Milwaukee and want to get that moving as a collaborative effort. On Tuesday, we took the first step by convening a working session that included K-12 educators, engineering faculty, industry mentors, and organizations with STEM/engineering programming for K-12 students. As a group we used that session to identify the gaps in skills and experiences that slow their development of talents useful in engineering.
What makes for an effective problem solver?
We put together the diagram here a few years ago as we pondered this question. Effective problem solvers draw on each of these 4 areas:
Experiences What does this problem remind me of?
How I felt
How people reacted
What didn’t work
Knowledge What knowledge can I bring?
Tools are appropriate for a problem like this,
Relationships Who do I know that can:
Connect me to others
Act as a mentor
Skills What skills can I bring?
Dispositions I bring:
We have been using this insight in the development of many of our projects to date, including our unique Zoo Train Engineering project.
What would we like to see as students develop talents that are valued in engineers?
Not surprisingly, this structure works pretty well for talking through what we heard from the group.
Working with tools
Working with materials and other resources
Designing solutions for real world problems
Using mathematical reasoning to flesh out and evaluate design options
Working as part of a team
Problem solving in a context that emphasizes process over results
Working alongside a college student or professional to understand how they approach engineering challenges
Presenting their work to an authentic audience
Comfort with introductory statistics
“Calculus ready” math knowledge by high school graduation
Understanding of how materials go together
Knowing an engineer that “looks like me”
Feeling part of a team
Effective time management
Able to listen to and understand a customer’s needs
Able to use empathy and observation to identify or understand a problem someone else has.
Able to build a solid understanding of a problem before jumping to solutions
Able to effectively communicate one’s ideas
Able to self direct learning
Willingness to explore “risky” options
Having a sense of ownership of one’s work
Resourcefulness — willing to seek out help or other resources to gain understanding
Willingness to accept “failure”– e.g. recognize that a solution does not work and learn from that.
Willingness to recognize that the first, last, or their own idea for a possible solution may not be the best approach
Problem seeking — willingness to see out problems that might be interesting to solve
What do effective farm systems in other domains look like?
In preparation for the session we pulled together the following table, which sketches out the formal and informal opportunities students have to develop their talents in sports and music. As one ponders what a farm system for engineering talent might look like, one question that jumps out to us is where are the opportunities for play, and are they available to students who’s families may not have the resources to provide materials which can allow that to happen.
Pick up games with friends/family, might include a mix of ages; no requirement for full field or team–e.g. play with what and who you have availableNo emphasis on practice, but one might get some informal coaching/feedback from other participants during play (“nice pass”, “next time you are doing that, look for…”)
Play alone or with friends/family. Might include a mix of ages; no requirement for specific combination of instruments–e.g. play with what and who you have available.No emphasis on practice, but one might get some informal coaching/feedback from other participants during play (“nice lick”, “next time you are doing that, look for…”)
Practice skills on one’s own or with friends/family
Practice skills on one’s own or with band mates
School class: play + practice
Major focus is on play, with some practice of skills
Major focus is on play, with some practice of skills
School team/group or development program: focused practice + play
regular practice aimed at skill development regular play as an opportunity to exercise skills strong social component with an opportunity to learn from more skilled peers
regular practice aimed at skill developmentregular play as an opportunity to exercise skillsstrong social component with an opportunity to learn from more skilled peers
Private lessons: focused practice
regular practice and feedback aimed at skill development
regular practice and feedback aimed at skill development
Feedback from outside professionals with emphasis on skill development
demonstration play with chance to test skills against peers
demonstration play; chance to test skills against peers
Opportunities to guide younger participants:
youth coach or ref
Opportunities to observe others:
Games played by peersProfessional gamesYou tube videos of games and skills
Music played by peers Professional concertsYou tube videos of concerts and skills
So what might an effective farm system for engineering talent look like?
Key ideas that came out of our discussion include:
Programming/curriculum is aligned across grade levels so that students have a chance to build on skills they’ve begun to develop;
Students and teachers are able to engage with industry expertise in the context of authentic projects. The easiest way for industry to participate is to have a clear ask– what expertise do you need when to do what. Having something concrete to respond to makes it much easier for a firm to see how well that effort aligns with their own goals for community engagement or talent development.
