I’m excited to announce that the BHS Help Desk will take part in this year’s Digital Learning Day, a joint effort with the Alliance for Excellent Education, on Friday, March 13th. Our digital learning activity, which we’ve added to the official DLD site, places the spotlight exactly where it belongs…on students! It’s inspiring to hear how teachers all across the country are integrating technology in the classroom, however I think most educators would agree that hearing the authentic voices of students and witnessing how technology impacts their education takes digital learning to a new level.
What is Digital Learning?
According to the official Digital Learning Day website, “Digital learning is any instructional practice that effectively uses technology to strengthen a student’s learning experience.” In other words, Digital Learning Day is not about technology, rather it’s about effective pedagogy. It’s about creating a student centered environment where learning opportunities that were previously inconceivable (the “R” phase of the SAMR model) become a reality. There is no better example of creating that type of environment than the BHS Help Desk. Students in Help Desk function as “Genius Bar” staff members by solving a wide variety of technology problems in their 1:1 iPad high school, but they also are empowered to drive their own learning, take strategic risks, pursue individual passions, and use technology to connect with and learn from experts. On Digital Learning Day, our Genius Bar staff member Cat Hoyt will be hosting a Live Google Hangout On Air and will talk directly with Diana Rendina and Laura Fleming, two media specialists who have developed successful maker spaces in their schools. Cat has already independently generated a list of interview questions to ask Diana and Laura and she possesses the confidence, poise, communication skills, and professionalism to conduct this live interview completely solo. In addition to the soft skills needed to facilitate a live Hangout, Cat has the problem solving and decision-making skills to act quickly in the event something technically goes wrong during the Hangout. I have complete confidence that she will do an excellent job facilitating the conversation. If you’d like to watch Cat conduct this live interview, be sure to attend the event on Friday, March 13th at 7:45 a.m. If you can’t make the live event, an archive of the conversation will be available.
Live Hangouts On Air are not something new to the BHS Help Desk. Our Help Desk Live YouTube channel features many student led interviews including TJ Horgan and Michael Selemen’s talk with Susan Bearden, developer of the TweechMe app and Timmy Sullivan’s conversation with Ziggy Dziegman, one of Google’s Top Contributors and the go-to guy for all things related to Google Classroom. Cat’s conversation with Diana and Laura will be another excellent example of amplifying student voice with the use of digital technology.
Why A Maker Space?
There’s no denying that the maker movement is gaining traction in schools and libraries across the country and may potentially become a viable career option. In fact, the ability to make “prototypes on demand” is one of ten skills the future workforce may need. The BHS Help Desk has evolved to the point where students need a dedicated place to tinker, experiment, build, create, and play. They also need a space where they can freely collaborate and not be bound by the confines of a structured curriculum. That being said, the space will be an extension of the Help Desk; an additional outlet for students to demonstrate their innovation, creativity, and leadership. I’ve asked students to research how students and teachers across all disciplines could use the space. And as much as I’d love to take the lead with this project, I have made a conscious choice to take a step back and serve more as a coach. I’d prefer to watch my students take ownership over this new endeavor and simply promote their success and assist in telling our maker space story. Of course I will intervene if needed and provide encouragement should their first attempts fail, but giving up control and placing the students in charge will be a better and more powerful learning experience, not to mention an impressive and unique resume builder.
Our Maker Space Mission
Currently, Cat and several of her Help Desk classmates are in the very early exploration and planning stages of a maker space at Burlington High School. My colleague and I, BHS Librarian Susan Disanto, will provide guidance along the way, but for the most part, the maker space will be entirely student run. Watching students design the space from scratch is going to be truly exciting. I know they will create a unique space and one which reflects the learning goals of the school community. They’ve been exploring existing maker spaces, developing our maker space philosophy and mission, designing the physical space, evaluating the types of tools and equipment needed, and brainstorming how to best promote the space once it is completed. Cat is designing a model of the space using Google Sketchup (a program she is teaching herself how to use) and her classmate Timmy Sullivan has created the maker space logo.
Yesterday, the first piece of technology for the maker space arrived; a Makerbot 3D printer. Within forty-five minutes Help Desk students Jake Baumgartner and Nikhil Thakkar completed the 12 step set-up process and ran a test print job. The following period, Sid Srivastava and Nathan Rippin decided to 3D print a holder for our pair of Google Glass. If this enthusiasm is any indication of what’s to come, I think it’s safe to say we will have a successful maker space. In terms of aesthetics, we plan to design a Google-like atmosphere. We plan to blend the arts with technology, as we have an incredibly artistic student body at BHS, and have adopted the name Maker Studio at BHS. I suspect students may reach out to our art and design teachers Christina Chang and Keith Mistler for ideas and inspiration.
Regardless of the direction my students decide to take, it will be interesting to watch the progression of the space. I predict innovation and creativity will flourish in the Maker Studio at BHS and I look forward to sharing periodic updates with our global audience via Twitter and our blog.
Fortunate to Be Future Ready
Along with the Alliance for Excellent Education and Digital Learning Day, the Future Ready Schools movement is dedicated to training district leadership teams to help their schools develop action and sustainability plans to prepare students for college and careers. Burlington Public Schools has joined over 2,000 other districts and has taken the Future Ready Pledge. We have the “culture of yes” the Future Ready movement advocates for and all students have access to a mobile device and high quality digital resources. We are also fortunate to have a strong infrastructure and support staff to assist in using the available technology. As a district, we are dedicated to continuous improvement through examining our own work and the work of others and we openly share our success stories locally and globally. We are especially committed to increasing parent engagement in our schools and host tech-savvy parent nights to help families understand how their child’s use of technology impacts their learning. But what really qualifies Burlington as a Future Ready school district is our incredibly dedicated teachers who always put the needs of their students first. And in Burlington, we don’t just celebrate digital teaching and learning one day out of the year; we celebrate it daily. You can learn more about each of our schools here