The opening months of school are a time of optimism and new beginnings. Each school year’s start rejuvenates educators and students. Yet these feelings can quickly turn sour if we do not encourage students to find meaning in what we ask them to do. There are ways to engage learners into lessons and units. Here are three practices that, when incorporated by teachers, offer entry points for students to invest in their learning.
Practice One: Be Real
Communicating authentic purpose to students is critical if we want their attention. Beyond the school walls, there is much that captures peoples’ notice — games, social media, entertainment, events, and friends. All of these often out-match the potential value of school curriculum. Keeping learning real requires three easy steps:
1. Connect skills and concepts to students’ interests.
Curriculum is often taught as non-concrete concepts that are steeped in academic abstractions (just like this sentence). Learning happens when we connect concepts with practical applications, such as the effects of centripetal force from a tight turn on a skateboard, bike, or car. Understanding also happens through reflection on and revision of creative writing, or prototypes that demonstrate the targeted skills and concepts.
2. Engage students in professional dialogue with experts in the field.
Parents, friends, and colleagues either have expertise or know “the right people” who can talk with (not to) your students. Professional dialogue is authentic practice that provides context for the subject-based skills. Often, a guest will say something that the teacher has already said many times, yet now the students embrace the idea because it came from that outside person. Professional dialogue is not the guest talking at the learners. Instead, the conversation is a give-and-take. Students recognize when they are included as contributors.
3. Challenge students to solve a problem, design for a need, or explore their own questions.
Give students real-world challenges to solve. The experiences may be a single activity, a collection of lessons, or an entire unit. Discovery in science, math, games, and other areas happens through trial and error. Opportunities to apply concepts in practical ways are important to learning. Reflecting on successes and mistakes is where growth occurs, sparking new ideas and innovations. The process takes time in the short term, but if sustained learning is key, then the long journey to the destination outcomes is worth the effort. Otherwise, students see the work as a checklist to be completed and forgotten.
Practice Two: Launch Events That Matter
Relevance matters. As in the professional arena, students need to know why the content is worth taking the trip to accomplish the tasks. When starting a unit, launching an event can help students make an emotional connection to the major themes and concepts to be explored. Some examples include:
Show The Sneeze. The dialogue after watching this Australian public service video can raise interest in the study of germs and infectious diseases.
As an invisible theater exercise, the Teaching Channel’s Making the Declaration of Independence Come Alive can help students recognize the value of historical events and ideas by making personal or contemporary connections. (Spoiler alert: students make the analogy of the Declaration of Independence to a break-up letter.)
Invite someone to ask your students for help on some real-world task. A travel agent needs persuasive media on regional travel sites (geography), or an organization director needs an awareness campaign about cancer to raise donations. Many guest opportunities can be found in your own networks.Three Degrees of Connection is a professional development activity for staff to identify experts among their networks. The future guest may be someone that you or a colleague knows.
Practice Three: Keep the End in Mind
Driving in heavy rain or a snowstorm is especially difficult behind a semi truck. The spray sweeps up a wall of mist that limits vision of what’s beyond. Yet if we get past the truck, our vision of the road is clearer. Students need a clear view of the roadmap that they’re expected to follow. Inform them of the outcomes for each lesson and unit at the beginning, making sure that they understand what you intend to teach them. Essential Questions (as discussed by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe) and driving questions are like road signs, providing reminders of how the current content connects to the final destination. Key assessments for learning, like exit cards, revision work, and journal entries, are mile markers that we use to let students know their progress and distance left to travel.
If You Engage Learners, They Will Take Over
Each new school year is a crossroads of many travel options. Students drive their learning when we share the maps, empowering them to chart their way to the various unit destinations. Provide them a clear view to a purposeful outcome that has meaning to them, and they will want the wheel. They will invest the time and practice needed to become confident drivers. When they want control, our best option is to give them the keys. There’s always the extra set of brakes available to us — but we should tap them only when needed.
