innovation

Coding in English class? Yes! And not just an #HourOfCode, but a #MonthOfCode!

My students have participated in the Hour of Code since it launched in 2013. Regardless of the class I’m teaching (English 8, Digital Design 7/8 or Broadcast Media 7/8), we take a break from our current projects and spend a class period dipping our toes in the waters of computer coding. Thanks to a wide variety of video tutorials provided by the good folks at Code.org, I don’t have to be a coding expert to give my students this opportunity. Even better, the tutorials differentiate the experience for my students, some of whom have been learning to code on their own via Khan Academy, and others who have never heard of coding. Best of all? The online tutorials are all free and continue to be available beyond Computer Science Education Week, which is when Hour of Code is officially held.

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Three years later I decided it was time to take my English students beyond just an hour. Our first semester had been devoted to narrative writing, when my students wrote their own novels for National Novel Writing Month. When that project ended on November 30, we had three and a half weeks before winter break and the end of the semester. I decided those weeks would be a great time to go deeper into coding.

Although I am not a gamer, I know enough about games to recognize the link between narratives and games. I asked my students to brainstorm elements of novels (something they had become quite expert in) and elements of games. Eventually they saw these similarities:

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Then I told them about Computer Science Education Week and Code.org’s vision to give “every student in every school the opportunity to learn computer science.” We watched a couple of introductory videos, and then I introduced them to Scratch, the free online coding program launched by creative thinkers at MIT. Using a step-by-step lesson for creating a simple Scratch game, I set my students loose on the Scratch site to get familiar with the drag-and-drop platform that introduces them to the  language and logic of coding. And that’s where Hour of Code would usually end. But I had a better idea…

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Here’s the assignment I gave them: create a computer game based on the novel you just wrote. Their eyes lit up and their creative juices started flowing. Having just invested over a month into that novel, they knew their characters, plots, and conflicts inside and out. I hoped that the chance to create a game from that story would honor their writing and stretch some different brain muscles, while also giving them the basis for a richer game than they might create if it didn’t come from a well-developed story.

Their enthusiasm was exciting, but I knew many of them were nervous about tackling something as foreign as coding. And that’s where the geniuses at MIT make the significant difference between a one-hour tutorial and an entire unit, semester, or even year of coding instruction possible. I showed my students the many help options on the Scratch site, and told them to please work with friends so they could learn from each other. Each day, as they developed their games, we stopped midway to share out our questions, discoveries, and excitement. With a few weeks to devote to the project, students who thought they were done one day discovered a neighbor who added sound effects to her game, so they were inspired to go back in and do the same.

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The next week, I gave my students small tasks each day in case they thought their game was done and they were ready to quit. One day they added introductory information on their game info page; another day they traded rough draft feedback with a peer; and another day they updated their online portfolios with reflections on their coding experience and screenshots of their games. Some students had so much fun they chose to stay in at lunch to keep working on their games:

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And what will these students be doing on their “final exam” day next week? They will each create a Google Form feedback survey for their game, and then they will post the links to their games and feedback forms on a shared doc. Their work will then be assessed by their peers as they play each other’s games and submit feedback for revision.

There is so much about this project that mirrors the writing process: in addition to creating a story, they brainstormed and outlined their games, drafted them, tested them, found errors to fix, drafted some more, tested some more, revised some more. And eventually they will publish their games to an audience as big as the internet (via the Scratch site), where this creative gaming community can play, rate, and give  them feedback. And if they didn’t proofread their game carefully? It won’t run.

Do I expect all of my students to pursue computer science? Of course not. But will they all benefit from their month of coding? Absolutely. They were immersed in a new language and area of study in a collaborative, student-driven, interactive, face-to-face and online environment. Their narrative skills were sharpened, along with logic and critical thinking, and they got first hand experience in how computer devices are programmed. They saw their work published and learned the value of revision, proofreading, and peer feedback. It was well worth our time to devote weeks, instead of just an hour, to coding.

Have your students gone beyond an #HourOfCode? Have you found a way to integrate coding into your subject area? Please share!

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Learn innovation from the heart of American innovation: The Henry Ford

Why should you apply for the Henry Ford Teacher Innovator Award? You might think the title and accolades would be nice, and of course you’d be right. Even better, a beautiful award crafted in the glass blowing shop in Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village sure beats the suitable-for-framing document usually given to teachers. But the real reason you should apply is for the week-long, all-expenses-paid, innovation immersion experience given to the 10 first place winners. Three months later and I’m still reflecting back on all that I learned from that week, planning for our some-day trip to return to The Henry Ford for more inspiration.

