Let’s Make Complex Thinking a Bit Less Wicked

Is teaching complex thinking a wicked problem? Or is the wicked problem that educators aren’t aware of the concept of complex thinking?

For the past few weeks, I have been exploring the wicked problem of teaching complex thinking.

Before getting ahead of myself, let me explain both of those terms:

Wicked Problem: “[…] wicked problems, in contrast to tame problems (such as those in mathematics, chess etc.) have incomplete, changing and contradictory requirements. Solutions to wicked problems are often difficult to realize (or maybe even recognize) because of complex interdependencies among a large number of contextually bound variables.” (Koehler & Mishra, 2008).

Complex Thinking: “People with strengths in complex thinking may be good at deeply understanding ideas and concepts, seeing connections among information from different sources, demonstrating imagination, constructing and defending arguments based on facts or evidence, taking risks with new ideas, and/or drawing inferences from limited information.” (Faces of Learning, 2016).


How Can Better Explain the Wicked Problem of Teaching Complex Thinking

To better understand what the wicked problem of teaching complex thinking and the various components of complex thinking itself, I created the following infographic: wicked-problems_23795688_28e127ef9d03026b777b7568f08bce7bdb4817b1


Research and Findings

Our research group conducted a survey of 134 individuals working in the field of education, ranging from preschool to higher education. The participants also ranged from administrators to classroom teachers and extending to support staff.

We had three important findings:

  • Finding #1: 75% educators surveyed have little to no knowledge regarding complex thinking.
  • Finding #2: Participants found the following teaching methods/complex thinking skills most difficult to address: Coding/computer science, authentic opportunities for student inquiry, and opportunities for student innovation.
  • Finding #3: Participants found the following teaching methods/complex thinking skills most important to address: Communication skills, problem-solving skills, and student engagement with real world problems and issues.

 


Solutions to Our Survey Findings

We identified two solutions to address the aforementioned issues.

  • Solution #1: Address teaching complex thinking in colleges of education.
  • Solution #2: Allow more opportunities for student choice. 

As part of my group’s presentation tackling the wicked problem of teaching complex thinking, I created the following slideshow to examine the way our Google survey results led us to the solutions we identified. Please look through the slides below for more detailed information.


Why Student Choice?

Student choice has long been argued for, and against, by educators all over the country. We believe that by allowing more student choice, students will become more invested, engaged, and creators of their own learning.

As explained in A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger, 21st-century citizens must be self-learners, creative, and resourceful. Some education models which support these types of learners, according to Berger, include project based learning, and inquiry-based schools. These schools, which in ways mirror Montessori education, have core principles of “letting students explore, direct their own learning, and work on projects instead of taking tests,” (Berger, p.54, 2016). All of these modes of learning push students to form big, important questions to guide their own learning. Question forming techniques, similar to the methods of the aforementioned educational models all push student choice and complex questioning techniques which lead to deeper student engagement and higher engagement (Berger, 2016).

When it comes to the question of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), these types of student-centered educational methods meet requirements of standards while still allowing freedom and flexibility in schools. As stated by Christy Howard in the article, “Engaging Minds in the Common Core: Integrating Standards for Student Engagement”, “Standards can be met through providing students with autonomy in assignments, the ability to access, analyze, and create multimedia texts and providing opportunities for students to showcase knowledge through art, inquiry, and creative writing,” (p. 49, 2016). By giving students a platform to explore, create, and question, they will deepen their understanding and their abilities to address complex problems in an increasingly complex world.


The Best Worst Ideas: How Educators Can Tackle Teaching Complex Thinking

Please take the time to explore the multimedia graphic below to learn more about how we can address the wicked problem of teaching complex thinking within our classrooms. Below, you can explore four potential teaching approaches to address complex thinking and its related parts.

The four classroom strategies you can explore below include how to provide more opportunities for authentic inquiry, genius hour/20Time, project based learning, and general student choice in assessments.

Hover over the image below to learn more about each of these strategies and what led us to our conclusions.


References

Berger, W. (2016). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas. New York: Bloomsbury.

Faces of Learning. (2016). Complex Thinking: Creativity, Critical Thought, and Logic. Retrieved from http://www.facesoflearning.net/complex-thinking/.

Howard, C. (2016). Engaging Minds in the Common Core: Integrating Standards for Student Engagement. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 89(2). doi:10.1080/00098655.2016.1147411

Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (2008). Introducing TPCK. In AACTE Committee on Innovation and Technology (Ed.),Handbook of Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK) (pp. 3–29). New York: Routledge.

 

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How do educators move forward when faced with tragedy on a national scale?

When the events in Charlottesville began to unfold, I was mostly relying on the radio for my information. I often rely on National Public Radio (NPR) to keep me up to date with current events. However, the night of Tuesday, August 16, I watched this and was brought to my senses:

This shook me to my core and reminded me of those times when educators must put any plans aside and focus on what really matters. What happened to Michael Brown, what happened to Trayvon Martin, what happened to Tamir Rice, what happened in Charlottesville… This is what really matters for our nation and our students.

These are the moments in our lives when we truly have an opportunity to teach and encourage dialogue to promote, hopefully, a brighter future for their generation.


Context 

Last weekend, America was forced to look in the mirror and see the reality of its society. As the “Unite the Right” rally made its way to Charlottesville, Virginia, it brought neo-Nazis, skinheads, white nationalists, white supremacists and general alt-right, violent, racist protestors.

These protestors were coming to the defense of a statue of Robert E. Lee, which was scheduled for removal. They were met with hundreds of anti-racists protesters ranging from representatives of the clergy, Black Lives Matter, and average citizens of Charlottesville who were appalled by the racist presence, invading the streets of their city.

The protests didn’t proceed peacefully. Heather Heyer was killed in what has been labeled an act of domestic terrorism, as an alt-right protestor rammed his car into traffic. This did not only resulted in the murder of Heyers, standing on the right side of history, standing up for what she believed in–an anti-racist America. Along with her murder, the crash injured 19 additional anti-racist protestors.

