User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Why do we group students by manufacture date?

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Ken Robinson once famously said, “Students are educated in batches, according to age, as if the most important thing they have in common is their date of manufacture.” (Ken Robinson, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything).

I have the privilege of working with 2nd through 6th graders in my gifted education classes and Kindergarten through 6th grade in my summer STEM and robotics camps. With my summer camps, they get to choose their camp by interest not age. In my gifted program, they select from a menu of content areas so it is also interest- rather than age-driven. I wouldn’t have it any way.

The Problem with Grouping Learners by Age

Grouping students by age or manufacture date is a contrived sorting mechanism. It assumes that same age kids are alike in their intellectual, physical, emotional, and social development; that they have commonalities in addition to their age. Academic standards used by almost all schools are based on the false and incorrect belief of the average student. Todd Rose quoting Mike Miller’s research on brains found that “not a single one was even remotely close to the average. The average represented nobody,” and he added, “Average is widely misleading. In education, there is no such thing as an average student. Our educational system is built on the assumption that there is an average student.”

This critique of age-grading was written in 1912 by Frederick Burk:

It is constructed upon the assumption that a group of minds can be marshaled and controlled in growth in exactly the same manner that a military officer marshals and directs the bodily movements of a company of soldiers. In solid, unbreakable phalanx the class is supposed to move through all the grades, keeping in locked step. This locked step is set by the ‘average’ pupil–an algebraic myth born of inanimate figures and an addled pedagogy. The class system does injury to the rapid and quick-thinking pupils, because these must shackle their stride to keep pace with the mythical average. But the class system does a greater injury to the large number who make slower progress than the rate of the mythical average pupil . . . They are foredoomed to failure before they begin.

In his article, The Science of the Individual (why average doesn’t make sense in school, A.J. Juliani quoted Rose:

This is not a new debate. In fact, this century-old clash of foundational assumptions might be regarded as the cardinal battle for the soul of modern education. On the side of education for individuality, we find some of the most admired and progressive names in American education, including John Dewey, Charles Eliot, and Benjamin Bloom. These “Individualists” were animated by their defining assumption that every student is different and that education should be designed to accommodate those differences.

Grouping by Interests Rather Than Age

I do understand that mixed age groups will have developmental differences but in my programs, they are grouped by interests rather than by age. I find this to be more natural and mimics real world learning as individuals often seek out others in their out-of-school lives who have similar interests. Interest-driven learning is much more motivating and engaging. Community develops naturally due to shared interests. With groups of same aged peers, there may be no connections other than age.

I find the advantages of multiage groups to be:

  • Increased sense of community as learners bond through discussing and participating in interest-driven activities.
  • Increased socialization skills as the kids learn to navigate the learning tasks in their multiage groups.
  • More variety and perspectives. At times, even the youngest kids offer unique ideas of which the older kids hadn’t thought.
  • Older kids helping the younger kids which leads to feelings of importance and responsibility.
  • Decreased behavior problems as the kids become engaged in learning activities they would choose to do outside of school.

In addition, the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) lists the following benefits of multiage classrooms:

  • Children are viewed as unique individuals. The teacher focuses on teaching each child according to his or her own strengths, unlike in same-grade classrooms that often expect all children to be at the same place at the same time with regard to ability.
  • Children are not labeled according to their ability, and children learn at their own rate.
  • Children develop a sense of family with their classmates. They become a “family of learners” who support and care for each other.
  • Older children have the opportunity to serve as mentors and to take leadership roles.
  • Children are more likely to cooperate than compete. The spirit of cooperation and caring makes it possible for children to help each other as individuals, not see each other as competitors.
  • Older children model more sophisticated approaches to problem solving, and younger children are able to accomplish tasks they could not do without the assistance of older children. This dynamic increases the older child’s level of independence and competence.
  • Children are invited to take charge of their learning, by making choices at centers and with project work. This sense of “ownership” and self-direction is the foundation for lifelong learning.
  • Children are exposed to positive models for behavior and social skills. (http://www.uwyo.edu/ecec/_files/documents/multi-age-benefits.pdf)

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 18, 2018 at 5:39 pm

Beginning the School Year With Connections: 2018

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I have written before about the beginning of the school year, Beginning the School Year: It’s About Connections Not Content.

