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

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

Sometimes It Is Just About The Technology

slide2We hear educators say it all the time: technology is just a tool or it’s not just about the technology, it’s about how a teacher uses it. While I fundamentally agree with these types of statements, I’ve noticed something in the Innovation Lab that has me pushing back a bit: sometimes it is just about the technology.

When we were rethinking the Innovation Lab at Fair Haven this summer and applying lessons learned from our beta year, one thing we knew we needed to address was our stuff. We didn’t have the right technology nor tools to do what we wanted to do. The tech and tools were a bottleneck for us. We had old laptops that couldn’t do things like edit videos, make games, or produce 3D renderings. Recording digital arts was harder than it had to be because we were using older camcorders with SD cards and didn’t have microphones for podcasting. Kids were forced to animate with a mouse instead of drawing tablet. We didn’t have the right tools to deconstruct iPads and other electronics and turn them into works of art. You get the idea.

As we targeted the technology we needed in the Innovation Lab for students to learn the skills we wanted them to, we started to realize that we were targeting some serious stuff. We grew hes2016-11-04-13-12-57itant. Could 5th and 6th graders handle the stuff we wanted to put in the Lab? Would they respect the tech and tools we were going to buy? One of the rules I try to live by as an educator is to make my decisions based on my best kids. Of course I could think of some incidents where I was unhappy with the respect kids were showing toward our stuff in the Lab last year, but I also thought of our kids who would flourish with better technology and tools. We pulled the trigger and bought the good stuff; we would manage the exceptions instead of making them the rule.

We made the right decision. The difference in the way our students treat the technology in the Innovation Lab this year compared to last year is night and day. Not once this year, have we had to talk to a student about how they were treating the technology. For example, through our partnership with Dell, we got top-of-the-line laptops. Our Innovators hold these laptops with two hands and walk them to their workstations. They know they share the laptops with other students throughout the week, so kids do their best to make sure the laptop is in good shape for their peers. They don’t tap to hard on the touchscreen and they shut down the computers the right way, rather than just hitting the power button. Get this: at the end of Innovation Lab students put the laptops back into the correct, numbered slots in the cart and most of the time – most of the time – they plug them in!

I also see their respect in the way students regard our stuff as well. A student accidentally broke off a piece of a laptop. This was more of a design flaw than him being careless, but to his credit he came right over, told us about it, and apologized. We thanked him for his honesty and discussed the design flaw with him.

2016-11-04-13-10-32They’re careful, too. We added a workstation where students can cut, drill, glue, or solder pieces of old technology which they then turn into pieces of art. Students have been great in making sure they get me or Ms. Smith before they start. They always follow the safety procedures and wear their safety gear. We use a heat gun, which contrary to many students’ beliefs is not a hair dryer, to lift glass off of iStuff. Students have been very careful with this, too. We were hesitant to add the heat gun, but since we did, we have had students successfully remove broken iGlass for the first time. This wasn’t possible last year. If we had given into our fears when buying our stuff, learning experiences like this would have never happened. We have a Glowforge coming and hope to do some serious soldering soon. Once upon a time, we were nervous about this. Now, we’re excited by it.

Students attitudes are different, too. More than once I’ve had students tell me or overheard them say to each other how serious the technology in the Lab is and how that must mean this is a serious program or how they are taking their making “extra serious” because of the equipment they have access to. I even see our kids self-policing. They remind each other how they should be treating the stuff in the Innovation Lab.

There was a time over the summer where we debated only putting Chromebooks in the Innovation Lab. We even made a list of the not-as-good browser versions of design tools we could use with them, but we decided we didn’t want to our kids to only have access to Tinkercad. We wanted them to be able to use Fusion360, too. We didn’t want them to just use Scratch to make a game. We wanted them to be able to build in Unity like the professionals if they wanted to. That’s what this is about, not putting a ceiling on possibilities. 

2016-11-03-12-46-58Don’t get me wrong, stuff still ends up on the floor. Kids still need to be reminded it’s a screw driver and not a pry bar sometimes. Tools don’t always get put away in the right drawer, but they are getting put back in the right tool chest now! Our kids are working harder, completing more projects, and taking their learning more seriously just because we bought them the good stuff. What we’ve affirmed comes down to this: make decisions based on your best kids and don’t be afraid to buy them the good stuff. The good stuff has had a profound effect on students’ attitudes and productivity compared to last year. If we had given into our fears or fretted about their age, our students wouldn’t be half as productive as they have been this year and would have been exposed to even less.

At times we want to underestimate our students and what they are capable of. Don’t. They can do it. They deserve the good stuff.

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