Archive for September, 2010

Wow, That Went Fast

September 30th, 2010 by Katie Koch | 1 Comment | Filed in Curriculum, Teaching

Getting Started, Calming Nerves

We arrived at the UA Institute yesterday at 2:30pm, just moments before we would meet our first group of students. We were mostly prepared, but had spent some of the day texting and emailing each other to coordinate logistics. I was a little nervous heading there, until I ran into the school’s development director, Mara. She was reassuring and helped us get set up in the room before we headed down to the cafeteria to meet the girls.

The students have a scheduled snack time for about 20 minutes between the end of their day and the beginning of after school activities. It was a really great opportunity for us to meet them in an informal setting and get to find out some things about them while they’re still candid and one-on-one. One of our students told me about her old high school, from which she had just transferred, and how one of the best parts about UAI is that the bathrooms are cleaner and there are no boys to stink everything up. I guess it’s the little things!

Warming Up

When we got to class our first challenge was taking attendance. I’ve spent my whole life correcting teachers during this activity (my name shows up on rosters as Kathryn Koch, usually mispronounced as “kotch” instead of “coke”). As I tried to read the first few names on my list I had a fleeting moment of those memories and suddenly empathized with every substitute teacher I’ve ever had.

iPod video

We started our class by talking about a familiar object – an iPod – and the qualities of it that help us know what it’s used for. These girls are sharp!! Right away they were able to identify the two ports as a clue that it has power and connectivity, and could identify the play, pause and headphone icons as indicators of the media associated with the iPod. Many of them pointed to the screen as evidence that we might be able to see a moving image, and the forward and back arrows as indicators that there is more than one thing that the device does, possibly in sequence. They called out the back of the iPod being a mirror for checking their hair and makeup, a function probably not intended by Jonathan Ive.

We then handed out images of objects for them to write about, including scissors, a chess set, a hammer and a digital alarm clock. We gave them some time to write their ideas down and then moved on to introductions, telling them about us, the program and our expectations.

We were so excited to give out notebooks to the girls! For being part of the program each girl has her own Moleskine Folio notebook to sketch, doodle and write in. We encouraged them to use the sketch books as much as possible and for any purpose they see fit. We expect they’ll find ways to capture their thoughts that are beyond our hopes for them.

Lecture: What is design? What is interaction?

For the rest of class we led a group discussion centered around defining the concepts of “design” and “interaction.” I volunteered to lead the lecture, and it was thoroughly exhilarating! The girls started by naming anything they could think of that represents design to them: fashion, clothes, sneakers, art, colors, ideas, computers, creativity, drawing, community, style, entertainment. Then we named the things designers do: sketch, brainstorm, simplify, observe, imagine, research, identify needs, test, record, think, listen. We encouraged them to practice all of these skills during our class and in their other classes.

Defining the idea of “interaction” was surprisingly easy with this group. We first introduced the idea of a feedback loop by demonstrating an action and reaction. I asked them what happens when they swipe their MetroCard. Every girl in the room could shout out a different piece of feedback that comes out of the turn style: a beep, a green light, the word Go, a message telling you how much money is left on the card, and the sound of the turn style unlocking. Through this example they instantly understood what feedback is, and how this experience is defined as an interaction with a machine. It was pretty amazing.

Suddenly class time was almost over! Mara gave us the five minute warning so quickly put the girls in their groups to come up with a team name and logo. They had a lot of fun coming up with a creative name and getting draw and color in their logos. It was a great, familiar way to end class. We gave them all their own INVENT DESIGN CHANGE buttons and sent them home!

Our students working on describing an object


The things that worked really well were having the girls start the class with a quiet, individual activity. It was a great way to reduce the chaos of the first day of class and get them comfortable with talking about some of the stuff we’re teaching. The lecture portion was great, too! We were a little worried about making them sit still for so long, but they seemed entirely engaged in coming up with a definition for interaction design.

Challenges: Questions for Next Week

We quickly discovered that high school girls are more interested in talking about television and music than about the designed characteristics of a chess board. Next week we will be better at keeping side conversation to a minimum.

As with any class, there are a few students who aren’t interested in participating in every activity. It’s okay if those students aren’t shouting out every answer, but we want to make sure they’re still paying attention. How can we engage each and every student on a level that’s appropriate for them, knowing that not every person in our class is enthusiastic and outgoing?

