I recently learned, for the first time, about Aristotle’s belief that there were three basic activities of humans: theoria (thinking), poiesis (making), and praxis (doing). Corresponding to these activities were three types of knowledge: theoretical, the end goal being truth; poietical, the end goal being production; and practical, the end goal being action (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Praxis_(process)).
The Greek theoria, from which the English word “theory” is derived, meant “contemplation, speculation, a looking at, things looked at”. The word theoria is derived from a verb meaning to look, or to see: for the Greeks, knowing was a kind of seeing, a sort of intellectual seeing (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theoria).
Poïesis is etymologically derived from the ancient Greek term ποιέω, which means “to make” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poiesis).
Praxis (From ancient Greek: πρᾶξις) is the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, embodied, or realized (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Praxis_(process)). “Praxis” may also refer to the act of engaging, applying, exercising, realizing, or practicing ideas. Praxis may be described as a form of critical thinking and comprises the combination of reflection and action. Paulo Freire defines praxis “reflection and action directed at the structures to be transformed.”(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Praxis_(process))
Implementing a Broader Framework of Making in Maker Education
All of this led me to think about how this would translate into a full spectrum of making in the context of maker educator. Having such a framework would help insure that learning from the making experience is more robust, not left up to chance. I believe a fuller spectrum or framework would including the following elements:
- Play, Tinkering, Experimentation – This is uncensored, boundaryless, whimsical making. It can be considered free play. This, in my mind, is the first part of of Poïesis which translated from Greek “to make”. How this translates into practice is by providing learners with lots of making materials; and telling them to just dive in and play hard with those materials.
- Framing or Frontloading the Making Experience – This is the introducing the making experience for more mindful and intentional making. It helps both the educators and learners to set purpose and intention for the making activity prior to actually doing it. This is discussed in Framing and Frontloading Maker Activities where I go in more detail how to frontload or frame the maker activities:
- Using and Reviewing Essential Questions
- Using Scenarios
- Specifying Standards
- Asking Questions Related To Personal Skills
- Asking Questions to Help with Scaffolding and Sequencing the Activities
- Asking Questions Related To Using Peer Support-Working Collaboratively
- Mindful and Intentional Making – Once there is a familiarity with the making materials and processes, making can become more mindful and intentional.This is the second part of poisis or the making process. Making becomes more goal-oriented, focused, and more results or product oriented (although process is still important).
- Observing and Reflecting Upon Results – This is the theoria or thinking part of the process. After making, it is when makers step back away from their making to observe and reflect on their processes and results.”Being able to reflect is a skill to be learned, a habit to develop. Reflection requires metacognition (thinking about your thinking), articulation of that thinking and the ability to make connections (past, present, future, outliers, relevant information, etc.)” (Amplifying Reflection).
- Critical Awareness and Analysis – This is the praxis, the critical thinking component that combines reflection and action. It takes reflection to a deeper level by dissecting the making process to analyze what worked and didn’t work which, in turn, will inform future makes. This critical analysis should directly and strongly influence future making experiences – the action part.
- Sharing to Elicit Broader Connections and Change – Given today’s ease of sharing via the Internet and social media, the action part of praxis has been expanded, in this framework, to include sharing out one’s makes, observations, reflections, and critical analyses to a broader audience. This can occur by writing about the making process, and/or by doing a photo essay, video, podcast to share via social media. By doing so, others can benefit from one’s make.
Judy Willis in How to Teach Students About the Brain writes:
If we want to empower students, we must show them how they can control their own cognitive and emotional health and their own learning. Teaching students how the brain operates is a huge step. Even young students can learn strategies for priming their brains to learn more efficiently.
Teaching students the mechanism behind how the brain operates and teaching them approaches they can use to work that mechanism more effectively helps students believe they can create a more intelligent, creative, and powerful brain. It also shows them that striving for emotional awareness and physical health is part of keeping an optimally functioning brain. Thus, instruction in brain function will lead to healthier learners as well as wiser ones.
Here is a run down of the learning activities I did with my gifted elementary students to teach them about their brains:
Introduction to the Brain
- The following website was shown to the learners: http://easyscienceforkids.com/all-about-your-amazing-brain/. Learners took turns reading the paragraphs out loud.
