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Connectedness, or lack of, in Education (School)

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This is a post about connectedness and its importance for human growth and learning.  Prior to this discussion, though, it is important to note that many educational institutions are silos of isolation (thanks to Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach for this term).  Learners are often isolated from one another – told to pay attention to the teacher, not interact with one another during class time.  Their connectedness often comes through recess, lunch, and secret texting to one another.  Teachers and classes are often isolated from one another – remaining closed and isolated within the four walls of the classroom.  Schools are often isolated from other educational and community organizations – “safe” within the confines of literal and figuratively self-built walls – done so under the auspices that learners must be kept inside and strangers kept from entering.  These walls include firewalls that prevent the entering or exiting of social media and Internet content.

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http://www.happinessandessence.com/2012/08/too-many-walls.html

To continue to exist, a system must be able to import energy across its boundary or have a capacity to create new sources of energy. A system that is able to import and export energy is called an open system. One that cannot import energy is called a closed system. A closed system that cannot generate a sufficient amount of energy internally to replace what is lost to entropy will die.

The improvement of quality involves the design of an educational system that not only optimizes the relationship among the elements but also between the educational system and its environment. In general, this means designing a system that is more open, organic, pluralistic, and complex. Frank Betts http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov92/vol50/num03/How-Systems-Thinking-Applies-to-Education.aspx

Openness and connectedness has morphed into something qualitatively different due to the Internet, Web 2.0, and social media.  In an interesting re-mix of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs in this age of social media, Pamela Rutledge proposed that connectedness is at the core of all other needs.

Maslow-Rewiredhttp://mprcenter.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Maslow-Rewired.jpg

Needs are not hierarchical.  Life is messier than that.  Needs are, like most other things in nature, an interactive, dynamic system, but they are anchored in our ability to make social connections.

Social networks allow us to see, as never before, the interrelated nature of society and the palpable development of social capital from the emerging and intricate patterns of interpersonal relationships and collaboration.  The strength of our networks and our bonds improve our agency and effectiveness in the environment.  Our need for survival through connection plays out through every successful social technology.

The Connected Learning Research Network introduced the Connected Learning initiative.  It advocates for broadened access to learning that is socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented toward educational, economic, or political opportunity.

DG_Macarthur_r03-960_0

http://connectedlearning.tv/infographic

This week (January 2013), the Connected Learning Research Network released a report entitled, Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design:

Connected learning taps the opportunities provided by digital media to more easily link home, school, community and peer contexts of learning; support peer and intergenerational connections based on shared interests; and create more connections with non-dominant youth, drawing from capacities of diverse communities.

Connected learning environments have the following characteristics:

  • Equitable: Connected learning environments ideally embody values of equity, social belonging, and participation.
  • Production-centered: Digital tools provide opportunities for producing and creating a wide variety of media, knowledge, and cultural content in experimental and active ways.
  • Shared purpose: Social media and web-based communities provide unprecedented opportunities for cross-generational and cross-cultural learning and connection to unfold and thrive around common goals and interests.
  • Openly networked: Online platforms and digital tools can make learning resources abundant, accessible, and visible across all learner settings. (See my related post: Information Abundance and Its Implications for Education.)

2013-01-15_1056http://dmlhub.net/publications/connected-learning-agenda-research-and-design

The benefits of connected learning cannot be overstated.  Not only are learning objectives and content-area standards more likely to be achieved as students become more excited and engage in learning; but their social-emotional needs have a greater potential to be met.  Schools are doing learners a disservice (verging on being unethical in my perspective) by putting up all of those walls that prevent connection.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 15, 2013 at 6:46 pm

Connected Learning: A New Research-Driven Initiative

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Connected Learning, a new research-driven initiative, was introduced at the Digital Media and Learning Conference 2012.

We see a growing gap between the learning mediums with which young people engage in-school and out-of-school. New social media enables young people to have greater choice and autonomy in pursuing their interests—whether academic, creative, or social—in domains outside of formal learning institutions. While engagement with culture and knowledge outside the classroom has changed markedly in the past decade, schools have been slower to adapt to digital and networked media. This gap between the more engaging social learning environments young people encounter outside of school, and the top-down and standardized curriculum that they encounter in most classrooms, is the source of a troubling and growing generation gap that is leading to academic disengagement for many young people. Addressing this gap requires a reconsideration of how learning is organized between settings of school, after-school, home and peer culture.  When informal and youth-driven interest-driven learning does cross over to other learning contexts, we see the opportunity for what we call “connected learning”—learning in a socially meaningful and knowledge-rich ecology of ongoing participation, self-expression, and recognition (http://dmlcentral.net/projects/3677).