When I was a new teacher in middle school several centuries ago, I occasionally said things to students that I later regretted. In the last few years, I have witnessed or heard teachers say additional regretful things to students. Recently I asked students in my graduate courses (all practicing teachers) if they ever told their students anything they regret. After hearing these regrets and talking with children about what teachers said that bothered them, I compiled a list of things that never should be said.
I’ve narrowed my list to 13 representative items. Some of these are related to control issues, others to motivation, and still more to management. All reflect frustration and/or anger. Let’s start the upcoming school year by wiping these sayings out of our vernacular.
1. “You have potential but don’t use it.”
Students feel insulted when they hear this, and while some accept it as a challenge to do better, more lose their motivation to care. Instead, say in a caring way, “How can I help you reach your full potential?”
2. “I’m disappointed in you.”
Of course we occasionally are disappointed in things that our students do. In addition, the result of openly expressing that disappointment depends as much on the way we say it as the words we use. But students have told me that they hate hearing a teacher say this. The problem with this saying is that it looks to the past. A more helpful approach looks to the future. The alternative might be more like, “What do you think you can do to make a more helpful decision the next time you are in a similar situation?”
3. “What did you say?”
This is the challenge that some teachers might throw down when walking away from a student after a private discussion about behavior and hearing that student whisper something. “What did you say?” is just bait for escalation. Do you really want to know what was whispered? It’s better to ignore that unheard comeback and move on. You don’t always need to have the last word.
4. “If I do that for you, I’ll have to do it for everyone.”
In our book, Discipline With Dignity, Al Mendler and I make a strong case for the policy that fair is not equal. You can’t treat everyone the same and be fair. Each student needs what helps him or her, and every student is different. Further, no one wants to think of him- or herself as one of a herd. It’s better to say, “I’m not sure if I can do that, but I’ll do my best to meet your needs in one way or another.”
5. “It’s against the rules.”
Rules are about behavior. Often there are many behaviors from which people can choose in order to solve a problem. Some may be within the rules. Try saying this instead: “Let me see if there’s a way to meet your need within the rules.”
6. “Your brother/sister was better than you.”
Never compare siblings or anyone else in a positive or negative way about anything. Comparisons can only lead to trouble regardless of which side of the coin the student is. My grandchildren always ask me, “Who’s your favorite?” What if I actually gave an answer?
7. “I like the way Toby is sitting.”
This is a manipulation to get the class to sit down. Saying this teaches children that manipulation works. It’s better to be direct and tell the truth by saying, “Class, please sit down.” In addition, any student who is never publicly singled out for something positive will resent you. While I used to employ this technique myself, I think the downside far outweighs the good, even if it works.
8. “You’ll never amount to anything.”
Not only is this an insult, but it is usually wrong. When I was young, I was told that I would never be a teacher. How many great people have been told this? How many of you have heard it?
9. “Who do you think you are?”
Do you really need to know who they think they are? This question is meant to say, “You are not as important as me!” This communicates sheer arrogance and is asking for a power struggle.
10. “Don’t you ever stop talking?”
This is a snide way of asking the student to stop talking. Never start with a question like, “Don’t you ever _______?” You can fill in any behavior or attitude: “listen,” “do your homework,” “try,” “care about your work.” Avoid the sarcasm and directly say what you are feeling.
11. “I’m busy now.”
Don’t dismiss a student this abruptly if they need you in some way. Show that you care by saying, “I’m very busy now, but you are very important to me. Unless this is an emergency, let’s find a better time to talk. I really want to hear what’s on your mind.”
12. “The whole class will miss _______ unless someone admits to _______.”
Collective punishment is never appropriate. There are many reasons why we should avoid collective punishment, but the most important is that if we want students to learn how to take responsibility for their behavior, they need somewhat predictable outcomes for their choices. When they’re punished for something they didn’t do, they see the world as an unpredictable place where consequences have nothing to do with choices. This is not what we want children to learn.
13. “What is wrong with you?”
This question implies a defect or an imperfect student. We are all imperfect, so the question is really only intended as an insult. What do you expect the student to answer? “I’m the son of abusive parents who hate me?” I have heard many professionals say that everyone is perfect at being who they are. A better approach is to say something like, “I see you have a problem. Let’s work together to find a solution.”