I begin all classes focusing on having the students make connections between each other and with me.  I want students to learn about one another in a personal way. I want to learn about my students so my instructional strategies can be more personalized and tailored to their needs and interests.

As we begin this new school year, I want to share my own ideas for what I believe represent best practices for doing so. I have the following goals for beginning the school year:

  • To have the learners get to know one another and if they do know one another, to deepen that understanding.
  • To have the learners get to know me as an educator.
  • To set the climate that the classroom will experiential, engaging, fun, and student-centric.
  • To begin the process of having learners learn to solve problems as a group and work cooperatively with one another.
  • To begin creating a supportive climate – where learners support one another and I support their learning efforts.
  • To give the message that social-emotional learning is important.
  • To give the message that we will use our bodies, art, team building, problem solving, and interactions with classmates in the classroom.
  • To have the learners take ownership of their classroom.

What should also be obvious from this list is what is not on it – namely a focus on content-driven instruction during the first days of school.

These are the activities I used on the first day of school with my 2018 gifted classes of 2nd to 6th grade students (some similar to past beginning of the year activities and some new ones):

Thumball Ice Breaker

Learners arere asked to form a circle to participate in a Thumball Ice Breaker.

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A learner tosses it to another learner. The catcher then responds to the prompt closest to her or his left them. After doing so, the learner throws it to another learner. I typically do two to three rounds where each learner gets the ball during a round. Example prompts include:

  • Three Wishes
  • Happiest Memory
  • Three Yummy Foods
  • Three Gross Foods
  • Favorite TV Show or Movie
  • Best Book or Author
  • Great Vacation Place
  • Funniest Cartoon

Warp Speed

As a former adventure educator, I have a fondness for team building and group problem solving activities, and regularly incorporate them into my classroom. A good list of these types of activities can be found on Teampedia.

Toss the ball around the circle until everyone has caught it once and it is returned to the leader. For Warp Speed, you need to establish a pattern of tossing one object around the group. Once the pattern has been established, ask the group to see how quickly they can move the object through the pattern with each person touching it in the order that has been established. Time this, and give the group several opportunities to improve their time (http://www.lifeway.com/studentministry/2014/07/07/game-warp-speed/).

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As each effort is timed with the 3 second penalties per drop, I have them practice mental math. I show them their times as recorded via my iPhone, ask them to multiple the number of drops times 3 and then add this total to their time. On subsequent efforts, I ask them to subtract the difference. Later they compare their improvements.

Time to Take a Selfie Icebreaker

I found this activity via Caitlin Tucker’s post Padlet: Time to Take a Selfie Icebreaker https://catlintucker.com/2018/07/selfie-icebreaker/

First, teachers create a Padlet wall, title it “Time to Take a Selfie,” and provide a prompt with questions for students to answer. Below is a list of questions I have used to encourage students to share something about themselves.:

  • Where is your happy place?
  • What is the most adventurous thing you have ever done?
  • What is the furthest place you have traveled?
  • What is something you like about yourself?
  • What is your favorite story (book or movie)?
  • Do you consider yourself an introvert, an extrovert, or a mix? Explain.
  • What is one thing you wish you had more time for in your life?
  • What do you do to relax?
  • When you are not at school, what do you spend most of your time doing?
  • What is your most prized possession? Where did it come from and why do you love it?
  • If you could only listen to one genre/type of music for the rest of your life, what would it be?
  • Think about the best class you’ve ever had. What made that class so special?

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(from my student teachers)

Jenga Ice Breaker

This is the Jenga game with the addition of icebreaker questions. It’s very simple to make. I used the Giant Tumbling Timbers for increased suspense but a smaller, generic Jenga game can be used. I found and typed up some icebreaker questions (examples can be found at https://funattic.com/76-fun-icebreaker-questions.htm), and taped them to the game pieces. It’s played like regular Jenga, but you have to answer the question on whatever piece you pull.

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LED Enhanced All About Me Posters

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I like using the All About Me posters at the beginning of the school year as it lets me know a lot about the learners in a very short time. I also use them to decorate my classroom walls. Since I have been involved in maker education, I show the kids how to use LED lights creating circuits with copper tape. They use these materials to create LED enhanced All About me Posters.

Eggbert the Slightly Cracked Egg: A Breakout Game

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. I use this in the beginning of the year with my gifted students to reinforce that being different has its advantages.

Here are the specific details how to set-up and facilitate this Breakout Edu game: https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2016/09/04/eggbert-the-slightly-cracked-egg-a-breakout-edu-game/

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DIY Operation Cooperation Classroom Quilt

This kit can be purchased from Oriental Trading Post – http://www.orientaltrading.com/diy-operation-cooperation-classroom-quilt-a2-57_9111.fltr Students get their own individual squares and are asked to decorate their individual pieces with symbols of their personal strengths. The class then figures out how to combine all of the pieces to form a class quilt.

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 12, 2018 at 6:28 pm

A STEM Camp for Young Learners

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I just finished a week long – half day STEM camp for learners, ages 7 through 12, half girls and half boys. The energy in the room throughout the week was pretty incredible. There was close to 100% engagement the entire time which is always my goal in teaching. I love turning kids onto STEM, and there is evidence that exposure at a younger age increases the chances of later interest.

Some Evidence of the Importance of STEM in the Early Years

Research tells us that children’s early experience builds brain architecture and lays the foundation for one’s lifelong thinking skills and approach to learning, both critical roots of STEM success. After all, the STEM disciplines require not only content knowledge but also robust thinking dispositions—such as curiosity and inquiry, questioning and skepticism, assessment and analysis—as well as a strong learning mindset and confidence when encountering new information or challenges. These need to be developed in a child’s early education, beginning in infancy and continuing through third grade to lay the roots for STEM success. (McClure et al., 2017) (The Roots of STEM Success: Changing Early Learning Experiences to Build Lifelong Thinking Skills)

According to a new research project, children who engage in scientific activities at an early age (between birth and age 8) develop positive attitudes toward science, build up their STEM “vocabularies” and do better at problem solving, meeting challenges and acquiring new skills. “STEM starts early: Grounding science, technology, engineering and math education in early childhood,” published by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and New America and supported by a National Science Foundation grant, has asserted that “the seeds of STEM must be planted early,” right alongside the “seeds of literacy.” Together, the report said, “these mutually enhancing, interwoven strands of learning will grow well informed, critical citizens prepared for a digital tomorrow.”  (Research: Let’s Move STEM Learning Earlier)

The Camp

Due to the experiential nature of most of my instruction, I use an experiential cycle of learning:

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What follows is how I applied it during the STEM camp.

Framing the Activities

The STEM activities were introduced through (1) the use of Brainpop videos and their accompanying quizzes, and (2) tutorial videos and/or webpages with directions. Brainpop videos, due to their animation and humor, have a high interest value for kids, and their follow-up quizzes help to create more active learning. After the Brainpop video introduction, the campers were given an overview of the specific activities through the tutorials. I then would show them the tutorial step-by-step. For some campers, seeing the tutorial in its entirety was enough for them to do the project. Others needed me to go over the project step-by-step using the tutorials as guides. I prefer using online tutorials rather than doing them myself as demonstrations because the tutorials can be projected for a larger image and better viewing by all of the learners.

These specific resources can be found in the slide deck below:

The Doing

The camp consisted mostly of campers DOING the STEM activities. See below for a photographic journey of their engagement in the activities.

Reflection

Activity reflections occurred after the completion of the day’s activities using science journals:

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https://www.lakeshorelearning.com/products/el/s/HH258

Journals such as these not only benefit the learners but the educator, too. They provide such good activity evaluation information. For example, the last day of camp, students selected two photos from the week from all of the week’s photos that represented their favorite activities. These were printed for them and they then glued the images into their journals and wrote about them. They then did a verbal check-in to tell the rest of us which ones they selected and why.