The historical roots for this current research agenda is grounded in two pieces of work:

  1. Henry Jenkins’ Participatory Culture
  2. Kids’ Informal Learning with Digital Media: An Ethnographic Investigation of Innovative Knowledge Cultures

Participatory Cultures

Henry Jenkin’s introduced Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century through a white paper in 2006.  He speaks more about it in his 2010 TEDxNYED talk.

Kids’ Informal Learning with Digital Media

Kids’ Informal Learning with Digital Media: An Ethnographic Investigation of Innovative Knowledge Cultures” was a three-year collaborative project funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Carried out by researchers at the University of Southern California and University of California, Berkeley, the digital youth project explored how kids use digital media in their everyday lives.  Mimi Ito discusses it in the following video.

Connected Learning

At the core of connected learning are three values:

  • Equity — when educational opportunity is available and accessible to all young people, it elevates the world we all live in.
  • Full Participation — learning environments, communities, and civic life thrive when all members actively engage and contribute.
  • Social connection — learning is meaningful when it is part of valued social relationships and shared practice, culture, and identity (http://connectedlearning.tv/connected-learning-principles).

This initiative is being driven by the following design principles:

  • Shared purpose — Connected learning environments are populated with adults and peers who share interests and are contributing to a common purpose. Today’s social media and web-based communities provide exceptional opportunities for learners, parents, caring adults, teachers, and peers in diverse and specialized areas of interest to engage in shared projects and inquiry. Cross-generational learning and connection thrives when centered on common interests and goals.
  • Production-centered — Connected learning environments are designed around production, providing tools and opportunities for learners to produce, circulate, curate, and comment on media. Learning that comes from actively creating, making, producing, experimenting, remixing, decoding, and designing, fosters skills and dispositions for lifelong learning and productive contributions to today’s rapidly changing work and political conditions.
  • Openly networked — Connected learning environments are designed around networks that link together institutions and groups across various sectors, including popular culture, educational institutions, home, and interest communities. Learning resources, tools, and materials are abundant, accessible and visible across these settings and available through open, networked platforms and public-interest policies that protect our collective rights to circulate and access knowledge and culture. Learning is most resilient when it is linked and reinforced across settings of home, school, peer culture and community (http://connectedlearning.tv/connected-learning-principles).

Questions I Pose:

  • What is the role of connected learning within established school institutions?
  • Will teachers and students find “themselves” within the demonstration case studies?
  • How will the ideas of K-12 teachers and students drive and provide feedback to this research agenda?
  • What proactive steps will be taken to help the public-at-large (kids, parents, students, community members) understand and connect with Connect Learning?
  • What are the researchers long term mission and agenda in terms of affecting broad and deep change in the educational policies in the United States?

Conclusion

The importance and significance of connected learning cannot be understated.  Young people are engaging in informal learning stating that they often learn more outside of the school environment than inside of it.

The urgent need to reimagine education grows clearer by the day. Research has shown that too many students are disengaged and alienated from school, and see little or no purpose to their education. Business leaders say there is a widening gap between the skills of the workforce and the needs of businesses seeking competitive advantage. Additionally, technology and the networked era threatens to stretch the already-wide equity gap in education unless there is decisive intervention and a strong public agenda (http://connectedlearning.tv/connected-learning-principles).

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 2, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Transmedia, Digital Storytelling Project

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As someone who, for years, has been using educational technology, I have \said the often stated quote, Technology won’t replace teachers, but teachers who don’t use technology will be replaced. More recently I heard the quote from my brilliant colleague, George Couros, Technology won’t replace great teachers, but in the hands of great teachers can be transformational. This better fits my sensibilities.

As an educator of 1st-6th grade gifted students, I love asking them to use digital platforms that permit them to be content creators. I believe that learners, in this high tech, highly connected world, should be producing as much or even more content than they are consuming. From Digital Promise:

Schools, libraries, and classrooms have traditionally been a place for the consumption of information and ideas. Empowering students as creators means educators shift their professional thinking, instruction and instructional program to enable authentic opportunities for students to individually and collaboratively tinker, build, inquire, design, create, and iterate.

The research surrounding students as creators recognizes their potential to engage, participate and their potential for developing agency as citizens of the world. As digital-age learners, students are not merely consumers of content and ideas. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) identifies “Empowered Learners,” “Knowledge Constructors,” “Innovative Designers,” and “Computational Thinkers” among seven core standards for students (Empowering Students as Creators).

To support students as content creators, they were asked to create transmedia, digital stories. Digital stories are:

At a basic level digital storytelling means using technology to tell stories. You can tell digital stories in many ways, for example: through text on a website or social media tool, through narration and images in a video, or through narration in a podcast. Digital stories are not just facts presented with accompanying images, they are narratives crafted to take the listener or reader on a journey. Just like a novel or a documentary, digital stories have a plot, characters, and themes (What is Digital Storytelling?).

