User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Team Building Activities That Support Maker Education, STEM, and STEAM

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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.

teambuilding

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)

Marshmallow Tower

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)

Marble Run

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/)

Straw Bridge

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)

DIY Instrumentals

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)

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 14, 2015 at 10:39 pm

Today’s Education Should Be About Giving Learners Voice and Choice

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Some of the recurring themes of my conference presentations and blog posts include:

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:

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

 learnchoice-voice

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 9, 2015 at 3:19 pm

Stages of Being a Maker Learner

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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.

makeredmodel

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 28, 2015 at 3:27 am

Show Learners the Possibilities . . . And Then Get Out of the Way

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We are living in an age of advanced user-driven technologies, information abundance, and networked, participatory learning. It should logically follow, then, that education should take advantage of these amazing developments. As many of us in education know, it has not. This theme has permeated many of my blog posts:

Moving from Education 1.0 Through Education 2.0 Towards Education 3.0

The evolution of the web from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 and now to Web 3.0 can be used a metaphor of how education should also be moving, developing, and evolving from Education 1.0 towards that of an Education 3.0. The Internet has become an integral thread of the tapestries of most societies throughout the globe. The web influences people’s way of thinking, doing and being; and people influence the development and content of the web. The Internet of today has become a huge picture window and portal into human perceptions, thinking, and behavior. Logically, then, we would expect that schools would follow suit in matching what is happening via the Internet to assist children and youth to function, learn, work, and play in a healthy, interactive, and pro-social manner in their societies-at-large. This, sadly, is more often than not the case. Many educators are doing Education 1.0; talking about doing Education 2.0; when they should be planning and implementing Education 3.0

Learner Agency, Technology, and Emotional Intelligence

The notion of agency as contributing to cognitive processes involved in learning comes primarily from the Piagetian notion of constructivism where knowledge is seen as “constructed” through a process of taking actions in one’s environment and making adjustments to existing knowledge structures based on the outcome of those actions. The implication is that the most transformative learning experiences will be those that are directed by the learner’s own endeavors and curiosities. (Lindgren & McDaniel, 2012)

All of this is fresh in my mind as I just completed four weeks of summer camp teaching maker education and photo-video apps to 5 to 10 year olds. This teaching experience reinforced for me that educators can be tour guides of learning possibilities; showing learners the possibilities, then getting out of the way.

Facilitating the Process

The following section describes some of the conditions in the learning environment that support the educator as being the tour guide of learning possibilities and then handing over the responsibility for learning to the learners. Educators still take on a very active role in the learning environment, but learning is driven by the actions of the learners not those of the educator.

Expectations for Self-Directed Learning

In a learning environment that stresses self-directed learning, the educator conveys the attitude that learners are capable of being masters of their own learning.

In its broadest meaning, ’self-directed learning’ describes a process by which individuals take the initiative, with or without the assistance of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identify human and material resources for learning, choosing and implement appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.” (Knowles, 1975, p. 18)

In line with showing learners the possibilities and getting out of the way, the educator needs to take a back seat role in the learning process. Learners may not, often will not, do things the way the educator might, but the educator respects and supports this process in a self-determined learning environment.

Educator as an Observer

If educators want to know how learners learn, then they need to observe them learning under their on terms, with tools and techniques they use naturally.  Too often adults assume they know how children and young people learn, and too often they do not especially in this new age of learning. The educator in the role of tour guide of learning possibilities first, observes to discover each learner’s unique way of interacting with the world, and second, based on these observations, suggests or offers resources and strategies to further each learner’s self-directed learning process.

Educator as a Resource

The educator as a resource means that the educator becomes a coach or a mentor. Educators are the adult experts in the room. Learners will often go to the educator for assistance especially when stuck on a problem or to get feedback.

The best coaches encourage young people to work hard, keep going when it would be easier to stop, risk making potentially painful errors, try again when they stumble, and learn to love [their learning] (One to Grow On / Every Teacher a Coach).

The educator as a resource implies that the s/he has multiple skill sets: expertise in the process of learning and expertise in how to navigate online environments along with the ability to mentor learners using these skill sets.

Educator as a Demonstrator of Technologies

A subtitle of this section is It Really Is About the Technology . . .  Sort of.  In order for learner agency and self-directed learning to occur, educators need to keep abreast of current and emerging technologies. There is an assumption that young people are digitally savvy and know how to use emerging technology.

The widely-held assumption that all young people are digitally literate and able to navigate the internet meaningfully is inaccurate. This is something we urgently need to address if we are to support young people to cope with – and contribute to – a complex, global and digital society (New report challenges the assumption that all young people are digitally savvy).

“If educators are serious about preparing learners for their real lives – current and future, then it becomes an ethical imperative to bring relevant, current, and emerging technologies into the learning environment (It really is about the technology and . . .).  This translates into showing learners the possibilities of technology and internet use for learning so the learners can then bring this knowledge into their own learning journeys.

Learning is Viewed as Natural, Fun, Playful, and Joyful

It has been said that learning is painful. I take issue with that phrase. When learning occurs in settings and with processes selected by the learner, it is natural, fun, playful, and joyful. Sure, there are struggles as new learning develops, but it becomes a natural, accepted part of the process.

The highest-level executive thinking, making connections, and “aha” moments of insight and creative innovation are more likely to occur in an atmosphere of what Alfie Kohn calls exuberant discovery, where students of all ages retain that kindergarten enthusiasm of embracing each day with the joy of learning.  Joy and enthusiasm are absolutely essential for learning to happen — literally, scientifically, as a matter of fact and research (The Neuroscience Behind Stress and Learning).

Climate of Free Range and Constructivist Learning

The learning environment in a setting embracing self-directed learning takes on the characteristics of free range learning resulting in learners constructing their own meanings from their learning endeavors.

Free Range Learning is learning by living. It is learning by following our passions, exploring our world, living inquisitive lives and thinking freely. It is a lifestyle based on trust of a child’s natural desire to learn about the world around them. Every person’s learning journey will develop based upon their interests, experiences and choices (What is Free Range Learning?).

Free range learning is often associated with unschooling or homeschooling but it is intimately related to self-directed learning; and its tenets can be brought into in a more formal learning environment. The result is an honoring of contructivist learning “which holds that learners ultimately construct their own knowledge that then resides within them, so that each person’s knowledge is as unique as they are” (Learning Theories and Transfer of Learning).

Open to Emergent Learning and Learning Possibilities

Emergent learning is unpredictable but retrospectively coherent, we cannot determine in advance what will happen, but we can make sense of it after the event. It’s not disordered; the order is just not predictable (Emergent Learning and Learning Ecologies in Web 2.0).

Ambiguity is accepted. The educator lets go of what types of learning and products should result. By letting go of expectations “what should be”, there is an opening up to all kinds of emergent learning possibilities.

With an openness to emergent learning and learning possibilities, there is an acceptance that learning is 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://learningismessy.com/)

. . . and a trusting of the process and embracing the journey:

I have learned that if you give freedom and trust to students, they will find their own way to the learning that matters the most. Playing it safe is not going to yield the opportunities that will make a difference. Off-script is when you don’t quite know where you are going, but you have the courage to commit to the journey knowing that it is the process itself that will hold the worth (Speculative Design for Emergent Learning: Taking Risks).

Use of Open Technology and Resources

In this age of information and technology abundance, free online technologies and resources are just ripe for the picking. An advantage of open educational resources is “expanded access to learning. Students anywhere in the world can access OERs at any time, and they can access the material repeatedly(Pros and Cons of Using OERs for Instruction). These resources leverage the playing field. They are available to all learners regardless of geographic location and SES level (although access to the Internet is required). This translates in the availability of high quality tools and resources outside of the more formal educational setting. Learners can access them in informal learning environments such as at home or local coffee shops and/or via their mobile devices in order to continue and extend their self-directed learning.

