Talk This Weekend: “Kids, Learning, and the Maker Movement”

I’m presenting a talk today at Maker Faire Pittsburgh called “Kids, Learning, and the Maker Movement: Four Top Tips for Parents” at noon today and at 10:30 AM tomorrow in the Education Zone. If you’re around, come see me!

If you saw me speak today, welcome to my website! My slides will be available online here later today. Please feel free to look around: check out my older biog posts, see what I’m reading on Goodreads, and link to my work with Common Sense Media on Graphite and with iQ: smartparent at WQED Multimedia. Also, please follow me on Twitter @PMKievlan so we can continue the conversation we started today. Thanks!

Links from today’s talk:


Serious Play Conference at CMU

  This week, I’m attending the Serious Play Conference at Carnegie Mellon University. It’s a gathering of nonprofit, academic, and corporate stakeholders all working hard to connect games with learning. My college Jen Stancil will be giving a talk today, and I’m looking forward to hearing from her and from others about how games can offer playful, meaningful opportunities for learning. I’ll post here throughout the week with the different sessions I attend. Stay tuned!

Event Debrief: EdRev 2015

One of the great displays at EdRev 2015.
One of the great displays at EdRev 2015.

This was my fifth — fifth! — year at EdRev and it was maybe the best one yet. I’m so grateful to my gracious hosts at PEN for inviting me to speak and for welcoming me so warmly back to my west coast home in SF. Here are some highlights from my trip.

  • The keynote was terrific. Lieutenant Governor (and former San Francisco mayor) Gavin Newsom gave the keynote address and I just loved it. His message was inspiring: he’s dyslexic, and he’s managed to see his dyslexia as an asset that’s helped him be creative, flexible, and successful. That’s a powerful message to send to kids — to see one of the most powerful leaders of your state say he has the same learning difference that you have and that it’s an asset, not a liability. He was warm, funny, and very real, and I was so excited to see the kids’ and families’ reactions to his talk. (Also: is Gavin Newsom running for president? Because this SF native said some awfully nice things about the Dodgers.)

  • The tech section was better than ever. The EdRev tech section was run this year by assistive technology guru and all-around edtech rock star Shelley Haven, who I admire very much. This year, the tables were well-positioned with demos grouped by theme. I was at the executive function and attention table, and I was paired with Fred Jaravata, an edtech guru in his own right and a teacher and technologist at Schools of the Sacred Heart San Francisco. It was great to see my old colleague here, and we had a good time talking to families about the particular challenges their kids faced and what our best ideas were for addressing them. The positioning of the tables was really smart: we were interspersed with vendors’ tables but we were away from the vendors themselves. That way, I could talk about the benefits of various tools and strategies and then refer families over to the vendors’ tables (like Notability and Ponder, among others) to get more information and (occasionally) free stuff. (I’m a big Notability believer, and I was delighted when those kind people gave me a free tee shirt.) I got to talk to a ton of families about big-picture ideas about using technology to support their kids’ academic progress. Highlights included when I got to demo how well Notability’s audio recording features interact with its note-taking features (“are you kidding?!” one mom exclaimed) and showing a family the built-in accessibility features on the iPad. These “aha!” moments are the reason I love this event and the reason I love this work. I think the PEN folks and Shelley Haven did an exceptional job of making this one of the most high-impact elements of the day, and I was thrilled that I felt like I got to help a lot of people.
  • I feel good about my talk. In spite of flinging my computer off the table at the beginning of my talk and regrettably letting fly a mild expletive when my laptop hit the floor, I’m generally pleased with the talk I gave. I think folks were expecting me to spend more time talking about specific technology tools parents can use to help their kids with social emotional learning, but that’s not really my style (as you’ve likely gathered by now). I’m much more inclined to talk about the relationship piece: I think it’s important to talk about the real-world dynamics that we can model and teach to kids. Once we’ve got that larger infrastructure in place, then we can talk about the particular tools that help support that system. I made a big list of tech tools and websites and resources (which you can find here) that I referred to as I ended the talk; I’m hopeful that that was helpful to the people who came looking for that information.
  • I feel really good about my resource list. I’m really pretty proud of that list of resources. I highly recommend you check it out.
  • Have you watched Todd Rose’s TED Talk? You should. My former HGSE classmate and teaching fellow Todd Rose attended EdRev again this year. He’s previously been the event’s keynote speaker, and now he’s a key supporter of PEN and its efforts nationwide. Todd is one of the few people I know who’s as intensely kind as he is brilliant. Take a look at his TED talk (see below) and keep an eye out for what he does next. He’s doing great things for education.

