Evolving Our Makerspace: The Conclusion

For those of you who haven’t been following along with my last few posts, our fifth and sixth grade student-run business, FH Gizmos, landed a manufacturing contract with Slack. Slack tasked us with making 50 desk toys for employees to use in their new education center. To read an indepth account of our experience check out this awesome article from a local paper, Red Bank Green.

For those of you that have been following along, we did it! This past week, the last week of school, we received the first of fifty S-shaped fidget spinners!

The year ended with a bang. We were featured in a host of local papers for our work with Slack, which caught the attention of the regional buyer of Barnes & Noble who said she was interested in working with us. We also finished the year working with Mrs. Daverso, Phlebotomy Supervisor for Riverview Hospital. She taught students about the phlebotomy process as we tried to make the blood drawing experience better for children. Barnes & Noble and Mrs. Daverso will be back in in September to continue our work together. The future’s looking bright!

Finished S-shaped fidget spinner for Slack (plugs not included, yet)

Further, as we end the year on these high notes, I have a much clearer idea on the final evolution of our makerspace. After a lot of networking, calling in favors, and support from my board and Superintendent, we’ll be turning our makerspace into an amazing new program called Fair Haven Innovates.

Fair Haven InnovatesFair Haven Innovates is Fair Haven school district’s 21st century life, careers, and technology program. We use social entrepreneurship to help students learn the skills they’ll need to be successful when they grow up. Students sell products and solve problems as they run real businesses turning real profits. Students use a percentage of the profits to give back to their community through their student-run charity FH Gives. Below are our programs.

The Innovation Lab (4th and 5th grade): The Innovation Lab is where 4th and 5th graders learn the skills they’ll need to be successful in the world of tomorrow. Students are introduced to design thinking, engineering, computer science, and the digital arts as they learn to reframe failure as iteration and become the architects of their future. The Innovation Lab is the farm league for the rest of Fair Haven Innovates.

Mrs. Daverso walking students through the phlebotomy process.

FH Gizmos (6th Grade): will be a student-run startup that focuses on solving people’s tame problems and selling the solutions. We will start the year selling the custom fidget spinners we created. Since we were successful designing for Slack, we think we can pitch other big companies to work with us. In all, FH Gizmos made close to $3,000 this year. We hope to 10x that next year!

FH Grows (7th Grade): is where students learn to be stewards of the environment as they use innovative gardening techniques and the Internet of Things to grow and monitor (with Cayenne) vegetables as well as sell dried herbs and spices. Key partnerships will allow for the constant support of the students and program through the Rutgers Master Gardeners, an executive chef to cook with students through the school year, and the ability to have student-run Farmers Markets at both of our schools because after talking with our awesome elementary school principal, Mrs. Cuddihy, we see a lot of potential for my 7th graders to work with her 3rd graders in a project we’re calling FH Cares. Further, FH Grows will embrace NJ’s Farm to School initiative with the help of the Dept. of Agriculture. There is also the possibility of introducing students to incubation (businesses, not chickens) and the opportunity to learn about venture capitalism thanks to our partnership with Real World Scholars, but this part is in the early planning stage.

The picture team taking shots for future marketing campaigns.

FH Leads (8th grade): FH Leads is a consulting firm where students team up with local businesses to solve their real world business challenges. We currently have 25 businesses on board as well as Riverview hospital. Students will be able to do site visits, surveys, interviews, and conduct experiments to help business owners solve their challenges while also learning about potential careers.   

FH Gives25% of all profits from FH Gizmos, FH Grows, and FH Leads will be donated to our student-run charity FH Gives. FH Gives is currently set to run a pet adoption with the Monmouth County SPCA in November. The idea that students will be running a charity instead of giving to charity is an important part of this program that I will talk more about soon.

Thank you for taking this ride with me as I try to find new ways to introduce my students to the things that matter and evolve my makerspace into a district wide program with the hopes of inspiring other educators and changing the world.

Until Next Time,

GLHF and see you at ISTE

 

What Learning Management Systems Are Still Missing

I only have a few classes left before I wrap up my master’s degree. I’ve enjoyed Boise’s master’s degree program, but one thing I won’t miss is Blackboard. Blackboard, the ubiquitous, bland “course management system,” was used in all but one of my master’s classes. My one class that didn’t use Blackboard was a new class taught by Chris Haskell about Quest-Based Learning (QBL). The QBL class was taught totally on Slack. I appreciate Dr. Haskell pushing us onto a new platform that focused on collaboration over content management because it made me realize what’s missing in Learning Management Systems (LMSs).

