User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

The Maker Mentality Takes on Many Forms

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Those who follow my blog know that I have jumped into and am loving the current emphasis on the Maker Movement and Maker Education.

As I was flying back from a recent conference, I noticed a film on the screen embedded in the plane seat in front of me. I was immediately intrigued by the animated film and watch the 10 minute short animation in awe of its brilliance. No sound was needed. Upon further research, I discovered it is called “Me + Her”, a Sundance-nominated short film set in a world made entirely out of cardboard.

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It is one of those artistic pieces that I find so beautiful that I want to share it with everyone; have everyone view it. The proverbial sweet icing on the cake is that it is a perfect example of the maker movement.  Stonesifer, the cinematographer in an interview posted at Joseph Oxford and Bradley Stonesifer Create a World in Cardboard for Me + Her stated:

I think the biggest thing for me that I hope gets shared about the film is the do-it-yourself mentality and the number of people who got behind this project and did it out of kindness and love of film. We made a movie that is compelling and emotional out of cardboard. It’s exciting to think that anyone has the ability to make a project out of any medium, any material.

What a perfect model/statement of the maker movement. The Maker Movement takes on many forms. I plan to show it to my students in my maker education classes to show the potential of maker-related arts.

Here is the video – a perfect 11 minutes.

Here are some additional resources if you are interested in reading more about this project:

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 22, 2015 at 12:36 am

When It Comes to Education, We Have to Stop Pretending

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Responding to Scott McLeod challenge and Steve Hargadon’s Tag: When it comes to education, we have to stop pretending. .

  • That “we” know best what students should learn; that it is okay for students to not have the freedom, time, resources to pursue their own interests and passions.
  • That it is okay to make students sit in a desk for hours and hours every day learning things they don’t want to learn in a way and a place they don’t want to learn it.
  • That it is okay to separate students from the real world – real world environments, real world people, real world problems.
  • That testing matters; that it is okay to make students take tests and assessments that have absolutely no connection to real life.
  • That it is okay for removed stakeholders to make educational decisions; that it is okay for students, parents, community members not to have a voice in their students’ educations.

Tagging Sylvia Tolisano, Barbara Bray, Terry Heick, Patrick Larkin, Eric Sheninger Please join us. When it comes to education, what are 5 things that we have to stop pretending? Post on your blog, tag 5 others, and share using the #makeschooldifferent hashtag. Feel free to also put the URL of your post in the comments area so others can find it!

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 14, 2015 at 12:38 am

Being a Growth Mindset Facilitator

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I was asked recently why I have a strong interest and innate understanding of the growth mindset. I believe it comes from a background of being an adventure educator, and even though it was not labeled as such, the adventure educator embraces a growth mindset when working with participants. The underlying tenet of adventure education is “You are capable of so much more than you can even imagine. I believe in you and your capabilities; and I will set up the conditions for you to develop and amplify that same belief in yourself.” quoteThis attitude or mindset was important given that the populations we worked with were especially at-risk: adjudicated youth youth; recovering substance abuse users; victims of domestic violence. Many had lost belief in themselves and developed a failure mindset. Our major goal was to shift that so that participants internalized a growth mindset; one that they would carry over into their everyday lives. Some of the underlying principles of adventure education that drive my process of being a Growth Mindset Facilitator include:

  • You are capable of so much more than you can even imagine.
  • I believe in you and your capabilities even if you don’t, but the ultimate goal is for you to internalize these beliefs.
  • Failure is okay but you need to stand up after you fall/fail.
  • Everyone’s unique self is valued and valuable.
  • Your peers and I will support you as you take risks; attempt new ways of being. It is up to you to decide the type of support you need.
  • Conditions will be set up for you to be challenged. It is up to you to take responsibility to embrace those challenges.
  • You can go beyond your self-perceived limits. I might push you a bit to do so because I believe you can succeed.

facilitating growth mindset

Also see The Educator with a Growth Mindset: A Staff Workshop http://wp.me/pKlio-1JD 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 12, 2015 at 11:39 pm

