User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Introducing Design Thinking to Elementary Learners

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Design thinking is an approach to learning that includes considering real-world problems, research, analysis, conceiving original ideas, lots of experimentation, and sometimes building things by hand. The projects teach students how to make a stable product, use tools, think about the needs of another, solve challenges, overcome setbacks and stay motivated on a long-term problem. The projects also teach students to build on the ideas of others, vet sources, generate questions, deeply analyze topics, and think creatively and analytically. Many of those same qualities are goals of the Common Core State Standards. (What Does ‘Design Thinking’ Look Like in School?)

I use the following activities to introduce elementary students to the design thinking process. The ultimate goal is for the learners to work on their own, self-selected problems in which they will apply the design thinking.

Introducing the general design process to elementary student occurs through showing the following video about the engineering process:

The Task: Build the Highest Tower

The Goal

The goal of this activity is to have learners practice a simple version of the engineering design process.

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Source: http://slideplayer.com/slide/9058715/

The Task

In teams of 3 to 4 members, learners are asked to build the highest tower out of 50 small marshmallows and 50 spaghetti noodles.

The Process

As a team, ask learners to sketch out possible solutions

Design thinking requires that no matter how obvious the solution may seem, many solutions be created for consideration. And created in a way that allows them to be judged equally as possible answers. Looking at a problem from more than one perspective always yields richer results. (Design thinking… what is that?)

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Prototype and test ideas

After brainstorming and sketching possible designs, learners begin the process of building this spaghetti-marshmallow towers.

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Revisit the design process

After some time prototyping, a time-out is called so learners can reflect on what is working and not working. Learners are encouraged to see what the other groups have created to spark new ideas.

Design thinking allows their potential to be realized by creating an environment conducive to growth and experimentation, and the making of mistakes in order to achieve out of the ordinary results. At this stage many times options will need to be combined and smaller ideas integrated into the selected schemes that make it through. (Design thinking… what is that?)

Return to the building and testing process

Next Step: Introduction to Empathy

As a design thinker, the problems you are trying to solve are rarely your own—they are those of a particular group of people; in order to design for them, you must gain empathy for who they are and what is important to them. As a design thinker, the problems you are trying to solve are rarely your own—they are those of a particular group of people; in order to design for them, you must gain empathy for who they are and what is important to them. (from the d-school)

The second part of the introducing elementary-level learners to the design process is introducing them to empathy and its connection to the design process.

The Goal

To have learners discover and explore the elements of empathy as it relates to design.

Introduction to Empathy

For younger kids:

Warm-Up: Great Egg Drop

Preparation and introduction:

Learners are asked to draw a face on an egg and are given the following directions: “Pretend the egg is alive – has thoughts, feelings, and opinions. Your job is to use the straws to create a protective covering for the egg so it will not crack when dropped from a 10 foot height. Address the following questions prior to building your egg structure:

  • What do you think your egg is feeling about his or her upcoming drop?
  • What do you need to make your egg’s journey less stressful?
  • What can you do to reassure your egg that everything will work out okay?
  • What forces do you need to consider in order to keep your egg safe? Consider gravity, rate of descent, impact.

The Task:

To begin, assemble groups of 4 or 5 and give each group various materials for building (e.g. 5-20 straws, a roll of masking tape, one fresh egg, newspaper, etc.)  Instruct the participants and give them a set amount of time (e.g. 30 minutes) to complete building a structure, with the egg inside in which the structures are dropped from at least 10 feet in elevation and then inspected to see if the eggs survived. The winners are the groups that were successful in protecting the egg. (http://eggdropproject.org/ and  http://www.group-games.com/team-building/great-egg-drop.html)

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Delving Deeper: An Environment for a Gamibot

Lead learners through the following steps:

  • Create a Gamibot – http://www.howtoons.com/?page_id=3475.  With available art materials, decorate the Gamibot.
  • Develop the Backstory for the Gamibot: Report via a Blog Post or Voki
  • Create an Environment for the Gamibot Out of Natural and Art Materials. Make sure it fits your Gamibot’s backstory creating an environment that is tailored for your Gamibot. Be ready to explain why it fits your Gamibot.
  • Extension: Code a Friend for the Gamibot Using Scratch or Tynker

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 25, 2016 at 2:30 pm

Natural Differentiation and Personalization Through Open Ended Learning Activities

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This past summer I facilitated maker education classes for 5 to 10 year old kids. This school year I am a gifted teacher meeting with 2nd through 6 grades one day per week per group. I like mixed age groups and have no problem designing learning activities for them. I realized that the reason for this is that these activities are open ended permitting each student to naturally and instinctively to work at or slightly above his or her ability level.  This actually is a definition of differentiation.

