Friday, August 25, 2017

Positive Feedback and the #PosFeedChallenge

Dear (Failed) Parent,
I hope this e-mail finds you well. I am e-mailing you about that monster of a child of yours. I am quite confident to say that she is the worst student I have ever had, and that going to school seems quite a waste of time for her (and everyone else), as nothing will ever become of her. Your daughter’s other teachers and peers all share this sentiment. I encourage you to take more frequent and longer family vacations during the school year, or even better, to take her out of our school.
Have a wonderful day,
Your Monster’s Teacher
Even though some of us educators may have, at one point in our careers, had the urge to send the kind of message above to parents (and I hope none of us did…), I am sure the reasons this e-mail is inappropriate are quite obvious- It is disrespectful and reactionary, it is too general and does not provide any specificfeedback about the child’s behavior, it does not suggest any prior intervention steps that were taken, and does not offer any realistic and positive suggestions as to how existing issues can be dealt with.
Sharing with parents negative feedback about our students seems to be the more common type of day-to-day communication we have with them. Although the intentions may be positive (such as to inform parents of certain unacceptable behaviors), or we may even be required to send certain e-mails, in order to properly do our job and serve our students in the best possible way we can, we must consider the short- and long-term implications of such communication. Parent e-mails affect:
  • Our relationships with students and their parents
  • The ultimate goals of creating a positive classroom culture and encouraging students to become kind, thoughtful and empathetic students with healthy problem-solving skills.
When it comes to sharing positive feedback with parents, it seems that communication is far less frequent. At the end of the last academic year I asked tweeting educators to share information about the frequency and nature of parent feedback they provide about their students. Some important findings were:
  • Educators believed that sharing positive feedback is more important than sharing negative feedback with parents, and even more than if the nature is informational;
  • The most frequent teacher-parent communication topic was informative (neither positive nor negative);
  • Negative-natured feedback was more frequent than positive one; and,
  • Most educators wished they contacted parents more frequently to share positive feedback (which was the exact opposite with providing negative feedback!)
The above findings are a bit confusing, as we see an inverse correlation between educators’ beliefs and desires and the actual feedback given- if positive feedback takes the highest precedence, how come it is the least common type of feedback we are providing? And on the same token, if informational feedback takes is the lowest importance, why is it the most frequent one we send home?
In order to match our priorities with our actions, it is important that we acknowledge the importance of positive feedback about our students, and we ensure we take time to celebrate our students’ personalities, abilities, and choices.
This year, I decided to take on the challenge of doing just that- increasing positive feedback to my students’ parents. At the beginning of the year I plan on sending at least one email to parents every day, and after that send a positive e-mail to parents at least once per week.
I would like to ensure that the (positive, negative and informational) feedback I provide with them is useful, and so I will make sure to keep the following points in mind:
  • Timing: My eMails will address behaviors/ events in a timely Manner, preferably before the following day.
  • Ownership: I will remind parents that we are all a part of the same team, and the student’s successes (as well as difficulties) are a result of our choices and hard work.
  • Specificity: My messages will pinpoint one or two specific behaviors I would like to celebrate (academic performance? Social development?) and will include specific examples.
  • Next Steps: I will make sure to look forward and include next steps or possible ideas/ solutions to prevent from (or encourage) the event to occur in the future.
I hope this would make a difference not only at school, but also in students’ homes and in their choices and realities in the future.
I would also like to take this opportunity and encourage you to join this challenge, and provide more positive feedback about your students, colleagues, administrators, and even your friends outside your workplace.
If you would like to contribute or get ideas for positive feedback, please visit this Google Form (to share some of your ideas), or go directly to this Google Sheet (to find ideas for positive feedback to others). Finally, please visit #PosFeedChallenge on Twitter and take part in sharing and celebrating a more positive new school year.
Thank you for making a difference.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Talking Tech: The New 2016 ISTE Standards for Students: Innovative Designer

ISTE Standards- 4-Innovative Designer
In this blog post, I discuss and provide tools and ideas for classroom implementation of the fourth 2016 ISTE Standard for Students, “Innovative Designer”. If you would like to read the blog posts for the first three standards, you can find them are:
ISTE Standards- 1- Empowered LearnerISTE Standards- 2- Digital CitizenISTE Standards- 3-Knowledge Constructor.jpg

For more background information about the new standards, read my blog post “Talking Tech: The New 2016 ISTE Standards for Students (1 of 8)”.
ISTE and its contributors have been publishing excellent documents that explain and support educators in the adoption and practice of these standards. Here are a few of them:
  • I recommend following ISTE on Twitter. By checking their feed you can find lots of great articles about the different standards.
  • ISTE Standards– This is a link to all ISTE Standards (for students, teachers, administrators, coaches, and computer science educators)
  • The ISTE Standards Community– Check out this living and breathing online community for discussions, announcements, community blogs, and much more!
  • ISTE Standards for Students- eBook– ($10)- This eBook contains explanations, examples, suggested skills for implementation in different levels, a comparison to the 2007 Standards, a suggested Scope and Sequence, and more!

Standard 4: Innovative Designer

Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.

Former US President Barack Obama saw the need to emphasize ingenuity and design in US schools, and in the second term of his presidency he created the first White House Maker Faire (called “Nation of Makers”) in order to encourage educators and students to create and innovate. This is exactly what this standard is about, and the key to its successful implementation is the use of a design thinking process as a tool to designing creative solutions to complex existing problems. It is the process through which a problem is identified, an idea (or ideas) for a product/solution is suggested, planned, tested, and revised (again and again) until it becomes viable to be implemented and used.
(The stereotypical design thinking process includes the above five steps)
Let us examine some of the tools and resources that would allow us to guide our students not only in the process of making and innovating, but in instilling a new mindset and approach to problem solving:

What is Design Thinking?

It is important that educators, at any given school, work together to adopt a common process. Although the idea of the design thinking process is relatively consistent across different models, one must remember that it originates from a more professional organizational setting, not from schools. Here are a few resources that would help educators and students to understand what the design thinking process is, and choose a model that best fits their setting:
  • Videos- What is Design Thinking?
    • In this video, Daylight explains what Design Thinking is and how they followed the five steps to successfully get American children to get more exercise.
    • John Spencer and A.J. Juliani designed a student-friendly process called LAUNCH (more information below). This video explains their innovative process and how it works.
    • TEDx (13:44 minutes)- Five great rules for teaching Design Thinking that would allow educators to reach all students.
    • A great video playlist to explain what Design Thinking is and how it is implemented in different schools. (and here is a TED search for great Design Thinking videos, blog posts, and more)

Design Thinking Toolkits and Tools:

  • IDEO and Riverdale County School’s free Design Thinking Toolkit for Educators is an excellent comprehensive guide for using the process in the classroom. Check out the website, get the toolkit, and get to work!
  • LAUNCH- Check out the website for some information about the student-friendly cycle, and find resources on how it is being used in classrooms. You can purchase the LAUNCH book or visit John Spencer’s or J. Juliani’s excellent blogs that focus on Design Thinking and innovation.
  • Innovation Flowchart (more complex)- The Innovation Flowchart gives a detailed overview of the various stages in an innovation process, listing the activities, requirements and goals of each stage. A very useful planning tool to bring ideas to life.

Ideas for Design Thinking projects and activities:

  • CityXProject– A project that uses 21st century skills, including emotional literacy, empathy, design thinking, creative problem solving, and social literacy using hands-on engagement with 3D printing (optional) and modeling technologies. You can get the toolkit to run your own workshop with your students.
  • KidsThinkDesign– A collaborative effort of professional designers and creative college students, this great website was designed for students, teachers and parents to learn about professions that deal with design (graphic design, fashion design, architecture, and more), and to practice some of the design thinking skills through a variety of projects, collaboration, meeting professionals, and more.
  • The Institute of Design at Stanford has a K-12 Wiki for design thinking projects and challenges, and has lots of resources to teach and practice design thinking.
The underline message of this standard is that students recognize the importance of the process of coming up with an idea and repeatedly refining it, until it becomes high quality. Whatever project your students engage in, they must go through the important stages in the design process, so that the product they create is well-thought-through, and is the best version of what they are capable of making.

Additional tools and resources for student-makers:

  • TinkerCad– A simple browser-based 3D design and modeling tool. Users can come up with any idea and quickly design, print and cut it. There are basic tutorial lessons, and advanced designers can find lessons on how to create artistic objects of increasing complexity by tinkering with existing designs, as well as to work collaboratively to create new designs.
  • Create How-To Guides are a great way for students to show their understanding and to ensure they include the correct and chronological steps when designing a product or explaining procedures. SnapGuide and Instructables are two great places for students to learn how to write instructions in an organized and inviting way, and to join large communities of makers and designers.
  • iBooks Author (iOS; Free)- This Apple-made authoring program allows users to create beautifully designed interactive books, manuals, etc., and publish them to the Apple iBooks Store (or export as PDF)
  • App Making- Tools for students to test, develop, and publish their own apps:
    • MIT’s AppInventor– Initially designed to introduce educators and students to coding, this relatively simple (MS and higher?) is a block-based programming for creating apps for Android OS. You build your app on a laptop/desktop (Apple works too), and test it on your Android phone.
    • Thunkable– A business idea that rose out of AppInventor, Thunkable uses similar but simpler drag-and-drop functionality. It is extremely simple and intuitive, and does not require any coding skills to create mobile apps.
    • Swift Playgrounds– This is a simple iPad app which would allow youngsters to learn the skills to create a real iOS app.
    • CommonSense has a good list of resources (with reviews) for different apps and programs to help students code on any platform.
  • Guest Speakers- There are many great professionals you could invite to your classroom to share and discuss how the design thinking process applies to their work- how they came up with ideas, how viable these ideas were, how they changed and morphed into the final product, etc. If you would like to put a touch of tech to your guest speakers, you can always use Skype in The Classroom to find guest speakers around the world who are willing to share their knowledge and experiences with students.

*** Looking for even more resources?

  • Here is InformED’s great list of 45 design thinking resources for educators.
  • The online site of the book Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering and Engineering in the Classroom has some great resources– from starting a Maker’s Lab to how to use different materials, related organizations, cool projects and much much more!
  • You can find many great examples for projects and other resources on Pinterest.
  • The hard working folks at CommonSense have come up with a list of design thinking tools- from ideas to projects to apps- they got you covered!

Students as Innovative Designers. I hope this blog entry provides you with useful resources to use in your classroom or at home. As always, if you have any other ideas for good resources, any corrections for what I wrote, etc. please leave a comment below.
Next one up, ISTE 2016 Standard for Students #5, Computational Thinker!