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My Secrets for Innovating Classroom Practice - Part 2

Here is what I think classroom innovation looks like in action, with the caveat that my process is organic and continues to evolve.
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What does all of this innovative practice look like in action?

My Grade 7 class’s current project began by accident through social media.

Clive Thompson (@pomeranian99) shared a link to an article from The New Yorker that I found interesting and shared with my class, which caused my students to explode into conversation.

This led me to show students how I use Twitter to connect with interesting people and ideas rather than following someone like Charlie Sheen.

Students were not intimidated by the level of language. They read what they could understand, skipped what they couldn’t and pursued paths based on their own interests. The material was rich!

I shared my class’s response to the article on Twitter with Clive and the author @garymarcus, which drew them into following our work more closely. (Clive writes for Wired Magazine and the New York Times and has visited our classroom in the past). Discussions extended into a second day and students wrote reflections, which prompted me to introduce blogging as we now needed a platform for our writing. A few students set up their own Twitter accounts and connected directly with Clive and Gary.

Jarred Bennett shared a post about why we need to teach Twitter, which allowed me the opportunity to focus on digital citizenship and personal vs. professional Twitter accounts.

Gary then shared what was happening with Class 71 with someone he knows from National Public Radio (NPR) and my students received an invitation to appear on American public radio, which immediately bumped up the level of discourse in the classroom.

Seeing that much of my students’ reaction to the article is fear-based, I saw the need for a better understanding of robotics.

Students worked in collaborative groups and were given two topics:

1. What do you actually know about robots?

2. What questions do you have? 

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This was followed by an intense 25-minute discussion and sharing of ideas many of which were highly insightful.

I then introduced students to the MIT MediaLab, which led to a fascinating exploration of robotics on the iPads, and more questions, comments and sharing. {My learning at that point: I should have had Twitter accounts on so students could share links as they went}.

Students explored their thinking on ethics, society, morality, points of view … and engaged in one of the most sophisticated discussions that I’ve witnessed among Grade 7 students. I am so sorry I didn’t record it.

Students were not intimidated by the level of language. They read what they could understand, skipped what they couldn’t and pursued paths based on their own interests. The material was rich! I then saw a need for students to consider the moral decision making of programmers, so this became our next day’s exploration. We began with a Strongly Agree/Disagree line. Students placed themselves somewhere on the line in response to this statement: Robots that can make decisions on behalf of humans are a good idea. Students explained their positions on the line and could change their positions in response to what they heard. (Teachers must have an array of strategies for getting students to engage in conversation and share their points or view).

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Students then went back to collaborative groups to wrestle with this question: What would the programmer have to value to allow the driver to survive rather than the kids?  This allowed me to reintroduce the idea of assumptions. “Let’s assume that a car that makes decisions on behalf of humans exists and that the accident between the bus and the car is going to happen”. Students explored their thinking on ethics, society, morality, points of view … and engaged in one of the most sophisticated discussions that I’ve witnessed among Grade 7 students. I am so sorry I didn’t record it.

We are also making use of talents and opportunities within the school. I have arranged a switch with the Grade 4 teacher, Mr. Bell, who uses Lego Robotics with his students.  I will take his class for a half day to work with the iPads and he will take mine. Having colleagues who are flexible is key to innovation in any school.

This experience left students with many unanswered questions and a desire to speak directly with people who work in robotics. This led me to show students how to use a network to access information and people. Noah contacted Clive through Twitter and asked if he knew anyone at Google Car. Clive offered to contact someone but told us that people at Google were very busy. We continued to seek contacts and I was referred to Marcel at Carnegie Mellon who pointed me towards Illah and a whole new field of learning. We are waiting to hear back from Illah. 

We are also making use of talents and opportunities within the school. I have arranged a switch with the Grade 4 teacher, Mr. Bell, who uses Lego Robotics with his students.  I will take his class for a half day to work with the iPads and he will take mine. Having colleagues who are flexible is key to innovation in any school.

Reflective practice and blogging are essential to the evolution of my practice. Through writing this post, I realize that our next step will be an introduction to Design Thinking, Challenge-Based Learning and Class 71 devising solutions to the problems they’ve identified with moral machines.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Challenge-Based_Learning

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Design_thinking

That’s my secret to innovative practice so far. 

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