Minds Under Construction

It’s wonderful to see a school turn itself around. For years the city of Duquesne, a formerly robust mill town outside of Pittsburgh, had a declining population with a dwindling student enrollment. This year the school experienced a 10% gain in student population. It may not be directly related, but the focus on Active Learning and two STEAM grants through the Allegheny Intermediate Unit to create Maker Spaces have brought a new mindset and energy to the school.

Ani Martinez, the Outreach Coordinator for Remake Learning, organized a field trip for interested educators to Duquesne. Ms. Samantha Utley, an Instructional Coach working in the Creation Station, and Mr. Stan Whiteman, the Assistant Principal, shared elements of the recent success story. The focus was on the Creation Station, two former industrial arts rooms that housed a CADD classroom and a Wood Shop. Today they are vibrant, active learning spaces for grades K-3 and 4-6. The former CADD room now houses light tables for students to conduct scientific investigations, a series of water pods, reading areas, a 3D printer, and work areas. The former wood shop taps into the old work tables as STEAM investigation stations and provides a host of other technological opportunities.

While the two grants provided the funding to get the project off the ground, today the Dollar Store is the major supplier of materials. Every student during the week has an opportunity to spend time in the Creation Station. However, the focus on active learning doesn’t just happen the Creation Station. According to Stan Whiteman every student now has a device, providing a 1:1 opportunity. That means active learning happens in every classroom. The Creation Station becomes the place to expand and enhance ideas.

Samantha Utley shared a fifth grade project around the African nation of Sierra Leone. While students did their research on mud slides in the classroom, they had a chance to experience Sierra Leone virtually through a Google Expedition in the Creation Station. The students gained a real opportunity in critical thinking while expanding their global awareness.

A New Direction for Maker Spaces

For the past five years I’ve seen the growth of Maker spaces throughout Western Pennsylvania. Each space has a different focus and configuration. The Montour School District has taken the concept in a new direction – a LEGO Maker space for K-4 students. According to Justin Aglio, Director of Academic Achievement and Innovation for the Montour School District, “The Brick Maker space at Montour Elementary School is a learner-centered pace giving students opportunities to design, make, and think creatively.”

“Supporting Montour Elementary School’s new Brick Maker space with our LEGO Education solutions is a natural collaboration as we share the same priorities of student-centered learning and the dedication to sparking and engaging the innate curiosity of every student with hands-on playful learning tools,” said Silver McDonald, Head of LEGO Education North America. “We look forward to seeing what the students using the new space will imagine, build and create for years to come, and how the 21st Century Skills they are acquiring will inspire and equip them for their future careers.”

Justin Aglio added, “The new Maker space will focus on enhancing children’s spatial, fine motor, social, language and creative skills through activities using a variety of LEGO Education solutions including LEGO Education WeDo 2.0, LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Education EV3, LEGO Education Simple and Powered Machines, and more.  These solutions will also help students learn important lessons in science, technology, art, math, language arts, architecture and engineering.” In addition, the new LEGO Education Maker activities will be utilized throughout the experience. The school hopes to inspire students to design and make amazing creations at each of the following stations:
Animation Studio, Library, Test Track, Architecture, Engineering and Collaborative Building Center.

“At Montour, we like to use the learning terms “hands-on, minds-on” for tactile educational activities that spark motivation and excitement. The new Brick Maker space powered by LEGO Education solutions is certainly an inspiring environment where our kids can imagine, design, create, and share ideas with one another.  The interplay of imagination and education is really what makes this space so special,” said Dr. Christopher Stone, Superintendent of the Montour School District.

The room concept was the creation of Jason Burik, Co-Principal at Montour Elementary School and Justin Aglio.  The construction of the Maker space was a collaborative effort between Montour students, parents, teachers, administrators, LEGO Education, Carnegie Mellon University, Barnes and Noble, and Parkway West Career and Technology Center.