If a teacher loses his temper or gets frustrated and says one of these things once or even twice during the year, it’s understandable. For most students, a rare mishap makes no difference with a teacher who they respect and like. But if trust hasn’t been established, students are less forgiving when they feel insulted or wronged. On the other hand, we can say something nice or neutral that might be heard by a student as an insult. These instances are hard to avoid. What we can avoid is saying things that we know in advance are hurtful.
With extracurricular-driven“superkids” and homework horror stories driving media headlines, it begs the question: Are today’s students truly overworked to the point of mental and physical health risks? Research suggests that the rigors through which we push many students are not enough to warrant panic, though that may not be true across the board.
In 2006, three researchers—Joseph Mahoney, Angel Harris, and Jacquelynne Eccles—evaluated whether students truly were overscheduled. They hypothesized that the pressures from families and schools to succeed academically and professionally would push the average student to overextending his or her commitments, leading to health and social adjustment problems. Theirstudy encompassed some 5,000 families nationwide with students ages 5 through 18 from a broad socioeconomic range.
The study found that there was, in fact, “very limited empirical support for the overscheduling hypothesis.” Only 3-6% of students spent 20 or more hours a week participating in extracurricular, organized activities. The average American student, in comparison, spends about 5 hours weekly enjoying organized activities, and 40% of studied students spend no time in extracurriculars at all.
The researchers also found that those students who spend 20 or more hours in an organized activity tended to be at least as well adjusted socially as “youth who did not participate” in extracurriculars. This finding runs counter to the image of highly motivated students as isolated hermits, scribbling on papers from dawn until dusk after five hours of soccer practice.
The study went on to verify the commonly held belief that participation in extracurriculars is good for a developing child’s well-being, including “academic achievement, school completion, post-secondary educational attainment, psychological adjustment, and lowered rates of smoking and drug use, to the quantity and quality of interactions with their parents.” Plus, the more a student participated in organized activities, the researchers found that the benefits of those activities either accrued or plateaued—not decreased.
The research team revisited their conclusions in 2012. They found that not only did their original conclusions continue to hold true, but also continued into early adulthood. Heavily involved students from the first study exhibited “lower psychological distress, and higher educational attainment and civic engagement” later in life.
Of course, not all studies concur with the conclusions drawn by Mahoney and his compatriots. In 2006, Dr. Shawn Latendresse, professor at Baylor University’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, ran a similar study specifically examining the relationship between affluence and parenting styles and its subsequent influence on students’ social maturity.
His conclusions indicate that, on average, students from affluent families gradually became less socially well-adjusted over their academic career, with some cases showing greater maladjustment than adolescents in low-income, high-risk neighborhoods. Dr. Latendresse further demonstrates correlations between overbearing parenting styles—including overscheduling of extracurricular activities—and an increased risk of impeded social development.
So while overscheduling may not be a problem for the majority of students (even students coming from higher socioeconomic backgrounds), the possibility of overburdening students exists and should be considered when discussing the benefits of extracurricular activities and challenging courses with families.
Your school’s schedule plays an enormous role in enabling students to challenge themselves while maintaining a healthy, happy lifestyle. If your current schedule seems constrictive or burdensome, consider a new format that includes breaks, extended periods for increased engagement and information retention, and opportunities to seek assistance from advisors and teachers. ISM can help you customize a new schedule that’s designed with your mission, resources, and school community in mind.
LOS ANGELES — Looking smart in a blue button-down shirt, Jorge Magana, 18, zipped through a PowerPoint presentation with the confidence of a Fortune 500 CEO.
Seated in front of Magana in a classroom at Los Angeles High School of the Arts was a panel of three judges: the school’s assistant principal, a school coordinator, and a former student. The occasion was his senior defense. Magana was trying to convince the panel that he was ready to graduate.
He had 45 minutes to present a portfolio of three “artifacts,” one academic, one artistic, and one of his own choosing. The panel grilled him: Can you describe your research process? Which obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them? How will the skills you learned help with your future plans?
