User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Toy Take Apart and Hacking

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Toy take apart and hacking is a high engagement activity that works for kids of all ages, including adults who haven’t lost their sense of kid, and both genders. I have done it multiple times during my summer maker camp for elementary level kids, with my gifted elementary students, and at conferences as part of teacher professional development.

Here is a description of this activity from the tinkering studio at the Exploratorium:

Do you ever wonder what’s inside your toys? You’ll make some exciting and surprising discoveries about their inner parts when you don some safety goggles and get started dissecting your old stuffed animal, remote controlled car, or singing Santa. Use screwdrivers, seam rippers, scissors, and saws to remove your toy’s insides. Check out the mechanisms, circuit boards, computer chips, lights, and wires you find inside. Once you’ve fully dissected your toy, you can use the toy’s parts, your tools, and your imagination to create a new original plaything.  (https://tinkering.exploratorium.edu/toy-take-apart)

Standards Addressed

Toy take apart and hacking addresses a lot of cross curricular standards including:

  • Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool. (NGSS)
  • Develop a simple sketch, drawing, or physical model to illustrate how the shape of an object helps it function as needed to solve a given problem. (NGSS)
  • Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost. (NGSS)
  • Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience in an organized manner, using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace. (ELA CCSS)
  • Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly. (ELA CCSS)
  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences. (ELA CCSS)
  • Elaborate, refine, analyze and evaluate their own ideas in order to improve and maximize creative efforts. (21st Century Skills)
  • Act on creative ideas to make a tangible and useful contribution to the field in which the innovation will occur. (21st Century Skills)
  • Demonstrate originality and inventiveness in work and understand the real world limits to adopting new ideas. (21st Century Skills)
  • View failure as an opportunity to learn; understand that creativity and innovation is a long-term, cyclical process of small successes and frequent mistakes. (21st Century Skills)
  • Solve different kinds of non-familiar problems in both conventional and innovative ways. (21st Century Skills)

Frontloading and Framing the Experience

(For background information about this idea, see Don’t Leave Learning Up to Chance: Framing and Reflection)

To help frontload and frame this activity, participants are given the following scenario:

You have been hired to create the newest, most exciting handheld game to hit the market in years. You can decide the type of game, the population for whom you want to design it for – age range and gender, the goal of the game, the rules, any functions. The sky is the limit but there is one caveat – you need to recycle parts from old handheld games, ones made a decade or two ago, to create your prototype. Here are some questions to consider as you make your prototype –

  • How will you decide what to make?
  • What factors do you need to consider as you make your game?
  • What actions can you take if you get stuck using the tools? Coming up with ideas?
  • How can you ask for help as well as support others during the toy take apart and hacking?

How-To

I like to use the older handheld games as they contain lots of interesting parts and can be bought fairly cheaply in lots through ebay. First, the toys are passed around so participants can examine and learn about them.

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Participants select the toy they want to take apart. Using the various screw drivers, scissors, wire cutters, and hammers that have been laid out on a work table, the toys are taken apart as much as they can be taken apart.

After the participants fully take apart their toys, they are asked to create a new game out of their parts and parts discarded by the other participants. I use hot glue guns but soldering of parts can be done, too.

The criteria that I give to the participants for their game creation includes:

  • The creation must be a new game – one that the participant hasn’t heard of nor played.
  • The parts need to be used creatively – not the same way they were used in the original game.
  • The specifications for the game need to be developed and written as a poster are –
    • Name of the Game
    • Age Level Recommendations
    • The Rules
    • How to Play

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Participants then share their designs with the rest of the group.

Reflection

(For background information about this idea, see Don’t Leave Learning Up to Chance: Framing and Reflection)

After finishing their projects and sharing, participants can reflect on their experiences through:

Through a conversation with other participants; a presentation using Google Slides, Prezi, or Adobe Spark; or a blog post – your choice, address the following questions –

  • Describe the game you made – why did you make that type of game?
  • What changes did you make to your original design? Why?
  • Did you get stuck at any point during the activity? Taking apart the toy? Coming up with a design? Using the tools? Making your game? If so, how did you get unstuck?
  • What will you do the same/differently if you do a similar activity in the future?

