Monthly Archives: March 2012

Skills, not Content at the DML Badges Competition

Earlier this month we were lucky to get to share portions of the Computers4Kids curriculum at the Digital Media and Learning Badges competition. As I’ve mentioned, C4K didn’t win the money prize, but we were thrilled to be included. C4K offers training, one-on-one mentoring and college and career transition guidance to low-income youth in 7th-12th grades. With the exception of training, which has a clearly defined set of objectives, the C4K curriculum provides an intensely individualized program which accommodates the needs and interests of both our students, and our volunteer mentors. The challenge has been to provide a meaningful measure of what our students are achieving.

The DML Badges Competition asked organizations to create badge systems that validate out of school learning. We chose to present the college and career transition aspect of our program, Teen Tech. When students come to Teen Tech they focus on academic, job readiness, technology and/or service projects. As they attend over their high school years, their interests and needs change depending on school or family obligations, their age or other extra-curricular activities. Teen Tech’s curriculum needs to be flexible to accommodate our students’ changing priorities, however, our metrics need to capture what the students are learning so we can monitor their progress, uncover their challenges, and review the data to inform how we evolve the curriculum.

In this situation we can’t focus our measures on what content is being learned. On any given day, 10 students may be in the lab, working on such diverse tasks as Trig homework, mixing a new song, writing an English essay, practicing Photoshop in preparation to teaching a workshop.

All of this is why we do focus on broader, recognizable and valued skills. We work with students to fit their work into one of 5 learning domains and then map them onto ISTE-NETS for students. The table below demonstrates that alignment for some sample activities.

Badge Tasks Selected Skills (ISTE-NETS)
Plan -Identify tasks and final goal
-Create timeline
-Adjust  plan to reflect feedback from critique
Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
(Use critical thinking skills to plan and conduct research, manage projects, solve problems and make informed decisions using appropriate digital tools and resources.)
Learn & Apply -Identify and Perform 15 new technology skills in Adobe Dreamweaver Technology Operations and Concepts (Demonstrate a sound understanding of technology concepts, systems and operations.)
Create -Create, assemble and organize all components of your website, including images Creativity and Innovation (Demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology
Reflect & Revise -Perform self-evaluation before formal critique
-Participate in formal critique
-Revise products according to feedback received
-Write final summary of the project
Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making 
Present -Upload website
-Advertise it via social media
Communication and Collaboration

I think this kind of thought, investigation and analysis is what sets Computers4Kids apart and why the DML Badges Competition judges selected us out of a pool of 500 teams submitting content and frameworks. Multiple people have asked, how could they award such large institutions like Disney-Pixar, Microsoft and Intel in a competition intended for small non-profits? I’ve come to realize that the competition had nothing to do with awarding the most needy, or the smallest, or most efficient. We were competing toe-to-toe to demonstrate that we could reach the widest audience with international companies that have huge resources, instant name-recognition, and deep pockets of personnel. Our six employee organization got into the room with them and showed that we’ve got the goods as well.

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Underdogging it at the DML Badges Competition

Last week, we all went to the DML Badges Finals competition to represent Computers4Kids and Teen Tech. By we all, I mean me, Dolly, Paul, and Brandon. We’ll post the content and idea behind in a second blog, but this one is all about the process.

This was a Big Deal to Computers4Kids and our team. This competition was funded by The MacArthur Foundation (you know, the geniuses) and sponsored by Mozilla and a whole bunch of high profile educational organizations. With only 3 full-time and 3 part-time staff, C4K were certainly the underdogs. And we didn’t win. We lost to teams from Disney-Pixar, Smithsonian, 4-H, American Museum of Natural History and other institutions that you’ve heard of. But, we started in a pool of 500 teams and went on to be in the final 64. Here’s what we did right:

  • Do What You Know
    • We didn’t try to reinvent the wheel. I took content that I knew extremely well– the Teen Tech curriculum that lab staff and I have developed and refined over 3 years– and refined and reordered it to fit the competition constraints.
  • Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses
    • Going in we knew we were leaner than most of the organizations, but we know what we do well. We’ve built a curriculum that is flexible and closely meets our learners’ needs and is aligned to national standards. We know our logic model, assessment strategies, and actual educational outcomes are more realized than most organizations our size or larger.
  • People are Your Power
    • We assembled the best team we could and sought qualified outside opinions. Everyone who worked on this project shared similar vision about what’s important in education, learning and design. High pressure situations with tight deadlines are not the time to bring in the devil’s advocates.
  • Let Go of Ego
    • Good products require that you be willing to let ownership go. When someone tells you to revise, do it. Unless they’re wrong, but if you’re working with the right people, they’re not.
  • Appreciate the Process
    • Even though we didn’t win the money, we accomplished a great deal. I took the opportunity to meet with the Teen Tech Manager to figure out what was working with our program and what wasn’t. We’ll implement these changes shortly. I generated material that we’ll use to describe our program better. I refine my own thinking. And we had fun. You’re not good at ID if you don’t love doing it.