. . . and similarly, transmedia storytelling is defined as:

Transmedia storytelling uses multiple media platforms tell a coordinated story.  Multiple narratives come together, constructing a larger storyworld. Like a giant puzzle, each piece contributes to a larger narrative. The process is cumulative and each piece adds richness and detail to the story world, such as character backstories and secondary plotlines.  This makes for a richer audience experience and multiple access points (What is Transmedia Storytelling?).

For this project, my gifted students, grades 4-6, were asked to write a fictional story, alone or with a partner (most chose a partner). It was open-ended in that the fictional content was determined by them. They did, though, have to create:

  • Characters with each student creating a Makey-Makey/Scratch bottle character,
  • The Story Setting with each individual or team creating a CoSpace to portray their story setting,
  • A Story Arc using Storyboard That or Google Docs.

Makey Makey/Scratch Bottle Characters

To begin this aspect of the project, students were asked to compose 5 facts about their characters. They then created sculptural versions of their characters using water bottles and craft materials. They used Makey Makeys/Scratch to “speak” those facts – see the video below. Scratch is coding language with a simple visual interface that allows young people to create digital stories, games, and animations. Makey Makey is a simple circuit board you can use to create your own keyboard for a computer. For this project, students used Scratch to work using the Makey Makey. See Biography Bottles With Makey Makey for how to do this.

CoSpaces Story Settings

CoSpaces Edu is a 3D creation web and app-based classroom tool that allows students to create in a 3D augmented and virtual reality environments. It permits for collaborative creation so students were able to work with their partners to create a 3D, VR versions of the settings for their stories.

Since CoSpaces projects are VR enabled, I bought a cheap Bnext™ VR headset from ebay so students could view their spaces in virtual reality. It was so much fun to watch their reactions.

(The above images are royalty-free, but my students looked like this when viewing their sites. I couldn’t take photos as they were using my phone/camera to view CoSpaces.)

Plot – Story Arc: Storyboard That

I really love using Storyboard That, a digital tool aimed at students who want to create a storyboard to communicate. The online-based platform lets anyone easily create a storyboard in order to tell a story in a visually engaging way. For this project, I assigned the Plot Diagram and Narrative Arc template for students to use, a more complex one for older students and a less complex one for younger students.

Benefits/Results

From observing my learners for the multiple hours they were engaged in this project, I found it had the following benefits:

  • Full and total engagement,
  • Increased creativity and use of imagination (more than simple, written work) ,
  • Student voice and choice,
  • Learning how to use new content creation technologies,
  • Learning the mechanics of writing,
  • Project management (due to the long term nature of this project),
  • Joy and pride in learning.

Reimagining Education: A Call for Action

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Many of us have been discussing educational reform for decades. Given the unprecedented time of COVID19 and its effect on education, it is a perfect time to revisit and reimagine the purpose, operations, and skills related to a powerful education. Some of the issues that have emerged and are still emerging include: the social emotional health of learners, a realization that students aren’t able to be independent and self-directed learning, and an awareness of inequities that exist in the United States. It has become blatantly obvious that students can’t learn effectively at home – especially without teacher direction throughout the school day.

It’s a perfect time for educators to reimagine an education they wish they had during their own school years so that their learners can have such an education.

Here is what I propose that should be components of a reformed/re-formed education:

  • Self-Determined Learning and Learner Agency
  • Learner Voice and Choice
  • Just-In-Time Learning
  • Whole Person Learning
  • Educator as a Tour Guide of Learning Possibilities
  • Interest-Based Affinity Groups
  • Use of the Learner’s Community
  • Vigorous, Authentic Tasks
  • Executive Function Skills Development
  • A Focus on Social Emotional Health
  • Anti-Racist Awareness and Actions

Self-Determined Learning and Learner Agency

Learners of all ages beginning in 2nd or 3rd grade can engage in self-determined and self-driven learning where they are not only deciding the direction of their learning journey, but also producing content that adds value and worth to related content areas and fields of study.

The learners in a self-directed learning environment where learner agency prevails:

  • Determine what they want to learn and develop their own learning plan for their learning, based on a broad range of desired outcomes.
  • Use their learning preferences and related technologies to decide how they will learn their material based on their own desired outcomes.
  • Form their own learning communities possibly using social networking tools suggested and/or set up by the educator. Possible networks, many with corresponding apps, include: Facebook, Twitter, Edmodo, Instagram, TikTok, blogging sites, Youtube, and other social networks.
  • Utilize the expertise of educators and other members of their learning communities who can introduce content-related resources and suggest online tools that the learners could use to demonstrate and produce learning artifacts.
  • Demonstrate their learning through methods and means that work best for them. It could include blogging, creating photo essays, doing screencasts, making videos or podcasts, drawing, singing, dancing, etc.
  • Take the initiative to seek feedback about their work from educators and their peers. It is their choice to utilize that feedback or not.