This week’s adventure: NPEA Conference

2015ConfLogoThis week, I’m joining my colleagues from Mission High School’s Athletic Scholars Advancement Program (ASAP) at the National Partnership for Educational Access annual conference. The meeting is in Philadelphia (which is harder to get to from Pittsburgh than you’d expect; I have to fly to Dulles first?!), and I’ll just be there for a couple of days, but it’s a nice chance to get some distance, some perspective, and some inspiration.

My plan is to live-blog my adventures while I’m there. I hope to link to bios and sites about the speakers I’m hearing, and I hope you’ll follow my trip and the conference in general with the hashtag #NPEA2015.

Event Debrief: Pittsburgh Learning Pathways Summit

The view from my table: Pittsburgh Learning Pathways Summit.
The view from my table: Pittsburgh Learning Pathways Summit.

Last Friday, I attended Remake Learning‘s Pittsburgh Learning Pathways Summit. You can learn more about the event here. Writ large, it was an opportunity for all kinds of educational partners–from schools, nonprofits, and industry–to come together and talk about how to better engineer and support the learning experiences of kids in Pittsburgh. There was a lot of discussion around how all of us who work with kids can better work together and avoid constantly reinventing the wheel. There are great resources in schools and in nonprofits around the city and region; it would be great if we could all work together to offer a rich, rewarding learning environment for every student.

One of the biggest topics of the day was digital badging. You can learn more about digital badges through the MacArthur Foundation’s site here, or through Mozilla’s nonprofit Open Badges site here. In general, to quote the MacArthur site,

Digital badges are an assessment and credentialing mechanism that is housed and managed online. Badges are designed to make visible and validate learning in both formal and informal settings, and hold the potential to help transform where and how learning is valued.

Any organization can issue a badge, and most badges require hours-long, multi-step processes to earn them, a lot like a merit badge for Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts. Most badges fall into one of three categories–badges for knowledge, skills, and dispositions–and they can be displayed or shared however their earners choose.

“Badges help make learning pathways visible,” said the Sprout Fund‘s Matt Hannigan in his remarks. I like this idea. A learning pathway is by definition not a traditional journey through school, so a traditional document of school-based learning–like a diploma–isn’t a sufficient way to document that journey. Instead, badges serve as a set of artifacts that detail knowledge, experiences, and skills that are inherently valuable but perhaps not traditionally rewarded in a school-centered world. This idea came out pointedly with my group’s facilitator, the executive director of a local group that promotes robotics education in local schools. His affection for badges stemmed from the clear connection that badges could have with employers. “If I’m a company that needs a welder, I can look at a kid who has the welding badge, and I can hire him,” he said.

Between my fancy liberal arts degree and my recent San Francisco mailing address, I was a little skeptical about the rampant need for kids with welding chops. Then again, though, I might be wrong, and there’s an important point here about elevating “maker” skills to something laudable, desirable, and relevant. I think it’s a shame that vocational education in schools has such a bad reputation. In my own high school, kids like me–who took AP classes–were vocally discouraged from taking “those kinds of classes” by the guidance counselors. My only interaction with “those kinds of classes” came when “those kinds of kids” made their way into our palatial high school’s theatre and scene shop. As a sophomore, I was lighting head for our competitive one-act play (that’s a much longer story for another day), and I was in charge of bossing around a crew of junior and senior boys who had mostly taken the vocational route through our school and ended up hanging lights for me in advanced technical theatre. Though all of them were older and bigger than my sixteen-year-old self, I was blown away by their expertise, their creativity, and their work ethic. To this day, I know how to set up AV equipment and understand the circuitry of a lighting system because of their patience, expertise, and humor. As it turned out, these boys weren’t the troglodytes I was led to believe they were. These were fellow smart, hard-working kids in my high school who happened to be traveling a parallel path, and I’d vastly underestimated them.

It’s entirely possible that the world needs more people who can weld, and I know that my high school and college diplomas leave no room for privileging or recognizing that skill. I like the idea of a credentialing system that allows for a broader definition of what’s valuable and what achievement looks like.

