User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Educator as Lead Learner: Learning LittleBits

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I have discussed educators as model learners before:

The educator’s role has or should change in this age of information abundance or Education 2.0-3.0. The educator’s role has always been to model and demonstrate effective learning, but somewhere along the line, the major role of the educator became that of content and knowledge disseminator. Now that in this information age content is freely and abundantly available, it is more important than ever to assist learners in the process of how to learn. (Educator as Model Learner)

I advocate for the educator, as leader learner, to demonstrate the process of learning:

To effectively do so, though, the educator needs to understand and be able to articulate and demonstrate the process of learning, him or herself. It is a mistaken assumption that educators know how to do so. The learning process can be made overt through recording and clearly articulating the steps, procedures, and/or strategies for doing so. (Educators as Lead Learners)

To learn and model this process, I recommend that educators pick something new to learn and practice doing the following: educator as lead learner I am teaching at a maker education camp this summer and want to integrate LittleBits into my curriculum. As such, I am learning how they work. In order to model my process as lead learner, I noted how I am learning how to use Littlebits. I will ask the older kids to do a similar process and will have them explore my documentation to get an idea how to do this.

Note My Steps to the Learning Process

Why I Became Interested As a avid user of Twitter, I have a column for tweets hashtagged as #makered. LittleBits come up often. I have been watching how they evolved over the past year or so; and how they support and are being used by educators. Purchasing and Examining LittleBits LittleBits has several kits. I looked them over online and decided to purchase two kits: The Basic and the Arduino Coding Kit.  I examined both sets to insure I was getting different LittleBits with the two kits. Since I am a consumer shopper, I found both these sets via eBay – new for about half of the original cost – score!

How I Am Learning

As many of us do in this century of learning, I go online to find tutorials. I am using the following resources to help me get acquainted

I try a few of the simple projects to learn about the functions of the different Littlebits. I then read over the projects offered in the manual. I mentally picture building them. Because I knew I could easily build the beginning ones, I skip to the last project in the manual – the Three-Wheeler and also view it online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=niEsF4jeXU0. I have a belief that maker education is not about copying what has been already created. As such, I think about how I wanted to adapt the projects.

I conceptualize an adaptation of the three-wheeler as a cat toy/feeder. I come up with a mental picture of the cat toy-feeder. I would be using the light light sensor and bar graph to activate the toy when the sun comes up in the morning. Once activated due to the sun, the engine would move and the LED in the feathered tail would light up.  The moving device with the trailing feathers and LED would encourage my cat to chase it, hence getting a little exercise prior to catching the reward of her cat food situated on the truck bed. Her body would cover the light sensor causing it to stop and giving her a chance to eat (photos can be found at the end of this post).

I have a bunch of Legos and tinker toys that I use when teaching and bring these out to help me build. Combining the Legos with Littlebits makes sense but connecting them takes some work with the use of tape. I guess LittleBits figured this out because I went online and found the brick adapter: http://littlebits.cc/accessories/brick-adapter. Because I have so many parts which includes LittleBits, Legos, Tinker Toys  – some on the top and some on the bottom, I have to manipulate and play with different configurations to get everything to fit together and work correctly.

Thinking About My Thinking

Some of the thoughts I had during the building of this project:

  • I love that I can jump on the internet and immediate get tutorials and example projects that others have done.
  • I like the car project and believe the kids will like this, too, but I want to create my own version rather than following the directions as written.
  • I have all of these building supplies from teaching – Legos, Tinker Toys, Pico Cricket. I can go find those to use with the LittleBits in order to complete my own design.
  • How silly it is that I am an older woman “playing” with Legos. I need to let go of this thought.
  • I figured some things out but dropping the little pieces a lot frustrated me. I decided to put it away and start again tomorrow morning.
  • I feel a sense of accomplishment figuring out how to “fix” things so they work better.
  • I think that being a ceramics potter and teaching EdTech has made me a better problem solver.
  • I used the LittleBits motor to make it move, how can I use some of the other LittleBits to embellish it – add more features?
  • I like combining the Littlebits with Legos but they are a little unruly. I have to “MacGyver” them together. This is making the project a lot more difficult.
  • I know that letting ideas float around in my mind for a while often yields results, so after thinking about how I might adapt it, I came up with a cat feeder and toy.
  • I know that I can successfully visualize art projects without needing to sketch them out. I know this is not true for everyone.
  • It is taking a lot more time than expected – hopefully my hard work will pay off.
  • Not having the right tools (e.g., not have the brick connectors) can be very frustrating.
  • I don’t like how all of the electrical tape is showing so I’ll cover the top of the Lego plate. It will also serve to create a surface that will more easily clean off the cat food.
  • Yea – it works. I am laughing and clapping at the whimsical nature of this project.

Iterations

The maker movement is driven by the DIY movement, creating and recreating new “things.” At its core, then, making is about experimentation, about trial and error, about trying things out to see what works and what doesn’t. As such, failure is seen as iteration. Part of being a lead learner, of understanding and documenting the learning process is recording the iterations of the project. I engaged in a lot of experimentation but had basically two iterations. I believe I would have had more but due to some experience with robotics, I had a good idea of what would work – not work.

1st Iteration

  • Had wheel extended too far back – couldn’t mount the motor.
  • Front wheels bumping into base – needed to add spacers.
  • The single back wheel didn’t work with a Lego wheel; too long of a motor stem made the wheel off centered and with the weight of the motor it fell to one side.

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2nd Iteration

The second iteration was actually the final one but it took a lot of manipulating the back wheel and motor to get them to stay put.

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Self-Evaluation

I worked on this project over two days. I feel successful in a number of ways:

  • Because I have done some simple robotics (Pico Crickets),  ith my students before, I found that this background, helped me understand the functions of many of the Littlebits. It felt good to be able to quickly understand how Littlebits functioned.
  • I am proud of the final project in terms of function but not so much in form.  I don’t like all the tape I used and the wheel is a bit precariously connected. Maybe I’ll buy to brick connectors at some point.
  • I was very excited about the final project. It worked as I conceptualized and my cat enjoyed it, too!

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 23, 2015 at 1:18 am

Educators as Lead Learners

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I have discussed educators as model learners before:

The educator’s role has or should change in this age of information abundance or Education 2.0-3.0. The educator’s role has always been to model and demonstrate effective learning, but somewhere along the line, the major role of the educator became that of content and knowledge disseminator. Now that in this information age content is freely and abundantly available, it is more important than ever to assist learners in the process of how to learn. (Educator as Model Learner)

The goal of this post is to encourage educators not only to adopt the mindset of the educator as a lead learner but also to model, demonstrate, and teach his/her learners the process of learning how to learn new “things”.

In our schools, “the emphasis is on what students need to learn, whereas little emphasis—if any—is placed on training students how they should go about learning the content and what skills will promote efficient studying to support robust learning,” writes John Dunlosky, professor of psychology at Kent State University in Ohio. However, he continues, “teaching students how to learn is as important as teaching them content, because acquiring both the right learning strategies and background knowledge is important—if not essential—for promoting lifelong learning.” (Smart Strategies That Help Students Learn How to Learn)

To effectively do so, though, the educator needs to understand and be able to articulate and demonstrate the process of learning, him or herself. It is a mistaken assumption that educators know how to do so. The learning process can be made overt through recording and clearly articulating the steps, procedures, and/or strategies for doing so. To learn and model this process, I recommend that educators pick something new to learn and practice doing the following:

  1. Explicitly state and record the metacognitive process while learning.
  2. Demonstrate and articulate the actual steps of learning.
  3. Record the stages of artifact development.
  4. Understand and embrace the iterative process of learning.
  5. Use and demonstrate the self-evaluative reflection process.

