August 29, 2014

A labor of love: My(insertadjectivehere)Life

Filed under: about me,deep thoughts,Digital media and learning competition,edtech,myscilife — Candace Hackett Shively @ 8:26 am

MSL logoSince April, I have been involved in a project that has stretched my thinking, my imagination, and — at times– my patience. After over three years of looking, The Source for Learning (SFL), the non-profit parent company where I work and direct TeachersFirst, has found a developer to help us create a customized platform for MySciLife®. Perhaps I should offer some background…

You remember MySciLife, the project I led to finalist status in the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Competition 2010? I have occasionally written about it here. Three of us (Ollie Dreon, Louise Maine, and I) cooked up the idea one wintry afternoon in an online meeting. We hustled to become finalists. Then we did not get funded.  Since 2010,  SFL has managed sufficient funding to launch MySciLife, and we are now beginning our third year of a research pilot with teachers and students across the U.S.. For the first two years, we used a well-accepted, safe social learning platform as the “home” for MySciLife. This “home,” however, was a candidate for a full Property Brothers makeover to really suit our needs. Unfortunately, the platform was NOT designed for the kind of student roles (we call them “identities”) and interschool interactions that happen in MySciLife. Our tech-savvy teachers and their clever students were troopers at devising work-arounds to accomplish MySciLife tasks. The research came back showing that MySciLife works — and kids LOVE it.

The gist of MySciLife is that students LIVE as a science concept, creating their identities in a safe, social learning environment using status updates, interactions, and a full range of digital media within the MySciLife platform. MySciLife is personal, dynamic science learning, interaction, and assessment. Imagine living your life as a cell…(think Facebook).

We shared about MySciLife at ISTE 2013, thanks to our curriculum experts, MySciLife creative collaborators, teachers, a student, and a parent. Later that summer I ran across a relatively new tool called Mashplant Studio, the third or fourth tool I had encountered that showed promise to possibly be adapted for MySciLife. After MONTHS of discussion and negotiation… we had a deal.

Fast forward to spring and summer, 2014. Code writers are building the new platform as I write this. We have used a very messy version of it (dubbed MyMashedUpLife) for our summer Boot Camp and have 23 teachers AND their middle school science students from across the U.S. starting the school year in MySciLife right now.  We are literally laying the track in front of the train to make all the features work THIS school year instead of waiting until 2015-16.

So what have I/we learned so far? (This may have to be part 1 of many…)

  • Teachers need time for Boot Camp style PD and even more time to absorb and collaborate when they are radically changing the way they teach.
  • Students need far less time!
  • Developers/code folks re-order lists to their view of what comes first. Users have a different view, and ed tech coaches yet another. Add the visual designer, and you have cacophony!
  • No level of list making can keep track of a project perfectly.
  • Bugs reproduce.
  • Online meetings only work after you get to know the “sound” of your collaborators’ true feelings.
  • Timelines sound great, but imagination and innovation resist such limits.
  • More details and to-do items rear their ugly heads between 3 and 4 a.m. than at any other time of day or night.
  • Creating a new learning “space” is just like lesson planning. You will never get it “just right.”

Stay tuned for further updates in My(insertadjectivehere)Life. Happy Labor Day!


November 8, 2013

Super Bowl #eduwin

Filed under: Digital media and learning competition,edtech,learning,myscilife,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:47 am

When learning works, it feels like a Super Bowl victory to a teacher. Unlike the Super Bowl, we receive no media hype, give no interviews, wear no ring, never have a sexy half time show, and certainly don’t make a profit on clever commercials. But we celebrate as best we can, and it feels GOOD. We WON! #eduwin!

Today I celebrate a BIG victory: MySciLife WORKS! And now we can share the report that proves it. Both the documented learning and the act of publishing the report are victories. Believe me, I am celebrating!Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 12.41.08 PM

Key findings in the report:

  • When asked to compare MySciLife to their experience with traditional methods of science instruction, most students replied that MySciLife helped them understand content, that they enjoyed the social interaction, and that MySciLife was fun and creative.
  • Three out of four groups using MySciLife showed a statistically significant increase in students’ science content knowledge as compared to the control groups using traditional instruction.