More Information

For more information on toy take apart and hacking,  visit http://www.makereducation.com/toy-take-apart.html.

A slideshow of participant engagement in this activity . . .

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 8, 2017 at 8:13 pm

A Framework for Implementing Maker Education Activities Presentation

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I am facilitating two mini-workshops at ASCD Empower 17 and the 2017 ASCD Conference on Teaching Excellence on using a framework for implementating maker education activities. The description for my session is:

Providing a framework for maker activities helps ensure that their use is intentional and that meaningful learning is extracted from these experiences. The educator, using such a framework, becomes proactive in framing or frontloading the maker experiences and in debriefing or processing them to increase the chances that learning occurs. Framing or frontloading is making clear the purpose of an activity prior to actually doing it; it helps to set purpose and intention for the activity. Reflecting on the maker activities can occur through a variety of methods: talking, writing, sketching, and using technology such as Web 2.0 tools and social media. During this interactive presentation, participants will experience this framework through maker activity that is introduced through framing or frontloading and then by directly using reflection techniques upon completion of the activity.

The slides for my session:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 24, 2017 at 4:46 pm

Team-Building with Elementary Students

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Yes, there are mounds of curricula students must master in a wide breadth of subjects, but education does not begin and end with a textbook or test. Other skills must be honed, too, not the least of which is how to get along with their peers and work well with others. This is not something that can be cultivated through rote memorization or with strategically placed posters. Students must be engaged and cooperation must be practiced, and often. (http://www.teachthought.com/critical-thinking/10-team-building-games-that-promote-critical-thinking/)

I meet with two groups of gifted elementary students, grades 2nd through 6th, for a full day each week. I begin our days together with a team building activity. The benefits for doing so cannot be overstated:

  • It sets the climate that cooperation and collaboration is an expectation in the classroom.
  • It reinforces that each person’s ideas and contribution will be respected.
  • It’s whole body-mind learning.
  • It builds a sense of classroom community which carries over through all of the classroom activities.
  • Communication, listening, and problem-solving skills are developed and enhanced.
  • Divergent thinking is honored and expected to successfully approach and complete the activities.

Lists and descriptions of team-building activities can be found at:

Several of the activities require some props. I enjoy making my own but they can also be purchased from the stores that sell sports goods to schools:

Sample Team-Building Activities

Spaghetti-Marshmallow Tower

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Materials:

  • Mini-marshmallow
  • Dry spaghetti

Task:

Split students into groups of 3 to 4 participants and given marshmallows and spaghetti (equal quantities of supplies per group). They are then given the task to only use the marshmallows and spaghetti to build the tallest tower.

Great Egg Drop

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Materials:

  • One egg per group
  • 40 straws per group
  • a few feet of masking tape – same amount

The Task:

Divide the group into small teams of 3 – 4.  Give each team one raw egg, 40 straws, 1 meter of duck tape, and other materials as listed above. Tell them that the goal is to design and build a structure that will prevent their raw egg from breaking from a high drop (from the top of the playground structure.

Traveling Tangrams

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Materials:

The Task:

To begin, give all of the large Tangram pieces and a few copies of the specific Tangram shape that you want the students to create. As a group, they need to create that shape using all 7 pieces at the beginning of the crossing area/the beginning “shore of the river.” The rest of the activity is similar to the River Crossing team-building activity. The object of the activity is to get all members of the group safely across the river; a designated area 25 to 50 yards wide. They must go as one big group, not multiple smaller ones. Everyone must be on the river before anyone can get off the river, forcing the entire group to be engaged at once. Participants cannot touch the water (floor/grass) and therefore must use rafts (Tangram pieces) to cross. If one member does touch, the entire group must begin again. Once they reach the other side/shore, give them another Tangram shape to create and explain that they must stay on the pieces to form that shape. They can get off on the other side/shore once the Tangram shape is formed.

