Ideation Through Brainstorming and Incubation

For the past two weeks, my Learning Technology by Design class has focused on ideation. The goal of this phase has been to generate as many ideas or solutions regarding my Problem of Practice as possible. Early in the week, I created an incubation journal in Evernote. I choose Evernote because I can access this journal with my computer, phone or iPad and odds are, I’ll always have access to one of those devices! There were times when I purposely went to my journal to read it over and added a few things but there were also times when an idea or thought popped into my head while I was doing something else. I then quickly opened up Evernote to record these thoughts. At the end of the week, I attempted to analyze my incubation journal and I grouped similar topics by color. (Click on the journal picture below or HERE to see my full incubation journal.)Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 9.04.48 AM.png

In addition to this incubation journal, I also held a brainstorming session during the middle of the week. A coworker and I sat down and I described my Problem of Practice and what I had discovered the past few weeks during the empathy and define phases of this design process. We then started throwing out ideas regardless whether they were practical or not. We withheld judgment while we captured all our thoughts and connections on a whiteboard (see below). Fairly early on, we identified a few major topics so I attempted to color-code our ideas the rest of the way. Although there were only two of us brainstorming, it was fun to see how our ideas fed off each other as we built upon each other’s ideas. Even a few impractical ideas led to something more useful. After about 20 minutes, the ideas were slowing down and my co-worker had to teach. However, for the next hour or two, other coworkers passed by the whiteboard and asked me questions about it. This lead to a few more additions. (It is still displayed and I am hoping to come back to it again this coming week to see if any new thoughts, ideas, and connection jump out.)Brainstorming 1

In the coming weeks, I will begin to decide which ideas should be pursued. So far, I really like the idea of combining the AP Biology standards into questions and building each lesson around one of these questions. I think that this will help to free up time (by reducing lessons) while also boosting student motivation as they seek to answer these questions and make connections to other lessons/questions. Another idea to pursue will be flipping the classroom (to some extent) and how homework can be better used to provide crucial information while freeing up class time for more hands-on learning. Finally, I want to pursue student metacognition and encourage my students to think about their thinking. This in part can be done through the iLMS Edify. I feel that I am starting to make progress on my Problem of Practice and I’m excited to see where it ends up!


The Art of Ideation

This week in my Learning Technology By Design class, we are learning about ideation and how it can be broken down into two main part: brainstorming and incubation. While brainstorming is more of an active process of coming up with ideas, incubation is more of an unconscious process of letting our thoughts and ideas marinate and blend into something new. Put these two phases together and the ideas should begin to flow! To practice ideation, I was instructed to spend some time jotting down thoughts regarding my Problem of Practice. Following this brainstorming session, I allowed my thoughts and ideas to incubate as I took a break. Immediately after this break, I sat back down to see if any new thoughts or ideas came to mind. My brainstorming notes for both sessions can be found here or by clicking the picture below.

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While I like the idea of this “work-incubation-revisiting” activity, I found that I got the most out of just typing everything that came to mind (brainstorming). I tried to do what this week’s videos and reading told us and just listed everything I was thinking without focusing too much on whether it was a good or bad thought. I planned to do this for the minimum 15 minutes but since the thoughts kept coming, I kept it up for closer to 25 minutes before my thoughts and ideas began to slow down. My incubation time was spent throwing the football around outside with my son. (I had to take advantage of the nearly 60 degree, sunny afternoon!) I’m not too good at throwing spirals but I still think this would be considered a “light mental activity.” I didn’t notice my mind coming back to my problem of practice at all during this break but when I sat back down and looked at my initial notes, I again had a lot of thoughts to write down. While I didn’t come up with anything earth shattering on this second brainstorming session, I was able to type out my thoughts and ideas for another 20-25 minutes.

I think that maybe the structure of this activity puts a lot of pressure on the incubation phase and therefore, it might prevent major inspirations from happening as it felt a bit forced. Based on my previous experiences, I think that a longer incubation phase might help. Maybe as I cook dinner, lay in bed, stand in the shower, or drive to work during the next day, I will be hit with some inspiration. If so, I’ll be sure to edit this post!

