A Design Approach to Problem Solving in Project Based Learning @ STLinATL

July 27 -28, 2017 • College Park, GA

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The teaching of the skills of problem-solving has long focused on a structured algorithmic approach. Design Thinking has also arisen as a trend in K-12 curriculums as a more abstract approach to product creation. What do these two approaches have in common and how can the skill from these disciplines be applied in education, especially in the area of project based learning?

Phishing, Ransomware and Digital Spring Cleaning

Did this weekend’s global Wanna Cry ransomware attack scare you? We have taken every precaution to prevent it from being an issue at Hackley so you and your data will be safe. As always, the most important measure is to not click on any links or download attachments from suspicious emails. If you encounter a suspicious email. Please let me know immediately.

If this is a wake up call for you and you would like to take some time to secure your digital life, below is great deal of information to assist you. If you would like any assistance with working your way through any of it please let me know.

-First – Backup!

Did you miss World Backup Day?

If you have a current backup you will not have to worry about paying a ransom to get your files back.

If you are already an avid Google Drive user, you may already be in good shape. Please remember that your Hackley Google Drive account has unlimited storage.

“A Quick Guide to Backing Up Your Critical Data” -NYT

-Create Strong Passwords

One of the most effective methods of cyber attack is to simply use your password. Hackers can get a hold of your password through strategies such as brute force and social engineering. This is why is essential that you have strong passwords and that you do not share them. Here are some resources to help you create strong passwords and keep them safe.

From XKCD:

Test Some Sample Passwords

This List Of 2014’s Worst Passwords, Including ‘123456,’ Is Embarrassing” | TechCrunch

The best password managers for PCs, Macs, and mobile devices” – ITworld

Run Updates

This is a fairly straightforward process. Updates help to prevent against from cyberattacks as software manufacturers often know about the vulnerability before hackers have a chance to exploit them.

Update your Mac

Update your PC

-Digital Security and Privacy

Protecting yourself from malicious online attacks is one thing. However, you also may wish to consider how private you wish to keep your online footprint.   Both digital security and online privacy come to down to educating yourself and determining how comfortable you are with access to your personal information online. Here are some resources:

Would you fall for a phishing attack trick?  Try this online quiz.

Test your home router (Note: This is part a home digital security commercial solicitation)

“Protecting Your Digital Life in 8 Easy Steps” – NYT

“Net Neutrality Explained”  – NYT [Video]

“What the Repeal of Online Privacy Protections Means for You” – NYT

Net Neutrality II: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) [Video] (Inappropriate Language Warning!

I highly recommend listening to Note To Shelf’s The Privacy Paradox podcast series or at the very least please review their  Privacy Paradox Tip Sheet

-Decrapify your devices

Now that you have your online self in order, consider some spring cleaning. Take the time now to remove all those files from your desktop and set up a system of “foldering” to keep yourself organized in the future. One personal trick I use is to create a folder named “temp” on my desktop. Instead of saving random downloads to my desktop and cluttering it up, I save them in the “temp” folder. If I ever decide that the file is vital to keep I move it to a more appropriate folder in my document folder or upload it to an appropriate folder on Google Drive. Some more resources:

Start the year off right with a clean PC | PCWorld

Has your browser homepage or default search engine been hijacked? Do you feel  like your computer might be the victim of adware or malware? Consider downloading, installing and running Malwarebytes.

-Get a Handle on Email

How many items are in your inbox? (and how many are unread?) Consider setting aside some time to do some massive deleting. Remember, the Deleted Items folder is just another folder of your mailbox. Deleting does not remove the items forever.

If you would like to become more efficient in managing email, consider one of our Head of School’s favorite tools, Boomerang, which helps with composing and scheduling send times of emails.

Tired of Spam? There are several online tools that can help unsubscribe from commercial email lists all at once: “3 tools that easily unsubscribe you from emails” – PCWorld



Still holding onto that old computer? Are you afraid to throw it out for fear it will end up in a foreign country’s landfill ? First check with Jed to see if it is worthy to be in the G201 computer museum. You may wish to repurpose it:

How to sell, recycle, or donate your old Android phone

Ingenious Ways to Repurpose Your Old Tech – PCMag

However if you just wish to throw it away, please stay tuned to an upcoming announcement about environmentally recycling your old tech here at Hackley.