My main challenge with the day was that I had a hard time reconciling what badges might look like in schools. I searched in vain for the working group table that dealt with the humanities; there wasn’t one. Instead, the working groups all focused on subjects that aren’t usually covered or privileged in schools, like media making and design. I had a great conversation about this with my colleague at The Ellis School, Lisa Abel-Palmieri, who had been part of the STEAM working group’s discussions and who directs the new Learning Innovation Institute. A lot of the event focused much more on how badges and learning pathways could function outside the school day, but there was limited connection to how badges might function, say, in an English class or in a science curriculum. I think that’s the tougher but still interesting case to explore. How might badges function on a college application?, I wondered. How might they help formal and informal learning spaces partner better to support kids? 

As usual, if I had the answer to this million-dollar question, all education problems would be solved and we could all call it a day and go out for ice cream. Clearly I don’t, so clearly we’re not. But I loved this conversation because it was such a provocative, critical discussion to have. Pittsburgh is a perfectly sized city for forging sustainable partnerships among a small but passionate group of people. As I told a friend later that night: the passion and innovation that fueled this event inspired me, thrilled me, and made me hungry to learn and do more. This, I told her, was the day I fell in love with Pittsburgh.

Assistive Technology for Dyslexia

From Jamie Martin’s website,

I attended a great webinar today sponsored by the amazing people at Learning Ally. Connecticut-based assistive technology consultant and trainer Jamie Martin was the presenter, and he did a terrific talk about different technology to support dyslexic students as they write. I loved one of the first things he mentioned: while these tools will be especially helpful to dyslexic readers, they’re great tools for all readers who want to get strategic about their writing. He talked about three specific challenges that need to be addressed in the writing process: spelling and grammar, organization, and editing. Check out his website and his Twitter feed for the specifics: he has some great recommendations for tools that address each of those three tasks. Highly recommended.

Meanwhile, Learning Ally is putting together a virtual conference next month for the parents of kids with dyslexia. It’s the first event of its kind and it looks really interesting. It might be a little spendy for some (registration looks like it’s $129 and up), but it could be worthwhile. Learn more and register here: Learning Ally’s Spotlight on Dyslexia.

Design Thinking Debrief: More Who, Less How

The Gutenberg Bible at the Harry Ransom Center, the University of Texas at Austin.
The Gutenberg Bible at the Harry Ransom Center, the University of Texas at Austin.

I had a fabulous time at the Ellis School’s design thinking unconference over the weekend. As I said when I introduced myself there, I can’t get enough of design thinking. I think I fell hardest in love with it last year, when I read a book called Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelly, the brothers who helm IDEO. This idea of “human-centered design” seems so obvious, but it isn’t; sometimes people get so caught up in the what of their design that they lose track of who they’re designing it for.

This idea hits so close to home for me because it’s been at the heart of my work in education all along. In graduate school, I took a class on museum education at Project Zero and I investigated two nonprofits’ efforts to bring a rare object into the K-12 classroom. The two projects both centered on a rare book–a first folio edition of Hamlet from the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Harry Ransom Center’s Gutenberg Bible–and a university’s work to digitize elements of that book and bring it to life for K-12 students. In both cases, the people I spoke with at MIT and the University of Texas said the same thing: if they did it again, they’d spend more time focusing on how kids would use these resources than on the resources themselves. I characterized this (perhaps in a cumbersome way) as an imbalance among content, medium, and audience. The content in both cases was solid, to be sure, but the developers may have spent more time concerned with the  practical challenges of bringing the texts online than the kids who might eventually use them. All digital media, I argued, should focus at least as much on the “who” as the “how.”

Design thinking is all about the “who.” I’ve been in some terrific design thinking workshops, from a couple of days spent working on a redesign of spaces at my last school to a days-long design thinking workshop I led in my French 3/4 class last year when we redesigned what school could be for all students. We also had a schoolwide design thinking symposium last spring, where we talked as a community about what it means to think, innovate, and design from a “human-centered” perspective.

Saturday’s workshop at Ellis let us consider big questions about the future of education. In each case, our big-picture ideas had to be all about people: who were the stakeholders? What would their needs be? How would we meet those needs? Our big ideas wouldn’t matter; regardless of how well-thought our solutions might have seemed, none of them would matter if we didn’t consider the real-world impact on the people we abstractly wanted to help.

For more on design thinking, check out this TED talk. I’ve seen it in other design thinking workshops, and I think it helpfully sums up the heart of this important approach to innovation.