Defining My Problem of Practice

This week, my Learning Technology By Design class asked me to craft a definition statement of my problem of practice (Re-Designing My SIMPLE Learning Cycle).

Part 1:

To help draft this specific and clear definition, I first worked through a few exercises to push my thinking a bit deeper. Check out my “5 Whys?”, “Why-How Ladder”, and Point-of-View Madlib below.

5 Whys?

Why does my SIMPLE Learning Cycle need to be redesigned?

  • Because too much of the current cycle results in passive students.

Why are my students currently passive?

  • Because I am telling them too much of the information through lectures and videos.

Why am I telling them all of the information?

  • Because it takes less time to tell them the information rather than left them discover it.

Why is time a deciding factor?

  • Because there is so much information to cover before the AP Exam in May

Why is there so much to cover?

  • Because there are 55 AP Biology standards to cover plus other important ideas and concepts.

Why-How Ladder


Point-of-View Madlib

Today’s short attention-spanned high school students raised with an entertain me attitude need to actively construct their own knowledge because facts will always be readily available on the Internet but students need to learn how to think.

Part 2:

After working through the above thinking exercises, I drafted the following definition statement:

High school students currently spend up to 90% of their school day passively listening to their teachers and peers. This passive environment does not deeply engage the students and therefore, it falls short of providing long lasting understanding while also failing to produce good thinkers.

A major cause of this problem is that teachers feel the burden of numerous local, state and national standards. As a result, teachers feel a need to communicate as much information as possible in the shortest amount of time. This usually results in lectures and creates a very passive environment. To start to remedy this problem, teachers first need to take a careful look at what they must teach. This exercise will hopefully discover less meaningful or irrelevant topics in their curriculum that can be omitted. The time freed up by removing this unessential content can then be used allow students to actively construct their knowledge through hands-on investigations and projects.


Sniglets and Reframing Problems

Part 1 – Seeing and Defining Something: Sniglets

This week my MSU tech design class (CEP 817) is discussing the second phase of design – defining. To kick things off, I was tasked with creating three Sniglets (if you want to see more Sniglet examples, check out this site). Coming up with these Sniglets was much harder than I expected! After much thought, here is what I came up with.

Sciation (si a shun) – n. An exhalation of disappointment or frustration from a science student when informed of an upcoming project.

Nurishwhine (nour ish wine) – n. A complaining cry or general uncontentedness from a child regarding the meal prepared for them.

Chromadoh (krōm a dō) – n. A chunk of Play-doh after multiple colors have been fused together.

(I thought I created and defined the Sniglets “Legoize”, “Toynado” and “Permadirt”. Then I Googled them just to be safe and found they already existed!  Bummer!)

Part 2 – What’s the Problem Really? Reconsidering and Reframing

In addition to creating Sniglets, I was also asked to identify and share an example of problem redefinition. Often, what we think is the problem is not really the case. After further research and exploration, we may realize that the root of the problem is something completely different. The redefinition of our problem will most likely lead to a completely different solution.

Students at a high school are given collaborative learning time (CLT) in their schedule. What this means is that most students take seven classes and have one CLT. Collaborative Learning is a bit different than a study hall as students have more freedom in terms of where they spend this time, who they work with, and what they accomplish. It was quickly noticed by teachers and administrators that many students were not accomplishing very much school work during their CLT. (However, the amount of YouTube videos being watched was quite impressive!) The first thought was that most students could not handle the responsibility of this open, unstructured environment. Therefore the leading solution was to move back to a study hall format where the students are stuck in small rooms with close supervision. However, after some more exploration, it was found that a major reason many students were choosing to watch videos, play cards and socialize during CLT was that they didn’t have school work to do! The schedule had been recently changed from having classes meet five times per week to only three times a week (a modified block schedule). However, despite meeting two less days a week, most teachers were not assigning the extra homework. Therefore, students had 40% less homework than before. When this was realized, the solution was no longer a study hall but rather to supply the students with meaningful tasks to accomplish during their CLT. Science teachers could expect students to spend part of their CLT time with their lab partners. Art teachers could require an ongoing project to be worked on. Other teachers could assign larger projects without wondering when the students would have time to get together. Once the teachers realized all the possibilities that CLT allowed, it no longer became a waste of time.

