Do School Better Season 2

Tools of the Trade 2: Not Being Afraid to Try New Things

By August 29, 2016 No Comments

Episode 32 –  Doris Korda and Alison Tanker


Doris: Hey, this is an exciting moment. School starts next week.

Alison: Yeah. Already.

Doris: It’s cool, we’re gonna talk in this podcast about some of the new tools we’re gonna try out this year in class, but first just a minute to say, because you know this is for everybody who’s teaching in schools, for kids, for parents, for teachers, there’s that jittery, “Oh my gosh, back to school.” And it’s exciting. It’s really, really fun. And every year with this program that we’re running, we get to a completely new place. Tons and tons of fun with educators that we’ve gotten to know over the past year, many of whom…some started implementing this summer, some are implementing this fall for the first time. How do you feel going into your second year?

Alison: I’m feeling great. I’m feeling excited about the new things we’re gonna try and I feel appreciative to have another year of working alongside of you, continuing to learn and really deepen my practice with the work that you’ve done over your career and developing this methodology. I think it’s an exciting opportunity, but it’s interesting you brought up the other educators and I’ve been thinking about the new Facebook group that we started.

Doris: Oh, I’m excited about that, yep.

Alison: And in there I think we were talking about the beginning of the school year, what you’re doing to get ready, what challenges you’re thinking, you know you’re worried about, and I appreciate that space as a new teacher as well to be able to vet some ideas and some questions and see what other people are thinking about as they’re entering into the school year.

Doris: And talking to Yanez from Slovenia, not just me and him but as a whole group will be so exciting to watch what he’s doing.

Alison: Yeah. There’s a number of different people I know who you’ve been able to work with throughout all of your trainings that you’ve been doing, and to have a space now that we continue to connect and collaborate in that Facebook group is pretty exciting.

Doris: It is exciting. It’s really exciting. So here in the very earliest implementation of this stuff, we’ve used Google. Tim built the learning management platform in Google from day one. But we also tried a bunch of different things along the way, different apps, different software packages. We even at one point, we were paying a license fee per student. And we’ve tried different things along the way and we’re heading into this year, we learn every year, we learn every semester, and we’re heading into this school year trying some new things. What are you trying this year that you’re excited about?

Alison: Yes. Well, we’ve been thinking regarding the different tools in the class and what’s been working and what other things exist out there in the marketplace that we might want to try and expose our students to but that also might help the efficiency of the way that they’re managing projects or they’re working on teams. The different functions that, especially with how quick technology moves now. For us to be up on the latest tools that actually might help their learning experience in a more meaningful way and to not shy away from those because we’ve used Google or we’ve used Todoist or whatever the existing tools are for the class to continually put ourselves out there and see what we should be testing out and trying.

Doris: Well, it’s no different than anything else. This is really about trying stuff. Some of it you try and you think, “Okay, this is great, let’s keep trying this some more.” And some of it we decide not so much and we pivot and try something else. And what’s been fun for me during this time, as we all know, this stuff, there are new apps, anything we decide to try, two days later there’s something new that looks even better. So it’s just about trying and there are tools. Technology’s always a tool for whatever it is. So talk about our latest that we’re gonna try.

Alison: Yeah, so we are looking into using Slack as a tool a bit more this semester for the students as a kind of team management, project management space, which is exciting because this past spring we had one student group test it out and from a teaching perspective what I really loved about that space, it allowed me to communicate more freely with the students as a group compared to their Google Drive, which has a team space and the Todoist which is a bit more passive. We could see the to do items they put on their homework list each night, but there wasn’t a space to really have a dialogue about that work they were doing in those venues unless I shot an email out or sent a text or something like that. What we’ve also learned is that our student teams tend to create group chats on their phone, like a text message chat.

Doris: I loved reading those in Slack. Yes, I loved it.

Alison: And that’s the coolest part is that now using Slack, the whole conversation that students would generally be texting back and forth to one another when they’re at home in the evening, working on their projects, we are now a part of and can easily see and interject. And it starts to free up that space in a way and also capture it where since we co-teach at times, we generally have to bring each other up to speed on what’s happening with one team versus another, and to have visibility into the kinds of conversations or the types of documents they’re sharing with one another. Or I know the team in the spring, they would even post to their whiteboard progress. “Here’s some of the brainstorming we did today” and they’d post it right into the chat feed. And you could visually see what they were working on in a very live and dynamic way that I appreciated from a teaching perspective. I thought it was very cool. So I’m excited to try it this fall classwide and see the different ways we can optimize that space for what we do in our class.

Doris: It’s really interesting, too, because this is about finding tools that facilitate the kind of learning that’s happening. We’re talking about students working in teams. Each has different roles, they do individual work, they do stuff together, their conversations and their work together doesn’t always happen inside the classroom. Doesn’t even always happen inside the school day. And so having something that is really simple which Slack is. Using Slack feels like texting. It’s what they’re familiar with and most comfortable with. And also…

Alison: It’s what a lot of the business world is transitioning to as well.

Doris: Exactly right. I was just gonna say and they’re using tools and having conversations just like you would in the business world. And it’s so funny and also as I’m thinking about this… I think it was two years ago. I don’t think it was a year ago, but it was no more than two years ago that I remember the last conversation about, in a faculty meeting, about whether we should let students have their phones in class or not. What should we do if they bring their phone out? What should we do if they’re looking? That was maybe two years ago. There was even then, and even five years ago and three years, there was always somebody in those…and I’ve had conversations like that where school principals were worrying about this kind of thing. What does that mean and all sorts of… Well, this stuff changes so fast that there’s no way to say you can use technology as a tool in the classroom, but don’t do it on your phone or don’t bring it into…it’s not realistic.

Alison: It’s not real world.

Doris: It’s not real world. And our students have to manage what their protocol is, what the etiquette is, what you do when you’re in a class and you’re engaged versus what you don’t.

Alison: True.

Doris: And the way to manage that, with high school kids anyway, is not to say, “Leave your phone in the bucket at the door.” It’s to say, “Here’s the protocol in this class.” Think about it. We tell students in our class now when we’re talking or when someone’s talking, you’re looking at your screen, it’s a social barrier. You know, we learn etiquette, but it’s separate. So here they’re using Slack, and I thought the pilot with that team in the spring went really well.

Alison: I was even impressed how you used it, Doris, because…
Doris: Yeah, I used it.

Alison: That’s what convinced me actually was that you were able to jump in in the conversation in ways that you hadn’t with the previous tools because there wasn’t a place for that conversation. You would generally shoot the students an email. And it was very separate. It felt like it was in a separate space. But to be in the same place where we could, I could then see the conversation, the ways you were questioning them to get them to think deeper about the challenges, as well as motivating students in the space becomes a little bit easier as well. Where if only three out of four are really contributing to that conversation and going back and forth it’s quite clear that the fourth person on the team who might be slacking off a bit isn’t engaged. And for us to just say…

Doris: No pun intended. Oh, yeah. Okay, yeah.

Alison: And to just say, “Hey, so and so, what do you think about this?” To pull them in, to engage them more. And I feel like that’s a really beautiful part.

Doris: Well, I think the thing about technology and it’s true about me, what I…for me whenever the technology required initiation from me, I had to go into the Google Drive to see what blah, blah, blah. Given my day and the way I operate, I would have to make a concerted, ooh, okay.

Alison: Extra step.

Doris: And it was an extra thought. It’s different than, ooh, I have a message on my phone, which is…

Alison: It all lives in the same space.

Doris: And it’s all in the same space. And the students are so comfortable with it. It’s totally their world.

Alison: It’s native to them.

Doris: It’s native to them and if we’re talking about giving them skills to thrive in the real world, the more the work they’re doing and how they’re doing it is real world the better. So what else are we doing this year?

Alison: Well, another tool we’re gonna test out a bit in the class is LinkedIn. And this has stemmed from our continual effort to think through the digital portfolio space, how students are continuing to communicate, what they’ve done in this class, and how it’s relevant to experiences beyond this class.

Doris: And it was a student’s idea to do this, right?

Alison: Partially. They had beautifully elaborate plans which I’d love to get to at some point, I think this is our MVP, we have to start with a LinkedIn at first. I mean we’ve had a Google portfolio site the students have built in the past, and we’ll likely continue with that in some form. But as we look forward to additional ways we can show the work that these students do, that they themselves can elevate their content, their presentations, the types of challenges they’re working on in a very dynamic way that’s also familiar to the real world in ways that they can then share that maybe with a college admissions office or if they’re in college, maybe they can share it with the board of a group they’re trying to become a leader of. Or it may be a professor or if they’re trying to get a job, an internship, right? There’s different places we’ve heard our students in the past have wanted to share this and have struggled to package it in a very regular way. Like an everyday kind of way.

Doris: Yeah, and we should give a shout out to…we had three students who finished our program who chose for their senior project, they wanted to redesign our capstone and the way we did these portfolios in the class. And it’s Phillip Hedayatnia, Bethany Unger and Clayton Carmen, and I’m gonna name them specifically. And they did an amazing job. And what they did, what you just described, what they did is said, “Look, the class is so real, we’re working on real stuff, and then the way we’re doing our assignments, the technology we’re using, where we’re putting the stuff and how we’re putting it doesn’t feel real. It feels like school.” We had a Google-based portfolio. They would put things in there and create a site, and I’m gonna use my interpretation of what they said. What they said was, “Let’s use through the class, through the course of the class, as we are posting things and writing things and creating. We’re blogging, we’re making videos, we’re doing reflections, we’re doing papers. Let’s use LinkedIn along the way in the class to post things, communicate things.” They had…you’re right. They had a wonderful solution that included a lot more. But basically, let’s use the platforms that we use anyway…Medium, LinkedIn, Slack and integrate those in the class and do our assignments that way. And for all the reasons you just mentioned they’re gonna be able to use the stuff more readily. And what they were saying is then instead of at the end of the semester, having an exercise to compile all the things that we wanted to elevate and create a new portfolio. We’re actually creating that portfolio all along the way in the class.

Alison: Which I know is also Tim Desmond’s intention as he started that capstone project from the beginning. And again, you know, just trying a new tool, right? Trying a new space where this can live, and there are a lot of functions in the LinkedIn platform that allow students to have conversations with others in the business world. They can post some of their blogs and it even starts to shift the type of content and reflecting that the students are doing, and how it’s actually relevant to the real world where they’re able to think, “Okay, I’m struggling with some things in this team dynamic we have going on. What are my top five things I would recommend to someone in this situation?” For them at the age of 17 to realize the experience they’re having is common and something other people will experience, and that they have a chance to share their learnings with others I think is pretty powerful. And it’s a cool platform, whether it’s LinkedIn or Medium. We’re gonna try, but we’re gonna start with some core platforms initially.

Doris: And one of the things I want to point out about this is this is like everything else in this class. It’s about experimentation. So when Tim first designed the portfolio for these students, he set it up knowing that they’re gonna create something that will be valuable to them beyond the class. And we saw that from the very first cohort. When they created their portfolio of all the stuff they’d created in the class that they were proudest of and put it all together, they found tons of use for that outside of school and even inside school. And that also, and now we’re evolving it, with every iteration it gets better, you know?

Alison: Right. And more relevant in some ways.

Doris: And more relevant. We try stuff, we try new stuff. But what’s really so similar about…it’s the same with this as it is with anything else. This generation of students, they know what’s relevant, what’s real and what’s not. And they want everything that they do in solving a problem in a class to be relevant and real. And finding new tools to make it better and better is great. And I love it as a teacher, you are totally and completely comfortable checking something, trying something new that you’re not that familiar with sometimes yourself.

Alison: I love it. Truly, I’m appreciative that there’s space in this work to take creative risks, to try new things, because in anything that you do in life or in your work or in any kind of practice you have, it’s a kind of experimental approach that keeps things engaging that allows you to test out assumptions you have or different hypothesis you might have and to think through what…could this be better? Is there an opportunity that this learning could go deeper, that the students could in fact have a even more dramatic platform or tool or technique to develop their skills in a new way. I just really appreciate that in the work we do, especially in this model you’ve built, that you encourage that. You would call yourself, well, I don’t know if you call yourself that, but you’re known as the “Pilot Queen.”

Doris: Yeah, I am the Pilot Queen.

Alison: You very much encourage this idea of trying new things and testing them out to see if they work. If not, failure is embraced here. We have our students work on that, and we need to model that day to day.

Doris: This is something that I can speak to that, because of my age frankly, I can speak to this, that this is again something with these tools that you don’t have to be an expert in. So you don’t have to know the tool as a teacher and feel like the expert in the tool in order to introduce it in the class. I’m a great example of that. I started making videos for my students to watch at home to augment my math classes. I think it’s been now nine years ago. They were horrible, okay? I was horrible at doing it, the videos were horrible. It was fabulously useful and successful for the students. So I learned it…and I learned even before, I learned a long time ago you can’t break the stuff, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know how to do it. To begin with, you try it, you play around, and there will almost always be for me, there will be somebody in the room who does know it, can help you out. So as a teacher, if something looks like it might be good, be willing to try it and don’t worry about being an expert before you do. Just don’t pay for it.

Alison: Well that’s the other truth of it, right? There’s so many free tools out there. There’s no reason not to try things. And I think that comes back to letting your ego. Leave it out at the door. Leave it behind. In all honesty, that authenticity we come into the classroom with and say, “Hey, students, we’re gonna try these new tools. We haven’t used Slack much but we’re excited about it. We’re gonna test out with you, give us your feedback along the way, see if you can find some better ways to use it than we even identified thus far. Let us know. We’re doing this together.” And all of a sudden it takes away that “teacher knows all” answer kind of relationship that a lot of school is set up like. And to be able to work alongside the students and learn along with them is something I appreciate. I’m just a constant learner and always trying to expand my knowledge. So even getting exposure into new tools I think is a great by-product.

Doris: It’s funny, I agree. We say the same thing over and over. As a teacher there’s this natural inclination to be nervous about getting something wrong, just like we do with the kids. And that’s probably the single biggest thing that teachers need to get rid of. And I’m hoping…I get tons and tons of emails from educators we’ve worked with about things they’ve tried that they love and they want to share. Like have you seen this, or have you ever used this, or look what I used in my class or look what we built or look what my students did. I hope that stuff starts showing up in this Facebook group so that everybody gets to see it. What a great use of a Facebook group like that for people to share what’s worked and hasn’t worked.

Alison: Share some tools.

Doris: Yeah and there are a lot of sites out there for that but if it’s this cohort of people who are trying this really weird stuff like this, it would be fun to see what works. I’m very excited to see how this stuff you’re adding into the class this year plays out.

Alison: Thanks. We’ll try it out.

Doris Korda

Author Doris Korda

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