Building the Future by Exploring the Past

ExploreCS at CHM

Explore CS at the Computer History Museum

And just like that, summer is over. As kids grab their backpacks and review bell schedules, we can feel the parents around us breathe a collective sigh of relief. At Embark Labs we love the buzz of back-to-school which just adds to the energy from our amazing summer courses. Over 8 weeks we explored computer science and built Android apps with ~150 kids, of which over 50% were girls and students from backgrounds underrepresented in CS. Given our deep passion for increasing diversity in the tech field, we have a growing scholarship program that allows us to work with students who otherwise would not have access to these dynamic learning experiences.

Punch card programming

Punch card programming

This summer we had the unique opportunity to partner with the Computer History Museum to offer two sessions of our Explore Computer Science course. This was the perfect collaboration given our emphasis on computational thinking and hands-on exploration. It was so powerful to introduce a concept and then provide students with the historical perspective and connect it to real people and companies. After our instructors introduced binary coding, students walked down into the galleries to see some of the original binary switches. And after we engaged students in an activity about encoding and decoding, they hand coded their own punch cards.

As we moved on to the design-thinking and project development process, students pushed their thinking to prototype creative solutions to real-world problems. This is just one video of the creativity and energy the students brought to this project.

We are thrilled to bring CS to life for our students in this way. If you want to see more, check out our photo gallery or YouTube videos.

As we continue our partnership with The Computer History Museum, and their inspiring education team, we will share more about future programs soon. (Maybe your child can join us next summer!)

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Embark Labs: Popping Up in Menlo Park

umelabIn 2014 Embark Labs partnered with some of the top schools and tech companies on the peninsula to deliver our innovative computer science program to hundreds of kids and families. Now we are thrilled to have a place to call home (At least for the summer.)

This June Embark Labs will be partnering with UMe, a vibrant play space in Menlo Park, to launch our first learning lab. Taking inspiration from our own experience at the Google Garage and other creative spaces (such as the iLab at Nueva and the Bourne Lab at Castilleja), we will be transforming the upstairs space at UMe into an exciting creativity lab for our students.  (To share our process with this community, we will be documenting the transformation and posting tips on how to design spaces that foster creativity and collaboration for kids. More on that in the coming months.)

Between June 22nd- July 31st we will offer both our Explore CS and AppInnovators programs. (Full details are on our Summer Calendar –Enroll by March 31st to save up to $100.) If you know any kids who want to learn real programming skills from credentialed educators in a hands-on, engaging way, this is the program for them!

Please help us spread the word! Follow @EmbarkLabs on Twitter and Like Embark Labs on Facebook.

#FamilyHackDay- Moms and Kids Building Together

FamilyHackDay Group

We believe one of the most influential people who can inspire future innovators is the first teacher in their lives, their mom.  That’s why Embark Labs teamed up with MotherCoders, an SF-based nonprofit that runs a tech orientation program for moms, to host our first Family Innovation Day — an interactive workshop for moms and their kids to learn computational and design thinking together.

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Embark Instructor Joleen Diaz debugging code with a student

Learning By Design

Inspiring moms to engage with technology in a way that’s fun and potentially career changing was an objective that was embedded throughout our event, with both of our lead instructors — Sulekha Nair and Joleen Diaz — being tech-focused mothers themselves. Teams began the day learning how to apply the design-thinking process to  design solutions to help each other save for something special.  Then the afternoon session introduced everyone to the Embark method of teaching computer science in an engaging, hands-on way. The day culminated with kids writing code themselves using Code.org’s popular new Frozen tutorial.

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Building hats on as teams go through the design process to prototype their ideas

More Than Mommy & Me

Our main goal for the workshop was to create a learning experience where moms and their kids could design and build things together. Our participating moms expressed that finding meaningful opportunities where they can work side-by-side with their child is key. Further motivated by the MotherCoders mission of creating a more inclusive tech economy, we were thrilled to have been able to offer scholarships to 3 families to attend the all-day workshop at a discounted rate.

The event was fueled by the generosity of NerdWallet.  Beyond offering their fabulous working space, food and fun schwag, several members of the NerdWallet team spent the day mentoring the mom-kid pairs, sharing their expertise and personal stories of how they got into tech.

We can still feel the energy from this experimental first event and gained some useful insights on how we can create more authentic learning opportunities for moms and kids to build things together. Excited for what’s to come in 2015!

