In this episode, Alec interviews 7th grade Maker teacher Shane Duenow about how he uses the program Padlet to recreate the energy that a classroom gets when students post drafts on the walls, and why he asks students to submit three different drafts at the same time.
You can learn more about the project on Shane’s Digital Portfolio
We’re like doing these things independently, and the students are working independently just because they’re isolated at home. And they don’t have the other students scream right next to them, to look and be, Oh, you did that. Oh, that would work really well. That’s something that’s definitely missing. And part of my hope with this Padlet is having that huge visibility to really get kids to feel ownership of having to put work up there so that they can get. I don’t know peer feedback. Is just going to fall back on peer feedback is really important.
This is High Tech High Unboxed. I’m Alec Patton. And you just heard the voice of Shane, as for his last name, it’s spelled D-U-E-N-O-W. So I checked with him to make sure I pronounced it right. How do you pronounce your last name?
Well, that’s up for interpretation. It’s Duenow I guess. I don’t know.
The Flinstones drop the U drop the W.
OK, is that where your parents say?
My mom said it one way when we were growing up, and my dad said at another, and then my grandparents said in a different way. So whenever anyone asks I just say it’s up for interpretation. If you want to say “do now” that’s awesome. You can say “do now” Duenow. We even went to Poland, where it’s supposed to be Polish or German. We went to both places and asked people there, like libraries, how you would pronounce it, and they were just I don’t know. So no help.
We’re going with Duenow. Shane’s on the show because he’s using the program Padlet to help his seventh-grade students critique each other’s work in a really cool way. And he’s using a method that I hope will get widely adopted and project-based learning called parallel prototyping, which means this is a Pro Session.
I found out about Shane’s work from High Tech High High GSE marketing and branding mastermind Natasha Anderson.
So, Shane contacted me because he heard through the grapevine that I’m the marketing person, that I can really help with branding.
Why did Shane need to talk to a branding expert? As with so many things this year, the short answer is because of coronavirus. Shane’s official title is seventh-grade maker teacher. And he literally has a degree in furniture design, which is not ideal for remote learning. So Shane has gone all in on teaching graphic design. This being an election year, his students are redesigning the campaign logos for all of California’s statewide ballot measures.
Quick mini-lesson on California’s civics. The ballot measures of the things that everybody called props. Basically, anyone in California can propose their own law if they get enough signatures to put it on the ballot. This year that means 623,212 signatures. In this election, 12 measures got enough of those signatures to make it onto the ballot. As you would expect, those are the props of a yes campaign and a no campaign. And both campaigns have logos, normally boring, predictable logos.
So Shane students are designing different, more eloquent logos for those campaigns. Shane teaches the entire seventh-grade, which is 112 kids. He assigned them to the props randomly and told them whether they’d be making a logo for the yes or no campaign. And this brings us to the program I mentioned before, Padlet.
Padlet is basically an online bulletin board. There are lots of different ways of setting it up. But probably the simplest way is as a row of columns. You give each call a header, and then everybody you share it with can add images and text underneath the headers. I’m conscious the podcast is an auditory medium, and Padlet is a visual tool. And with that in mind. I put a link to a screenshot of Shane’s Padlet in the show notes.
If you’re not driving or operating heavy machinery or anything like that, I recommend taking a look at it. But if that’s not an option, here’s what Shane’s Padlet looks like. Every header is the name of a prop. The first column shows an example that Shane made himself, so students know what to do. The rest of the columns have images of logos that students have uploaded. Most of them are digital. A few of them are hand-drawn.
These are their first drafts.
OK, and you have your first– you did prop 17 as an example. So you’ve got a teacher model here. And that’s on the far left column. And so the students look at that before they post theirs? How did that work?
I believe in the crummy first draft idea of we should sketch things and make it like is easy to get that idea from your brain to your hand out as possible. So I had them do that before posting. And you’ll see on the Padlet there’s a couple of them that are still the sketch designs. But I really wanted them to use this other online vector program called Gravit to make some polish designs. And some of my yes on 17 was an example that was I showed them in class some sketch designs that I had come up with, and then this was my more polished digital version.
Got it. So they saw you on Zoom saying, here’s some pencil sketches I did. And then you made a more polished draft, and that was the one that you put on to Padlet?
And you’re using Gravit? What is Gravit?
Gravit is like a free vector program. At one point, it’s like not free, but we are using the free version because Chrome books don’t have Illustrator, and making designs in Canva only go so far if you want to make something look unique and done by hand. You can’t quite edit the vector lines in Canva. So I used Gravit as this substitute for Illustrator, which is something that I would normally teach in my class to is vector-based programs.
Shane’s talking about different graphic design programs here. Adobe Illustrator is the industry standard for what’s called vector art, which is what you use to make digital logos because it keeps looking nice no matter how big or small you make it. But like Shane said, Adobe Illustrator doesn’t work on Chrome books, which are the kind of computers that most students are using.