- The learners watched the following video:
- Learners played a concentration brain game I created. Cards were created that had parts of the brain images on one of the paired cards and the definitions on the other. Games cards included: cerebral cortex, frontal cortex, parietal lobe, temporal lobe, occipital lobe, cerebellum, limbic system, hypothalamus, amygdala, neuron, axon, dendrite, neurotransmitters, synapse. Students were asked to read aloud the definitions when they match a pair. An alternative is to play Neuro-Jeopardy found at http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/jeopardy.html.
Learning about the Brain Lobes
- Learners completed a jigsaw puzzle I created about the brain lobes and their functions.
- Using the Smartboard, the interactive website, https://www.koshland-science-museum.org/explore-the-science/interactives/brain-anatomy, about the brain lobes was shown to the learners.
- Using this website and brain anatomy posters on the wall as references, learners, in small groups, created their own model brains using dough (that they made themselves) for the lobes and sticky notes/toothpicks to label the lobes and their functions.
Learning About Neurons
- Neurons were introduced to the learners through this Neuroscience for Kids webpage – https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/synapse.html
- Learners made their own neurons out of licorice, fruit roll ups, and min-Reese’s cups on top of wax paper and labeled the parts of the neuron on their wax paper. This was inspired by the Neuroscience for Kids webpage – http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/chmodel.html. Learners were then asked to show how their neurons would correctly connect to one another as they would be in the brain.
- To reinforce the functions and actions of the neuron and neurotransmitters, learners played Synaptic Tag and Neuron Chain – see https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/outside.html
Finishing Up with a Creative Writing Activity About the Brain
- Brain-related creative writing options were shared with the learners from https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/writing.html. They were asked to choose one to complete and post on their Kiblogs.
Archaic Ways of Teaching Grammar
We construct grammatically correct sentences or correct our mistakes by intuitively applying the rules that govern English syntax. If, instead, we had to apply those rules consciously, they would only get in our way, making it impossible for us to speak or write at all. To construct a simple two-word sentence, such as “He dreams,” requires the application of at least seven grammar rules. Imagine trying to apply them consciously following the rules of English grammar.
Over the years, the teaching of grammar has continued to be prominent in English and foreign language instruction, leaving less class time or student energy for students to speak, read, or write in those languages. As early as 1906, studies were undertaken that attempted to show the relationship between knowledge of school-taught grammar and language skills. Since then, hundreds of such studies have produced some clear and unequivocal conclusions: The teaching of formal grammar does not help a student’s ability to speak, to write, to think, or to learn languages.
It is important for educators to know that, among recent research studies, not one justifies teaching grammar to help students write better. Although we accept the fact that social, economic, and political forces influence education in many areas, we ought not to allow such forces to outweigh knowledge and reason in determining the school curriculum. (Is Teaching Grammar Necessary?)
Learning Needs a Context
I often discuss and blog about teaching content within a context, that learning needs a context. . .
How often have students 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?
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 including memorizing grammar rules.
The key to increased understanding is providing a context for the facts and the rules. The context becomes the glue to increase the stickiness, the longevity of long term memory of those facts and rules. This is especially true for abstract concepts such as grammar rules. These concepts need something concrete with which to attach.
Providing a Context for Grammar Instruction
I teach gifted elementary level classes with a good portion of the students being English Language Learners. This translates into ELA grammar making even less sense for them than for English only learners. I do a lot of maker education, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), and STEAM (adding arts to it) activities with them, and ask them to document their learning through taking photos and blogging about those activities using their Chromebooks. Because of the article about grammar and talking with the school’s literacy coach, I decided to bring grammar-in-context into my classrooms. How I’ve done this is through projecting individual blog posts onto the Smartboard. The writer of the blog opens his or her blog post in an editing mode. Another learner reads the blog post out loud. The rest of the learners make suggestions for improvement as it is read out loud. I help guide them asking questions like:
- Does that sound right?
- Is that the correct verb for that noun?
- What tense should that verb be?
- What type of punctuation in the different pauses?
- Is that spelling correct?
- Is that possessive? If so, what is the punctuation?
. . . and again, these questions and the suggested edits are done in the context of the individual learners’ blog posts that have already been composed.
Here is an example of one such blog prior to editing:
. . . and here is the edited version:
It is not perfect but, as can be seen, is much better.