Now, those are the facts. As an educator, that conversation would be difficult enough. What happened next, though, complicates my ability to address this vicious act of racism within my classroom.

The president initially placed the blame for the violence in Charlottesville that led to Heyer’s death on both sides.

Then he spoke two days later, under pressure, calling out the KKK and neo-Nazis for being despicable racist groups.

Then he spoke yet again, the next day, taking many steps back by falsely equating the anti-racist protesters with those attempting to preserve the legacy white supremacy.

Is the President reflecting our nation’s ideals? Our identity? Is he a role model our students should look up to?


The Benefits of Having a Well-Established Personal Learning Network (PLN)

So, what now? What do we do as teachers? How do we address the complicated history and legacy of racism that took the life of Heather Heyers? I posted a status on Facebook as I was reeling in emotional turmoil after seeing footage from Charlottesville for the first time, and I re-posted the call to action and the call for help on my Twitter.

After venting a bit online, I immediately began looking for answers and resources for help to address this, specifically within my seventh grade English classroom.

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When I ran into a colleague, she told me she saw my Facebook post and posed the question: So how are we going to approach what happened in Charlottesville last week?

I am known within my building to be on-top of addressing current events and pivotal moments in our culture. I was glad that a senior colleague sought out my help regarding this, as part of each other’s professional learning network. I’m proud my colleagues value me as a resource.

In an interview with TED about his book Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere, educator and blogger, Will Richardson explores how we can improve education by better networking ourselves, especially in the age of the internet (2013). He says, “I think the first step is that educators have to reexamine their own learning practice and move toward becoming more networked and connected themselves.” This is especially true when our values as a society are being questioned, and as teachers, we don’t know what to do.

Here is my opportunity to work through this for myself, in some ways, to help my colleagues, and to help all of our students digest this complicated moment in our history.


Resources to Address Charlottesville, Racism, and Our Shared History

Below, I collected resources from across the internet to help teachers go back to school with some tools in their belt to fight for social justice and to help build the types of future citizens we need, right within our classrooms.


I hope you will take the time and special opportunity we have as educators at this time to explore these topics and the tragedy at the heart of it. If we don’t make time for these opportunities for dialogue and growth within our classrooms, where do our values as educators really lie?

I will leave you with Riz Ahmed’s performance of a rap, spoken word style on Jimmy Fallon. Consider sharing this with your students as well.


Resources

Kamenetz, A. (2017, August 14). Resources For Educators To Use In The Wake Of Charlottesville. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2017/08/14/543390148/resources-for-educators-to-use-the-wake-of-charlottesville.

NCTE’s Standing Committee Against Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English. (2017, August 16). There Is No Apolitical Classroom: Resources for Teaching in These Times. Retrieved from http://blogs.ncte.org/index.php/2017/08/there-is-no-apolitical-classroom-resources-for-teaching-in-these-times/.

Richardson, W. (2013, February 17). Why School? TED ebook author rethinks education when information is everywhere. Retrieved July 20, 2017, from http://blog.ted.com/why-school-ted-ebook-author-rethinks-education-when-information-is-everywhere/

Strauss, V. (2017, August 13). The first thing teachers should do when school starts is talk about hatred in America. Here’s help. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/amphtml/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/08/13/the-first-thing-teachers-should-do-when-school-starts-is-talk-about-hatred-in-america-heres-help/.

 

Rethinking Infographics… and TPACK

Throughout the past few weeks, I have learned some new technologies that I would like to incorporate in my classroom this year. These would take the place of other programs I am already using in my classroom. One specific technology resource I would like to use is Piktochart.com to take the place of Canva.com when students create infographics.

I wrote an entire blog detailing an assessment where my students create infographics using Canva, which you can view in an earlier post if you’re curious about infographics in the classroom more generally.


Why Use Piktochart Instead of Canva when Students Create Infographics?

One specific online resource I would like to use this year is Piktochart, in place of Canva for students to create infographics. 

  • Better user experience(UX): Piktochart is a website where you are able to easily create infographics. For starters, Piktochart is significantly more user-friendly than Canva, and I anticipate this to be even more true for students in my 7th grade ELA classroom. The entire design of the website is smoother and easier to navigate. Not only is it easier to navigate, but it is easier to work within and edit your infographic compared to Canva.
  • Free icons and images: More icons/illustrations available for free to insert in infographics. Not only are they free, but connecting back to the UX of Piktochart, it is a lot easier to search and filter results when looking for icons and images to insert in your infographic.
  • Help and tutorials: Piktochart offers straightforward help and guides as you begin to use its various features for the first time.
  • The size of infographics & editing ease: The infographics available on Piktochart are larger and offer more opportunities for users to visualize their message through photos, writing, data visualization (graphs), illustrations, etc. Piktochart also allows users to easily add and remove entire sections to an infographic without messing up other portions. This comes in handy so users don’t have to copy & paste a bunch of different portions or start over entirely.

Constraints of Piktochart

  • A limited amount of infographics users have access to free of charge.
    • Piktochart has 12 infographic layouts available for free of charge to users, whereas Canva must have over 50 different designs for free, plus dozens more for premium (paying) users.
  • Infographics are all large in size.
    • Although having a large infographic can come in handy for bigger projects, sometimes having the options of pre-made, simpler infographics is beneficial for the users who don’t want to spend time editing down a more complicated infographic.
  • Limited use: Piktochart is essentially only useful for making infographics, with some additional options for posters, flyers, and presentations. Even these options are limited.

When and Why Would I Still Use Canva?

Gender Roles in the 1930's (4)

The first infographic I made using Canva.

