Makerspaces: Re-making education

Posted by Phoebe Bailey on March 26, 2016

Photo of a makerspace in action.Makerspace has become one of the new buzzwords in education.  A Google search of makerspace will return approximately 400,000 results.  Makerspaces are showing up in schools across the country—but what is a makerspace and how does it impact education?

A makerspace is simply a do-it-yourself place where people can gather to create, invent, and learn. In schools, it’s a hands-on way to encourage students to design, build and invent.  Many think of these labs as technology centers focusing on robotics and high-tech fabricating, but a makerspace could include activities such as woodworking, cardboard construction or even sewing.  Materials to stock can range from simple items like craft paper, markers, crayons, glue, modeling clay,  and Legos to be more high-tech items like wires, circuits, batteries, resistors, switches, and motors.  Tools might range from sewing machines to 3D printers. (Here’s one example of an inventory list for your makerspace.)

Planning your makerspace

Before you start building your space, you need to first consider what types of activities and projects could be done there.  Administration would brainstorm with staff (preferably including math, science, art and technology teachers) who will or possibly could use the space.  Once it is determined who will be using the space, the next item to discuss is which tools are needed.   Depending on the ideas and activities brainstormed, the space required for materials and project storage can be firmed up.  Will you need a new structure or can you use existing space? Consider renovations such as updates to electrical systems, plumbing and safety equipment you might need.

Another key topic for discussion is who will have access to the space.  Will you have the community using the space and if so, who is staffing and managing it in off-school hours?  If you are focusing your makerspace on students only, you then need to decide if the space is open all day or perhaps students will visit in a dedicated class time with their teacher.

But why?

So, we have discussed how to create your space, but let’s look at why you would want such a space to begin with. That goes back to what a makerspace is: a place to “create, invent, and learn.”  In this environment, you will see students creating open-ended projects and collaborating with each other.  They will be engaged in creative expression and reflect on what they have created.  This curiosity and interest create the type of youth-driven culture for learning in your building that all administrators strive to create.  These spaces promote experimentation with a cross-disciplinary focus that engages multiple staff members.  Students see how the very same tools, techniques, and process skills are found and required in the physics lab, art studio, and auto shop.  Makerspaces are a powerful way to move from a “winners and losers” mentality to one of “every student succeeds!”

 

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Use Infographics to Tell Your Story

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on March 26, 2016

Infographic about why infographics workMembers of the media are more than happy to share tales about what’s wrong with education. This reality makes it even more important for education leaders to share their positive school stories far and wide on a regular basis. In a recent post on this blog, Arkansas TICAL cadre member Susan Gilley wrote about how to use a Google Doc in lieu of a traditional Web page to keep parents and community members up-to-date on events and other school news. Infographics are another web-based tool school leaders can use to quickly and clearly share stories with members of their school community.

You’ve probably seen infographics in newspapers, magazines, or even online. Designed for readers who want to get as much information as quickly as possible, these documents pack a walloping amount of material into a few graphics and minimal text. The idea behind infographics isn’t new—in fact, this kind of visual representation has been around for hundreds of years. But it’s only been recently that free and low-cost tools that are easy enough for almost anyone to use have become widely available.

Not just for numbers anymore

Originally, infographics were used to display quantitative—or measurable—data. This made infographics a great tool for making high level reports more accessible, but recently this has changed. As the public has embraced this format for sharing information, it’s become commonplace for infographics to represent qualitative data, things that can be observed but not measured. This shift in format makes infographics even more valuable for educators.

Recently I’ve taught two online classes for school leaders. Each course includes an activity in which participants identify information they need to share on campus or in their community and then use an online tool to create an infographic that displays the material graphically. Invariably this activity is identified as one of the most useful in the course. Class members develop infographics designed to explain policies, describe instructional programs, share assessment data, and more. Here are a few examples of infographics from the Internet that were created to explain something relevant to education:

Jump in and create

The most effective way for administrators to learn how to design infographics is to jump right in and create a few. There are several websites that offer free accounts and allow users to begin with templates that can be modified for new purposes. Then, with some practice, you can strike out to create infographics completely on your own. Here are four websites that are popular among educators.