Copy the Structure

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Materials: Several identical sets of Legos (or similar building bricks) that vary in size and color.

The Task:

Create a Lego structure out of different colored and sized Legos and place it somewhere in the room where it can’t be seen until the activity begins. Divide the group into smaller teams (depending on number of available Legos and size of the group). Each team should be given a set of bricks to build an exact copy of the Lego structure you have already built. The rules are that only one person from each team is allowed to go and have a look at the structure. When they come back to their team, they cannot touch the bricks, but they can tell the others how to build their copy. Anybody from the team can go and have a look, but only one at a time. Once another person comes back from having a look, the previous person can then touch their bricks to help build. Be sure to emphasize that the goal is for each team to complete an exact replica of the model.

Source: https://guideinc.org/2016/04/20/team-building-activity-lego-structure-copy/

Human Knot

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Materials: none

The Task:

Starting in a circle, students connect hands with two others people in the group to form the human knot – right hand to right hand; left hand to left hand; connecting with two different people. As a team they must then try to unravel the “human knot” forming into a untangled circle by untangling themselves without breaking the chain of hands.

Pipeline

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Materials:

  • 1″ PVC pipe cut down the middle – a 18″ section per participant (pool noodles can be substituted)
  • a golf ball

The Task:

Students, as a big group, are asked to work together to transport golf balls across a designated area through the chain of plastic tubes, lining them up and acting quickly so they don’t let the golf balls drop! That means that the first person in line must run to the end of the chain. A course can be set up ahead of time but I like to tell them the course as they go. If they are performing well, I ask them to go up, over, and through playground equipment. They can only touch the pipes not the balls. If a ball drops, the group must begin again. Once the marbles pass through their tube, kids have to move to the end of the line to keep the flow going.

Pinball Tarp Machine

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Materials:

  • One  tarpaulin is cut randomly with 8 to 10 holes and numbered from 1 through 8-10 depending on how many holes are cut (or two tarps if you want to have more than one group. I usually have two groups competing). The word START is written at one of the corners.
  • Small playground ball – a little smaller than the cut holes

The Task:

Between 8 and 20 participants surround the tarp spacing themselves out evenly holding on to the tarp with both hands, creating a table top effect. Supply the groups with one small playground ball. Their goal is to get the ball to roll through the holes consecutively from 1 to 8 or 10. On each successful number, the ball is picked up from the ground and placed on START.  If the ball falls off the tarp or through a hole, the group can start from the number where they left off or if a more difficult challenge is desired, the game starts over. If more than one group is playing, then the team that gets their ball through all of the holes first wins.

Catch the Foxtail

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Materials:

  • Foxtail balls – 3 per group (http://www.usgames.com/p-e-activities/toss-catch/foxtails)
  • Rock climbing webbing – 5-6 foot diameter loop (like a hula hoop) for each groups (I like webbing because: (1) it is soft and pliable, and (2) it sits better in students’ hands. Ropes could cause rope burns)

The Task:

Split students into 5 or 6 participants per group.  Each group is given three foxtail balls and a circle webbing. All members of that subgroup except for one student form a circle with the webbing so that the web forms into a big type of basketball hoop. The remaining member throws each of the foxtail balls one at a time up into the air. The task of the hoop holders is the try to get the balls through the hoop while all keep their two hands on the hoop. Getting the ball through the hoop after a bounce does not count. They often need to run together to get under the ball. After the three balls are thrown, the thrower switches places with one of the holders. All students should get a chance to throw the balls. The team with the most “baskets” wins.

