Helping Students Pull Back The Curtain To Find Empathy

This year at Sickles, Fair Haven’s elementary school, I started Sickles Studios. Sickles Studios is our student-run news show. I’ve written before about the unbelievable difference a student-run news show can make when we let kids highlight the amazing things their peers, school staff, and community members are doing. There is one major difference I’ve found between an elementary vs. high school news shows: I’m helping my little ones pull back the curtain to help students learn how things work.

When I was teaching high school kids, I was able to send anchors out in their cars to go to get the scoop on a feature. With third graders, it is much harder but every bit as important. Last week, our Friendship Club held a school-wide food drive for our local soup kitchen, Lunch Break. Originally, we were going to do a piece on the success of the food drive, but our awesome principal, Cheryl Cuddihy, teacher, Pam Greenhall, and I thought it was important for students to see how the food got from the school and onto the plate of someone in need. We wanted to take students to Lunch Break, but the logistics just didn’t work out. Instead, we went and filmed the process for the kids to see. Check out the video we made about Lunch Break featuring the made-for-the-limelight Mrs. Rizzo!

By showing our kids what happens when the food leaves our school, we hope to grow empathy in our students. Often, especially at the elementary level, students either don’t understand or are disconnected from the end results of things like food drives and they don’t see the people and the processes involved in the systems they interact with on a daily basis. Another example: our students have recess in a township-owned park. The park is beautiful and well maintained, but how does it get that way? To find out, Sickles Studios booked an interview with Mr. Breckenridge, Parks & Recreation Director for Fair Haven, who talked about the parks, his job, and some of his hobbies. Kids gained a better understanding of the work that went into maintaining the park and the people behind the curtain.

Pulling back the curtain and helping show all the moving pieces that make systems work helps teach empathy. Empathy makes people better and I’m proud to promote it through Sickles Studios. Imagine if students (or anyone, really) thought about the people and the hard work that goes on behind the curtain before they acted. I bet a feature on the custodians who clean up after students in the lunchroom could lead to more students throwing out trash. I bet a feature on where garbage goes when my kids put it at the end of the driveway or into the lunchroom garbage cans could lead to more recycling.

Consider harnessing the power of a student-run news show as a means to improve school culture and help teach empathy.

If you were inspired by Mrs. Rizzo and the work she and the rest of Lunch Break are doing, make a donation! They’re making a difference in our community.

Until Next Time,

GLHF

Silo-Busting through EDTech: Growing in the Garden with the Internet of Things

I hate that we teach education in silos. I hate the idea that some students believe what they learn in English doesn’t apply to Science. Math can’t be used in History. Health and Phys. Ed. are best left in the gym. The Arts and Math & Science just don’t mix. I wish we did a better job of getting more authentic, more cross-curricular, in our schools. I wish we did more silo-busting!

I’ve been thinking about this more than usual recently. Over the last six weeks, I’ve been working on a project. I’m getting ready to introduce Agricultural and the Internet of Things into The Innovation Lab, so I setup a play area in my kitchen to plan and experiment. I have been planning and experimenting on what getting students to use their Design Thinking skills to tackle questions like, “how might we better grow vegetables to meet the needs of a growing population” or “how might we harness technology to improve our ability to grow food” looks like in The Innovation Lab. Our goal is to get our kids thinking now about real-world problems that will likely affect them when they’re older.

In my kitchen laboratory, I started growing tomatoes and peppers hydroponically using things I would have likely thrown out, 3D printed parts from 3dponics, and ground coconut coir and/or Perlite as a growing medium. I’ll post about my experiences surrounding the grow soon, but what was a lot of fun was the building I did last night.

Last night, I used my Raspberry Pi and Cayenne to create a light meter so I could monitor in real-time, from anywhere in the world, how much light my plants are getting throughout the day. This creation has also been logging the level of light my plants are getting, every second, all day and loading the data into a Google Sheet. Check out what I’ve done with the data today (1.00 is pitch black, 0.00 is max brightness):

Lumens over a 12 hour, cloudy day on 1/18/16

 

Update: Lumens over a 12 hour, mostly sunny day on 1/19/16

Using this data over time, I can setup future experiments that tackle questions like, “how much light are my plants getting during the day,” “where am I getting the best light in my house for my plants,” or “how much light do my plants need to grow better.”

This experiment had me using knowledge you’d find in every silo in school as well as important 21st century skills like interpreting data, computer science, and finding resources and experts since Electrical Engineering isn’t my strong suit (Thanks, Twitter!).

In the classroom, if I were still an English teacher, I would tell my kids we are going to experiment with growing plants in sustainable ways to meet our research and nonfiction standards. I would then guide them in doing their research and finding experts, develop driving questions, design experiments, finding quality resources, start growing, collecting data on the amount of light plants are receiving vs. how fast they are growing using the Raspberry Pi light sensors they’ve built,  and using data to answer some of their driving questions. Finally, we would wrap up by reporting and reflecting on their findings and producing something for a global audience to educate people on what my kids have learned (video, infographic, etc.) and then push it out via social media. The funny thing is, if I was a Science teacher or a Math teacher or a Health teacher – any teacher, really – I’d do the lesson almost exactly the same. I’d just change the emphasis and standards/objectives to align with what I was expected to teach.

