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From Failure to Launch: LAUNCH Book Study Part 3

Well, I was planning on just dealing with 2 stages of the LAUNCH Cycle in this post, but I burned through the rest of the book yesterday.  The book itself is a very engaging read.  My post may reflect the nuts and bolts of the cycle, but the book is filled with practical applications and stories from the authors lives that show what the LAUNCH Cycle looks like.  That is the power of their work. It is based on experience and data.

Step 4: Navigating Ideas

So, this is a step that I have always shortchanged. When I initially looked at the cycle without knowing about it, I figured I knew what it was about.  I thought it would just be a stage of organizing information.  I was wrong. Much like generating questions is a bridge between awareness and research, navigating ideas is a bridge between research and creation.  It is the a step for creating a plan for creation.  Juliani and Spencer call this process ideating.
Ideating is not simply planning the creation process.  An essential part to the project is choosing a project format. They have a great acronym for what students/groups need to have by the end of ideation.  It is PARTS.
Product Idea clear how it will work and what materials are needed
Audience who will experience
Roles for team members in creation
Tasks and timeframe for completion of project
Solution rationale for why this product addresses the solution

The process of choosing an idea is really important, just like choosing what questions to ask.  Similar to that process, the learners need to start by proposing a lot of ideas.  In this process, it is key that all members have a voice.  The authors provide a wealth of resources for ensuring that all students have a voice in the brainstorming process. They advocate strongly for moving away from the traditional large group model of students pitching and the teacher simply writing down ideas.  They propose a model in which there is a mix of interactions to maximize participation and originality.

After brainstorming and there is this wealth of original ideas, the next step is to narrow them down.  If you remember, there was a similar process of winnowing questions before research started. In ideation this is a five step process where ideas are first fleshed out and then narrowed.  Ultimately, though, the best idea should be the one that best addressed the driving question.

I really like the formalization of this step.  It holds the team accountable for the rationale for choosing a product.  It forces them to think about the product and the role of each student in its creation.  Although the timeline is not set in stone, it places a priority on planning and managing resources.  It allows groups to hold individuals responsible and allows all individuals to contribute and collaborate.

Step 5: Creation

Well, this feels like what we’ve been building towards the whole time.  But, this is a stage where things can fall apart.  Why? As the authors point out, creative work is work. “There is no shortcut to creative work.”  Spencer and Juliani warn of the inevitability of “project fatigue” and other challenges.  The bring up 6 major challenges all classrooms will face in the creation process. But, they also provide remedies!  I have seen all of these in my time and look forward to implementing some of what they recommend.  Again, I can’t do justice to their solutions so read the book.

The creative process takes time. So, give them time to learn new skills. In my experience, this is the only way.
If feels scary to put yourself out there in the creative process.
Classroom management issues with noise, mess, emotions, and frustration
Lack of resources students need practice designing and innovating with simple tools.  Learning to do more with less.
It gets boring.  “Any creative work has an ebb and flow of excitement and boredom” the key is having strategies to push through “boredom” as quickly as possible. (How? Read the book.)
It doesn’t have meaning.  This was a big one for me during my personal learning project last year.  Out of my 60 students who did the project, there were always 2 who would tend to be playing games on devices and required my attention.  They had the option to choose anything they were passionate about.  Clearly, these two didn’t. This goes back to step one.  Were you really passionate about this problem or was it something you choose because it would be perceived as acceptable. Did you really take a risk?  When choosing a topic, there is a great strategy put forth in the book. “Take notice of what you do when you are ‘supposed to be doing something else’”.  I really think these guys could have made a great project around video games. I regret not conferencing with them about their choices more in depth than I did.

Step 6: Highlight and Improve the Product

This is the revision process. Much like creation, the process of evaluation is at the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy and is key to the process.  Too many times, I have rushed through this step because we spent so much time in creation that we need to finish so we could move on to the next unit of instruction.  It really needs to flow from the creation process. This is the step that makes products “refined”.
The great thing about this process is that it reinforces the idea of failing forward.  This process makes it clear that we need multiple iterations of the product.  In each iteration, we highlight strengths and weaknesses and improve the design.  The authors intentionally use the word improve rather than fix. Fix implies something doesn’t work or is broken, while improve implies we are making something good even better. The authors provide a host of other suggestions for making revision a process of refinement that starts from a mindset of thoughtfulness and positivity.  
One key for this process to work is that students need to know what they are looking for in the product.  What are the criteria for evaluation?  This is why it is important for teachers to have a clear and specific idea communicated to students. This could take a wide variety of forms including, but not limited to, a rubric, checklist, or exemplars.  They key is it can be used as a guide for students, not just the teacher, to judge the quality of work.
The authors point out that this process does take time to do effectively but the processes of self assessment and peer assessment are success skills. They require honesty and courage.  This is a place to teach them.  We should not pass this opportunity by.

Step 7: Launch to an Audience

One of the keys the Buck Institute for Education advocates for in all of their products as a key part to the Gold Standard of Project Based Learning is a public product.  Part of the planning process in the LAUNCH Cycle has been to create an authentic product for an authentic audience.  If the students don’t share it with that audience, we have really missed the point of our work.

If a project is handed to a teacher, will anyone see it? Probably, not.

This is another area that I devote so little time to, I was glad to see how much space the book devotes to it. Spencer and Juliani have students consider marketing for their Launch.  The Launch is an event.  I have so little expertise in this area. I like that they walk us through the different steps of the Launching process with guiding questions. Many more are in the book.
Clarify your audience. Like the twist ending of a movie, the secret to this step is students have been doing this all along!
Figure out your methods.  How will you reach your audience?
Convince people to buy in. How will you make your product stand out?
Launching. How will you lead-up to and release your product?

What is the power of the LAUNCH cycle?

“When you take students through the entire cycle and have them launch what they’ve made and believe in … They feel proud.”

I often hear teachers say,
“I have a pile of projects to grade.”
“I love having my students do project. But, I hate having to grade them all.”

When I hear this, I think something is wrong with they way we are doing project in our schools.  The LAUNCH cycle provides a solution.  I know I’ll be coming back to this book again and again as I spend some time this summer planning.  I thank John Spencer and A.J. Juliani for their hard work and vulnerability when creating this book.  It is a product formed by what they preach.  They created a great product and it reached its intended audience.

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