Some of my observations from this process that I noted includes:
- Learners eagerly volunteer to have their blog posts reviewed. First, they really enjoy having their posts read out loud. Second, I believe this is also due to the focus being on improving their means to communicate better not for a grade.
- The learners know that their blogs are viewed by their own classmates and their sister school (I teach gifted education at two schools and have opened my Kidblog to both schools to view one another’s posts). They have authentic audiences and what to present their best selves.
- As it becomes a group exercise, the other class members seem to enjoy the challenge and become engaged in offering corrections and improvements.
- To keep up the motivation and make it manageable, I only do 2 or 3 during any giving sitting.
Design thinking is an approach to learning that includes considering real-world problems, research, analysis, conceiving original ideas, lots of experimentation, and sometimes building things by hand. The projects teach students how to make a stable product, use tools, think about the needs of another, solve challenges, overcome setbacks and stay motivated on a long-term problem. The projects also teach students to build on the ideas of others, vet sources, generate questions, deeply analyze topics, and think creatively and analytically. Many of those same qualities are goals of the Common Core State Standards. (What Does ‘Design Thinking’ Look Like in School?)
I use the following activities to introduce elementary students to the design thinking process. The ultimate goal is for the learners to work on their own, self-selected problems in which they will apply the design thinking.
Introducing the general design process to elementary student occurs through showing the following video about the engineering process:
The Task: Build the Highest Tower
The goal of this activity is to have learners practice a simple version of the engineering design process.
In teams of 3 to 4 members, learners are asked to build the highest tower out of 50 small marshmallows and 50 spaghetti noodles.
As a team, ask learners to sketch out possible solutions
Design thinking requires that no matter how obvious the solution may seem, many solutions be created for consideration. And created in a way that allows them to be judged equally as possible answers. Looking at a problem from more than one perspective always yields richer results. (Design thinking… what is that?)
Prototype and test ideas
After brainstorming and sketching possible designs, learners begin the process of building this spaghetti-marshmallow towers.
Revisit the design process
After some time prototyping, a time-out is called so learners can reflect on what is working and not working. Learners are encouraged to see what the other groups have created to spark new ideas.
Design thinking allows their potential to be realized by creating an environment conducive to growth and experimentation, and the making of mistakes in order to achieve out of the ordinary results. At this stage many times options will need to be combined and smaller ideas integrated into the selected schemes that make it through. (Design thinking… what is that?)
Return to the building and testing process
Next Step: Introduction to Empathy
As a design thinker, the problems you are trying to solve are rarely your own—they are those of a particular group of people; in order to design for them, you must gain empathy for who they are and what is important to them. As a design thinker, the problems you are trying to solve are rarely your own—they are those of a particular group of people; in order to design for them, you must gain empathy for who they are and what is important to them. (from the d-school)
The second part of the introducing elementary-level learners to the design process is introducing them to empathy and its connection to the design process.
To have learners discover and explore the elements of empathy as it relates to design.
Introduction to Empathy
For younger kids (but even the 5th and 6th graders seemed to enjoy it):
Warm-Up: Great Egg Drop
Preparation and introduction:
Learners are asked to draw a face on an egg and are given the following directions: “Pretend the egg is alive – has thoughts, feelings, and opinions. Your job is to use the straws to create a protective covering for the egg so it will not crack when dropped from a 10 foot height. Address the following questions prior to building your egg structure:
- What do you think your egg is feeling about his or her upcoming drop?
- What do you need to make your egg’s journey less stressful?
- What can you do to reassure your egg that everything will work out okay?
- What forces do you need to consider in order to keep your egg safe? Consider gravity, rate of descent, impact.
Example Responses from a 6th grade group:
To begin, assemble groups of 4 or 5 and give each group various materials for building (e.g. 5-20 straws, a roll of masking tape, one fresh egg, newspaper, etc.) Instruct the participants and give them a set amount of time (e.g. 30 minutes) to complete building a structure, with the egg inside in which the structures are dropped from at least 10 feet in elevation and then inspected to see if the eggs survived. The winners are the groups that were successful in protecting the egg. (http://eggdropproject.org/ and http://www.group-games.com/team-building/great-egg-drop.html)
Delving Deeper: An Environment for a Gamibot
Lead learners through the following steps:
- Create a Gamibot – http://www.howtoons.com/?page_id=3475. With available art materials, decorate the Gamibot.