Sharing: A Responsibility of the Modern Educator

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In a past post blog I discussed the idea that every educator has a story and that they should share those stories:

Educators are doing amazing things with their learners in spite of the standards-based and accountability-driven movements. If all educators publicized the accomplishments they had in their classrooms using technology, hands-on activities, global collaborations, project-based learning; then an informal qualitative research project would result.  When educators are asked to provide evidence of efficacy to administrators, parents, other educators, funding sources, they could share these success stories.  This aggregate would become the collective narrative – story of education of our times in the beginnings of the 21st century. (https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2011/11/23/every-educator-has-a-story-just-tell-it/)

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As a follow-up to that post, I am amplifying my call to action to say that I believe it is the responsibility of every educator in this era of learning to share . . . resources, ideas, success, challenges, ahas, student insights, anything education related.

Sharing takes on many forms. Educators can talk to colleagues, write blogs, tweet, present at conferences – both virtually and face to face, talk to the media, and/or create a media product – video, podcast, photo essay – and post online.

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On a personal level, sharing assists the educator in becoming a better educator. The act of sharing requires reflection and preparation. The educator needs to reflect on his or her own practices to identify which ones they want to share and also needs to put that sharing artifact into a form (e.g. writing, images, audio, video) that will understood by an authentic audience. This process tends to help the educator improve instructional practices.

On a broader, more systemic level, sharing one’s experiences benefits other educators which, in turn, has the potential to advance the entire education field. It is the collective responsibility of all educators to create the change that they want to see in the education world. There really is no they in education. The they is really we-us. The we-us now have the means to have a voice.

The educator becomes a connected educator and through sharing, is an active participant and contributor to the connected educator movement.

Being a connected educator means connecting with other teachers to exchange ideas, improve your teaching practice, and in turn, make a change in education. It is only through being connected that we can collaborate and help to foster learning for the 21st century and beyond. (Being a Connected Educator)

The gap between what is and what could be in education is larger than it ever has  been.  I believe this is largely due to technology and the ability to establish global connections because of social media. Educators are more connected and more aware about education trends than any time in the history of public education.

Imagine how education could be transformed if all educators use their own personal, often passion-driven voices. The bottom line is that if any individual educator believes there are flaws in the education, that it can be done better, then s/he has the responsibility to say something. I reaching the point that I am starting to believe it is a moral imperative for educators to share what they know to be true with other educators; and with administrators, students’ families, community members, politicians . . . the larger global society.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 29, 2015 at 11:09 pm

Learning Needs a Context

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This is a follow up to a post I wrote, How Do We Learn? How Should We Learn?  The purpose of these posts is to encourage educators to examine practices they take for granted, implement without deep reflection of their efficacy. This post discusses the instructional practice of asking students to memorize information.

How often have students (ourselves included) been asked to memorize mass amounts of facts – historical dates, vocabulary words, science facts, get tested on them, just to forget almost all those memorized facts a week or two later? Given that is this learning experience is more common than not, why do educators insist on continuing this archaic and ineffective instructional practice?

To learn it in isolation is like learning the sentence “Hamlet kills Claudius” without the faintest idea of who either gentleman is–or, for what matter, of what “kill” means. Memorization is a frontage road: It runs parallel to the best parts of learning, never intersecting. It’s a detour around all the action, a way of knowing without learning, of answering without understanding. (When Memorization Gets in the Way of Learning)

The more closely we inspect this model of teaching and testing, the more problematic it reveals itself to be. First, there’s the question of what students are made to learn, which often is more oriented to factual material than to a deep understanding of ideas. Second, there’s the question of how students are taught, with a focus on passive absorption: listening to lectures, reading summaries in textbooks, and rehearsing material immediately before being required to cough it back up. Third, there’s the question of why a student has learned something: Knowledge is less likely to be retained if it has been acquired so that one will perform well on a test, as opposed to learning in the context of pursuing projects and solving problems that are personally meaningful. (Alfie Kohn)

The visual image I use to describe this is that there are all of these unconnected facts floating around in the learner’s brain. Since they have nothing to connect to, they end up flying away. This is especially true for abstract concepts.

floating facts

Memorizing facts often means a waste of students’ time and energy. In some cases, too many cases, learners lose their passion and excitement for a subject or topic that, if taught in another way, may have not been the case.