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. (Student Voice Leads to Student Choice)

Some strategies for giving learners voice and choice can be found in the following infographic:

Just-In-Time Learning

Currently, most schooling focuses on just-in-case teaching and learning. Students are asked to learn material throughout their schooling just-in-case they need it someday. I contend that after students learn the basics of reading, writing, and math, they are asked to learn way too much content that may never use.

Just-in-time learning is a concept that has become popularized in connection to organizational development. “Just-in-time learning is an approach to individual or organizational and development that promotes need-related training be readily available exactly when and how it is needed by the learner” (Just-In-Time Learning).

Kids (and adults) who need to access information in order to learn something or improve their performance – think video gaming, cooking, learning to play an instrument, fixing something, making something – often go directly to the Internet, most notably Youtube, to get some form of tutorial. This is just-in-time learning. Information is needed “then and there,” which motivates the learner to seek that information “then and there.”

In self-directed, interest-driven education, just-in-time learning becomes the norm. The educator, as truly the guide on the side, encourages and assists learners in engaging in just-in-time learning as a natural part of their learning process.

Whole Person Learning

As someone whose roots is in outdoor and experiential education, I believe a good learning experience engages the intellectual, physical, emotional, and social aspects of the learner. The focus becomes on helping educating the whole learner – not just their brain or intellect. Some have called this head, heart, and hand learning.

The 21st century is placing great demands on our students and educational system. To meet those demands, we recognize that educating the head (cognitive domain), exclusive of the heart and hand (affective and behavioral domains), is no longer educational best practice. It is the education of our students’ heads, hearts and hands that will genuinely prepare them for success in college, career and civic life. (Educating the Head, Heart, and Hand for the 21st Century)

Many researchers (Henting, 1997; Bruner, 2000; Stoll and Fink, 2000; Faultisch, 1999) believe, that quality education and successful education reforms can be achieved by changing the learning culture (with attention paid to the completeness and integrativity of a human being), especially in the context of lifelong learning which integrates all three domains of learning: cognitive (head), affective (heart) and psychomotor (hands). (“Head, Heart and Hands Learning”- A challenge for contemporary education)

Obviously to engage the head, heart, and hands, sitting at a desk won’t do it. Simply put, learners needed to move their bodies and have an emotional connection to the material to increase its stickiness.

Educator as the Tour Guide of Learning Possibilities

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

he educator’s role truly becomes that of guide-as-the-side, coach, resource-suggester, and cheerleader as learners create their own learning journey. The educator has more life experience, knows (hopefully) about the process of learning, and has more procedural knowledge about how to find, identify, and use informational resources and social networking for learning purposes. Not only, then, does the educator help steer students in some more productive directions, s/he models the process of self-determined learning increasing the students’ aptitude for this type of learning. Learners, themselves, then also become mentors, teachers, and model learning for one another sharing best practices and strategies for effective learning.

Interest-Based Affinity Groups

Young people often find their own interest based affinity groups online. These include kids gathering via Discord or Twitch.tv to discuss video games, marginalized youth finding others like them through social media, and even groups as specific as those who share their art anime with one another for feedback.

Interest-based, affinity groups groups have been described in the report, an agenda for RESEARCH AND DESIGN A research synthesis report of the Connected Learning Research Network:

The primary driver of participation for interest-driven activity is a sense of personal affinity, passion, and engagement. Learning in this mode is generally knowledge and expertise-driven, and evaluated by the metrics internal to the specific interest group, which can often be subcultural or quite different from what is valued by local peers or teachers.

If interest-based affinity groups are promoted in the educational setting, groups will naturally emerge as members interests emerge. They will be fluid as membership changes and members’ interests grow, evolve, and change. The groups would be mixed ages and genders where members act both as learners and as teachers. There would be situational teaching and learning.  This means that if someone has the knowledge or skills related to a certain area of learning, then that member emerges as the teacher regardless of age.  Contributions by all not only make everyone feel valued, the community as a whole will benefit.

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, Education Philosopher in Early 20th Century

Use of the Learner’s Community

Schools tend to be separate from the community – often not physically but in its use of its resources. The educator as a tour guide of learning possibilities assists the learner in locating and utilizing their community including local businesses, museums, parks, social service agencies, historical associations but it can be as simple as the learners going outside to do a science, writing or art project. Learning in the community is a form of place-based learning:

Place-Based Education (PBE) is an approach to learning that takes advantage of geography to create authentic, meaningful and engaging
personalized learning for students. More specifically, Place-Based Education is defined as an immersive learning experience that “places students in local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences, and uses these as a foundation for the study of language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects across the curriculum.” (What is Place Based Learning)

For learners new to using their community as part of their learning process, the educator’s responsibility is to assist learners in both navigating through their communities and to identify community resources that can help with their learning process.

Vigorous and Authentic Learning Experiences

Providing authentic and vigorous learning experiences to all learners should be the highest prior for all administrators, curriculum developers, and teachers.

Authentic learning is learning designed to connect what students are taught in school to real-world issues, problems, and applications; learning experiences should mirror the complexities and ambiguities of real life. Students work towards production of discourse, products, and performances that have value or meaning beyond success in school; this is learning by doing approach (Authentic learning: what, why and how?).

In education, the term authentic learning refers to a wide variety of educational and instructional techniques focused on connecting what students are taught in school to real-world issues, problems, and applications. The basic idea is that students are more likely to be interested in what they are learning, more motivated to learn new concepts and skills, and better prepared to succeed in college, careers, and adulthood if what they are learning mirrors real-life contexts, equips them with practical and useful skills, and addresses topics that are relevant and applicable to their lives outside of school. For related discussions, see 21st century skills, relevance, and vigor (Authentic Learning).

The bottom line, in my perspective, is that learners view their experiences as having relevancy to their own lives, that they address their interests and needs. The following graphic shows some of the benefits of authentic and vigorous learning.

Executive Function Skills Development

Most educators would agree that a purpose of education is to assist learners in developing life skills which will translate to their lives outside of the school setting.  These include goal setting, organizational skills, time management, and strategies to learn new things.  They are skills or ability sets that are important for students to learn any content area knowledge.  These are often discussed in the context of executive functions:

In their book, “Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents,” Peg Dawson, EdD and Richard Guare, PhD state “These [executive function] skills help us create a picture or goal, a path to that goal, and the resources we need along the way”(p 2).  They identify 10 types of executive function skills that work together; namely: Sustaining attention, shifting attention, inhibiting impulses, initiating activity, planning and organization, organization of materials, time management, working memory and emotional control http://kooltools4students.weebly.com/at-and-executive-functioning.html

Most young people, themselves, would note there are skills that could assist them in being more successful in both school and out of school settings.   Most would agree that organization skills, goals setting, and time management are relevant to other areas of their lives.

Executive functions and self-regulating skills development should be part of the school curriculum regardless of the age and demographics of the student body.  Using and teaching these skills often have the advantage of becoming intrinsically motivated and self-directed as well as often making sense to students as something that has meaning and relevancy.

Here are some additional resources to assist learners in developing their executive function skills:

A Focus on Social Emotional Learning

It’s not enough to simply fill students’ brains with facts. A successful education demands that their character be developed as well. That’s where social and emotional learning comes in. SEL is the process of helping students develop the skills to manage their emotions, resolve conflict nonviolently, and make responsible decisions.

Research shows that promoting social and emotional skills leads to reduced violence and aggression among children, higher academic achievement, and an improved ability to function in schools and in the workplace. Students who demonstrate respect for others and practice positive interactions, and whose respectful attitudes and productive communication skills are acknowledged and rewarded, are more likely to continue to demonstrate such behavior. Students who feel secure and respected can better apply themselves to learning. (Why Champion Social and Emotional Learning?)

Here are some resources for bringing social emotional learning into the school and into the classroom:

Anti-Racism Awareness and Actions

When you’re essentially [teaching] a kid to be anti-racist, you’re deliberately encouraging them to talk about race and Racism. You’re deliberately teaching them that all the racial groups are equals. You’re deliberately showing them, yes, there are different colors and there are different cultures. And we should value them all equally.

It’s important for parents and for educators to be intentional about preparing our young people for the world that they are inheriting and living in. To not talk about it is a disservice to all young people. So not just black students who need to learn about their blackness and their history, but white students as well and nonblack people of color need to know our country’s history and talk explicitly about it.(How Can Parents Make Their Kids Understand How To Be Anti-Racist?)

Some anti-racist learning activities can be found at:

Parting Shot

Educational stakeholders such as administrators, educators, parents, and community members might look at this or a similar list of proposed educational reform actions, and say, “This is unrealistic. It can’t be done.” To them I say, “None of you expected the changes that COVID19 would force upon you and your students/children, but you made those changes. Not all have been successful, but most were successful to some degree. It demonstrates, though, that significant change is possible when all stakeholders work together.”

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 13, 2020 at 11:03 pm

Anti-Racist Activities for Upper Elementary and Middle School Students

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I am planning to do anti-racist activities with my elementary students (5th and 6th graders) this coming fall.

When you’re essentially [teaching] a kid to be anti-racist, you’re deliberately encouraging them to talk about race and Racism. You’re deliberately teaching them that all the racial groups are equals. You’re deliberately showing them, yes, there are different colors and there are different cultures. And we should value them all equally.