SparkTruck: Making Educators

The K12 Lab at Stanford’s d.school has designed a series of CreativityBoosters for Educators, to explore experiments in teaching & learning and building creative confidence. On Saturday in collaboration with MakerState, SparkTruck hosted a session on how to incorporate hands-on activities into lessons.

In true d.school fashion the brightly-colored post-its and creative juices were flowing. Inspired by the truck itself, the SparkTruck team created the session on a framework of IT BEEPS Identity, Teamwork, Brainstorming, Prototyping and Storytelling.

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They did a terrific job modeling how to conduct activities like this with students and emphasized the d.mindsets that fuel their work: radical collaboration, bias to action, building to think, show don’t tell and overcoming stuck points. We began with a group activity centered around a common problem that has been frustrating teachers since the beginning of time–

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Groups jumped into the brainstorming process, moving on to prototyping and then went around and shared what they had made. Then MakerState took over and set up several stations around the room where participants could practice different maker-focused activities, such as creating a pop-up book or a 7sec stop-motion animation.

What was most impressive is the diversity of educators and enthusiasts that attend these events. In my own work with TeacherSquare I know how difficult it can be for educators to take time out of their schedules for sessions like this, no matter how engaging or relevant they may be. It is clear that schools that create a community and incentives around these experiences reap the most benefits.  For example, a group of teachers and their principal made the trip down from Tiburon together, and I’m sure it helped that they were all being compensated for their time and participation. However, I doubt everyone in the room receives that type support from their schools.

I’m optimistic that collectively we can change the face of PD by creating more opportunities like this for educators to put themselves in the place of students in engaging experiences and be compensated for their time and energy.

Wan to see for yourself? The next sessions are on March 8th and April 12th- RSVP here.

Creating a Culture of i-Can

Where was this when I was young? I’ve been researching various STEM learning programs and recently came across Imagineerz, a design-thinking focused summer camp for elementary school kids.

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Imagineerz is the brainchild of Vaibhavi Gala, a fellow alum of the Stanford Graduate School of Education (ICE ’00), whose high school dream was to create a student-centered learning experience focusing on creativity and confidence building. Once her own children were in elementary school she knew the timing was right to explore her inner entrepreneur.

In March 2011 Gala decided to take the plunge, quitting her comfortable job in corporate training to focus on creating an experience for kids ‘to become positive and confident makers.’ The first program started in the summer of 2011 and in their 4th year of programming this summer they will serve approximately 75 students a week for four weeks in July. Building on her Stanford experience, she often recruits interns from the GSE to help her with the ongoing program and curriculum design.

As the camp and community grows Imagineerz is looking to deepen engagement with parents and kids during the year through a series of books and apps. With all the recent attention on the maker movement (the White House just announced their first MakerFaire), it would be amazing to see this type of programming become part of the K12 experience.

#Edtech Goes Back-to-School

“Tell me about your biggest problems, I’d like to fix them for you.” As well-intentioned as this sounds, it is a common request from tech entrepreneurs that often frustrates educators and school leaders. And unfortunately it is still how many edtech solutions are designed and distributed.

TeacherSquare wants to flip that model by creating opportunities that bring educators together as the influencers and creators of edtech solutions. This past Saturday, in partnership with Castilleja, we co-sponsored “Edtech Goes Back-to-School,” an invite-only event targeting educators and edtech enthusiasts to stimulate conversations around how to foster better innovation from within schools. The optimist in me hopes that the top-down policies and district-level decisions will be balanced by a grassroots, bottoms-up movement and meet in a productive middle that improves learning outcomes for all.

 The activities of the day were framed around several ‘how might we…’ questions that we collectively wrote based on participants’ responses to a pre-event survey. Questions like how might we:

…make EdTech more student-driven, student-led, and student-centric?

…give developers and EdTech entrepreneurs a better opportunity to observe, interact with, and serve students and teachers?

…build a community of EdTech learners, educators, entrepreneurs, and enthusiasts?

We started the event with a mini design-thinking exercise (that participants shared was ‘inspiring and productive’) lead by the brilliant minds at d.cipher. Zanette Johnson and Marilyn Cornelius met while completing their PhDs at Stanford and upon graduating launched d.cipher to ‘transform complex challenges into innovative solutions’ with a focus on climate change, education and wellness. Their passion for this work was energizing and I was so pleased to hear that several schools are going to invite them to jumpstart future PD sessions.