Many classrooms consist of students from different knowledge backgrounds, multiple cultures, both genders, and students with a range of disabilities or exceptionalities (Alavinia & Fardy, 2012). Differentiated instruction is defined as “a philosophy of teaching that is based on the premise that students learn best when their teachers accommodate the differences in their readiness levels, interest, and learning profiles” (Konstantinou-Katzi et al., 2012, p. 333). (in http://edutechwiki.unige.ch/en/Differentiated_learning)

One of results or consequences of providing such activities is an increase in learner engagement, excitement, and motivation. Open ended learning activities permit and encourage learners to bring their “selves” into the work. They become agents of their own learning.

Because of this freedom, they often shine as true selves come through. Learners often surprise both the educator and themselves with what they produce and create. It becomes passion-based learning.  Not only do the activities become self-differentiated, they become personalized:

Personalization only comes when students have authentic choice over how to tackle a problem. A personalized environment gives students the freedom to follow a meaningful line of inquiry, while building the skills to connect, synthesize and analyze information into original productions. Diane Laufenberg in What Do We Really Mean When We Say ‘Personalized Learning’?

Personalized learning means that learning starts with the learner. Learning is tailored to the individual needs of each learner instead of by age or grade level. It is more than teaching to “one size fits all” or just moving to learner-centered learning and changing instruction. Personalized Learning takes a holistic view of the individual, skill levels, interests, strengths and challenges, and prior knowledge. The learner owns their learning. Barbara Bray in What is Personalized Learning?

The educator, in this environment, introduces the activities and then steps back to let the learners take over their own personal learning. The educator lets go of expectations what the final produce should be; should look like; should do.  The educator becomes a provider of resources, feedback giver, and communications facilitator. S/he becomes a tour guide of learning possibilities. S/he shows learners the possibilities and then gets out of the way.

Creating the conditions for self-differentiation and personalization can occur with learning objectives that start with action verbs such: create, write, explore, invent, make, imagine, prepare, build, compose, construct, design, develop, formulate, originate.

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Parting Shot: The following is an Animoto I created to show how many forms of making there are, but it also demonstrates what can happen when open ended projects are introduced into the learning environment.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 11, 2016 at 6:05 pm

Tangrams: A Cross Curricular, Experiential Unit

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Now that I am back in the classroom two days a week teaching gifted elementary students, I can do and report on the cross curricular units I plan and implement. There are several guiding factors that I use to design my units:

  • They need to be hands-on and experiential.
  • Learner choice and voice is valued.
  • They need to address cross curricular standards. It is like life. Life doesn’t segment content areas into separate entities.
  • They do not depend on the use of worksheets. Worksheets tend to address a single standard or skill. Plus, learning how to do worksheets is NOT a life skill.
  • Communication, collaboration, and problem solving are built into the learning process.
  • Reading and writing are integrated into the learning activities in the form of fun, interesting books and stories, and writing stories, narratives, journalistic reports.
  • Educational technology is incorporated but with a focus on using it to interact with real world physical objects and people.
  • A reflective component is included.
  • The educator becomes a facilitator whereby activities are introduced and then the learners become the active agents of their own learning.
  • The goal is to create the conditions for learners to say they the best day ever.

Tangrams: Cross Curricular Unit

The tangram (Chinese: 七巧板; pinyin: qīqiǎobǎn; literally: “seven boards of skill”) is a dissection puzzle consisting of seven flat shapes, called tans, which are put together to form shapes. The objective of the puzzle is to form a specific shape (given only an outline or silhouette) using all seven pieces, which may not overlap. It is reputed to have been invented in China during the Song Dynasty,[1] and then carried over to Europe by trading ships in the early 19th century. . It is one of the most popular dissection puzzles in the world. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tangram)

Goals:

The students will be able to:

  • Read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, in the grades 4-5 text complexity band proficiently. (CCSS.ELA)
  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences. (CCSS.ELA)
  • Classify two-dimensional figures based on the presence or absence of parallel or perpendicular lines, or the presence or absence of angles of a specified size. Recognize right triangles as a category, and identify right triangles. (CCSS.MATH)
  • Understand that shapes in different categories (e.g., rhombuses, rectangles, and others) may share attributes (e.g., having four sides), and that the shared attributes can define a larger category (e.g., quadrilaterals). Recognize rhombuses, rectangles, and squares as examples of quadrilaterals, and draw examples of quadrilaterals that do not belong to any of these subcategories. (CCSS.MATH)
  • Develop and portray characters including specifics about circumstances, plot, and thematic intent, demonstrating logical story sequence and informed character choices. (ELA and Visual Arts)
  • Demonstrate ability to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams. (21st Century Skills)
  • Assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and value the individual contributions made by each team member. (21st Century Skills)
  • Solve different kinds of non-familiar problems in both conventional and innovative ways. (21st Century Skills)