  • Infogr.am (https://infogr.am): The free version of this web-based infographic tool is the most basic of the sites mentioned here—limited to 10 infographics and 10 uploaded images—but that may be a plus for users new to designing infographics. If you decide you’d like to access more features, you can contact Infogr.am regarding education pricing or try out one of the other sites listed here.
  • Easel.ly (http://www.easel.ly/): Offering free and pro accounts ($3/month, special education pricing available), Easel.ly users drag-and-drop elements to create infographics. Free accounts offer 60 images and 10 fonts, but users may upload their own images. Tools for adding shapes, arrows, and charts are available to all users. Start a new infographic from scratch or work with one of the free templates provided. The Easel.ly blog offers tips and tricks for creating infographics.
  • Piktochart (http://piktochart.com/): Piktochart is similar to Easel.ly in that it is web-based and provides a drag-and-drop interface. Some features like Charts seem to be more intuitive in Picktochart, but overall, the two sites are comparable in terms of ease-of-use. There are free and subscription accounts with special rates available for educators.
  • Canva (canva.com/): Use the drag-and-drop features of Canva to create your own infographics or other graphic displays such as posters and photo collages. Developed as a teaching tool, the site also provides tutorials. Canva works on the web and there is an iPad app. Free and paid options are available.
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Will Future Ready Make a Difference?

Posted by Stephen Vaughn on February 26, 2016

Future Ready logo with question mark overlaidMany superintendents of school districts in California have signed the Future Ready Pledge. Many of those districts have begun the process of evaluating the “readiness” of their districts for the future by using the great tools that Future Ready provides. They have developed plans to implement the suggestions generated from the surveys and tools. In some cases, districts have dedicated resources, including funds and people to implement and monitor their progress. However, even with doing all of this, I contend that it won’t be enough to make a significant difference for most school districts. Here is why.

There are still too many barriers to the implementation of an effective plan to be truly Future Ready. The first barrier is the existing employee contracts. Usually, most school districts have contracts that restrict and limit the process for staff development, as well as the evaluation process and the time that employees are in contact with students. The second barrier is the time constraints imposed by the transportation of students. This limits the options that are available for integrating training. The third barrier is the culture of autonomy that exists in most districts. Because most teachers still teach in isolation, they can ignore many of the requirements needed to have a 21st Century instructional program and no one will be either aware of it or able to do anything about it. The last barrier I will mention is the current tenure system. This system makes it very difficult to dismiss teachers who do not have the ability to implement an effective Future Ready program.

I recognize that there are a few districts that are making great strides, but the truth is most districts aren’t radically better than they were five years ago in terms of implementing a Future Ready program.  And I would submit that even in the case of districts that are doing well, the reasons why are tenuous and progress could end if a few things changed, such as the leadership of the district, the leadership of the associations, or the economy.

What do you think? Share your thoughts by clicking “Leave a comment” or by using the “Leave a Reply” form—you’ll see one or the other below this post.

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A Simple Approach to Marketing Your School

Posted by Susan Gilley on February 26, 2016

Marketing graphicThis year marks my 32nd year in education.  When I starting teaching, schools were a part of your community and it was assumed that you would attend your local community school. Today, however, students have unlimited choices for where they will attend and receive their education. They can even choose to stay home and receive their courses digitally. Schools now must compete for students. Parents are searching for the best places and options for their child’s education. These decisions impact everyone’s future.

Therefore, marketing your school is a priority. Schools can no longer depend on being selected because they are the neighborhood choice. Many schools are even hiring marketing and public relations personnel to sell their campuses. I believe promoting your school begins with each classroom and more specifically, every individual. Every single person is now a salesperson for your district.

One easy way that teachers can promote your district is through an up-to-date web page. People want to be able to get on their computer at their convenience and know what’s going on at your district. Keeping web pages current can be a challenge. Especially since most teachers are teachers, not web page designers. Therefore, one easy way I encourage teachers to keep an up-to-date webpage is using a simple Google doc published as a web page.