Throughout the day many educators expressed common opinions about their experience with edtech and these were a few questions/comments that I heard over and over:

  • How can we take the focus off the tech? (The tech is great but it’s just one aspect of teaching/learning.)
  • How can we avoid tech implementation that is just for tech’s sake? (Investing in devices without any guidance on how that will impact teaching and learning.)
  • How can we be innovative while working in highly constrained systems, specifically with standardized test, grades, A-G requirements (It is not impossible but requires a certain mindset.)
  • Extracting meaning from the data is the biggest challenge and opportunity

This event would not have taken place without the energy and leadership of Gabe Lucas, Director of Technology at Castilleja and while it was hosted at an affluent private school, the audience and conversations spanned all levels of preK-12 and school types (district, charter, private, parochial.)

We often hear complaints about teachers being behind the times or not open to trying new approaches in their classrooms. This is not always true and I’m constantly inspired by the educators I meet who are leaning in to their PLNs and experimenting with different approaches. Events like this bring PLNs to life and are necessary steps in the right direction.

My hope is that one or more of the attendees will take a new idea and experiment with implementing that in their school and I’d gladly showcase those efforts here in a future post. If you’re interested in fostering a conversation like this in your school community, please join the TeacherSquare Community on Google+ or reach out on twitter @TeacherSquare.

LDT Expo: Keeps Getting Better

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything as I’ve spent the past couple months enjoying time at home after the birth of my second daughter. However, I decided to venture out last week to check out the masters projects from this year’s Learning, Design and Technology (LDT) cohort. Every August Stanford hosts their LDT Expo and I’m increasingly impressed with the level of sophistication of the event as well as the ways in which the students approach their learning challenges and solutions. Last year I had the honor of attending as one of the reviewers so I had the chance to get a deeper look into many of the projects. This year I just saw the teams at expo and it was interesting to see that none of the teams chose to tackle a traditional K12 topic, but rather focused more on informal learning.

Kirti & DesignDuo

Kirti Patel sharing her project- DesignDuo

I was particularly motivated to attend to see DesignDuo, a DIY toolkit designed to get dads and daughters to build things together to drive engagement and interest in STEM, which was created by a friend of mine. You can read about all 12 of the projects in this nice overview piece from EdSurge. It was also great (for both the LDT Program and the Stanford School of Education) to see this press coverage (~2min video) from ABC Local News. I hope all these teams will continue this work in some way and am curious if any will launch this as a real product.

Envisioning the Future of Learning

School’s out for the Summer! I had the pleasure of advising a class in the Learning, Design and Technology (LDT) program through the School of Ed at Stanford this spring quarter, Ed 333B: Envisioning the Future of Learning. The course was co-taught by two of my favorite LDT Alumni, Dan Gilbert and Ami Mehta, who framed the class around two key questions “What should every 11-year-old girl in the world know?  How might we make that happen?” taking into consideration how technology will evolve over the next ten years.

To provide real world context for applying business, design and learning approaches to these questions, we conducted three 2-week long design challenges with real clients from Castilleja Girls School, Khan Academy and TeachAIDS. I was excited to bring some of my experiences from Khan Academy into this class, leading a challenge focused on rethinking how to distribute digital content to empower learners all over the world. The students came up with some creative yet practical approaches and I’m looking forward to piloting this project in partnership with Teach-A-Class and Living Values in Nigeria in the coming months. (Stay tuned for a future post on the launch of my next endeavor.)

The last class held this past Thursday night was a true culmination of the previous exercises exploring business, design and learning approaches, where the students lead the group in their own unique design challenges. What made the process even more special was the presence of some inspiring LDT alumni like Kim Jacobsen, co-founder of Junyo and local edtech community members, like Neeru Khosla, founder of CK12. However, the guests who really contributed the most were Shivali and Sahil, two Bay Area teenagers who not only provided useful perspective on teens going through the education system today but were energetic and vocal participants in the challenges.

I would love to see more classes like this in the School of Ed that are applying learning & design theories to real-world problems and engaging alumni and community members in the process. I’m glad I was able to be a part of this course and hope to stay connected to these students and projects in the future.

What is the purpose of school?

Great visualization of how we need to shift our thinking on what is the purpose of school and education from the great Sir Ken Robinson.

Design Thinking @ The Nueva School

Design Thinking @ The Nueva School