educator as lead learner

Deep Understanding of Metacognitive Processes The educator should be familiar with and able to demonstrate metacognitive processes. “The most effective learners are metacognitive; that is, they are mindful of how they learn, set personal learning goals, regularly self-assess and adjust their performance, and use strategies to support their learning” (http://sites.cdnis.edu.hk/school/ls/2011/05/12/teachers-as-lead-learners/). Developing one’s on metacognitive skills begins with developing an awareness of one’s own thought processes while learning new. Once this awareness is developed, the steps of learning can be more clearly articulated.  Articulate and Showcase the Actual Steps of Learning If learning is understood as a process – one that goes from not knowing to one of knowing, then educators should know, understand, and clearly articulate the steps to that process. Granted, learning different things requires some different strategies, but there are some steps that cut across disciplines. For example, some of these steps include how one does the following:

  • How do I gather information about what it is that I want to learn?
  • What are the steps am I taking to learn?
  • How do I know if I am adequately acquiring the knowledge, skills, etc., related to that learning?
  • What do I do when I get stuck?
  • What do I do when I need help?

So related to the metacognitive process, if the educator records the steps to their learning process, this can help make it more overt and obvious. Understand and Embrace the Iterative Process of Learning The following video discusses that “effective” learning is often iterative which involves prototyping, testing, failing, tweaking, and then repeating this cycle.

Learning As Iterative

The educator as a lead learner normalizes, embraces, models, and reinforces the iterative process of learning.

 Record the Stages of Artifact Development This strategy can be especially useful if the goal is to create or make something. It can include writing something, learning a new skill, and making something (as in Maker Education).  Too often education techniques focus on exemplary models. This gives the message that perfection is expected – not respecting that there are several stages, often several prototypes or iterations on the road towards perfection. Recording those iterations as artifacts through images, pictures, descriptive narratives will support and reinforce learning as a process. Use and Demonstrate the Self-Evaluative Reflection Process

The authors [of this research] argue that learning from direct experience can be more effective if coupled with reflection—that is, the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience. The results reveal reflection to be a powerful mechanism behind learning, confirming the words of American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey: “We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience.” (Learning By Thinking: How Reflection Improves Performance)

Another strategy, intimately connected with the others presented in this post, is engaging in periodic self-evaluative reflection. It involves the revisiting the following question throughout the learning process, “What criteria am I using to assess the “goodness” and accuracy of my learning? In the absence of meeting that criteria, what do I do to adapt my strategies to meet this standard?”


Knowledge of one’s learning process can (and should) be used as part of an educator’s professional development. If done as such, it teaches and reinforces:

  • The importance of learning new things; the importance of being a lifelong learner.
  • The process of learning so this process can be more easily described and reinforced with students;
  • The importance of a growth mindset; that growth is possible during any time of one’s career.

It is important to realize the implications for our students of our own critical reflection. Students put great store by our actions and they learn a great deal from observing how we model intellectual inquiry and democratic process. Given that this is so, a critically reflective teacher activates her classroom by providing a model of passionate skepticism. As Osterman (1990) comments, “critically reflective teachers – teachers who make their own thinking public, and therefore subject to discussion – are more likely to have classes that are challenging, interesting, and stimulating for students” (p. 139). Stephen Brookfield

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 15, 2015 at 2:49 pm

Questions to Ask Oneself While Designing Learning Activities

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I absolutely love planning lessons from scratch.  I just got a job teaching technology units for a summer camp for elementary age students. I can design and teach whatever I want – planning for a different theme each week. Some of the themes I am planning are: Expanding and Showing Your Personal Interests Through Blogging, Photos, and Videos; Coding and Creating Online Games; Tinkering and Making – Simple Robotics; Hacking Your Notebook; and Creating Online Comics, Newspapers, and Magazines.  I have begun the process of planning these classes through reflecting on what the lessons will look like.  Here are some questions I ask myself as I go through this process:

