Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Next Wave

In February and early March, I had the opportunity to teach my first college-level course. My audience was student teachers and the topic was effective data use.

I was both excited and a little terrified. It was a great opportunity to share some learning on an important topic that doesn't often get much attention as teachers prepare to join the workforce. But, it was designated as a 10-hour elective, so I made myself think of it as an extended workshop. A few years ago, I did a Data Academy in my district that consisted of six 90-minute it didn't feel like too big of a stretch to do five 2-hour sessions. Since the Data Academy, I have also developed and presented a lot of other content at various conferences and in other spaces. The twist on all of this was that I needed to target an entirely new audience.

I used a framework from this article to organize the course: Mandinach, E. B., & Gummer, E. S. (2016). What does it mean for teachers to be data literate: Laying out the skills, knowledge, and dispositions. Teaching and Teacher Education, 60, 366-376. During the first session, I had the students identify their level of familiarity with each of the five major areas of the framework, along with the items under each that they'd most like to learn. This provided me with some direction for the rest of the sessions.

You can access my course materials here:

How it all went down
I didn't do much in the way of assignments. I asked them to read two research articles and we used two examples from Observe, Collect, Draw to provide them with some practice collecting and representing data. I really just wanted them to immerse themselves in the discussions during our time together. It was, after all, an elective...and they were plenty stressed out with other coursework. I wanted them to have a positive experience with data.

We also did some activities modified from the Data Therapy project. These included the paper spreadsheet, find a story, and build a sculpture. I had been wanting to try some of these for awhile and hadn't had a group for this. My favourite was the sculpture activity. I've had the coloured blocks and tiles for a couple of years and it was great to provide them, along with some data, and have small groups of students physically model a story they thought was important to tell from the data. I didn't allow them to write or annotate until the very end. (We did three rounds of data/revision.) I really enjoyed hearing their thoughts about that experience. Many of them noticed the same things that I have about manipulating data physically with your hands. It's such a powerful and personal experience. Magical.

Lessons learned
I think I did an okay job. Most of the time, I paced things well and brought the right resources. As always, I should have aimed for "Less me, more them." I would have liked to structure the discussions a bit better and given them more time to practice using data when we were together. We didn't have access to a computer lab and not everyone had a laptop, so I didn't spend any time on Excel basics, which I think would have been one of the most useful things to send them out the door with. But, I did give them some rich opportunities to think with data...and that will serve them well.

I heard from a professor in the program that students talked about my class a lot in their other classes...that they were showing her lots of great pictures of their work...and that a few had said it was the highlight of the winter quarter for them. The students themselves gave me a wonderful thank you card, a $50 gift card, and a little notebook to use for capturing data. Very sweet of them!

I don't know if I'll get the opportunity to teach the class again. This particular format was brand new for the university and they will need to evaluate its success before making decisions about next year. I am so grateful for the opportunity...and also that I was able to finish the class just moments before the transition to all classes being online. I greatly enjoyed being with these almost-beginning teachers. The next wave coming to our classrooms is going to be amazing.

I was taking a break from presenting this year. And then I got asked to share some of my data stories at a conference session in December...and asked to develop this university course...and a couple of other things, too. I said "Yes" to all of them, even if they were daunting. I am glad that as the world becomes more closed for the next year or so that I had the opportunity to reach out in those ways. I have to believe that there will be chances to do so again. I hope all of you are finding ways to share and connect and celebrate learning from wherever you are holding in place.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Pause. Breathe. Rest. Fight.

Well, there is apparently one thing that can stop a dream in its tracks: COVID-19.

After months of planning and getting ready for our big community data story for the spring Arts's canceled. And while I am in 100% supportive of the decision to cancel the event, I also know that it is okay to express personal disappointment. I am grateful that I'm (currently) are all my friends and extended family...but I admit that I'm quite sad about having to postpone things.