  • More options/uses: Even with a free account on Canva, it simply offers an incomparable amount of graphic design templates available to use for a variety of reasons, as I mentioned above. You do not need to be a paying, premium member to access most of the designs for any category.
    • Canva is essentially a broader graphic design website with templates available for projects beyond infographics including invitations, book covers, menus, resumes, CD covers, flyers, and more.  
  • Student Choice: This is beneficial for student choice and differentiation in projects and assignments.
    • Personal book projects come to mind, for me. Each marking period, students must complete an assessment related to their personal reading book. If students are given the option to use Canva they could create an alternate book cover, an album cover with track listings to accompany their novel, or even a flyer advertising their book.

 

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Reflection: Best Practice & TPACK

TPACK refers to a pedagogical framework I have previously explored in a blog post. Basically, it refers to the relationship between technology, pedagogy, and content knowledge all working together in classroom activities and objectives. 

TPACK-new

Basic visualization of the TPACK Model. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, © 2012 by tpack.org.

As explained at TPACK.org, TPACK focuses on the way three important types of knowledge interplay with each other in our classrooms: Technology knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and content area knowledge, but taking that a step further with a focus on technology: Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK), Technological Content Knowledge (TCK), Technological Pedagogical Knowledge (TPK), and Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) (Koehler, 2012).

How can we be sure that we successfully deliver the type of necessary, 21st-century instruction that lies at the center of the intersection of these three types of knowledge?

 

wicked-problems_23795688_28e127ef9d03026b777b7568f08bce7bdb4817b1

The first infographic I made using Piktochart.

As described by Matt Koehler at TPACK’s blog, “Effective technology integration for pedagogy around specific subject matter requires developing sensitivity to the dynamic, transactional relationship between these components of knowledge situated in unique contexts” (2012).  Considering how the components of TPACK work, and that “sweet spot” at the intersection of its components, I now see that I should alter how I use technology, with my specific ELA research goals in mind, to complete my objectives with productive and meaningful instruction.

I believe by trying Piktochart for myself was eye-opening for me when reflecting on on previous instruction of this type of knowledge building in my classroom. I recently used Piktochart to create an infographic for a project, after a colleague suggested I try to use it over other infographic sites.  It was essentially an instance of experiential learning on my end–relating to my technological pedagogical knowledge in particular. I am now able to address my use of technology more critically, at least in this specific instance, and alter my past practices with TPACK in mind.

 

 

 


Resources:

Koehler, M. (2012, September 24). TPACK Explained [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://tpack.org/.

All images belong to Guadalupe Bryan unless otherwise stated.

A Beautiful Book: A More Beautiful Question

How do define ill-structured, complex problems?

One way to describe complex, or ill-structured, problems faced within educational environments as described by Spiro, Coulson, Feltovich and Anderson (2004), is a problem that involves a lot of different variables that must be considered at the same time within that particular context. These problems require complex solutions as well–solutions that involve multiple variables working together to address the problem at hand.

When working to solve a complex or ill-structured problem, we have to simultaneously think of the problem from multiple perspectives and try to tap into the different variables which we can use to address it. To solve a complex problem, we have to allow our minds to be flexible to apply a wide range of knowledge to the specific situation at hand. Sometimes this type of thinking or problem solving can feel unnatural. This can be particularly challenging for our students.

Within the book, A More Beautiful Question, the author, Warren Berger, describes a questioning progression that is useful when addressing complex problems: The Why/What If/How progression (2016). This questioning progression is useful in addressing problems of practice because having a questioning process in place can help us organize our thoughts, and eventually, lead to the next steps of solving a problem, rather than just thinking about it (Berger, 2016).

The What If stage of questioning allows our minds to open up to all the creative solutions and possibilities it has in store. Berger explains that it can take a lot of brainstorming and waiting to get the right What If question for a particular situation as our brains are “connecting existing ideas in unusual and interesting ways” (p. 34, 2016). This type of thinking drives creativity and pushes inquiry (Berger, 2016).

Students as Questioners

 

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Why? What If? How? From A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger, 2016.

Throughout A More Beautiful Question, Berger explores how young children are expert questioners, but by middle school, their inquisitive nature is, essentially, nipped in the bud (2016). By embracing the How/What If/Why questioning progression in my classroom, I can rekindle my students’ creativity, and, hopefully, students will become comfortable and excited to become active questioners again.

 

In a classroom, like my seventh grade English class, the Why/What If/How questioning progression could help me address different complex problems of practice we face. One specific complex problem my students are faced with is the research process and creating a product that reflects deep understanding of their research topic. Throughout the year my students complete a few different research products, one being an infographic and the other a standard research paper.

Research Projects in 7th Grade ELA & The Why/What If/How Progression

Throughout the research process, students must coordinate multiple systems of thinking, various research skills, organization skills, and visualization skills. By using the Why/What If/How questioning progression, students may be better able to find a worthwhile topic to pursue throughout the first phase the of the progression, Why? For example, when students are tasked with researching a topic related to their personal choice novel, they could pursue different potential research approaches by seeing what they are curious about.

 

all-american-boys-9781481463331_hr

Image from the novel’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2017.

If a student is reading the book All American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds their Why question forming stage could look something like this:

 

  • Why is police brutality a problem?
  • Why don’t police get in trouble more?
  • Why do police resort to violence?
  • Why are so many people of color affected by violence at the hands of police?
  • Why did this novel come out when it did?
  • Why should people care about police brutality?
  • Why are so many people upset over police brutality?
  • Why is the Black Lives Matter movement so connected to the police system?

Throughout this process, as you can see, there are many different topics a student could come up with before settling on one to research.

Next, would be the What If phase, which could look something like this:

  • What if there were more laws protecting citizens from police violence?
  • What if students organized a protest?
  • What if police were found guilty?
  • What if the victim fights back?
  • What if the victim is white instead of black?

This portion of the process could either focus, broaden, or deepen their topic and their investment in the topic. I think through the What If phase, students would tap into a deeper understanding of the systems at work in their book, especially with this example.

Finally, during the How phase, students could explore solutions to the problem they choose to research or continue exploring and deepening their brainstorming process:

  • How do police get off the hook when there are videos showing the violence they committed?
  • How are people fighting against police violence today?
  • How are students in schools affected by police violence fighting back?
  • How are the reputations of police affected by violence on the job?
  • How can people protect themselves and their friends?

As you can see, through the Why/What If/How progression, students are able to come up with a wide range of potential research topics to explore in their research. The questioning process also comes into play while doing the actual research as well as after. Whether students are completing a research paper or an infographic based on their research, the way they choose to organize and visualize their research will depend on what they want their audience to take away. Some of these decisions could be aided by the questioning progression.

A More Beautiful Question: READ THIS BOOK!

IMG_20170721_083754I am excited to embrace a lot of what I have learned from reading A More Beautiful Question within my classroom this upcoming school year. Again, I strongly urge everyone out there to read the book–It’s not a book for educators, but it is a book for thinkers and problem-solvers. Be a good thinker and read this book!


Resources:

Berger, W. (2016). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas. New York: Bloomsbury.

Simon & Schuster. (2017). All American Boys. Retrieved August 15, 2017, from http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/All-American-Boys/Jason-Reynolds/9781481463331

Spiro, R.J., Coulson, R.L., Feltovich, P.J. & Anderson, D.K. (2004). Cognitive flexibility theory: Advanced knowledge acquisition in ill-structured domains. In R.B. Ruddell, N.J. Unrau (Eds). Theoretical Models and Processes of Reading (5th Ed., pp 640-659). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Terrific Terrariums

For my summer project, I have been learning how to create terrariums, using only the internet to help me achieve my terrarium dreams. I began with constructing a cactus and succulent terrarium. Since beginning this learning process, I have moved on to make hanging terrariums as well as mini-terrariums with artificial plants to place on my classroom tables. You can look at my blog posts from different phases of the project here and here.

 

 


I decided to pursue terrarium making because I already have a huge interest in plants. Not only do I have a ton of potted plants outside my home, but I also have two gardens at my house. Even at school, my love for plants and the environment shines through–I manage the school’s community garden and coordinate the environmental club. Throughout the year at school, I start anywhere from 100-150 seedlings in my classroom with an indoor grow lab, which my students enjoy tending to all year.

Terrariums are quite different from the other gardening and planting I am used to in a few different ways. First, it is more like a tiny ecosystem, rather than a simple planter. Secondly, the plants used in a terrarium widely vary from cacti to ferns to succulents. This is important to note because I have absolutely zero experience with any of those types of plants.

Valuable Online Resources

Some of the most valuable research I found about terrariums were images. A variety of blogs have posted about terrariums, especially as they become increasingly trendy. I used Buzzfeed to look at listicles of terrariums for inspiration. By far the most useful website I used was The Spruce. This website provides information on all which plants do well in terrariums. There are even articles with common terrarium mistakes. I would definitely check it out!


How-To Video

In the video below, I will show you how to make a terrarium in a few easy steps.

Materials:

  • Plants – Be sure to research which do well together in the mini-environment you are creating
  • Potting soil
  • Rocks for drainage
  • Activated charcoal
  • Potting soil
  • Open container, preferably made of glass 

Reflections

I decided to make small “terrariums” with artificial plants for my classroom after watching a YouTube video of one of my instructors at Michigan State University giving a classroom tour. The teacher, Mary Wever (one of the wonderful instructors of my Masters of Arts in Educational Technology course at Michigan State University), had little plants set out on each table group. I immediately loved the idea and wanted to mimic it using some of the skills I have learned over the course of the summer.

Not only did I simply love the idea, but I have recently done research into the benefits of greenery and the outdoors on students in the classroom, and I believe that more plants would have numerous positive impacts on my students. Nature helps students to focus better and can decrease stress and anxiety. The National Wildlife Federation provides a ton of research proving these benefits in a recent publication which can be found online.

However, in my excitement, I failed to consider some of the constraints of a classroom environment. I assumed that using fake succulents rather than real ones would be enough to ensure their survival in what can often be a bit of a chaotic seventh-grade classroom. However, after posting pictures on my Instagram, one of my coworkers quickly asked if the containers were glass. This wasn’t an issue I even considered until she brought it up! This is one way the internet has helped me throughout this process.

 

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An exchange with a colleague on Instagram.

 

This was not the first instance of somebody on Instagram or Facebook engaging with me about my terrarium project. In another case, a friend asked for help identifying a plant I posted a photo of, and she wondered if I knew why hers had died. I wasn’t the only one learning through this project. It’s interesting to look back and see how I was engaged with others, even if it was just small moments on social media.

Overall, I am really happy with this entire project for one main reason: Choice. 

Though this entire project was required for a graduate class, I have enjoyed it immensely. I think the main reason for that is because of the choice and freedom I was given with it. I think throughout this process, I have experienced student choice, project based learning, and inquiry based learning first hand. I have seen much of the research and ideas from the incredible book, A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger come to life in my own learning experiences (2016).

I feel inspired to learn and driven to accomplish goals that make me happy, all because my educational context in this course has given me the freedom to do so. I know how easy it is to find help with just about anything online. I have seen how easily passion can drive meaningful, personalized learning. Berger explains this new age of learning and questioning in one which, “people of all age are beginning to direct their own learning, exercising their questioning muscles–and doing so outside of established institutes of learning” (69, 2016). I did not learn about terrariums in a community gardening class or some type of club–I learned about it on my own, which the help of the easily accessible tools online. It is this type of learning which is necessary as education ventures deeper into the 21st-century. 

This project, along with A More Beautiful Question,  is another piece of inspiration causing me to pursue implementation of genius hour/20Time within my classroom this year. If you’d like to read more about my goals and rationale for that, check out my earlier blog post.


Resources

Berger, W. (2016). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas. New York: Bloomsbury.