Jason Burik and Jason Shoaf, Co-Principals at Montour Elementary School are excited about the
support of LEGO Education.  Burik is a world-renowned LEGO artist who has created LEGO
masterpieces for Google, Stanford University, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Cisco,
Nationwide Insurance, NCAA, NFL, MLB, and NHL professional sports teams. Shoaf is a Maker
at heart and has always enjoyed learning through the connection of kinesthetic movement.
“LEGO and making has always been a passion of ours, and now with the assistance of LEGO
Education, we are able to combine the two and provide students a unique and engaging learning
experience,” said Burik and Shoaf.

Developing a Collaborative Culture

Corporate leaders highlight the need for a new generation of workers who can creatively solve problems by collaborating with other team-members. It’s imperative that our K-20 educational systems provide opportunities for learners to engage in a variety of strategies that help them to frame a problem, analyze information, synthesize that information into knowledge sets, and then evaluate and iterate their work realizing that there’s a good chance that the there will be need for another round of problem-solving. I had a chance to experience a good example of this type of process led by TeamBuilders Group, a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm, and Point Park University. The seminar represented the mixing of the problem solving approach of Human Centered Design that’s employed at Point Park with skill building approach to collaboration that’s used by the TeamBuilders Group.

Setting the Stage: Agreeing on Norms

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

To start the seminar Jordan Lippman and his TeamBuilders Group initiated a conversation around Norms – what should be the agreed upon conditions for collaboration? Examples Jordan shared included: Be present, listen mindfully, share thoughts respectively, invite help from your team, encourage everyone to participate, and trust your team. Jordan then asked the group to add their thoughts to the list of team building conditions. It’s extremely important to make sure everyone agrees to the rules of the game. Without norms trying to work collaboratively becomes a competition where some people take control or dominate. I can remember so well as a student how I became the person in charge and ended up doing most of the work.

Solving the Problem

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

For the next set of activities Eric Stennett from Point Park University took the lead. The original group was divided into three teams of four people. For the initial activity the participants were challenged to brainstorm “problems” that they faced in their educational roles. Participants were instructed to put each idea on a Post-It Note. Then each group had to cluster their ideas based on some common thread and then name each cluster. Eric “took the hood” off to explain the rationale for each exercise as it related to Human Centered Design (HCD) developed by the LUMA Institute in Pittsburgh. The group used the technique of “Affinity Clustering.” The next step tapped into the HCD strategy of “Visualizing the Vote” where each person had four large dots to place on the clusters that he/she felt were most significant problems. Three problem areas came to the forefront: Building Systems, Creating Equity, and Developing Bridges.

At this point people were given choices – form new groups to develop a strategy solution for one of the problems. It was interesting for me as an observer to see how the new groups functioned. In the process roles were not assigned but by reinforcing the norms, care was taken to ensure equitable participation. I’ve learned that when you keep groups no larger than ten, you have a better chance to engage each person. When you set ground rules that everyone agrees upon, you even the playing field and allow everyone to be not only a contributor, but also an active listener.

Reflecting

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Often a team-building process ends with a solution and there’s no opportunity to discuss how to use what’s been learned or to evaluate the process. For this seminar the group reformed into a semi-circle and spent the necessary time to process the experience and think about next steps. Jordan Lippman used the opportunity to highlight the “Trust” model developed by his team. One of the shared problems came from one of the Point Park administrators – how do you get a team of colleagues who already know each other to collaborate? The seminar included a diverse group of people who didn’t know each other and were open to accepting the “norms.” What happens when you have a group that has a history of not collaborating? It was fascinating to hear how the group used the morning experience to address the problem – start with norms that everyone can agree upon, think about using “protocols” that help the process, and have someone in the group take on the role of a facilitator.

#CollaborativeCulture is a great way to #RemakeLearning – Ani Martinez

As I think about my work with high school students around Design Challenges I can see ways that I will improve my process based on this seminar. I will make sure the “norms” are clear and explicit. I’ll make some of the strategies I use more explicit so the students can build on the process. I’ll give more time for the student consulting teams to reflect and think about how they’ll use what they’ve learned in the process of the Design Challenge. Most importantly, I’ll go back to Fred Roger’s thought: Deep and Simple is Far more Meaningful than Shallow and Complex.