RAFT Activity Kit: Static Merry-go-Round

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

RAFT wins first place in Bright Green Tree Contest!


RAFT has a lot to be jolly about this holiday season! RAFT has won 1st place in San Jose Christmas in the Park's "Bright Green Tree Contest".

This year RAFT was officially handpicked to participate in San Jose Christmas in the Park’s first ever “Bright Green Tree” contest to showcase eco-friendly Christmas trees and tree decorations in a highlighted section of the event!

The non-profit ‘Our City Forest’ provided potted, instead of cut, trees for the contest and will replant them throughout the community after the event.

The RAFT tree was decorated with clever. one of a kind, hand-made ornaments including test-tube “icicles” filled with thinly sliced strips of shiny mylar calendars, mini RAFT game boards, CD “snowflakes”, mylar spirals, sparkling “different color hand circles”, red spool cornucopias, cork reindeer, and more!

As the “Bright Green Tree Contest” contest winner, RAFT will receive a $350 grand prize donated by Garden City Sanitation, one of San José’s garbage and recycling haulers. ‘Hands-on’ is absolutely the way to go!

By Jeanne Lazzarini, RAFT Math Education Activity Developer

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Middle-schoolers wowed everyone at the RAFT Citizen-School after-school program showcase

"Chromatography"
"Liquefaction"
"Regurgitation"

These are just a few of the amazing words that thirty middle school students used with casual precision during their presentations at the RAFT Citizen Schools WOW event, held at RAFT Redwood City . For the students, the WOW event marked the completion of a 10-week after-school program. For Citizen Schools and RAFT, it marked the beginning of a promising new collaboration to expand the use of ‘hands-on’ activities in after-school programs.

Students at Kennedy Middle School completed 16 ‘hands-on’ activities in the course of their "Crime Scene Investigation" program. The instructor skillfully wove together RAFT activities on fingerprinting, DNA, color analysis, and more. During the WOW event, students presented a fictitious crime, and challenged the audience to use RAFT activities to discover the criminal. For example, ink from a pen used to write a threatening note could be traced back to the writer using a RAFT chromatography kit. Even the classic RAFT activity, "Owl Pellet Dissection" became very cool when the experience was tied to crime scene investigation. According to one enthusiastic student, "we sorted out all the rabbit bones the owl regurgitated."

Young scientists at McKinley Institute of Technology spent 10 weeks learning about the Redwood City marshland. They used a wide variety of RAFT activities to demonstrate how marshes filter water, prevent floods, and host wildlife. In one display, they placed a sample of marshy soil on a RAFT shake table. Liquefaction caused by a small tremor caused a model building to fall off its foundation. The students noted that apartment buildings are currently being built on Redwood City marshland. "We want to talk to a judge about that," they told one observer.

The instructors who led the pilot project were enthusiastic about the impact it had on the students. RAFT and Citizen Schools are already planning to repeat the pilot next semester - doubling the scale to include four schools. No matter what topics the instructors choose, RAFT will be able to provide the hands-on kits and mentoring they need. Looking farther into the future, both organizations expect that Citizen Schools locations around the country will benefit from the innovative approach we prototyped here in Silicon Valley.

Greg Brown, RAFT Director of Education

Monday, December 12, 2011

EVENTS EXCERPTS

Big Idea Fest, 2011 - Day 4

The Wednesday presentation was a huge success for my Big Ideas Fest Action Collab design team. Our project was chosen as one of three that will receive funding from the Gates Foundation for Beta testing! Gates has provided ISKME with $50,000 to take the three most promising ‘big ideas’ from the Big Ideas Fest to the next stage of development. An additional $50K will come from matching grants secured by ISKME in the coming months. The total fund of $100K will be used to pay for non-labor costs, such as travel, design assistance, software, materials, etc. Everyone from my Collab, plus any other conference participants who are interested, are invited to participate in the follow-on.

The team came up with an amazing way to assess student performance in 21st-century skill areas such as teamwork, creative problem solving, etc. These so-called ‘soft skills’ are not currently assessed using conventional bubble tests. Our assessment tool is very simple, very hands-on, and tightly integrated with the use of design challenge learning projects. In a nutshell, it provides a way to measure the impact of RAFT-style activities on student achievement.

Everyone who heard the presentation agreed that effective assessment of 21st-century skills is sorely needed in education. With Common Core standards right around the corner, the timing is perfect. We already have a teacher in SF who wants to pilot our assessment tool in her classroom.

I could not be more pleased with the outcome! My group of 18 educators was creative, enthusiastic, and very collaborative. We transformed "provocations" into "solutions," and we converted "No buts" into "Yes ands." Hearing our name called after three days of hard work gave me goosebumps!

- Greg Brown, RAFT Education Director (Dec 7,2011)

EVENTS EXCERPTS

Big Ideas Fest, 2011 – Day 3

Yea! The Action Collab design team I am leading has completed its project at the Big Ideas Fest. Today, we pitched our 21st-century skills assessment concept to the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation and a professor from the University of Ottawa. The team got excellent feedback and one suggestion to make the idea even bigger. Together, the team created a second prototype (again using RAFT materials) which incorporated the expansion idea. Tomorrow, the team will present their final concept to all 200 conference participants.

Other foundations represented at the Big Ideas Fest include Gates, Hewlett, Qatar, National Endowment for the Arts, CK-12, Sherwood, and Carnegie.

Today's Rapid Fire speakers presented cutting-edge programs:
> Common Craft (a 2-person company that makes short videos explaining social media tools, like "Wikis Made Simple")
> Valencia 626 (a very popular free tutoring provider that publishes its students' works)> CK-12 Foundation (a group that replaces textbooks with on-line equivalents, saving schools up to $175K per year)
> New Orleans Charter Academy (a school in the flood-ravaged 9th Ward of New Orleans that went from last to first place in reading scores), and more!

RAFT got a big round of applause from all the participants for supplying all the prototyping materials used during the conference (most of which were paid for by the organizers). I was given three buttons from my fellow conference attendees: "You Inspired Me", "I Learned Something From You", and "Interesting Adult". The last one came from a high school student from South San Francisco. I have learned so much about trends in assessment, the needs of today's teachers, the future of education policy, and what is at the forefront of online professional development. I Can't wait for the big presentation in the morning!

- Greg Brown, RAFT Education Director (Dec 6,2011)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

EVENT EXCERPTS


Big Ideas Fest, 2011 – Day 2

The first full day of the Big Ideas Fest in Half Moon Bay included a "Rapid Fire" presentation by Barbara Chow (Education Program Director at Hewlett Foundation). Barbara talked about the importance of Federal policy and new school models.

William Ayres (noted educational activist) talked how the national "disrespect" for teachers is damaging the profession. His simple belief is "Good working conditions are good teaching conditions, and good teaching conditions are good learning conditions." He is concerned that some for-profit providers turn education into a product assembly line filling "inert heads with disconnected facts."
Enrique Legaspi, a young teacher, showed how he is enabling students to "curate" their own content on the web. He feels that "editors learn - so we should let students edit their own materials rather than doing it for them."

The need for "real time assessment" was also discussed. Students need (and deserve) to get "the right data at the right time." People were talking about "Course Signals" - a tool that gives a student a green, yellow or red light to indicate their chances of passing a course. The signal is based on the passing rate of past students who have performed similarly up to the same point in the course. Apparently the simple signal greatly improves the pass rate because students who get a red or yellow warning take action before it is too late.

The Ford Fusion dashboard was provided as an example of real time feedback. A green plant is shown on the dashboard. It gets greener if the car is driven in an eco-friendly way, and shrivels if the car is not driven responsibly. Apparently this real time feedback has greatly improved the driving performance of Fusion owners. The symbol was developed by IDEO using the same "Action Collab" process we are using at the conference.

The first full day of my Action Collab went well. My group included educators from around the nation, creative people from Edutopia, and more. We worked on an assessment tool that measures 21st century skills (such as teamwork) and would work with the Common Core Standards. One of the special "research subjects" who was interviewed by my team was Gever Tulley a former Adobe designer and friend of mine who recently started a charter school (Brightworks) focused on tinkering. He also wrote a book called "50 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do."

To spark creative thinking, I led my group through five different ‘Improv’ activities - something I never imagined doing but find very effective now that I have gotten training from the pros on how to do it. Improv, it turns out, is not about being funny. It is about being "present" and connecting with people in new ways.

