Lending a hand at the Yale Education Leadership Conference

March 27th, 2011 by Katie Koch | 2 Comments | Filed in Business, Design, Inspirations

Last week I was asked to help facilitate a workshop about the Digital Classroom at the Yale Education Leadership Conference. Below is my recap of the rewarding day, originally posted at pixelkated.com.

Expanding Solutions for the Digital Classroom

What happens when a group of designers lead a brainstorming session with teams of school administrators, MBA students and educational policy makers? The future of the digital classroom…

On Friday my SVA classmates Clint and Derek and I took the morning train to New Haven, CT to join the Yale Education Leadership Conference. We joined a panel session about the Digital Classroom hosted by Larry Berger, CEO of Wireless Generation.

Larry invited us to work with his team of designers to lead a workshop with the group of administrators, management students, and education innovators at the conference. We stayed for the day to iterate on the solutions that came out of the workshop session.

The Brief

After watching a short panel presentation from four leaders in classroom software development, each designer led a workshop with a group of 4-7 participants.

Each group addressed a common problem:

It may be too time consuming for many teachers to keep track of all of this student data, to locate patterns in the data, and to understand how to prioritize certain information about their students in order to design lessons and small-group activities.

And worked on a single task:

With your group, design an interface that would allow a teacher to visualize data collected regarding students’ progress toward the common core math standard below. Ideally, this interface would allow the teacher to see student mastery of specific sub-skills in order to create differentiated small-group lessons.

The Workshop Experience

All of the designers agreed beforehand on a common framework for the workshop.

  1. Lead a discussion about the problem space to establish a common language among participants. Since the groups would be assembled of a variety of people with different backgrounds and ideas, this step is important to beginning a productive conversation.
  2. Define a unique problem statement to solve during the session. What does our group care about? Choosing a specific angle helps all group members be more invested in the session.
  3. Discuss what we already know about the problem. The 45 minutes allotted for the workshop isn’t enough time to do research. A quick and dirty research method is to leverage the knowledge of each group member to define the problems and opportunities in the space.
  4. Rapid sketching and solution generation. The more ideas we can produce, the more likely we are to come up with a great solution.

In my group we began with a healthy discussion about the problem of real-time data collection and visualization, which I captured on Post-It notes for everyone to refer to as the conversation progressed.

We reached a hurdle in the middle. Everyone was content to politely discuss existing solutions, but there was very little movement toward ideas for new solutions.

The tone changed when I reframed the conversation with a new question that directed the group’s thoughts back to our users. “Think of a teacher in a classroom with 25 students. What is the most important piece of data the teacher needs to see?” Suddenly one woman announced she had an idea. She began describing her idea to the table. I handed a marker to her and asked if she would be able to sketch the concept she had just described. She gladly accepted the challenge and started drawing on the communal poster paper in the middle of the table.

Once the first person started sketching it broke the barrier between group observation and collaborative generation. Instantly everyone at the table was able to talk about the new idea, adding on improvements and creating new sketches for similar concepts. The energy was tangible as my group of quiet talkers suddenly came alive.

The Design Studio

After the workshop all six designers gathered to share and discuss the outcomes of our separate groups. Across our many ideas we saw a clear solution for how a real-time data visualization system might be built. We decided to pursue three parts of the system: student input on a mobile device, teacher dashboard, and a group display visible to students and teachers in real time.

We spent the next few hours brainstorming around the three different touch points and sketched a few detailed drawings for how the solutions might work.

Teacher Facing

May and Jeremy worked out a web app and iPad app design based off the rubric used for standards-based grading. Jeremy had the idea to include social features allowing for peer review with other teachers and among students.

Student Facing

Clint, Takao and Courtney envisioned a system of dynamic mobile devices that would allow students to collaborate by subject matter and assignment within a classroom.

Group Facing

Derek, Mo and I started with the idea that we could use games and a highly visible “leaderboard” to give students the sense that they’re all contributing toward the common goal of learning. We designed a game that would reflect each student’s progress in a lesson.

A Day Well Spent

I headed into the workshop with an understanding of how to move a group of high school students in the direction of a solution. It was much different working with my group of educated adults whose heads are already full of optimized solutions. I quickly saw the value of throwing out wacky ideas and adding or removing brainstorming constraints to get them to think outside of what is normally expected.

Spending the day with a group of talented folks was enlightening and enriching for me. As is often the case, I learned as much from the workshop participants and other designers as they might have learned from me.

Sharing in the mutual exchange of knowledge and awareness was refreshing and delightful. I look forward to many more workshop opportunities to come!

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For this Weekend: Philly & EduCon 2.3

January 27th, 2011 by Katie Koch | 1 Comment | Filed in Business, Inspirations

This weekend we’re headed to Philadelphia for EduCon 2.3, a conversation and “an innovation conference where we can come together, both in person and virtually, to discuss the future of schools.” We’re excited to meet other educators from whom we can learn and share our ideas about design in education.

Carmen and I are excited, too, to get a little inspiration for our thesis projects. We’ve spent the past four months immersed in our subject areas. It’s always helpful to get out of studio and into the world to talk about our work.

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Teacher as Experience Designer

January 25th, 2011 by Katie Koch | 1 Comment | Filed in Design, Personal Stories

For my thesis I’m creating an interactive toolkit that helps teaching professionals build a reflective practice. My thesis is that if teachers are able to reflect upon their work, they’ll be more inspired to be creative. If we reframe the idea of teaching as a practical art, there is a lot of overlap with the practice of experience design.

In Ralph Caplan’s By Design, he states, “College professors plainly ought to be designers of situations, but they rarely are.” He continues:

Students are not the product. The only educational product schools can be reasonably charged with designing is the educational environment – not just the classrooms and dormitories and recreation centers that college presidents dedicate their energy to acquiring, but the situations in which students interact with each other and with faculty members. (Caplan, 148)

I believe this same concept should be applied to teachers at the high school level. They are charged with presenting a certain body of knowledge to their students, but the difference between a mediocre teacher and a great teacher is in the environment he or she creates for her students. If a teacher is a designer of a classroom experience, then why not engage that teacher in the habits of designers, including critique of her own work?

My thesis is coming along, with the final deadline in April some time. I’m conducting my first interaction prototype next week where I will gather content and feedback for my next steps. If you’d like to participate, please let me know!

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We’re Speaking at the EdLab

January 6th, 2011 by Katie Koch | No Comments | Filed in Design, Speaking

Carmen and I are so excited to be speaking at the EdLab at Columbia’s Teachers College next week. We’ll be sharing our experiences with Project: Interaction and our ideas for how design can play a role in any classroom.

Carmen Dukes and Katie Koch will share their ideas about the potential to use design in a successful high school environment as a complement to students’ core coursework. They will discuss their process of discovery and invention as it relates toProject: Interaction , an after school program they’ve created and taught that teaches high school students to use design to change their communities. Katie and Carmen will share lessons they’ve learned from their first class of design students and will lead a discussion around ways educators can incorporate design into their classes.

For more information and to RSVP, visit the EdLab Seminars site.

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Project: Interaction in the Daily News

January 6th, 2011 by Katie Koch | No Comments | Filed in Business

Happy New Year! (a few days late…)

We’ve been buried under mounds of snow here in NYC, and Carmen and I have thoroughly enjoyed our extended winter break with trips to ski and to visit family.

In December we had a bit of exciting news when our story was published in the NY Daily News under the headline, Interactive designing duo is plugged into teaching. Please have a look!

Katie Koch and Carmen Dukes

Katie Koch (l.) and Carmen Dukes have parlayed their professional interest in interactive design. Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/queens/2010/12/10/2010-12-10_interactive_designing_duo_is_plugged_into_teaching.html#ixzz1AGXi6HUJ

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The Home Stretch

December 6th, 2010 by Katie Koch | No Comments | Filed in Curriculum, Teaching

Final Project Assignment

After 8 weeks of small lessons we wanted to set up a lengthier final project that would last during our remaining two classes. We sat down and reflected on what we’d already taught the students, and thought about what we wanted them to get out of the final lessons. We came up with a short project description and created a project packet that would help guide them through the work we had planned, while also explicitly outlining the design process that we wanted them to learn.

Project: Interaction Design Challenge

In a team of 3-4 people, choose a problem you’ve observed or experienced in New York City. You may choose from our list of suggestions, or think of your own ideas.

• Long lines…everywhere!
• Getting students and teachers to use the school’s green space courtyard
• Signage, or lack thereof
• Classroom of the Future
• Access to fresh fruits and vegetables
• Something else?

Output

Create a poster and narrative in a format that best tells the story of your problem and solution. Consider the use of writing, comics, photos, video and more in your plan. While finding a solution to the problem is ideal, the most important thing is to fully investigate the problem and be able to clearly communicate your findings to the group.

We simplified it as much as possible, breaking it down into Discover, Design Concepts, Solutions and Refined Sketches, and a section called Tell the Story. Our goal was to have them thinking about some research, sketching a lot of solutions, talking to each other a lot, and coming up with a couple directions to pursue.

What Actually Happened

When we arrived in class we learned that the tenth graders were on a field trip that day, and we were left with only seven of our students. We were very sad with half of our favorite students being absent! It turned out to be just fine in the end. We were able to split the girls up into two groups and Carmen and I each worked with a group. It worked out really well for each of us to guide them through the process we’d outlined, and in our short time frame for the work, I’m not sure it would have been as successful without our one-on-one leadership.

Tiny class!

The Projects

Not surprisingly, both groups of students chose the topic “Classroom of the Future.” It’s something they’re familiar with, and something they can see and touch in front of them so it’s easier for them to imagine how it might be different.

My group decided to focus on re-imagining the blackboard. They identified a wide list of problems with the existing set up, including the teachers’ bad handwriting, the lack of organization and cleanliness around the board, and the general lack of optimization around its usage. They felt like it could be better.

Dominique with post-its

After we listed out all the problems we came to the board and wrote on post-it notes to identify who our users were, and also the objects and spaces that are used around the blackboard. From that launching point we sketched out about 10 ideas for possible features that a “better blackboard” could have. They ended up imagining a homework exchange system that allows students to submit homework to the board, which sends it to a centralized collection and organization area, where teachers can grade it and return it through the board. They even got to do a quick interview with one of their teachers to learn about her collecting and organizing habits.

Pre-sketch

At the end of the session I was so so pleased that they had thought about and designed a whole system for homework. They weren’t just thinking about the input, but also the output of the system and how everything would get back to the beginning. I asked them to construct a system map to articulate what they’d come up with. Of course I got blank stares. I explained to them that a system map is an important piece of the puzzle. It helps people understand what they’re talking about, and also helps them understand all of the pieces of the system they’ve designed. Almost like a test for their idea; if all the pieces fit into the loop then it’s a complete system. (Just like in a chemical equation!)

System map

I can’t pretend that I played it cool. My little design teacher heart was beaming when they ended the first day with their first pass at a systems diagram.

For This Week

I’m really excited to see these project ideas finished, and I can’t wait to have the 9th graders from last week present their work to their peers. I think the final critique will be a nice reflection about where we’ve come this semester and for some students it may be a launching point for where they will take it next.

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A Visit from Transportation Alternatives

November 22nd, 2010 by Katie Koch | No Comments | Filed in Programming, Teaching

Last week we were so excited to welcome Julia de Martini Day from Transportation Alternatives! We’ve been working with Julia over the past few months to develop a lesson that would be meaningful to our class of students. We wanted to structure the lesson to include many of the skills we’ve used so far: things like sketching, brainstorming, problem and solution definition, and refinement and presentation. That sounds like a lot of stuff to cram into one lesson, but our students are getting used to quickly thinking through ideas!

Julia began the lesson with a presentation about safe streets and what it means to engage in healthy living in an urban area. It was really interesting to see where each student stood in our “human barometer” test at the beginning. Most were in the middle between agreeing and disagreeing with the statement, “The best way to stay healthy is to walk and bike around my neighborhood.”

Human Barometer

Julia did a wonderful job explaining the mission and goals of Transportation Alternatives to our students. She put activism in terms that were easy for them to understand, like describing protests: “Sometimes the people in charge don’t listen to us, so we get a lot of people together who can talk really loudly together!”

For the rest of class, we all looked at the intersection of Jay St. and Tillary St. near the students’ school. Many of them cross this dangerous intersection each morning to get to school. When Julia asked them to sit down and talk about the problems with the intersection they had no trouble coming up with a ton of ideas.

Group Work

After each group defined a set of problems, they focused on one problem that they could attempt to solve. We asked them to come up with a quick solution and sketch it, either on the map we provided them, or on a separate sheet of paper.

At the end of class, each group presented their ideas. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of overlap in the problems each group defined. It was really exciting for us to see how thorough they were in their definition of the problems in the space.

Presenting projects

Problems/Solutions

Our Reflection

This was a tough week for us in class. Carmen and I are feeling the strains of our own course load increasing near the end of the semester, while also working with students who are feeling the pressures of their semesters coming to a climax. And, as much as we valued the lesson from Transportation Alternatives, it occurred to us after class that teenagers may have trouble grasping the value of the message “don’t drive, use alternatives instead.” They’re right at the age where they are dying to get a car and drive, and the idea of voluntarily not having one may have been lost on them!

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High School Stories

November 15th, 2010 by Katie & Carmen | No Comments | Filed in students, Teaching

We had a bit of excitement in class this week! We invited two of our friends to visit our class and tell our students about what they do for a living.

As usual, we started class by asking students to share their latest sketches in their Moleskine Sketchbooks.

What’s your story?

Rachel Abrams started by telling her story. She began with a career in geology, then studied policy and lawmaking before transitioning into her work as a designer. She has a wonderful way of talking about the apparently unrelated events of her life story in a way that makes it logical that each should lead into the next. The girls absolutely adored her, especially her English accent!

Prior to Rachel speaking, we asked the students if they knew what a design strategy consultant does. One of our students, Tessa, brilliantly described the role and we were happy knowing that we had something to do with that.

We asked the students to take notes on post-it notes during the presentations. They were able to create pretty complex little thought sketches during the time they were listening.

Our second guest was Matias Corea, a graphic designer and co-founder of Behance. We were so excited to have Matias join us! He started his story by pointing out everything in the room that has been touched by a designer. He talked about his evolution from being a terrible student, not into math or English or anything else, to transforming into an excellent and motivated individual through design. One of our girls wrote on a note, “He was destined to design.” If you have a conversation with Matias, you will immediately see his passion for design. We’re so happy he could bring that to our class!

(Special thanks to our guests for speaking, and for being flexible with our lack of technological accommodations!)

Interviews!

During the beginning weeks of Project: Interaction, we discussed ways for the girls to get to know each other. Since we have a mix of 9th and 10th graders, it is likely that the girls don’t have classes together throughout the day. We thought it was important to give them an opportunity or two to get to know each other and possibly dispel any assumptions they may have about their fellow classmates. Interviewing seemed like the best activity to do so. So for the remainder of class we randomly paired the girls up and asked them to interview each other using a set of five questions.

If you had a million dollars what would you do with it?
What’s the most embarrassing thing that happened to you at school?
What do you want to study in college?
If you had a superhero power what would it be?
Name your most recent act of kindness?

We then asked them to choose the most interesting response and tell a story about it. We encouraged them to tell stories in different ways, and they took our challenge! One student performed a skit, a few drew a comic strip about their story, and one student wrote her story.

At the end of class we asked them to present their ideas, with commentary from our guests. We can definitely see how they girls have improved over each class. They are becoming more confident in their ideas, eager to sketch and draw their thoughts, and have continued to develop their presentation skills. We are so excited to see how far they have come since our first class! It is also always great to see the girls support each other and give positive feedback during these very quick presentations.

Next week we’ll be kicking off our final projects with a workshop with Transportation Alternatives. We’re really excited to see our students put all their new skills to work!

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What’s your problem?

November 9th, 2010 by Katie & Carmen | No Comments | Filed in Sketching, Teaching

In last week’s class we focused on future thinking and the dissection of big ideas. We wanted to encourage the students to think bigger than themselves and tackle tough problems that at first appear too big to solve.

As usual, we started the class by asking them to share their sketchbooks. We had a few excellent drawings this week!

Samarra's sketchbook

Jackie's sketchbook

Class Activity: Problems & Solutions

We jumped into the lesson talking about transportation. There are many issues and complex systems involved in running a citywide transportation system that could seem daunting to a group of high school students. On the other hand, we decided that this would be an interesting area to look at as we all are customers of the MTA. Like most New Yorkers, our students had no problem coming up with issues that they experienced during their daily commutes. Asking students about the problems they noticed or experienced, they shouted out everything from not knowing when train service was disrupted or changed, to crowded buses, to the boredom that comes with waiting for the subway or bus to arrive.

chalkboard

Since class is so short, we decided we would all focus on one problem – creating solutions to tackle boredom while waiting. As a class, we worked together to create a problem statement that would be a catalyst for designing solutions to solve it.

New Yorkers don’t have anything do it, and there’s not enough seating while they’re waiting for the train or bus.

After we defined our problem as a group we asked them to spend 2 minutes sketching a lot of ideas on post-it notes. Some of their solutions were simple: just add more chairs to solve the seating problem. Some of them were more complex, like introducing a pop-up chair that would hover around the platform until someone needs it, when it would pop into action as a full-sized support.

Evaluation

We held a quick critique of the ideas they came up with. We asked them to each talk about an idea that wasn’t their own. They had a hard time with that task, and wanted to mostly describe their own work. With a little nudging they did just fine at talking about each others’ work.

As a group we chose 7 ideas to work on. In small groups the students were assigned an idea created by one of their peers and were asked to make a poster about it. They were a little confused by this direction, asking if we were telling them to make an ad. We responded a concrete example:

If a teacher walked into the room right now and asked you to tell her about the idea you’re thinking about, how would you describe it? What do you need to communicate through your poster so she will ‘get’ your idea without you having to explain it?
They came up with a ton of great artifacts!

At the end of class we asked them to stand up in front and present their posters and concepts to us. We told them to pretend like they were presenting it to someone they’d never met before, instead of just their after-school teachers and classmates. They did an excellent job of refining their thoughts and presenting the ideas in a clear, concise way.

No Buttons for the Rowdy…

Despite the great ideas that came out at the end of class, this week’s class was pretty hard to teach. It was practically impossible to get the girls to quiet down, and most of our lectures and discussions were overrun by side conversations and gossip. It was totally out of the ordinary for our students, who are usually so well behaved. We left class feeling ever so slightly defeated.

After talking to some other teachers last week we discovered that all students everywhere are notoriously misbehaved during the week following Halloween. In one teacher’s theory, they’re all hopped up on sugar. Another teacher told me, “I don’t know what it is about the 7th or 8th week of school… but high school students seem to forget every single thing you’ve taught them. They regress through about 4 years of maturity overnight.”

Thanks for the support from our fellow teachers. We’re feeling much better about not being able to control the class last week, though we will be starting this week’s lesson by reviewing our behavior expectations. Hopefully they’ll be better and earn their reward button this week!

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Student Profile: Dominique

November 3rd, 2010 by Katie Koch | No Comments | Filed in students

We interviewed one of our awesome students about her experience in Project: Interaction.

Dominique

9th Grade – Urban Assembly Institute of Math & Science for Young Women
from Canarsie, NY
What’s one thing you’ve learned in Project: Interaction?
That they deal with a lot of design, and creativity.

How can you use the knowledge you’re gaining in Project: Interaction in another class, or in the work you do outside of class?
I’m starting this architecture thing in Atlantic Mall and I could use the info to help me be more creative when I’m thinking about designs for the building.

What’s your favorite part of Project: Interaction?
To work in groups. To sit around, and work together and be creative.

What do you tell your friends about Project: Interaction?
If my mom asks, I tell her what we did that day and show her some of my drawings that I did in the sketchbook you gave us.

Do you have a story about a project or sketch you made recently?
Um, I don’t think I made anything creative this week… Wait! During the Halloween dance on Friday I created most of the decorations, like cutout bats. But they didn’t like the bat I made. I didn’t like it either. Cause I didn’t know how to really cut it. I made one spider and hung it up. I tried to make a spider using the scrap pieces from the bats, like those ridges from the underside of the wings, I decided to turn those into legs. And I made witches hats, like green and black witches hats, and I made a long broomstick that I didn’t get to put up.

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