Tuesday, February 19, 2013

We've moved.

Please head over to teachinghumans.com

This blog will remain active for archival purposes, but will not be updated.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Wikiseat Project: A Student Considers The Role of Problems

AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by Flickr user nicholasjon

Our initial steps in The WikiSeat project have had us considering the role that problems play in both the project and our lives.  Here's a very insightful post by one of our students.  Steven's class blog is called Thoughts of a Rugby Player and it is used here with his kind permission. - Sean Wheeler

Just Think About It

by Steven H.

Nothing in life is perfect, because of this there are these things called "problems". Problems can be anything from something being built incorrectly on a bridge or a building to emotional or medical issues somebody may have. I think the word "problem" should be defined as something that isn't the way we think it should be and needs fixing. Some things are more easily fixed than others, issues like autism or other mental disorders. I have a close friend whose sister has autism and they are always supporting ways to help her. Problems can go from this extreme to the mild problem of a flat tire. Both are necessary to fix, this is why I think they are both problems.

All people have different attitudes towards problems. People who act like Marvin the manically depressed robot from "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" who are constantly saying everything is destined to fail, no matter what you do. These people don't really try to solve the problem they just sit back and say "See I told you so". There are also the people who just slink away from the problem and say "I'll do it later". Neither of these people are really helping any of the other people who actually correct the problem, but hindering them. This brings me to the third type of person, the proactive problem solver. These people go out in search of a problem, not wait for a problem to happen or to be given one, but actually look for them. This is how I was raised to deal with any problem, the tried and true "It's YOUR problem so YOU fix it".

The only catch is that in order to be a true problem solver, you need to be able to identify problems. You can't assume the blatant explanation is the correct one and this requires you to put forth something called effort. This is a problem that is being exasperated by several things, but one of the prime reasons is due to our schooling system. I can say with confidence that we just play a game through high school. It only dawned on me what we were doing in sixth grade but when it did, even the minimal effort I was putting forth stopped. Until this year I haven't put any thought or effort into school, even though I was in the "focus" program, the supposedly challenging course for middle school students. For four years I haven't tried to do well in school. This is a huge problem that needs to be solved and I think that the 2.0 program at Lakewood High School is on the right track. This is all in the opinion of a sixteen year old kid. However this kid has played the game known as school for eight years, which is almost twice the length of the longest average career of a professional football player. I think I know my game pretty well if you ask me.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The WikiSeat Project: Our Students Have Problems!

Our students received their Catalysts yesterday, and The WikiSeat Project 2013 is off and running.  Students were asked to identify a problem that they wanted to solve by designing and building a WikiSeat, and post it to a Moodle forum.  The responses, most of them listed below, range from the practical concerns of daily life all the way up to the spiritually uplifting and deeply empathetic.  When our students learn because they have real problems that they want to solve they approach the whole process with something real at stake and with a determination otherwise not associated with what we usually do in school.  We invite you to take some time looking at the problems our students hope to solve through our work on the project, and to read more about our approach to identifying problems.  - Sean Wheeler
  • The chair I use now is getting old, and I play Minecraft with my brother, and he usually sits on the ground.
  • Every time I go to my friend’s house I have to sit on her bed and it sucks because she is a bed hog. 
  • I don't have anywhere to hangout alone.
  • My sister broke my vanity chair so now I have nowhere to sit down and do my hair or my makeup.
  • When I straighten or curl my hair, I have to be in front of my mirror, and I get tired of standing.
  • When I moved out of my old house all of the dinning room chairs broke due to how old they were, so my mother took all the spare chairs from the house and used them for the table. This included my creative chair.
  • I'm scared of the dark.
  • My problem is when it comes time to get a haircut I have nowhere to sit, and I don’t want too use my dining room chairs.