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When they were sharing these with the rest of the group, one of the girls mentioned that the DIY crystals was her favorite. I was totally surprised. I thought this activity was a dude as the kids didn’t seem that excited about them. I was thinking about dropping it as a STEM activity in the future but now I will, due to her comment, consider using it again.

Our Week in Images

Chemistry – Elephant Toothpaste

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Chemistry – Slime

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Chemistry – Orbeez Stress Balls

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Solar – Solar Cars

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Solar – Solar Ovens

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Art and Science – Geometric Structures

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Art and Science – DIY Crystals

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Kinetic Projects – Cranky Contraptions

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Kinetic Projects – Helium Balloon Blimp

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Kinetic Projects – Motor Boats

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 14, 2018 at 5:27 pm

Integrating Maker Education into the Curriculum

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Rather than the maker experiences being an after school program, an add on activity, or an activity that is implemented when students have done their regular lessons work, it should be part of the regular, day-to-day curriculum. As noted in USC Rossier Online, “In order for your school and students to be fully invested in maker education, it has to be integrated into your curriculum, not squeezed in” (https://rossieronline.usc.edu/maker-education/sync-with-curriculum/).  Ayah Bdeir, who invented and runs littleBits, had this to say about integrating maker education into the curriculum:

It’s time for maker ed to move into the mainstream. Making should not be relegated to the times spent outside of class, e.g. lunch or after school. Nor should it only flourish in private schools, which don’t have to teach to standards. We need to work to show how making is a rigorous process that leads to valuable new technologies, products and experiences. Specifically, we need to tie maker projects to standards-based curriculum and show clearly the kinds of knowledge, skills and practices students learn as part of making (https://www.edsurge.com/news/2015-09-24-building-connections-between-maker-ed-and-standards)

Albemarle County Public School District is very intentional in their implementation of maker projects:

Maker projects can be created to support just about any subject area, from science to history to language arts. Maker education can be a tool for teaching the curriculum that you already have, At a glance, maker projects may appear disconnected from the curriculum. What may look like an arts and crafts activity, or just a bunch of kids playing with Legos, is actually a way to teach about ancient Rome or how to write a persuasive essay. (https://www.edutopia.org/practice/maker-education-reaching-all-learners)

To do this, though, the educator needs to approach his or her curriculum and lessons with a maker mindset. With this mindset, he or she figures out creative ways to integrate maker activities into existing lessons and instructional activities. The educator in these situations starts with the standards and objectives of their lessons, as they typically do with their regular lessons, and then designs and/or locates maker activities that fit the lesson. It simply becomes, “How can I add a making element to my lessons to reinforce concepts being learned?”

For subjects like science, this is a little easier as the labs that often accompany science lessons often have a hint of STEM or maker education. With a little tweaking, these labs can become more of a maker education type of activity. For example, if students are learning about circuits, they could wire cardboard model houses with lights and fans.  

For subjects like language arts, this integration is a little more challenging but with a little creativity, it is possible and exciting. An example is Tufts University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach’s program, Novel Engineering:

Novel Engineering is an innovative approach to integrate engineering and literacy in elementary and middle school. Students use existing classroom literature – stories, novels, and expository texts – as the basis for engineering design challenges that help them identify problems, design realistic solutions, and engage in the Engineering Design Process while reinforcing their literacy skills.

Example books that offer engineering or maker education challenges include:

The benefits of this type of curriculum integration include all those benefits described for maker education, in general, but also include:

  • Increased learner interest in and engagement with content rich lesson activities.
  • Lesson activities may become a gateway to content areas for learners who may not have been interested in that content area in the past. For example, making in language arts may spark a STEM interest for students who have previously only been interested in language arts; spark the interest of STEM-oriented students in language arts.

To help integrate maker education into the curriculum, I developed the following lesson plan template to assist teachers with this process.