Portfolio assessments like this one, which look a lot like doctoral dissertation defenses, are on the rise in California. The practice, touted by educators nationwide as a proven path to college success, has largely been squeezed out by standardized tests, the quicker, less-costly measure of student performance. But the state’s reliance on test scores to rank school performance is about to change, and educators see an opportunity.
Since 1999, California has primarily tied school rankings to test scores, using the Academic Performance Index (API). Since its repeal in July 2013, the three-digit ranking has been undergoing revision. On the new API, which will debut in the 2015-2016 school year, test scores will account for only 60 percent of a school’s ranking. The other 40 percent will factor in graduation data and “proof of readiness for college and career.” Portfolio assessment can supply this data. The tricky part is convincing skeptics that these assessments are reliable.
Magana’s presentation seemed to come off smoothly. He started with the personal statement he wrote for AP English about his father’s alcoholism and its effect on his family. Then he presented a model of a set for the play “Electricidad” that he built for Advanced Scenic Design class. He finished with a policy memo he wrote for AP Government on the high cost of rehab.
But when the panel asked him specific questions, Magana stalled.
“What policies already exist to help those who can’t afford rehab?” asked Cathy Kwan, the high school coordinator who is developing the portfolio model. She schedules the defenses, recruits panel members, and trains teachers.
Magana fell silent and looked off to the side. He had just argued in the memo that the price tag for alcohol rehab is prohibitive for minimum wage earners and that there should be policies in place to ensure alcoholics can get the help they need free of charge.
“I did research that,” he said. “But I can’t remember.”
Magana stepped outside the classroom while the panel evaluated his performance. The judges agreed his presentation skills were solid: he made eye contact, he knew how to hold the audience’s attention, and he was organized. But he failed to demonstrate content knowledge and sound research skills. Assistant principal Matthew Hein pointed out a “classic bad research move,” Magana’s admission that he “dismissed research that didn’t fit his opinion.”
The verdict: Magana would have to rewrite the policy memo and defend his work again.
This is only the second year Los Angeles High School of the Arts has required its seniors to do portfolio defenses. The seriousness of the process and the amount of work it takes hasn’t yet sunk in. “Students didn’t really take the defenses seriously enough,” says Kwan reflecting on this year’s presentations. “They thought we were just going to let them pass. They’d say to me, ‘I got this.’ And I’d tell them, ‘No, you don’t. You have to practice.’”
Making Portfolio Assessments Reliable
Kwan is struggling with the difficulty facing any educator hoping to use the portfolio model: defining a standard approach to evaluation. Harvard education professor Daniel Koretz knows this difficulty firsthand. He studied the portfolio models of Kentucky and Vermont in the 1990s, when those states were trying to replace standardized tests with portfolio assessments. The criteria for what makes a good portfolio, Koretz found, can vary widely from school to school, making comparisons difficult.
“The standardized assessment is standardized precisely so that there is nothing extraneous that differs between kids or between schools,” he says.
This problem has sent educators in California searching for an objectivity not usually associated with portfolio assessment.
A recent report from Stanford University professors Soung Bae and Linda Darling-Hammond promotes graduation portfolios as one measure of how well schools prepare students for college. The authors recommend that the state allow schools to use “well-designed” portfolios, comprised of work from each of five different subject areas to include research essays, art work and other sophisticated projects that can’t be captured on a test in place of traditional exit exams.
“There’s an openness in the legislature [to consider] what would be more indicative of college and career readiness than sitting down and filling in a multiple-choice Scantron,” says Darling-Hammond. “Some say U.S. kids are the most tested and the least examined in the world. We have a lot of tests, but we don’t have high-quality examinations of thinking and performance.”
Aiming to test the digital portfolio as a way of producing reliable data, Stanford’s Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE) has teamed up with ConnectEd, a Berkeley-based organization that promotes a mix of academic and career-centered school programs called “linked learning.”