Students are given the opportunity to practice in context. Students need multiple opportunities to run through the engineering design cycle on projects that matter to them.
Students have a chance to prototype and work with materials throughout the design process and use that experience to refine their thinking about both the problem at hand and potential solutions.
Projects are structured with a strong emphasis on process to help students resist the temptation to jump to a solution before understanding the problem, be willing to explore “riskier” ideas, and to aim for knowledge gain over “the right solution”.
Students have informal opportunities to play with engineering in the same ways they might with music or sports.
Students build technical skills in math and physics in concert with engineering design. PLTW is not a substitute for a math or physics class, but a complement to it.
There is a community of practitioners working together to develop engineering talent. That community includes K-12 educators, university faculty, organizations that provide STEM programming, and industry expertise willing to work with students. Through ongoing collaboration, this community can build and strengthen the relationships that allow its members to find new opportunities for students.
Our next two Collab Labs provide opportunities to explore some of the ideas raised in this session. The March 12th session is focused on our Career Interviews project. We’re working with UWM and area high schools to prototype a process where students interview folks engaged in interesting work in Milwaukee. Beyond giving students a broader sense of what’s possible to do, we see this collaborative effort as an easy way for students to make an initial connection with folks in industry.
Our April Collab Lab will focus on tapping industry expertise. This will be an opportunity to take a deeper look at the types of engagements most valuable to educators and students, what makes that engagement worthwhile for both individuals and their employers, and what could help reduce the friction around matching expertise with educators who want to leverage it.
Join us for either or both sessions to share your perspective and ideas.
As we continue to digest what we heard at the session and in conversations that have continued afterwards, we have a couple of other ideas we’re exploring. Stay tuned or let us know if you’d like to get involved!
One more thing…
One of the folks I connected with as we planned Tuesday’s session was Shannon Smyth, the Youth Technical Director for the North Shore United Soccer Club. Shannon trains youth coaches in the methods recently adopted by US Soccer not just as a way to help students more rapidly develop technical skills, but to build broader participation and the creative talent of players coming up through the system. Shannon sees a lot of parallels between efforts to keep girls engaged in sport and those to keep them engaged in STEM. We shared an overview of the Play-Practice-Play model Shannon uses in advance of the session. You can find that here.
Last spring, with funding from Northwestern Mutual, we conducted interviews with teachers and mentors involved with MPS’s efforts to introduce Project GUTS, SHARP Literacy’s Design Through Code (DTC) program, TEALS, and First Robotics. The goal was to understand how we might expand opportunities to develop computational thinking outside of computer science classes, by listening to what drew teachers and mentors already engaged in that type of activity to take on the task. We provided a recap of that work here.
One of the ideas that came out of that effort was to work with teams of teachers and expertise from the broader community to create and pilot real world projects that provide solid opportunities to engage students in computational thinking. We call that the STEM Studio, and are happy to report that Northwestern Mutual has provided funding to design and pilot the first projects with MPS.
Since environmental science is a spring semester focus for MPS middle schools, we used our November Collab Lab on Green Infrastructure to generate ideas for potential projects. One of those is the Southeastern Wisconsin Watershed’s Trust’s (Sweetwater) Adopt a Storm Drain Program. As we talked about what that might look like as a STEM Studio project, Sweetwater pointed us to the Smart City Reverse RFP offered by Caravela IoT. That initiative seeks to demonstrate the potential to leverage a network of sensors that detect environmental data. Winning submissions would receive both equipment and technical support to pilot a project. We partnered with MPS, Sweetwater and Reflo to put in a joint proposal which uses STEM Studio pilot projects to both deploy sensors and expose students to the technology. We were selected as one of the winners and are happy to now have Caravela IoT engaged with us in the STEM Studio effort.
Over the next few weeks we’ll be pulling our teams of teachers together with community partners to design and pilot the experiences we want students to have as they take on the STEM Studio projects. Collab Lab attendees will know that one of our criteria for projects we get involved in is the ability to scale across schools with network effects. As part of the STEM Studio pilots, we’ll work with the teams to reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and what the next cohort of teachers will want to have in place to take on or extend the challenge in their schools.