User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Exploring Wealth Inequities: An Experiential Learning Activity

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One of the legacies I want to leave with my students (of all ages) is a desire to engage in global stewardship. For more about this see my post, Empathy and Global Stewardship: The Other 21st Century Skills.

As part of my gifted education classes, I am asking my 5th and 6th graders to choose, explore, research, and report via their own Google Sites on one or two of the 17 Global Goals found at The World’s Largest Lesson. Here is the list of global goals selected by my students:

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To supplement their online work, I am doing a series of experiential activities with them (FYI – this also supports my desire to balance technology and no technology activities, where student need to communicate and collaborate with one another without the use of devices). We began these activities with Exploring Wealth Inequalities, which I explain below.

Goals

  • Explore inequalities of wealth and better understand experiences of economic inequality.
  • To graphically demonstrate the vast differences in wealth between different areas of the world.
  • Generate ideas for action towards economic equality.

The Task

To use the supplies given to your group to create a model city.

Materials

  • Masking Tape – both for creating the boundaries and for building
  • Paper or Plastic Cups
  • Straws
  • Index Cards
  • Candy such as M&Ms, Skittles, Hersey’s Kisses.
  • Paper Bags

The Set-Up

The setting below is set up prior to the learners’ arrival.

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Randomly separate learners into three different groups. Bring them to their area one group at a time and explain the task.

The Wealthy Group:

The wealthy group has more area in which to work, more supplies, and bags of candy with much more than enough for each learner. The facilitator explains the task offering lots of help if they ask for it. They can leave the boundaries of their area. If they ask for more supplies or goods, the facilitator will get it for them – taking it from another group if needed. An unspoken, hidden rule is that they can offer and give any of their supplies to the lower income groups

 

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The Middle Income Group:

The middle group has everything in moderation – a moderate amount of area to work in – a moderate amount of supplies to build their city.  They each get a bag of candy with a few pieces of candy per bag. The facilitator explains the task but doesn’t offer support.

 

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The Poorest Income Group:

This group is given a taped off area in which there is very little room to move; very limited supplies; and a few pieces of candy to share among the group members. The facilitator briefly and impatiently explains the directions to build a model city with the supplies provided.

 

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Debriefing

Students are shown the following video:

. . . and then discuss the following questions:

  • Were you treated fairly?
  • What aspects of this game represented how the world’s wealth and power are distributed?
  • How did the members of the different groups feel about their situation?
  • After playing this game do you have a better understanding of the situation or attitude of poor people/nations? Of the situation or attitude of wealthy people/nations?
  • Who are the “haves” and the “have nots” in the world today? Who are the “haves” and “have nots” in our country today? In our state or community? Why?
  • Should the “haves” be concerned about the situation of the “have nots?” For what reasons? economic? moral/religious? political? Why might the “haves” give money or resources to the “have nots”? Is this a way to solve the problems of poverty?
  • What might the “have-nots” do to improve their situation? What are some actions that “have-nots” have taken around the globe and at home to address the inequalities of wealth and power?
  • Do you think there should be a redistribution of wealth and power in this country? Why or why not? If yes, how would you propose to accomplish this? What principles would guide your proposals for change?
  • Do you think there should be a redistribution of wealth and power throughout the world? Why or why not? If yes, how would you propose to accomplish this? What principles would guide your proposals for change?

(http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/edumat/hreduseries/tb1b/Section2/activity2.html)

Here are some of the comments from my students during the debrief.

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 2, 2017 at 5:44 pm

Scaffolding Maker Education Learning Experiences

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I often read via social media about the importance of student centered, student-driven instruction. I wholeheartedly agree. My blog post is called User-Generated Education for a reason. I also believe one of the roles of an educator, in the context of maker education, is to scaffold learning experiences so the end result is students becoming self-determined learning.