To accomplish this, a teacher simply follows these steps:

Google Drive File menu

  1. Open Google drive.
  2. Click on NEW.
  3. Click on Google Doc.
  4. Name the document.
  5. Type information on the page.
  6. Click on File.
  7. Click on Publish to the Web.
  8. Click on Publish.
  9. Click OK (you are sure you want to publish).
  10. A screen appears with the link to send to your district’s webmaster.
  11. Click on the envelope icon (Gmail) and your e-mail will open where you can type in your webmaster’s e-mail address and the link will already be in the body of the e-mail for your district webmaster to create a link off of the district web page to your web page.

Once this link is connected, you don’t have to work with the webmaster again. Your page becomes live at that moment. All new changes you make in your Google document will automatically appear in the published page!

You now have an easy way to keep parents current on all events! Follow this link to a sample, very simple doc published as a web page.

Now, a couple of notes:

  • It’s really plain. However, I believe most people just want to know current information and aren’t as concerned about the looks.
  • It does take 5 minutes sometimes to update, so be patient if you type into a document and it hasn’t appeared on your published document yet.

The first time I presented this to teachers, they were blown away that it was really that easy. Most importantly, since presenting this over two years ago to a group of teachers, they are still doing weekly updates on their web pages.

Many people just can’t accept the plain simplicity of the regular document, so I offer this alternative which is simply a formatted, centered table within a Google doc. The instructions to publish are the same as above, but you start with making a copy of this document.

Sample simple web page with color boxes

Whatever document your teachers choose to go with, they now have an easy way to create web pages and keep your patrons up-to-date on what’s going on in your district. Now everyone in your district can be responsible for keeping people informed. Communication is a key component of successful districts. Web pages are one of many ways that our district markets itself.

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Creating Intelligent Classrooms

Posted by Tim Landeck on January 15, 2016

Word cloud created from post testA couple years ago, prior to going for a school bond, my district completed a Facilities Master Plan. The district was successful in passing the bond and, although it was not enough money to address all the needs outlined in the master plan, the bond funds have offered a significant shot in the arm for classroom instructional technology tools. We’ve installed a variety of resources to better support the instructional practices in the classroom.

Pajaro Valley Unified has 32 schools and 20,000 students. 76% of our students qualify for the National School Lunch Program which also makes us eligible for significant E-rate funding for network infrastructure over the past 20 years. With a robust network (both Wide Area and Local Area Networks) and continued E-rate funding to support increased speeds and bandwidth as needed, we were able to focus a significant amount of the bond technology funding on classroom instructional tools.

Intelligent Classroom

The District’s Technology Services Department brought together a group of district, site and community stakeholders to preview the available technology tools to support instruction in the classroom. This group, called the iTAC for Instructional Technology Advisory Committee, balanced the available funding with the wish list of instructional technology tools available and identified three items that were integrated into one system to be installed in almost every classroom in the district.

Audio Distribution Systems

We chose an audio distribution system (the Juno by FrontRow) that would help all students to hear the teacher, no matter where in the room the student was seated. The Juno is a simple installation because it requires mounting the integrated unit in the front of the classroom and the teacher uses an infrared microphone around their neck to connect to the system. The technology behind this system is quite impressive because it does not blast the students in the front row with a high volume projection of the teacher’s voice but at the same time the student in the back of the room can hear the teacher as though they are speaking softly right next to the student. This is very helpful for all students but English Language Learners benefit the most due to the clarity and volume of the teacher’s voice in every area of the classroom. The teacher no longer needs to project their voice throughout the room which imparts a more calm and restful tone in the classroom, frequently changing the demeanor of the classroom environment.

The Juno also comes with a student microphone that can be used when presenting a report; in group discussions or for whenever a student would like to share with the class. The use of this device helps students to perfect their skill and ease with public speaking because their voice is clearly heard by all in the room. The audio distribution system demands an audience so nobody can hide behind a soft voice or a shy persona.