Maker Lesson Plan

Example Maker Education Lesson Plan

Vision for this Lesson and for Student Learning (What is the overarching purpose of this lesson? How does making  enhance the lesson? Consider relevancy, authenticity, transfer to other life situations):

 

Student Voice  (What are the interests and needs of the students? How is their voice incorporated into the development of this lesson?):

 

Standards Addressed (Think cross-curriculum and 21st century skills; think process as well as content learnings):

 

 

 

 

 

  • ISTE Standards for Students (for detailed descriptions and sub-standards, see https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students):
    • Empowered Learner: Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences.
    • Digital Citizen: Students recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical.
    • Knowledge Constructor: Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.
    • Innovative Designer: Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.
    • Computational Thinker: Students develop and employ strategies for understanding and solving problems in ways that leverage the power of technological methods to develop and test solutions.
    • Creative Communicator: Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals.
    • Global Collaborator: Students use digital tools to broaden their perspectives and enrich their learning by collaborating with others and working effectively in teams locally and globally.
  • 21st Century Skills (see for detailed descriptions at http://www.p21.org/our-work/p21-framework to add specifics):
    • Global Awareness: _________________________________________________
    • Financial, Economic: _______________________________________________
    • Business and Entrepreneurial Literacy: _________________________________
    • Civic Literacy: _____________________________________________________
    • Health Literacy: ___________________________________________________
    • Environmental Literacy: _____________________________________________
    • Creativity and Innovation: ___________________________________________
    • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: _________________________________
    • Communication: ___________________________________________________
    • Collaboration: _____________________________________________________
    • Information Literacy: _______________________________________________
    • Media Literacy: ____________________________________________________  
    • ICT Literacy: ______________________________________________________
    • Flexibility and Adaptability: ___________________________________________
    • Initiative and Self-Direction: __________________________________________
    • Social and Cross-Cultural Skills: ______________________________________
    • Productivity and Accountability: _______________________________________
    • Leadership and Responsibility: _______________________________________

Lesson Challenge Statement – Framing the Experience: (How will the maker lesson be framed or frontloaded?  – What is the big challenge for this activity? What essential questions do you want learners to explore? What overarching concepts do you want learners to investigate? Is the challenge open and ill-defined so there are multiple opportunities for student interpretation, innovation, and creativity?) The maker lesson can be framed or frontloaded through:

  • Introducing Essential Questions
  • The Use of Scenarios
  • Specifying the 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

(More information about frontloading the maker experience can be found at https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2016/03/16/framing-and-frontloading-maker-activities/)

Required Prerequisite Knowledge and Skills:

Vocabulary: (What vocabulary do you want learners to learn and use?)

Getting Started: (What high impact activity will you do to get learners excited about or hooked into the upcoming lesson?)

  • Video: _________________________________________________________________
  • Hands-On Demonstration: _________________________________________________
  • AR/VR Simulation: _______________________________________________________
  • Online Virtual Simulation: _________________________________________________
  • Live Guest Speaker (in person or via Skype/Google Hangout): ____________________
  • Game (analog or digital): __________________________________________________
  • Group Discussion About the Learning Challenge

Tinkering and Exploration: (Will the learners benefit with some free-play tinkering with and exploring the materials?)

Skills and Knowledge Direct Instruction: (What, if any, knowledge and skills do you need to teach directly prior to the maker activity?)

Learner Planning Time: Time for learners to research and plan what they will do for the maker challenge.

Learner Creation Time: Time for the learners to create, to try out several iterations of their ideas, if needed.

Learner Sharing and Feedback Time: Time for learners to share what they are making with their peers; whose role then is to give feedback.

Documenting Learning and Reflection: How will learners document and reflect on their learning? Possible reflection questions include:

  • What new skills have you learned because of the maker experience?
  • What are the most important learning moments you take with you from this maker experience?
  • Would you do this or a similar maker project again? Why or why not?
  • Has this maker experience changed you? If yes, how?
  • Describe what you have learned about yourself as a result of your maker experience.
  • What would you like to change about your maker experience?
  • What were the benefits from you participating in this making activity?
  • What surprised you the most during your maker experience?
  • What did you do that seemed to be effective?
  • What did you do that seemed to be ineffective?
  • What were the most difficult parts of the maker experience? Why?
  • What were the most satisfying parts of the maker experience? Why?
  • What personal characteristics made this maker experience successful for you?
  • Describe an awareness about a personal characteristic that has been enhanced by your maker experience.
  • How does the maker experience relate to your long-term goals?
  • How have you been challenged during the maker experience?
  • How do you feel about what you made? What parts of it do you particularly like? Dislike?
  • What lessons can you learn from the maker experience?
  • What positives can you take away from the maker experience?
  • How can you apply what you learned from maker experience in your life?
  • What advice would you give to someone else working on the maker activities?
  • What did you learn through this experience and how can you use it in the future?
  • Looking back on the maker experience, what two things stand out to you the most and why?

(For more on reflecting on the maker experience, see https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2018/03/10/reflecting-on-maker-experiences-with-reflection-cards/.) 

Assessment: How will learners be assessed? (This is especially important in a school setting where grades and accountability are expected.)

  • Rubric – Based on Standards and Objectives
    • Teacher Generated
    • Student Generated
  • Portfolio Artifact
    • Submitted to a Blog
    • Submitted to a web platform like Seesaw
  • Peer Assessments

Sharing Out Findings: How will learners share out what they learned with a larger maker education community? Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame stated: Sharing is s a vital aspect of maker culture that is intrinsic to the underlying ethos of what it means to be a maker and by extension, in my opinion, a human being (https://boingboing.net/2018/05/23/adam-savage-at-maker-faire-th.html).

  • Use of Social Media?
  • Presentations to Local Students and Community Members?
  • News Coverage?
  • Teaching Others?

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 6, 2018 at 12:40 am

The Myth of Neutral Makerspaces

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Recently, I attended the Nation of Makers Conference whose theme was intentional inclusion. The single comment from the conference that stood out for me was:

Before we consider intentional inclusion, we need to consider and explore unintentional exclusion.

When I think about unintentional exclusion, I think about how implicit biases are present and strong in every human being.

An implicit bias, or implicit stereotype, is the unconscious attribution of particular qualities to a member of a certain social group. Implicit stereotypes are influenced by experience, and are based on learned associations between various qualities and social categories, including race or gender. Individuals’ perceptions and behaviors can be affected by implicit stereotypes, even without the individuals’ intention or awareness. Implicit bias is an aspect of implicit social cognition, the phenomenon that perceptions, attitudes, and stereotypes operate without conscious intention. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Implicit_stereotype)

Recent research sadly indicates that implicit bias is pervasive and insidious in makerspaces . . .

After a 10-state tour through educational makerspaces (both in-school and off-site facilities with an educational penchant), researchers from Drexel University’s ExCITe Center found a non-inclusive culture with a lack of attention to implicit biases.

Per the study, student participation rates change dramatically from K-8 (where there’s nearly equal participation by gender) to high school (where male students outnumber females by a factor of three). Program leaders and instructors remain predominantly male, and a language analysis of recruiting and instruction materials revealed evidence of implicit bias.

“Implicit bias is pervasive and insidious,” the report states. “Our evidence is specific to gender, but there may be other forms. We recommend open and frank discussions that raise awareness of implicit bias, particularly in language, internal and external communications, and design curricula that may lead to bias.” The most urgent recommendation, according to Kim, is to create concerted efforts around recruitment and language that combat existing bias in gender, race and beyond. (K-12 makerspaces lack inclusive culture, Drexel study says)

Because these stereotypical biases are often implicit and unconscious, it makes them especially resistant to awareness, exploration and modification. Due to this, I don’t believe that a truly neutral makerspace is possible but I do believe efforts should be made towards that goal or end.

Liberatory Consciousness

Liberatory Consciousness was a practice promoted and used during the Nation of Maker pre-conference and threaded through the inclusion track of the conference.

Liberatory consciousness is a force that enables an individual to live his or her life in oppressive systems and institutions with awareness and intentionality.

We understand that inequity, racial and otherwise, is the result of cumulative disadvantage built into social institutions, via law, policy, and everyday practice.

We work from an intersectional perspective, which believes that organizations and communities thrive when they build cultures that are inclusive of wide-ranging ethnic, racial, gender, sexual, religious, and national identities and abilities.

We understand that the targets of oppression are required  to be at the center of efforts to transform oppression. http://desireeadaway.com/awareness-analysis-action/ 

Philosophically, these tenets, in my perspective, are pretty amazing and right on target. The difficulty comes in operationalizing them – making them into concrete practices for makerspaces.

Developing Best Practices for Makerspaces

After the conference, I did an extensive search on codes of conduct and inclusion for makerspaces. I expected to find a decent number of articles on this topic, but became a bit dismayed on how few I found. One article that did stand out for me was by Sylvia Martinez’s Edsurge piece, Making for All: How to Build an Inclusive Makerspace (but it’s from 2015). Some of practices she recommends for creating a more inclusive makerspace:

  • Empower students not just to be passive objects of the lessons, but to include them as allies and advocates for making things that matter to them.
  • Culturally responsive, situated, and relevant doesn’t mean asking students to write hip hop lyrics about the scientific method. But it doesn’t mean ignoring hip hop either. Seeing cultural practices in a maker light can open doors and blur the lines between teachers and learners.
  • Sensitivity to surroundings. Research shows that girls react to surroundings that reflect stereotypical “hacker” culture by denying that they are interested in science and engineering. If you aren’t sure what vibe your classroom or makerspace is communicating, ask some kids.
  • Reduce competition. Both overt contests and more subtle competition, like competition caused by a lack of adequate materials and tools, can reduce participation of girls. It can also be a barrier for beginners and students who don’t see themselves as “technical.” The competition aspect raises the stakes to a level that is too risky for students to jump in and try something they may actually enjoy.
  • Don’t advantage one kind of building over another. Robots are cool, but the same technologies of micro-controllers, sensors, motors, and lights could make smart clothes, a useful invention for an elderly aunt, or better still, something no one has thought of before. Provide incentives, multiple on-ramps, praise, and glory for all kinds of making.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 1, 2018 at 11:35 pm

Failure is for the privileged.

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I recently attended the 4th annual CrossRoads conference organized by Infosys Foundation USA. It was filled with some great speakers and panels, but the most profound moment for me was a single statement made by Kipp Bradford, “failure is for the privileged.”

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I have written about failure before in The Over Promotion of Failure:

Almost daily I see posts on social media by educators promoting the benefits of failure. It often seems that there is a push to intentionally embed failure into instructional activities. This always rubs me the wrong way. Failure has almost universal negative connotations. It doesn’t feel good and sometimes it is extremely difficult, if impossible, to recover from big failures.

For the past several years we’ve been bombarded with advice about the “wisdom of failure.” Books by business giants and self-help gurus tout the importance of learning from mistakes. The problem with the focus on failure is that failure is a weak process when put up directly against its counterpart: success.

I want to be clear that I’m not against learning from failure. It’s certainly useful that humans have the rare biological luxury of being able to learn, non-lethally, from our failures — we can remember them, share stories about them, even laugh about them. And all the stories and lessons about what you can learn from failure represent real opportunities to do better. The problem is that none of the advice and literature on failure fairly compares learning from failure to learning from success.

We have to ask how abundant or common are useful failures compared to useful successes? If opportunities for learning are rare, it’s hard to make a practice out of them. Unfortunately, truly useful failures that change our thinking (as opposed to merely stupid failures that just confirm what we already should have known) are relatively rare. (http://www.businessinsider.com/we-learn-more-from-success-than-failure-2014-6)

Mr. Bradford added another angle or perspective that I had not considered when he stated that failure for the privileged. This prompted me to see what others might have said about this. Here are some of my findings:

Not everyone “gets” to fail. If you are a student of color you have to be perfect. Think about the standardized test that plays an over-sized role in determining an accelerated or remedial course. You better not fail. Think about the rates of suspension and expulsion. You better not fail. Think about use of force incidents on campuses. You better not fail. Think about using a word the teacher doesn’t know. You better not fail. Think about hiding the fact your parents are undocumented. You better not fail. (Failing is a Privilege)

It also important for teachers to realize that failure in classrooms is an exercise of privilege. The effects of failure aren’t the same for everyone. For students who are marginalized in any way, failure has the potential to reinforce every negative image, bias, or stereotype they are facing. For students who struggle academically, failure can tell people they aren’t smart enough. For students who are marginalized socially, failure can tell people they aren’t cool enough. For students of color, failure can reinforce racist beliefs that they aren’t good enough. (When Failure is a Privilege)

Failure has become a trend in the past decade. As a society, we increasingly say “Failure is OK” or “Failure is essential to success.” But in this process of normalizing failure, we ignore the fact that failure affects people differently, and that privilege plays an important role in who is allowed to fail — and who isn’t.

“It’s OK to fail,” one professor told the class. “Students worry too much about their GPA.” And while I was never one to panic about grades, I did lose a key scholarship after finishing my freshman year with a 2.5 GPA. Unfortunately, this is the reality for many low-income, first-generation students — those who are in college only because of the scholarships that got them there. If those scholarships are lost, their dreams may be lost as well. More-privileged students don’t have those concerns. If they fail courses one year and require an extra year in college, they can afford it. (When “Failure Is OK’ Is Not OK)

While a first-gen/low income student is out there taking risks, their families may be struggling to put food on the table, All of this is assuming the student would have somewhere to live and at least be self-sustaining, which may not even be the case.  “It’s not like you have the luxury of saying, ‘If this doesn’t work out, then I can find another means of providing for myself pretty easily, or I have my parents to fall back on, or have some source of wealth to support me while I go through this very risky process,’” Rodriguez said. (The privilege to fail)

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 26, 2018 at 6:50 pm

Posted in Education

Tagged with , , , ,

Robot-Enhanced Creative Writing and Storytelling (featuring Ozobot and Wonder’s Dot)

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There have been complaints leveraged against out of the box robots like Dash and Dot, Ozobot, Hummingbird, Sphero. The complaints usually revolve around the canned and prescriptive nature of their uses and programs, that they lack creative engagement by the younger users. I personally love the excitement my learners have using these robots. As with all tools and technologies and with creative framing, though, they can be used in creative and imaginative ways.

Mention robots to many English teachers and they’ll immediately point down the hall to the science classroom or to the makerspace, if they have one. At many schools, if there’s a robot at all, it’s located in a science or math classroom or is being built by an after-school robotics club. It’s not usually a fixture in English classrooms. But as teachers continue to work at finding new entry points to old material for their students, robots are proving to be a great interdisciplinary tool that builds collaboration and literacy skills. (How Robots in English Class Can Spark Empathy and Improve Writing)

This past term, I had my 2nd through 4th grade students work on their robot-enhanced creative writing and stories. In small groups, students were asked to create a fictional storyline and use StoryboardThat.com to create both the physical scenes and the accompanying narrative. As part of their directions, they were told that they were going to create a 3D setting out of cardboard boxes, foam board, LED lights, and other craft materials; and that they would use Wonder’s Dot with the Blocky App and Ozobot as the characters in their stories. Preparation time was divided between storyboarding, creating the scene, and learning how to use/code the robots. Because of all of the preparation and practice, the recording actually went quite quick and smoothly.

Here is a break down of the learning events that learners were asked to complete:

In small groups, create a storyboard using StoryboardThat which includes both the scenes and the narration.

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Create the scenes or setting using craft materials, cardboard boxes, foam board, LED lights

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Learn how to use and code Ozobots and Wonder’s Dot

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Work out the details of completed stories prior to recording

. . . and here are their recorded stories (along with some clips of their preparation). They did such a good job – it is very much worth a view.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 15, 2018 at 9:58 pm

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