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Minnesota Personalized Learning Summit Keynote: John Spencer

John Spencer, co-author of Empower and Launch, was the Monday keynote at the Minnesota Personalized Learning Summit. John also created "Pencil Chat" many years ago, and I've been in auw of his ideas and thinking.

Spencer began with a "Disclaimer" that while many keynotes will only share the highlights, he is a teacher on a journey trying to figure things out, and behind the success there has been failure.



No one has dysentery in Oregon!


He began by a story of being nerdy and shy in 8th grade, and hiding out in the bathroom. During a History Day project, he didn't like the sound of his voice. His teacher, Mrs. Smoot said, 
"when you hide your voice, you rob the world of your creativity, and I'm not going to let you do that!"
He presented to his class, then school, then regionally, then at the national conference, which changed his life!

Every day he asks his kids, "What did you make today?"
Making is magic, and makes us human.
He shared a "Sketchy video" that took his son 9 hours to make.

Things are changing right now. It used to be that to create with technology required lots of physical equipment to make it happen. Now much of that can happen on a phone with apps.

Our devices have connected power and great creative potential!
Unfortunately, students today still spend more time consuming rather than creating. 
There are outliers...
Kids making a functional graphing calculator in Minecraft
"Sugar Kills" blogs where kids skip recess to create a campaign

The outliers have a "Maker Mindset."
Sudents need to be wildly different

The purpose drives the maker mindset. The framework to do this is design thinking.

The most powerful force to bring out the maker in every student is the teacher!

Launch Framework

  • Look, Listen, Learn-Goal is awareness
    • Could be a product
    • Observe a phenomenon-NASA studying Geckos to learn about adhesives
    • Awareness of an issue
    • Geeky Interests
    • Problem to be solved
    • Empathy-Caring about an issue. 

  • Ask Tons of Questions
    • Gift baskets for the custodial staff
    • Michelle Baldwin-"Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is ask a question."
    • How do we make this happen with no time and a tight curriculum map?
  • Understand the Process or Problem
    • Research that fuels ideation
    • Innovation doesn't happen in a vacuum
    • Take research "off-road" (Scaffolding can sometimes be a cage that stifles student's ability)
    • We need a bigger definition of research (Write letters/e-mail, make phone calls, video conference) Adults are often happy answering kids questions.
  • Navigate Ideas
    • Brainstorming
      • Alone first
      • Then meet as a group w/ no judgement untimed
      • Outside members to add ideas
      • Combine similar ideas
      • Develop final idea
      • Find the PARTS
        • Product idea
        • Audience- If they start with Empathy, they should know the audience
        • Roles-Who will do what? (Let older groups decide on their own.)
        • Tasks (Draw out and visualize, then put on visual calendar rather than a list.
        • Solution-What problem was solved?
  • Create a Prototype
    • Sometimes it's physical
    • Sometimes it's virtual
    • Sometimes it's Art (The Arts have been maker spaces for a long time!)
    • Sometimes you make a difference! (Service Learning
    • What if you don't have the best materials?
      • Every road block is a chance to solve a problem!
      • Often the best choice in technology is a roll of duct tape!
  • Highlight what works, fix what fails Itteration
    • Every failure is one step closer to success! Iteration!
    • The worst pixar movie you've never seen was a Zombie movie. Pixar iterated it into Bolt.
    • Monster's Inc iterated from another film, which 10 years later iterated into Inside Out!
    • Nobody hates revision at the skate park, but try it in math or english!
    • Celebrate creative risk-taking!
Ready to LAUNCH

They send it to an authentic audience
Because the moon landing was broadcast to a world wide audience, it inspired a generation!
Sharing your journey is so important. 
This year, the Global Day of Design was a great way to share with others!

What if...
I don't have time, technology, etc.....

Spencer shared a project students in Michigan did where they created a documentary on World War II. All but one student showed up on a Friday night to share the video. The soldiers and families showed up. 
It's not a silver bullet...

Students at his school used design thinking to paint murals so that the walls at school wouldn't be tagged. They did 8 murals in 3 years. Then a new principal came in and the walls were painted white and others taken down. 

A student asked Spencer why did we do this?
Spencer said, You share your work even if it is destroyed, or isn't appreciated. "When you hide your voice, you hide the world of your creativity!"

Ultimately it is up to teachers to make their classrooms bastions of creativity!



This fall, our Hopdina Teaching and Technology cohort will be using Launch as a basis for our Design thinking and Maker Education course. It was great to get a cliff-notes version of the book and hear John's voice as he shared his success and failure and how he has learned from both.


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