As can be seen from this example, the problem was not what it first appeared. Rather than being a problem of lazy and undisciplined students, it was a problem of boredom and lack of things to do. By redefining this problem, the possible solutions become very different. If no one had bothered to look closely at this problem, the issue of lack of work would not have been discovered or addressed.

Generating Empathy: Taking a Walk in my Students Shoes

For the past few weeks, I have been studying empathy and how it affects design. As I mentioned in a previous post, my problem of practice is to redesign my SIMPLE Learning Cycle in hopes to create a learning environment that is engaging, interactive, informative, relevant and personalized. In order to gain a better understanding of what my students experience on a daily basis – and therefore, see what they need and crave – I have taken steps to put myself in their school shoes. Some of these steps have been completed while others are still in the works. It is my hope that I can begin to experience school from my students frame of reference by gathering information through student surveys and interviews as well as by carefully observing my students during class. Finally, I will spend a day as a student so that I have the opportunity to immerse myself in their world. This will allow me to experience all the factors that go into a school day – hallways, lunch, Office Hours, tardies, fatigue, classes, worktime, homework, etc. Armed with all this research, I can then step back and detach from my students world while I consider how this information should affect the design of my learning cycle.

I started to gather information through a short survey that I sent to all my students. I was happy to see that nearly 50% of my students responded (21 of 44). The first thing that surprised me is how passive a school day is. While I assumed that students do a good amount of sitting and listening, I was quite surprised at how much of their day is spent this way. A majority of students (57%) indicated they sit for roughly 6 hours per school day while the average student is sitting for 5.5 hours. Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 9.52.38 AMTo make matters worse, not only are students sitting all day but their learning is passive as well. The average student is listening to teachers and/or classmates present information for about 4.5 hours each school day. I would argue that this passive learning often fails to hook the new information to existing knowledge and therefore hinders the student’s ability to construct their knowledge. Also, this might explain why many of my students look half asleep by the time they get to my class at the end of the day – even before I lecture! My final surprise came when I asked the students how they learn best. I have some pretty good students and often, these are the students that like the material fed to them. Therefore, I assumed a lot of them would say that even if lectures are boring, they learn the best from them. Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 9.55.28 AMHowever, a large majority (81%) said that they learn best by interacting with the material (as opposed to lecture (14%), video (5%), or textbook (0%)). They supported this later as they listed three words to describe their idea class. The most common words included interacting, hands-on, fun, variety, interesting, activities and challenging. These words sure don’t seem to fit with the passive school day my students are experiencing!

While this survey was a start, my empathy journey is not over. As I began to analyze the survey results, additional questions emerged. In particular, I want to learn more about the lack of one on one time between the students and their teachers. As I move toward personalized learning, this is an issue that will have to be addressed. I also want to learn more about how students view lectures and whether or not lectures should have a role in their learning. Over the next week, I plan to interview 3-5 students in an attempt to dig a bit deeper into their experiences at school. Finally, while I am beginning to understand my students on a deeper level, I really want to experience a full day. I am having a hard time truly relating to sitting for 6 (out of 7) hours each day while passively listening to someone else. At this point, I can only guess about the boredom and fatigue that this will cause. Therefore full immersion as a student will be a critical step in developing my empathy as I prepare to re-design my SIMPLE Learning cycle.

The journey continues!

Note: The full survey results can be seen here.

Problem of Practice: Re-Designing My SIMPLE Learning Cycle

For several years I have dreamed about designing a learning model that would provide a more engaging and meaningful experience for my students. I want my students to be active in their learning. I want them to feel that what they are doing will make a difference. I want them to feel comfortable taking risks. I want them to take more ownership over the pace and depth of their learning. I want to know that they are learning and if they are not, I want to provide personalized feedback. Finally, I want my role to shift from the guy in front giving all the information to the guy who facilitates discussions, offers advice, and explains ideas in small groups. So in short, I want a lot!

I have been inspired over the years by many people and organizations. Most notably, our science department is being trained by Van Andel Education Institute on their QPOE2 model. Among other things, this model encourages thought, design, analysis, discussion, risk taking and application. It is truly an active way to learn science where everything is centered around questions and investigations rather than planning a one day lab around previously taken notes. A second major influence has been my experience with blended, hybrid and online learning. I love the idea of using digital online tools to enhance my students experiences. Using a good learning management system allows the classroom to be expanded as resources can be accessed around the clock.Edify Logo My LMS (Edify) also allows me to tag assessment items (and resources) with our learning targets so that I can track individual student performance and intervene with specific advice and resources. Finally, I have been inspired by a science teacher in Montana. I have great respect for Paul Anderson and his blended learning cycle. He combined parts of the learning cycle and blended learning to create great hands-on learning for his students.

A draft of the SIMPLE model

Encouraged by my Ed Tech classes at MSU and with a new school year rapidly approaching, I finally started to pull together what I call the SIMPLE Learning Cycle. It stands for “Seize”, “Investigate”, “Master”, “Produce”, “Look Back” and “Evaluate.” This year in AP Biology, I have built this cycle into each lesson. However, it is a work in progress and while I believe the SIMPLE Learning Cycle has potential to meet my long list of demands, I feel it needs a lot more thought and development. Once the school year started, I no longer found the time to reflect on this model. Therefore, while I am currently using it, I have not truly assessed its effectiveness or reflected on how it can be improved. I also never considered my model from the standpoint of design thinking – until I started CEP 817 last week.

Therefore, my problem of practice will be designing a better version of the SIMPLE Learning Cycle. However, I’m not entirely sure how I want to approach the problem. My plan might remain more general as I try to refine the goal of each stage and research how each of these goals can best be implemented. Another approach might be to research the goals I listed earlier and learn more about best practices. This may provide better clarity as I build each SIMPLE lesson in Edify. A third possibility is that I focus on the design of one upcoming unit and the SIMPLE lessons it will contain. As I build the lessons in this unit, I can intentionally reflect on my goals. Regardless, I plan to spend time hearing from my students as I get their thoughts and opinions on what we have been doing this past year and what they would like to see.

I was excited when I first penciled in my SIMPLE Learning Cycle this past summer. Then life happened. Now my excitement has recharged as I look to accomplish what I originally set out to do – providing my students with a more engaging and meaningful experience.

A draft of the SIMPLE model

Passion, Curiosity & My Professional Learning Network

As I am wrapping up my final week in CEP 812 (and in the Graduate Certificate in Educational Technology program at MSU) I was asked to reflect on all I have learned over the past 7 months. While this reflection is just a brief stop on my journey to a Masters in Ed Tech, I have already been introduced to many new technology tools and more importantly, I have learned about how to think about technology integration (most notably, the TPACK framework). Technology alone will fail to improve my teaching if I do not have adequate science knowledge and if I am lacking in my pedagogy knowledge. Therefore, I cannot just focus my learning on technology but rather I need to continue to learn about science, pedagogy and technology and how to weave all this knowledge together. If I am to continue to learn about all of these things, I will need a large amount of passion and curiosity to drive me forward.

As part of this “final” reflection, I was required to “create something using something”. In addition, this digital creation had to show how I embody passion and curiosity in my teaching and how this passion and curiosity filters down to my students. 

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My Original PLN

After much thought, I decided to re-examine the Professional Learning Network (PLN) Popplet that I created nearly 7 months ago, early in CEP 810. Much has changed since then in my understanding of networking, collaboration, shared knowledge, and technology integration and I wanted to reflect these changes. In addition, I believe that my willingness and excitement to pursue this network of people and places shows my passion to be a life-long learner and my curiosity to discover the best ways to teach. Finally, I wanted to take this chance to learn a new tech tool. I have always wanted to create my own Prezi so that is where I built my updated PLN. I hope you enjoy!

Note: It appears that there is no easy way to embed a Prezi on WordPress. I am still trying to figure out a way but in the meantime, please click on the Prezi picture or use the link posted below. If you have any advice about embedding this Prezi on, please leave a comment below. Thanks.

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