Monday, March 31, 2014

They Never Cease To Amaze Us!

As we look at some of the projects, we see some amazing learning experiences. Here are a few photos from some of the projects.

John, Louis and Ben (Go-Kart Sound) are making extraordinary progress on their go-kart!

Meanwhile, Allyson has made a Facebook page for her Operation Beautiful Hixson project. Nice!

Steve (SNB Bass Baits) has done an amazing job with his fishing lures and now, with his potential grant funding, may change the focus of his lures to biodegradable, environmentally-friendly lures. What an awesome idea.


Jonah, Spike and Alex (Hovercrafting 101) are making great progress on their hovercraft as well. Their hard work shows in the progress they've made so far!  - Don

Friday, March 28, 2014

Podcast: The Intensity of Winding Down

In this episode, we talk about the Checkpoint Assignment, kids writing grants for their projects, the philosophical evolution of 20% Time and the remaining weeks of intense project work. Listeners can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Search iTunes for Harmonized Learning in the podcast section and click "subscribe". You can also follow us on Twitter @melissahellwig4 and @dayankee

Accidental Focus

The two groups we thought about for the Pollination Project grants, Pictures for Africa and SNB Bass Baits, started filling out grant applications today. Steve (SNB Bass Baits) finished and sent it in. They are all very excited about the opportunity. One unintended consequence of applying for the grant is that Steve's project focus may have changed slightly because of the grant criteria. The grant asks for applicants to demonstrate how their project will have a positive impact on humanity or the environment. Steve came up with the idea of shifting his lure materials from regular plastic to a biodegradable components so as to cut down on pollution and waste in lakes and rivers. Genius! The biodegradable material is more expensive so he will need the grant money in order to buy supplies but if he gets the grant, he will be able to pursue this new avenue.

This shift is a great example of how the journey can take a sudden turn, leading to a better idea than the original one. Environmentally sensitive, biodegradable bass lures is a brilliant idea and there does not seem to be anything like it on the market. Imagine if this one seventh grade kiddo were able to change the entire fishing lure market with his idea and the influence of some grant criteria. He is so excited about this new development that gave him, almost by accident, a slightly different project focus. - Don

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Games, Grants and Authentic Audiences

As the kids make progress on their projects, we ask them to share as much as possible about the process and the product.  Theodor, who is creating "A Brick by Brick Society", is inventing a Leggo-based game. His blog outlines the rules, the theory behind the game and the purpose of the game. Nothing comes close to getting authentic feedback though. Yesterday in class, Theodor tried out his game with some of his peers. He set up the game on one of our round tables, got four of his buddies together, explained the rules, and they were off. Instantly they were immersed in the game. While Melissa and I didn't quite understand what was going on when we checked in, the kids certainly bought into it wholeheartedly. Melissa asked one of the boys, "How did you know the rules of the game?" to which one replied, "Oh, he explained them before we played." Simple enough! Theodor got great feedback about what worked, what needed polishing and how successful the game can be.

We love the fact that others are looking out for our kids and their projects. Yesterday, Dr. McGee, one of the dignitaries on our Pitch Committees, forwarded an e-mail about the Pollination Project.  It is an organization that gives grants to individuals or groups who create projects in one of the following areas: compassion towards all life, environmental sustainability, justice in all of its forms, community health and wellness, putting consciousness into action and social change-oriented arts and culture. Several of our community-themed projects meet the criteria for grant application and we are encouraging them to apply. Steve, whose project is SNB Bass Baits, is stoked about applying.  Other projects that come to mind as good fits for the grant are Pictures for Africa and Racism Can't Become US. We will be helping these kids apply for those grants. This is another example of real-world results and authentic learning. - Don

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Podcast: Checking In

In this episode, we check in with student projects, talk more about the philosophy behind a 20% Time classroom, speak to the motivation of the kids and look at upcoming events on team.  Listeners can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.  Search iTunes for Harmonized Learning in the podcast section and click "subscribe". You can also follow us on Twitter @melissahellwig4 and @dayankee

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Tool to Task

In debriefing with some of the kids about the Website Workshop last week, they said some interesting things.  When asking one of the kids if he got his website up and running, he replied, "No, Mrs. Burkett showed us how to use our blog more and it does what we need.  We don't need a website."  I was a little shocked.  I thought the kids would want to create a website if only to try a "new" tool.  What I realized is that these kids are more savvy than I thought.  They are able to evaluate a tool based on its potential to accomplish a task and, if it is necessary, they will use it.  If not, they won't.  They are not necessarily going to use a tool just because it is new or glitzy.  They are going to use it if it's necessary.

This interaction is a good reminder about what we call "Tool to Task".  We often ask both our students and ourselves "Is this something that we need to use?" "Do we have something in our toolbox already that would accomplish what we need?" "Are we considering using a tool just because it is new?"  We try to make sure that we are using the appropriate tool for the task and if we can use fewer tools to do everything we need, then all the better.

We find that in our classrooms, and in our professional development as teachers, we sometimes try to create a task just so that we can use a new, cool tool.  That cheapens our learning because it becomes a contrived "lesson".  The need for the tool did not arise from the learning.  Instead, we tried to fit the learning around the tool.  My interaction with the student after the Website Workshop told me a lot about the students we are teaching.  They understand that knowing a few digital tools, and knowing them very well, is much better than barely knowing how to use many tools.  If they learn more about the tools they have, they will discover more capabilities and features of those tools.  What a great lesson for the kids to learn.

We teachers often face the same issues.  We are bombarded with countless digital tools and often we look at them and think "Cool!"  Without a purpose, that's all they are, cool tools.  The learning must drive the technology need.  What occurs inside the classroom should dictate what technology is used and those tools will be different for each teacher.  The best technologies for the teacher are those that make him/her a better teacher.  The same goes for the students.  We try to show our students a variety of tools and then tell them to pick a few and learn them well.  We as teachers have chosen a few tools that we are using with our kids and, while we could triple the number of tools we use, we stick to the ones that we know well and find new features all the time that make them even more valuable in class.

Technology in education is a tricky business.  Empowering everyone to make the technology decisions that are best for them while making sure that the learning is driving the need is a fine line to walk.  The feedback we got from our kiddos after the web session shows us that we are on the right track. - Don

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Websites and "What's Next?"

Today was a 20% Time work day with an embedded workshop.  We combined our groups of kids for the last two classes of the day and had them work on their projects.  During this time, Sheila Burkett, a team parent and IT professional, conducted a workshop about creating websites and blogs.  All of the groups have blogs, but Sheila was able to show the kids some advanced features of Blogger and how to improve their blogs.  Ten to fifteen kids participated in the workshop while the rest of the kids worked on their projects.

While many groups were busy working on their projects, we coached the kids on "What's next?" with their projects.  Part of the frustration of this whole project for us is that kids keep looking to us for direction.  We try to question them so that they discover, on their own, the next step in their process, but some of the kids want to be "rescued" or given so much direction that the project becomes ours instead of theirs.  We resist giving answers and instead ask questions that we hope will stimulate new ways of thinking about their projects.  

We cannot lie.  It is incredibly frustrating to see kids who are doing nothing when they should be working.  When asking them about their inaction, we get answers like, "Well, we sent an e-mail."  Ummmm, and????  Making that paradigm shift, for many kids, from "I have to do what the teacher tells me" to "I am in charge of my own learning and I know what I need to do next to reach my goals" is monumental.  About 25% of the kids are already there, another 25% are getting there, and the other 50% are struggling.  While we struggle ourselves with their creative paralysis, we have to keep reminding ourselves that, for many, this is the first time in their lives that they have been in charge of their learning.  If nothing else, this semester will be a great introduction to creative problem-solving and they will be much more able to face these types of challenges in the future. - Don