  • Will the learning activities provide learners with opportunities to tap into their own personal interests and passions?
  • Will the learning activities offer the learners the chance to put them “selves” into their work?
  • Will the learning activities provide learners with opportunities to express themselves using their own authentic voices?
  • Will the learners find the learning activities engaging? interesting? relevant? useful?
  • What “cool” technologies can be used to help meet both the instructional and the learners’ goals?
  • Will the learning activities provide learners with opportunities to have fun and to play?
  • Will learners be able to do at least some of the work independently?
  • Will the learning activities give all of the learners opportunities to shine?
  • Will the learners get the chance to share their work with other learners, with a more global audience?

lesson reflection

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 31, 2015 at 11:31 pm

Things We Want Our Learners to Say

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One of the best indicators that I am doing teaching right is the spontaneous comments made by my learners. This qualitative information, for me as an educator, is a much better measure of success in the classroom than any type of quantitative information.  What follows are some comments I love hearing from my learners:

  • I really like coming to class.
  • Can I stay in the classroom (for recess, for lunch, after school) so I can continue working on my project?
  • Is it time to go leave already?
  • I am a good learner.
  • I love learning new things.
  • I feel like I have a real voice in this classroom; that what I say matters.
  • I know I wasn’t successful with the assignment but I am going to use that information to improve.
  • Our class feels like a family.
  • You (the teacher) haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be a kid.

students say

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 20, 2015 at 3:19 am

The Other 21st Century Skills: Educator Self-Assessment

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I’ve posted about The Other 21st Skills and Attributes.  This post provides links and resources about these skills as well as an educator self-assessment.  This assessment contains questions to assist the educator in evaluating if and how s/he is facilitating these skills and attributes in the learning environment. skills

21st century skills

Related Resources:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 16, 2015 at 8:08 pm

Creativity and Orbiting the Giant Hairball of School

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Our creative genius is the fountainhead of originality. It fires our compulsion to evolve. It inspires us to challenge norms. Creative genius is about flying to new heights on untested wings. It is about the danger of crashing. It is amorphous, magical, unmeasurable and unpredictable…But we need our genius to bail ourselves out of the messes we continually get ourselves into. So, individually, we must override the cartel, set aside our herd longing for security through sameness and seek the help of our natural genius. Yours and mine. Orbiting the Giant Hairball

This post is a teaser for, a taste of a panel in which I am participating at The International Conference of Creativity, Thinking & Education in April, 2015 (please consider attending). The panel and this post focus on the idea of orbiting the giant hairball of education.  Orbiting the Giant Hairball by Gordan MacKenzie is the inspiration for both the panel and this post.  The theme revolves around how the systems of business and education often proclaim an affinity towards creativity of and by supervisors, employees, and stakeholders but in practice, actually stifle any actions that threaten the status quo. Growing Up and Out of Creativity in the System of School I believe one of the greatest ethical breaches of our school systems is training learners (and often educators) out of their love of learning and personal passions and creativity.

Our artificiality is caused, in part, by the many teachers who work so hard to instill a professionalism that prizes correctness over authenticity and originality. Flesh-and-blood students persevere the rigors of broadcast school only to emerge with voices as unreal as their pancake make-up. Budding designers, capable of passion, sweat the grind in schools of architecture and graduate to create environments unconnected to the lusciousness of life. Diamonds-in-the-rough enter business schools and come out the other end as so many polished clones addicted to the dehumanizing power of classification and systemization. Orbiting the Giant Hairball

The Giant Hairball of School

On the way to getting big, most companies [schools] turn into Giant Hairballs. Not on purpose; it just happens. Two hairs get tangled — not because they don’t work but because on some level, for someone, they work just fine. As it is joined by more and more hairs, each of which worked well enough somewhere for someone, the tangle becomes more complex and larger. Before you know it there’s a ball of hair so big it has it’s own gravity field strong enough to pull . . . almost anything . . . nearly anyone . . . into its mass. That force field is success. The Hairball prefers repeating established processes to the risks of innovation and creativity because repeating those processes works—every day until it stops working.  A world honeycombed with established guidelines, techniques, methodologies, systems, and equations are at the heart of the hairball’s gravity. The trouble with corporate normalcy derives from and is dedicated to past realities and past successes. There is no room in the hairball of corporate normalcy for original thinking or primary creativity. Re-synthesizing past successes is the habit of the hairball. Orbiting the Giant Hairball