It’s important for parents and for educators to be intentional about preparing our young people for the world that they are inheriting and living in. To not talk about it is a disservice to all young people. So not just black students who need to learn about their blackness and their history, but white students as well and nonblack people of color need to know our country’s history and talk explicitly about it.(How Can Parents Make Their Kids Understand How To Be Anti-Racist?)

During this unit, designed for grades 4 through 8, students will gain an awareness of inequities, privilege and racism in the United States, and how to use their voice to express their wants, needs, and rights (most of my students at my Title 1 school are Hispanic) as well as how to be allies to Black communities through anti-racist actions.

The activities I plan to do (can be completed using social distancing) with my students include:

  • Introduction Using Bitmoji Classroom
  • Antiracist Children’s Talking Books
  • I Am Poem
  • Make a Podcast or Write a Song
  • Quilt
  • Online Book/Zine or Scratch Game

Introduction

Learners are given access to the following Google slide and asked to explore the resources independently.

Anti-Racist Children’s Talking Books

Learners read each of the following anti-racist children’s books either independently or as read alouds. (I bought a set for my classroom.) To view the full set, access the link to the Wakelet aggregate.

Each learner chooses one book to make it into a talking book. To introduce them to their task of making a talking book using the microcontroller, Makey Makey, they are shown the content found within the web article, Makey Talking Book From Scratch, which includes a video, written instructions, and images.

Once they use Scratch programming to record the reading of their selected books, they program it to correspond to different Makey Makey keys. They can add sound effects available on Scratch to correspond with each of their reading segments. Next, they wire their books with copper tape. They then connected the Makey Makey to their book’s copper wires using alligator clips. Learners can then take their talking books into classrooms with younger grades so they can play their books.

In lieu of and as an extension to this activity, learners can create laser cut or 3D printed characters from these books, using Make “Joy” Using Google Drawings & Tinkercad, as a reference guide.

I Am Poems

Learners search through Stories of 40 Incredible Kids Who Have Changed the World and identify one BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Person of Color) young person about whom they want learn more. After doing some more research about their selected young person, they write an I Am poem from the perspective of that person. An alternative for older students is to do this activity choosing a Black activist. A sample list can be found at https://www.biography.com/people/groups/civil-rights-activists.

Here is the template for the I Am Poem with an online version found at https://freeology.com/worksheet-creator/poetry/i-am-poem/.

Using Adobe Spark (a free and easy option to create multimedia presentations), they create a multimedia presentation that incorporates both images and a recording of them reading their poems. Here is an example (not made with Adobe Spark but still a good example of what can be done):

Podcast

For this activity, learners created a podcast and/or write a song related to anti-racism. They can create a opinion piece where they discuss their thoughts and opinions about anti-racism, they can create a show where they interview other learners about their thoughts, or they can write and record a song.

Learners are asked to listen to the podcasts, Hey Black Child and Art for Activism with the Butterfly Effect; and listen to the song wrote and sung by Keedron Bryan called I just wanna live for inspiration. (These resources can also be found in the bitmoji classroom.) For older and more mature students, there are the Generation Justice podcasts. These are created and produced by a group of high school and college students, “

Here are some resources about podcasting and recording with students:

Quilt

The inspiration for this activity comes from the Social Justice Sewing Academy. Here are some examples that young people created:

Learners design their quilt blocks on Powerpoint slides basing it on anti-racist messages they would like to convey. The slide dimension should be 12″ x 12″, the size of the finished quilt block. Powerpoint allows for shapes to be merged to create some more complex shapes. (Google Slides doesn’t have this function.) These shapes are cut out from fabric using a Cricut machine or laser cutter. These pieces are glued onto a piece of 15″ x 15″ fleece. Learner quilt pieces can be combined using the no sew method described here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTWc01iyoHg. Students are asked to write an artist’s statement similar to the examples above.

Online Book-Zine

Learners complete this unit by creating an online book or zine that describes the actions taken or the plans for actions to be taken in order to educate others about anti-racist practices. Here is an example.

Open Your Eyes: See What the World Could Really Be

Book Creator is a great tool to use for this. The illustrations can be drawn and painted (like the example) using Paint Online or Sumopaint or a Pixel Art tool such as https://www.pixilart.com/draw or https://www.piskelapp.com/ and then upload those drawings/images into their ebooks. They can then use the text tool in Book Creator. As an alternative, students can do a series of comics using a tool such as Storyboard That. These art pieces are downloaded as images and then uploaded to Book Creator where students can add text.

Scratch Video Game

An alternative to above, learners can create a Scratch game about the actions they can take regarding educating others about anti-racist practices. Here are some examples with the theme of Black Lives Matter.

Learners can create their sprites and backgrounds either with the Scratch painting tool or upload images they make with papers and colors.

Badges

In order to acknowledge student work and progress, they earn badges for producing quality work. We are using Open Access Canvas so the badge chart is embedded into it where they can keep track of their progress in comparison to the other students.

Finally, here is a Book Creator ebook I created for my students to use as a reference:

Anti-Racism Activities

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 12, 2020 at 4:00 pm

Emotional Check-Ins in a Teaching Webinar

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I always start my classes with some form of emotional check-in regardless of age or grade level. I do so in my college classes as well as in my elementary gifted classes. I think this is even more imperative given the stress students are experiencing due to COVID19. The 10 to 15 minutes it takes is so worth the class time.

Some of the benefits of emotional check-ins discussed in the Edutopia article, A Simple but Powerful Class Opening Activity, include:

Students know that every voice matters: The emotional check-in gets every student’s voice into the room at the start of each class. Although students can always say “pass” instead of sharing, each student has the opportunity to be heard every class session. The check-in is also a great opportunity to practice active listening, turn-taking, and following group norms.

Students develop awareness of others’ emotions—and how to respond to them: When students share their emotions during the check-in, they give their classmates a snapshot of their emotional state. And if I hear a student say that “I didn’t sleep much last night” or “I feel like I can’t focus today,” I can adjust my interactions with that person accordingly.

The check-ins also acknowledge that how students are feeling is important to the educator, that they matter as human beings who have feelings and emotions.

One of my college classes moved from face-to-face to Zoom this semester. What follows are some of the check-in activities I have done with them.

Feeling Charts

Students use a feeling chart to describe how they are feeling. A side benefit of using feeling charts is that they help students increase their feelings vocabulary.

Source: Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry

Share a Rose; Share a Thorn

Each student shares a Rose, something good or positive, from the day or week; and a Thorn, something not-so-good or positive, from the day or week.

Four Types of Care

Students, during the check-in, take turns using the four types of self care graphic to describe strategies they are doing or would like to do to be physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually healthy.

5 Step Check-In Process

The teacher leads students through the 5 step check-in process described in Emotional Check-ins: Why You Need Them:

  1. Tune into your body.
  2. Take a deep breath.
  3. Ask the question. Use the simple question, “How am I feeling?” Make it even more specific by tacking on the phrase “right now” or “in this moment.” 
  4. Use descriptive words to capture how you feel. 
  5. Brainstorm what might be contributing to those emotions.

Then each student is given an opportunity to share what came up for them during the exercise.

Mondrianfy Your Feelings

Students are instructed to find a slide that has shapes and colors that Mondrian used in his artwork. They then use those shapes to create an abstract representations of their feelings. I learned this through Dan Ryder. See below for an example:

Find an Object

Students are asked to find something in their home environment that represents how they are doing; how they are feeling right now. Each student is given an opportunity to share their object via the webinar screen and describe why they selected it. Below are images of my college students doing this check in.

Pear Deck

Pear Decks are very similar to a PowerPoint or Google Slides presentation. But instead of simply static, informational slides, you get to create Interactive Slides that let every student respond to your questions or prompts. Once PearDeck is activated, through the Google Slides add-on, students are given a code to access the Pear Deck. There they interact with each slide through typing, drawing, and using a draggable icon depending how the teacher set up the slide. What follows is the Pear Deck I used for a check-in at the start of one of my classes.



Create an Image Based Timeline of Feelings

Students create a timeline of images that represent: how you felt last week; how you feel today; how you want to feel this coming week; and finally, what strategies you can use to get to how you want to feel this coming week. Students then share their images via their webinar cameras and discuss their meaning with the rest of the class. What follows are (1) the prompt for this activity, and (2) sample student pictures:

Gif Image

Using Giphy students do a search for different feelings and emotions they are currently experiencing, and then select one or more Gifs that represent those feelings. They then take turns to do a screenshare of their selected Giphy and explain why they selected it.

Padlet Check-In

Padlet is an application to create an online bulletin board that you can use to display information for any topic. You can add images, links, videos, text, and drawings. Below is a Padlet I created for an emotional check-in.

Emoji Soundboard

Students choose one or two of the emojis+sounds found at https://www.classtools.net/soundboard/ to describe how they are feeling.

Mentimeter

Menitmeter allows teachers to engage and interact with students in real-time. It is a polling tool wherein teachers can set the questions and your students can give their input using a mobile phone or any other device connected to the Internet. Their input is displayed on a slide in a selected format: Word Cloud, Speech Bubbles, One-By-One, and Flowchart. In the case of check-ins, it can be used to have students put in responses to a question related to how they feeling at the start of class and their responses then are shown to the class via a slide. The example below shows a slide with a Word Cloud of emotional check-in responses.