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Thanks to Our Friends

September 30th, 2010 by Katie Koch | No Comments | Filed in kickstarter

Thanks to those of you who backed us on Kickstarter Monday and Tuesday! The recipients of the Rosenfeld books are:

Matt Convente
Shannon Hale
Robin Hunicke
Bonnie Murphy
Eric St. Onge
Ashley Veselka
Tina Ye


Try, Fail, Rinse, Repeat

September 29th, 2010 by Katie Koch | No Comments | Filed in Inspirations, Interviews, Videos

We interviewed Jordy Mont-Reynaud, entrepreneur and former youngest ever US chess master, circa 1994. Jordy talked to us about what he’s learned about the virtues of failure by playing (and losing) a lot of chess games. He told us how he defines success, and he gave great advice for young people who are just now discovering passion in their studies and work.

Project: Interaction Interviews Jordy Mont-Reynaud from Project: Interaction on Vimeo.

Jordy lives and works in San Francisco, CA, where he’s busy developing his latest adventure called Goal Mafia, a social game that helps people “execute” their goals. For more thoughts on the value of failing, check out his original post about failure on his blog.

We’re still going on Kickstarter! Only 14 days left to join our community.

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A Special Treat for our Next Kickstarter Backers

September 27th, 2010 by Carmen Dukes | No Comments | Filed in kickstarter
Good news! One of our awesome friends, Rosenfeld Media, has given us a complete set of books to giveaway to one of our lucky Kickstarter contributors. The set of books includes seven titles: Storytelling for User Experience, Remote Research, Prototyping, Card Sorting, Design is the Problem, Web Form Design, & Mental Models.

You can get your hands one of these seven interaction design books by donating $25 or more to our Kickstarter campaign before Tuesday at 11:59pm. We’ll announce the winners of the drawing on Wednesday morning and give you a healthy shout out on our blog.

Even if you don’t win a Rosenfeld book, you’re still going to get awesome backer rewards like buttons, supplies, or a book from our first class of students! Head over to Kickstarter to donate.

Rosenfeld Media publishes short, practical, and useful books and webinars on user experience design. Our products explain the design and research methods that web professionals need to make informed design decisions. More

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A Little Inspiration at Orientation

September 24th, 2010 by Katie Koch | No Comments | Filed in Inspirations, Teaching

It’s been quite a long time since Carmen and I were in high school, so when we received an invitation to attend the UA Institute’s parent-student orientation last night of course we said yes! We got to step out of our busy grad student lives and take a glimpse into what it’s like to be the parent of a high school student in Brooklyn in 2010.

Everything we saw at the orientation affirmed our enthusiasm for working with the UA Institute. During 9th and 10th grade the school is already offering PSAT prep and speaking to the girls in very real terms about what life will be like after high school. The school offers resources for preparing for tests and college applications, and students can go on a school-sponsored trip to stay on campus at out-of-state colleges. By the time they’re ready to make a decision about their future they’ll have been exposed to a ton of options, including what it’s like to stay in a dorm. I had no idea about these things when I was 15!

Pics from UA Institute activity at Habana Outpost

During the presentation, one of the principals mentioned the college application essay that many students fear having to write. I remember my days as an admissions representative interviewing high school students and looking for their passion for something they do. I realized that many of our students may not have found theirs yet.

We introduced ourselves and the program to the crowd at orientation and were excited to see a few students shuffling their papers, looking to see if there were any open spots left. Afterward, several girls even came up to the after school director wanting to switch into our class!

We are so excited that the girls are eager to join our class. We would love to come to the first day and find a class full of motivated students, ready to learn about something new. We met two of them last night already, and the mother of a third who wants to be an architect. For the first time I saw that these girls are real. Just like me when I was 15, they’re starting to understand who they are and how they fit in. I’m so happy we can play a part in helping them find their passion and go for it.

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The Future of Teaching

September 23rd, 2010 by Carmen Dukes | No Comments | Filed in Inspirations, Research, Schools, Teaching

Katie and I attended Teaching + 30: The Future of Teaching, a Y + 30 Meetup event. The panel discussion included some of the brightest minds in the field of education including David Levin, co-founder of Kipp Schools and Joel Rose, Founder of School of One. All of the panelist were very opinionated about what’s wrong with education today, some saw the system as not broken but just in need of a slight redesign, while several of the panelists talked about the need to bring more respect to the teaching profession.

When it came to talking about the future, many of the ideas for change centered around technology. Jose Ferreira, Founder and CEO of Knewton, an adaptive technology learning program, spoke of the need for more data in education – data to assess the progress of students to help identify learning styles and difficulties and to also evaluate the effectiveness and capabilities of teachers. Joel Rose concurred as he talked about the success of School of One and their use of technology to provide lessons based on student performance. Alex Grodd, founder of Better Lesson, a curriculum sharing platform, and a Teach For America Alum, was the biggest advocate for teachers. Grodd talked about the need to give teachers more resources to connect with each other and build their community.

