Friday, December 19, 2014


Deeper learning is about transfer. The ability for kids to develop skills, knowledge, and ideas, so they can be transferred to fresh situations without the need for an adult facilitator to make that happen. Deeper learning is certainly more complex than just transfer, but it is at the center of excellent learning opportunities for kids. Recently, I had the pleasure of seeing the type of project that allows for this transfer to occur and the irony of it was that it was on the topic of heat transfer. Two incredible science teachers at Hixson Middle School included in their learning about heat transfer, the opportunity for students to launch hot air balloons as a means of gathering data, both numeric and observational, about what heat transfer looks like in a real-world setting. It was great to see the student engaged, empowered, and energized throughout this learning project. 

A Quick Build Hot Air Injector

The Blue Skies Were an Amazing Backdrop for Watching the Balloons

This Students Reaction Made My Visit

The Two Teachers Involved Were Awesome 

The December Cold Was a Secondary Lesson in Heat Transfer

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Design, Create, Make

Affton continues to work to build a culture of students spending more and more time designing, creating, and making. We are seeing increases in engagement and the fresh energy in the schools is noticeable. Coordinator of 1:1 Programming Manuel Herrera has taken the lead in this work. He is facilitating more and more sessions where kids are designing, creating, and making. Below is his guest post.

by Manuel Herrera

Over the past few weeks, our Project Lead the Way Bio Medical students, have been working on a Design Innovation project for their semester presentation. For this project, instead of just designing an innovative product on paper to be included in their presentations, these students are able to do some rapid prototyping using two new pieces of technology at Affton High School, the Dell Chromebook 11 and our Lulzbot 3D printer.

The 3D printer allows any student to design a product or model using free 3D modeling software on their Chromebooks. Within a couple of hours, the student can then have a physical object in their hands that they designed. The power in students prototyping their products is that they are able to experience the design process. This includes some groups going through a deep brainstorming process to identify a product while others drafted numerous iterations of their designs before they found one that was suitable for their client's needs.

Building structures with texture

Layer after layer the students see their ideas grow

Prototyping a new type of arm braces

Tinker cad serves as great design software

Problem solving around the finding the right temperature
for the 3D Printer provided real problem solving

Design and drawing is both low-fi and high-tech

Students taking control of their learning

Dell Chromebooks are being integrated into the process. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Power of Digital Story

This article was originally published for Edutopia on December 15, 2014.

Telling our story is an essential part of our humanness. It allows us to feel part of the community that knows our story, and it fosters empathy for those that surround us. Story is a powerful force in shaping mental models, motivating and persuading others, and teaching the lessons of life. Telling story extends back to a time when oral history dominated the tools of communication. And now the flood of technology tools that allow for instant communication has spun us back into a golden age where story again dominates the media landscape.

Digital stories, now both easy to produce and simple to publish, are an ideal way to energize learning and engage students at a deeper level. Digital storytelling creates space for students to pursue topics about which they are passionate, grows their learning around assigned topics, and showcases their learning for peers, teachers, and audiences beyond the schoolhouse, all of whom are able to interact with the storyteller. To allow the power of story to blossom in learning spaces, it is necessary to focus on a few factors that can maximize its effect.

Create Space for Listening
The world is full of story -- just look at the fire-hose blast of Snapchat images, YouTube videos, and those moments of binge-watching Netflix. The noise of this digital information can be overwhelming. It can create a numbness to the outside world and limit the ability to retain and reflect on essential learning. Because of this, places of learning must be places of listening that allow time and space for the speed of life to be digested in a meaningful way. How have you practiced listening to story as a teacher, and how have you created this space for students? The power of digital story comes from the power of the audience that is genuinely engaged in listening to its message.

Persuade with the Head and the Heart
Digital story works because it fills our heads with engaging emotional rhetoric and paves a compelling reason to act or think differently. Emotion alone doesn't make digital story, as the names, faces, and numbers of the situation round out the message. Without the intellectual hook, the emotional plea can sound hollow and appear to be built on a flimsy foundation. The unique nature of digital story -- with its quick visual displays of information coupled with its engaging images of people, place, and planet -- provides the ideal media for amplifying the impact that comes from seamlessly weaving together these areas.

Lead with the Narrative
Great digital stories are rooted in their narrative. The beauty of digital story is that the narrative follows the same story arc that has always been a part of oral and written story. Helping kids become great presenters and great writers will support their proficiency as digital story creators.

Amplify with Images
A thousand words isn't the true power of images. Great images link story elements, humanize the abstract, and force the audience to see invisible people and places. Images are a gateway into the soul of stories. Digital story creators need to select each image with the same intentionality that each word is chosen for the narrative. Beautiful images allow digital stories to be remembered by more people in a deeper way.

Nurture the Process
Classrooms, schools, and districts that are rich in story will better support the learning of students who are already living in a culture of digital storytelling. Teachers, students, and community members need to feel an environment for learning that promotes voice, shares best practices, and celebrates the best of learning. In addition, the best of digital storytelling comes from the art of iteration. Success comes from publishing, revising, editing, analyzing, and tinkering with the craft. Allow time for adults and students to be a part of this powerful practice.

Understand the Tools
The quality and quantity of web-based tools for creating, designing, and making incredible digital story continues to grow. It is important for classrooms and schools to choose a few tools that work for them based on ease, accessibility, and cost, and take the time to really understand those tools both with and without content wrapped around their use. Currently, there are excellent stories being created using online tools like WeVideo and the editing tools within YouTube. Others are using iPhoto, Garageband, and iMovie to craft stunning digital stories that elicit strong emotion from audiences around the globe. In this process, students also have a chance to learn about the importance of using Creative Commons videos and properly crediting artists for their intellectual property. Some excellent student examples of these tools in action can be seen in Emma Bright's "My Defining Moment", MRH Middle School's "Dauphin Island Reflection", and Ollie J.'s "Eleven by Sandra Cisnaros".

Today's best tools for digital story will quickly become relics, so it is also essential to stay in the conversation, listen to what other educators are doing, and see what kids are using in their own creation space, so that the tools and features being used to create story will stay fresh.

Finally, it is essential to share story, personal and professional, successes and failures, because story inspires story. As we see through the beauty of digital story, idea generation, inspiration, and collaboration can only grow. And, in a larger sense, best practices in education will grow and scale whenever we all release trapped or siloed wisdom into the system.