The Need for Context

Learning facts and knowledge about a content area topic is an important prerequisite to understanding that topic and then developing expertise. The key to this understanding is providing a context for the facts. The context becomes the glue to increase the stickiness, the longevity of long term memory of those facts. This is especially true for abstract concepts. These concepts need something concrete with which to attach.context

Lave and Wenger (1991) argue that learning should not be viewed as simply the transmission of abstract and decontextualised knowledge from one individual to another, but a social process whereby knowledge is co-constructed; they suggest that such learning is situated in a specific context and embedded within a particular social and physical environment. (Situated Learning)

Increasing Context and Relevancy

Authentic learning can be the driving force for increasing context and relevancy. Jan Herrington describes authentic learning along two axes – the authenticity of the task is on one axis (from authentic to decontextualised), and the setting is on the other (the classroom/university to the real setting). The goal of educators should be to increase authenticity which leads to more contextual learning (and vice versa).

Matrix pic 1(http://authenticlearning.info/AuthenticLearning/Matrix.html)

The following are some suggestions for establishing context (the list is just a start). Ironically, they are practices that are often recommended are best practices in teaching but they aren’t implement as often as they should be:

The bottom line is that regardless of the content area, students deserve educations that have self-perceived authenticity, relevancy, and a context that makes sense.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 21, 2015 at 6:17 pm

The Creativity Mindset

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I absolutely love all of the emphasis on mindsets these days. There are growth mindsets (which I discuss in The Educator with a Growth Mindset: A Staff Workshop) and maker mindsets (which I discuss in The Mindset of the Maker Educator). Mindsets are simply defined as “the ideas and attitudes with which a person approaches a situation.” Mindsets imply that mental and attitudinal states can assist one in being successful with a given skill set. I believe this to be true for engaging in the creative process, that a creative mindset is a prerequisite to being creative.

Creativity is a process in which the elements of mind consolidate in a completely new manner and something original comes into existence, a form of behavior in which a person resists routine answers, tolerates, and even seeks out the ambivalence, insecurity and vagueness that may serve as a basis for a new order (Gyarmathy, 2011). (http://www.academia.edu/2506344/Creative_climate_as_a_means_to_promote_creativity_in_the_classroom)

To be highly creative you first need the right creative mindset. Having the outlook, attitude and beliefs that empower and support you to be as creative as you can. (http://www.mind-sets.com/html/mind_power_programs/creativity_mindset.htm#sthash.ihA6Ng2q.dpuf)

A creative mindset gives meaning and value to how you approach your life, creative endeavors, and pretty much everything you do. Having a mindset for creativity opens you up to opportunities and possibilities because you are able to relish the creative process and embrace innovative thinking. Creativity is how we make our lives meaningful and by valuing your creativity, owning, and honoring it, you will move into a life that is purposeful, truthful, and feels free. (http://www.awakencreativity.com/a-creative-mindset/)

Some of the characteristics of the Creativity Mindset include:

  • Believes in One’s Own Creativity
  • Embraces Curiosity
  • Suspends Judgement – Silences the Inner Critic
  • Tolerates Ambiguity
  • Persists Even When Confronted with Skepticism & Rejection
  • Taps Into Childlike Imagination; a Child’s Sense of Wonder

creativity mindset

Believes in One’s Own Creativity

Central to a creativity mindset is the belief that one is and can be creative. It becomes self-statements that revolve around, “I can be creative.”