National Wildlife Federation. (2010). Back to School: Back Outside! How Outdoor Education and Outdoor School Time Create High Performance Students. Retrieved from http://www.nwf.org/~/media/PDFs/Be%20Out%20There/Back%20to%20School%20full%20report.ashx.

All images belong to Guadalupe Bryan unless otherwise noted. All social media images are used with permission.

A Breath of Fresh Air: Reimagining Learning Spaces

Redesign your classroom with no limitations, cost or otherwise.

Doesn’t that sound like a dream come true?

Well, in a way, that dream came true for me this week. I used the 3D design resource, SketchUp, to create the classroom of my dreams without any limitations–Minus my own 3D designing limitations, that is…


To design any space is a challenge, especially when using new technology and using a visualization form that is unfamiliar, like 3D design. To be honest, I grew quite frustrated with SketchUp, both the web based version and downloadable version. The web-based version kept crashing, but I was not able to upload my working design to the program I downloaded to my MacBook. I honestly had the thought, why not just use Sims?! Alas, I persevered. Below, you can see images of the classroom I created using SketchUp.

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Before I began, I looked at some resources from the educational design consultancy, The Third Teacher + (TTT),  including TTT Ideas Flash Cards. These flashcards provide a wealth of information regarding design in schools. The flashcards provide a lot of aspects of education to reflect on when designing a learning space. Some of the points the flash cards make center on learning styles, resources (including people) within a building, student voice and choice, accessibility, play, and more.

Before beginning designing, I also considered looking into a couple other aspects of learning spaces that I was curious about including how color affects learning and the benefits of green spaces, like outdoor classrooms.

What I learned did inform my decision making in a couple ways. For wall colors, I learned that accent colors are a good choice in addition to the colors of blue, green, and white/neutral tones. I decided to include a blue accent wall in my classroom because blues promote a sense of well-being, which sounds like a welcome feeling for any seventh-grade classroom (Kaplan, 2017).


Outdoor Classrooms: A Dream Within Reach

Additionally, the idea of an outdoor classroom has been attractive to me since attending a talk, “Voice, Choice, & Airplanes” by educators Katie Bielecki and Kristin Hundt, which I previously mentioned in my post about Genius Hour. In their talk, they described an outdoor classroom. Before this day, I had never even heard of an outdoor classroom. I was immediately interested for a few reasons. The environment is extremely important to me; I am the coordinator of our school’s environmental club and am the main caretaker of our school garden.

For much of the year, I have two large grow labs set up in my class where we grow dozens of plants to ultimately make their way to our garden. The students are always excited to help with the grow lab, and they are always excited to help with the garden. I also am a big proponent of getting students outdoors, whether to simply read, free write, go on a poetry walk,  or anything else that can get us outdoors.

To reflect further, I sought advice from the only people I knew with relative experience regarding outdoor classrooms– Katie Bielecki and Kristin Hundt, via Twitter. Below you can see some of their insights. Not only was this inspiring, but the entire process of pursuing an outdoor classroom become entirely doable, which gets me excited for what I may be able to realistically accomplish in my own educational setting.

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My initial question about outdoor classrooms.

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The awesome and inspiring insight I was offered!


The Benefits of Getting Students Outside

In doing some research about the benefits of getting kids outdoors, or even of simply having plants in classrooms, many positive effects become clear. A really useful resource to examine the benefits of the outdoors on students, generally speaking, came from an article published by the National Wildlife Federation called “Back to School: Back Outside!” (2010). A simple, but a powerful passage from the study explains, “… the larger the number of environmental variables we expose children to, the more inventiveness and creativity we will observe… The outdoors offer significant learning variables and benefits that will help our children… and society to have an intelligent workforce” (National Wildlife Federation, p. 11, 2010). Some of the more specific benefits of exposure to nature include:

  • Increased concentration, including for students with attention deficit disorders
  • Decreased stress and anxiety
  • Helps move average or underperforming students to become higher-performer learners
  • Various physical, emotional, and academic benefits
  • Helps develop an appreciation for nature
  • Benefits students of all abilities
  • Inspires student inquiry
  • Promotes care for community
  • Increases creativity
  • Increases problem-solving skills (National Wildlife Federation, pp. 1-11, 2010).

Many of these benefits align well with the ideas proposed throughout Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question, specifically the increase in students’ creativity, inquiry, and problem-solving skills. Throughout A More Beautiful Question, Berger explores how famous, industry leaders and creative innovators find the important questions that push them to ground-breaking inquiry (Berger, 2016). Anything that promotes creativity, inquiry, and problem-solving skills would cause students to become better able to be successful in the rapidly-changing 21st-century world they will inhabit, and eventually, lead.


Resources

Berger, W. (2016). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas. New York: Bloomsbury.

Kaplan. (2017). Using Color to Enhance Learning and Influence Mood. Retrieved from https://www.kaplanco.com/ii/using-color-to-enhance-learning.

Mau, B., O’Donnell, Wicklund, Pigozzi, & Peterson. (2010). 79 Flashcards. New York: Abrams. Retrieved from
https://bryangua.files.wordpress.com/2017/08/85262-tttideasflashcards.pdf.

National Wildlife Federation. (2010). Back to School: Back Outside! How Outdoor Education and Outdoor School Time Create High Performance Students. Retrieved from http://www.nwf.org/~/media/PDFs/Be%20Out%20There/Back%20to%20School%20full%20report.ashx.

All images belong to Guadalupe Bryan unless otherwise stated.

Teaching Infographics

 

What is an infographic? Well, to put it simply, they are visualizations of information. They are easier to understand when you see one–You know it when you see it!

What is the infographic lesson?

This infographic lesson prioritizes a day-long independent work time, for students to complete the infographic portion of their companion book project. In this unit-based project, students create a companion book for a novel they love. The companion book includes multiple chapters of essays, research, fan-fiction, and infographics.

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My students proudly hanging up their work! They made a little hallway display for everybody’s infographics.

With the infographic portion, students develop and explore complex topics related to their novels from a perspective of their choice. For example, in the past, one student selected The Uglies by Scott Westerfeld and researched plastic surgery in the United States for her infographic. Another student read All American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds and produced an infographic about the Black Lives Matter movement. I was amazed by my seventh-graders’ interest in complicated and complex topics relevant in our current society.

What is my rationale?

Students have written two essays about their personal choice book for this unit, and now they will practice research skills to communicate information about a topic related to their novel. For example, if a student is reading Monster by Walter Dean Meyers, they may choose to research the topic of juvenile incarceration.

Here, students explore a topic of their choice outside of the confines their novel and entering the realm of the real-world. This connects back to my research regarding complex thinking skills as well as a common thread throughout Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question–When we push ourselves to learn about things that interest us personally, we are not only more invested in our learning, but it naturally makes our learning become more authentic (2016).

Examples of infographics completed in my seventh grade English classroom:

I also posted about this on my classroom blog, if you would like to read that update for more information/context!

Further, the research infographic well aligns with the TPACK (Technology, Pedagogy, and Content Knowledge) framework, which I explored in an earlier post,  by allowing students to use technology within our classroom to construct and communicate their understanding of a complex topic. I intentionally made their research chapter of their companion book something different than the first two chapters, which had been essays. By allowing students to become literate in a more nuanced, visual form of information communication, the infographic, they were able to create products they were proud of. Not only does it increase they potential for turning their learning into a visual representation, but it also improves their information literacy. 

Why should you try something new?

I guess to close, I urge you to try and address the CCSS in fun, exciting, and innovative ways, but never do something just because. I had to think about altering this, from originally being a research paper to an infographic, long and hard before presenting this idea to my colleagues. I think that it is important to have a clear rationale when switching things up!

Technology can be very alluring sometimes, and I think that is because it offers so many avenues for us to explore. As educators, I think it is vital for us to consider the benefits and setbacks of which technological resources we want to use, and when we want to use them if we desire to deliver the best education as possible to our students.


References

Berger, W. (2016). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas. New York: Bloomsbury.

All images belong to Guadalupe Bryan unless otherwise stated.

Preparing, Potting, Planting, & Perseverance

Summer is upon us!

All summer I have been tending to my outdoor garden: petunias, gerbera daisies, coral bells, turf lilies, kale, lettuce, and more! Those plants have been growing relatively well all summer. Despite my love for plants, I have never fared well with indoor plants… Just ask my principal about my classroom grow labs! Regardless, I am loving my terrarium plants, quite a bit, already!

Before updating you on the progress of my terrariums, I would like to show you an easy way to showcase your budding green thumb–Try making a mason jar terrarium!


How to Make a Mason Jar Terrarium

In the video below I will show you how to make a simple mason jar terrarium.

What you need: A mason jar, indoor potting soil, activated carbon, river pebbles, and a small plant of your choice that is suitable for living indoors. I would suggest a succulent or cactus for the easiest care possible!


Update on My Terrarium Project

So for my personal project this summer, I am building a terrarium. I outlined my project plan in a previous post. Since then, I have made a lot of progress with my little terrarium project!

I started out going to the store and buying the pebbles, activated charcoal, potting soil, and a variety of plants. For plants, I bought some rainbow cacti, an aloe vera plant, various succulents, an orchid, and even a little bonsai tree. 

This brings me to my first issue. Long story short, I needed to do better research about which specific plants to buy. I accidentally purchased many plants which I found to be incompatible with the open terrarium environment, all of which (but one) I had to return to the store.

One word of advice: Do your research, and be patient with planning!

Looking back, I was a little over-eager with my project, so I bought a lot of plants because I was planning on building my first terrarium in an unused fish tank I had lying around my house. I wound up regretting these quick purchases, as I didn’t give myself much time to shop around and see which plants I had access to locally, or which plants would even grow well in the environment I created.

When I first put together the fish tank terrarium, it included an orchid and an aloe vera plant. However, as I continued doing my research, I realized having an orchid in the terrarium may be problematic as orchids should not have their soil changed, which was a mistake I initially made. I also ran into a problem with the aloe vera plant in that it kept falling over or leaning onto other, smaller plants in the terrarium. 

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My terrarium after removing the orchid.

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My terrarium after removing the aloe and the orchid. I also adjusted the levels of some plants and rearranged them.

To solve these two problems, I removed both plants from the terrarium and replaced them/rearranged the other plants in the terrarium.

Looking back, I could have avoided the mess of planting, removing, and repotting these plants had a been a bit more patient with the research and planning phase of my project. I was so excited to get started, I didn’t give myself enough time to thoroughly research the plants available near me or if they would do well living together in the environment I created. Note taken: Spend more time doing thorough research before going plant shopping! Next time, it may be smart to make a list of plants available at the store, go home and do more research, then return to the store to make some purchases. You live, you learn!


Making Mini-Terrariums!

I also went a bit further and began exploring smaller and hanging terrariums. Although hanging terrariums are really cute, they are a bit more difficult to construct than larger ones. The main issue with small, hanging terrariums is that it is difficult to firmly plant anything inside, as it is difficult to stick your hands/fingers in to press things down.

The best resource for me throughout this entire process has been https://www.thespruce.com which has provided me with information on which plants to use, how to build different types of terrariums, and how to design different types of terrariums. This website was useful in that it also helped me discover which plants I should buy or keep, and which plants would do well together. It also had blog posts about common mistakes people make with terrariums, and how to avoid them–Definitely worth the read! I would definitely recommend this site to anybody else looking for some help with their green-thumb! 

The Spruce has a ton of posts regarding terrariums, and different types. Something I found particularly interesting is a post about creating mason jar terrariums, similar to the ones I mentioned at the beginning of this post. However, the mason jar terrariums they describe, are closed terrariums with a more delicate environment. This makes me wonder, maybe I should start with a tiny mason jar enclosed terrarium, rather than another huge terrarium project? Again, I have more research to do!

