The Evolution of Reflection: Finding Opportunity for Student Voice Using the Problem Solving Process

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A PICTURE OF PRACTICE BY 2018-2019 AGENCY BY DESIGN OAKLAND TEACHER FELLOW chantel parnell

Chantel Parnell is a Computer Science Teacher at Bret Harte Middle School, which serves a diverse 600-student population in the Laurel/Dimond neighborhood in Oakland, CA. Their student body is 35% African American, 30% Latino, 15% Asian, 10% White, 3% Filipino, and 2% Pacific Islander.

During our first Agency by Design Oakland fellowship meeting, I asked myself the following questions, “What do I value in my computer science classroom?” and “How will I get my students to give more detailed responses to prompts?” I knew I wanted my students to value the process of creating over their final product, but now I wondered how I was going to get my students to do just that. 

Problem Solving Process with Empathy  graphic from “ CS Discoveries 2019-2020 ” curriculum (resources available at  code.org ).

Problem Solving Process with Empathy graphic from “CS Discoveries 2019-2020” curriculum (resources available at code.org).

The first unit in the Computer Science curriculum provided by code.org is devoted to students learning about the problem solving process through a series of puzzles, challenges, and real world scenarios. However, once you get into the rest of the units, the problem solving process is only mentioned in the teacher lesson plans and not explicitly laid out in the student-facing documents. 

Initially my inquiry was centered around students finding opportunities to refine their work using the problem solving process and students giving meaningful, helpful and deliberate feedback to support their peers in refining their work. My first attempt at tackling this inquiry was during our second unit on Web Development. I had students fill out a rubric at the beginning of our project, where they self-identified two targets they wanted to focus on and then I provided a class target.

Student rubric from Unit 2: Web Development.

Student rubric from Unit 2: Web Development.

At the end of the project they were supposed to revisit the rubric and grade themselves. In my mind I had identified four targets that I wanted students to focus on: Asking Questions, Effort, Supporting Others and Making a Plan, so instead of them revisiting their rubric, I created a Google Form that included the four targets, and language from what students had identified for each of the following categories: advanced, solid and needs work. 

 After looking at results of the Google Form I noticed that some students were putting in more effort to complete their projects, but some were still not getting their work done because they did not make a plan, ask enough questions, or seek help from their classmates or other resources. So I decided to unpack my original goal of having students value the process of creating over their final product a little bit more, by exploring the following inquiry question: “How can I find opportunities for student voice using the problem solving process?” 

During the third unit on Games and Animations I began to tinker with the student handout. For each project, the student handout followed the same structure: DEFINE (our goal for the project), PREPARE (space for students to sketch their ideas), TRY (the code needed), REFLECT (various prompts) and some notes from the lesson on the back of the handout.

While I did notice students putting more effort into completing their sketches and trying to recreate their sketch into a digital design, I was not completely satisfied with their responses in the REFLECT section. And so it began, with every new project, students were getting a revised prompt in hopes that it would elicit the type of response I was looking for. My prompts included: 

  • What type of advice would you share with a friend completing a similar project to make it easier for them?

  • What is one risk you are going to take in this unit?

  • As we define, plan, try and reflect on more projects, why do you think persistence is important?

  • After planning and creating in this unit, what are you most proud of?

  • What has been the most challenging part in Unit 3?

  • Describe a risk you took during this project.

In the last couple of projects for the unit, I stuck with the same prompt:

  • After completing this project, what type of technical advice would you share with a friend who was going to create a similar project, to make it easier for them? Think about the new code you learned in this lesson and explain how the new code works.

I landed on the prompt above after reminding myself that I wanted to focus on students being able to value the process of creating over their final product and to do that they should be able to articulate the new skills they learned, as well as identifying which mindsets enabled them to finish their projects. Before starting unit 4 and tinkering with the prompt yet again, I decided to ask students, “Why do you think there is a REFLECT section for each project we work on?” to see if my idea of why I have students REFLECT were aligned with what the students thought. Here are some of their responses: 

“I think there is a REFLECT section for each project because we could see what we're proud with and what we might change in the future.”

“I think there is a REFLECT section for each project because it reminds the student of what they've learned and went over with the lesson/project.”

“I think there is a REFLECT section because Ms. Parnell can give examples for the next period so they know what to do”

“I think there is a REFLECT section for each project because it could give advice to other people and when you are struggling the teacher will know what you struggle with and they may be able to help you.”

After reading through all the students responses and looking back at the many iterations of the student handout, I realized that my students could articulate the purpose of the REFLECT section, but students were not giving detailed responses to the prompts because I had not really modeled what exemplar responses looked like. 

I remember sitting in a meeting and hearing, “experiences shift mindsets, mindsets deepen experiences,” so it was not about tinkering with the tool, but about deepening students’ understanding of how to use the tool and reflect meaningfully. My students’ reflections helped me realize that I needed to create the space for them to practice what I was expecting from them and that in turn would improve how they engaged with each section of the student handout. As I start to think about next school year I believe I have a strong template that I can use to get students to value the process of creating over their final product and to reflect meaningfully by using the problem solving process. I also plan to devote time to allow for co-creations of exemplar responses for each section of the handout to ensure that students shift from a “jump right in without a plan” mindset to a “design thinking” mindset.

Chantel Parnell’s final template that gets students at Bret Harte Middle School to value the  process  instead of the final product (above), and her documentation board showing the multiple iterations of this reflection (below).

Chantel Parnell’s final template that gets students at Bret Harte Middle School to value the process instead of the final product (above), and her documentation board showing the multiple iterations of this reflection (below).

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“Maker-centered learning is important because it helps to empower young people and adults to be curious about their world and to see themselves as agents of change.”

Chantel Parnell is a Computer Science teacher at Bret Harte Middle School and at Girls Who Code. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College, where she majored in Mathematics with a minor in Education. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she moved to the Bay Area in 2011.

How Does Tinkering with ELLs Impact Their Content Knowledge?

A PICTURE OF PRACTICE BY 2018-2019 AGENCY BY DESIGN OAKLAND TEACHER FELLOW ERIN POSBERGH

Oakland International High School is a small public high school for newly arrived immigrants who have historically been underserved. All of Oakland International’s students immigrated to the United States within the last four years and are English Language Learners.

A newcomer student from Oakland International High School works on her final rollercoaster design.

A newcomer student from Oakland International High School works on her final rollercoaster design.

“That’s hard” is the common response I get from friends in other fields when they find out I am a high school Physics teacher. They’re right, Physics is hard for many students. It’s especially hard for students who are immigrants to the United States who are trying to learn both the Physics content as well as the English language they need. However, what many don’t know is that Physics has the opportunity to be a lot of fun and use many materials and experiments to help students learn and deepen their content understanding. 

They’re right, physics is hard for many students. It’s especially hard for students who are immigrants to the United States who are trying to learn both the physics content as well as the English language they need.

My inquiry question in Agency by Design Oakland’s teacher fellowship was “How does tinkering with materials impact student content knowledge?”  This inquiry cycle coincided with my final unit on energy and roller coasters. Ultimately, I wanted to see results in the application of content knowledge, as well as a demonstration of deeper conceptual understanding of kinetic and potential energy post-tinkering. 

Prior to teaching anything about energy, I had students spend time with materials.  Students spent class periods experimenting with different types of marbles, foam, track and other materials that they would ultimately use to build their roller coasters.  I saw students using their prior knowledge during this materials exploration, using content vocabulary I had taught in a previous unit. It was surprising to hear all of the vocabulary and content I had taught since August emerge.  Students were using words like “velocity,” “friction,” and “resistance” correctly and with confidence. It was awesome to hear all this language come spilling out!

Final roller coaster design.

Final roller coaster design.

It was surprising to hear all of the vocabulary and content I had taught since August emerge. Students were using words like “velocity,” “friction,” and “resistance” correctly and with confidence. It was awesome to hear all this language come spilling out!

After tinkering and playing with these materials, students engaged in content lessons that had them grappling with new conceptual ideas in Physics. My hope was that students would be able to engage with these ideas at a deeper level, and I am not sure if they succeeded. There was still confusion over exactly what potential energy was and how it connected to gravity and height.  Students still asked about the connection between kinetic energy and velocity (higher velocity = more kinetic energy). There was still a general confusion that came out of the energy calculations. Checking in on student understanding through questions, reflections, and assessment, my students’ confusion over these Physics concepts remained consistent even after their extended tinkering time. 

