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)
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?
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.
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
Participants then share their designs with the rest of the group.
(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?
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 . . .
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:
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:
- Teachers need time to tinker, play, and experiment with instructional materials and resources especially with new forms of teaching/learning technologies.
- For skills development, such as using new technologies, scaffolding and increasing complexity should be a strong component of the PD process.
- Teachers need to be offered lots of instructional suggestions and resources so they can tailor their PD learning to their own teaching environments.
- Intentional and active reflection and goal setting should be included to increase the chances of transfer of learning.
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:
- Short Introductory video about Sphero in schools: Gain Attention and Provide a Context
- Orienting and Simple Driving the Sphero: Tinkering
- Using the Draw Program: Tinkering
- Video Tutorial and Practice of Simple Block Programming: Increasing Complexity
- Build a Project-Chariot or Tug Boat: Increasing Complexity and Instructional Resources
- Review Curricula for Use in the Classroom: Instructional Resources and Transfer of Learning
- Final Reflections – Sharing about one’s own processes and possible applications in one’s own classroom: Transfer of Learning Through Reflection and Goal Setting
- 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:
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
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:
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.
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.
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:
TJ selected a hover chair for an astronaut.
Sebastian selected a communication device for a fairy.
Will selected a drink carrier for a wizard.
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:
- The Thing or Process
- The Product
- 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).
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/
Randomly choose one or more items from A and one or more items from B, C, D or E and get busy.