The background:

Almost four years ago, three creative teachers got together and dreamed up MySciLife, an entry in the 2010 MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning competition. A few months later, we were finalists. Then we “lost.” We did not receive the funding. I blogged throughout the process and have shared more as the project moved ahead in new venues. Fast forward to 2012, and we had enough funding to conduct a limited research pilot of MySciLife with middle school science teachers, collecting data throughout the 2012-13 school year. We watched the dream unfold and shared it at the ISTE conference 2013.

Unlike the Super Bowl, the learning game does not end. As MySciLife moves well into its second year and a much-expanded control group study, the players are going without a huddle, eager to engage with each other inside MySciLife. The teachers meet for monthly collaboration where learning also happens. Unlike the Super Bowl, the “coaches” cooperate and share strategies. Unlike a football game, there are no losers. We share the triumph as we watch learning unfold.

Today feels like a Super Bowl victory for social media-based learning, and we won unopposed. Here’s to us!

May 20, 2010

Conclusion and Epilogue from Forwardthink

This is the final episode in a long fable, and perhaps the start of another. Unravel the previous chapters here.

The town of Forwardthink has completely changed. At the stroke of midnight  (about 1 pm Pacific Time) on May 12, the doors of the Town Hall opened, and an arm tacked one final message on the door. From inside, the sounds of music and dancing and jingling keys of gold echoed across the near-empty square. Outside, the few remaining Innovators rushed to read the message.

It was a vaguely familiar sheet of paper with a scrap pasted at the end– pasted onto the same message that had been posted for others in mid-March. The scrap bore a few new words explaining that the winners were already inside the Town Hall, apparently ushered in by a secret passageway several days before.  As the handful of remaining, bedraggled and tired Innovators huddled to read and re-read, a small voice from among them sighed,

“The Elders did not even take the time to cross out the old version of the “go away” message and start a fresh piece of paper to tell us they did not want us. They have simply pasted a scrap of a sentence at the end of an old message. I guess we were not worthy enough to see the Elders or hear their actual words.”

“But look! We can see the Winners through the windows!” cried another as he jumped up and down to see over the high sill and beyond the newly opened blinds.

They took turns for a minute or two, boosting one another by the foot so each could see the party of Winning Innovators. But their energy for jumping drained quickly. The MySciLife Innovators drew away from the window and stepped to the sidewalk together.

“I was SURE you would be among the winners,” came a voice from a passerby. Others who passed hummed in agreement.


Although the Elders of Forwardthink have not invited the MySciLife Innovators  to join the Winners inside the Town Hall, these Innovators did not simply pack their knapsacks. As the small gathering around the Town Hall dispersed, careful ears caught the MySciLifers words, “I heard there may be a different kind of Elders in other villages who may be willing to help. Let’s look at our maps, then set out for the unknown territories. If we stick together, we will find our own key of gold somewhere.”



In a tug of war between the wisdom of the crowd and competition, who wins?

[In the spirit of crowdly wisdom, insert your moral here]

April 16, 2010

Marveling at Matryoshka dolls/boxes

There is a stir  in Forwardthink.  MySciLife, our finalist entry in the Digital Media and Learning Competition, is complete, including this video.  One of these days I’ll upgrade our version of WordPress so we can simply embed it here. But for now…go take a look.

The town of Forwardthink is abuzz during these final days before the deadline for videos and proposed budgets.  Who will “win”? Who knows!?  But the process of imagining, thinking through, and visually explaining a whole new way of learning using digital media has Innovators twisting every digital knob, mashing together different types of files,  converting, combining, and clickety-clacking mice or smooth, glassy touchpads in their excitement. And we are the”old people” who are trying to give the real students a chance to learn this way. What a wonderful, nesting Matryoshka doll/box of learning: we learn how to show our ideas so real students can say it even better outside our dolls.jpgcarefully crafted box. Their box of learning is actually the larger one that envelopes our vision and grows yet another and another layer.  We “innovators” have carved a small but beautiful vision, the smallest inner seedling of a doll/box. The best thing that can happen is for students to encase it in their own, more artful ideas.

Back in Forwardthink, we Innovators are busy marveling at how pretty our starter Matryoshka doll/boxes are. We hover about the Town Hall doors. The Elders have not even told us when to expcet The Announcement. The Wise Crowds are still busy sharing their insights. And we wait to learn:

In a tug of war between the wisdom of the crowd and competition, who wins?

 I think it’s the  Matryoshka dolls of learning who ultimately win. We are just part of the process.

April 8, 2010

The next chapter from the land of Forwardthink

In a tug of war between the wisdom of the crowd and competition, who wins?

Our narrator has been scurrying about in the land of Forwardthink . The story continues! You may want to refresh your memory of the first two chapters here and here.

On the day scheduled for the Big Announcement, it came to pass that the clocks in Forwardthink froze. For nearly four days, the Innovators hovering about outside the town hall grumbled and wondered as time stood still. Although an occasional Tweetboat arrived on the nearby river carrying possible news, the Innovators knew not whom they should trust. The few who remained close by the Town Hall doors multitasked silently as they waited to hear who would have the final opportunity to compete for the Keys of Gold.

Suddenly, and without notice, there was once a new,announcement tacked to the doors, and E-owl messengers were sent far and wide to all Innovators, as well.  The Finalists’ names appeared on a list, along withthe declaration that the Wise Crowd would be invited in for commenting again “soon.”  There was a small map instructing the Finalists to meet at the Peak in 27 days where they must present the mandatory Magic Picture and a lined purse prepared for Keys of Gold.

Among the Innovators still huddled at the portal to the Town Hall, cheers rang out while some slinked quietly away, trudging off on another unmarked trail toward innovation, seeking a different wise crowd.  Those whose names were on The List soon muffled their cheers as they saw the map to the peak and realized both the distance and the treacherous path ahead. They knew that the task of creating a Magic Picture and sewing the perfect lined purse would take many days before their first footfall along the path to the Peak. It was also rumored that unknown trolls and demons might line the trail. Something called the Wicked WebGlitch of the West had been eating Innovator’s ideas and making them disappear. Surely the journey would be fraught with stress and peril.

Okeys.jpgne very special team of Innovators is elated to be among The Finalists and has been working through many long nights creating their Magic Picture. They hope have begun sewing their lined purse, as well. As they stir every Innovator Potion they have to help in the tasks, they continue to marvel at the thoughts of the crowd who visit their MySciLife web display and share wisdom with  Innovators and Elders alike. They hope your wisdom will give them  strength to scale  up to the Digital Media and Learning Competition peak, earning the Golden Keys.  Soon they will hand the Elders their Magic Picture and lined purse. Then all will wait once again for many days as we hope to learn:

In a tug of war between the wisdom of the crowd and competition, who wins?

Won’t you share your wisdom with this special team of Innovators before April 19?

February 25, 2010

The Fable continues

Filed under: about me,creativity,Digital media and learning competition,edtech,education,musing,myscilife — Candace Hackett Shively @ 3:04 pm

doors1.jpg (previously, in the town of Forwardthink…)

The elders of the town of Forwardthink have surprised the Innovators once again.  A mere week after they invited Innovators from far and wide to re-display their latest ideas (even those that entered after the first deadline), they have locked the doors of the town hall. The doors have a generic notice explaining that the elders will be back in March to announce the decree of the magical judges about who will enter the finals in the tug-of-war between the Wisdom of Crowds and Outright Competition. The windows are covered, though a definite glow passes ’round the edges of the room-darkening shades. There is life moving about inside the hall of Innovative Ideas. Moving figures and glimmers cast small slivers onto the ground outside as the Innovators wait, separated from their ideas left behind in the display hall. No one can see their precious Innovations any longer. The Wise crowd can no longer comment. Occasionally a tweet flies out via a small trap door high up on the oaken doors, much as the pronouncements of the guard at the Emerald City: come back soon to see what we’re doing behind these Doors of Mystery.