Although The Spruce was my major source of information, I also received a lot of inspiration simply through looking at completed terrariums. Buzzfeed curated a pretty great list of awesome, simple, do-it-yourself terrariums from across the web. Simply looking at what others had done gave me some ideas for what I wanted to do with my own terrarium project.

In considering how my process of trial and error has played out with my terrariums, it harkens back to learning about the design cycle, and how often a product/project may require many iterations before completion (A. Bulte, K. Klaassen, A. Pilot, & H. B. Westbroek (2010). No doubt, I have gone through multiple iterations of my terrarium as I observed and learned what was working and what wasn’t.

Overall, I am really happy with my large terrarium and small, hanging ones so far. All are doing well, minus one that my cat got to… 


Looking Forward

Looking forward I would like to find a container in which I can build an enclosed terrarium. I would like to do this because I have a tropical plant I bought which requires a different environment than the plants in my current terrarium.

A closed terrarium is good for plants that require more moisture or humidity. The plants in my open terrarium require very little water, about a tablespoon once a week. If I were to plant ferns or any other humidity loving plants into a closed terrarium, they will require more water. I would like to include moss as well. This will allow for a slightly more verdant, colorful environment. I think this would also be much smaller.

What will I need to create an enclosed terrarium?

  • A medium sized enclosed glass container
  • Sheet moss
  • Humidity loving plants, like ferns
  • Soil (Have it!)
  • River pebbles (Have it!)
  • Activated charcoal (Have it!)

References

A. Bulte, K. Klaassen, A. Pilot, & H. B. Westbroek (2010). Providing Students with a Sense of Purpose by Adapting a Professional Practice. International Journal of Science Education, Vol. 32 (5), 603-624, retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09500690902721699.

All images and media belong to Guadalupe Bryan unless otherwise stated.

#GLMakers

Are you curious about the maker movement? Are Maker Faires something that stir-up immediate anxiety?

Well, read on.

I was curious, yet absurdly apprehensive about the whole maker movement just a few weeks ago…

That brings me to this past week. I helped organize a mini Maker Faire with my lovely cohort as part of the Master’s of Arts in Educational Technology (MAET) program at Michigan State University.


What is a Maker Faire? Good Question.

If you’re sitting there asking yourself, “What the WHAT is a Maker Faire?” worry not! Most of my cohort, including myself, were also wondering this question… and we only had a week to put this thing together! To get a little insight as to what the maker movement is all about, I would suggest viewing the talk “Why We Make” by Adam Savage, yes, of Mythbusters fame.


It’s GO TIME!

To prepare for the faire, the eight of us split into four groups of two. My partner and I decided to create a booth where participants could make a paper circuit with a LED light on the back of a name tag, which they could decorate. If you are interested in seeing the full plan of our booth and detailed instructions, you may view a PDF file here.

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My examples of a lit name tag. Please notice the kitty with star-eyes!

Overall, I believe the Greater Lansing Mini-Maker Faire, #GLMakers on Twitter, went well, including our booth! Two groups, including my own, had booths which involved circuits. The other two groups involved different types of building challenges, using objects including items such as paper, tape, spaghetti, and marshmallows.

Our booth set out with a few different objectives, including:

  • Broad Objective: Participants will become inspired through their experience and generate thoughts towards circuitry/science.
  • Learning Objectives: Participants will understand how a circuit works, or more loosely how the parts of the circuit interact with each other: The copper tape as a conductor, the battery as energy, and the LED light, with its positive and negative charges.
  • Making Objectives: Participants will be able to create circuits by using a limited amount of supplies. Within the Star booth, participants will be able to create name tags using materials provided.
    • This reflects the do-it-yourself, or DIY, aspects of the maker movement: With limited help and instructions, makers at the booth will have to rely on each other to help complete the project. Although we were there to help, participants should be mostly self-reliant in terms of constructing their circuits with aid from visual examples and peers.

As an incentive for our younger participants, we provided guests with a card they could get stamped at each station, like a Maker Faire passport, and they could return it at the end of their visit for a reward. This incentive wound up being quite popular with many of our younger guests. I would definitely recommend some type of incentive for participants to visit as many booths as possible.

 

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Tips When Planning a (Mini) Maker Faire

  • Pay attention to advertising your event!
    • Get the word out as soon as possible and as effectively as you can! I would say a general flyer/website with basic information should begin circulating as soon as you know the date, time, and location of the faire. We only had a week to plan, so the more time you have, the easier it can be.

      The flyer we created for the event.

    • Use social media to your advantage.
    • Use your personal learning network to your advantage with help spreading the word.
  • Reach out to get volunteers for the event, and provide each volunteer with a clear role before the event.
  • Have multiple modes of presenting information, especially step-by-step help for participants requiring more guidance. I made a step-by-step Slides presentation you can view in my Maker Faire Plan.
  • Be sure you are a master at your specific booth activity. It is difficult to help participants if you are confused yourself!
  • Have an incentive for participants to stick around and visit as many stations/booths as possible.
  • Seek out help online and through individuals you may know with experiences with the maker movement.

The Maker Movement and Education

Through learning about the maker movement, as well as planning/participating in a Maker Faire, I learned about how the maker movement and its core principles can be incorporated into education, kindergarten through high school and beyond.

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Basic visualization of the TPACK Model. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, © 2012 by tpack.org

First off, the maker movement clearly can be connected to not only the TPACK (Technological Pedagogy and Content Knowledge) model but also more broadly to a constructivist approach to education. Constructivism suggests individuals create their own knowledge through experience (Chen & Lui, 2010). This is reflected in maker spaces as participants are often forced to learn through hands-on trial and error. 

For example, at our booth, participants were building a paper circuit with their own hands, and with limited help available, minus that of their peers. Participants would build a circuit, try their light, and if it didn’t work, try again. Through this sequence of events, participants are forced to reflect on their learning in order to alter their products to make a working circuit.

