On the Cutting Edge...or the Bleeding Edge?

I have just finished a very full two days of learning.  First, I attended Lead 3.0 (#lead3).  It was my first time at this conference and all I can say is "WOW".  It was a solid two days of connecting, learning, and being inspired.  I had no idea what to expect and left with much to mull over, take back to share, and a to-do list a mile long.  As that conference wrapped up, I booked on down the freeway to Stanford University for an afternoon workshop on Design Thinking and Common Core at their d.school K-12 Lab(@k12lab).  This was a packed 3 hours that blew my mind.

I came away knowing that I was at these two unrelated events in the same weekend not just because I am an #edunerd who loves learning, but also because I was meant to connect with some specific people.

So this brings me to my title because I have to question if my vision for our school is cutting edge or bleeding edge.  Indulge me for a moment (I promise that this isn't a rant like last time).  Design Thinking, Maker Space, Technology.  Critical Thinking, Creativity, Communication, Collaboration. State Standards.  CCSS.  How can all of this intersect?  Should it intersect?  How are teachers supposed to keep all of this in mind for every lesson?  And how can Administrators help lead teachers in their efforts to accomplish all of this, prepare students for the ______________ (place your current test du-jour name here) high-stakes test, and remain a committed, passionate, sane educator?

My experiences these last two days tell me that Design Thinking, Maker Spaces, and Technology are the keys to the puzzle.  Through  the use of these three, students will naturally engage in the 4C's.  If they are engaged in the 4 C's then by default, I can pretty much guarantee you are hitting the Common Core standards.  If you are hitting Common Core, you should be addressing your state standards since the CCSS framework is built on State Standards.  It seems so simple, right?  Well, not really.  And wait, what happens to those high-stakes tests?  Oh, right, I conveniently left those out.  Because they do nothing to prepare students for college or their future careers.  As I have said many times, I don't want to hire anyone who only knows how to bubble-in answers.  Do you?  And having taught AP US History for 10 years, I know a thing or two about high-stakes tests.  And I can say with certainty that any standardized test worthy of being used for data collection/analysis does not need to be "taught to".  Intelligent students who know how to read, think critically, analyze and apply can answer any multiple choice question thrown at them.  Honest.

Our duty is to inspire life-long learners.  Scantrons don't do that.  We are then creating Ferris Bueller scenarios (you all remember that great scene, right?

This is not what we got into this great profession to do.  So my quest is to bring Design Thinking to my school.  And then to bring a Maker Space to the school.  And overlay these goals with a  constantly increasing use of technology--much to the chagrin of some teachers (you probably have some of those on your campus too!)  And here comes my dilemma: Is all of this necessary?  How much is too, much, in other words.  Right?  One could argue that any of these things are passing fads (anyone remember ebonics?)  But, I am going out on a limb here and now to say that these are NOT passing fads.  We know the statistics about the jobs of the future.  We know the rate at which society is changing.  Given these pieces of information, how can Design Thinking, Maker Space, and technology be passing fads in education? Without them, our students won't be ready to assume meaningful roles in the society of the future.  We don't know what that will be, but we do know it isn't what we have now.  I love this clip on the possibilities of the future:

How do we prepare our students to develop these ideas...and many others?  We have to challenge them, encourage them, provide them with safe places to fail frequently and often.  Thus, in my opinion, Design Thinking, Maker Space, and technology are the tools needed.  They can be applied to any content area and allow learning to be messy and meaningful.

I'm going to give you a few examples from my learning this weekend and hope that you will continue the learning by finding your own examples...

Maker Space is for more than physics (thanks to @smartinez, Closing Keynote at #lead3).  For example, teach students the rules of grammar by having them program a poetry generator.  They will certainly need to learn parts of speech in order to build a program that can do this effectively.

Design Thinking to learn history (we did this at the K12 Lab workshop): We read Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman" (you can brush up on it here: http://goo.gl/JCXwd) then went through a series of steps for practicing Design Thinking.  This was extremely hard for me and I will return to that in a minute.  I am outlining the process we followed below:

1. Empathize with Truth by building an empathy map that looks like this:

2. Write some Needs Statements:

3. Ideate.  For this process we used a Story Spine format.  This was new to me and it follows this formula:

Once upon a time...
Every day...
Until one day...
Because of that...
Because of that...
Because of that...
Until finally...
And ever since then...

You can be as creative as you like with this and you can cross over space and time, as I learned while listening to groups share out their Story Spines that included Sojourner Truth appearing on Oprah, having a Starbucks drink (the Truth Triple Shot) named after her, opening a school...you get the idea.

Now, while your head spins a bit about the ways that you can apply some or all of these examples in your classroom or at your site, let me share a few additional take-aways:

1. You do not need to follow all steps of the Design Thinking process every lesson, and you don't even need to work them in a linear fashion. I am telling you exactly what we were told by the expert facilitators at our session. We only did 3 of the steps.  For those of you who don't know, DT is: Empathize, Define the Problem, Ideate, Prototype, Test ( and Redesign).  We did Empathize, Define, Ideate.  Though you could make a cast for the fact that our Ideate and Prototype were combined in the Story Spine.  But honestly, it's NOT important.  What is important is the learning.

2. We have to let go of some of the traditional learning to allow this more organic process to really take off.  This was a huge "a-ha" moment for me as I sat in a room full of smart people and struggled with reading a document that I have taught for years listening to adults throw out descriptors of Truth with absolutely no historical context.  We were 10 minutes into the conversation before ANYONE mentioned that it appeared she was speaking at a Women's Convention!  The historians out there are cringing right now.  I had to keep my mouth shut so as to not de-rail the creative process that was going on.  And then when someone brought up this fact about where she was, it led to the conversation by our facilitators that this is a great point to insert some instruction about how to read primary source documents.  "Oh!"  My inner voice exclaimed.  O.K., I can get behind this.  I also realized that in a room full of 40+ educators, not one single person seemed bothered by their lack of knowing the back-story.  I know that most of them learned it at one point (the age range in the room was HUGE) but, as with our students today, it was not on the forefront of their mind.  And guess what, if it was really pertinent they could look it up, right?  That is the beauty of the internet.  Despite entering into this activity with no context, the discussion was rich.  This process opens up the opportunity for the messy, constructive, collaborative learning that will propel our students into the future to be able to compete in a world that will be their world, not ours.

So I argue that Design Thinking and Maker Spaces and Technology belong on our campuses because regardless of what trends in content come our way, they won't change the need for our students to create, collaborate, critically think and communicate.  Thus, while nay-sayers might argue that my efforts to bring these ideas to our campus is so far past the cutting edge to be on the bleeding edge, I strongly disagree.  I am glad I had these past 48 hours to get some centering and encouragement because it will not be easy but I believe our students will be better for it and thus the effort will be worth it.

What are your thoughts?  


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