- Develop the Backstory for the Gamibot: Report via a Blog Post or Voki
- Create an Environment for the Gamibot Out of Natural and Art Materials. Make sure it fits your Gamibot’s backstory creating an environment that is tailored for your Gamibot. Be ready to explain why it fits your Gamibot.
Squishy Circuits: Designing for a Human Being
To put everything together by creating a design for another human being.
Learners design a squishy circuit product based on the specifications given to them by a classmate – the client from all of the available colors of Play-Doh (conductive clay), modeling clay (insulating clay), and LED lights.
Lead learners through the following steps:
- Learn about and experiment with Squishy Circuits (for how to do it, see http://www.makereducation.com/squishy-circuits.html)
- As partners, decide who will be the designer and who will have a product designed for him or her – the client.
- As a designer, find out the following from the client:
- What do you want me to build?
- What size do you want it to be? It needs to be scaled in some way. (Note: learners are given graph flip chart paper with 1″ squares and taught about scale, e.g., 1″ = 1′, 1″ = 2′, etc.)
- What color Play-Doh? Modeling clay? LED lights.
- Construct the design while your client gives you feedback. The client is not permitted to touch the Squishy Circuit during the design process.
- After completion, roles are switched.
This past summer I facilitated maker education classes for 5 to 10 year old kids. This school year I am a gifted teacher meeting with 2nd through 6 grades one day per week per group. I like mixed age groups and have no problem designing learning activities for them. I realized that the reason for this is that these activities are open ended permitting each student to naturally and instinctively to work at or slightly above his or her ability level. This actually is a definition of differentiation.
Many classrooms consist of students from different knowledge backgrounds, multiple cultures, both genders, and students with a range of disabilities or exceptionalities (Alavinia & Fardy, 2012). Differentiated instruction is defined as “a philosophy of teaching that is based on the premise that students learn best when their teachers accommodate the differences in their readiness levels, interest, and learning profiles” (Konstantinou-Katzi et al., 2012, p. 333). (in http://edutechwiki.unige.ch/en/Differentiated_learning)
One of results or consequences of providing such activities is an increase in learner engagement, excitement, and motivation. Open ended learning activities permit and encourage learners to bring their “selves” into the work. They become agents of their own learning.
Because of this freedom, they often shine as true selves come through. Learners often surprise both the educator and themselves with what they produce and create. It becomes passion-based learning. Not only do the activities become self-differentiated, they become personalized:
Personalization only comes when students have authentic choice over how to tackle a problem. A personalized environment gives students the freedom to follow a meaningful line of inquiry, while building the skills to connect, synthesize and analyze information into original productions. Diane Laufenberg in What Do We Really Mean When We Say ‘Personalized Learning’?
Personalized learning means that learning starts with the learner. Learning is tailored to the individual needs of each learner instead of by age or grade level. It is more than teaching to “one size fits all” or just moving to learner-centered learning and changing instruction. Personalized Learning takes a holistic view of the individual, skill levels, interests, strengths and challenges, and prior knowledge. The learner owns their learning. Barbara Bray in What is Personalized Learning?
The educator, in this environment, introduces the activities and then steps back to let the learners take over their own personal learning. The educator lets go of expectations what the final produce should be; should look like; should do. The educator becomes a provider of resources, feedback giver, and communications facilitator. S/he becomes a tour guide of learning possibilities. S/he shows learners the possibilities and then gets out of the way.
Creating the conditions for self-differentiation and personalization can occur with learning objectives that start with action verbs such: create, write, explore, invent, make, imagine, prepare, build, compose, construct, design, develop, formulate, originate.
Parting Shot: The following is an Animoto I created to show how many forms of making there are, but it also demonstrates what can happen when open ended projects are introduced into the learning environment.
There is a new platform for immersive learning games that’s taking classrooms across the world by storm. Based on the same principles as interactive Escape The Room digital games — which challenge players to use their surroundings to escape a prison-like scenario — Breakout EDU is a collaborative learning experience that enhances critical thinking and creativity while fostering a growth mindset in students. Gameplay revolves around a Breakout EDU box that has been locked with multiple and different locks including directional locks, word locks, and number locks. After listening to a game scenario read by the teacher, students must work together to find and use clues to solve puzzles that reveal the various lock combinations before time expires (usually 45 minutes). (Stretch student collaboration skills with Breakout EDU)
I developed my own game which is adapted from Oh, the Places You Will Go http://www.breakoutedu.com/oh-the-places-youll-go
Title: Eggbert: The Slightly Cracked Egg
Story: Uses the children’s story, Eggbert: The Slightly Cracked Egg. Cast out of the refrigerator because of a small crack, Eggbert sets out into the world, using his talent for painting to try to blend in. Eventually he realizes that cracks are everywhere and reminds us all that our flaws are perfectly natural.