As I reflected on the question of how maker kits could be used in my 7th grade ELA class, my mind raced toward informational writing. Groups could play and create tiny technologies out of the kits. Then groups could create a set of instructions on how to build their design, and trade it with another group. Not only would this meet ELA CCSS, but students would also be doing some cross-curricular work in the process.

 

I think that through this process, students would fail at many points, but it would lead to questioning the approaches they’re taking with the problem at hand. They will then likely test out many of the different scenarios or solutions that come to mind. This would be an example of taking their questions and turning them into action.

This was a mindset and thought process discussed at length throughout A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger (2016), often referred to as the Why/What If/How sequence. By reframing our questions and our approach to them in a way that leads to productive action, if not a solution, leads the questioner down a path of inquiry. We already know that as the world becomes increasingly complex, the value of asking good questions will increase (Werner, 2016). With this in mind, it’s difficult to reject the assertion that the maker movement provides its participants with the necessary skills to tackle the world of tomorrow.

I hope you consider the benefits of embracing the maker movement, inside of your classroom or out. If nothing else, I would recommend you attend a Maker Faire or maker space near you! Trust me when I say that seeing your own maker potential is not only a ton of fun but also brings you a sense of playful pride.

Make On,

Lupe


References

Berger, W. (2016). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas. New York: Bloomsbury.

Chen, C. & Lui, C.C. (2010). Evolution of Constructivism. Contemporary Issues in Education Research (April 2010), pp. 62-66. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1072608.pdf.

All images belong to Guadalupe Bryan unless otherwise stated.

This Genius Needs Genius Hour!

Do you ever hear somebody talk about what’s happening in their classroom and instantly feel a mixture of good-hearted envy and eagerness swell up inside of you? Well, that’s what exactly happened to me recently.

After attending the talk, “Voice, Choice, & Airplanes” by educators Katie Bielecki and Kristin Hundt at a local conference in Lansing, STEAMLab17,  I became immediately inspired to look into genius hour. I wasted no time and sent a text to the other seventh grade English teacher, teeming with excitement.

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Screenshot of the conversation I absolutely couldn’t wait to start with my colleague.

During their talk, Bielecki and Hundt spoke at length about the importance of curiosity, imagination, passion, and choice within their classrooms. They referred to these classroom mindsets as habitudes, taken from Classroom Habitudes Teaching Habits for 21st Century Learning by Angela Maiers (Note to self: ORDER THIS BOOK).  Naturally, these mindsets were something I readily agreed with. This talk about students’ habitudes led to the discussion of what those mindsets fostered in their classrooms–Massive undertakings, like genius hour.

Genius hour was originally inspired by Google’s 20% initiative which lets their employees use 20% of their work time to pursue personal ideas. In schools, this typically looks like one hour a week, where students come up with individual passion projects, do their own research, and share their ideas and conclusions (Grinberg, 2014).

Until recently, I didn’t know that genius hour was inspired by Google, but it doesn’t surprise me. In the book, A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger, he asserts that the current world “[…] demands citizens who are self-learners; who are creative and resourceful; who can adjust and adapt to constant change” (2016, p. 49). The ideal citizen described here exhibits the same habitudes described by Bielecki and Hundt during their talk, no coincidence. These mindsets are not only valuable in the classroom, but in all areas of life.  

Throughout A More Beautiful Question, Berger describes how innovators at top companies, like Google and Amazon, are creative, curious questioners who are not afraid of failure (2016). I think there is a clear connection to embracing those mindsets within a classroom through the implementation of a genius hour alongside classroom habitudes.

By students guiding their own learning, driven by their individual interests, it not only increases student engagement but also teaches students that failure is an option. This mindset helps students become risk-takers (Grinberg, 2014).  Being a risk-taker is a skill important outside the classroom as well, shown throughout A More Beautiful Question. Berger describes anecdotes of innovative questioners who don’t stop after failing to answer a complicated question. Rather, the best questioners come up with better questions and improvements/solutions to the problem at hand (Berger, 2016, p. 33).

Similarly, in a classroom with the right mindsets and genius hour, students are free to question the world around them and become global thinkers. Students don’t simply wonder, for example, how to help kids in Haiti have access to more books. Instead, students pose the question and begin working towards a solution. Bielecki and Hundt described one student doing just this, and working towards this goal and action for the entire school year.

As I have said before, I work at an International Baccalaureate (IB) school. Not only is inquiry at the heart of IB, but curiosity and risk taking are also important pillars. Through genius hour, I think I will be able to help my students take their questions and curiosities about the world and turn them into action. They will be able to fail and try again. They will be able to seek help from peers and mentors. Students will be enthusiastic and in charge of their learning. And THAT thought gets me excited.

Finally, in A More Beautiful Question, Berger describes how schools with inquiry-based learning share core principles of letting students explore, be in charge of their own learning and work on projects instead of test-taking (2016, p. 54). Again, this emphasis on inquiry aligns perfectly with my school’s vision and those of our district. Not only that, but I think students will find power as they begin to explore their individualized line of inquiry.

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Me, with my new BFF book!

I’m having visions of my classroom teeming with active, engaged students, eagerly researching their individual projects. I am also having visions that it may be a bit chaotic at first… But if I’m not willing to take a risk by giving it a shot, what right do I have to I ask my students to be risk-takers?

I hope you look into the book I reflected on throughout this post, A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger. I am all kinds of excited after reading it, and even more so after attending the talk on genius hour this past week. 

Let me know if you have any tips or if you have used genius hour at the secondary level–I’d love to pick your brain!

Looking forward to hearing from you and for what is to come,

Lupe


Resources:

Berger, W. (2016). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas. New York: Bloomsbury.

Grinberg, E. (2014, March 10). ‘Genius hour’: Students, what would you like to learn today? Retrieved July 20, 2017, from http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/09/living/genius-hour-education-schools/index.html.

Images: All images belong to Guadalupe Bryan.