Materials:

Learning Activities

Read Grandfather Tangrams + Learners Create Tangrams for Each Story Character

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Each learner is given a set of tangram puzzle pieces and a set of cards that shows how to make each tangram animal in the story. Grandfather Tang is read to the learners either directly from the book or through https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x74l1ZM-zP0 so it can be projected. The story is stopped each time there is a reference to one of the Tangram animals. Learners construct that animal using their own set of Tangrams.

Check-In with Tangrams

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One of my morning activities with learners is to have them check in as to how they are doing that day. The check in for this unit is to create a Tangram that represents how they are feeling. Selections are made from a sheet given to learners:

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Giant Puzzling Tangrams

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Making the props for this activity is worth the trouble as it is a very high engagement, high learning, high reward activity. To set it up, an area is chosen that is about 50 yards long (outside or in a gym) and the giant Tangram shapes are placed in a pile at the start of this area. Learners are given a card that has the design of a Tangram at the beginning of this area. They need to produce that Tangram and then all get on top of that shape. Their goal then becomes to cross the designated area using the Tangram pieces as stepping stones. If they fall off, they must go back to the beginning and start again. When they reach the end of the designated area, they are given another Tangram shape they need to construct prior to stepping off. This translates into the need for them to maneuver the Tangram pieces into the design while standing on pieces.

Tangoes Tangram Card Game – Paired Challenge

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Next, the learners play the Tangoes card game in pairs. The object of Tangoes is to form the image on the card using all seven puzzle in a challenge with another learner in a race to solve the puzzle. It helps build visual spatial skills as the cards don’t have demarcations for the individual Tangrams. I promote some cooperative work as I ask the partner who figured out the answer to help his or her partner to do so, too.

Make 3D Tangrams

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Learners are given the printed out templates for a set of 3D Tangrams and construct them.

Create a Story from 3D Tangrams – Take Photos and Write a Blog Post

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Learners think of a story using their 3D Tangrams and take photos for the scene(s) of their stories. They then upload these images to their blogs and write about their story.

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(Postscript: Wow – I didn’t review their blog posts until after school. We are definitely going to discuss this student’s blog post during on next class session. Great teachable moment to discuss this real life situation of one of their classmates.)

Eggbert, the Slightly Cracked Egg: A Breakout EDU Game

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There is a new platform for immersive learning games that’s taking classrooms across the world by storm. Based on the same principles as interactive Escape The Room digital games — which challenge players to use their surroundings to escape a prison-like scenario — Breakout EDU is a collaborative learning experience that enhances critical thinking and creativity while fostering a growth mindset in students. Gameplay revolves around a Breakout EDU box that has been locked with multiple and different locks including directional locks, word locks, and number locks. After listening to a game scenario read by the teacher, students must work together to find and use clues to solve puzzles that reveal the various lock combinations before time expires (usually 45 minutes). (Stretch student collaboration skills with Breakout EDU)

I developed my own game which is adapted from Oh, the Places You Will Go http://www.breakoutedu.com/oh-the-places-youll-go

Title: Eggbert: The Slightly Cracked Egg

Story: Uses the children’s story, Eggbert: The Slightly Cracked Egg. Cast out of the refrigerator because of a small crack, Eggbert sets out into the world, using his talent for painting to try to blend in. Eventually he realizes that cracks are everywhere and reminds us all that our flaws are perfectly natural.

Topic Theme: This cross-curricular BreakoutEDU activities incorporates English, Math, and Social Studies standards as well as skills such as problem-solving and team building.

Standards:

This cross curricular activity address the following standards. Students will:

  • Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings. (ELA CCSS)
  • Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly. (ELA CCSS)
  • Understand how latitude and longitude are used to identify places on a map. (Social Studies)
  • Describe and compare the physical environments and landforms of different places in the world (e.g., mountains, islands, valleys or canyons, mesas).
  • Use personal experience as inspiration for expression in visual art. (Visual Arts)
  • Solve different kinds of non-familiar problems in both conventional and innovative ways. (21st Century Skills)
  • Assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and value the individual contributions made by each team member. (21st Century Skills)

Materials:

  • Copy of Eggbert, the Slightly Cracked Egg
  • Breakout EDU Box (Large Lock Box)
  • Directional Lock (speed dial)
  • Five Digit Letter Lock
  • UV / Black Light Flashlight
  • Invisible Ink Pen
  • Small Locked Box with Three-Number Combo
  • 3-Digit Lock
  • 4-Digit Lock
  • Key Lock
  • Computer or Tablet
  • Printouts: Plane Tickets, Maps, Longitude-Latitude Coordinates, Quotes, We Broke Out Card
  • Silly Putty – one per student

Steps to Set Up:

  • Set the directional lock to Up-Down-Up-Down. This represents the directions and times that Eggbert goes up and down walls.
  • Set the lock box to 3-4-7. The plane tickets have the clues for the 3 number lock box. The plane tickets are cut apart from the print out to make three tickets. This number, 3-4-7, is on the tickets and can be found as the seat numbers. The order of the numbers can be found in one of two ways: (a) the seat letters, a – b – c, and/or (b) the places Eggbert visits, from the Refrigerator to New York City, from New York City to the Grand Canyon, Arizona, from Grand Canyon Arizona to Hilo, Hawaii.
  • Put the encrypted message, and the weblink to how to do the encryption in the lockbox. The encrypted message is JE VYDT JXU AUO, BEEA JE FEIJUH JXHUU QDT VYDT JXU SHQSA (which decrypted means “to find the key, look to poster three and find the crack”).
  • Tape the key to the key lock behind word “crack” on the poster 3 quote – tape this poster to the wall.
  • Set the four number combination lock to 8-7-3-1. This matches the coordinates on the map found in the support materials. Cut out the four longitude-latitude coordinates from the bottom of the map and place those near the maps. FYI – all of the numbers on the map correspond to canyons in the United States.
  • Set the word lock to P-R-I-D-E. Using the invisible ink pen, circle letters P – R – I – D – E on the posters 1 and 2 of quotes.
  • (Optional) With a Sharpie, draw a crack on each silly putty egg  – one for each participant. Put silly putty and We Broke Out sign in the Breakout box.
  • Attach the hasp to the breakout box and to the hasp lock attach the directional lock, the key lock, the word lock, and the four number combination lock.

Video Overview on the Set Up

Support Materials

With the Students


 

  • Go through the hints one at a time as a group. They can work with a partner or two of they choose. I emphasize not telling the answer until everyone has it. I strive to have everyone in the class participate by insuring that all have the correct answer prior to attempting to solve that clue – unlock that particular lock.
  • Once they open the box and find the silly putty in the eggs, instruct them to sculpt something that makes them unique.

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  • For reflection, have the students blog about their experiences. If they are using iPad or Chromebooks, they can take a photo to go with their blogs.

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  • Further study: Students can look up the latitudes and longitudes to find out which canyons and gorges were represented.

Slideshow of Our Breakout Edu:

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 4, 2016 at 1:56 pm

The First Days of School: Setting the Climate for Year

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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 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 gifted class of 2nd to 6th grade students:

Morning Check-In

I believe in including classroom activities that build emotional intelligence and social emotional learning. I begin my mornings throughout the school year with emotional check-ins, a way for each learner to check in with how they are doing that day. I use props such as feeling cards to do so. On this first day, I used Stones Have Feelings, Too.

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For more ideas on the types of check-ins I have used, see Morning Meetings, Check-Ins, and Social-Emotional Learning.

Thumball Ice Breaker

For the second activity, the learners were 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.

During on first day together, I facilitated Warp Speed with the learners.

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 was timed with the 3 second penalties per drop, I had them practice mental math. I showed them their times as recorded via my iPhone, asked them to multiple the number of drops times 3 and then add this total to their time. On subsequent efforts, I asked them to subtract the difference. Later they compared their improvements.

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 running a maker summer camp, I showed the kids how to use LED lights creating circuits with copper tape. They used these materials to created LED enhanced All About me Posters.

Autobiographical Activities

The All About Me Poster was actually the beginning of their autobiographical activity unit. The learners were provided with a Google Doc with the following:

Required:

Choose Three:

  • Magnetic Poetry – refrigerator magnet words to write a 5 line poem or a Haiku about yourself.
  • Get Anagrams for Your Name – http://www.wordsmith.org/anagram/index.html (list 15 of them)
  • Do an A-Z book – each letter needs a word and an picture to describe you.
  • Write out 10 equations about you represented by number.
  • Make a T-shirt tote – http://www.mommypotamus.com/no-sew-t-shirt-tote-bag-tutorial/ and bring three objects from home in your tote for a show and tell.
  • Do I Am Poem on notepaper add to a decorated self portrait.

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The learners began these activities at the end of our day by starting their magnetic poems, A-Z books, and Word Clouds.

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Final Thoughts

There were three things that happened during this first day that especially made me so grateful and excited about being a teacher.

First, one of the girls has a twice exceptional label – gifted and autistic. I was told that she might take weeks to start talking in class. Also, given her attributes, peers relationships, at times, at strained or even nonexistent. She loved all of the hands on activities especially the LED lights. After a bit of quietness during the beginning of the morning, she talked throughout our time together. What was especially cool was that a few of her classmates from her regular classroom came to get her for a visit to the school nurse. When they came into my classroom and saw her LED enhanced poster, they got very excited. Another teacher noticed the kids going down the hall and heard the them talking about the project – asking this girl all about. The other teacher knows that girl from past years and told me it warmed her heart to see her excitedly share her learning . . . and the other kids listening to her. I smile ever time I picture it.

Second, one of the boys worked very hard at creating his magnetic poem – see above. He read it several times to different students as he created it. I loved the pride and joy I saw in his face when saw and heard his peers’ reactions. It was definitely priceless.

Finally, there was a boy in the class who is new to the school. I met his mom during the morning prior to coming to my gifted class (it meets a full day per week) and she told me that he was not at all happy at this new school, that he wanted to go back to his old school but that was happy about coming to the gifted program. His total excitement and engagement as well as his connections to the other students in the program throughout the day brings a tear to my eye. It really seemed as though he found his tribe; a place where he belongs.

I wholeheartedly believe that the only reason these events occurred was due to my focus on the learners and on establishing our community during on first day together.

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 27, 2016 at 1:44 am

A Model for Teacher Development: Precursors to Change

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Too often teachers are passive recipients of professional development rather than being active agents of their own development and change. Several recent reports have indicated that teacher professional development, as it is being implemented in most schools, is ineffective and a waste of time and money.

Several studies over the past few years that have found professional development to be largely ineffective or unhelpful for teachers. Only 30 percent of teachers improve substantially with the help of district-led professional development, even though districts spend an average of $18,000 on development for each teacher per year, according to a new report. Most professional development today is ineffective. It neither changes teacher practice nor improves student learning.

The hard truth is that the help most schools give their teachers isn’t helping all that much. When it comes to teaching, real improvement is a lot harder to achieve—and we know much less about how to make it happen—than most of us would like to admit. (New report reveals that teacher professional development is costly and ineffective)

My beliefs around teacher professional development are that it should be:

  1. driven by the teacher, him or herself.
  2. based on change models which result in deep, meaningful, lasting changes.

Conventional wisdom on teacher development tells us that we already know what works when it comes to professional development for teachers—typically “job-embedded,” “ongoing” and “differentiated” kinds of development opportunities, in contrast to old-school “drive-by PD.” (Do We Know How to Help Teachers Get Better?)

I believe that professional development needs to go even deeper than being job-embedded, ongoing, and differentiated. Teachers need to receive training on models of change. Teachers should be trained in identifying their own professional development needs based on their classroom performance, areas that they aren’t performing up to par based on their own personal self-assessments as well as feedback from students, colleagues, and supervisors followed by intentional processes to help make positive changes in their work environments.

The model being proposed is based on a series of strategies for working with counseling clients entitled 7 Precursors for Change. I modified it to be more in line with teacher professional development. This is just an overview. Each step would need further exploration and explanation if presented as a model of change for teachers. Plus, these are not linear and they are all interconnected.

1) A sense of necessity: The educator must see a need for change; that there is a belief that something can be done better; that some circumstance of teaching is not working. Driving questions include:

  • What do you value as a teacher? What are actions are you doing in the classroom that address those values?
  • What do you want for yourself as a teacher? for your students? What are you doing to get it?
  • What is not working for you when teaching your students?

2) A willingness or readiness to experience anxiety or difficulty: The educator must be willing to deal with the inevitable discomfort which arises naturally with the onset of change. Moving from how one typically behaves to how one would like to behave is a process that often involves a difficult transition or a groan zone. It is an awareness and acceptance that change requires going from one’s comfort zone to a groan zone prior to coming into the growth zone. It is about accepting that failure and iteration are part of the growth process.

Any kind of creative activity is likely to be stressful. The more anxiety, the more you feel that you are headed in the right direction. Easiness, relaxation, comfort – these are not conditions that usually accompany serious work. Joyce Carol Oates

3) Awareness: This is simply knowing that a problem in one’s performance related to teaching exists and then being able to isolate what thoughts behaviors and feelings are connected to the problem. This is closely related to accurately perceiving one’s environment. The big driving question is, “When you think about a specific performance problem or issue you are having, what thoughts and feelings do you experience?”

The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance. Nathaniel Branden

4) Looking directly at the problem: This is when the educator is willing to focus his/her attention on the problem so s/he can fully understand all of its’ attributes. Essentially this is knowing and accepting all the effects of the problem and admitting the truth to oneself. A powerful driving questions is: “If you were to wake up tomorrow morning and the problem was solved, how would things be different?”

The formulation of the problem is often more essential than its solution. Albert Einstein

A problem well put is half solved. John Dewey

5) Effort towards change is the actual actions taken to solve the presenting problem. This is the actual effort. Changing something that isn’t quite working often takes a series of actions or graduated tasks over time.

We always hope for the easy fix: the one simple change that will erase a problem in a stroke. But few things in life work this way. Instead, success requires making a hundred small steps go right – one after the other.   Atul Gawande, Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance

6) Hope for change: This is having the belief that change will occur. This is a realistic expectation based on rationale thoughts and behaviors. Hope in this sense is not synonymous with wish. Hope involves seeing how things will change and believing they can be accomplished. It is related to having a growth mindset – that growth and change are possible and probable.

Hope is a vision for a new reality. Hope means to become a steward for a new reality. Again, to hope is not just a wish. It’s full-on engagement with vision and potential. Alfred Adler

Instilling a sense of hope can occur when the educator finds, listens to, and/or reads about colleagues who have gone through similar challenges and change. It provides a type of support as s/he takes action to make changes which directly connects to the final step.

7) Social support for change: This is about finding people in the educator’s life that are supportive of the relevant change to be made by the educator. This is where establishing, connecting with, and proactively using a professional learning network comes into play. Educators working through this model of change should be encouraged to and provided with strategies for building both face-to-face and online professional learning networks.

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Implementation of this model  is not a quick and easy fix to teacher professional development. Implementing it will take time, commitment, and struggles but what is the alternative –  costly and ineffective teacher professional development?

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. R. Buckminster Fuller

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 6, 2016 at 5:14 pm

Cardboard Challenges: No Tech/Low Cost Maker Education

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I believe in the importance of participating in ongoing and continuous reflective practice as an educator. This is my reflection on my Cardboard Challenges Maker Education Camp that was taught to twelve 5 to 10 year old learners for five days, 2.5 hours each morning.  My Cardboard Challenges webpage of ideas can be found at http://www.makereducation.com/cardboard-challenge.html.

This post is divided into three sections: (1) a rationale for using no tech, minimal cost materials, (2) some of my general observations about how the learners interacted with the materials, the projects, and each other during the camp, and (3) a description of the specific cardboard activities along with my observations how well they worked with the learners.

A Rational for Using No Tech, Minimal Cost Materials

The Cardboard Challenges Maker Education Camp utilized no technology (except for projecting images of example projects on the whiteboard) and low/no cost materials. Many of the discussions about and actions related to integrating maker education into educational environments center around the use of new technologies such computer components (Raspberry Pis, Arduinos), interactive robots for kids (Dash and Dot, Ozobots, Spheros), and 3D printers. These technologies are lots of fun and one of my maker education camps this past summer was Bots and Coding. The learners engaged in these learning activities with high excitement and motivation. Such high excitement, engagement and motivation, though, were also seen at my low tech/low cost maker education camps: LED crafts, Toy Hacking and Making, and Cardboard Challenges.

As a recent NPR article discussed several challenges for maker education. One of them was related to equity issues, providing maker education for all students regardless of income level:

A big challenge for maker education: making it not just the purview mostly of middle- and upper-middle-class white kids and white teachers whose schools can afford laser cutters, drones or 3-D printers (3 Challenges As Hands-On, DIY Culture Moves Into Schools).

In order to adequately address this challenge, it becomes important to speak of making in broader terms; that maker education is so much more than 3D printing, drones, and robots. As Adam Savage from Mythbusters notes:

What is making? It is a term for an old thing, it is a new term for an old thing. Let me be really clear, making is not simply 3D printing, Art Lino, Raspberry Pi, LEDs, robots, laser and vinyl cutters. It’s not simply carpentry and welding and sculpting and duct tape and drones. Making is also writing and dance and filmmaking and singing and photography and cosplay. Every single time you make something from you that didn’t exist in the world, you are making. Making is important; it’s empowering. It is invigorating (Adam Savage’s 2016 Bay Area Maker Faire Talk).

Doing and promoting maker experiences such as cardboard projects have the potential to offset the challenges associated with access and costs as well as provide opportunities for making by all.

 General Observations from the Cardboard Challenges Maker Education Camp: How the Learners Interacted with the Materials,  Projects, and Each Other 

Going with Learners’ Energy and Ideas

During the making activities, I had one learner who often generated ideas for extending the projects we were doing. For example, when we made jet packs (see below), he asked for permission and made a space helmet to go with it. When we made small robots (see below), he proposed making a cardboard house for his robot. The other learners loved his ideas and joined him in these extensions of the make projects. I believe it is important to follow learners’ leads and ideas as it creates energy, motivation, and momentum for learning.  Traditional teaching is way too often focused on keeping to an agenda both in time and with the learning activities. I think it is important to grab onto those teachable moments; the moments when learners propose what direction they would like to go. It validates that their voices as students are valued and acted upon.

The Experiential Nature of Maker Activities Makes Them Messy, Loud, and Chaotic

Traditional classrooms are often marked by students quietly at their desks completing the same tasks at the same time. This is opposite of what went on during the Cardboard Challenges Maker Education camp. The classroom was loud, seemingly chaotic and messy. Cutting and working with cardboard creates a mess, but authentic and engaged learning is often messy.

Learning is often a messy business. “Messy” learning is part trial and error, part waiting and waiting for something to happen, part excitement in discovery, part trying things in a very controlled, very step by step fashion, part trying anything you can think of no matter how preposterous it might seem, part excruciating frustration and part the most fun you’ll ever have. Time can seem to stand still – or seem to go by in a flash. It is not unusual at all for messy learning to be …um …messy!  But the best part of messy learning is that besides staining your clothes, or the carpet, or the classroom sink in ways that are very difficult to get out … it is also difficult to get out of your memory! (http://www.learningismessy.com/quotes/)

This description marked what occurred during all of the five days of the Cardboard Challenges camp and I believe lots of learning resulted.

Concepts and Skills Naturally Embedded in the Experiential Activities

Concepts and skills became embedded in the experiential activities. Learning of concepts and skills occurred at the time when the campers’ interest and need were the highest.  For example, when the learners did the cardboard garages and ramps for toy cars, several concepts were introduced and talked about: inclined plane, angles, rate of acceleration, and weight and density. These discussions and knowledge helped them to better their design their ramps. Their learning had a context and a reason.

The same was true for the the learning of skills. Learners were motivated and attentive when I demonstrated certain cardboard folding and connecting techniques. This also included soft skills such as communicating needs, asking for what they needed, and collaborating with others as they found a genuine need and desire to use them.

Shared and Collaborative Learning: Natural and As Needed

Research supports the use of collaborative and shared learning. The best kind of collaborative and shared learning, I believe, is when it occurs naturally and when needed (similar to the learning of skills as discussed above). Shared learning was evident when the learners created space helmets after one learner started his; when the youngest learner, a 5 year old girl, showed others how to use the shelf contact paper correctly (also demonstrating that learners of all ages and genders had something to contribute to the learning community). Collaborative learning happened when the learners began to individually create their car garages and ramps, and realized that if they combined their creations, they would have cooler and more elaborated structures.

Semi Structured Projects with Simple Photographic Examples Work Well

This elementary age group seemed to respond well to semi-structured cardboard projects. For all of the cardboard challenge activities, I only needed to show the learners a few examples projected on the whiteboard. From these examples, the learners gathered enough information and were able to take off to construct their own modifications of the projects. The cardboard projects became personal as the campers became self-directed learners.

Assumptions About Skill Levels

The educator needs to be an astute observer of how learners interact with instructional materials, and make adjustments if problems arise. How this translated into the cardboard challenge is that I assumed the learners could use transparent tape, hot glue guns, and scissors. I knew the younger ones, the Kindergarten students, would have some problems but didn’t expect this of the older ones, 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. I observed the learners as they interacted with the cardboard constructing tools. I had transparent tape in the disposable plastic dispensers. Most of the campers had trouble getting it off. I realized that the heavy duty tape dispensers worked better and switched to using those. I used hot glue guns with elementary level kids for years but this group had an especially difficult time using them resulting in minor burns by 3/4 of the learners. I was forced to ban them half way through the week. I needed to change the use of hot glue to duct tape and cardboard screws from the Makedo kits. These may seem like small or inconsequential things but insuring that the learners can effectively use the tools and materials can make the difference in their success with the projects.

Cardboard Challenges: Descriptions and Reflections

This section provides brief descriptions of the activities I did during this camp and my reflections on their degree of success with the learners.

Jet Packs

Directions for constructing the jet packs can be found at http://www.kiwicrate.com/projects/Recycled-Jet-Pack-Costume/500 . I spray painted them silver prior to the camp but the kids constructed the rest of their jet packs.

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Reflection:

This was a great way to start off the week. All of the learners seemed to enjoy creating them and adding their own personal touches. One of the learners, a 10 year old boy, asked if he could use another box to create a space helmet. I said, “Of course,” and the other learners began to follow their lead (which led me to spray painting the helmets during their recess).  I would definitely do this activity again and would facilitate extensions of the activity such as, “Is there anything else you’d like to create to go with your jet pack?’

Marble Run

Directions for a Marble Run can be found http://lemonlimeadventures.com/recycled-marble-run/.

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Reflection:

The Marble Run was another very engaging and successful activity. The learners worked on different methods and materials to make the marble run. There were lots of iterations of this project but all the learners were successful in getting their marbles to drop from tube to tube.

I would definitely do this activity again. I would add, though, sketching the marble run designs and patterns on a piece of paper and then on their large pieces of cardboards prior to adding the tubes and other obstacles. I had marbles and small balls available to test the runs but would include additional types of small balls in the future.

Marble Maze

Directions for building a version of this can be found at http://frugalfun4boys.com/2015/10/14/how-to-make-a-cardboard-box-marble-labyrinth-game/

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Reflection:

This seemed to be another highly engaging activity. I would do this again in the future. I would just include more options to create the maze – e.g., construction paper, cubs, toilet paper tubes – as some of the learners had trouble managing and building the walls out of cardboard.

Cardboard Roll Robot

A version of this project can be found at http://gluesticksgumdrops.com/robot-toilet-paper-roll-craft/. I added the vending machine bubbles for use for heads and feet; and LED lights to light up the head.

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Reflection:

I believe the learners found this fun but not overwhelming so. What added to this activity was a learner who asked if he could make a cardboard house for his bot with the other learners then following his lead.

This activity was okay – engaging but not highly engaging. I would do it again as an auxiliary to another activity – e.g., being the characters for a cardboard city.

Basketball Hoop/Ring Toss

I obtained boxes and figured out how to fold them to create a type of basketball arcade game and added the triangle in the front (based off of http://www.artistshelpingchildren.org/boxescardboardboxesartscraftstideasprojectskids.html). I used pool dive rings so the learners can use the ring as both a basketball hoop and a ring toss. After its completion, the learners painted their boxes with poster paint.

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Reflection:

Since this was a sports – arcade type of project, I expected high interest and high engagement. The most fun, I believe, was when they painted their games. They didn’t seem to have much interest in playing the game. This also might be that this project had the least wiggle room for personalization. I will probably not include this activity for future cardboard challenges.

Parking Garages and Ramps for Toy Cars

For example directions for the cardboard parking garage, see http://frugalfun4boys.com/2015/02/03/cardboard-box-hot-wheels-car-garage-ramps/. For example directions for car ramps, see http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/1023689/diy-race-car-track-crafts-for-kids.

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Reflection:

The learners really jumped into this project. Anything with hot wheel type cars, I believe, are attractive for elementary students. I offered an option to build a zoo to take into account the girls and any boys who wanted such an option. Only one of the three girls at this camp selected the zoo option.

This was a very high interest and engagement activity which is what I expected. What I didn’t expect was how several of the learners ended up joining their structures to create bigger structures. I found that with projects that include buildings and other city structures, the elementary level kids naturally join them together resulting in collaborative work. This also happened during my LED craft camp.

I would definitely do this activity again. In the future, though, I would intentionally build in connecting structures together as a group.

Pinball Machines

Directions for very similar Pinball Machines can be found at http://www.instructables.com/id/Makedo-Pinball-Machine/ and http://www.artistshelpingchildren.org/kidscraftsactivitiesblog/2011/02/how-to-make-simple-pinball-machine-with-recycled-materials-crafts-project-for-kids/. To prepare for this activity, I cut the boxes as can be seen the picture below. To the plans, I added the use of shelf contact paper to cover the pinball cardboard face.

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Reflection:

This was also a high engagement activity, but parts of creating the pinball machine were difficult for most of the learners, e.g., adding flippers. One of the highlights for learners, I believe, was the use of the Makedo kits. First, the screws take the place of adhesives such as hot glue, tape, etc., and second, the learners got the chance to use and learn how to use simple tools: saw, screw driver, screws. Both the kids and I loved these kits and I would use them again for the cardboard challenges.

We worked on the pinball machines for about 3 hours and only two of the learners were able to add their pinball flippers. I would do this activity again but would spend more time preparing the boxes ahead of time. I would cut the holes for the flippers, ball catchers, and as I spent a lot of time doing this during the activity. I would also plan for more time to put the finishing touches on them.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 25, 2016 at 10:50 pm

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