(Part I here)

David Cole of CV2 and I went to Denver, CO to hack notebooks with the second cohort of Intersections and the Denver Writing Project’s Tech Matters group. Then on Saturday, we ran a workshop with The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose. We’ll be looking at these different groups and reflecting on what we learned working with these different constituencies.

On Wednesday, June 25th, we spent three hours with the Tech Matters group from the Denver Writing Project at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. These are K-16 teachers who are interested in learning how to best use technology to support and enhance classroom instruction. Educational technology tools and platforms can have very rapid life cycles, and trying to stay on top of all these changes can be daunting when added on top of a full teaching load, parent-guardian communication, lesson planning, grading, and so on. By working together, professional learning communities such as Tech Matters make it easier for teachers to share information. This summer, the group’s convening focused on issues of social justice and connectivity.

It's especially interesting to have teachers of multiple subjects and grade levels in the same room as their perspectives and insights are often very different. After walking participants through the concept of a simple circuit, we let them explore parallel circuits on their own or with their seatmates. This freed us up to provide more structured help for those who wanted a facilitated making experience, which in this case, was less than 25% of the group. Designing an effective differentiated workshop can be a challenge, but based on participant feedback, we're getting there.

After a break halfway through, we let participants decide to continue playing with circuits or to hack their notebook with a dedicated power source. Some were happy to stick to exploring circuit design, but at least 60% opted to start hacking their notebook. I was surprised how many people got into power lead construction. Adding color by braiding, knotting or crocheting embroidery floss was a very popular choice. We did learn that crocheting is not advised for people looking to learn in a three-hour window. Adding the embroidery floss was a last-minute idea, and using it with the conductive thread proved to be far too thick for the crochet hooks we ordered.

Side Note: Learning Environments

Learning environments, including room configuration, can have a large impact on participant experience. We were working in a discrete, classroom-sized room at the museum located in the middle of gallery space. I wish we'd had time to visit the museum ahead of time to familiarize ourselves with the exhibits just outside; not incorporating the unique affordances of being situated in a museum into our workshop was a missed opportunity. That said, just getting school teachers outside of the classroom and into an informal learning environment can help them achieve critical distance and feel more free to try something new.

The room was configured with tables in a u-shape. In prior workshops, participants have worked in individual groups of 4-8 to support collaboration and conversation. It's hard to objectively judge while you're facilitating, but I'd hazard a guess that the participants at this workshop didn't closely collaborate with as many people as in other workshops, although there was definitely discussion between seatmates. The u-shape had its own advantages, though: as facilitators, it was much easier for us to get to participants who had questions or comments. 

So which is better? It really depends on your audience. For those learners who prefer a more guided experience, the U-shape makes it much easier to walk around between steps to check in. For those who prefer something more discovery-based, small groups are more appropriate to make it easier for participants to get feedback from more people.

For our last installment in this series, we'll reflect on our workshop at The Tech Museum in San Jose, CA. Stay tuned!