Many new educators enter the institution or system of education with high ideals, high energy and high creativity.  In order to fit in, they work hard to conform to the guidelines, rules, and regulations; overt and covert; expressed and hidden, of that institution. Often, the result, sadly, is having their creativity sucked out of them – both as professional educators and as humans. They become victims of the giant hairball of institutionalized education.

Unfortunately, while the heart of Hallmark (and many schools) sings the virtues of creativity, the company’s intellect worships the predictability of the status quo and is, thus, adverse to new ideas.  This incongruity creates a common corporate personality disorder:  The organization officially lauds the generation of new ideas while covertly subverting the implementation of those same ideas. The consequence is that, on any given day, umpteen people at Hallmark, responding to official corporate invitation, come up with concepts for new methodologies or fresh, original products.  Then those ideas, by nature of their newness, are deemed fundamentally unseemly by the same authority conglomerate that asked for them in the first place.  This makes for a lot of frustrated ideamongers. Orbiting the Giant Hairball

Orbiting Around the System of School The purpose of this post, actually, is not to emphasize the dire straits schools are in regarding creativity. The purpose is to propose a call to action for educators to be creativity facilitators – to facilitate their own and their students’ natural propensity for creativity. To do so, they need to learn to orbit the giant hairball of school.

Orbiting is responsible creativity: vigorously exploring and operating beyond the Hairball of the corporate mindset, beyond “accepted models, patterns, or standards “—all the while remaining connected to the spirit of the corporate [school] mission. To find Orbit around a corporate Hairball is to find a place of balance where you benefit from the physical, intellectual and philosophical resources of the organization without becoming entombed in the bureaucracy of the institution. Remember, Hairballs don’t set out to become Hairballs. It is an unintended consequence.   If you are interested (and it is not for everyone), you can achieve Orbit by finding the personal courage to be genuine and to take the best course of action to get the job done rather than following the pallid path of corporate appropriateness.  Through this measured assertion of your own uniqueness, it is possible to establish a dynamic relationship with the Hairball — to Orbit around the institutional mass. If you do this, you make an asset of the gravity in that it becomes a force that keeps you from flying out into the overwhelming nothingness of deep space. Orbiting the Giant Hairball

The following acrostic-based poster, Create Orbits (informally titled An Educator’s Soul Survivor Kit), proposes strategies to assist educators who want to learn how to orbit the giant hairball of schools – to remain creative, excited, and energized (and assist learners to do the same) within acceptable boundaries of the school system.

CREATE

Resources and Articles

As a parting shot – some creativity in education quotes:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 26, 2014 at 11:07 pm

Best Education-Related Videos of 2014

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I love end of year “best of” lists.  My own list is what I found to be the most powerful education related videos of 2014. They all, in some way, address the mind, heart, and spirit of education.  Each touched me in some way to help illuminate the purpose and core of education. Let me know of any others that you found of value during 2014!

Malala Yousuf Nobel Prize Speech

So through my story I want to tell other children all around the world that they should stand up for their rights. They should not wait for someone else and their voices are more powerful. Their voices – it would seem that they are weak, but at the time when no one speak, your voice gets so loud that everyone has to listen to it. Everyone has to hear it. So it’s my message to children all around the world that they should stand up for their rights.

Maya Angelou on George Stroumboulopoulos

Always so very beautiful – RIP, beautiful woman!

I must must tell you the truth as I understand it.  You might be the last person with whom I speak. Life is life and death is death, so I must tell the truth when I speak.

What I really want to do is be a representative of my race; the human race. I have a chance to show how kind we can be, how intelligent and generous we can be. I have a chance to teach and to love and to laugh.