I know it isn't forever. When this pandemic is over, there will be other Arts Walk. We will finish the project, even if it doesn't go on display for awhile.

So, let me tell you just how far we got and what we've been learning along the way. If you need to catch up on the background of this project, you can read an overview or my first reflection on the process.

During the month of February, my assistant and I built relationships with all of the six Boys and Girls Clubs in our county. We visited each one in person to talk about the project and get input from directors about the needs they were seeing with students. By the end of the month, we had returned to four of the clubs to conduct focus groups with K - 12 students. Our conversations were framed around the role of neighbours and friends in their lives. For older students, we also devoted part of the conversation to the community at large.

Some interesting things came out of these conversations. For example, in every group a single (and unexpected) statement was made: We had to move because our neighbours were too loud. We heard this from urban students who live in apartments and rural kids who live in trailers that are out in the woods. We heard it from homeless kids and ones from homes with a stable income. And while we didn't lean into that statement, we did wonder what it was code for. Did it mean their parents couldn't make the rent and didn't want kids to they just blamed the move on the neighbours? Did it refer to domestic violence or drugs or other environmental factors? Or was it really just plain noise? Another thing that was consistently said across groups had to do with dogs. Kids everywhere talked about being barked at, bitten by, and generally displeased with dogs. Maybe you have a very good boy at home...but a lot of kids are having to manage community spaces where they are feeling threatened by these animals.While neither of these pieces made it into our final survey, they will be reflected in our final display.

Also during that time frame, we worked with a carpenter to build the six frames (one example is above) and 12 boards (one is in the background of the picture above). We partnered with a local upholstery shop to test out different threads and put in our order for our final choice. We secured the rest of the materials we thought we'd need.

By the first week in March we transitioned to the individual surveys. Here are five questions we identified:
  1. I am in grades Kindergarten, 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5.
  2. If I see someone new at school, I introduce myself.
  3. It is important to me to know my neighbors.
  4. I try to build relationships with my neighbors.
  5. I do things in my community that make a difference.
Because the beads are on a ring, we needed a way to consistently tell which question was the first one. But this wasn't quite enough, because even if you could identify question number one, you couldn't tell which was question two. So, we ended up creating two questions with binary answers and using two sets of colours (white, grey for Q1 and beige, brown for Q2) to start things off. Questions 3, 4, and 5 use a three-response option (often, sometimes, rarely).

We were able to get one afternoon of surveying in before schools were closed. If things were different...if this pandemic was something that would have swept through in a month and been gone...then we did have a plan to capture more data. Our Boys and Girls Clubs are open to provide childcare for first responders and other emergency service workers (in addition to their regular groups of no more than 50) and we could have asked them to do paper surveys and then string the beads later.

We also identified the questions from our statewide Healthy Youth Survey to pull from district-level data. Here are the questions we intend to showcase for each of the six districts, as a way to compliment the data from the six clubs in their respective areas:
  1. There are adults in my neighborhood or community I could talk to about something important.
  2. My neighbors notice when I am doing a good job and let me know.
  3. There are people in my neighborhood who encourage me to do my best.
  4. There are people in my neighborhood or community who are proud of me when I do something well. 

We did not write the five questions for the community survey during Arts Walk (the interactive part with the string). We do intend to have one question that is the same for both the K - 12 survey and the adult survey. I suspect it will be question 3 or 4.

I won't pretend that the answers for six months from now won't be vastly different. At least, I suspect they will be after we get through this crisis. I think we will look at neighbours and our roles and responsibilities to the community very differently. I kinda wish we'd been able to finish this display before the outbreak...and then do something to look at these same questions through the lens of "after." 

For now, everything is frozen in time. The display...the launch of my bigger dream (The Data Lab)...and more. I am not the only one to find themselves in this situation. For all of us, we're in a type of stasis while other things get sorted out. I am trying to remind myself that this time to pause and reflect and rest will provide the resources to fight hard later.

And I will.