Students as Designers

In the last five years there’s been a flood of attention around Design Thinking and Student Learning. Through my work with the Energy Innovation Center (EIC) and the Parkway Way Consortium of Schools near Pittsburgh I’ve had a chance to work with over 200 high school students around a series of Design Challenges. In addition, schools, like Nazareth Prep, have challenged their students to solve problems in their own community. In this article I’ll highlight some outstanding recent examples for each of these projects.

Energy Innovation Center Design Challenges

During the spring of 2018 students from Moon, Montour, Quaker Valley, West Allegheny, and the Parkway West Career and Technology Center (PWCTC) worked on two different Design Challenges. The student consultant teams from Moon and Montour joined with a team from PWCTC to examine the needs for additional LEED projects at the EIC in Pittsburgh. The teams from West Allegheny and Quaker Valley combined with digital arts students from PWCTC to delve into “Rebranding Careers.” Key to all of the activities were a series of activities that tapped into strategies that are part of the LUMA approach to Human Centered Design. For instance, students developed “concept posters” and “visualized” their evaluation of ideas. For both projects students had to develop an understanding for the needs of the client, the EIC. From the kick-off at the EIC, through a final presentation at PWCTC, students engaged in conversation with experts who provided feedback and guidance.

For the LEED Design Challenge the student consulting team at Montour created a prototype at their high school to test out an idea for a Green Wall with an aquaponics component for the EIC. The Moon team through their research realized that the recycling program at the EIC had a narrow focus. The student consultants made recommendations for a series of improvements so all materials used at the EIC could be recycled. The construction students from PWCTC built a model for a reflective light solution that would use mirrors to bring more natural light into the EIC.

The Rebranding Careers Design Challenge asked the student consultants to look at the language and images used to portray the opportunities in the trade and technical fields. The student consultants investigated new directions not only in the United States, but in Australia and Germany. The student consultants developed three pathways to educate their peers and their parents:

  • An app that would provide a personalized approach to career and college directions;
  • A BBQ career event that would use food to share the possibilities for a technical career;
  • A commercial that would use a feminine perspective to break down some of the traditional barriers in the technical world.

Many design activities are hypothetical, but each of the Design Challenges in this series were based on real world problems at the EIC. As one of the students pointed out, “I enjoyed knowing that the EIC will try to actually implement our ideas.”

Nazareth Prep Students Design Little Free Pantry for Aliquippa

One day in early July, four high school students from Nazareth Prep were admiring the fruits of their labor: a new Little Free Pantry ready to be installed outside of Uncommon Grounds Café in Aliquippa. Participants in the school’s Element summer program, these students had designed, built and created technological features for the pantry box, where members of the community can donate or retrieve food.
Made possible through a grant from the Adele & Thomas Keaney Charitable Foundation through the PNC Charitable Trusts Grant Review Committee, Nazareth Prep’s three-week Element summer program provided participants with intensive, hands-on instruction in design, woodworking and programming. The course was led by three Nazareth Prep faculty members: music and computer science teacher Leslie Chabala, engineering teacher Michael Roberts and physics teacher Eric Dunkerly.
Element students worked in two teams. The Build Team designed and constructed the physical elements of the pantry box using a variety of tools in Nazareth Prep’s Social Action Innovation Laboratory (SAIL), an MIT-approved fabrication facility. Meanwhile, the Code Team used miniature Raspberry Pi computers, Twitter bots and magnetic switches to set up a system for remotely monitoring pantry stock. The mini computers are programmed to take pictures of the pantry’s contents and upload them to Twitter when the sensors detect that the pantry has been used; community members can check the pantry’s Twitter feed to find out whether it has what they need or needs to be refilled.
Code Team student Katie Donohue reflects, “The best part of my experience was being able to watch my code take and upload pictures on its own – seeing how, through trial and error, I was able to power through and build something great.” Her teammate Cody Staudt comments, “I improved my knowledge of the Python [programming] language a lot.”
The students’ project is a high-tech approach to the Little Free Pantry model, which allows community members to share food with each other, whether they have extra items that need to be used or are running low on necessary supplies. The pantries are meant as a grassroots safety net to fill in the gaps that may be left by traditional food shelves and other resources.
Nazareth Prep’s Little Free Pantry is located outside of Uncommon Grounds Cafe, owned by parents of a Nazareth Prep student. The café runs a variety of ministries in the town of Aliquippa, where residents regularly make use of a number of previously installed Little Free Pantries. As the Nazareth Prep students wrapped up their pantry project, 11th grader Myeir Northern, who hails from Manchester, broke into a smile, exclaiming, “We really built a free pantry!” Then he started considering how he could put one in his own neighborhood.
Says instructor Chabala, “It was so great watching students be in charge of their own learning, driven by the clear goal of what the Little Free Pantry needed to do to work for the community. Students needed less and less direction and assistance as the camp went on, and by the end they were comfortable researching and creating on their own.”

 

STEAM Innovation

For the past four years I’ve helped to produce the South Fayette STEAM Innovation Summer Institute. This year’s two week set of workshops were extremely well received by educators and students who attended. Close to 98% of the participants gave a 4 or 5 to the workshop instructors and 99% for the organization of the sessions. Here’s a quick look at just five of the fifteen workshops that happened with quotations from the participants:

Python

Photos by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Aileen Owens, the Director of Technology and Innovation for the South Fayette School District and the Coordinator for the Summer Institute, gathered together a team of South Fayette students to co-teach a four-day workshop. The students worked with Carnegie Mellon University graduate and faculty members to develop a course for 8th grade students. The summer workshop provided an opportunity not only for the students to teach, but also for other students to test out the course along with several teachers from around the Pittsburgh region. The course includes a variety of activities that incorporate the Finch robot as part of a unit based on the novel and movie, The Martian. Both students and educators enjoyed the opportunity to test out this new beta course. One the teachers commented, “I will be teaching a coding course this upcoming school year and this course exposed to me Python for the first time. It also gave an insight into what the kids would be doing in a course, how they learn the software, what intrigues them in the coding world and how they adapt to the new language they are learning.

Scratch Programming

Shad Wachter, the STEAM teacher for South Fayette’s Intermediate School, shared his talents for the fourth time this summer. Shad shared his years of experience working with Scratch for a team of educators who ranged from beginners to experienced teachers. At South Fayette everything fits into a computational framework. Shad constantly provided stories from his classes on how sets Scratch and the classroom experiences part of a larger context that includes the ability to problem-solve, develop algorithms, find repeating patterns, and use coding as part of other tools, such as BlocksCAD, a free kids-focused graphics program. According to one of the educators, “Everything was new! If I begin working at an intermediate or middle school, I can absolutely see fitting Scratch into the curriculum to introduce computational thinking!

Join the Maker Movement

Melissa Unger, the South Fayette Elementary STEAM teacher, has become one of the premier educators in the Pittsburgh region taking the Making tradition into the primary curriculum. She sets the stage at South Fayette for students’ foray into computational thinking. In her workshop she shared a variety of activities that she employs with her K-2 students. To get students to start to work in collaborative teams she uses BreakoutEDU, an immersive learning environment where students (or teachers) need to find clues to open a series of locked boxes that have clues toward a final goal. Educators who had never worked together quickly became a team working together to figure out the clues to open a series of locks. In another activity Melissa challenges her students (teachers) to use an electric toothbrush and stickers to create a machine to generate mathematical drawings. The challenge is really an introduction to the design and engineering process, a key component of South Fayette’s curriculum. Teachers come to South Fayette to learn from workshop facilitators who have become leaders in the region. One of the teachers remarked, “We are starting a maker space extreme in the fall and this workshop gave me many, many ideas from equipment to storage. Instructor was remarkable.”

Building Sustainable Mindsets

For the first time South Fayette partnered with Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus. According to the Summer Institute program: Topics in sustainability have great potential to help integrate across the disciplines while providing fodder for meaningful, student-driven projects in schools and communities. This workshop will introduce participants to mindsets and topics in sustainability, including: food systems and access, biodiversity, green buildings and schools, air quality, renewable energy, aquaponics, vertical gardening, community development, systems thinking and ecoliteracy. For the session participants used a Project Based Learning (PBL) framework to begin planning units to encourage students to take action in their schools and communities. The participants were quite enthused by their experiences in Sustainability and PBL. One of the educators indicated how well the two themes wove into her work, “My job is mostly project based so this helped me think about sustainability for my program.

STEAM Innovation

Another key component for South Fayette program is infusing the arts into the STEM framework. Stephanie Deluca, South Fayette’s Curriculum, Technology, and Innovation Coordinator (K-12), shared her experiences with the Summer Institute participants. One of the favorite projects tapped into the power of the Hummingbird, a Robotics kit developed at Carnegie Mellon University, and used as part of intermediate and middle school projects at South Fayette. Educators had to design their own interactive representation for a language arts unit. For another activity participants had to create their own visualizations for cells using water colors. How did the educators react? “It was great getting to know different fun things to do in a STEAM classroom.” “There were interesting ways to implement coding and robotics into the LA curriculum, science, social studies and STEAM. Creating a scene from a book, or play, demonstrating how body parts move and work.”

 

 

 

 

Preview of 2017 K-12 Horizon Report

[This year I was part of the team selecting the Emerging Technologies, Trends, and Challenges for the global K-12 world. The team had members around the world. I served on the team representing the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN). When I served as the Coordinator of Educational Technology for the Fox Chapel Area School District, I used the report annually to benchmark the district goals for integrating technology into the learning process. In my teaching at Carnegie Mellon University I always shared the document with my students who worked on their technology plans or other planning document. ]

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

The expert panel has completed voting and the topics for the NMC/CoSN Horizon Report > 2017 K-12 Edition have been selected — below. The K12 Project as whole is led by the New Media Consortium, in collaboration with the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and made possible by mindSpark Learning (formerly known as Share Fair Nation). The report is set to be released in August, 2017. We’re now looking for any projects, programs, policies, or leadership initiatives that fit any of the below chosen areas, to be submitted here. Download the official NMC/CoSN Horizon Report Preview > 2017 K-12 Edition to view definitions of the topics below or check out the related discussions of all of the final topics in the 2017 Horizon.k12 Workspace.

I. Key Trends Accelerating K-12 Tech Adoption

 Long-Term Trends: Driving edtech adoption in K-12 education for five or more years

  • Advancing Cultures of Innovation
  • Deeper Learning Approaches

Mid-Term Trends: Driving edtech adoption in K-12 education for the next three to five years

  • Growing Focus on Measuring Learning
  • Redesigning Learning Spaces

Short-Term Trends: Driving edtech adoption in K-12 education for the next one to two years

  • Coding as a Literacy
  • Rise of STEAM Learning

II. Significant Challenges Impeding K-12 Tech Adoption

Solvable Challenges: Those which we both understand and know how to solve

  • Authentic Learning Experiences
  • Improving Digital Literacy

Difficult Challenges: Those we understand but for which solutions are elusive

  • Rethinking the Roles of Teachers
  • Teaching Complex Thinking

Wicked Challenges: Those that are complex to even define, much less address

  • The Achievement Gap
  • Sustaining Innovation through Leadership Changes

III.  Important Developments in Educational Technology for K-12

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: One Year or Less

  • Makerspaces
  • Robotics

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Two to Three Years

  • Analytics Technologies
  • Virtual Reality

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Four to Five Years

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Internet of Things