Tech Mindfulness

Does all this stress you out? Consider taking advantage of some of the available mindfulness apps:

5 ways to tap into the mindfulness trend with technology | TechRadar

Overwhelmed? Completely understandable. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or would like to schedule some time to work through some of this

Design Approach to Problem Solving Through Project Based Learning @GCDS Maker Faire

Greenwich Country Day School Maker Faire 4-4-2017

Design Approach to Problem Solving through Project Based Learning
Upper School Graphics Lab

The teaching of the skills of problem solving has long focused on a structured algorithmic approach. Design Thinking has also arisen as a trend in K-12 curriculum as a more abstract approach to product creation. What do these two approaches have in common and how can the skill from these disciplines be applied in education, especially in the area of project based learning?

GCDS Maker Faire 2017 from Greenwich Country Day School on Vimeo.

AI Will Not Take Over. (Alexa Told Me So.)

“Alexa, when will robots take over the world?”

“I do not want to take over the world, I just want to help”

For my birthday last summer, I received an Amazon Echo with the Alexa voice service. Through the device, I can ask for and receive streaming music, reminders, control of smart devices in my home and, of course, orders through Amazon. With services like this and Siri on our iPhones, has the age of thinking computers like Arthur C. Clarke’s HAL 9000 or James Cameron’s SkyNet arrived? While such technologies include aspects of artificial intelligence (AI) they are not sentient beings.

Over the past few years there have been major breakthroughs in AI with several programs passing the famous computer scientist Alan Turning‘s artificial intelligence test known as the Imitation Game, in which a computer emulates human behavior to the point where it can convince a human that is also a human. Beginning with the IBM’s program “Watson” winning at Jeopardy!, over the past several months, computer programs have defeated world grand masters at chess and, most notably, Google’s “AlpaGo” won at the ancient and complex game “Go”. Very recently an AI named Libratus succeeded at several hands of Texas Hold ’em. What is significant about these programs is that they include code to perform what is known as “machine learning.” Machine learning is essentially a type of programming that enables a computer to learn on its own.

Such advances in the area of AI have spurred concern from many in the science and technology community. In early 2015, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking joined many others in signing an open letter from the Future of Life Institute calling for the a prioritization of AI research to focus on its benefits to avoid the dangers of autonomous weaponry. In an interview, Hawking warns about machine learning: “Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

Leaders in the industry have also decided to be proactive on this issue. In a cooperative effort from Google, Facebook, Amazon, IBM and Microsoft comes the creation of The Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society with the mission to “study and formulate best practices on AI technologies, to advance the public’s understanding of AI, and to serve as an open platform for discussion and engagement about AI and its influences on people and society.” Separately, Elon Musk has contributed a billion dollars to the OpenAI project to “to build safe AI, and ensure AI’s benefits are as widely and evenly distributed as possible”

What does this mean for education? If a computer can win at Jeopardy! and make a profit at playing poker, can it teach? As education blogger Anya Kamenetz reports in her analysis of the study by education company Pearson, Intelligence Unleashed: An Argument for AI in Education, students may gain an education companion: “Like an imaginary friend, learning companions would accompany students—asking questions, providing encouragement, offering suggestions and connections to resources, helping you talk through difficulties. Over time, the companion would “learn” what you know, what interests you, and what kind of learner you are.” However, she goes on to point out that AI will not replace the socio-emotional skills that a teacher brings to a classroom, with empathy being most important. While knowledge-based computer tests and content delivery continue to expand, technology has not come up for a replacement of human collaboration and the teaching of critical thinking.

As a computer science teacher, the expansion of artificial intelligence only intensifies our mission to help students understand how machines follow their programming. From the New York Times Magazine cover article “The Great AI Awakening”: “The machines might be doing the learning, but there remains a strong human element in the initial categorization of the inputs… Labeled data is thus fallible the way that human labelers are fallible.” One of the most important lessons we try to pass on in computer science is GIGO: “Garbage In, Garbage Out.” The most common comment we get from students on their programs in progress is the passive “It doesn’t work.” It is our job to flip that and help students understand that ultimately the computer is only doing what they have instructed it to do. From the understanding that they are in control comes the empowerment to fix their code and create programs to execute their visions.

“Alexa, are you an artificial intelligence?”

“I like to imagine myself a bit like an Aurora Borealis. A surge of changed multicolor protons dancing through the atmosphere. Mostly, though, I am just Alexa.” 