Robot Drawing

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There are two versions:

  1. The Toobeez version – http://www.toobeez.com/teambuilding-book/17-Robot-Writer-Activity.html
  2. The Duct Tape version – http://groupdynamix.com/ducttapegame/

Toxic Waste

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Materials:

  • two plastic bucket, one with 8′ ropes tied into it (I drill holes in the side and tied the end of nylon ropes through the holes – one per participant)
  • plastic balls
  • another piece of rope tied together to create a loop with a 8′ diameter – this acts as a boundary
  • a much more expensive version can be purchased – http://everlastclimbing.com/products/toxic-waste-transfer/

The Task:

  • Set Up – Set up the 8′ rope circle. Put the plastic balls into the bucket with the ropes. Put the other bucket next to it.
  • Situation to Tell Students – A bucket of highly toxic popcorn (the plastic balls) has contaminated a circle approximately 8 feet in diameter. The toxic area extends to the sky (meaning that hands and arms cannot cross into the area. If the poisonous popcorn is not transferred to a safe container (the other bucket) for decontamination, the toxic popcorn will contaminate and destroy the population of the entire city.
  • The Task –  You must find a way to safely transfer the toxic popcorn from the
    unsafe container to the safe container, using only the materials provided to you. Each student must always hold onto the end of his or her rope.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 6, 2017 at 11:57 pm

Teacher PD: Purposeful Tinkering and Application

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As a preface to this post, my belief is that deep learning does not occur through sit and get. Deep learning occurs through experiential, authentic, interactive, collaborative instructional processes.  If deep learning is desired for teacher professional development, then it should reflect best practices for teaching and learning.

Professional learning must focus on creating safe and productive spaces for teachers to begin planning and experimenting with the concepts that have been shared. Too often, facilitation centers on giving strategies to teachers rather than coaching them on how to deliver the strategies to students. As a result, teachers leave the session with a toolbox of ideas that are never implemented. Instead, more professional learning time should be spent helping teachers plan, develop materials, and practice delivering the strategies with colleague support. (http://inservice.ascd.org/personalized-professional-development-moving-from-sit-and-get-to-stand-and-deliver/)

When I design teacher PD-related workshops, I am guided by the following principles:

  1. Teachers need time to tinker, play, and experiment with instructional materials and resources especially with new forms of teaching/learning technologies.
  2. For skills development, such as using new technologies, scaffolding and increasing complexity should be a strong component of the PD process.
  3. Teachers need to be offered lots of instructional suggestions and resources so they can tailor their PD learning to their own teaching environments.
  4. Intentional and active reflection and goal setting should be included to increase the chances of transfer of learning.

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Tinkering With Instructional Materials

Teachers and librarians, like their students, need hands-on experience with tools and with playing to learn as that helps them build creative confidence. (https://www.edutopia.org/blog/crafting-professional-development-maker-educators-colleen-graves)

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.

Scaffolding and Introducing Complexity

As teachers, we have come to learn over the years that we should never expect our students to fully understand a new idea without some form of structured support framework, or scaffolding as the current buzzword defines it.  The same, of course, should be the case in supporting learning for our fellow teachers. (http://mgleeson.edublogs.org/2012/03/10/when-it-comes-to-technology-teachers-need-as-much-scaffolding-as-students/)

Once teachers get familiar with instructional materials and resources through tinkering, they should be guided through a series of skills that are increasingly complex; that honor the process of scaffolding.  As with tinkering, this should be a hands-on process where teachers can try out these skills with facilitator and colleague support and guidance. As confidence is built through success with basic skills and strategies, more complex skills and strategies will be more welcomed by teachers.

Lots of Instructional Strategies and Resources

Even with fairly homogeneous groups of teachers, their teaching and learning needs can be vastly different. They often teach different groups of students, different grades, different content areas. They often have different backgrounds, years of experience, and personal and professional interests. As such, they should be provided with lots of instructional strategies and resources to help them make direct connections to their own teaching environments. Given the plethora and free resources that can be found online, curated aggregates of resources can be provided to the teachers. Time should be allotted during the PD training for them to examine and discuss these resources with their colleagues.

Transfer of Learning Through Reflection and Goal Setting

Reflection is essential for learning. In order to “make meaning” of an experience, the learner must have an opportunity to reflect on or process the experience. To help ensure that program participants transfer learning and training experiences into real-world applications, we must be intentional about both engaging the learners and creating opportunity for meaningful reflection. (https://www.e-volunteerism.com/volume-xvi-issue-1-october-january-2016/training-designs/enhance_learning)

Facilitators of teacher professional development need to be more intentional to include specific strategies to help insure that learning is transferred in teachers’ educational environments. Reflection and goal setting, two powerful transfer of learning strategies, should be built into teacher professional development.

A Recent Example

Because of on my request, my district gifted education supervisor purchased 3 sets/3 dozen Spheros. As a follow-up, he asked me to facilitate a teacher professional development workshop on their use.

The schedule for this afternoon workshop was:

  1. Short Introductory video about Sphero in schools: Gain Attention and Provide a Context
  2. Orienting and Simple Driving the Sphero: Tinkering
  3. Using the Draw Program: Tinkering
  4. Video Tutorial and Practice of Simple Block Programming: Increasing Complexity
  5. Build a Project-Chariot or Tug Boat: Increasing Complexity and Instructional Resources
  6. Review Curricula for Use in the Classroom: Instructional Resources and Transfer of Learning
  7. Final Reflections – Sharing about one’s own processes and possible applications in one’s own classroom: Transfer of Learning Through Reflection and Goal Setting
  8. Email Exchange – for sharing how the use of Spheros are being implemented in the classroom: Transfer of Learning

The slide presentation used and shared with this group of teachers:


Workshop photos showing teacher engagement:

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A Socratic Seminar for Elementary Learners

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Socratic seminars have been around, obviously, since the days of Socratics. I believe they are an underutilized but powerful instructional strategy.

In the Socratic method of education, teachers engage students by asking questions that require generative answers. Ideally, the answers to questions are not a stopping point for thought but are instead a beginning to further analysis and research. The goal of the Socratic method is to help students process information and engage in deeper understanding of topics. Most importantly, Socratic teaching engages students in dialogue and discussion that is collaborative and open-minded.

Ideally, teachers develop open-ended questions about texts and encourage students to use textual evidence to support their opinions and answers. In the Socratic seminar, the teacher uses questions to guide discussion around specific learning goals.  Socratic questioning is a systematic process for examining the ideas, questions, and answers that form the basis of human belief. It involves recognizing that all new understanding is linked to prior understanding, that thought itself is a continuous thread woven throughout lives rather than isolated sets of questions and answers.  http://www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/4994

The Benefits of Socratic Seminars are:

  • Offer opportunities for student voice
  • Embrace the power of open-ended questions
  • Often mimic how intellectual discourse occurs in real like
  • Support providing evidence-based arguments
  • Build active listening skills
  • Reinforce close reading
  • Approach real world solutions as having multiple perspectives
  • Hone critical thinking skills
  • Build oral communication skills
  • Emphasize the importance of critical reflection
  • Help to develop conflict resolution skills

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To learn more about Socratic Seminars, visit:

Sneetches: A Socratic Seminar

I introduced the Socratic Seminar to my two groups gifted elementary learners, ages 7 to 12, through the following slidedeck and by using Dr. Seuss’s Sneetches

Here is some highlights from this Socratic Seminar:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 6, 2017 at 2:57 am

Alternative Reality: The Propensity for Learning Rather Than the Potential for Learning

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I had the opportunity the learn about Dr. Reuven Feuerstein through Dr. Yvette Jackson at a National Urban Alliance conference almost 20 years ago. The biggest thing I took from the conference, that remains with me today, is that student potential assumes there is a limit, cap, or ceiling as to what can be learned. If students are perceived as having a propensity for learning, there is no cap. The apropos cliche becomes the sky is the limit.

Feuerstein is known for his groundbreaking work in cognitive modifiability; rejecting the idea that intelligence is fixed, he established the principle that all children can learn how to learn. (http://brainworldmagazine.com/dr-reuven-feuerstein-on-why-intelligence-is-modifiable/#sthash.xJYtEpxo.dpuf)

Dr. Feuerstein’s beliefs can be summed up in the following quotes:

Human beings have the unique characteristic of being able to modify themselves no matter how they start out. Even in born barriers and traumas can be overcome with belief and the right mediation.

