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’ve recently checked out Its Learning. Its Learning has an impressive set of features and they have a great suite of communication tools, but not quite the tools that meet my needs.

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?

Evolving Our Makerspace: An EdCorp Designing for Slack

When I got to Fair Haven two years ago, I started our version of a makerspace called The Innovation Lab. In The Innovation Lab, we use design thinking to make for others as we expose kids to computer science, engineering, and the digital arts. Six months after launching the Innovation Lab, I realized I had a problem. As part of engineering, Katie and I let students take apart electronics donated by the community. Students love to take things apart, and while we try to put the electronics back together, we are often unsuccessful. This leaves us with a lot of disassembled junk in the lab that we were just throwing away. I wasn’t cool with that, so The Innovation Lab evolved. We added our Parts to Arts initiative to the Lab: after taking something apart, if students can’t put it back together, they are challenged to upcycle the pieces into art.

This Parts to Arts evolution led to an innovation. We now had a bunch of art in The Innovation Lab that students were just taking home or still throwing out. Students kept commenting that it would be cool to try and sell their art, so I built them a student-run online marketplace called FH Gizmos (this new FH Gizmos is still under construction). School Year to Date, FH Gizmos has made about five hundred dollars. More importantly, students love learning about and through entrepreneurship and so do I!

I say I love it too, not just because of the fun I’m having with the kids and FH Gizmos, but my personal life has taken an exciting entrepreneurial turn as well. When I got to Fair Haven, I met Chris Dudick. Chris is an innovative art teacher who had created an app to make animations with his special needs students that help improve their social skills. I loved the idea, and when Chris wanted to get serious about it, he asked if I would come aboard to help him bring his idea to market. Together we launched SiLAS. SiLAS has been a huge hit. SiLAS has spread word-of-mouth to more than a dozen districts in our area. We recently received a huge Phase I NSF grant to develop SiLAS for the browser and virtual reality. When I’m not working on The Innovation Lab, I’m working on SiLAS.  Through Teched Up Teacher, FH Gizmos, and SiLAS I’ve come to realize the power of teaching students through the lens of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship has taken over my life!

That’s why I was so excited when John and Elyse from Real World Scholars reached out to me with an amazing opportunity. RWS provides funding for K-12 teachers to build student-run Education Corporations in their classrooms to use business as a force for learning. RWS asked if we would like to become an edcorp and receive an inventory grant that we can use to turn FH Gizmos into a real student-run startup.

Absolutely!

Funding in hand, I set out to evolve The Innovation Lab again. I wanted the new FH Gizmos to have an authentic audience and be student driven. I also wanted students to grow the skills that pay the bills. One of the most important skills students need to learn is how to communicate asynchronously effectively. This belief led me to call up one of my edu-heroes, Kristen Swanson. Kristen is one of the original founders of Edcamp and now works for a company called Slack. Slack is my go to for asynchronous communication: SiLAS, my fantasy football league, and even one of my grad classes runs on Slack.

While it turns out, I couldn’t use Slack with my students because they weren’t thirteen yet, Kristen was curious enough to ask why I wanted to use Slack in the classroom. An FH Gizmos elevator pitch later, Kristen loved the idea and offered to have Slack be our first client!

FH Gizmos landed a multi-billion dollar client!

This Monday, we started our Slack Design Challenge. I shared these well wishes from Elyse at RWS as my kids began their new life as an edcorp:

To help us kick off the empathy phase of our design process, Kristen and Kelly sent over this design brief on Monday:

We’ve been making empathy maps all week in an attempt to better understand Slack’s need, but I really want you to know what makes this program we’re building extra special:

Beyond FH Gizmos making real money and having a real customer for their creations, students were most excited about FH Gives (also under construction). RWS not only helped us become a real business, but they also helped us build a real student-run charity. We’re social entrepreneurs! The kids voted to give 25% of FH Gizmos’ profits to the FH Gives foundation where Fair Haven students will decide how to distribute Impact Grants in their community.

I’m going to try and write weekly about the Slack Design Challenge and how we are evolving our makerspace because I hope to inspire other educators and (especially) admins to break down these edusilos we teach kids in and move toward a more real, authentic, and relevant curriculum. The type of teaching going on in most schools was meant to provide workers for the factories during the Industrial Revolution. Now, we will be sending our kids into the businesses of the Technological Revolution. Its times to evolve. I plan on evolving our program further:

The state of New Jersey has mandated new 21st Century Life and Career Ready standards. These fit perfectly into my new vision for our makerspace! A vision for a program that combines a 21st Century Life and Career readiness program with The Innovation Lab that teaches through the lens of social entrepreneurship. I pitched my vision for the program to my awesome superintendent, Sean McNeil and Principal, Amy Romano, and our amazing board of education. Next year, if everything goes according to plan, this new program, Fair Haven Innovates, will see The Innovation Lab slide down to 4th and 5th grade. 6th grade will become a class built around FH Gizmos, a student-run startup where we will tackle tame problems, sell the solutions, and grow an empire. 7th grade will be a class where environmental stewardship and innovative gardening practices meets entrepreneurship and the Internet of Things in a class called FH Grows. 8th grade will become Fair Haven Innovates’ crown jewel: a student-run consulting firm that works with small businesses in our community to find innovative solutions to their wicked, real-life business problems in a class called FH Leads. All the classes – FH Gizmos, FH Grows, and FH Leads – will donate 25% of their profits to our student-run charity FH Gives so we can make a difference in our school and community.

The Fair Haven Innovates program will change the world. Join us!

As a RWS Ambassador, I have nine more funded slots to give away to teachers and students who want to leverage the power of entrepreneurship in the classroom to breakdown edusilos and get relevant. Email me a video of your 60 second elevator pitch. If it’s awesome, you win a slot!

Until next time,

GLHF

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