Sunday, November 23, 2014

Redefining the Bird House, Part 2

The second grade students learned more than I expected in our "Redefining the Birdhouse" challenge. Beyond making cool birdhouses, they might be able to help Congress...

Mrs. Cheung’s second grade students had spent several days brainstorming their redesigned bird habitats and now it was time to start making.  These students are familiar with using materials like Legos to build - but this project was different.  They needed to realize a three dimensional birdhouse from 2 sheets of 18 inch square cardboard. We wanted to ease the class into three-dimensional thinking and how better to do that than with Minecraft?

Three-dimensional thinking
Building in three dimensions from two dimensional sheet material isn’t intuitive - we imagined confused stares and the chorus of, “What do we do now?”  We started by printing out Minecraft blocks from using card stock. Cutting, folding, and gluing a 3-D cube is challenging but the children were able to persevere because, well, Minecraft is cool. We modeled cutting and folding the paper and had a sample cube available (without adhesive) so that students could see how it turns out. Although students used glue sticks to hold the cube together, I’d recommend having some scotch tape on hand, you’ll thank me later. It took a cognitive leap for the class to turn the paper into a cube, and I’m glad we started that way.

Cube building was an important step to prime our students for three dimensional thinking. Once primed, students reconvened into teams to plan how to change their cardboard sheets into 3-D bird houses. The children used small whiteboards and dry erase markers to sketch out where they should cut and fold the cardboard. Whiteboards have a playful, impermanent feel and the teams planned with enthusiasm. Teams needed to take turns planning on the small whiteboard and negotiate the direction for the birdhouse.

It became clear that inter-group communication was valuable once students started building. Students used scissors, safety cutters (I highly recommend these for any elementary maker space!), and duct tape to construct their houses. Glue guns and the drill press (for bird house doors!) were available with teacher support. Each group was doing something interesting, but in isolation from the other cool things that were happening in other groups. We needed to reinforce that the teams were not in competition with one another, and could, in fact, help other teams. We needed to regularly stop the work and discuss what was going well and what wasn’t. Students were more self-assured after each discussion. Where teams needed to practice working together during the planning phase, now they needed to work together as a class. It was strangely foreign!

What I’d do differently next time
Next time I do this project I will try to build a better scaffold for empathy from the bird’s perspective. It is difficult for a seven year old to think from the perspective of another person, much less a bird. The kids did a great job but I think it could have been even better. I think it’s great that they figured out how to make furniture, I’m just not sure it fits into the design challenge. I’d also push harder on inter-team collaboration. I cannot stress enough how valuable it was to have the teams share with one another. Our students are used to competing with one another, both individually and in teams. It took a shift to think of the design challenge as a common goal that we could work on together to solve.

Why I think Congress should try design thinking
We live during a polarized time where people are more likely to talk over one another than to one another. The design thinking process encourages students to put themselves into someone else's shoes when they problem solve. The process enables teams to work together towards a common goal, rather than against each other. Lately it seems that the skills of negotiation, collaboration, and perspective sharing are rarely practiced. I'm encouraged that this generation could buck the trend.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Student Book Review Database W/ formMule & formRanger

One of our teachers, +Shoshana Cooper, had a great idea during our summer Chromebook orientation day. She wanted to create a moderated book review site for students that was powered by a Google Form. This post is the result of that conversation.  With the help of +Andrew Stillman's add-ons and +Romain Vialard's Awesome Table, this project is able to do quite a lot. I’ll start by showing what it looks like, explain what the system actually does, and then explain how to use the demo files step by step.

How it looks

The book review site is based on Romain Vialard 's Awesome Table gadget. This aptly-named gadget creates a sortable list from a Google Sheet and looks really slick. I add the gadget and the review form to a stripped down Google Site and embed the site using an iframe on any teacher’s webpage.  This almost effortlessly enhances the web presence for the class site and increases teacher buy-in. The gadget and form can be added in the regular way if a teacher has a Google Site. This modularity is important and will allow us put the same form in multiple spots to power a book review database for each of the five elementary schools!

What it does
The form is set to record the user ID to keep submissions accountable (this has to be turned on if you copy the form, the demo files are in the wild and don’t have this option.) The system uses Andrew Stillman's formMule Add-On to email the classroom teacher and a designated point person for each building in a district (the point person in my building is our librarian.) The email includes a copy of the student’s review and a link to the moderation Google Sheet. The first column of the moderation sheet is the moderation column - adding a “1” moderates the review and adds it to the site. Each review can also be edited using the “Form Response” sheet before moderation.

The review keeps the child’s name concealed when a when a review is written, saying instead, “The reviewer is XX years old from XYZ building.” When a teacher reviews a book, the review declares the teacher’s name. Each review has those cool graphic stars indicating the rating and can also display the book cover. The book cover is optional and requires the moderator to add a link on the moderation site to the cover graphic. To make this easier, the moderation sheet automagically links to the book’s page on Librarything. The moderator can visit the link and copy/paste the book cover image URL.

Students can also recommend a book for a type or reader (such as Kids who like scary stories, etc.) The “Type of reader” list on the form is updated via another Andrew Stillman gift, the formRanger Add-On. When a student comes up with a new type of reader it is automatically added to the form.  More on that later.

How to set it up
Don’t let all the stuff going on in this project dissuade you from trying it yourself, the complicated parts are taken care of by the add-ons and functions prepared in the sheet.  What is left to do is list the variables unique to your school, install the add-ons, and add the interface to your website. Lets find out how.

Add the variables
Copy the Moderation Google Sheet and Form. The sheet is already prepared with protected ranges on the moderation page to keep teachers from accidentally deleting formulas.  All of the variables for the form (teacher names, buildings, emails, etc.) are controlled from the “fromRanger” sheet. Navigate to this sheet and add the teachers, teacher emails, and buildings for the participating classes (delete the demo names first!)