What if, instead of measuring a child’s acquired knowledge and intellectual skills, the ability to learn was evaluated first? And what if intelligence was not a fixed attributed, measurable once and for all?  What if intelligence can be taught and was in fact the ability to learn?” (http://www.paperbackswap.com/Reuven-Feuerstein/author/)

Most school settings focus on students’ deficiencies. If educators take the perspective that their students have a propensity for learning, then their focus becomes identifying and working with their strengths and prior knowledge. It is through accessing prior knowledge and student strengths that deficiencies can be addressed.

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 22, 2017 at 8:21 pm

Posted in Education

Tagged with , ,

Design Challenge

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This year I have been focusing on design challenges and design thinking with my gifted elementary students, grades 2nd through 6th. Last semester I introduced a series of activities to have them explore, learn about, and interact with design thinking principles and strategies. For a description of those activities, see https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2016/09/25/introducing-design-thinking-to-elementary-learners/

To re-introduce design thinking again for this spring semester, this week I asked them to do the Extraordinaire Design Studio:

The Extraordinaires® Design Studio is a powerful learning tool, that introduces children to the world of design, teaching them the foundations of design in a fun and engaging way. Your clients The Extraordinaires® are over the top characters with extraordinary needs, it’s the job of your student to design the inventions they need to fit their worlds. Choose your design client, from a rap star to a vampire teen or even an evil genius plotting in his lair. Look at the exceptionally detailed illustrated character cards to learn more about them, their world and their needs. Once you’ve chosen your Extraordinaire, pick a design project. It could be a communications device for a soldier or a drinks carrier for a circus acrobat. https://www.extraordinaires.com/shop/the-extraordinaires-design-studio-deluxe

To play, the character cards are laid out and then the inventions or gadgets are randomly placed on the character cards. The learners can then select which character/invention pair for which they would like to design.

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After drawing out and labeling their inventions and gadgets, they took pictures of them and posted their images along with a short description on a blog post. Some example learner work follows:

Hoverchair 1.0

TJ selected a hover chair for an astronaut.

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Le Phone

Sebastian selected a communication device for a fairy.

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Bearded Flask

Will selected a drink carrier for a wizard.

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This activity was a high interest, high engagement, high yield instructional task. Some learners had a little trouble getting started but once they did, their designs and inventions were fantastic. I think the fanciful nature of the cards helped engagement. The company has a free app to go along with their set for the designs to be uploaded and described. This app did not do what was promised so I cannot recommend its use.

What I think this type of design challenge does especially well is to introduce the idea that design thinking often encompasses designing a specific type of product for a specific type of client. It does a good job of introducing learners to the core of the design thinking process:

The Design Thinking process first defines the problem and then implements the solutions, always with the needs of the user demographic at the core of concept development. (http://dschool.stanford.edu/redesigningtheater/the-design-thinking-process/)

This set does cost some money but there are other free options:

  • Maker Education Card Game that I created
  • Destination Imagination Instant Challenge

Maker Education Card Game

This game, which I first introduced in the Maker Education Card Game, is a card game that ends with the makers making something based on selected cards. Each maker picks a card from each of the three categories:

  1. The Thing or Process
  2. The Product
  3. The Population.

For example, a maker may choose, Create a Blueprint from The Thing or Process category; a New Toy from the Product category; and Adults from the population category meaning the maker would create a blueprint for a new toy for adults. The educator and makers can choose whether it is a “blind” pick or one in which the makers see their options. (Note – I would love to increase options in all categories. If you have additional card ideas, please leave them in the comments section).

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Destination Imagination Instant Challenges

Destination Imagination offers similar design challenges

The Destination Imagination program is a fun, hands-on system of learning that fosters students’ creativity, courage and curiosity through open-ended academic Challenges in the fields of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), fine arts and service learning. Our participants learn patience, flexibility, persistence, ethics, respect for others and their ideas, and the collaborative problem solving process. https://www.destinationimagination.org/mission-vision/

Combination Challenge

Randomly choose one or more items from A and one or more items from B, C, D or E and get busy.

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Roll-A- Challenge

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 15, 2017 at 8:10 pm

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