Haroun Reflection

Nothing like having your new student give a shout out to your methods in class…Just saying.

A High School Writer's Life

The project my group did is a Prezi on Allegories. (This link takes you to my file in my Portfolio, which contains the link to the presentation.) We chose Prezi because it was prezifacesomething hardly any of us had used before and we thought it would be cool to play around with it. Despite it being a group project, each of us worked on two or three individual slides. Each of our groups of slides were focused on a central allegory or other topic. At the end, we blended some things into what I think is a fairly good-looking presentation.

I don’t think I’ve done something like this before, in any grade. We were to focus on things like satire and allusion, but we spread our focus over many of them, trying to soak up as much information as possible. Looking back, that doesn’t seem to be very effective…

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Morally Good Lies, Questions, and a Bias Towards Action: Reading, Interpreting, and Making in the Classroom

For the first part of this year my students, in all my classes (9th and 10th grade Gifted English, and Design Lab) have been keeping blogs (somewhat infrequently) on the books we’re reading or the things we’ve been doing in our Design Lab.  What strikes me most about these blogs (and granted, I’m late to the student blogging party–maybe because it was always such a hassle to get kids to the computer lab) is that the vast majority of them are polished and highly readable.  As well, the insights, especially into our activities (in d-lab) or our readings provide a quicker and richer way for me to understand what my students understand.

I’m more than pleased.

Below I link to several blogs from my Gifted English Classes.  They’ve been reading Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories.  This particular reading was kicked off with the use of a Question Formation Technique, a method I learned by reading Make Just One Change, a fantastic publication that outlines the work of “The Right Question Institute.”  (If you’re a teacher and you’ve not worked at trying to get your students to ask more question or to improve the questions they do ask, I know of no other text that goes to the depth, that argues with such passion and experience for the importance of teaching people how to ask the right questions as this text does.)

haroun-and-the-hoopoeI focused the student’s questioning around a focus point that I’d devised to help them think about an issue that is central to all we do in English:  “Fictional Stories are Morally Good Lies.”  This Question Focus led to a day of question asking, grouping, rewriting, and synthesizing… or well over 200 original questions which we paired down to approximately 25 question areas.

As we read the story, students were never too far from the ideas of art, truth, and lies, a notion that so many artists in all media have questioned and investigated through their work.  As you read the their blogs, you’ll notice how the students returned again and again to the issue of storytelling and morally good lies.

Gigi’s Journey,   Olivia’s Playground, Mind Depiction, Adventures of a Teenage Dreamer An Abundance of Thought



In my Design Lab course, students have been blogging approximately once every 7 school days.  Their insights into process, product, the human centered nature of design thinking, collaboration–indeed to learning in a way that is, for most of them, rather different than what they are used to–is always frank, often complementary, but never without legitimate and often incisive criticism.  This is what I’d wanted from blogs–informal writing that is at once full of voice, clear in purpose, and directed towards an audience beyond our walls.

Smooth Sailing…  AKA Enlightenment  I Have No Idea What I’m Doing  Acute Ideation

Levels and levels

ha-bannerA final blog post on Haroun and the Sea of Stories, the Salman Rushdie novel we just finished in my Gifted Honors English, grade 10, class.

Improbable Impossibilities

The finale to my thoughts on the book “Haroun and the Sea of Stories”. (Spoilers to those who haven’t read the book)

First off, the ending took me by surprise. While I did anticipate a happy ending (it is a children’s book, after all), the ending was literally artificial, generated with P2C2E. It is also interesting that Butt the Hoopoe is still with Haroun when he is on Earth (and can still speak). Furthermore, no time has elapsed between Haroun’s entrance into Kahani and his departure. Earlier in the book, Haroun is able to enter a story and experience it first hand by drinking water from a Stream of Story, and now, as Haroun returns, it is raining in his town. From the book, “‘It’s the Walrus, making my wish come true. There must be artificial happy endings mixed up with the rain'” (Rushdie 208). This means that, the Eggheads/Walrus in Kahani…

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How to Design Think a Classroom, Part 2: “If you never ask, you’ll never know.”


img_1990-1In the first post on this activity, I mentioned I’d suggested students start with observations of how their peers in other classes acted while seated in other classrooms.  Those results led to discussions about fidgeting, shifting, sloppiness, and a host of other activities that seemed inimical to the kind of focused attention assumed of students.  These observations were designed to get students thinking about how their normal postures and attitudes in a space can be, indeed are, constructed by the design of the room and its furniture.

Qualitative Data Analysis:  Observations Guide Actions

After conducting empathy interviews with English students, fellow d-lab students, and  me, the teacher, the class pooled their observations (different students focused on what the interviewee was saying or doing and they made inferences about the interviewee’s thoughts or feelings) and listed this information on the large blackboard. (Thanks to Moss Pike and The Teacher’s Guild for a post from a few years ago where I first saw a blackboard like this.)


We had already scripted a quick How Might We…statement: “How might we design a space that biases learners towards thinking and doing.”  But after these interviews and reflection upon more research, we revised it.  However, it became too clunky and verbose, so most of the students worked under the assumptions of the original HMW statement, always keeping in mind the four key goals of the project:  Flexibility, Adjustability, Expression, and Access.

Collaboration, Ideation, Prototypes

Students then broke into four different groups, ideated, pooled ideas and set to building initial prototypes.

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After presenting these prototypes to the rest of the class, we synthesized the best ideas.  A group of volunteers then set out to create a second prototype, another group worked on a quick branding activity and came up with a logo and slogan for the class (see below).  A third group worked on developing a spreadsheet to itemize costs and quantities and a final group assisted me in developing a grant proposal for our district’s foundation.  After a week of work, the groups were finished and we sent our proposal off to the foundation.

Design Success

The difference between the redesign and the current room are substantial but are based upon an understanding of the distinct needs of the different students who populate the room and the manner in which we learn in the classes.  The photos below show the room as it currently exists.

And the room as redesigned by the students?  Well, the final prototype (above next to our logo) will have to do.  We’ve a lot of shopping, painting, and building to do before we’ll be able to issue “before and after” pictures, but the ideas we have are below.

Instead of individual, immovable desks, some research and inspirational searching led the students to devise standing tables with whiteboard/showerboard false tops recessed into the table’s real top–a sheet of finished plywood.  These whiteboard tops increase the writeable surfaces in the classroom and can easily be raised to vertical for presentations. All tables will be on casters to allow for easy movement and rearrangement for Design classes or English classes (I teach both).   Easily stackable stools also increase the flexibility and adjustability of the room.  Removal of the television and VCR and a series of bookshelves create a cave space for secluded work and for more introspective students. Foam Cubes, a’la the d.school, will help create quick, campfire breakout spaces for team ideation or small group discussions.  An accent wall of color (to be determined) will highlight the blackboard wall.

In all, the costs run approximately $3200.  Before the Perkiomen Valley School District Foundation voted on our grant, our team presented to the district superintendent, assistant superintendent, and school principal.  The next day we learned that the foundation had approved our grant proposal and awarded us $2500 of what the $3200 we sought.  This, of course, is $2500 more than we would have had if we’d never engaged in this design project, proving once again the veracity of the old saw, “If you never ask, you’ll never know.”

(Student Blog Reflections on this project can be found at:  AKAEnlightenment, Adventures of a Teenage Dreamer, Lost in thought

The room is not done by any means, but the lessons learned here have continued as the d-lab students have moved on to assist in the transformation of one of our middle school libraries.  Stay tuned for a report on that project.

Some Student Blogs: What’s up in Design Lab

We’ve been working on a classroom redesign.   The project takes the students through at least one full cycle of the the DT model and two iterations of a prototype.  We’re then going to synthesize the best ideas for redesign for student needs and teacher (that’s me) needs, write up a grant proposal, and present in front of our District Foundation as part of the grant proposal.

Here are a few students’ blog reflections from the past week.  Please leave comments if you have time.

Rei Can Design:  This one is image heavy and pointed in its reflections.  Take a look and leave some comments if you can.   Check out her 9/28/16 post–She’s working on a project and totally aware of just how confining the space actually is for students working on projects.

Welcome to the Life of Adam:  This boy’s doing some serious thinking about the process.

Adventures of a Teenage Dreamer:  An insider’s view of our design process and interviews so far.

Love this student’s insights into the empathy interviews: Lost in Thought