The resulting online tool, ConnectEd Studios, tries to take the subjectivity out of evaluating portfolios. Students can earn digital badges for completing performance tasks. A student writing an argumentative essay, for example, can upload the essay to the site, where his teacher can evaluate the writing according to a scoring rubric with criteria for grading. A series of dots represents the progress of the essay: red dot (ungraded), purple dot (not proficient), and green dot (proficient). When the essay is deemed proficient, the student earns a badge.
“We see these badges as data nuggets,” says Dave Yanofsky, director of strategic communications for ConnectEd. “If done right, digital badges give you both the qualitative and quantitative component. It’s not just that the student turned in the work and got a pat on the back. These badges show that students turned in work that is up to the level of quality we established.”
The development of reliable portfolio assessments could have huge implications for how we judge school effectiveness, not just in California but nationwide. Yanofsky estimates that 20 school districts, including Houston and Philadelphia, have expressed interest in working with ConnectEd to build their portfolio programs.
The expectation is that an online platform like ConnectEd Studios would create a secure place for students to share videos, audio files, photos, writing samples, digital badges, resumes, and letters of recommendation, showcasing their qualifications for universities and potential employers.
“Students can sell themselves short,” says Nadia Schafer, a digital specialist with Philadelphia Academies, a nonprofit that works with area high schools to provide students with career training and college preparation. “But the portfolio shows them all that they’ve accomplished. A portfolio tells their stories so much better than just a resume ever could.”
For now, the goal at the Los Angeles Unified school district is to make the portfolio defense a graduation requirement. Ten high schools are piloting the initiative, and there are plans to get more schools on board next school year.
“Students have improved immensely since we first started,” says Kwan. “But it still wouldn’t be fair to hold them back based on the defense. We haven’t yet learned how to prepare kids adequately to do this.”
Half of the Los Angeles Unified schools testing portfolio defenses have partnered with Envision Schools, a network of three small charter high schools in the San Francisco area that has systematized the portfolio model over the past 13 years and can provide step-by-step instructions on how to build a portfolio program. L.A. teachers traveled to San Francisco to watch the Envision students’ defend their portfolios and to get training on how to critique them. Envision has shared videos of model defenses and scoring rubrics that L.A. teachers can revise to suit their schools’ specific needs.
Can Portfolios Make the Grade?
At first, many teachers at Los Angeles High School of the Arts thought the defense was an unnecessary torture. Then, they actually witnessed a defense.
“When you see your students reflect on what they’ve learned, and see how that learning has affected them, it’s hard to say this isn’t a good idea,” says Isabel Morales, a 12th grade social studies teacher. “Watching the defenses taught me how much my lessons count, how crucial it is for me to provide a transformative learning experience for my students.”
Morales says students can simply “go through the motions” in class, taking in information without really retaining it. But portfolio defenses force them to explain what they’ve learned, and to apply it in different ways; for instance, Magana tackled the issue of alcoholism as a statement on policy and in a personal statement. Since the portfolio program started, Morales has discovered that the best preparation for a portfolio defense is for students to share their work and reflections on what they learned in the process, something she didn’t always make time to do.
Realizations like this one are the most important outcomes of the defenses, according to Tom Skjervheim, associate director at ConnectEd. In fact, when Skjervheim views a defense, he finds himself evaluating the teacher more than the student. “The portfolio defenses shed a light for teachers on what they should be doing in professional development,” he says. “They allow teachers to think about how they might tighten up their practices and get the results they want from students.”
According to a survey of students at Los Angeles High School of the Arts, 90 percent of students who passed and 68 percent of students who failed said the portfolio defense was a “worthwhile experience.” Magana, who passed his second defense a week later, says he’s learned from his mistakes and won’t repeat them at the University of California Riverside, where he’ll major in computer science this fall.
“I’m worried that in college I won’t have anyone there to push me,” Magana says. “But I have this experience to refer back to. I will remember this. I won’t allow myself to fail again.”
Kwan is already planning ways to make the experience more worthwhile next year, including training teachers to revamp their lessons. She thinks teachers need to tell kids up front what they’re going to learn and why they’re learning it. “This isn’t as common as you might think,” says Kwan. “Kids often don’t know why they do assignments.”