  • My brother and I share a room and our beds take up most of the room. When I have friends sleep over they have nowhere to sit. 
  • The WikiSeat solves the problem of not having enough seats at the dinner table.  Someone either has to sit in the living room or on the floor. 
  • I don’t have enough places for people to sit and I’m having a birthday party real soon.
  • I noticed that whenever I'm at my friend’s house, and she's getting ready or something, she doesn't get to sit in front of her mirror to straighten her hair or do her make up. When she sits there, the mirror is too high up for her to see herself in the mirror so she has to do her hair and makeup without looking in the mirror.
  • My dog is always jumping up on these nice chairs in our house and my mom gets upset because her paws scratch the leather.
  • My problem is that my mom and I have nowhere to sit in our yard without getting dirty or wet.
  • When we have guests over, and they take all the chairs, I have no place to sit.
  • My grandma just recently had knee surgery so she needs a chair to sit on when she prays.
  • I need a seat for my little cousin. While we are having dinner she never wants to stay in her seat.

  • The problem is whenever my friends are over I never have any comfortable or reasonably tall chairs for playing video games in my living room or my room.
  • The chair for the desk in my room broke, so I need a chair for my desk to do my homework on.
  • When my mom comes home she talks about how her back hurts and I feel bad because the chairs and couches we have are comfortable, but they don’t help my mom and support her back the way they need to.
  • I'm always craving food and I really need a comfortable place to eat because I have to eat on my bed and it gets aggravating holding my plate, and I'm always tired for some reason so this would give me another place to sleep when I don't feel like moving to my bed.
  • I’ve helped my dad on his projects and I’ve seen how the chair that he sits in effects his back. He always complains about his back pain.
  • My chair isn't comfortable.  Every time I try to sit and play video games I get uncomfortable and I can't focus.  I need to make a more comfortable chair.
  • I miss my sister.
  • I never have a place to sit when I do my make up. I always have to stand.  I don't like it because it takes a while to do my make up.
  • The problem I have is that I don't have a comfortable place to sit in my house.

  • My mom has always been really stressed out and her confidence has been really low.
  • When people make YouTube videos, they can’t decide whether to sit or stand. I feel like sitting would be much more comfortable. My brother is on YouTube and makes plenty of videos. How sweet would it be for him to sit in a chair made specifically for him?  One that's comfy and reminds him of his little sister that is miles away.
  • My mom can't sit anywhere comfortably because of a hip replacement.
  • My Wiki seat will solve the problem for the guests that comes over to my house because my mom doesn't want people sitting in two specific chairs in our living room so they're forced to sit in the kitchen.
  • The problem my WikiSeat will solve is being cold at my brother's soccer games in the fall. I never bring a blanket for when I’m sitting on the chair watching the game because I always forget it.
  • I am going to make a WikiSeat chair for my nephew because he doesn't have a chair and he can't sit on the couch because he is too little to be that high off the ground.
  • There is only one chair at my desk and when me and my friends are working, we usually have to try and share one chair. There is a stool, but it really isn't good in terms of height, fit, and comfort.
  • My friends don’t like to sit next to my family for what ever reasons so therefore the WikiSeat will solve the problem of my friends having to stand when they are over my house.
  • My problem is that when I want to read my book I don't have a chair to sit in.

  • My WikiSeat will solve the problem of me needing more room to store things or just a place for me to sit when I write or read. I realized this was a problem a few months ago when I had no more room to put my journals and also not many clear places for me to sit when I need a quiet place to work.
  • My problem is my little sister just turned one and she hates being in her high chair and she’s too small to be on the chairs and couches because they’re too high and my mom is scared she will fall.
  • My dad needs furniture to represent his style. 
  • My niece has brothers who always take up the couch, leaving her complaining because she has no place to sit.
  • My bed is about 4 feet off the ground and its annoying to jump up there all the time.
  • At my house we don't have a dinning room table so I use a chair to eat my meals, but my mom hates when I do this.
  • I like to read at night and my mom doesn't like it when I turn on the light so I usually go to another room but I have to sit on the floor, because there's no where to sit.
  • I would like to not have to get up while watching the game.
  • The chair my mother sits in at the dinning room table broke.
  • My problem is that my dinning room table has a chair broken and only three people can sit at the table. My dad always sits in the living room and eats.

  • My little sister always tries to sit with me, but the chairs are too big for her.
  • The problem is when I go to watch trains, I usually have to sit on the ground if there are no chairs, and if I bring a chair, my tripod with my camera is out of reach.
  • When I sit at my dining room table I notice that all of my chairs are boring and not interesting looking at all.
  • I sit on the floor in the living room for dinner, and when I get home from rugby practice late in the evening at 8 pm or 9 pm, I’m too sore to the point where sitting on the floor is a real pain.
  • The problem is I have bad vision and I can't see the TV clearly.
  • The desk chair in my brother's room broke so he has to sit on the floor to play his video games.
  • My brother is getting knee surgery and he will need a chair to keep his leg level.
  • My problem is that I like to draw but I need a hard surface to draw on and I like to draw in my room but I only have a couch and a bed so alway have to grab a book to draw on.
  • The problem my WikiSeat will solve is that there’s more people in my house than there are chairs in my house.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Are You Ready For This?

Reading Shawn Cornally's post Just Throwing This Out There:  ThThTh's School for the Boredom-Averse I was reminded of an Educon 2.5 session with Will Richardson earlier in the week.  In the  session titled "Why School?", Will asked us to come up with "95 Theses" reflecting the world of contemporary learning and schooling.  We, along with Andrew Coy from Digital Harbor Foundation, came up with the following list:

  • Learn how to learn.  Learn to love learning
    • No more lesser motivations
  • Learning should happen all the time
    • No more division between school and life
  • School work should be real work
    • No more solving problems that have been solved already
  • Anyone can be a content expert
    • No more single point of knowledge and structural hierarchy
  • Information is everywhere and infinitely abundant
    • Curation is something you do, not something done to you
  • Your audience is as big as your network
    • No more handing work in to a teacher only
  • Evaluation is a conversation and should be based on worth to others
    • No more grades
  • Bring the common back to the classroom
    • No more absolute teacher control
  • Learning is no longer location-based
    • No more wall, excuses, or smells
  • Learning is exhausting
    • No more complaining
  • Time in non-linear and accessible
    • Nothing worth doing stops because the clock moves
  • Engagement is control
    • No more behavior management tricks
  • Learning is on-demand and anyone can demand it anytime
    • No more waiting to learn
  • Age is irrelevant
    • No more predicting graduation year based on your date of birth
  • Teachers:  If you are not curious, find something else to do
    • No more coasting on when you used to learn
  • Teachers:  You teach students, not subjects
    • No more subjects

Is this really too good to be true?

 We're in.  Are you?

-Ken Kozar

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Shouldn't This Count As Data?

You don't need a grade book to prove that these kids are learning.  There isn't a short-cycle assessment that captures what is captured in these photos.  However, this is a short-cycle assessment, 

The mistake we make is that we try to translate what we observe about student learning into numbers and letters.  Ralph Waldo Emerson identified this in 1837 when he wrote, "Yes hence arises a grave mischief.  The sacredness which attaches to the act of creation, - the act of though, - is transferred to the record.  ...as love of the hero corrupts into worship of his statue."

This push for data, this collective craze for measurement, this constant short-cycle testing, it all falls short of what can be learned by looking at these students consider a real problem, with real stakes, and with real curiosity.  Are we even talking about curiosity anymore? 

Maybe we've been relying on quantitative measurement of learning because we didn't have easy access to the tools that capture qualitative assessment.  In an age in which photos are free and video is easy, why aren't we turning to them as evidence of learning instead of our latest scores spit out by the Scantron machine?

Formative assessment is designed for both the learner and the teacher, and therefore, in a way, formative assessment is a conversation.  The digital record we are compiling of our learning as we engage in The WikiSeat project is a valid type of formative assessment, and we're increasingly sure of our students' ability to develop the kind of mindset that will serve them well on the more formal tests that purport to measure our students' capacity.

- Sean Wheeler

Monday, January 28, 2013

The WikiSeat Project: Oranges and Books

Over the past two days, to begin work on this year's iteration of The WikiSeat Project, our 10th Grade American Literature class ate and examined an orange slowly over the course of 25 minutes and closely read through Ralph Waldo Emerson's The American Scholar (1837).  Here's a look at what students are saying about it in their blog posts, I think it speaks for itself.  I also have some notes, more from a teacher's perspective on the project, here. - Sean Wheeler

 * To read complete posts, click on the student's name.