You have to believe that your creativity has meaning. You have to believe with all your heart that if you don’t express your creativity that you are not living up to your full potential, will never experience true happiness, or find the ultimate meaning of your existence. (http://www.awakencreativity.com/a-creative-mindset/believe-in-your-creativity-part-one-of-a-creative-mindset/)

Tina Seelig writes in inGenius that “in order to find creative solutions to big problems, you must first believe that you’ll find them. With this attitude, you see opportunities where others see obstacles and are able to leverage the resources you have to reach your goals” (p. 180). (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/creative-synthesis/201404/when-it-comes-creativity-attitude-is-key)

Embraces Curiosity

Creative people want to know things–all kinds of things– just to know them. Knowledge does not require a reason. The question, “Why do you want to know that?” seems strange to the creative person, who is likely to respond, “Because I don’t know the answer.” Knowledge is enjoyable and often useful in strange and unexpected ways. (http://www.virtualsalt.com/crebook1.htm)

Suspends Judgment – Silences the Inner Critic

The ability to hold off on judging or critiquing an idea is important in the process of creativity. Often great ideas start as crazy ones – if critique is applied too early the idea will be killed and never developed into something useful and useable. (note – this doesn’t mean there is never a time for critique or judgement in the creative process – it’s actually key – but there is a time and place for it). (http://www.problogger.net/archives/2007/05/09/9-attitudes-of-highly-creative-people/)

Many new ideas, because they are new and unfamiliar, seem strange, odd, bizarre, even repulsive. Only later do they become “obviously” great. Other ideas, in their original incarnations, are indeed weird, but they lead to practical, beautiful, elegant things. Thus, it is important for the creative thinker to be able to suspend judgment when new ideas are arriving, to have an optimistic attitude toward ideas in general.

Tolerates Ambiguity

Ambiguity tolerance may be… the “willingness to accept a state of affairs capable of alternate interpretations, or of alternate outcomes,” (English & English 1958). In other words, ambiguity tolerance may be central to creative thinking. (http://knowinnovation.com/tolerating-ambiguity/#sthash.XqxhaQh3.dpuf)

With the toleration of ambiguity, creativity gives way to new ideas, stimulates the acceptance of others’ viewpoints, and thus raises tolerance, understanding and cooperation. (http://www.academia.edu/2506344/Creative_climate_as_a_means_to_promote_creativity_in_the_classroom

Persists Even When Confronted with Skepticism & Rejection

Creative people who actually see their ideas come to fruition have the ability to stick with their ideas and see them through – even when the going gets tough. This is what sets apart the great from the good in this whole sphere. Stick-ability is key. (http://www.problogger.net/archives/2007/05/09/9-attitudes-of-highly-creative-people/)

Most people fail because they spend only nine minutes on a problem that requires ten minutes to solve. Creativity and problem solving are hard work and require fierce application of time and energy. There is no quick and easy secret. You need knowledge gained by study and research and you must put your knowledge to work by hard thinking and protracted experimentation.  (http://www.virtualsalt.com/crebook1.htm)

Taps Into Childlike Imagination; a Child’s Sense of Wonder

When children play, they often do so in very original ways. However, with the responsibilities of adulthood, this playful curiosity is sometimes lost and conventional responses often result. In a control condition, participants wrote about what they would do if school was cancelled for the day. In an experimental condition, the instructions were identical except that participants were to imagine themselves as 7-year-olds in this situation. Individuals imagining themselves as children subsequently produced more original responses. Merely being primed to think like a child resulted in the production of more original responses on a subsequent measure of creativity. (http://psycnet.apa.org/?&fa=main.doiLanding&doi=10.1037/a0015644)

Learning to ask ‘why’, ‘what if’ and ‘I wonder…’ are great questions to build into your life if you want to be a more creative person. (http://www.problogger.net/archives/2007/05/09/9-attitudes-of-highly-creative-people/)