Maker Faire Detroit 2015 at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Mich. Sunday, July 26, 2015. Gary Malerba/Special To The Henry Ford

First Place Teacher Innovator Awards from The Henry Ford (photo credit: Gary Malerba/Special To The Henry Ford)

I’ve always known that Henry Ford had a significant role in America’s identity as an innovative, risk-taking, hands-on, problem-solving country, but I had no idea how much of his philosophy extended to education. A week at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan opened my eyes to not only Ford’s legacy, but also to the power of teaching our students to be innovators themselves.

After arriving in Michigan (all flight, transportation, hotel and meal details arranged and paid for by The Henry Ford), our week started with the Maker Faire Detroit, a “three-ring circus of innovation. Robotics, electronics, rockets, food, music, fashion, science — if somebody makes it, we’ll find a place for it at Maker Faire Detroit.” It is a living example of the power and creativity of innovation, and an inspiration to those of us wanting to find ways to bring innovation to our students.

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The Maker Shed at Maker Faire, Detroit, Henry Ford Museum.

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A maker in action (Maker Faire Detroit, Henry Ford Museum).

When I heard we would be touring the Henry Ford Museum, I pictured an institution honoring the work of Henry Ford in the automobile and factory industry. What I didn’t expect was to discover that Henry Ford himself created the museum because he wanted to honor the innovation and ingenuity of Americans. He was so fascinated with this work that he collected examples of American innovation every chance he could. And he saw innovation in more ways than his assembly line might suggest: while that was an innovation of process and product, Ford also honored innovation of ideas. His museum is there not for his own glory; rather, it is a walk through generations of genius in America, including the innovative thinking that challenged the social status quo of sexism, racism, and classism. Included in the museum is the American progression of automobiles, furniture, appliances, etc., as well as artifacts of innovative thinking, such as the founding of our country, women’s suffrage, and the Civil Rights Movement, including the very bus that Rosa Parks occupied.

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Engineering is art (Henry Ford Museum).

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Rosa Parks’ bus (Henry Ford Museum).

If you have spent any time touring California colleges, you have probably heard of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s philosophy of “learn by doing.” I didn’t know that clear back in 1929, Henry Ford established a “learn by doing” school on the site of his museum. The children studied in the actual museum, exploring and using the contents as part of their education. There is still a school in the museum today, where students learn through “real-world experiences that focus on innovation and creativity.”

Our week of innovation immersion at The Henry Ford was spent with curators, archivists, and historians, passionate experts in their fields, who led us on tours of Ford’s legacy of innovation, including:

  • The Henry Ford Museum: nine acres of space dedicated to documenting the “genius of ordinary people.”
  • The Benson Ford Research Center archives: an astounding collection of American ingenuity and enterprise, such as Thomas Edison’s patent models, folk art and paintings, the personal and business papers of Henry Ford, domestic textiles such as quilts and coverlets, and couture fashion and accessories.
  • Greenfield Village: 80 acres dedicated to recreating an American village from the 19th century. It includes 83 authentic, historic structures, from Noah Webster’s home, where he wrote the first American dictionary, to Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory, to the courthouse where Abraham Lincoln practiced law (even Sonoma County is represented there, as Ford brought Luther Burbank’s office and garden spade to the Village). In Greenfield Village, you can “ride in a genuine Model T or ‘pull’ glass with world-class artisans; you can watch 1867 baseball or ride a train with a 19th-century steam engine. Greenfield Village is a celebration of the people whose unbridled optimism came to define modern-day America.”
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Henry Ford and Thomas Edison often visited Luther Burbank at his experimental gardens in Santa Rosa, CA. In 1928, Burbank’s tiny office building was moved to Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford.

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America’s 19th-century farms, operating now just as they did then (Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford).

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The Wright Brothers Cycle Shop (and aeronautical laboratory) in Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford.

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Thomas Edison’s laboratory in Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford.

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Skilled artisans practice authentic period crafts and trades with techniques and equipment that are, in some cases, centuries old (Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford).

  • The Ford Rouge Factory: we saw the Ford assembly line in action, learned about the factory’s history, and heard how the current ownership endeavors to further innovate the factory workplace. No pressure, Bill Ford, great-grandson of Henry!
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The history of Ford automobiles (The Ford Rouge Factory).

  • The Henry Ford Estate: although closed to the public for restoration, we were treated to a tour by the curator who is in charge of identifying every rug, painting, wall color, window trim, book, and bedding that would have been in the original estate. True to Ford’s belief that hands-on is the best way to learn, the restoration plan allows visitors to choose a book from a shelf, pull up a chair, and enjoy reading in Ford’s library.
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The Henry Ford Estate.