So a lot of teachers are using Canva, which is a free online program that makes it very easy to make nice looking graphics. But Canva’s got a lot of stuff preset. So it’s not flexible enough for art class. So Shane uses Gravit, which is a vector-based design program that you can use of the Chromebook. Let’s get back to the Padlet.
So what we can see here is a row of columns going from prop 15 in order up to prop 25. And then each one of these has a column. So this one screen has as soon that everyone’s turned in their work 112 kids submissions on it? Or do you have multiple Padlets for different classes?
No, I use one Padlet for the whole team because I tried to mirror it like would be in my classroom where this would be their designs on the wall. I have big blank walls that we post the designs, and then we can hold critiques. And so this is meant to mirror that. And in the classroom, I wouldn’t be taking down each classes work and putting the next classes up. We just put the whole grades up. So hopefully, there would be like 330 posts on here by the end of this project.
Because everybody is posting three, yeah.
The hope is that this Padlet promotes just seeing other students’ work and being able to change your designs or influence your designs based on other students’ work. And seeing the level of quality that’s being presented that the students feel some responsibility to say, Oh, OK, I didn’t put my best work out there. I should revise this and repost it.
As much as I would love to be able to give thoughtful feedback to all 110 designs, and I do. I go through this– this is one of my daily things. I open it up and just write a couple bits of feedback, and move on to the next one. But it really like benefits them to have it all up within that time frame so that they can receive that peer critique, and that peer I don’t know how to articulate this. And if there’s a word for it but just having all of the designs on there. That’s one of the main things I’ve noticed is missing in distance learning is there’s just not there’s like peer pressure for maybe a lack of a better term, but peer pressure or influence to articulate the learning into a context.
So we’re doing these things independently, and the students are working independently just because they’re isolated at home. And they don’t have the other students scream right next to them to look and be Oh, you did that. That trick and grab it. Oh, that would work really well. Or Oh, I saw how you use that symbolism there. That’s awesome. Could you explain that? Obviously, students don’t talk like that. But like that’s something that’s definitely missing.
And part of my hope with this Padlet it is having that huge visibility to really get kids to feel ownership of having to put work up there so that they can get peer feedback. It’s just going to fall back on peer feedback is really important.
If the only thing Shane had done was have kids share their work on the Padlet, it would have been worth the procession because it’s such a cool way of recreating that artist’s workshop feeling of project-based learning classrooms in a remote setting. But Shane does something else too. He asks students to make three very different versions of their logo and post them all at the same time. This is called parallel prototyping. And to explain it. I brought in Randell Scherer, Director of High Tech PBL Leadership Academy, and parallel prototyping biggest fan.
I would say it’s fair to say you think that parallel prototyping should be in the mainstream of project-based learning. What is parallel prototyping?
I mean, first, let’s start with what is a prototype. Is a fancy word for a rough draft. And then I think we get into why people prototype, which is sometimes to test out ideas, but really at a deeper level, it’s to gather feedback. And I think many people will try a few prototypes or a few rough drafts. But many people will do when they’re consciously prototyping is they’ll do that in series.
So they’ll kind of gather a bunch of ideas, then make one rough draft get some feedback, then make another version of that rough draft, get some feedback and keep going in series. So draft one, draft two, draft three in a row. And the danger in that is that you’re really only testing out one version of an idea, and there’s a real danger of kind of going down a rabbit hole.
Parallel prototyping is developing those multiple drafts simultaneously so that they get their own identities. And they’re really different versions of how you might address whatever your challenges or whatever your problem is that you’re trying to solve. So rather than running three drafts in a row, you try three drafts all at the same time, and you make each one different than the other.
Why is that better?
OK, so if the purpose of prototyping and drafting is to gather feedback having multiple versions of a rough draft simultaneously offers your critiquers the chance to give much richer feedback. If you’re trying to draw a portrait of somebody and you only have one version of it, then the temptation in the feedback is to hold that portrait up next to the person and say, does this look like the person you were trying to draw.
Now, if you have three, or four, or five, you can compare them against one another. And you can compare on lots of different levels, I think more quickly, like which one captures the spirit of the person? What kind of a composition do we want in the first place? All these other questions come into play much more quickly and readily because the designer has multiple drafts to work with. There I think, likely to be less invested in any one of them. So maybe they’ll be more open to actually hearing the feedback.
Randy learned about parallel prototyping from a workshop given by Professor Perry Claybon, who’s part of Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. And that Institute the Hasso Plattner Institute has also funded research that demonstrates, and I’m just reading from the title of the paper here, that parallel prototyping leads to better design results, more divergence, and increased self-advocacy. There’s a link to the full article in the show notes.
Of course, doing research that does parallel prototyping works is one thing. Convincing middle schoolers to do it is quite another. So I asked Shane if he got pushback from students?
Yes, and the way that I frame it is that if you put three things out there like there’s probably going to be one of those three that you super, super, really love. But there might be unforeseen benefits in the other three ideas that come out, so I make it a point to say give three drafts, but there has to be three radically different drafts, not three variations, but three different ideas.
That helps, I think, ease the burden of feedback because if you have that one, you have your baby. Have your one idea that you love so much, and you present it, it does not end well. It’s going to be really devastating to have to like be like, well, now, I have to go back and redesign everything. I’m sure we’ve told kids, hey, you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing. This is way out of left field. And then you tell them you’re going to have to redo it, that’s the worst thing in the world. I hate having to tell kids, oh, sorry you have to redo it.
But if you have three drafts, you’ve already gone so far with three very different drafts of the same project. And when you say, hey, these two aren’t that great, you should stick with this one, then you’re not asking kids to have to go back and redo anything. They already have one path to go down.
What do you tell a kid when they’re look, I’ve done two, I’m maxed out, it’s blood from a stone I’ve got nothing left. What do you say to that kid?
I leave it at that. My friend last night was saying you’re making these kids think about all these different forms of design and having them apply it together. That sounds really conceptually challenging. And so, I try and keep that in mind. And when kids tell me I don’t know how to symbolize safe work environments anymore. I have these two ideas. I thought really hard, but I got nothing else. We leave it at that. You have to that’s still, two things that we can go with.
Even if students coming up with one idea, I encourage, but I don’t make it a requirement that you have to really do that. But I do take an interest in pulling them aside and saying, OK, what are some other ideas we can come up with? Then I workshop with them specifically because coming up with 3 on your own is a challenge in itself. And so that’s a pull out breakout session of students are I got one I’m done. I’m like, no, let’s workshop some together. But I’m not– it’s not without support. I feel like it’s like one of those things of very high expectation to have three, but with high expectation, you have to have my support.
I want to linger for a moment on just how tough this assignment is. Imagine that you’re in Shane’s class and need to come up with a logo for prop 15, which raises property taxes on commercial property to the value of $3 million or more. Now, imagine that you have to come up with three logos. I would struggle to do that. Having said that, I also want to share a point that Randy made about the value of deliberately pushing people beyond their ability to come up with their own ideas.
If you’re holding the line and holding a standard for parallel prototyping, then designers suddenly start doing really cool things like asking each other, hey, I have to come up with three prototypes, I’ve got two good ideas. Can you help? And so you get a diversity of perspectives. And I think when it comes to well, I think in, and all aspects of life diversity is just fundamentally a strength. And the reason why it is for designers or for anyone who’s trying to draft a solution to a challenge is because the solution might not be in your field of view.
And so trying out different perspectives and trying out different fields of view opens up many more possibilities that you’ll find better solutions, or better prototypes, or better drafts of whatever you’re trying to do. But fundamentally, having more perspectives available, I think, is always going to be a strength when you’re trying to get towards your highly effective, elegant, beautiful, meaningful solutions.
And what I really love, and it also makes me kind of emotional, is that Shane seeing what I think of as the PBL magic. Where after a few drafts, kid starts surprising you and surprising themselves with the quality of their work. And the project starts getting away from the teacher in a beautiful way because the kids are taking matters into their own hands.
The things that they had posted initially through designs that they initially posted were very much what you would expect of a seventh-grade student. And I’m getting some designs now that are very high quality that are pushing my idea of what high quality would be in, and so that’s our final push next week because our final week of let’s make this as high quality as we possibly can.
I’m starting to get students that are getting really into Gravit, and I’m actually utilizing– I’m trying to find ways to utilize their techniques. And show those as tutorials rather than me making the Gravit tutorials, but have students like show it because I have one student who is just I mean– if she doesn’t do graphic design in her future, she’s going to definitely like not utilize one of her strengths. But she is and just point. She’s I’ll help the kid, or pulls them aside and like has punched up work like nobody’s business.
In my experience at the beginning of the project and maybe even for most of it, it feels like the teacher is dragging the project behind them, and every step is a struggle. But then suddenly, the project picks up its own momentum, and the teacher’s is running to keep up with it, or more specifically to keep up with their students. It makes me so happy to know the projects are still taking off like this, and we’re working remotely, and we’re stressed, and we’re scared.
Here’s to all you teachers who are putting projects in motion right now and to all your students who are running away with them. High Tech High Unboxed is written and edited by me, Alec Patton. Our theme music is my Brother Hershel. The Pro Sessions theme’s by Temple Dogs, and there’s additional music from Brent Spirnak. You can find a screenshot of Shane’s Padlet in the show notes, along with a link to his digital portfolio.
If you or anyone you know is doing something that is working well for remote learning and you think other teachers might want to know about it, email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us about it. It could be our next Pro Session. Thanks for listening.