What is missing from LMSs are useful, asynchronous collaboration and communication tools. No LMS has nailed this aspect of learning yet. It seems like most of these LMSs understand how important collaboration is, but have settled on the comment board being the best it can come up with. Few have communication tools. We need better.

My rekindled search for a collaboration and communication-focused LMS or similar tools that work well with an LMS has been brought on by my evolving makerspace. I’ve been looking for tools to use with my students in my blended Innovation Lab that allow them to knock down the walls of the classroom.

I need a way for students to keep each other updated, share files, and collaborate on job statuses on a day-to-day basis in a way that I’m just not getting in LMSs. Next year, as I take our Fair Haven Innovates initiative into 4th through 8th grade, I’m looking for a way to allow students to tell their peers what they have been working on and what jobs are left to do because I see students one day a week for an hour. In that hour, jobs need to be done. These jobs, such as building our Raspberry Pi weather station, often take longer than an hour. I want a way for my students on Friday to tell my students on Monday what they’ve done and what is left to do. I don’t want to wait a week to have the project resumed, nor do I want to deny other groups the ability to work on these big projects because another group has started them. I want them to be able to transfer videos, pictures, or files throughout the week to better illustrate talking points and next steps so other groups can pickup where they left off. I want to get to a place where working with students in other classrooms on big, meaningful projects is as easy as working with someone in your class sitting next to you.

Another example: In FH Grows, our 7th grade class where gardening meets the Internet of Things, I’m want a way for groups to let other groups know what they’ve done in our garden. I’m hoping the kids will be able to communicate when a watering, weeding, or harvesting last occurred and when it should be done again. To do this right now, I have to use a combination of technology or track a host of Post-It notes neither of which I want to do.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great LMSs out there. I’ve used Schoology for years, but they don’t have the collaboration tools I’m looking for. Schoology does have an app called Backchannel Chat that I really enjoy using, but it doesn’t have the communication piece I’m looking for. Google Classroom has the Stream, which can often be more of a headache than a help when it comes to collaboration. My students use Google Docs, rather than the Stream, to collaborate.

I’m looking for a jobs board like Trello, meets asynchronous communication like Slack, meets a Learning Management System. I want something designed specifically for students that helps them manage serious project-based learning assignments. My most promising piece of tech looks to be Flipgrid. Flipgrid is intended for teacher-to-student reflection and peer-to-peer responses, but I’m wondering if I can use it like a video answering machine. A group leaves a video message for another group, they respond, and the thread goes back and forth.

While I know I’ll figure out a process to let students communicate and collaborate between classes before next year, I wish better tools would be integrated into LMSs so we can have a blended learning and collaborating take place under one roof.

 

Evolving our Makerspace: 3 Lessons Learned Designing for Slack

The Slack Design Challenge continues! If you haven’t been following my last few posts, I have decided to take entrepreneurship in our makerspace, called The Innovation Lab (under construction), to the next level! In my last post, I announced that FH Gizmos, our student-run edcorp, has been hired by Slack. Since my last post, I’ve learned a lot about evolving our makerspace into the three distinct student-run businesses it will become next year.

Since I last wrote, students have made their way through our design process. We started with empathy to understand Slack’s need. Next, we moved through the define, imagine, and make stage as we produce prototypes to help solve Slack’s problem. This week, we are wrapping up our in-house testing stage. I’m mailing our best prototypes to Slack tomorrow for their feedback.

Fifth Grade Team’s Fidget Spinner

I felt confident in the design process I developed for students. It’s a process we’ve used for almost two years. Designing for Slack was different, though. My kids have never designed for a real client let alone a client across the country from them. Asynchronous communication isn’t a skill my students have used before. Obviously, we used Slack to communicate with our users at Slack and it has been fun watching them learn to communicate asynchronously and be patient while Slack gets back to them. Further, the fact that my students are accountable to real people, not their teacher, has made the learning process so much more engaging, meaningful, and authentic.

When I taught English, I always had students push their work to a larger audience because my kids always worked harder when they knew someone other than me would read their writing. I’m happy to report the same holds true for the makerspace/student-run edcorp: my students are working harder because they know they have to ship a final product to Slack by the first week of June.

Students Need To Ship it!

Ideas Ready To Ship!

The biggest lesson I’ve learned about combining entrepreneurship and the makerspace actually took me six months to figure out. Even before FH Gizmos started working with Slack, the co-founder of Real World ScholarsJohn Cahalin, and I have been discussing the difficulties we’ve found in moving kids from thoughts to action; taking kids from design thinking to design doing. Choice paralysis and fear of failure is something I see a lot from students and even adults. Some people would rather do nothing than do something wrong. You can’t blame them. For years, schools have punished kids for making mistakes even though we know that’s how learning happens. If you’ve ever run a business or created something, you know that their isn’t always a clear path to the right choice. Mistakes happen. Often, you have to take your best guess, see it through, and iterate on what you learn when you fail, then do it all over again.

Whether it is the due date, the real client, or having a manufacturer waiting to turn students’ ideas into real, sellable products, I have been teaching with a sense of urgency. I have been getting on my kids to make decisions, fail quickly, and bang out another prototype. I have been saying things like, “done is better than perfect.” I’ve been telling kids that their prototypes are going to fail and that’s ok because I want them to test their way to the right answer. Hurry up and build the plane while it’s flying.

John from RWS called me last week. As we got into another brainstorming session about moving student thoughts to action, John taught me about the concept of Shipping and asked me what that would look like in the classroom.

The concept of Shipping was new to me, but good teachers wanting student learning to be authentic isn’t new. We want our kids to learn the things they’ll need to be successful through real-world experiences. To do that, we have put students at the center of the class and help kids summon the courage to turn thoughts and ideas into actions that they are then brave enough to share with people outside the walls of the classroom. In my program, I need to help my kids Ship! Shipping means every time a kid takes a thought, idea, prototype, product, elevator pitch – anything – out the classroom door and into the real world, they are shipping it! The urgency that I am using to move students toward action can best be summoned up by the Ship It mentality. Helping my students Ship needs to be a focus in my program going forward because it’s never been more important to reframe failure as iteration.

Grouping Students By Perceived Talents Works

We used a Google Form to survey students on their perceived talents. Students were asked which talent – creative, logical, outgoing, and technical – was most to least like them. Instead of randomly assigning groups for the Slack project, we took these student responses and made groups that had a student that was strong in each one of these talents. We also made sure that groups had an even mix of boys and girls.
Overall, this experiment was a success. Each group member was promoted to team leader when they reached the design stage that best matched their perceived talents. Some students struggled to work with members of the other gender at times, but, overall, having different voices and talents represented in each group made a positive impact on the quality of work. Next year, I’ll refine and reuse this method to make predetermined business teams based on a student’s perceived talents. I hope this method helps foster leadership skills, stretch talents, and grow an appreciation for diversity in group dynamics.

 

Waste Can Be Combated

For the Slack Design Challenge, we wanted students to prototype quickly using the simplest, cheapest supplies possible. This meant a trip to the dollar store! I kept careful track of supplies and how they were used because waste is expensive for makerspaces and a valuable lesson to teach young entrepreneurs.

Scout and Sketch in action

After our four week make/test design loop, I figured out that it cost about a $1.05 per student in prototyping supplies. Meaning, I see 225 students in The Innovation Lab. I needed to buy around $230 in supplies for prototyping. Hot glue, tape, popsicle sticks, rubber bands, and cardboard were definitely the most popular supplies. Most of the other stuff I bought went unused.

The first week of the make/test stage of our Slack Design Challenge was a real eye-opener. Students went through supplies at an alarming rate! A lot of supplies were wasted and trashed at the end of class. To combat this, I added the Scout and Sketch step to the Make Stage. During Scout and Sketch, students were not allowed to take supplies. Students were asked to scout out what materials were available to them to build with, sketch how they were going to use these materials in their prototyping, and list what these materials represented in a final product. Meaning, if students used rubber bands in a prototype, they had to explain what the rubber bands would become in the final product. Pausing for thoughtfulness dropped cost per student significantly. I think I can get cost down even more by improving thoughtfulness and buying the supplies I know they’ll use. I also had our custodians bring in any cardboard boxes the school got. Free cardboard is best cardboard.

In my next couple posts, I’ll let you know how the manufacturing and final delivery to Slack goes.

Until Next Time,

Ship It!

P.S. – I want to make a jobs board similar to Favro or Trello for my classes. I don’t know what that looks like. Thoughts?

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