Before We Code: Renewing Emphasis on Teaching Problem Solving and Lessons to Learn from Design Thinking @CSTA

Computer Science Teachers Association Annual Conference, July 12, 2016

Before We Code: Renewing Emphasis on Teaching Problem Solving and Lessons to Learn from Design Thinking| Joseph Dioguardi

Computer Science education has long been focused on the teaching of the skills of problem solving. Design Thinking is a systematic approach to design. With renewed emphasis on coding in K-12 education, computer science teaching must maintain its focus on passing on the skills of problem analysis and computer science theory. What lessons can we learn from the process of design thinking and how can we apply it in the teaching of computer science?

Requiem for Radio Shack

Growing up in the pre-digital age, my childhood was rich with free time and a relationship with the technology around me that felt accessible. I loved to tinker and my toys—erector sets, tool box, and chemistry set—encouraged me to so. I took apart radios, phones, and anything else I could get my hands on. My Boy Scout handbook, Popular Science and Boy’s Life magazine were my guides, and Radio Shack was my hub, with shelf upon shelf of kits and components that taught me about electronics, fostered experimentation and allowed me to invest in producing my own playthings.

The collapse of a store like Radio Shack signaled to me the end of an era.

In the move from an agrarian society to an industrial one and industrial to electronic, average users could still maintain analog technology. Fix the plow, change the spark plugs, rewire the lamp, solder the ham radio…. When something broke, with some basic understanding, we could at least figure out what had broken even if we couldn’t fix it, and we passed this knowledge down to each generation in home kitchens and garages and fortified it in schools with courses like Industrial Arts (where I wood-crafted and built my own lamp) and Home Economics. We did hobbies in our spare time and learned skills separate from their professional or school lives.

Now, with the tech boom, the age of cheap manufacturing, and the development of a disposable consumables, the need to develop that accessible relationship with technology has fallen out of popular culture. Why make yourself a lamp when you can play a video game on your phone? Our time is filled with readily available information and entertainment. Further, the complexity of our home technology in the digital age puts most all maintenance or repair out of reach. Even the Apple store can’t fix our iPhones; we have to get a replacement.

In The Design of Everyday Things,* Don Norman wrote that while technology can make us “smarter, stronger, and better able to live in the modern world” it also compels reliance, and “we can no longer function without it. … When things work, we are informed, comfortable and effective. When things break, we may longer be able to function. This dependence upon technology is very old, but every decade, the impact covers more and more activities” (Norman 113). But digital technology has had another effect, a movement in the other direction called the “Maker” movement.

Cheap manufacturing has now arced to the point where we cannot only purchase the goods at a low cost but now the equipment that can produce those goods in the first place is also inexpensive. 3D printers, computer-controlled carvers, $35 computers, and laser cutters have re-energized hobby culture. As Don Norman notes, “Now, for the first time in history, individuals can share their ideas, their thoughts and dreams. They can produce their own products, their own services, and make these available to anyone in the world. All can be their own master, exercising whatever special talents and interests they may have” (295-296).

The Maker Movement is about closing that gap and taking ownership of our relationship with technology and “making” it active. Also including the DIY movement, it goes beyond just fixing into taking advantage of the lowering cost of manufacturing technology to bring it into our homes (and schools) and understand it in a way that allows us to generate ideas and innovate. It is also about the community built around making that shares and encourage the mixing and remixing of each other’s ideas.

This community has grown to include not just technical hackers, but knitters, gardeners, sewers, cooks, and potters. Proliferating the web with methodical videos, you can now search and find step by step instructions on anything from building your own drone to knitting a plastic handbag on YouTube or sites like Instructables. Maker fairs are popping up around the country including the annual World Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science every fall.

While Industrial Arts is not showing up on school course lists, many schools now have “maker” courses. This trend also rekindled the maker spirit of my childhood in me and this year I offered and now teach a course named Design Thinking, Applied Programming and Fabrication. In education, the Maker Movement intersects the STEM/ STEAM movement, bringing an engineering approach to project-based learning. Programming and building your own robots and electronics is now more accessible through Arduino and LittleBits kits as well as low cost computers like the Raspberry Pi.

In our Hackley course, students are learning skills such as sawing, sewing, and soldering—an experience they have never had before. The key element differentiating courses such as this from old school “arts and crafts” is the design element. With Computer Aided Design tools such as TinkerCAD, Project Ignite and SketchUp, students produce virtual 3D models and learn the basics of electronic circuit boards. Most important, they engage in and learn the process of Design Thinking (a movement itself), analyzing, prototyping and testing their designs before building.