After this inquiry, I cannot make a clear connection between tinkering with materials and deepening content knowledge within my classroom. Even though I didn’t get the results that I expected or wanted, this experience demonstrated the importance of tinkering with materials for newcomer students. Hearing students use prior content knowledge and vocabulary comfortably was a huge boost to our student community! While tinkering, students were confident in what they were talking about, and they were able to connect these new materials to prior knowledge. I’m looking forward to a new inquiry cycle where I can investigate and implement language supports in tinkering and scaffolding in order to better support newcomer English language development.

Final roller coaster design.

Final roller coaster design.

"I believe that making creates student agency, choice, and empowerment — students will be able to drive their own learning through choice. Making provides confidence and opportunities for students to find success and joy in their learning. Preparing students for real-world challenges, making allows for students to design, create, and test solutions to relevant problems."

Erin Posbergh is currently Assistant Principal at Montgomery High School in Santa Rosa, CA. During her time as an Agency by Design Oakland teacher fellow, Erin was a Physics Teacher at Oakland International High School. Prior to teaching in California, Erin taught Physics in New Jersey and New York City. “I grew up on a farm,” says Erin, “so naturally, I love all animals.” Erin has also run six marathons and enjoys spending time outdoors.

Students as Curriculum Designers

AN IGNITE TALK BY 2018-2019 AGENCY BY DESIGN OAKLAND TEACHER FELLOW Jeff embleton

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“What we did to support [refugees] was we made donation boxes and gathered money for the IRC (International Rescue Committee),” said Ariana, a 7th Grader from ASCEND. “We created t-shirts and helped refugees by donating the proceeds.”

Jeff Embleton is the Assistant Principal at ASCEND. In his Ignite Talk, presented at Agency by Design Oakland’s year-end event on Saturday, May 4, 2019, Jeff shares how ASCEND’s 7th graders became part of the design process, co-constructing a curriculum focused on the refugee experience.

“I’m going to talk with you today about students as designers, and actually working side-by-side with their teachers to create the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ in their learning — exercising true agency by doing work that matters with a local impact.”

Watch Jeff’s inspiring Ignite Talk below! And follow the #pictureofpractice hashtag to see more Ignite Talks and leadership from our 2018-2019 Teacher Fellows.

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“Maker-centered learning provides opportunities for youth and adults to access and unlock their agency. It empowers all ages of learners to think critically about an issue, problem solve and attempt to create solutions to address or repair a need. Maker-centered learning also addresses our environmental needs and teaches the mindset that things can be REPAIRED rather than just sent to the landfill.”

Jeff is the Assistant Principal at ASCEND, leading the charge on deeper learning and student-centered experiential learning. He is committed to creating equitable access and opportunities for youth to forge their own paths and create the world they want to live in.

Whose Agency? Reflections on Building Critical Consciousness Through Maker-Centered Learning and Arts Integration

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An Ignite Talk by 2018-2019 Agency by Design Oakland Teacher Fellow Kurt Kaaekuahiwi

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Kurt Kaaekuahiwi is an Ethnic Studies, Art, and Making teacher at Roses in Concrete Community School. In his Ignite Talk, presented at Agency by Design Oakland’s year-end event on Saturday, May 4, 2019, Kurt and his students explore how art and making can impact engagement within the course content. “How do we humanize using Arts and Making in ways that promoted critical consciousness?” Kurt asks in his Ignite Talk.

“We looked at the design process of making our own skin color. We mixed primary and secondary colors using tinting and shading to make our own shades of brownness. ‘Look Mr. K -- this is actually my skin color. I made it, look!’ Students were able to talk about internalized racism, talk about the politics of identity, the politics of being light skinned and of being dark skinned and bright, and talk about what ‘she's hella dark’ comes from, what that means.”

Watch Kurt’s inspiring Ignite Talk below! And follow the #pictureofpractice hashtag to see more Ignite Talks and leadership from our 2018-2019 Teacher Fellows.

Kurt standing by his students’ collaborative mural of Nipsey Hussle.

Kurt standing by his students’ collaborative mural of Nipsey Hussle.