In addition to the classroom teacher, each building has a point person to help moderate reviews. The point person in my building is our librarian. Determine who the the point person is for each building and update the emails in the “Point person for moderation” column. Finally, add any genres that you wish to include on the form. Hold off on the “Who would like this book” column, we’ll get to that is a bit.

How to install the add-ons
Installing and configuring add-ons is a little easier than working with scripts on the old Google sheets. We are going to install two add-ons to make this project work: formMule and formRanger. We will install and configure formRanger first.

FormRanger is a form add-on and requires you install from the form. Navigate to the “Edit Form” window (from the spreadsheet Form > Edit Form) and click on Add-ons > Get Add-ons. Search for “formRanger” by New Visions Cloud Lab and install. Now formRanger will appear when you click the “Add-ons” menu item. Do this and click “Start.”

The formRanger sidebar will display when you click “Start” and every question on the form will be represented there. Each column from the “formRanger List” sheet needs to be set to update the appropriate question on the form. For example, under “School:” in the sidebar, check the box next to “Populate from values list.” Then click the “Select” menu and choose “New Values List.” You need to point the add-on to the book review Google sheet and specify the “Building List” column of the “formRanger Lists” sheet.  Repeat this action for the “Genre” and “Who would you recommend this book to?” questions.

The "Who would you recommend this book to?" column is updated by student submissions. Submit the form yourself a few times to add a some choices in order to get the list started. Consider items such as "Kids who like funny books." or "Kids who like suspense."

Unlike formRanger, formMule is a spreadsheet add-on. Install formMule by clicking “Add-ons > Get Add-ons” from the Book Review Google Sheet and search for formMule.  Once installed, click “Add-ons > formMule > Set-up > Choose Source Data and Set Merge Type.” Set the “Moderation” sheet to contain your email addresses and merge source data. Then turn on the time-based trigger to fire every hour. Click next to build your email templates.

The current system has two emails. One is sent to the classroom teacher and the building point person when a student submits a review. Another is sent to the same stakeholders after a review has been moderated. Both of these templates are pre-set if you name the templates correctly. Template 1 should be named “Teacher Notification” and set to trigger when the Timestamp is “NOT NULL.” Template 2 should be named “Moderation Notification” and set to trigger when “Type 1 to Moderate…” equals “1.” You can see these templates and edit them when you click “Next: Edit Templates.” When the templates are edited to your satisfaction, click “Build / preview templates” and formMule is ready!

Using Awesome Table as an interface
The system is ready, all you need is an interface. The spreadsheet is pre-configured to work with the awesome table gadget from Romain Vialard. This gadget is easily embedded in any Google site, making the system highly extensible. The “Awesome Table” sheet must be published for the gadget to work. From the Google Sheet, click “File > Publish to the web” and select “Awesome Table” from the drop down menu. Then copy the link that appears. After you copy the published link, use this tutorial to help you install the Awesome Gadget into a Google Site. Romain Vialard has also composed a comprehensive guide.

Yup. That’s it.
Thanks for making it this far! I’m excited to see if this project gets traction with our students and teachers. Towards that effort, I am helping our fourth grade teachers install the system during their next grade-level meeting. Future plans include gamifying the review process and including a badge system. Please let me know if you use this project - especially if you think of a way to make it better!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Redefining the Bird House

Recently I met with one of our second grade teachers, +Jennifer Cheung, to redesign a performance task for a unit on animal habitats. We were inspired by the birdhouse project mentioned in the SparkTruck movie and decided to expand it for her class (You can see our learning plan below.) It's been an interesting project so far. Next week we begin the "Prototype" phase and our student teams will build their proposed birdhouses out of cardboard. I can’t wait to see what what they come up with.

The addition of the second T-Wall in our Maker Space made it possible to have a full class ideating at the same time. Jen's class used the space several times to brainstorm their bird habitats and I couldn't be happier about how it worked. The T-Walls really contribute to collaborative brainstorming and make ideation sing. But the best part of the maker space is not the T-Wall; it’s the design thinking process developed by the Stanford The stuff in the space is useful, but it’s the process that’s changing pedagogy. 

Here's how we broke the process down:

Empathize (Done in the Classroom and at home)
“How do the birds in our area interact with their habitat?”
Observe the birds outside of the classroom and at home.  What types of birds do you see?  What are the birds doing?

Define (Done in the Classroom)
“What does a bird need to be comfortable in a habitat?”
What do the birds need to do what they are doing? Do these birds need special things?

Ideate (Done in the Maker Space)
“How might we build a comfortable habitat for these birds?”
Use “T-Walls” to brainstorm in teams.  Don’t yet explain the constraints of the project so as not to discourage “moonshot” thinking.  Have teams talk through their ideas. At the end, engage in “Considered Selection.” Each team member gets a graphic organizer with three columns: "Most Practical," "Most Exciting," and "Most Unusual." Team members write one choice for each category on the organizer. This becomes a way to vote as a team.

Prototype (Done in the Maker Space)
This is where the teams discover that there are constraints to the project.  Each team gets a square of cardboard (1.5 feet by 1.5 feet?), string, and duct tape to make the bird house. Teams will have safety cardboard cutters, hole punchers, and scissors. Teachers will help with a hot glue gun, and string. In fact - I’m thinking about getting Flex Seal to coat them. (As seen on TV!)

The Birdhouses are hung on the tree and the class will observes how the birds interact with them during the year. If time allows, Perhaps students will redesign the houses after several months of observation for fidelity to the design thinking process.