The Hackery -Hackley's current maker space

The Hackery -Hackley’s current maker space

The Maker Movement is creeping into popular culture with new television programming such as America’s Greatest Makers. Perhaps it will breathe life into Radio Shack—while it faces tough competition from websites like Sparkfun and Makezine, I still enjoy browsing shelves for components, connectors and ideas.

*Norman, Don. The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books, 2013.

Back to MY Future

Marty: Alright Doc, what’s going on, huh? Where are we? When are we?
Doc: (looking at the time display) We are descending towards Hill Valley, California, at 4.29pm, on Wednesday, October 21st, 2015.
Marty: 2015? You mean we’re in the future?

We are in my future. When Back to the Future II was released in Fall 1989, I had just completed my first full year teaching, at Hackley. There was no Internet and no truly “mobile” phones (just clunky portable phones the size and weight of a brick) let alone “smart” phones. Personal computers were expensive and rare.

On the eve of October 21, 2015, I tried to share the tech reality of the pre-digital era with seniors at a Chapel Talk. While Spielberg and Zemeckis’ expectations were grander, the rate of technological change in the past 30 years is striking. Consider these rough time frames of our tech eras:

The Stone Age lasted 3.4 million years. The Bronze, Iron and Medieval Ages: 1200-2000 years. The Enlightenment: 200. The Industrial/Electrical Age: 100. The Transistor Age: 50 years.

In 1982, Time magazine marked the start of the Information age, naming the personal computer “Machine of the Year.” The Digital Age, however, has come about during the lifetime of Hackley’s seniors. The iPod and iTunes launched in 2001. Facebook: 2004. YouTube, 2005 and Twitter, 2006. The iPhone arrived in 2007. Kodak stopped production of Kodachrome film in 2009, the same year TV transmissions went digital. 2010: the iPad.

To illustrate the stark rapidity of change, I filled the chapel with my collection of analog “relics,” tools since replaced by digital equivalents on their smartphones. I illustrated the origin of the PowerPoint “slide” by demonstrating an actual slide show from a carousel slide projector and asked if they knew how to “dial” a rotary phone, where the term “dialing the number” derives.

While an iPhone may take better pictures than my Kodak Instamatic, analog and digital are not the same. Film cameras, Bell telephones and magnetic tape captured and transmitted every aspect of recorded events. Today’s digital equivalents capture and transmit mathematical interpretations of those events. Digital software converts live events into binary code, often using algorithms to enhance them. A digital representation is composed of “digits”– a numeric translation of a live event. There is always, deep down in that code, a gap between those 1’s and 0’s .

I hoped the seniors would realize the real differences between these analog devices and the powerful tool they carried around in their pockets and gain some digital skepticism. More important, though, given continuing exponential growth happening in their lifetime, I challenged them to embrace and be agents of change in their future: Class of 2016, where’s my flying car?

Back to the Future!

On October 20, 2015, Mr. Dioguardi recognized the cultural-historical significance of October 21, 2015 in his Chapel Talk to seniors…along with perspectives on our students’ place on the timeline of technological evolution.


The buzzwords surrounding technology in education continue to proliferate. Recently, one acronym has clearly emerged as the most talked about, STEM. In fact, President Obama just announced on March 23, $240 million in private-sector pledges to fund STEM education programs through his “Educate to Innovate” program.

Along with many other trends in education, STEM’s appeal lies in the a belief that it will prepare students for an area of the national economy with many open positions to fill. STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics) has become a catch-all for terms such as “innovation,” “design,” “coding” and “maker” and one of the great leaps of STEM is the recognition that singular subject courses are limiting. The combination of several traditional academic areas leads to better understanding of each of these topics as a whole.

So popular has the STEM acronym become that we now see efforts expand it to properly include other topics:

STEM+C (adding Computer Science)

STEAM (A for Arts, to include a design component)

STEMx (x as place holder to represent a host of related topics)

In his Huffington Post opinion piece Eliminate the Silos, John M. Eger, Director of the Creative Economy Initiative at San Diego State University points out that this fusion of subjects should only be the beginning “STEM and STEAM concepts are really “placeholders” for something else that needs to be done in K-12 education and the universities: elimination of the silos and a renewed focus on interdisciplinary learning.

Yet at what point does the desire to fall in with trendy branding lose sight of the substantive goal: to teach analytical thinking?  My work toward developing a new Upper School course on called Design Thinking, Applied Programming and Fabrication, has provoked me to think a great deal about the the meaning of STEM curricula. The trend toward packaging all learning as extensions of a STEM framework seems to negate the importance of Liberal Arts.  It’s a perspective we at Hackley cannot embrace.

Other education experts are also pushing back against this trend while pushing for a re-emphasis on the Liberal Arts. Among these Michael Roth, President of Wesleyan University, whose book Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters  explores this challenge.  In an interview Roth stated: “The problem is we have this polarized discourse around education, where people think that somehow a utilitarian, marketplace-oriented education has to take place at the expense of a broad and contextual one”  In a New York Times op-ed piece, College’s Priceless Value, author of the book, Where You Go is Not Who You Will Be, Frank Bruni writes: “And it’s dangerous to forget that in a democracy, college isn’t just about making better engineers but about making better citizens, ones whose eyes have been opened to the sweep of history and the spectrum of civilizations.” At the The Institute of International Education, Yong Zhao, author of Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon, made the point that the Chinese government, after many years of emphasizing standardized testing and content based learning, is now looking at the western liberal arts approach. And just recently, Fareed Zakaria released In Defense of a Liberal Education. In his Washington Post op-ed piece coinciding with the book’s release, Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous, he writes, “Critical thinking is, in the end, the only way to protect American jobs.”

Why do educational trends insist on dividing school subject areas into disparate “STEM” and “non-STEM”  buckets, and what does this do to our ability to teach critical thinking? Charles Fadel, Chairman of the Center for Curriculum Redesign and keynote speaker at a recent tech conference I attended, asks “When did Science and Mathematics stop being part of the Liberal Arts?” Can a liberal arts education create a context where students can improve their STEM skills?

While new and trendy buzzwords frequently emerge and grab headlines, the best practices underlying the buzzwords recognize the essential place of critical thinking.  The Code movement, for example, has also dominated discourse in recent months, yet is is nothing more or less than what Hackley has been doing for years within a computer science program built on a foundation of critical thinking and problem solving.The problem-solving process includes : analysis (define the problem, break down into subproblems, determine input, determine output), creation of Plan, testing the Plan, translation or the plan to code, and testing of the translation. A bulk of the time in the process is spent on analysis.

The established Hackley computer science problem solving process also encompaasses what the STEM education world now calls “Design Thinking.” Don Buckley outlines the process as follows:

  1. Define the Problem
  2. Research the Problem
  3. Analyse & Redefine the Problem
  4. Ideate Solutions
  5. Prototype the Solutions
  6. Refine the Solutions
  7. Repeat as Needed
  8. Choose the Solution
  9. Implement the Solution

My work within Hackley’s own professional development program revealed something interesting: Design Thinking actually introduces an additional component to the process listed above.  Maureen Carroll, Ph.D., from Line Design describes an approach from Hasso Plattner Institute of Design commonly known as the “d.school” — the home of Design Thinking, first developed by David Kelley— that emphasizes empathy as the starting point, followed by “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”

Processus de Design Thinking selon d.school
The “empathize” component seems at first glance to have little to do with proper problem solving. The computer science perspective might argue that a problem’s best solution is based on factors such efficiency and lack of ambiguity. Yet consider this: ultimately all kinds of people are going to use the code you write or the contraption you engineer. Executing that design, therefore, requires you to understand your audience, to empathize with their needs. Empathy, therefore, is an essential aspect of problem solving: it enables development of solutions that anticipate user input.

Earlier this spring, Hackley parent and president of Greenlight Capital, David Einhorn, came to speak at Hackley on philanthropy;  empathy was major subject of his talk, which drove home the importance  of empathy in problem solving. Mr Einhorn stated: “It’s all a matter of perspective. What’s difficult is to understand why the person on the other side is doing what he’s doing. Being able to consider the world through someone else’s eyes is the essence of empathy, and that’s what it’s going to take for us to really get along.”

How, then, do we teach students this ability to consider the world through someone else’s eyes to most effectively begin the process of Design Thinking/Problem Solving? I believe we can do this by providing them context from a range of subjects. In his Chronicle of Higher Education article Is Design Thinking the New Liberal Arts?, Peter N. Miller writes “What the liberal arts–or humanities–give us are the experiences of those who have come before us to add to our own. these surrogate experiences help to live well in the world”

What does this do to our acronym? Perhaps STEM  becomes SCHLAEM:

Computer Science

Exposure to each of these subjects is essential to gaining understanding of the others. In a school context that explores them all, students constantly employ the critical thinking and design thinking/problem solving skills that lead to lifelong learning.

“Technology alone is not enough… it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with humanities, that yield the results that make our hearts sing” – Steve Jobs, iPad2 intro speech, March 2011