My focus for action this school year is around the planning and design of MYP Design at my school. In recent years design has been integrated into the arts, but at long last we are now offering it as a stand-alone credit for Grades 7 & 8.
Now, I am not a design teacher by training, I am a design teacher by interest; and much like my ‘home subject’ of Geography, I am interested in the human realm of the subject, or in this case, ‘human centered design’. My interest came from the natural synergy between the ‘wicked problems’ faced by the world and the ability to apply design thinking to resolving them. That of course, is big picture. The reality I face now is how to bring those interests into a flow of content geared towards middle schoolers that will scaffold the skills they require to build their tool kit to the extent they can someday tackle the ‘wicked problems’ facing us all. In mentally prepping myself for this new adventure this summer, I was thinking about two things: 1. WHY do I want to do this and 2. HOW am I going to do this?
Let’s start with the WHY …
Last year on a quest to learn more about innovation in education and desiring to up my creative approach I read ‘Creative Confidence’ by Tom Kelley & David Kelley. It was a wonderful read, one quotation from the American writer Mark Twain really resonated, “It’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that ain’t so.” Their advice – to “seek out opportunities to observe and update your worldview.” Having been a teacher for 20 years now, I realize that my approach to teaching in the 21st century needs to shift to remain viable. No longer do I need to be the person with all the answers, knowledge is everywhere, it’s accessing it, analyzing it and collaboratively using it in creative ways to solve problems and improve conditions for humans and the environment… THAT is where I need to focus my ‘levelling up’.
And now the HOW…
Would it sound strange to say that in planning and designing this course, I am also learning how to be a more relevant / effective 21st practitioner? When I look at the ‘most urgent needs’ that I identified (with my students in mind) back in October, I cited: perseverance, failing well & creative confidence as my top three. I’ve sat on this homework for several weeks now, and in this time I’ve noticed that in fact their needs are tied to mine. I have been lucky to have a tech specialist support my design classes as the tech world is not my natural habitat (though I appreciate and respect its role in innovation). I have been learning from her and from the evening classes I’ve been taking to learn Adobe Illustrator; but I have depended on her to lead the tech portions of each lesson. The other day, she didn’t. I was at the front, working in Adobe and I just kept going with the project we were working on … I was making mistakes left and right. In front of my students. I wanted to call her over; I was massively uncomfortable. But I didn’t, and she didn’t. It felt like the moment where the parent releases their grip from the banana seat (in my case) bicycle. I realized then, that I was modelling ‘perseverance’ and my mindset / internal dialogue changed immediately. There have been other moments where I have totally messed up some things in Google Classroom – also a new experiment for me this year, and thought; am I ‘failing well’ in front of my students? I think the ‘creative confidence’ piece will come naturally for my students; the nature of their projects is inherently collaborative and this generally enhances creativity. In an unexpected twist, I think my students have already begun to build my creative confidence – they are as patient with me, if not more so as I hope to be with them.
In terms of the power of three … I intend to flip these questions to my students but also to other design teachers.
For students, I’d like to ask:
1. Tell me about a time when you demonstrated perseverance? What were you doing? What did it feel like?
2. Tell me about a time when you ‘failed’ something? What were you doing? What did it feel like? What were your next steps?
3. What does creative confidence look like to you? Can you describe a time when you felt confident in your creativity?
I am designing the Grade 8 course around these ATL skills, and will use this feedback to help build those evaluations.
For teachers of design I’d like to ask: (I’m looking at you @mhoel and @ljensen !)
1. How do you support your students when they become frustrated? How do you encourage them to persevere?
2. How do you work ‘failure’ into the design process so that it is re-enforced as a part of the process?
3. What activities have you had success with in building student’s creative confidence?
I want to start where I left off; responding to a comment from @jmedved on my last post:
"I'm happy to share with you how I approach "wayfinding" and the tools I use to ensure that whatever I am pushing is linked to a larger school strategy and is always aligned with current initiatives and being sustained by other people and energy in the school. It really helps the long term sustainability of the innovation but also your own energy and mindset."
With the first term now solidly in the rear view mirror, as I look back I feel as if I was feasting at an 'innovation smorgasbord' for the last 4 months! I had an amazing opportunity to participate in a Harvard Graduate School of Ed. Course 'Teaching & Learning in the Maker Centered Classroom' with a wonderful team of colleagues, with much encouragement & support from @nblair I launched a '20Time' program in my Grade 10 Geography class, I continued to build on experience with design thinking through partnering with a drama teacher to assist in building a unit that embeds the principles of design, I brought home a 'Makerbot' to learn a bit about robotics with my sons, I learned about circuits through making light up Christmas cards, I sat in on our Gr. 10 computer science class lessons as they prepared to undertake the 'Astro-Pi' challenge, greatly supported by a colleague and mentor I used the new 'Carvey' to make loot-bag favours for my sons birthday … I tried to say "YES!" - A lot.
And now I wish I had paid more attention to Justin's sanguine advice … link to strategy & current initiatives, consider long-term sustainability of your own energy and mindset. I was way outside my comfort-zone in many of my efforts to evolve my skills for the role of 'innovation support' … or at least what I started the year perceiving my role to be: learn everything! Reflecting back now, this was not a great approach. As I write, my energy is low, my mindset - still curious, still determined but foggy, if that makes any sense?
The end result is that I'm not sure I'm as far ahead as I had hoped to be at this point; I tried to do too much, spread myself too thin.
So, for the last couple of days, I've focussed on taking a step back, re-grouping. I reviewed my Cohort placemats - hey, those crowd-sourced ideas were great! I did some good thinking in the last F2F! I should do that! I reviewed my notes from the HGSE maker centered classroom course and 'The Innovators Mindset' that I read over the summer, and I thought deeply about Justin's comments.
One thing that really stood out to me from the first lesson in our HGSE course was the introductory video - it was our instructor explaining / demonstrating how to make pesto sauce. Initially, I wondered how this could possibly connect to our course? What the instructor was doing, was demonstrating the definition of a 'maker'. The media seems to emphasize a certain type of maker: hackers, people with skills in robotics, IT, electronics and those working with tools / technologies like 3D printers. This of course, puts constraints on the type of people who identify as makers. A maker, by definition is anyone who engages in the act of making; professionally or as a hobby. It had never occurred to me that as someone who LOVES to cook, I fit the definition of a 'maker'. I had never viewed myself like this before, and it changed my perspective and approach to the rest of the course.
I wonder if the same could be said of 'innovators'? Are we unconsciously emphasizing a certain (similar to the above) type of 'innovator' in education? Do teachers see themselves as innovators? How might we help teachers to see themselves as innovators, the way I saw myself as a maker for the very first time?
Innovation is one of our key school strategic directions, building a sense of community is a key values initiative we are looking to embed and I have a hunch that a plan to build community through our approach to innovation could be some really exciting work … and as @gnichols said in the second F2F: the question is "how might WE" … not "how might I".
I've been thinking about the session 1 F2F homework and the direction for my action plan this past month, but I haven't felt that I was in a place to really articulate a 'blog worthy' plan just yet. I am in my second year of Cohort 21 however, and the 'Cohort Effect' messaging is getting through... "that's ok"! That I am thinking about it, showing up and collecting ideas and insights in my daily practice and in conversation with my peers.
Twice in the last week I have been moved in the direction of my action plan ideas by a prompt. I habitually collect prompts that resonate with my personal / professional thinking and mood; they could be pictures, pieces of writing, artworks or quotations. I have found the use of a prompt to be helpful in the classroom for nudging students in the right direction, so why not for myself?
I know a number of us receive Seth Godin's daily blog in our inboxes - that was an excellent piece of advice I picked up from @gnichols & @jmedved last year. Recently a couple of entries have really struck a chord - today his piece on 'two kinds of careening' ( https://seths.blog/ ) focusses on the the ideas of being out on a limb trying new things and what is possible when we act 'as if' before we are sure. I feel like that is me presently. I am immersed in an ocean of 'new things' in my new work as 'innovation support'. There is an army of new digital tools to explore, new hardware to learn how to use and the potential of unlimited idea generation around how to take old projects in new directions ... how to 'innovate'. And that word is so far, my direction. What does it mean? How does it apply to education. I am after the explicit ... how do teachers embody this mindset, how do students? I am a Geographer and so I am looking for a 'map' for this journey. And that is what I don't presently have; that fuels some anxiety, but also excitement. Without a map, you have to reach out to others, make connections, find landmarks, be a 'wayfinder'. This approach virtually ensures adventure and exploration and - FUN.
So, there are times at the moment as I 'wayfind' and try things in my classroom and in collaboration with other teachers that I am 'acting as if'. But I relish the exhilaration of being in this place and creating this map as I go.
The phrase 'the end of the beginning' resonates as I sit down to gather my 'placemats', notes, piles of reading, and thoughts on this incredible Cohort experience. It is hard to know where to begin because of this nagging feeling …"but I'm not DONE yet !!!!!" I understand of course, that I will never be done. In an article that @gnichols shared with me, George Couros, in discussing the shift in education from product to process laments (paraphrased) "when the pace of change is so fast, the only way to retain a lifelong working capacity is to engage in lifelong learning. " I am still in that 'Spaghetti Junction' that I spoke about in my first post back in the fall… I have pursued a few 'noodles', but ultimately, exploring my original idea led to new ideas, and the conversations with Cohort members and strategy leaders at our school led me in new directions.
For me, this has been a year of process work. I do not have a final product, and because there has been no pressure to do so, I was able to think more deeply about where I will go with what I have learned.
The Cohort approach to personalized learning through deep design process work and connection with others has also highlighted for me the type of learner I am; I am not comfortable jumping into action without an enormous amount of knowledge and understanding behind me. In a quick skim of 'Empower' by AJ Juliani and John Spencer (2017) I strongly identified with their visual of the necessity of critical consumption that leads to inspiration and creative/innovative work.
Thus, developing a culture of empathy became a deeper dive than I anticipated at the outset. This realization started from the beginning when I set out to determine a suitable definition of empathy. In the social sciences (my background discipline), it is often referred to as 'compassionate empathy', which moves a person to respond to another's emotional state with some kind of action, as compared with 'cognitive empathy', also known as perspective taking, which is simply understanding another person's mental state." (Ugolik, 2017)
For my initial question, 'How might we integrate empathy into the curriculum to encourage action? ' I incorporated the former definition as it was the most relevant to what I was trying to accomplish. Our school strategy incorporates innovation as a key component and as I am trying to become more proficient with the use of technology in the classroom, I decided to investigate the use of Virtual Reality (VR) in integrating empathy into the curriculum.
At the outset, I had a couple of ideas for what I hoped would be positive outcomes. As a parent and a teacher, I had been reading about the concerns around youth and excessive use of technology correlating with the decline in social connections. I felt that perhaps we could take these same tools that are responsible for students looking inward, and flip the outcome to use them so that students might look more outward. Part of the core of the IB diploma program, CAS (Creativity, Action, Service) is woven into the curriculum. I took this opportunity to pose the following question: How can VR build empathy and encourage action?
After showing the documentary, many of the girls quickly identified their prior perceptions of refugees as stereotypes; many of the people living in Za’atari fled white collar jobs, middle/upper class homes and their country, Syria was once stable and considered to be a middle income country. My students were mesmerized by the power of the VR experience to draw them into the scene – the middle of the world’s largest refugee camp, Za’atari in Jordan. The film tours the camp through the eyes of a 12 year old girl. One student commented:
"At times it’s as if people are pointing at you, talking to you, looking at you straight in the eye – expecting you to engage, to say or do something … but you can’t. "
Chris Milk, an American entrepreneur, innovator and presenter of the widely viewed TED Talk where he characterizes the use of VR as an 'empathy machine' describes the power of using VR this way: "What we care about are the people who are local to us, and virtual reality can take anyone in any place and make them feel local to you." (Milk, 2015)
In terms of outcomes, the experience was able to build ‘cognitive empathy’ rather than ‘compassionate empathy’ as I had hoped. The students saw many of the quiet aspects of their day to day lives reflected in the youth of the film. The children go to school, have aspirations to join a profession, worry about fitting in, struggle to understand the opposite gender, play sports & prioritize a family meal at the end of the day. They were surprised to see that community could exist in such dire circumstances. They were able to make the connection that really, anyone could become a refugee, that the designation is indiscriminate. Through seeing the commonalities in their shared experiences with the youth in the film they were able to empathize - to an extent, with the youth. In this way, I felt I had had some success. After reading @gnichols response to my blog post where he articulated the evolution of ‘technology-integration’ to ‘innovative teaching and learning’ I recognized why. The notion that innovative teaching and learning should keep the focus on the type of learning you want to happen (in this case I wanted my students to identify with the students in the video) and apply the relevant technology later rather than focussing on the tool you want to use. “Learning should always lead the conversation.”
The piece that did not emerge, as I had anticipated, was the opportunity to develop a CAS project (action) as a result of seeing the film. Though we discussed opportunities for action within our local community, the bit that is missing for me as an educator is 'what comes after the VR experience'? Unicef and other organizations have had positive results from the use of VR for fundraising, but they comment that it can be improved as a tool for action as the technology improves and incorporates artificial intelligence in order to leverage collaboration among diverse stakeholders. One Unicef representative puts it this way: "Then we can design activities that are really out there to ask people to use their brains and use their hands and their capacity to help us solve certain problems. That's a very different thing than just saying, 'Hey, give money, this thing is really sad.'" (Watercutter, 2016)
Using VR as an 'empathy machine' has its detractors too. For one, empathy is inherently biased; we must imagine that if empathy is employed through VR as a tool for pursuasion, then the emotion could be exploited for all sides of an argument. In addition, if VR films are made to appeal to certain audiences by others like the audience members then the experiences run the risk of using a new medium to reinforce old forms of bigotry. Ethan Shaftel, creator of the Tribeca VR film Extravaganza believes that “VR is an immersion machine. It can and does transport you. But in many ways, you bring your ‘you-ness’ with you.” (Robertson, 2017)
Again, this idea put forth by 'The Innovators Mindset' author George Couros, that content knowledge is crucial in a time of innovation. I would add that in addition to knowledge and context, training in SEL (social emotional learning) competencies would add value in achieving ‘compassionate empathy’.
After a productive Google hangout with @Ddoucet and @lmustard, I started to realize that I didn't want to limit my investigation of empathy only to how we might leverage tech to integrate empathy into the curriculum. The design thinking process was something investigated as a professional goal last year and wanted to learn more about this year. My action plan morphed a little here to encompass curriculum design structures / teaching strategies as a way of integrating empathy into the curriculum.
There are two assessments I am creating / revising this year which incorporate the design thinking process into a summative design challenge. My Geography Diploma 1 (Grade 11) teaching partner and I are thrilled to be partnering with Maximum City not-for-profit working with schools, governments and communities to learn and live in better cities. Our design challenge will involve students working in design teams to create their vision of a sustainable urban future for Toronto in 2050. The challenge question for students will be - what information do you need to know about city dwellers in 2050? What will their needs be? This will require the application of foresight to empathy, which is another whole area of interest to me. This process will begin with an empathy mapping exercise on May 9th of this year.
Last year, I created a design challenge (in partnership with Maximum City) for my Grade 10 Geography students around the question: How might we design a more accessible transit system in Toronto? What I learned from the experience was that I hadn't tested my assumptions quite thoroughly enough! I assumed that all students would be familiar with the TTC as regular riders. I recognized immediately that this was not the case. As such, I am adjusting the beginning phase of the project to include a more structured empathy mapping exercise following a 'day out on the TTC'. I hope to have students identify areas of need around the city and then go and 'ride the rocket' in these areas so that they might more critically empathize with issues of accessibility facing TTC riders.
Next, I took part in a few conversations involving our school strategy in the areas of well-being, international mindedness and innovation. I started to notice that empathy seemed to be a key point of intersection. At this point, my interest crossed the zone of being something that was relevant in the classroom context to something more relevant to whole school culture. These conversations have been even more interesting for me because in exploring the Strategic Plan links I had the chance to speak to our IT Director, Head of Talent Management & Strategy & the Director of our Chandaria Research Centre. I found a multiple perspective conversation on this topic to be an excellent lens through which to view the intersections of strategy with the development of a "culture of empathy".
It seems to me that our core strategic directions of academics and research are informed by the direction we take on wellbeing, international mindedness and innovation. These priorities cannot exist in silos and, from my initial conversations with colleagues, affirms that empathy is more than a simple connector, it is the subterranean roots that hold our strategy together. It is the thread throughout these priorities that reinforces our mission: "Each day, we challenge and inspire girls to love learning and to shape a better world."
My third pivot was directed at strategy; how might we harness the power of our strategic plan to integrate empathy into our school culture? This is the point at which I changed the wording of my action plan (visible in my slide deck) to "How might we integrate empathy into school culture to encourage action?"
Whether we approach the integration of empathy through technology, curriculum design, teaching strategies or strategic plans, it is clear to me that as The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley notes "as children master their own emotions and understand the perspectives of others, they will also be able to control, develop, connect and motivate themselves more effectively." Establishing a culture of empathy then, is likely to achieve the nurturing and development of positive institutional relationships, without which project based learning and collaboration exercises that rely on students' ability to empathize and care about their learning are less likely to succeed. In terms of the development of 21st century skills, the importance of fostering this 'soft skill' cannot be overemphasized.
I plan to pursue involvement in strategic plan discussions in the areas of innovation and international mindedness
In preliminary discussions with my Instructional Leader I am planning to lead a discussion within my department around how we might harness compassionate empathy and profile our curricular and co-curricular offerings as necessary complements to STEM education and the innovation agenda.
I am going to miss the F2F sessions so much that I propose to get the ball rolling on a bi-monthy Cohort Alumni Pub night to keep the conversations going, stay tuned!
This has been the best PD that I have ever engaged in. I really want to thank all the leaders, coaches, mentors and my peers for your hard work, insight, positivity, support and most of all for creating a space to evolve my practice in a way that was unique and incredibly meaningful for me. My gratitude to you all.
“When you want to hurry something, that means you no longer care about it and want to get on to other things. I just want to get at it slowly, but carefully and thoroughly…”
Clouds Over Sidra. Dir. Gabo Arora and Barry Pousman. VRSE, 2015. YouTube. Web. 10 September 2017.
“Educating for Empathy.” Greater Good Magazine. UC Berkeley, 18 July 2012. Web. 10 January 2018.
Ugolik, Kaitlin. “How virtual reality can make people more empathetic.” Narratively, 19 November 2017. Web. 10 Jan. 2018.