I am all set for tomorrow's "proto-storming" session in the Collab. We will be using RAFT materials to create a physical model of our assessment system. Time for lights out!

- Greg Brown, RAFT Education Director (Dec 5,2011)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

EVENT EXCERPTS


Big Ideas Fest, 2011 – Day 1

Sunday got off to an amazing start here at the Big Ideas Fest. My first conversation was with none other than Dr. Martha Kanter, the US Under Secretary of Education. Dr. Kanter is a visionary educational leader, and (thanks to many years spent in Silicon Valley) she is very familiar with RAFT. Later, she delivered her public address to all 200 conference participants. It was easy to see that the decline of education in America is as concerning to her as it is to us. Among the statistics she shared:
> 25% of US students never finish high school. The drop-out rate in some areas is as high as 50%.
> The economic impact of the high drop-out rate is equivalent to a "permanent recession."
> The US is #16 in the world in terms of college graduation rates. Just one generation ago, we were #1.
> Millions of jobs available in the US today are going unfilled because of a lack of qualified applicants.

On a positive note, Dr. Kanter described many actions that are being taken to reverse the downward spiral. One innovative approach she described was "badging" - giving learners credit for demonstrating aptitude in a subject by completing a set of requirements similar to Boy Scout or Girl Scout badges. The skills can be learned anywhere, even outside of school.

Dr. Kanter got enthusiastic applause when she mentioned the importance of looking beyond NCLB (No Child Left Behind) requirements to find teaching strategies that address the needs of individual students. She is optimistic that the common core standards will help create a more qualified workforce. She advocated "personalized" education and noted that no single style works best in all cases. On this point she mentioned the need for assessment-driven decisions about education funding.

She concluded by observing that the Big Ideas Fest has the potential to bring together "new consortia" of innovative educators who have the potential to solve the problems facing our country. She committed to listen to any big ideas we want to send her way, and she is eager to use our help to convert the Government's educational agencies from "compliance-based bureaucracies" to "engines that drive innovation."

I am now looking forward to "Action Collab" I will be facilitating starting on Monday morning. My group of 20 big thinkers will tackle the challenge of creating "meaningful assessments" of student learning. During the next three days, we will produce a well-defined, scalable solution that will go "way beyond" standardized testing.

- Greg Brown, RAFT Education Director (Dec 4,2011)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

How Hands-On Teaching Helps the Learning Challenged Child

My daughter Aruna is all of 3 and half years old and she knows the sheet on our bed is made of millions of threads intricately woven together because she goes around pointing and peering through her huge magnifying glass at everything around her.

Aruna was diagnosed with Autism when she was 18 months. From almost no eye contact, speech or any other kind of non-verbal communication to a child who asks a million questions a day about everything around her and even the space above us... yes she has to know the phases of the moon and constellations too… well, she has come along a good measure!

Her way of learning however, is different. It is a bit repetitive. So if someone introduces a simple question like "what is this?" she takes the baton and goes around exploring and applying the same question to everything. While the curiosity is well taken care of, the challenge for us has been to introduce new questions and give her hand-on tools to discover the answers.

Children who struggle with some physical or learning limitation are the ones who can most benefit from hands-on teaching. The child who has difficulty understanding concepts at a pre-school level has a greater chance of learning the material during a hands-on teaching activity than simply listening to a verbal explanation.

Aruna is learning a lot about different textures and materials by touch and feel. She goes around feeling textures and knocking at different materials and differentiating and classifying the sounds into metal, plastic, glass, ceramic, cotton, synthetic, wood - as many as I can introduce.

Hundreds of studies support the idea that hands-on teaching is key to a well-rounded, rich and successful education. Recent studies like the one done by the respected Rockman Et. Al, confirmed what RAFT has known for years, that children are more engaged, more likely to learn and truly enjoy their hands-on teaching time. The result? Kids achieve more. RAFT has all kinds of hands-on educational activity kits that can really benefit children who need additional help. Kits are affordable because materials are donated and then repurposed into myriad hands-on activities. They’re easy to use and engage students in surprising ways. Most importantly, they give students creative ways to learn and succeed, even if they have struggled in the past.


- Valli Bindana, a RAFT follower