Topic Theme: This cross-curricular BreakoutEDU activities incorporates English, Math, and Social Studies standards as well as skills such as problem-solving and team building.
This cross curricular activity address the following standards. Students will:
- Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings. (ELA CCSS)
- Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly. (ELA CCSS)
- Understand how latitude and longitude are used to identify places on a map. (Social Studies)
- Describe and compare the physical environments and landforms of different places in the world (e.g., mountains, islands, valleys or canyons, mesas).
- Use personal experience as inspiration for expression in visual art. (Visual Arts)
- Solve different kinds of non-familiar problems in both conventional and innovative ways. (21st Century Skills)
- Assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and value the individual contributions made by each team member. (21st Century Skills)
- Copy of Eggbert, the Slightly Cracked Egg
- Breakout EDU Box (Large Lock Box)
- Directional Lock (speed dial)
- Five Digit Letter Lock
- UV / Black Light Flashlight
- Invisible Ink Pen
- Small Locked Box with Three-Number Combo
- 3-Digit Lock
- 4-Digit Lock
- Key Lock
- Computer or Tablet
- Printouts: Plane Tickets, Maps, Longitude-Latitude Coordinates, Quotes, We Broke Out Card
- Silly Putty – one per student
Steps to Set Up:
- Set the directional lock to Up-Down-Up-Down. This represents the directions and times that Eggbert goes up and down walls.
- Set the lock box to 3-4-7. The plane tickets have the clues for the 3 number lock box. The plane tickets are cut apart from the print out to make three tickets. This number, 3-4-7, is on the tickets and can be found as the seat numbers. The order of the numbers can be found in one of two ways: (a) the seat letters, a – b – c, and/or (b) the places Eggbert visits, from the Refrigerator to New York City, from New York City to the Grand Canyon, Arizona, from Grand Canyon Arizona to Hilo, Hawaii.
- Put the encrypted message, and the weblink to how to do the encryption in the lockbox. The encrypted message is JE VYDT JXU AUO, BEEA JE FEIJUH JXHUU QDT VYDT JXU SHQSA (which decrypted means “to find the key, look to poster three and find the crack”).
- Tape the key to the key lock behind word “crack” on the poster 3 quote – tape this poster to the wall.
- Set the four number combination lock to 8-7-3-1. This matches the coordinates on the map found in the support materials. Cut out the four longitude-latitude coordinates from the bottom of the map and place those near the maps. FYI – all of the numbers on the map correspond to canyons in the United States.
- Set the word lock to P-R-I-D-E. Using the invisible ink pen, circle letters P – R – I – D – E on the posters 1 and 2 of quotes.
- (Optional) With a Sharpie, draw a crack on each silly putty egg – one for each participant. Put silly putty and We Broke Out sign in the Breakout box.
- Attach the hasp to the breakout box and to the hasp lock attach the directional lock, the key lock, the word lock, and the four number combination lock.
Video Overview on the Set Up
With the Students
- Show students the BreakoutEdu Box.
- Read Eggbert: The Slightly Cracked Egg emphasizing that there are clues
- Project http://www.onlyinyourstate.com/usa/best-canyons-usa/ – have students view the different canyons in the US
- Give participants record and hint sheet preferably via a Google doc but paper versions can work, too.
- Go through the hints one at a time as a group. They can work with a partner or two of they choose. I emphasize not telling the answer until everyone has it. I strive to have everyone in the class participate by insuring that all have the correct answer prior to attempting to solve that clue – unlock that particular lock.
- Once they open the box and find the silly putty in the eggs, instruct them to sculpt something that makes them unique.
- For reflection, have the students blog about their experiences. If they are using iPad or Chromebooks, they can take a photo to go with their blogs.
- Further study: Students can look up the latitudes and longitudes to find out which canyons and gorges were represented.
Slideshow of Our Breakout Edu: