This weekend I attended a conference presentation entitled, Cultural Imposition: When Digital Immigrant Therapists See Digital Native Clients (yep, I know there is some push back against the terms of digital natives and digital immigrants). It’s focus was understanding digital youth as a unique culture. It got me thinking, though, about the assumptions that adults who work with and teach youth make about their digital use and behaviors.
Guiding Questions for Examining Teaching Practices Within a Context of Digital and Social Media Use:
- How does the social-cultural phenomena of digital access and use affect your work as an educator?
- What are your assumptions about the use of digital technology and social media?
- What issues about social media have emerged in your work with students?
- What are your thoughts about digital communication?
Educators way too often make unquestioned assumptions about digital youth and their use of social media:
- Texting is generally bad – it stifles both written and spoken language.
- Genuine communication and attachment cannot occur through social media.
- Wikipedia and Youtube are generally not sources of valid information.
- Sharing personal information publically is undesirable.
- Online multiplayer games keep young people from doing productive things with their lives; they are escapes from the reality-the real world.
These beliefs or assumptions are absolutes and often signify biases of those who not of the digital youth cultures. To these assumptions, one must ask, “Who says?” or “According to whom?” They can and should be examined within a framework and context of a digital youth culture. This would help educators and others who work with them having a greater understanding of their media use patterns and the meaning of these patterns from the perspective of the youth themselves.
What is culture?
The ACA Code of Ethics defines culture as “membership in a socially constructed way of living, which incorporates collective values, beliefs, norms, boundaries and lifestyles.” Although specific definitions of culture vary depending on the source, cultural components consistently include language, cuisine, music, dress, government, gestures, grooming and technology.
I believe and discussed that educators should be ethnographers of their learners. The effective educator learns about the cultures of their learners and uses their knowledge to design instruction, suggest resources, propose learning strategies based on those cultures.
In doing this type of examination, the following might be considered:
- Educators may discover that they view actions of digital youth and their tech use as devious-undesirable without understanding the motivations.
- By not allowing tools/strategies that digital youth use on a daily basis, educators may inadvertently be alienating them.
- When we make school policies about technology in the learning environment, why aren’t the thoughts and ideas of the digital youth in those classrooms considered?
It is important for adults who work with digital youth to see that culture through the eyes of the youth and whenever possible and feasible to bring aspects of the digital youth culture into the learning environment. If the adults in young people’s lives gain a greater understanding of the use and meaning of digital media, they can offer (offering as in suggesting not insisting) youth ways to navigate the digital world for learning, for positive identity development, and for developing a positive online presence. Digital youth can benefit from the adults who can help them develop tools and strategies for facilitating positive coping and navigation in the digital environment. But this can only occur if those adults have a deep and realistic view of the behaviors of digital youth.
Working as a productive and sensitive member of a team is looked upon by STEM-based companies as being a requirement to being an effective and contributing employee:
As technology takes over more of the fact-based, rules-based, left-brain skills—knowledge-worker skills—employees who excel at human relationships are emerging as the new “it” men and women. More and more major employers are recognizing that they need workers who are good at team building, collaboration, and cultural sensitivity, according to global forecasting firm Oxford Economics. Other research shows that the most effective teams are not those whose members boast the highest IQs, but rather those whose members are most sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others. (http://fortune.com/2015/03/05/perfect-workplace/)
In academia, the majority of research in STEM fields is conducted through collaborations and working groups, where a diversity of ideas need to be proposed and analyzed to determine the best strategy(ies) for solving a problem. In the technology sector, product development is done as a team, with specific roles for each individual but its success is predicated on each member of the team providing a different skill set / perspective. Thus, students who are interested in both academia and industry will benefit from learning how to successfully work in a diverse team. (https://teaching.berkeley.edu/diversity-can-benefit-teamwork-stem#sthash.mHRBJQtV.dpuf)
What follows are some team building activities that use collaboration to explore and solve STEM-related challenges. Note that most of them require minimal supplies – costs.
Great Egg Drop
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)
Give teams of 4 to 6 learners 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. Given a time frame of about 20 minutes, the groups must build the tallest free-standing structure out of The marshmallow needs to be on top. (http://marshmallowchallenge.com/Welcome.html)
The challenge is to create a marble track using the given materials and have the marble land in an 8” square and remain there. Give groups of 4 to 6 students: 1 piece of cardstock, 3 straws, 1 piece of string, 3 sheets of paper, 5 mailing labels, 4 paper clips, 3 rubber bands, and 2 pencils to complete this this task. (http://www.homeschoolcreations.net/2013/04/marble-track-instant-challenge-logic-for-kids/)
Drop the Golf Ball
Give each group of 4 to 6 learners 12 straws, 18 inches of masking tape and a golf ball. The goal is to build a container that will catch a golf ball dropped from about ten feet. Each group selects a “ball dropper” who stands on a chair and hold the golf ball at eye level. Each team places its container on the floor under where they think the ball will land. Each group gets three attempts and the group that gets a ball to go into their container and stay wins. (http://icebreakerideas.com/icebreakers-high-school-students/)
The challenge is for groups (3-5 members each) to design and construct a model of a single-span bridge using plastic drinking straws and masking tape as the building materials. The bridge is to span a distance of 40 cm, with no supporting pillars to the ground in between the ends of the span, and be approximately 10 cm wide. It needs to be strong enough to support a suitable load. This might be a book, a can of food, or other object of suitable weight placed on the middle of the completed structure. See Straw Bridge Challenge Worksheet: http://cteteach.cteonline.org/portal/default/Curriculum/Viewer/Curriculum?action=2&cmobjid=197387.
Toy Hacking Team Challenge
This is based on Toy Take Apart. In the Toy Hacking Team Challenge, each group of 3 to 4 members is given three or four battery-operated toys. Their task is to take all their toys apart and then using at least a few parts of each toy create a new toy or invention.
Construct a Chair
This activity asks groups of 3 to 5 members to design and build a full-sized chair from corrugated cardboard (and a mat knife) that could support the weight of a person up to 150 lbs. for up to 5 minutes. The person seated will be in a “comfortable” position with his/her back leaning against the back of the chair. (http://mschangart.weebly.com/architecture/card-board-chair-design-challenge)
Learners make instruments from recycled or natural materials. See http://www.howweelearn.com/spectacular-homemade-musical-instruments/ recycled materials for ideas. Separate learners in small groups of 4 to 6 members in each group. Inform them that they will be performing a musical piece using all of their DIY instruments for the rest of the group. After a practice time, bring groups back together for the performances.
Sneak a Peek
Build a small sculpture or design with some of the building material and hide it from the group. Divide the group into small teams of two to eight members each. Give each team enough building material so that they could duplicate what you have already created. Place the original sculpture in a place that is hidden but at an equal distance from all the groups. Ask one member form each team to come at the same time to look at the sculpture for five seconds in order to try to memorize it as much as possible before returning to his/her team.
After they run back to their teams, they have twenty-five seconds to instruct their teams how to build the structure so that it looks like the one that has been hidden. After the twenty-five seconds, ask each team to send up another member of their group who gets a chance to “sneak a peek” before returning to their team. Continue in this pattern until one of the teams successfully duplicates the original sculpture. (http://www.teambuildingportal.com/games/sneek-peek)
Some of the recurring themes of my conference presentations and blog posts include:
- Schools are doing Education 1.0; talking about doing Education 2.0; when they should be planning Education 3.0
- We are living in an age of information abundanc
- It is important to facilitate learner agency
The underlying theme of all of my ideas, of all of my blog posts is about setting up the conditions where learners’ choice and voice flourish. I have come to believe that the only real education is one that fully embraces learner choice and voice. All instructional practices in this era of learning should revolve around learner choice and voice:
Education works when people have opportunities to find and develop unaccessed or unknown voices and skills. Audre Lorde poignantly describes this “transformation of silence into language and action [as] an act of self-revelation.” Opportunities for flexibility and choice assist learners in finding passion, voice, and revelation through their work. (http://www.edutopia.org/blog/student-choice-leads-to-voice-joshua-block)
Internet accessibility, technologies that permit the user-generated media, and social media allow for unlimited potential for learner choice and voice.
Learner Choice can be facilitated through:
- Giving learners choice in how they want to learn content including through videos, text-based resources, podcasts, hands-on modules, or human interactions (see UDL’s multiple means of representation).
- Giving learners choices to show what they know-what they learned through anything from writing a paper to creating a multimedia presentation to creating a performance art work (see UDL’s multiple means of action and expression).
- Giving learners choice to study topics based on personal interests (see Interest Fuels Effortless Engagement).
- Being a tour guide of learning possibilities – showing learners the possibilities and then get out of the way (see https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2015/07/26/show-learners-the-possibilities-and-then-get-out-of-the-way/).
Learner Voice can be facilitated by:
- Giving learners an opportunity to use their unique voices to show what they know-what they learned (see UDL’s multiple means of action and expression).
- Giving learners options to use their voice in a way that works best for them. Some may want to write, some may want to use art, photos, videos, and others may want to talk.
- Helping learners find authentic audiences with whom they can share their voice.
- Giving learners a say in how their school and classroom operate – being part of a democratic process.
As John Dewey notes (as is often the case, he says it best):
The essence of the demand for freedom is the need of conditions which will enable an individual to make his own special contribution to a group interest, and to partake of its activities in such ways that social guidance shall be a matter of his own mental attitude, and not a mere authoritative dictation of his acts.
– John Dewey
Democracy and Education
So what is making? I’ve proposed that the heart of making is creating new and unique things. I also realize that in order for this type of making to occur, there needs to be some scaffolding so that maker learners can develop a foundation of knowledge and skills. The end result, though should be maker learners creating new things by and for themselves. The ideas in this post have been sparked by the SAMR model. I see a similar pattern or progression with maker education:
- Copy – make something almost exactly as someone else has done.
In this age of information abundance, there really is an unlimited number of DIY resources, tutorials, Youtube videos, online instructors and instructions on making all kind of things. These resources provide a good beginning for acquiring some solid foundational skills and knowledge for learning how a make something one has never made before.
- Advance – gain more advance knowledge and skills by doing similar projects
During this stage, the maker learner, who desires to learn more about a given skill, project, or product, gains more advanced skills and knowledge by exploring additional and more advanced resources and by using these resources to create more advanced makes.
- Embellish – add something that has been done; add a little of one’s self to it.
When embellishing, maker learners extend their copied projects to include their own ideas. They tailor the copied projects to include their own ideas or embellishments. Example embellishments can be found with 3D printing, Makey-Makey, and littleBits adaptations.
- Modify – take what others have done and modify or morph it into something new.
When modifying, maker learners take something that has been created before and tweak it to make something new. An example is the cardboard challenge where kids who were inspired by Caine’s Arcade build their own cardboard creations.
- Create – make or create some new, unique, different than what has been created before
When creating, maker learners create some unique or new. A simple example is when kids (and adults) take apart toys and use those parts to create new kinds of toys. A more complex example was the first folks who created prosthetic arms for 3-D printers.
Getting to Create stage will not occur for everyone but the Create doesn’t have to be that unique or earth shattering. It just means making something – anything more different or unique than what has been made before. I do believe, though, that maker learners need to get beyond the Copy and Advance stages to add something of themselves to their makes. I believe this is what true making is all about.
When asked what my first language is, I often answer, “visual.” I think in images, prefer to be taught through images, and like to express what I know through images. I find it disconcerting that as learners progress to the higher grades, there is less use of images and visuals to teach concepts.
The power of the use of vision for learning is emphasized by developmental molecular biologist, John Medina, where in his publication, Brain Rules, he states:
Vision Trumps All Other Senses
We are incredible at remembering pictures. Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65%. Professionals everywhere need to know about the incredible inefficiency of text-based information and the incredible effects of images (http://www.brainrules.net/vision).
Created by students for teachers, the following video shows students frustrated with the lack of visual learning in the classroom:
This post is a call to action to increase visual-based learning in the classroom through:
- Using visuals, images, video, and other visual media to teach and demonstrate concepts.
- Using and teaching learners how to make concept maps.
- Using and teaching learners how to do sketchnotes.
- Allowing and encouraging learners to show what they know through visual imagery.
- Teaching visual literacy.
Use Visuals, Images, Data Visualizations, Infographics and Videos to Teach Concepts
Our brains are wired to rapidly make sense of and remember visual input. Visualizations in the form of diagrams, charts, drawings, pictures, and a variety of other ways can help students understand complex information. A well-designed visual image can yield a much more powerful and memorable learning experience than a mere verbal or textual description (http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/visual-thinking/).
Because of all of the multimedia available to teachers, there has been an increased use of visual presentation of content in the classroom. Educators, though, should assess their visual impact. Youtube videos of talking heads or PowerPoint presentations that are text based just reinforce instructional systems too heavily dependent on the verbal and written word.
The use of slide presentations by educators help to provide visual stimulus for their learners. They tend, though, to be way too text based as satirized in Life After Death by PowerPoint by Don McMillan . Truthfully, I am a strong proponent of using PowerPoints for teaching given that they are image rich and text limited. Garr Reynolds or Presentation Zen provides tips for preparing presentations that honor the use of visuals in Top Ten Slide Tips.
Concepts can also be demonstrated through data visualizations and infographics.
Visual analytics play off the idea that the brain is more attracted to and able to process dynamic images than long lists of numbers. But the goal of information visualization is not simply to represent millions of bits of data as illustrations. It is to prompt visceral comprehension, moments of insight that make viewers want to learn more (http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/08/data-visualized-more-on-teaching-with-infographics/)
Strategies for using data visualizations and inforgraphics in the class can be found at Data Visualized: More on Teaching With Infographics.
Use and Teach Learners How to Make Concept Maps and Graphic Organizers
Research tells us that the majority of students in a regular classroom need to see information in order to learn it. Some common visual learning strategies include creating graphic organizers, diagramming, mind mapping, outlining and more. These strategies help students or all ages better manage learning objectives and achieve academic success. As students are required to evaluate and interpret information from a variety of sources, incorporate new knowledge with what they already have learned, and improve writing skills and think critically, visual learning tools help students meet those demands. Paired with the brain’s capacity for images, visual learning strategies help students better understand and retain information (http://www.inspiration.com/visual-learning).
For more ideas for using mind maps in the classroom, see 10 Mind Mapping Strategies For Teachers.
Use and Teach Learners How to Do Sketchnotes
Sketchnotes are rich visual notes created from a mix of handwriting, drawings, hand-drawn typography, shapes, and visual elements like arrows, boxes, and lines (definition from Mike Rohde, The Sketchnote Handbook). Although sketchnoting was born out of the need to take better notes at conferences and in meetings, I believe the process of making sketchnotes may have tremendous educational value for students and professionals. This is especially true for students who struggle taking traditional notes or need a fresh approach to learning. Please keep in mind that this is about ideas, not art (The Sketchnote Handbook) (http://campus.murraystate.edu/faculty/jcox/sketch.html).
I discuss Sketnoting in more detail in my post – Visual Note-Taking.
Allow and Encourage Learners to Show What They Know Through Visual Imagery
Allowing learners to show what they know through visuals supports Universal Design for Learning second principle, Provide Multiple Means of Expression:
It is important to provide alternative modalities for expression, both to the level the playing field among learners and to allow the learner to appropriately (or easily) express knowledge, ideas and concepts in the learning environment. These include:
- Compose in multiple media such as text, speech, drawing, illustration, design, film, music, dance/movement, visual art, sculpture or video
- Use social media and interactive web tools (e.g., discussion forums, chats, web design, annotation tools, storyboards, comic strips, animation presentations)
- Compose in multiple media such as text, speech, drawing, illustration, comics, storyboards, design, film, music, visual art, sculpture, or video
Such alternatives reduce media-specific barriers to expression among learners with a variety of special needs, but also increases the opportunities for all learners to develop a wider range of expression in a media-rich world (http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines/principle2).
Teach Visual Literacy
If we think of literacy as reading and writing words, visual literacy can be described as the ability to both interpret and create visuals. With the constant, overwhelming flow of information and communication today, both parts of this modern literacy equation are non-negotiable (http://gettingsmart.com/2015/07/the-new-literacy-equation-visual-literacy-is-non-negotiable/).
Visual literacy is important in multiple ways:
- Teaching visual literacy helps kids better interpret art and visual media that they come in contact with.
- Visual literacy allows a deeper interaction with texts of all kinds and introduces the process of analytical thinking about representation and meaning.
- There is evidence that, even for older children, examining and understanding how art and text interact may allow readers to “visualize” while they read–a key to proficiency in and enjoyment of reading.
- By teaching “educated perception” of artwork (for instance, how certain techniques elicit specific emotions or effects) you can teach children how to be more skeptical and informed viewers of all visual media, including advertising (http://ccb.lis.illinois.edu/Projects/youth/literacies/visual2.html).
Here is list of visual literacy resources as compiled by Kathy Schrock: