14 Jul 2017

A Science Museum That Makes Learning Overpoweringly Attractive for Kids: Schools, Take Note !

 

“We personalize learning all the time, we just don’t call it that,” says special education teacher Gina Tesoriero who has been teaching middle schoolers for over a decade. “When you give students open-ended challenges or design prompts, they actually personalize it themselves, bringing in their own interests and coming in at the level that is best for them.” Tesoriero has developed this belief over the past 10 years in the classroom—and she attributes much of it to her involvement with the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI).

“We want to know what you find compelling; what problem you think is worth solving; what you want to do or make. And then provide a space where that can happen.”

Douglas Moore

In 2010, Tesoriero and her colleague Amanda Solarsh, a middle school science teacher, stumbled across an opportunity to write curriculum at NYSCI. They were immediately taken with the museum’s learning model and wanted to incorporate elements of it into their classrooms at Simon Baruch Middle School 104. The following year, the duo participated in the Verizon Design Lab Fellowship, an opportunity for teachers to contribute to the creation of Design Lab, an interactive exhibit spanning two floors with activities that invite visitors to exercise problem-solving skills and develop solutions to engineering and design challenges.

 

Design_Lab-1499872148

Design Lab, Image Credit: NYSCI

The fellowship inspired Tesoriero and Solarsh to start an elective STEM course for seventh graders at their school. The course—developed to build 21st century skills like problem solving and innovative thinking—has scaled to two to three classes per grade level. Over the years, the teachers have participated in curriculum development, design labs and field trips, which have influenced the course and their practice.

The museum’s project-based, experiential, learner-centered approach isn’t revolutionary for K-12 education—in fact, many schools integrate elements of these approaches into their instructional model. But without the stresses of assessment and resource constraints, NYSCI is able to experiment and iterate. Douglas Moore, Vice President of Digital Education Strategy & Business Development at NYSCI says teachers visiting the museum with their students frequently make comments like, I’ve never seen those two work together so well or I’ve never seen her focus so much. “That’s because no one ever failed at a science museum,” he says.

According to Moore, getting someone to stop at your exhibit for even three minutes is a big win in the museum world. At NYSCI, visitors often stop to explore an exhibit for 30-45 minutes. Though this may not be optimal for museum flow, it begs the question: what can schools learn about engagement and personalization from this type of informal learning institution?

 

What can schools and teachers learn from NYSCI?

NYSCI, born at the 1964 World’s Fair in Corona, NY, is on a mission to put its visitors at the center of each hands-on learning experience. Originally exhibiting a collection of galleries sharing the potential of science, technology and space exploration, it is now home to over 450 interactive displays and a number of art and science exhibits rooted in experiential learning and the design, make, play approach.

 

NYSCI instructor Reid Bingham works with a class in the Maker Space,
Image Credit: David Handschuh/NYSCI

 

The NYSCI team is constantly asking itself: what is our role in education as an informal learning institution? “Our goal is to offer a very low barrier to learning—like a playful invitation,” says Moore. “We want to know what you find compelling; what problem you think is worth solving; what you want to do or make. And then provide a space where that can happen.”

Educators are part of NYSCI’s intended audience and there are a number of ways they can access the museum. Teachers can bring their classes to visit for open-ended field trips or scaffolded sessions designed around a particular challenge that needs to be solved, and can participate in professional development opportunities.

 

Field trips offer educators an opportunity to experience human-centered learning first-hand. Tesoriero reflects that some of the most engaged students during field trips were those who struggled the most in class. She notes that the greatest challenge with museum visits is finding a balance of holding students accountable for learning, while giving them space to explore what they are interested in, at their own pace.

 

For Tesoriero, a key part of that balance are NYSCI’s teenage “explainers,” a community of high school students participating in a youth development program with NYSCI called the Science Career Ladder. Explainers are not only experts on a particular exhibit or display, but are also skillful at supporting visitors to take control of their own learning and discover things on their own. These explainers are peppered throughout the museum and are often found with hands behind their backs asking open-ended probing questions to museum-goers. “They’re well trained and know a lot. I’ve learned a lot about how to help students discover things without telling them anything,” Tesoriero says.

 

Teenage Explainers, Image Credit: NYSCI

 

So what does it look like when a teacher adapts pieces of a museum’s learning model into the classroom? It can take shape in a number of ways. A museum might provide inspiration for resources and materials, inform lesson and unit design or influence philosophies of teaching and learning.

  1. Replicate an Activity: During a field trip, Solarsh’s students took part in a challenge to design and build a structure using wooden dowels that could provide shelter to 10 people after a natural disaster. Solarsh later purchased smaller dowels and replicated the activity in her classroom but with mini models, aligning it to her current civil engineering unit called “Scaling Structures.”
  2. Real-World Problems: Inspired by the challenge-based activities at NYSCI, Tesoriero developed a lesson back in her classroom that asked students to think about things that bothered them about eating and cooking and to design a utensil that could solve it. Students built prototypes of thermometer-spoons and cups that change color as the temperature of a liquid rises and falls.
  3. Empower Students to Make Meaningful Change: During a “Shark Tank” unit, Solarsh asked students to consider real-world issues they wanted to solve and design and present a solution for feedback. While she encouraged her students to follow their hearts and tackle large-scale problems like global warming, she also worked with students to make sure problems were focused so that students could get a sense of how individuals can affect change. One student designed and pitched an idea for lung-cancer detection and later found out that it aligned with what professionals are researching in the field.

The museum loves when classes come to visit, but Moore cautions against teachers trying to make their classrooms just like a science museum. “It’s not realistic,” he says. “There are resource constraints.” That’s why NYSCI takes PD so seriously, and is working hard to develop resources that teachers and learners can use outside the museum.

Moore explains that NYSCI’s biggest luxury is the ability to ask the question, “How do you make a topic irresistible so kids can’t turn away first, and then figure out all of the other stuff later?”


Expanding reach beyond museum visitors

Getting outside of the classroom can offer the opportunity to explore non-traditional methods of teaching and learning—but not everyone can get to NYSCI. Moore’s team spends a lot of time considering how to support educators, students and families that can’t make the trip to the museum.

“We want to scale access to these learning experiences to reach the folks we assume will never come—the kid in Jakarta, the teacher in Texas,” Moore explains. A major priority is building tools that make it possible for people to participate in some of these learning experiences digitally. “Because we don’t have to be adopted by every teacher, we’re able to make aspirational products that show what is possible—and to work with teachers to make them implementable in a variety of settings.”

In 2015, NYSCI’s first foray into this field was developing Noticing Tools, a set of five apps based on Design Lab that help students tackle math through selfies, video and building 3D models. The apps were prototyped in Tesoriero and Solarsh’s classes. The museum is currently in conceptual stages of its second initiative: a mobile game based on the Connected Worlds exhibit, an immersive ecosystem simulation for learners of all ages located in the Great Hall at the museum. The exhibit puts each learner at the center of a massive environment where even the museum’s youngest visitors can explore complex topics like sustainability, systems thinking and how actions have both short and long-term consequences.

Straddling magic and science, it challenges learners to manage a limited water supply and balance the needs of all living beings in six, interconnected digital biomes: wetlands, reservoir, jungle, grasslands, river valley and desert. Visitors can raise and lower their hands to plant seeds and move a set of physical logs to divert water from a 38-foot-high digital waterfall to an environment that needs it. Every decision made and every action taken impacts the environment.

The game will not try to replicate the exhibit. The goal is to design an open, online simulation game where players can build code and algorithms that have an impact on the ecosystem. With official launch over a year away, there are a lot of decisions to be made, but a core element of the game will definitely be to build upon intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic through gamification.

“‘I want to go deeper but the bell just rang.’ That’s what we want,” Moore says. Users won’t need to take a test to prove they are learning because the evidence will lie in what they have built. This may not fit the traditional instructional model but NYSCI isn’t building a game to fit into schools, they’re building a game to develop motivation through engagement.


The role of informal learning institutions in K-12 education

Society often turns to school leaders, educators, curriculum experts or the world of academia to propose innovative learning models when current practices fall short. But school leaders and educators face systemic pressures and budget challenges that can make it challenging to question the status quo and experiment with new ways to teach and learn. Perhaps informal learning experiences that take place outside of the classroom deserve more attention.

Without the stress of assessment, promotional criteria and the need to constantly provide evidence of progress, informal learning institutions like museums might just be able to make learning even the most complex ideas irresistible.

This blog post was first published on Edsurge

 

 

 

 

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16 Jan 2016

Here’s What the School Accreditation Agencies Are Getting Wrong about Technology Integration

From Jeff Peterson on the Commons

“The Rise of Private International Schools” has been the hype phrase in the education “Galaxy” in recent years. Certainly, parents and their kids are opting more for international schools, with the hope that they receive a world class education (if they can afford the tuition fees anyway). However, to ensure these international schools offer what they claim, they are periodically reviewed by accreditation agencies. Typically, a school has to undergo the accreditation process starting with a self study and ending with the official accreditation evaluation team. Eventually, the team submits an exit report after their visit (which typically lasts few days) whether the school is accredited of not.

But there’s on more add-on to the accreditation process that has gradually been in place for the past decade. The school accreditation agencies now, more than ever, focus on technology integration in schools, as they believe that students should use technology to research, solve problems, communicate, and create authentic materials. The future is technology, and the future is here. I do agree that student technology use is instrumental if they wish to live and compete in the workplace. Our lives now revolve more than ever around technology. However, the school accreditation agencies have regrettably focused on the wrong facet of technology integration. This in turn, generally, contributes in the schools’ heedless purchase of tech tools and gadgets to impress and lure.

I’ve worked with some school accreditation agencies, and all of them (in their review of a traditional brick and mortar school) focus on technology in the classroom, and to a less extent on technology in school, and even much overlooked is out of school technology integration . Some have even developed a standard (with indicators) for technology integration. Below is one criterion of a classroom observation form that all accreditation review team members have to fill out.

Click to enlarge.

The problem with this view is that the classroom setting is considered as the sole place to use technology, and so they constructed their classroom evaluations on it. In this particular accreditation agency, the average rating of classroom technology integration among 34,000 classrooms visited around the world is 1.21 out of 4, which is extremely low. But should we base the evaluation on tech integration on only classroom, or even school use? In fact, a bulk body of research now confirms that classroom technology has  a negative impact on student learning. The OECD report (the first large scale comparative study) on students, schools, and computers shows that students in tech rich schools perform the worst in reading and mathematics as compared to students in tech-average schools.

 

Students who use computers moderately at school tend to be somewhat more skilled in online reading than students who rarely use computers. But students who use computers very frequently at school do a lot worse in reading, even after accounting for students’ background.

 

On average, in the past 10 years there has been no appreciable improvement in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that have invested heavily in information and communication technologies for education.

 

Three significant interpretations of the findings

The reason is perhaps two-fold : technology setting and technology use.

1- Tech use (in the classroom) minimizes human touch, which improves deep learning. It is really common sense. Why would one be with his peers and his teacher in one room if there is no frequent face-to-face interaction. Communicative tasks and assignments should be done in class.

2- Use of 20th century teaching with technology is obtrusive. This is the perpetual problem in all schools. From teachers to admin, you can only find a couple of teachers in any given school that really uses 21st century teaching practices with technology.

3- Pedagogies for using technology properly for student achievement are fledgling.

 

On the other hand, the US Ministry of Education found out that student use of technology outside of the classroom or school (online and blended learning modes) have resulted in great student improvements.

 

So, next time the external review team tries to assess your tech integration solely on school or classroom technology, make sure they know that technology integration is not only confined within the classroom walls. In fact, it shouldn’t be ,for one of the key features that technology brings is student personalized learning, which unconfined by time and space. And, next time your school tries to purchase those Interactive Whiteboards, caution them on the reality of tech in schools in terms of student achievement, or at least suggest that they need to be data-informed and know whether there is a real return of investment.

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11 Aug 2015

The Techno-Centric Teachers: Will it ever go away?

 

“Did you check out that cool ClassDojo app? It lets you control your students and their behaviors”, “ I found a great hardware that I can add to my Tablet. I think I can find a way to use it in my classroom”, “ Hey, this tool I came across lets you take photos and add some cool interactive layers. I must fit it in one of my classes”. These are some of the talks you hear whilst sitting with teachers who are fascinated by the next big thing, excited with the  new cool tool, and they can’t wait to try it with their students (their guinea pigs).  What’s up with most of the 21-century teachers, those who are fascinated by technology, those techno-centric teachers? Why do they keep running after the first tool that appears, the first app that they download, and then they try to squeeze it in their lesson plans; whether it fits with the learning objectives or not. In fact, I have seen some teachers change their lesson plans altogether, and the learning objectives just to fit with the cool tool they would like to use. If you want proof, check out any two blogs on education and technology. I bet you that the one that updates the blog readers on new apps and tools get the much higher traffic and social media shares. The other blog that talks about how to help students learn through technology gets a much lower visitor traffic and shares. There are some exceptions of course.

Come on guys! Your are learning experts. Deep learning should be your top priority. I have seen it over and over again, every year, with so many teachers. I have rarely seen a teacher who starts with the learning target and learning activity type in mind, and then fit the right technology. It is always the other way round, with most teachers I meet or work with. They are always charmed by the novelty effect of technology. Their students too think it’s cool, but what about the result?  what about student achievement? What about learning? These are all kicked downstairs, so it seems; a bypass of trying a new technological tool.

The school administrations are not helping too. They are in the same boat with the tech-centric teachers. “We have installed interactive whiteboards in 50% of the classrooms, use them”, “We have bought great classroom projectors”, “We have subscribed all in x website, use it”, it never ends. I am really tired of hearing this everywhere, in schools and educational conferences.

Edtech vendors are also the culprits. They push so hard with their advertisements and marketing strategies, and biased research reports on how their edtech tool helped students increase their achievement in x school, or y university. That is just nonsense. No edtech tool alone can do it. Without proper alignment of technology with the learning objectives and school ecology, it won’t work. You are just deluding yourself that it works because what you see as “student engagement” you interpret as “student achievement”.

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