Thinking about the importance of learner autonomy and independence reminded me of my early career when I did counseling work with at-risk youth in wilderness settings, taking them on 2 to 3 week wilderness trips. We did what was called Huddle-Up Circles. Huddle-ups were called by the instructors and/or the youth participants any time a concern or problem arose. Everyone stopped what they were doing to gather in a circle to discuss the problem and generate solutions. Needless to say, the instructors were the ones who most often called and facilitated the huddle-ups at beginning of our trips.  Our goal, as instructors and counselors, was to have the young people run the huddle-ups themselves. We knew we were successful when we asked to step out of the huddle-ups by the young people because they wanted to run their own huddle-ups. During these times, we would stand outside of the huddle-up circles and silently observe their processes, only stepping in upon their request. The results not only included the development of skills and strategies for their own social-emotional development, but their success with their earned independence boosted their self-esteems.

This is how I approach facilitating maker education activities. Direct instruction is provided through structured and prescribed activities with the goal of learners then being able to eventually go into self-determined directions. There has been some criticism leveraged against out-of-the-box maker education kits, programmable robots, and step-by-step maker activities. My contention is that learners often don’t know what they don’t know; and that giving them the basic skills frees them to then use their creativity and innovation to take these tools into self-determined directions.

In response, I created and proposed Stages of Maker Education:

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In my robotics and coding classes, I use Ozobot, Spheros, Dash and Dot, microbits, Scratch, to name of few. I use a full spectrum of activities starting with direct instruction associated with the Copying stage, then assisting learners to move through the Advance, Modify, and Embellish stages by providing them with examples and resources, and finally, encouraging them to move into the Create stage. Sometimes I show them examples of possibilities for the Create stage. I show such examples to spark and ignite their creative juices. Because almost all of my learners have not had the freedom to create, these examples help to get them motivated and going. Here some are examples of two ends of the spectrum – Prescribed/Copy and Create – of some of these robotic and coding activities to show how learning basic skills can lead to creative activities:

My ultimate goal is to have students drive their own learning and I want to help them learn skills to be successful in their self-determined learning.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 19, 2017 at 8:26 pm

What Learners Want

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I teach gifted students, grades 2 through 6, part time at two Title 1 schools. I pull them out of their regular classes for 3 hours of gifted programming each week. Sadly, but predictably, even though they are classified as gifted, they lack some basic skills in language arts and math (ones like basic grammar and math that they should have by this time in their educational timeline). This makes me question lots of things:

  • Is this because of a form of experiences-deficit during their early years? Their parents often lack the funds and time (working several jobs) to take their children to after school classes, visits to local museums and cultural events, and/or go on out-of-city and out-of-state trips.
  • Is it due to a lack of academic rigor and vigor in their classrooms? Schools with a higher number of students living in poverty tend to do more grill and drill in an effort to raise their test scores.  My personal belief is that grill and drill does not translate into academic vigor and rigor.
  • Do the teachers have lower expectations for the students given their backgrounds?
  • Do their parents have different expectations for their children in terms of academic achievement and college attendance?

I witnessed a conversation between my students yesterday that I found surprising and further had me wondering about the questions I posed above. In one of my schools, where I serve a class of 4th though 6th graders, I have three students from one of the 5th grades and another three students from the other 5th grade. One of the 5th grades has a teacher who is friendly with the students and does fun things in class with the students like showing them clips from major sports events. The other 5th grade class has a very strict teacher. She has a strict and rigorous class schedule and demands that the students work hard in her class. Personally, I like him better. He is friendly to me and often checks in with me about how the students are doing. She is not friendly with me, never checks in with me. I assumed that the students would also like him better and rave about him as a teacher. Yesterday, the kids started talking about the two teachers. One of the 6th grade boys, who had the nice guy teacher last year, had this to say, “I had Mr. Nice Guy as a teacher last year. If you want a friend, then Mr. Nice Guy is the best class but if you want a teacher, then Ms. Strict and Rigorous is the best class. I didn’t learn a single thing in my entire 5th grade year with him.” It was a short conversation as I don’t talk about teachers with the students and directed them to their computer assignments.  But it was a huge shock to me. I really expected the kids to rave about Mr. Nice Guy during this conversation.