How the Learners’ Benefit

I often say that all learning activities should have multiple and layered benefits – addressing cross-curricular, cross-interdisciplinary areas as well as developing life skills. Here are some of the benefits along with example learner self-statements associated with those benefits that I have observed as a tour guide of learning possibilities:

  • Technology Skills: I can use technology to help me learn.
  • Creativity and Inventiveness: I can create new & worthwhile ideas & things.
  • Risk-Taking: I am willing to try new things when I am learning.
  • Academic Mindset: I am a good and powerful learner.
  • Communication: I can communicate clearly both verbally & in writing.
  • Curiosity and a Sense of Wonder: I wonder about the world around me.
  • Connected Learning: I can network with others to help with my learning.
  • Self-Directed Learning: I know how to learn new things on my own.
  • Self-Motivation: I can motivate myself to learn new things.

Educators as Tour Guides of Learning Possibilities

Schools Need to Include More Visual-Based Learning

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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.

A Visual Enhanced Classroom

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).

CmapAboutCmaps-medium

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).

 visual-literacy

Here is list of visual literacy resources as compiled by Kathy Schrock:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 11, 2015 at 2:44 pm

Learning About Young Makers

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I am a huge proponent of using hands-on, interactive learning activities to explore ill-defined problems as a way of teaching for all age groups. Given the spontaneity and uncertainty of these types of active learning environments, I believe educators should observe, reflect on, and analyze how learners interact with the materials, the content, the educator, and the other learners. This practice is in line with the teacher as ethnographer.

In my role as a teacher as ethnographer, I made some initial observations during my first two weeks of teaching maker education for elementary age students. With half the kids under 7, I learned a bunch about young makers.

  • Young makers are more capable than what people typically believe.
  • Young makers need to be given more time, resources, strategies to learn how to solve more ambiguous and ill-defined problems (i.e., ones that don’t have THE correct answer). Too many don’t know how to approach such problems.
  • If a project doesn’t “work” during the first trial, they way too often say “I can’t do this.”  They have a low tolerance for frustration; for not getting the answer quickly.
  • Young makers often celebrate loudly and with extreme joy when making something work.
  • Young makers like to work together but lack skills or desire to peer tutor one another.
  • Young makers usually like to stand while working.

Young makers are more capable than what people (adults) typically believe.

During our maker education summer camp, the young makers made LED projects, circuit crafts, and simple robotics. Looking at the instructions for similar activities, the recommended ages were usually 8 and above.  Yet, my group of 14 kids contained half under that age. The kids of all ages struggled a bit – as is common with making type activities but all were successful to some degree with all of the activities.

I believe that children are way too often limited by our (adults’) expectations of what they can and cannot do rather than what they actually can understand and do.

I think we often talk down to children and we think they’re not capable of deeper understanding, and I think that’s false. So we treat them like they’re capable human beings and we use scientific terms and talk to them in a way that they can gain knowledge from those things (Young Learners STEAM Ahead).

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If a project doesn’t “work” during the first trial, they way too often say “I can’t do this.”  They have a low tolerance for frustration; for not getting the answer quickly.

The nature of maker education is that makers engage in activities that require experimentation, trial and error, and multiple attempts.  This is not the norm for kids in mainstream education environments. The curricular activities, worksheets, and tests of our current education system most often include single attempts and then assessments on degree of correctness. Multiple attempts and mastery learning of individual learning activities are not the norm. Life is not filled with getting single correct answers yet we are giving kids an education that there are.

During our maker education weeks, if a project didn’t work on the first attempt, many of the young makers would exclaim, “I can’t do this.”

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One young maker, a 3rd grader, was obviously intelligent and easily jumped into the maker activities. For each of the learning activities, he would try it and more often than not, that activity wouldn’t work correctly the first trial. He would then quickly find me and tell me that activity didn’t work. I asked him if he was used to things working the first time and he responded that they did work for him the first time. Instead of helping him solve the problem, I told him to go work it out for himself. He looked at me with a frustrating and somewhat angry look but each time he went back to that activity and would make that activity work.

The maker education activities help learners discover that perseverance pays off but the educator must let the learners struggle giving them the message that effort often produces positive results. This supports a growth mindset.

In the following video, Carol Dweck talks about making challenge the norm when working with our learners.

 

Young makers need to be given more time, resources, strategies to learn how to solve more ambiguous and ill-defined problems (i.e., ones that don’t have THE correct answer).

Related to the “I can’t do it”, many of the young makers struggled with the strategies needed to solve more ambiguous and ill-defined problems. For example when a circuit or a robotic component didn’t work, they looked to me to resolve the problem for them. Although, I was tempted to go solve it for them, I knew that wasn’t in their best interest. I would say things like, “Give it another try,” ” Try something different,” and “Ask another learner for help.”

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Problem-solving is, and should be, a very real part of the curriculum. It presupposes that students can take on some of the responsibility for their own learning and can take personal action to solve problems, resolve conflicts, discuss alternatives, and focus on thinking as a vital element of the curriculum. It provides students with opportunities to use their newly acquired knowledge in meaningful, real-life activities and assists them in working at higher levels of thinking (Problem Solving).

Young makers often celebrate loudly and with extreme joy when making something work.

There is nothing in the world as magically as watching a young person’s face light up when s/he understands a new concept, gets something to work that hadn’t at first, or discovers something new and exciting. It is those light bulb moments. There were lots of exclaims of “I did it” during the maker activities. These exclamations were especially joyful given that they often struggled in making their projects work (as previously discussed). The joy in their voices and in their faces during those moments cannot be matched and maker education provides lots of opportunities for those moments.

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Giving students time to figure things out for themselves without being instructed, is very powerful learning. They will remember it for the rest of their lives. Students need that kind of lightbulb learning – that Eureka! moment when they suddenly realize something new for the first time (Lightbulb Moments)

Young makers like to work together but lack skills or desire to naturally tutor one another.

As is characteristic of maker activities, some of the kids completed the activities faster than the other kids. One of my themes during the maker education weeks was that if you understood and finished your project quicker than those around you, that you should help them. They would happily help whenever I asked them to but it never came naturally. I had to continue to ask throughout the weeks. Then, at times, they would help for a minute or two and then stop.

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I understand that part of the reason is the developmental nature of younger kids who tend to be more egocentric but I also believe that it is because they aren’t being given the message and opportunities to help fellow students in the more formal classroom.

Giving students the opportunity to practice prosocial behavior is one of the most effective ways to promote it. For example, when having them work in cooperative learning groups—an instructional technique that allows small groups of students to work together on a task—inform students that part of their responsibility as members of the group is to help one another. Scientists have found that students who engage more in cooperative learning are more likely to treat each other with kindness. (Four Ways to Encourage Kindness in Students)

Young makers often stand while working.

Throughout my weeks with the young makers, they always had a chair available to sit to work. Choosing to sit or stand while working was not an option that was overtly stated. Many, though, chose to stand.

The reason this is being mentioned as part of this post is that sitting quietly in one’s chair is the expectation of most schools. Why? It is often not learner’s first choice and sitting at a desk all day may be physically and mentally detrimental. The idea of standing in the classroom was recently addressed in several articles, Should Your Kids’ School Have Standing Desks? and How Standing Desks Can Help Students Focus in the Classroom.

Conclusion

Even though these weeks were considered a maker education summer camp, there was an expectation from the school and parents that the learning activities incorporated the expectations and rigors of a classroom environment. I could easily identify cross-curricular state and common core standards even though I never taught to THE standards. Never during the sessions were the young learners formally testing, asked to be quiet or sit still, or asked to finish quickly so we can move on. Yet, I believe each of the kids would say that they learned lots . . . . and had fun doing so.

Instead, the making learning activities were structured to honor natural ways of learning along with developmentally appropriate practices. Sadly, it appears that some of these natural ways of learning were “conditioned” out of the young learners through more formalized education as I identified in my observations. Incorporating making into a learning environment teaches lifelong learning skills such of perseverance, love of learning, working with others, and embracing challenges.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

June 21, 2015 at 1:00 pm

Learning: It’s All About the Connections

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I’ve written about connections before in It’s All About Connection.

Today, though, I was thinking about all of the connections important for learning. Connection has a lot of meanings and connotations:

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Here are some of the connections I thought of that can/should be part of both formal and informal education:

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In fact, I have come to believe that connection and all of its implications is one of the most important concepts in understanding, engaging in, and facilitating powerful learning experiences.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

June 1, 2015 at 12:35 am

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