"Have you ever eaten an orange for a half an hour? No? Well I did." 

"This experience was pretty interesting to me because I never thought about looking at anything and examining it or really thinking about it. Like, where it came from, how it was made or how it smelled. It was an interesting day in class." 
- Kaitlin K.

"Books should not be there to read because we have to, but to be there to read because we want to."
 - Faith C.

"I discovered that under the white skin of the slice there are many small individual thin pieces filled with juice, probably about twenty or thirty of them. I never knew that, or bothered to see them before, and thought it was pretty cool."
- Alex M.

"It sounds really weird but, actually, it did make me think about taking my time with other things to appreciate their value more. Also, it was probably the juiciest, best tasting orange I've ever had." 
- Mercedes L.

"...and that books destroy the true beauty of people's thoughts and that you should go out and have adventures instead of reading, unless you have nothing else to do." 
- Mike J.

"I now try to take more time to eat things or do things so I can appreciate it more." 
- Augie S.

"Honestly, this was the best orange I've ever eaten. I've never taken twenty-five minutes to eat an orange. Maybe five minutes. But in that five minutes, I never appreciated it, thought about where it came from, or looked at the cells. Now, I've tasted the juice, smelled it well, and will probably not look at an orange the same again. I liked this activity because it showed me how to look at things in a different perspective." 
- Sara T.

"So how does an orange relate to English? Well, it doesn't, to me anyway. Mr. Wheeler has this idea, not his original idea, about how if we take time to experience things, they become better; more living.  Experiencing life in a slower manner helps you appreciate the little things, like oranges." 

"So many of us are afraid to speak our mind and "possess" more of our minds.  It's a real shame."

"The American Scholar and eating the apple are very much related, if you don't go out of your way to experience life, you simply won't. You will not get all that you can get out of life if you shut yourself in behind books or the walls of your house." 

"This got me thinking. What if I took music to this level of thinking?" 
- Nathan M.

"After everyone was done I thought about the connection with not only appreciation, but also with thinking about and analyzing things." 

"In class one day my teacher was telling us how much better things are when you do something instead of just watching or reading it. When I first heard this I could right away relate to it. I just thought it was cool because I could actually relate to something in school."
- Victor S

"I know what you're thinking. "Who takes twenty-five minutes to eat a small orange that you can eat in five?" Well, we do. That helped me realize that, if you slow down and don't rush, you can see things in a completely different perspective. Now, when I see an orange, I think of that activity. It now reminds me to slow down. It may sound weird, and it may not sound like your average 10th grade English class, but that's what makes it fun. Because it's different"

"Looking around at the kids in this class, I no longer see kids, I see futures." 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

5,000 Students Can't Be Wrong: 6 Reasons Why You Should Support the Wikiseat Project

The idea is simple.  We want students to build chairs.  Lots of them. 
Why chairs?  Because chairs solve problems.
Solving problems is useful. 
So is learning how to solve them.

The Wikiseat Project started with 85 kids.  Now we have over 5,300 students on three continents signed up and waiting to build chairs, share the journey, and create a vast community of people doing what we think people do best.  People make stuff.  From little kids with blocks to the adults who produce all the things we come in contact with a million times a day, the process of design is constant and has been from our early beginnings.  We identify problems, create solutions, and share our work when we're done.  This is the very definition of progress, and we've built a 100% grass-roots effort to bring the experience of design to over 100 classrooms around the world in 2013.

 So what do we need from you?  Honestly?  We need $85,000 dollars to fund 5,300+ catalysts, pieces of angle-iron that serve as the basis for these three-legged seats, as well as well as the catalysts that will be given away as part of our reward system on the Indiegogo campaign we have set up.  Why should you do this?  Here are six reasons why you should support these students:

1. Transcurricularness

Real learning doesn't fit into nifty categories.  It's messy, problematic, and has an unpredictable outcome.  While I was able to align the project with my 10th grade English Language Arts content standards, and I do feel like this can also be done in other content areas pretty easily, this is a project that is about learning writ large, not confined by "subjects" and "classes". The design process, in which one mentally moves from identifying a problem, analyzing that problem, creating possible solutions, drafting, and finally production, is a process that is clearly necessary for today's world.  A close look at the 100+ innovative educators who have signed on to lead students through the Wikiseat process clearly shows that building chairs in school applies in a wide variety of curricular areas. 

