MIT Solve Workshop

Design, Education, STEM

Tech Town hosted a workshop from MIT’s Solve team yesterday evening. I attended only due to a chance meeting with Paul Riser, Jr. when I was accompanying teachers looking at Tech Town as a potential field trip site. It turned out to be a snowy evening to trundle downtown, but I’m glad I went as I think Solve presents an interesting approach to tackling social issues.

Attendees included representatives from local industries, particularly engineering, as General Motors was sponsoring the event. Also represented were higher education, STEM related education companies, business consultants, and employees of TechTown and related organizations. We began by learning about Solve’s mission, which is clearly explained on their site. I took it as crowd-sourced problem solving. Solve focuses on four issues during an 18 month cycle, with a new cycle starting up in March. Previous challenges include refugee education and chronic diseases. The themes for the new cycle are:

  • Sustainability: Coastal Communities
  • Learning: Future of Teaching
  • Health: Equity & Access
  • Economic Prosperity: Inclusive Cities/Future of Work

At the beginning of the cycle, Solve looks for challenging but solvable issues related to each theme. Attendees were to try defining an issues that meets that criteria. We split up into groups based on which theme we wanted to tackle. There were enough attendees that two or three tables were devoted to each theme.

I chose to sit at a table looking at future of teaching. We began by individually brainstorming for ~5 minutes what measurable outcomes we would want. We would then share our ideas and find where clusters of ideas might exist. This was our table after this first round.

Next, we considered the obstacles that exist when trying to reach these outcomes. We were told to not focus on larger barriers such as funding or policy, but those which are more easily addressed. Here was our table after another five minutes.

After this, it was time to brainstorm challenges. Defining the problem is critical in actually having workable solution, so there were many considerations such as scope, not suggesting solutions within the problem, not getting caught up in jargon, and more. An ideal challenge could be addressed with many types of solutions, could impact a large number of people, and tends to tackle global needs. Solve also suggested that the types of problems that can be solved with technology more than policy fit better with their model. After again working individually, we shared our challenges, noted patterns, and tried to define two challenges to submit to Solve. This was perhaps the hardest part of the evening. Here are two sets of challenges from neighboring education-focused tables.

The final part of the process was filling in the remainder of the challenges sheet with the hope of finding next steps if attempting to develop a solution. This was also a challenge in some cases. With that, our workshop was done in just under two hours.

From a schools standpoint, I think Solve is an interesting system for considering social issues and finding what others are considering within the problem solving process. Looking at the final selected solutions from previous challenges, it tended to be established organizations with access to resources already, but if students were to spend extensive time on developing a solution, they may be able to compete. Of course, the process would be more important than any finalist status, but it provides an easy way to compare solutions from different parts of the world.

From Making to Computing: A Year of Growth

Essays, MSU MAET

Before beginning the Masters of Arts in Educational Technology (MAET) program at Michigan State University (MSU), I had a sense of what my interests in informal education were, but little idea on how to move forward. I had spent over five years as a museum outreach educator, but felt my mental wheels spinning a bit as I tried to break out of familiar ways of thinking. After spending just over a year working on my masters degree, the path has become clearer, not just due to guidance from my instructors, but by taking inspiration from the amazing work that my fellow classmates have exposed me to. My attitudes towards the use of technology in the museum or classroom has also changed by taking a more grounded view in connecting the use of tools to pedagogy and content being taught. As I reflect on my experience, I find that the largest changes in how I work to provide compelling experiences to learners of all ages has taken place in three key areas: maker education, transdisciplinary learning, and computational thinking.

A Year in Advance

Essays, MSU MAET, Museums

Summer provides a natural opportunity to reflect and regroup for many educators. Within a museum, the time is often filled with camps, teacher workshops, and special public events, but time must still be set aside for planning. Over the next couple months, I will be transitioning to a new position at work as well as finishing my Master’s degree, so considering the future is particularly relevant at the moment. In order to continue to grow personally and professionally, my current learning goals include gaining experience in hobbyist programming, learning more about how non-profits are managed, and finding new ways to engage the public within a museum.

These goals are chosen based on the idea that I want to continue to do well in a museum environment, but may also wish to explore my own interests in another non-profit setting where much of my experience will transfer over. Of particular interest to me is how to engage a wide variety of ages in learning new technologies, including developing programming and computational thinking skills. I also want these goals to be achievable in the next year and have concrete end products that show evidence of growth.

Creative Computing Lesson Reflection

Coding, Computational Thinking, Creativity, MSU MAET, Technology

During a recent session of our Art and Science Teacher Workshops, I engaged in action research by implementing and reflecting on a lesson on the use of computers for creative means, namely creating visual art. The participants explored the work of Sol LeWitt, who created instruction based works intended to be carried out in a variety of contexts. Brain Pickings has provided an overview that shows how various artists have approached this idea. LeWitt’s instructions can be implemented using traditional technology, but in this lesson I chose to use two newer tools, Scratch and Processing, to introduce how computers can be tools of creative expression through programming and play.

Creative Computing Lesson

Coding, Computational Thinking, Education, MSU MAET

Grade level: K-12 Teachers



Common Core Math (for students – not standards for the workshop)

7.G.2 Draw (freehand, with ruler and protractor, and with technology) geometric shapes with given conditions. Focus on constructing triangles from three measures of angles or sides, noticing when the conditions determine a unique triangle, more than one triangle, or no triangle.

National Core Art Standards (for teachers/students)

CR.1.1.8 Generate ideas, goals, and solutions for original media artworks through application of focused creative processes, such as divergent thinking and experimenting.

CSTA Computer Science Standards (for teachers/students)

L1:6.CT.1 Understand and use the basic steps in algorithmic problem-solving (e.g., problem statement and exploration, examination of sample instances, design, implementation, and testing).

L1:6.CT.6 Understand connections between computer science and other fields.

Change is Constant

Essays, MSU MAET

Just over a year ago, I applied to Michigan State University (MSU) to begin the Masters of Arts in Education Technology (MAET) program. This process forced me to consider my goals not only for the degree but in my profession. I had spent the last three years coordinating an outreach program for northern Michigan schools that used an integrated approach to teaching art and science. I chose to attend MSU in large part because of its rich history in exploring transdisciplinary learning and its relationship to developing creativity skills in K-12 students, which closely matched what I was trying to achieve through our programs, so many of my goals related to further developing an understanding of these topics.

Misconceptions about Computer Science

Computational Thinking, Education, MSU MAET

I recently interviewed fellow educators and software developers about what they thought computer science was. The results were rather interesting, as responses ranged from not being sure at all to focusing on programming and use of computers. The interviewees included:

  • A second grade teacher
  • An art educator
  • A software developer

As you might expect, their responses varied quite widely. This demonstrates a challenge to the computer science field in communicating the nature of the discipline, although debate with the field exists on that very question.

DC 3000 by Thievery Corporation used under the Sampling Plus license.


Zweben, S. (2011). Computing degree and enrollment trends. Computing Research Association.


Thorny Issue Memo: STEM vs. STEAM

Education, MSU MAET, STEM


Since the 1990’s, the National Science Foundation has emphasized the need to improve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and retain students within the STEM pipeline to propel them to related careers. This call to action is a result of an innovation-driven economy where an increasing number of careers will require STEM skills, but where the majority of students in the United States are not proficient in these fields and have fallen behind their peers on international assessments, resulting in employers who lack qualified applicants to fill STEM positions (National Research Council, 2011). Even after decades of efforts with billions of federal funds allocated to STEM programs each year, there still exists ambiguity over how to best teach STEM, including how closely to integrate the fields within instruction (Sanders, 2009).

Institute of Inquiry: Day 1


Five fellow educators from the Cranbrook Institute of Science and I had the opportunity to attend the Institute of Inquiry at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. A series of posts will document our thoughts as we progressed through the week-long workshops.

Many of us had been hoping to attend this professional development opportunity for some time, so to touch down in California and look forward to a week of not only learning but a chance to reflect and discuss out work with each other arrive was certainly exciting. Yet we also shared uncertainty about what each of us will take away from it: How it will connect to the different types of work we do? What we can transfer this knowledge to the educators and students we serve? I think the first day put some of those concerns to rest, even as the complete picture on inquiry was not yet revealed.

We joined about twenty-five other teachers, principals, professors, and informal educators in a conference room around 9 in the morning. Some worked at the Exploratorium, others worked elsewhere in the state, but they were in the minority. Most had travelled from elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada, and a few had traveled as far as from Japan, Hong Kong, and Spain. This would allow for rich conversations with the various perspectives and experiences in the room, which is often just as valuable as the content being presented.