I shouldn’t be that surprised. Students often know what it is best for them but sometimes have trouble expressing it. This 6th grader (who, by the way, is far from compliant – way too often talking to his male friends about sports during our class activities) is very articulate so he was able to clearly express his needs. What did surprise me, though, is that his need to learn is stronger than his need for fun and relationship with the teacher. So even with what some might classify as having some disadvantages, he still recognizes the importance of learning.

I went to Google to explore the topic of what students want in their classes and from their teachers. Most of the posts and articles were from educators – not from the students, themselves. So even though I think I know what students want, I may not. What I did re-realize, though, is that what I can do as an educator is keep the lines of communication open with my students, continually inviting them to give me feedback about our learning activities, facilitating conversations about what they are actually learning.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 2, 2017 at 9:23 pm

Introduction to Design Thinking for Educators Workshop

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I had the opportunity to facilitate a workshop on design thinking for educators at the New Mexico Association for the Gifted Fall Institute. Here is a round-up of what we did.

Warm Up: Instant Challenge

Participants were asked to warm-up for the session with a challenge from the Destination Imagination Instant Challenge App.

Instant Challenges are fun, STEAM-based group activities that must be solved within a short period of time. Using your imagination, teamwork and few everyday materials, you and your friends will work together to see just how innovative you can be. With hundreds of potential combinations and ways to solve each Instant Challenge, the creative possibilities are endless! https://www.destinationimagination.org/blog/new-instant-challenge-app/

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Introduction to the Squishy Circuits: The Medium for the Design Challenge

I then had the participating educators familiarize themselves with Squishy Circuits to prepare them for the upcoming design challenge and to deepen their engagement with the workshop content.

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An Overview of Design Thinking

The following videos and graphics about design thinking were introduced and discussed with participants.

John Spencer’s Video on the Launch Cycle

Design thinking was introduced to the participating educators through showing them John Spencer‘s video.

The Characteristics of Design Thinking

The following graphic, which I created for this workshop, was discussed.

characteristics of design thinking

Design Thinking Process and UDL Planning Tool for STEM, STEAM, Maker Education

Design Thinking Process and UDL Planning Tool for STEM, STEAM, Maker Education developed by Barbara Bray and me was then introduced to the participants.

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The Design Challenge

The major challenge or task was to create a design using Squishy circuits based on a partner’s specifications. Only the designer could touch the materials not the “client” who verbally described her desired design. To further explain this challenge, I showed a video of my gifted elementary students engaged in the challenge.

. . .  and some photos of the participating educators doing this challenge.

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Sidenote

One of the partner teams was one of my colleagues, Anna, an amazing art teacher, who was the client paired with a gifted ed teacher, the designer. Anna provided the verbal directions for her partner to make an elephant drinking water. We were reaching the end of the session without its completion. I told them to just let it go – the elephant was complete but the lighting was not. During the time that the workshop participants were walking around looking at one another’s creations, Anna and her partner completed the elephant using the LEDs to light up his eyes. The look of pride and empowerment in both Anna and her partner, who obviously has never completed such a project and was glowing with well-deserved pride, was priceless – touching me quite deeply. The moral of the story for me: Teachers should be provided with PD opportunities to deeply engage in learning to the point where they feel empowered. I believe this will help increase the transfer of learning to their own classrooms as they will want their own learners to feel that same sense of empowerment.

Here is the slide deck from my presentation:

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 22, 2017 at 7:34 pm

Qualities of Effective Educator Professional Development

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Most administrators and teachers believe in the importance and value of professional development.  Sadly, though, too many teachers believe that those mandatory, one-size-fits-all professional development sessions offered by their schools are a waste of time and money.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement, “Even high quality professional development must be directly relevant to the needs of teachers and genuinely improve teaching and learning.” Weingarten said. “And low-quality professional development, frankly, feels like detention.” (New Report Reveals That Teacher Professional Development Is Costly And Ineffective)

Teacher professional learning is of increasing interest as a critical way to support the increasingly complex skills students need to learn in order to succeed in the 21st century. Sophisticated forms of teaching are needed to develop student competencies such as deep mastery of challenging content, critical thinking, complex problem solving, effective communication and collaboration, and self-direction. In turn, effective professional development (PD) is needed to help teachers learn and refine the instructional strategies required to teach these skills. However, research has noted that many professional development initiatives appear ineffective in supporting changes in teachers’ practices and student learning.(Effective Teacher Professional Development)

What follows are the general guidelines I use to plan and structure my professional development workshops. Recently, I facilitated two weekends of math instruction for elementary teachers. I use these workshops as a reference in this discussion.

  • Voluntary
  • Models Best Classroom Practices
  • Active and Hands-On
  • Fun and Engaging
  • Engages the Mind, Body, Emotions
  • Time to Tinker and Play
  • Collaboration
  • Ability to Tailor to Own Needs
  • Natural Integration of Technology
  • Reflection Built In

qualities of effective PD

Voluntary

Teacher PD needs to be voluntary.

The fact that adults are voluntary participants in the learning situation has profound implications for how learning occurs. They are generally highly motivated and primed to get the most out of the situation as possible. They will tackle tasks with enthusiasm, provided they are seen as relevant. This means that they are more likely to embrace participatory learning techniques such as discussion, role playing, small group work and the analysis of personal experiences.

The reverse side of voluntary participation by adults is that they can just as easily withdraw. Unlike the disruption that occurs when participation is mandatory, adults are likely to do one of two things. They will either quietly withdraw altogether or, if that is not really an option, they will continue to show up and do what is minimally expected of them, but will essentially become passive participants. (Principles underlying Effective Practices in Adult Education)

My weekend math workshops were offered to elementary teachers in a specific school district as a voluntary opportunity. A grant did provide them with a stipend for attending but as one of the attending teachers noted, “Even with a stipend, I wouldn’t volunteer for a weekend workshop unless I was interested in learning how to be a better teacher of math” (in this case).

Models Best Classroom Practices

First and foremost, teacher PD needs to model best classroom practices. “Curricular models and modeling of instruction provide teachers with a clear vision of what best practices look like” (Effective Teacher Professional Development). If the desire is to have educators create and implement engaging, interactive, and fun learning activities, then PD needs to be a mirror of these practices. I always believed that is is hypocritical to lecture about these best practices. It should be a process of modeling.

In order to model best classroom practices during my math workshops:

  1. I used videos, mostly from The Teaching Channel, to show elementary teachers modeling best practices in math within their own elementary classrooms.
  2. I did math activities with the teacher participants as if they were students in my elementary classroom.

Active and Hands-On

Active learning engages teachers directly in designing and trying out teaching strategies, providing them an opportunity to engage in the same style of learning they are designing for their students. Such PD uses authentic artifacts, interactive activities, and other strategies to provide deeply embedded, highly contextualized professional learning. This approach moves away from traditional learning models and environments that are lecture based and have no direct connection to teachers’ classrooms and students. (Effective Teacher Professional Development)

Other than explaining activities, showing videos and presenting some technology options, all of learning activities during the weekend workshop were hands-on and active.

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Fun and Engaging

Somewhere along the line of professional development, it became a way too serious endeavor. I believe this is a major reason why teachers don’t enjoy their professional development opportunities.

Fun has a positive effect on motivation levels, determining what we learn and how much we retain. If the learning isn’t fun, it won’t be effective. That’s not just a sneaking suspicion – it’s cold, hard, scientific fact.

  • study in the journal, College Teaching, found that students could recall a statistics lecture more easily when the lecturer added jokes about relevant topics.
  • In her book, Neurologist, Judy Willis showed how fun experiences increase levels of dopamine, endorphins, and oxygen – all things that promote learning.
  • In a study for the Journal of Vocational Behaviour, Michael Tews found that employees are more likely to try new things if their work environment is fun. (Why Fun in Learning is Important)

Regardless of age, grade, content area, one measure of success I use is the quantity of laughter and squeals of joy. I heard lots of laughter during my workshops.

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Engages the Mind, Body, Emotions

As an experiential educator and regardless of the age level I am teaching, I emphasize multi-sensory, whole person learning.

We learn best when we think, feel and do.  That’s the message of Dr. Adele Diamond, a cognitive developmental neuroscientist who currently teaches at the University of British Columbia in Canada.  We might refer to this as “whole body learning.”  According to Dr. Diamond, the executive function of the brain — the prefrontal cortex — works best when we go beyond the rational mind by also involving emotions and physical behaviors.  That makes sense since the more we involve other parts of the brain, the more neural connections we make that reinforce learning. (Brain Research: To Improve Learning, Use Whole Body)

My math workshop was not exception as activities that use the body, mind, and emotions were introduced to the participating teachers.

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Time to Tinker and Play

Teachers and librarians, like their students, need hands-on experience with tools and with playing to learn as that helps them build creative confidence. (Crafting Professional Development for Maker Educators)

Teachers, during PD, should be provided with time, resources, and materials with which to play. It sets the expectation that they will be active agents of their own learning. It gives them the message it is okay to play and experiment with the materials; that tinkering is often needed as a part of learning new skills.

Given that the nature of the workshop was hands-on and active, workshop participants were time to tinker with the resources and materials provided.

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Ability to Tailor to Own Needs

One of the justified complaints of teachers regarding their schools’ professional development is that it is often of the too generic, one-size-fits all variety. To be effective, professional develop should help teachers address their own classroom needs. Participating teachers were given lots of resources and opportunities to develop math activities specific for their grade level and students.

Integrates Collaboration

High-quality PD creates space for teachers to share ideas and collaborate in their learning, often in job-embedded contexts. By working collaboratively, teachers can create communities that positively change the culture and instruction of their entire grade level, department, school and/or district. (Effective Teacher Professional Development)

At the beginning of the workshop, participants were asked to form groups with same grade level teachers forming what I called mini-PLNs. Part of the workshop time was devoted to teachers developing materials for their own classrooms and students. During the time, the teachers could work with their mini-PLNs. They were also asked to share, throughout the weekend, the activities they discovered and developed. These sharing sessions often led to feedback and ways the activities could be modified for a variety of student populations.

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Naturally Integrates Technology

Technology use within all learning and teaching environments including professional development should be ubiquitous; it’s use should be determine by its potential to enhance and increase learning.

During my math workshop, participants used technology to:

  • Access the workshop slides.
  • Explore learning activities for the manipulatives I provided: dice, pool noodles, Legos. playing cards, beach balls.
  • Try out online math games: ABCya, Toy Theater Math, Prodigy, and Code.org.
  • Take photos of math examples in school building.

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Builds in Reflection

High-quality professional learning frequently provides built-in time for teachers to intentionally think about, receive input on, and make changes to their practice by facilitating reflection and soliciting feedback. Feedback and reflection both help teachers to thoughtfully move toward the expert visions of practice. (Effective Teacher Professional Development)

As a final reflection for the weekend, I asked participating teachers to use the following prompt to create a mini-poster of their learning. It also modeled how to use such a reflection process with their students.

. . . and here is a video recording of one of the participating teacher’s reflections:

As a parting shot, here are the slides I used during the workshop:

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 8, 2017 at 12:34 am

Specific Ideas for Intentional Creativity

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Recently I wrote a blog post about Intentional Creativity. Here is the graphic created for that post. Below the graphic are specific ideas I am using with my gifted elementary students this school year.