2.  It Begins and Ends With The Audience.

Like all good design, the Wikiseat Project always has you, the audience, in mind.  Not only will students identify a place in their life where they could use a new seat and actually bring it to fruition, they will also be engaging with a whole wider community of peers, participants, and supporters.  The first group of 85 students were able to get their work displayed in a great local art gallery, complete with an opening night meet and greet session.  As an educator, I can't stress enough how proud I was as my students engaged a live audience gathered solely to hear kids share what they were learning in school.  What will the other 5200 students come up with this year?  Where will they share their work?  What size audience could that many kids reach?  Help us find out.

3.  It's the Future and You Want Futuristic Schools

Seriously.  Think about over 5,000 kids sharing the entire Wikiseat process together online.  Kindergarten classes in Newfoundland skyping with Master's Degree candidates in Australia.  Massive galleries of still photos, updated constantly, and providing a sense of community to both student participants and online supporters.  It's time we start to unleash our student's natural capacity to work and share collaboratively.  The days of having all school work handed to an audience of one are over.  Sharing is what happens when scarcity ends, and now that every kid has access to everything that everyone has ever learned via the internet, the kind of scarcity that has been the model in education for 100 years is done.  We don't have jetpacks like we though we would, but the future we wound up with is totally new and it's a super-exciting time to be in education.  

4.  We Need To Go Back.

All classes should be soulcraft, not just shop class.  And it's too bad about shop classes here in the US, they've been eliminated at the time when we could really use them the most.  This project is about a return to making things.  It's a reaction against throw-away culture.  It's about craft, and learning from mistakes, and physicality.  While the experience will be shared in a very modern way online, the actual construction process is entirely lo-tech. As much as we want to turn everything into a shared experience, we should pause and make sure that we also see value in the simple conflict between a human idea and a physical object.  Handing a kid a hunk of welded angle-iron is a very visceral thing.  It has weight, it's a bit greasy, and it makes an awesome thud as it plops down on a desk in front of a befuddled kid wondering how they are going to turn that into a chair.  Kids love the challenge of making things, and they also love to use the things they make.  I started this whole project because I realized that somewhere along the line I had given up on that love of making things I had as a kid.  I encourage you adults to contribute enough to get a catalyst for a Wikiseat shipped your way because I think there are plenty of people like me out there who'd love to feel that challenge of making something again.

5.  Kids Who Understand Questions Find Answers Better.

My kids have to take the same standardized tests that your kids do.  I don't really think about those tests much, though.  I'm making a calculated move towards the fundamental  premise that engagement is the most necessary element of any learning experience, and a calculated move away from this notion that content acquisition is the most significant goal of education.  By teaching my students how to think using a design framework, I am teaching them to not only find answers, but to appreciate questions as an opportunity to learn and grow.  My students approach those standardized tests with a desire to be measured, a desire to be put to the limit regardless how low or high the bar, and a desire to be done and get back to real learning as soon as that horrendous week is over.  They don't work for grades, they don't work for points.  They learn because they appreciate the beauty of moving from not-knowing to knowing, and they carry an appreciation of that beauty for the rest of their lives.  Oh, and they score quite well to boot.  

6. It's Just Cool.

This thing is as grass-roots as it gets.  Nic, Alaric and I had no idea that we'd put out a call to see if anyone was interested in building seats in school and get the response we got from students and educators all over the world wanting to come on board this crazy pirate ship we've got going.   This is something that wasn't possible a few short years ago, and now that we have the chance, we simply just have to follow through and get these hunks of metal in these kids' hands.  It's going to be incredible, and loud, and beautiful, and awesome.  

Whatever the reason, and I'd love to hear yours, please support kids who want to make things in school. 

- Sean Wheeler