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Library in the Henry Ford Estate.

As if the expert-led tours weren’t enough, our week also included workshops to help us teach our students to be innovators. Instead of asking students to memorize and recite back, curriculum from The Henry Ford helps teachers inspire their students to be the same kind of innovative, risk-taking, hands-on, problem-solving people that made America so great.

On Innovation curriculum from The Henry Ford.

On Innovation curriculum from The Henry Ford.

I can’t recommend this experience highly enough! I encourage all you innovative teachers out there to apply for next summer’s Innovation Immersion experience.

See a quick promotion here: https://vimeo.com/user24471526/review/140475331/8f8054da91 

Get application information here: http://www.thehenryford.org/teacherInnovator/

Let me know if you have any questions! This application is well worth your time.

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” Henry Ford

When teachers gather together

giantsI’ve learned that when attending an education conference, it’s a success if I come away with two, maybe three great new ideas to try in my classroom. The conference experience is so overwhelming, both inspirational and exhausting, that it’s easy to get lost in the flood of creativity, innovation and enthusiasm from all those amazing presenters.

I’m not sure how that sage advice applies to a weeklong innovation immersion experience at the heart of America’s own history of innovation: The Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, Michigan. I am one of ten educators enjoying a week of tours, workshops and innovation challenges, and I’m afraid I’ll be so overwhelmed that I won’t remember any of it when it’s over.

But after just 24 hours with the other nine teachers, I can tell you this: put the ten of us in a room together for a week, and the innovation and creativity will fly so fast and furious that we’ll all be renewed and inspired no matter what was outside that room. These are some amazing educators! Like Saba Ghole and her innovative NuVu Studio School in Cambridge, MA. Or Texas teachers Lyle Crossley and Joe Morris, whose high school students have designed, built and raced solar cars in competitions across the country. Or Mark Suter, who has turned his students’ budding interests in technology into an entrepreneurial club that creates film promotions for local businesses in Ohio, generating donations that are reinvested back into their work.

Just give me a couple hours with Hawaii educator Wrayna Fairchild, so I can hear all about her fellowship in New Zealand and her work aboard a research ship. Or an afternoon with Donna Gradel, whose environmental science students from Oklahoma designed, built and delivered aquaponics units — sustainable food production systems used to raise fish and cultivate plants — to a remote district in Kenya.

Elementary school teachers Jamie Ewing (Seattle, WA) and Melissa Collins (Memphis, TN) have earned so many awards and recognitions that I feel like I’ve been dropped into the who’s who of Olympic educators. While early elementary teachers are told to focus on raising their students’ reading and math scores, Melissa’s students wear lab coats, answer to the title “junior scientists,” and engage in experiments that turn them into critical thinkers and problem solvers. Jamie has turned the traditional science fair on its ear, moving his students’ projects to a digital science fair space where they can share and view projects from other students around the country.

We even have a preschool teacher among us, and she is leading the pack in pushing back against the academic pressures that have trickled all the way down to our precious toddlers. Linda Reimond’s students thrive in an environment that encourages art, play and exploration, and we know those students move into the K-12 system well prepared for an authentic, productive education.

Yes, the immersion in history and innovation at The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village is going to be an incredibly powerful experience, both professionally and personally, but the nine extraordinary teachers I’m hanging out with will surely give ol’ Henry a run for his innovative money.

Student agency: voice, choice and making

In anticipation of the new Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessments, which students will take online, teachers are being asked to help students prepare by giving them more time on computers. After all, if the testing environment is all online, students need to be familiar with and comfortable using basic computer commands and options, as well as keyboarding and computation.

But as with any significant shift in classroom practices, there has been some push-back, as parents and educators alike ask about the potential downsides of too much “screen time” for kids. New technologies offer a wealth of opportunities for students to discover their own agency: to take control of their learning, to make choices in their education, to find their unique voice. But will students become passive learners, sitting in front of a screen and consuming, instead of actively  interacting with and producing new content?

Yesterday I participated in a webinar with the National Writing Project and Educator Innovator on how we can create opportunities, space, and time for all youth to be agents in their own learning. Kicking off Connected Educator Month, we take inspiration from the Maker Movement as well as Connected Learning principles to support the sharing of ideas and strategies related to this notion of youth agency throughout October and beyond.

As my students prepare for NaNoWriMo, they find their own voices honored as they choose all aspects of the novel they will create. How do you give your kids opportunities to find their voices and claim agency in your classroom? Please share in the comments below!

(Also published here on Edutopia.)