Document Camera

We have found that the document camera is one of the easiest tools for a teacher to integrate into their daily lessons because it works very simply and is reminiscent of the old overhead projector. Today’s document camera offers many additional features that make it even more valuable as an instructional tool, including snapping an image of a document or item, flipping the camera 90 degrees to take pictures or video of classroom activities or even to use in a video conference activity such as with Google Hangouts. These document cameras are also used for scoring benchmark tests which are stored in our assessment database.

Projectors vs. 70” Flat Panel Displays

Prior to the bond funding we purchased interactive white boards in our district which included an integrated short throw projector. Although very popular among the teaching staff, we found that the total cost of ownership (TCO) of these interactive white boards and projectors was very high. Not only was the initial cost and installation of the system very expensive, but the lengthy training requirements for the bundled interactive software were rarely met and 90% of our teachers were using the interactive white board solely as a projection device. Some teachers marveled at the ability to use their finger as a mouse while touching the interactive white board but this frequently anchored the teacher at the front of the room which is contrary to a modern pedagogical approach of teachers moving around the classroom among the students as opposed to teaching from the front of the room.

In addition to training, the other factor to significantly contribute to the high TCO is the maintenance of the projector. We have experienced a life span of about 4-6 years for the projector which includes annual cleaning and the replacement of a new ($150-$300) bulb every 1-1.5 years. When a projector receives a new bulb, it is usually quite bright and functions well for instruction. However, within the first month or so you notice the dimming of the bulb which continues to dim until the unit is un-usable in the classroom…and that is when the bulb usually gets changed, thereby requiring the teacher to endure months of a dim and almost unusable projection device.

We chose to not continue to purchase interactive white boards and projectors but instead to purchase flat panel displays. The price point for 70” flat panel LCD displays had come down close to the $1000 range, thereby making it feasible to provide one large display for the front of almost every classroom in the district. The flat panel display was brighter and offered finer resolution than a projector. Smaller than 70” just isn’t large enough but we performed some classroom tests and determined that 70” is large enough for students in the classroom to clearly see images and text.

System Integration

We wanted to be sure that all three tools worked together in a seamless manner, making it easier for the teacher to use the tools with a classroom of students. We ran surface raceway between the devices and provided the teacher with two HDMI ports under the Flat Panel Display. One HDMI port is for the document camera and the other is for the teacher to connect their computer (Desktop computer, laptop or Chromebook) to project on the flat panel display. The flat panel display and the teacher’s computer all connect to the Juno to provide audio amplification for all devices connected to the system.

Planning and Installation

It is important that these new devices are used with students so we placed all flat panel displays and audio distribution systems in the front of the room. We consider the flat panel display as the “new white board” for many teachers but still left almost all white board exposed, mounting the flat panel displays as high above the existing white boards as possible. We took pictures of each classroom and provided a mocked up image of where the flat panel display was to be mounted in each classroom, thereby providing an opportunity for placement feedback and preparing the teacher for the pending installation.
The round 1 installation in about 750 classrooms is almost complete with our round 2 about to begin where we will be replacing existing interactive white boards with the 70” flat panel displays in most of the remaining classrooms.

Training

There is not an extensive amount of training necessary to effectively utilize the three installed tools. The goal has been to provide teachers 5-20 minutes of training within two days from system installation. Some teachers took to the new technologies very easily and thereby needed very little instruction and others utilized the full twenty minutes to gain more comfort with the new tools. Although we were not able to get to every teacher within the two day window, almost all teachers have received the needed professional development and the systems are being used.

The response has been very positive and both teachers and students are pleased with their new tools. Unfortunately the tool that is receiving the least amount of attention and use is the audio distribution system. Teachers often pride themselves on their “teacher voice” and don’t see the need to use the Juno system. We are working to inform teachers about the value of the audio distribution system and are hopeful that we will see an increase in the use of this tool along with the others installed.

Hindsight

No large-scale implementation is 100% successful with no issues and complete adoption. However, this project has been very successful and has helped teachers to have equitable access to instructional technology tools to utilize in their daily instruction. We are moving forward with 1:1 Chromebook implementations at our secondary school sites which will dovetail well with these installed instructional tools.

 

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