Students will also get more opportunities to practice their presentations before the big day. Groups of four will be assigned a mentor teacher who will critique their portfolios and presentations. Eleventh graders will assist during senior defenses, by switching slides or serving as panelists, gaining a sense of what will be expected of them the next year. Tenth graders will participate in mini-defenses in front of their classes.
While Kwan is intent on perfecting the process, she worries that portfolio assessment could become rote in pursuit of data. The Envision Schools have the defenses “down to a science,” she says. Students start to sound robotic when they’re all saying the same things, she adds.
Success, for Kwan, depends on a continuous evaluation of the process, not on routine. What counts as a real demonstration of learning?
“Many visitors are impressed that students are speaking in front of an audience,” Kwan says. “They don’t notice that the presentation is disorganized or that the students are having trouble answering the judges’ questions. It’s not good enough that students face a difficult task. They have to go up there and have substance. Just because you show up to an interview doesn’t mean you get the job.”
Of the 92 seniors who defended their portfolios this year, 33 failed. Like Magana, they were scheduled to redo their presentations.
But, in the end, all students passed and nabbed diplomas.
“They worked their tushes off,” says Kwan. “Not one of them gave up.”
When educator Lynn Koresh hears from kids that they want a career doing something with computers, she asks, “To do what with computers?”
Adults often encourage kids to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills, and computing classes are usually a first stop. But Koresh knows it’s the real-world applications of computational thinking and coding language skills that bring such knowledge to life.
She reasoned that most middle school students are already playing video games and might respond well to a unit on how to design, create, test and promote video games. Along the way, she’s also teaching them about digital citizenship and entrepreneurship.
“I wanted to give kids exposure to what it means to have a career using computers,” said Koresh, technology coordinator at Edgewood Campus School in Madison, Wisconsin.
She gave students the task of designing a game using Gamestar Mechanic. It’s a Web tool that helps kids create games. Before any programming begins, students talk about their games, set objectives and start storyboarding on paper. They think about the game’s avatars and how the game mechanics will work. Koresh shared her experience teaching this class at the Games Learning Society conference in Madison.
As students develop their games, they test them on one another throughout the semester. Koresh has found kids often give short and positive feedback, making it challenging to learn enough to improve the game. She says the kids respond this way mostly because they’re concerned for their friends and worry that they’ll get a bad grade, even though that’s not the case.
“You have to get specific enough so they don’t say, ‘It’s good, I liked it.’ You have to force them to take a stand.”
To help improve the process, she has reframed the questions around student game critiques in a consumer-oriented way, such as, “Would you pay 99 cents for this app? Would you give it three stars or four stars?”
To help them become more critical thinkers, the students read product reviews on blogs and business sites to learn about features that might improve the user experience. In the process, Koresh hopes the kids learn to be selective digital consumers and do research before making purchases or trusting a source.
It’s also an opportunity to talk about a person’s digital footprint and the types of comments, images and videos that can come back to haunt someone.
“If you put it online, it should be worthy of other students, grandma, everyone seeing it,” said Koresh.
Once the games are completed, the middle school students have three seconds to pitch their game to fourth-grade players in the form of a slide on a computer screen. Since time to persuade the audience is limited, much like in real life, game designers have to “sell” their game with one compelling slide. Students have to be selective about which elements of the game to highlight. Creating the slide is also an opportunity to talk about marketing.
“It’s great you’ve made something, but how do you get other people to use it?” Koresh asks her students. They get a good idea about how well their ad has worked based on the number of plays their games receive.
As for whether parents object to kids spending more time on video games, she says they have been supportive of STEM activities and pre-coding skills learned in game design. Koresh has found the time students spent on the games, both inside and outside class, has helped them think about coding as an extracurricular activity. Girls who have created games in her class have gone on to enter STEM design competitions.
Here are some of the ads Koresh’s students created that link to their games:
Introverts are students who are bright and capable of communicating, but class discussions feel unnatural or uncomfortable for them. Sharing via technology is more comfortable, and it can benefit all students since everyone is heard. Here are a few ideas for using tech tools to draw out these learners:
Backchannel. There are a few platforms, like TodaysMeet and Backchannel Chat that allow your classes to backchannel, or have an online discussion while watching a video or presentation in the classroom. Participation is as easy as typing and hitting “send” so it feels less threatening and unnatural to an introvert. The transcript of the chat can also be saved as collaborative class notes. Here is an example from a 9th grade class that watched a YouTube video on the Whiskey Rebellion recently.
Games and Formative Tools. I often use Socrative, a student response tool, to pose questions to my classes. With Socrative, they can submit their answers anonymously and then, as a class, vote on the best one. Often the introverts are selected as winners because they’ve put more thought and depth into their answers.
Another fun formative game app is Kahoot!. Either I create activities or students create them for each other. Kahoot gets my classroom energized with music, bright colors and a little healthy competition. Again, participation doesn’t require anyone to speak out loud, although they often do end up cheering for the winner at the end.
Digital Bulletin Board. Students can use an app like Padlet to post text, links, video clips, images, or text for crowdsourcing their ideas. Here is a great example of a bulletin board about women in the Civil War that my tenth-grade students made using a combination of quotes, images found online, and their own drawings and words. Again, introverts won’t have to speak out in front of the whole class to participate in a powerful way.
Strategies like these do more than engage all learners. They also send a message to introverts that their teacher understands they have a lot to contribute when given the right opportunity.
Kerry Gallagher is a technology integration specialist at St. Johns Preparatory School in Danvers, Mass., a one-to-one iPad school serving 1,500 students grades 6-12. She taught middle and high school history in bring-your-own-device environments for 13 years. Gallagher is well known for her paperless collaborative classroom model which thrived on project-based learning. She also helped her students create Rockets Help Desk, a far-reaching student-driven technology integration program in her previous school district. Gallgher received the 2014 Yale-Lynn Hall Teacher Action Research Prize for her submission on the use of mobile devices for a paperless public school classroom and is a 2015 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator. Gallagher has been a conference presenter on the effective use of technology in the classroom at Harvard Law School, Yale School of Management, and Stanford University. In addition to EdSurge, she writes for Smarter Schools Project and ConnectSafely. She holds a B.A. in Politics from Saint Anselm College and J.D. from Massachusetts School of Law.
Jewelbots hopes to bring the old-school friendship bracelet into the iPhone age and teach girls to code with its smart jewelry.
The team behind the Kickstarter project — which has already raised double the $30,000 goal — has built an open-source wearable for teen and tween girls to encourage them to learn coding through basic logic.
The bracelets have four LEDs, a vibration motor and Bluetooth connectivity. They connect with each other to form a mesh network, which means a phone isn’t required to communicate with friends.
Out of the box, a Jewelbot can detect nearby friends and send secret messages, but with simple logic and a few taps it can be extended to do a lot more.
Extending the bracelet is straightforward, using a smartphone and a “if this then that” style workflow. It can be programmed, for example, to light up when a specific friend is nearby.
The bracelet can also be plugged into a computer via USB and developed on directly to create further extensions, using the Arduino integrated development environment (IDE).
The developers designed the project by working with groups of teen girls, who gave feedback on aesthetics and functionality.
The team has created two phases of prototypes already and plans a final round before testing and manufacturing begins later this year.
Jewelbots is the brainchild of CEO, Sara Chipps, and COO, Brooke Moreland, who set out to “inspire a deep curiosity and lasting love for computers and programming” using the devices.
The pair say they hope to get girls to “[open] their minds to science, technology, engineering and mathematics [STEM] at an age when many lose interest.
I love the idea of Jewelbots. It’s a tangible way to pique girls’ interest in coding and offers a path to getting them hooked. I know from first-hand experience that there’s nothing quite like coding something that can be touched and used in the real world.
The company also hosted ‘Bring Your Daughter To Hack‘ Events in New York and San Francisco las month, where kids were able to build their own wearables.
A single Jewelbot starts at $59 with a pack of two costing $89. They won’t ship until March 2016 and reward tiers are limited, so you’ll have to get in fast if you’re interested.