I think this is an untapped area of educational technology: using edtech to get cross-curricular. I used the internet, social media, our 3dprinter, Raspberry Pi, and GSuite as tools to help me bust down educational silos. Without edtech, it would be much harder to get cross-curricular.

Whether we call it problem-based learning, project-based learning, passion-based learning, inquiry-based learning, authentic learning, or any other type of learning: we need to do more silo-busting. Let’s start silo-busting and letting our kids realize that learning doesn’t happen only by subject or in a vacuum. Let’s stretch ourselves as teachers, embrace technology, and find ways to get silo-busting with our kids even if we don’t have all the answers; that will just gives us the opportunity to learn together!

Until next time,

GLHF

Applying Nudge Theory to the Classroom Part I

slide2If I weren’t an educator, I would want to be a behavioral scientist. I find the field to be fascinating. Knowing what makes people tick and why they do what they do has always interested me. One of my favorite concepts in behavioral science is nudge theory: the idea that instead of forcing people to do something they don’t want to do, we can gently nudge them into making better choices often just by changing the way we present the choices to them.

As I read books, research, and listen to podcasts about nudging, I always try to imagine what the nudges being discussed would look like in a school setting. For example, the research on nudging people toward making healthy eating choices is powerful. Simple things like putting healthier foods closer to the register or putting salad tongs in the salad bar over a spoon/fork grabbing combo increases the purchasing and consumption of healthy foods. Sandwiching unhealthy food choices between healthier choices on a menu leads to more people ordering healthier meals because people tend to focus on the first and last parts of things. Another cool example, a study conducted at an airport in Amsterdam found giving users something to aim at while using the urinals resulted in an “80% reduction in spills and overall greater cleanliness in the toilets.” Why wouldn’t we want all of our schools to be using nudges like this to improve the school experience and help students make better choices? 

I use(d) a bunch of nudges in my classroom and am always on the look out for more. Here are some nudges I’ve used to help my students and I to be the best that we can be.

Achievements – long time readers know I love Gamification. In my Gamification system, I use Achievements to nudge students into doing things I want them to do. For example, a student could unlock the Early Bird Achievement if they hand in their essay early. Students earn the Unity Achievement if everyone completes their Side Quest (homework). I gave out the Iron Bladder Achievement for students who didn’t go to the bathroom for an entire marking period. My favorite Achievement? Students can earn the Outside the Slide Achievement for giving a presentation that doesn’t involve Google Slides. This nudge had students coming up with all kinds of creative presentations they wouldn’t normally try if they weren’t given that little nudge. You can see more of my Achievements here on my old gamification site and in the Gamification Guide.

Audio Comments – not quite sure if this is a nudge, but using audio comments has helped me build better relationships with my students. When a kid gets an assignment back covered in red ink, all they see is how terrible they are, or, worse, use it as evidence to prove that you hate them. Using audio comments instead of red ink lets a student here the intonation, inflection, and positivity in your voice. They can hear you’re rooting for them.  The best and free way to give audio comments right now is Read and Write by Texthelp. It is free for teachers and students don’t have to have it installed to get the audio comments. It’s great.

What I do know is a nudge is the way I give them audio feedback. Using the same theory as the menu example from above, I say something positive, give them constructive criticism, then say something positive again.

Separating Tough Students From Their Audience – schools run on a reputation economy. If you challenge a tough kid in front of his or her peers, they will likely push back because they don’t want to lose social currency. Instead, I try to get a tough student away from their classmates and talk to them one-on-one. Tough kids quickly become more reasonable if you take away their audience.

The Power Of Expectations – teachers talk. Every year I knew which kid to watch out for before they even got to my classroom on the first day of school. When I heard I had a tough kid on my roster, I would stop them at the door on the first day and tell them how excited I was to have them in class. I tell them how highly his or her teachers had spoken about them. I keep this up throughout the year because people, especially kids, will live up to the reputation you give them. I choose to give every kid, even the tough ones, a great reputation to live up. They don’t often disappoint. Every kid needs someone to believe in them.

Positive Points Only – On an assignment, I use to put the amount of points a student got wrong on their paper, -25. Now, I put the amount of points a student got right, +75. A positive nudge like this lets students know they’re not all bad. Further, I’d love to see more teachers and schools adopt the video game inspired method of grading: instead of starting kids at 100 and putting them in a system where failure is the only options, why not mimic a video game and start them at 0. When you start a kid at 0, everything they do makes them more successful. Success breeds success. Instead of grading with negative numbers and starting kids at a 100 and losing points, use positive numbers and start them at a 0 and let them earn points.

Nudging often doesn’t cost a lot of money or take a lot of effort to deploy, but they can yield serious results. I encourage you to take the time to understand how and why people make choices and then find the best way to present these choices to them – learn to nudge. The UK and even our own government are getting into the nudge business. Schools should be too.

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