Outside, Innovators huddle and occasionally intermingle as they speculate or flatter each other about the likely results. Some wander off in search of the next town’s competition. Separated from their orphaned Innovations, the Innovators find less to talk about and share. The creative juices chill as each innovator seeks rudimentary shelter and a strategy for waiting and wondering.

Perhaps the Innovators will band together to find other routes and other locations. But for now, Innovation has been stymied. And the question remains:

In a tug of war between the wisdom of the crowd and competition, who wins? 

February 5, 2010

An Open-ended Fable

Filed under: about me,creativity,Digital media and learning competition,edtech,education,musing,myscilife — Candace Hackett Shively @ 3:57 pm

In a tug of war between the wisdom of the crowd and competition, who wins?

The elders of the small town of Forwardthink, nestled at the delta of Hereandnow River, declared that they wanted the very best Innovators to move to their town. They had heard that many innovative thinkers and other wise people lived beyond the Hereandnow watershed and could help the town of Forwardthink live up to its name. To find the Innovators and lure them in, they decided to award the Forwardthink Keys of Gold to the best Innovators. So the elders planned a competition and announced it far and wide, sending messengers out by Tweetboats and The RSSFeeder ships:

Innovators welcome. Earn Forwardthink Keys of Gold for the most innovative ideas.

They carefully posted the rules of the Forwardthink competition on the doors to the Town Hall and sent copies along on the Tweetboats and RSSFeeder ships. The deadline came, and the First Fortnight of competition began.

Each innovator displayed the very best of ideas in the Forwardthink Tkeys.jpgown Hall for all to see. Once the displays are erected, visitors from far and wide traveled to see them. The elders grinned as they watched the visitors mingling among the displays. They encouraged visitors to comment. The rules on the Town Hall doors explained that during the First Fortnight the Wise Crowd would help the Innovators improve their ideas. The elders planned to close the doors after the First Fortnight so the Innovators could clean up the scribed comments and straighten their displays, perhaps even combining with another Innovator’s display.   The doors of the Town Hall remained open 24/7 as visitors appeared and scribed their thoughts on each exhibit.  The Innovators even talked among themselves, commenting on each other’s ideas and pondering ways to learn from them. For they knew that sharing their ideas aloud and listening to others would truly breed the best Innovations — and possibly Keys of Gold!

The elders stood by with arms folded. listening to the Wisdom of the Crowd and talking with the occasional visitors, as well. But none of the Innovators heard the conversations with the elders.

On the evening of the 14th day, as the Innovators prepared to rework their displays, the elders held a special meeting. They quietly took down the rules from the Town Hall doors and used an enchanted spider’s web-eraser to changed one paragraph:

Please plan to learn from the Wisdom of Crowds and rework your display after the First Fortnight. Only those who shared a display in time for the First Fortnight and stood with it throughout the First Fortnight will be allowed to share a display during the Second Fortnight.


Please plan to learn from the Wisdom of Crowds and rework your display after the First Fortnight. All who wish to create a display during the Second Fortnight are welcome to compete for the Keys of Gold, including newcomers from the Wise Crowd.

The Innovators were stunned as they watched new displays appear. The elders clapped their hands to see such innovation and quickly forgot the old rules from the First Fortnight. They forgot the copies that had traveled far and wide via Tweetboats and RSSFeeder ships. In their greed for Innovative ideas, they forgot the Innovators of the First Fortnight, for the ideas were the most important thing.

And how does this fable end? The tale has yet to be told. Perhaps the Wise Crowd will know.

In a tug of war between the wisdom of the crowd and competition, who wins?

[To those who are mystified by this post and wonder what it has to do with educational technology, thinking and learning, or teaching, I suggest that you can find hints to this open-ended fable in some of my previous posts. I certainly do not know what the moral of the story will be.]