Look at the clouds outside your window. When you were a child, you would probably find yourself looking at the clouds and seeing all kinds of shapes and figures and developing stories. Many adults, however, look at clouds and see them as nothing more than the threat of rain. Psychologists call this “functional fixedness”–we see things for their main function and thereby circumvent our imagination. To think creatively, we need to stop thinking, “What it is…” and instead think, “What could it be?” (http://www.inc.com/suzanne-lucas/the-5-attitudes-that-stifle-creativity.html)

Creative people are comfortable with imagination and with thinking so-called weird, wild, or unthinkable thoughts, just for the sake of stimulation. (http://www.virtualsalt.com/crebook1.htm)

I wholeheartedly believe that both educators and learners in any educational setting need to have a Creativity Mindset to grow, flourish, and feel accomplished with their learning.

In order to teach creativity, one must teach creatively; that is, it will take a great deal of creative effort to bring out the most creative thinking in your classes. (http://www.celt.iastate.edu/teaching-resources/classroom-practice/teaching-techniques-strategies/creativity/techniques-creative-teaching/)

There are some conditions that the educator can establish to facilitate a Creativity Mindset. Coleman and Deutsch (2006) summarize guidelines for fostering creative problem-solving, which also underlie the importance of optimal environmental conditions. These include:

  • Challenge the common myths that block creativity. Many ideas about creativity have developed in people’s minds that influence the procedure of creativity in a negative way.  Ken Robinson (2011) states that every person possesses a huge creative potential, simply by virtue of being human.
  • Create a time-space oasis for creativity. According to John Cleese (1991) the most important factor is to provide an appropriate physical environment and enough time to become absorbed in a task, then work persistently on the solution, this is called a time-space oasis, a necessary condition for creative production.
  • Formulate a serious but playful atmosphere. Humor and playfulness decrease anxiety and thus make us more open to new approaches.
  • Foster learner’s self -confidence to bear the risk of unusual behavior. Some self-confidence or assertiveness is indispensable if we want to come up with new ideas, so self-reliance should be enhanced to encourage people to be more willing to take risks and consider novel ideas. http://www.academia.edu/2506344/Creative_climate_as_a_means_to_promote_creativity_in_the_classroom)

As a parting shot, here is a short RSA Animate video on the power to create:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 15, 2015 at 1:44 pm

How Do We Learn? How Should We Learn?

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If I ask you or your students, “How do you learn,” how many of you could clearly articulate this process? If you can, are the strategies you’re using the best ones for learning? Furthermore, if the research on the process of learning is compared to the practices being implemented in school, does this research influence school practices?

During my school years, I noticed there was a problem with how I was being asked to learn. Cramming and memorizing information, being tested for mastery prior to having enough practice time, having units of study with supposedly beginnings and endings, and learning facts with no context were counterproductive and at times, painful to me.

The unintended consequences of these artificial and unnatural ways of learning include believing that learning is or should be difficult, painful, disciplined, and not fun. This, too often, results in learners believing that they cannot or do not want to learn new things especially in those areas where and when learning was painful. I believe learning can or should be natural, fun, engaging.

Benedict Carey informs us that “most of our instincts about learning are misplaced, incomplete, or flat wrong” and “rooted more in superstition than in science.” That’s a disconcerting message, and hard to believe at first. But it’s also unexpectedly liberating, because Carey further explains that many things we think of as detractors from learning — like forgetting, distractions, interruptions or sleeping rather than hitting the books — aren’t necessarily bad after all. They can actually work in your favor, according to a body of research that offers surprising insights and simple, doable strategies for learning more effectively. (http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/08/how-does-the-brain-learn-best-smart-studying-strategies/)

Instead of making assumptions about the best and most natural learning strategies, it is best to research and study this process. “Unfortunately, most people, educators included, are unaware of the lessons from the science of learning” (http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/08/how-does-the-brain-learn-best-smart-studying-strategies/).

What follows are some of those strategies that research has indicated are some of the better ones. It obviously is not extensive nor inclusive of all possible learning strategies, but it is a good start to reflect on how educators ask students to learn.

Productive Failure

We’ve heard a lot lately about the benefits of experiencing and overcoming failure. One way to get these benefits is to set things up so that you’re sure to fail—by tackling a difficult problem without any instruction or assistance. Manu Kapur, a researcher at the Learning Sciences Lab at the National Institute of Education of Singapore, has reported that people who try solving math problems in this way don’t come up with the right answer—but they do generate a lot of ideas about the nature of the problems and about what potential solutions would look like, leading them to perform better on such problems in the future. Kapur calls this “productive failure,” and you can implement it in your own learning by allowing yourself to struggle with a problem for a while before seeking help or information. (http://lifehacker.com/the-science-behind-how-we-learn-new-skills-908488422)

Spaced-Out Practice

When we’re picking up a new skill or learning something entirely new, it’s easy to binge-learn and obsessively work on it over time. However, that’s not always the best idea. In fact, spreading out learning, also known as distributed practice, is thought to be a better way to learn. A review of studies in Psychological Science in the Public Interest found that spreading out learning is far more effective than cramming. Distributed practice is an old technique, but it actually works really well for the busy lives most of us lead. Instead of sitting down for hours on end to learn a skill, distributed practice is all about shorter, smaller sessions where you’re stimulating the link between the neurons more often throughout time. (http://lifehacker.com/the-science-behind-how-we-learn-new-skills-908488422)

Breaking up and spacing out study time over days or weeks can substantially boost how much of the material students retain, and for longer, compared to lumping everything into a single, nose-to-the-grindstone session. (http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/08/how-does-the-brain-learn-best-smart-studying-strategies/)

Take Breaks to Allow for Incubation

There’s a whole bunch of science looking at problem-solving. In problem-solving, when you get stuck, you’ve run out of ideas, distraction is really your best friend. You need to stand up, let it go — walk around the block, go to the cafe, drink a beer, whatever it is — and that is really your best shot at loosening the gears a little bit and allowing yourself to take a different and more creative approach to the problem. (http://www.npr.org/2014/08/23/342219405/studying-take-a-break-and-embrace-your-distractions)

A 15-minute break to go for a walk or trawl on social media isn’t necessarily wasteful procrastination. Distractions and interruptions can allow for mental “incubation” and flashes of insight — but only if you’ve been working at a problem for a while and get stuck, according to a 2009 research meta-analysis. (http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/08/how-does-the-brain-learn-best-smart-studying-strategies/)

Try Alternate and More Fun Ways of Learning Before Giving Up on Something New

When trying to learn something new, you can easily get burned out and feel defeated if the subject is taught by rote. The problem was the way the books “dragged [him] through a series of structured principles” lifelessly. This is not to say that learning through books is bad (not all books are terrible) or that all classes are like this. If you find yourself, though, thinking of giving up on a subject you really want to learn because you’re struggling with it, consider how you’re learning or being taught. Try to find a way to learn through play (http://lifehacker.com/5810326/try-alternate-and-more-fun-ways-of-learning-before-giving-up-on-learning-something-new)

Apply New Learning Often and in Meaningful Contexts

The more you can apply what you’re learning to your every day, the more it’ll stick in your head. The reason is simple. When you’re learning by doing, you’re implementing everything that makes our memory work. When you’re able to connect what you’re learning with a real world task, that forms the bonds in your brain, and subsequently the skills you’re learning will stick around.

We learn best when we have context, and that applies to new skills as much as it does random facts in school. That’s why something like the transfer of learning is helpful when your learning a new skill. This means you’re applying your new skills in your day to day life in a context that matters. (http://lifehacker.com/the-science-behind-how-we-learn-new-skills-908488422)

Questions to Help Guide Learning:

  • Is failure viewed as normal and as a productive part of the learning process?
  • Is learning spaced out over time rather than crammed into a short time period?
  • Are distractions during learning normalized?
  • Is the learning practiced often and in a variety of contexts?
  • Is learning playful and fun? This is especially important when 0ne gets “stuck” at an impasse.

learning

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 8, 2015 at 12:11 am

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