However, despite the call for technology to help augment classroom lessons, curriculum planning and student development, all the panelists agreed that no amount of technology could replace the intimacy of teaching. The personal relationships that teachers build with their students through mentoring, tutoring, and one-on-one instruction is truly irreplaceable. So as we go on a path of deciding how teaching will change in the next 10, 20 or 30 years we must remember that the human connection is still very relevant and critical to the teaching and learning experience.

Photo from Flickr: BenLego

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“Get things out of your head and into someone else’s.”

September 22nd, 2010 by Katie Koch | 2 Comments | Filed in Interviews, Videos

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Jason Santa Maria a few weeks ago to get his thoughts on the topic of design education. I wanted to find out about his experiences taking on his latest role as a designer / educator / mentor, including how he defines what it means to be a teacher.

Project: Interaction Interviews Jason Santa Maria from Project: Interaction on Vimeo.

Hey friends! Only 21 days left for our Kickstarter Campaign! Our goal is to raise $7,500 for our students! Please support our program with a donation or spread the news to your networks! Thanks for your support!

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Don’t Share!

September 20th, 2010 by Katie Koch | No Comments | Filed in Research, Teaching

Last week Carmen and I had our after school teacher orientation meeting with Girls Inc. and the UA Institute. We went over a lot of the important things we’ll need to know to be successful teachers in the program: how the girls are selected to be there, when snack time is, and what kinds of technology we’ll have access to at the school. In dicussing classroom behavior one of the other teachers said, “Oh, and don’t share anything about your personal lives. Just don’t answer. And, don’t accept their friendship on Facebook.”

Say what?! A flash ran through my brain, a composite image of what a Google search might look like for my name. As a designer who works primarily on the web, and a young person who grew up with internet during my college days, there is plenty of juicy information to be found about me in the data-driven internet world.

Then I started wondering what other challenges we will face that we hadn’t thought about yet. As part-time teachers we’ll have a number of typical challenges already: not knowing how the school system works when we’re not there, not knowing the kids very well, and not knowing the norms for behavior outside of our class.

As outsiders coming into the structured world of education, we are likely to find other parts of the system we’re unfamiliar with. Of course we’ve done our research, but research will only take us so far. The minute we step into the classroom and experience what it’s like to stand up in front of a group of teenagers and lead them to learn something new, we will face myriad other challenges that we never thought we’d be tackling.

We plan to embrace our differences. We have the privilege of interacting with the education system without carrying a history of experience to discourage us from trying new methods and potentially failing. We possess knowledge that we’ve gained through research and can come into the system to disrupt it exactly where we believe it needs to change. We may not teach like experienced teachers, but perhaps that’s a good thing when teaching innovation and creativity to our students.

Our first class is next Wednesday. What’s your advice to us as new teachers? What will we be most surprised about?

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We have buttons!

September 13th, 2010 by Katie Koch | No Comments | Filed in Curriculum, Teaching

In preparing for our first class this fall we’ve been thinking of creative ways to reward the small things that our students will inevitably accomplish in the course of their interaction design practice. We want to encourage them to incorporate some core ideas into their thinking, and we wanted to give them something that they can physically take away from class and show to their friends.

We decided to create a set of buttons that we can hand out to remind our students about good interaction design practices. They’ll be rewarded for small successes while working individually and in groups.

More good news!

You can score a set of these buttons for yourself! Donate $25 or more to our Kickstarter campaign and we’ll send you your very own set of buttons.

Project: Interaction buttons
(Each button is 1-inch by 1-inch.)

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Developing 21st Century Skills Through Gaming

September 1st, 2010 by Carmen Dukes | No Comments | Filed in Inspirations

Video games tend to get a bad rap. They are often blamed for short-attention spans, obesity, and violent behavior, but some educators and practitioners are recognizing how they can be used to educate students. With programs like Scratch and initiatives like the Games for Learning Institute, games are being introduced into academic settings as valuable tools to teach skills like problem solving, critical thinking, risk taking, and invention.

The University of Florida has a new course this fall called, 21st Century Skills in Starcraft (scroll down to the bottom of the page to see course listing). The 8 week class won’t teach students how to master the game, but instead will use the experience of playing Starcraft to teach students a variety of skills critical to succeeding in real world situations.

From the course description:

“This course synthesizes the three threads of 21st Century skill development, gaming, and online education into an innovative and experiential approach that encourages students to identify, learn, and practice crucial skills and apply and relate them to real-world situations. It does not teach about Starcraft, but rather aims to utilize the game and the complex situations that arise within it to present and develop the important skills professionals will undoubtedly need in the 21st Century workplace.”

It is great to see a course like this and another advocate for the importance of video gaming in the 21st Century.

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