Carol Dweck: The Power of Believing You Can Improve

How are we raising our children? Are we raising them for now instead of yet? Are we raising kids who are obsessed with getting A’s? Are we raising kids who don’t know how to dream big dreams?  Let’s not waste any more lives, because once we know that abilities are capable of such growth, it becomes a basic human right for children, all children, to live in places that create that growth, to live in places filled with yet.  

Sir Ken Robinson: Can Creativity Be Taught

Teaching is a process of enabling. It’s a process of giving people opportunities. It’s a process of encouragement. It’s a process of inspiration, of mentoring.  Gifted teachers help people discover their creative talents, to nurture them, to hone them, and to become more creative as a result.

President Obama on the Whitehouse Maker Faire

But what’s happening is, is that the young people now are able to learn by doing. So math, science all gets incorporated into the task of actually making something, which the students tell me makes the subject matter that much more interesting. We’re helping schools take shop class into the 21st century, because one of the things I’m really interested in is how do we redesign high schools so that young people are able to do stuff as they are learning.

Toxic Culture of Education: Joshua Katz

THOSE students are marginalized by what I call our “Toxic Culture of Education.” It doesn’t matter if a student is a gifted artist, a loving caretaker, a poetic writer, or a talented musician. THOSE students are the fish being measured on how they climb trees.  We need to start paying attention to our students. If a student fails Algebra 1 in the ninth grade, chances are it is not because they do not understand the material. Chances are it’s not because the teacher isn’t teaching. Chances are it’s not because of the school. Chances are it is because the student lacks some type of intangible characteristic (a “Non-Cognitive Behavior”) that enables them to succeed. Things like persistence, initiative, social skills, common sense, a full belly, or a good night’s sleep.

The necessity of the student voice | Catherine Zhang

Our projects seem more like coloring activities than actual content, and we were forced to only consider one interpretation especially on multiple choice tests. We knew there was something fundamentally wrong with the way we were being taught, but as students we were powerless. At a time we are trying to answer these large questions about the future of education, we’re leaving out this huge portion of the population.  Student are this untapped resource.  We’re the only ones at the receiving end of education. Asking these educational experts about what appeals to kids without asking students, themselves, is like asking your 92 year old grandmother how to use Instragram when you have a teenager in the house.

Rethinking Learning in the Digital Age – Mitchel Resnick

Not only do new technologies have us rethink what we learn and how we learn, we can also rethink where we learn, when we learn, and with whom we learn. With technology we can be learning all of the time.  If we think of technology in the right way, we can break out of old outmoded models of learning.  New technologies help us rethink the structures of schools.

Individualization, failure and fun | Cordell Steiner

Failure was an awesome experience and had a purpose. You are able to learn from your failure. You have the opportunity to go back over and over again; and work until you master a skill.

Inspire Her Mind

Isn’t it time we tell her she is PRETTY BRILLIANT, too.

You can help stop the violence against young black men | Verna Myers

And we’ve got to be willing to not shelter our children from the ugliness of racism when black parents don’t have the luxury to do so, especially those who have young black sons. We’ve got to take our lovely darlings, our future, and we’ve got to tell them we have an amazing country with incredible ideals, we have worked incredibly hard, and we have made some progress, but we are not done. We still have in us this old stuff about superiority and it is causing us to embed those further into our institutions and our society and generations, and it is making for despair and disparities and a devastating devaluing of young black men. We still struggle, you have to tell them, with seeing both the color and the character of young black men, but that you, and you expect them, to be part of the forces of change in this society that will stand against injustice and is willing, above all other things, to make a society where young black men can be seen for all of who they are.

If I Knew Then: A Letter to Me on My First Day Teaching

Kid President Throws a Surprise Party for a Retiring Teacher

Erzah French: Sportskid of the Year

You can dream it, you can hope it, you can make it happen; I choose to make it happen.

Malcolm Mitchell Book Club

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 18, 2014 at 11:35 pm

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