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: 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

Gamification: Problem Solving in the Fifth Grade Classroom

You might recall that I’ve been working with Rachel Cheafsky to gamify her 5th grade classroom using the technology she has available to her. Well, Rachel has been killin’ it! Last time, she wrote about achievements in the fifth grade classroom. This time, Rachel wanted to check in and write about her latest gamification revelation!  Here’s Rachel:

I am a halfway into my first year using Chris’ gamification system.  It has been fantastic! The best part about it, besides how it has made the climate of my classroom more positive, is that new game mechanics can be brought into the class at any time. For instance, when I run into a problem in my class, I can create a new game mechanic to help build a solution that my kids love. For example, here’s how we helped students learn to better stay on task and self-monitor their volume using Task Master:

Throughout the day, I see two classes with 25 students each. Since gamifying my class, my kids are more motivated and engaged than ever. This is great, but sometimes that motivation and engagement can cause a bit too much excitement: the classroom volume can become way too loud. Additionally, even though students are more engaged, I still have students who need to be refocused and encouraged to complete their Quests (gamification isn’t a silver bullet). I wanted to use gamification to come up with a better, positive way to help kids self-monitor their volume and better stay on task.  

Two weeks ago, I was monitoring my much louder class’ independent work. Students were working hard, on task, and talking at reasonable volume. Everyone was following expectations. It was a perfect! I knew I had to build on this moment and unleash a secret achievement. I stopped my kids and said,  “the class has unlocked a secret achievement!” My kids love to unlock secret achievements because they can earn AP for trying new things and thinking outside the box. I love secret achievements because it lets me use positive reinforcement to solve problems. It’s fun watching students use divergent thinking each day in an effort to discover these secret achievements. I let the kids know how impressed I was with the way the entire class was working. As a class, I asked them what we should call the secret achievement for when the class is working hard and focused. They decided to call it Task Master.

Chris always says that achievements have to be concrete to be fair. You can’t reward a kid for helping because helping isn’t measurable, but you can reward a kid for performing the actions that helping requires. So what does Task Master look like and what is the concrete criteria for it to be earned?

Chris and I had planned the idea for Task Master last month. Task Master is a new event that is played all week and is won by one class every Friday (Chris says: I’ll be talking about events in the second part of The Gamification Guide, which is 75% done!). I created a chart called Task Master and hung it up in the front of the room. One half of the chart is for my first period class’ points and the other half is for my second period class’ points. The first way for the class to win Task Master points is for the secret student to be on task:

Period 2’s secret student was on task!

Before my kids arrive, I put a sticky note on the board, upside down, with a student’s name on it.  At the end of class, I reveal the name on the sticky note and announce if that student was on task based on the criteria the students and I came up with. If they were, they earn their class two Task Master points! The accountability within this achievement is amazing because the students generally don’t want to let each other down. Students try remain on task in case they are the secret student for that particular period.

Let’s not forget about my other problem, volume! This is the other half of the Task Master event. During independent work, I load a volume sensing app Chris made for me on Scratch (Chris says: I remixed and modded an app on Scratch. You can find it here, if you’d like to use it). I plug in a microphone, set the sensitivity, and project the app onto the board. The app monitors the class’ noise level.  When they are too loud and it goes into the red, an alarm sounds.  When the alarm sounds, the opposing class earns one Task Master point. For example, if first period sets off the alarm three times, first period doesn’t lose points, but second period gets three Task Master points. We decided to award the opposing team points because it keeps the game engaging the entire period. If students only earned a point at the end of class for not setting off the alarm, as soon as they set off the sensor, the game wouldn’t matter anymore; there is no longer an incentive to keep their volume down. By giving the opposing team a point when their class it too loud makes Task Master always matter.

I’ve been using Task Master for two weeks and it has already changed my life!  The students are more on task and the volume already has gotten so much better.  They are taking ownership of their own behavior and even monitoring each other in a positive way since they’re all on the same team. The days of stressing over noise seems to be long gone! They are still excited by gamification, but now they are also excited to beat the other class and earn the Task Master achievement, worth 50ap, on Fridays.  It’s a win-win for everyone!

The beauty of achievements in my system is that they can reward kids for displaying heroic traits, completing heroic deeds, push kids out of their comfort zone, and, as in Rachel’s case, act as positive reinforcement for classroom management. Instead of using negative reinforcement, my achievements can be used to reward students each and every time they meet a teachers expectations encouraging the behavior to become habit. For example, like Rachel, I had a problem. I was sick of students doing Slides presentations. How many Slides can one teacher stand?! I pushed kids out of their comfort zone and solved this problem by creating the Outside the Slide achievement. Students could still do a Slide presentation, but if they gave a presentation that didn’t use Slides they earned the Outside the Slide achievement and the AP that comes with it! Soon, students were coming up with new, exciting ways to show me what they’ve learned. Thinking outside the slide became a habit and everyone was happier and more engaged by the new, creative presentations. Don’t be afraid to harness the power of achievements and gamification in your classroom!

Until Next Time,

GLHF

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