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What follows are the activities I am using this school year to be intentional with sparking creativity in my gifted education classrooms. The titles are links for these activities.

Destination Imagination Instant Challenges

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Goal: To spark creative divergent thinking for STEM, STEAM, and science based learning.

Description: Instant Challenges are fun, STEAM-based group activities that must be solved within a short period of time. Using your imagination, teamwork and few everyday materials, you and your friends will work together to see just how innovative you can be. With hundreds of potential combinations and ways to solve each Instant Challenge, the creative possibilities are endless!

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Write About

Goal: To get learners’ primed to do some creative writing.

Description: Don’t look at Write About as another thing to add. It’s a platform for writing and a community for publishing writing…regardless of the genre, purpose, length or audience. We believe a balance between digital and physical is a healthy thing, and support your pencil/paper writer’s notebooks whole heartedly! But when you want students to transition their writing skills into a digital space…when you want to empower them with choice and visual inspiration for creative sparks…when you want them to have an authentic audience for their writing…when you want them to leverage multi modal tools like audio and images…that’s where we come in!

Minute Mysteries

Goal: To help learners to think outside of the box; to develop alternative perspectives of perceived reality.

Description:  Minute mysteries are riddles where students ask yes or no questions to try and solve the riddle. They are called minute mysteries because they are usually a bit more complex than your average riddle.

Rebus Puzzles

Goal: To help learners playful interact with the symbolic nature of language.

Description: Rebus Puzzles are essentially little pictures or riddles, often made with letters and words, which cryptically represent a word, phrase, or saying.

Classroom Icebreakers

Goal: To build community; help create a classroom climate with a sense of fun and whimsy.

Description: Useful for the beginning of a class period or toward the beginning of a semester when students don’t know each other well, Introduction and Breaking-the-Ice games can dramatically transform the dynamics of your classroom. More ideas can be found at: https://www.pinterest.com/explore/classroom-icebreakers/

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 2, 2017 at 4:11 pm

Intentional Creativity

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Torrence, whose focus was on creativity, developed the Torrence Incubation Model of Creative Thinking (TIM) model.

As emphasized in this video, embedding creativity into the curriculum can and should be a strong component of content area teaching and learning. In other words, educators don’t need to plan to teach creativity as another part of curriculum.  Creativity is often an integral part of the practices of professionals including scientists, mathematicians, business people, artists, writers, and is an important part of their content area expertise. It follow, then, that learners should be taught in ways that help them think like a scientist . . . like an artist . . .  like a writer . . .  like a business person.

E. Paul Torrance, perhaps one of the most prominent scholars of creativity, conducted a variety of studies exploring the teaching and learning of creativity. His studies identified specific skills associated with creativity, and demonstrated success in the teaching of creativity through the Torrance Incubation Model of Creative Teaching and Learning. The Torrance Incubation Model of Creative Teaching and Learning can be applied to a lesson, unit or project. The application of TIM and the identification of a specific creativity skill is an effective way to teach creativity, without impacting the teaching of core objectives or curriculum content. TIM, has three stages: Stage One, Heighten Anticipation, is designed to adequately and mentally prepare the student (or students) for the project ahead. Torrance describes this as a ʻWarming Up Periodʼ with the following six functions, (1) Create the Desire to Know, (2) Heighten Anticipation and Expectation, (3) Get Attention, (4) Arouse Curiosity, (5) Tickle the Imagination, and (6) Give Purpose and Motivation. (Torrance Incubation Model of Creative Teaching and Learning (TIM))

Specific active methods for heightening anticipation include:

The benefits of educators being intentional with heightening anticipation include:

  • Increased engagement in and motivation for the learning activities.
  • Increased interest in content area learning; possibly stimulating new learner passions.
  • Deeper learning.
  • More generalizable skills related to creativity.

So just with a little planning, the educator can set up conditions that can significantly motivate learners and create an energized learning environment climate.

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 20, 2017 at 3:05 pm

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