Flipgrid

Flipgrid is a website that allows teachers to create “grids” to facilitate video discussions. Each grid is like a message board where teachers can pose questions, called “topics,” and their students can post video responses. For an emotional check-in, students record a short video about how they are feeling.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 16, 2020 at 10:02 pm

Universal Skills for Learners: Increasing School Relevancy

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Kids are learning – but for way too many it occurs outside of the school environment rather than during school. Given today’s technologies, it makes sense and is exciting that learning occurs after schools hours, but for exciting, engaging, and profound learning not to occur during school hours is, simply put, a travesty.

I contend that school, especially in the latter part of the 20th century, had a high degree of irrelevancy but in today’s highly connected world, it is absurd, verging, in my perspective, as unethical practices. We are asking today’s students to spend so much of their school lives doing tasks that are unconnected to the the skills that need now and in their future lives.

. . . and the kids agree as studies have indicated.

Gallup has conducted more than 5 million surveys with students in grades five through 12 over the past several years. These students have come from every state and from a range of rural, suburban and urban school settings. Almost half of students who responded to the survey are engaged with school (47%), with approximately one-fourth “not engaged” (29%) and the remainder “actively disengaged” (24%). A closer look at the data by grade level reveals a disturbing trend. Engagement is strong at the end of elementary school, with nearly three-quarters of fifth-graders (74%) reporting high levels of engagement. But similar surveys have shown a gradual and steady decline in engagement from fifth grade through about 10th grade, with approximately half of students in middle school reporting high levels of engagement and about one-third of high school students reporting the same (School Engagement Is More Than Just Talk).

Just 54 percent of middle schoolers and 46 percent of high schoolers think their studies are relevant, according to new data from the nonprofit YouthTruth. Relevance was rated lowest on the survey of various measures of student engagement: if students take pride in their work, if they enjoy going to school, if their schoolwork is relevant, if they try to do their best, and if their teachers’ expectations help them with that goal (Only Half of Students Think What They’re Learning in School Is Relevant to the Real World, Survey Says).

Over five years ago, I wrote a post entitled Universal Skills All Learners Should Know How to Do in order to discuss those skills I believe are important for learners during this era. For this post, I revisited it. I revised it to now include financial literacy and civics.

I think most administrators and educators (and learners) would agree with the importance of most of the skills on this list to assist learners to be successful now and in their futures. Sadly, though, too few of these skills are directly and intentionally taught to learners: writing, speaking, and for more progressive schools, engaging in the arts and the computer science related skills. Is the current school system model really the best we can do?

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 15, 2020 at 8:32 pm

Learning in the Making: The Role of the Educator as a Maker Educator

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I have been working with ASCD for the past few years to publish my book, Learning in the Making: How to Plan, Execute, and Assess Powerful Makerspace Lessons. It has finally been released for sale! Below is an except – Chapter 5: The Role of the Educator as a Maker Educator.


The process of bringing maker education into formal and informal educational settings involves different approaches and strategies than in a more traditional educational setting. As such, the roles of the educator as a maker educator are also different.

  • Lead Learner
  • Process Facilitator
  • Safe Environment Manager
  • Normalizer of Ambiguous Problem Finding and Solving •
  • Resource Provider
  • Technology Tutor
  • Relationship Enabler and Builder
  • Feedback Facilitator

Lead Learner 

The educator’s role has always been to model and demonstrate effective learning, but somewhere along the line, the educator’s major role became content and knowledge disseminator. Today, content is freely and abundantly available, and it is more important than ever to help learners in the process of how to learn.

In most traditional education settings, the emphasis is on what students “need” to learn, and little emphasis is given to teaching students how they should go about learning the content or what skills will promote robust and effective learning. John Dunlosky, a professor of psychology at Kent State University, stated that “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” (Dunlosky, 2013, p. 13 ). 

Because maker education is as much (or even more) about the processes of learning as it is about the products, it becomes important for educators to understand and model the processes— or the “how-to”—of maker education. This often requires teachers to express out loud the metacognitive strategies they use when 

In most traditional education settings, the emphasis is on what students “need” to learn, and little emphasis is given to teaching students how they should go about learning the content or what skills will promote robust and effective learning. John Dunlosky, a professor of psychology at Kent State University, stated that “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 promot- ing lifelong learning” (Dunlosky, 2013, p. 13 ).

Because maker education is as much (or even more) about the processes of learning as it is about the products, it becomes important for educators to understand and model the processes— or the “how-to”—of maker education. This often requires teachers to express out loud the metacognitive strategies they use when approaching and doing maker activities, including how they learn about the task at hand, find resources, develop an overall goal for the activity, organize and keep track of materials, develop and manage timeframes, and judge their success. Importantly, it also requires teachers to explain what they do when they struggle with a make. This will help learners emulate these learning processes when they work on their own maker projects. Figure 5.2 provides methods and strategies that can be used by the educator to model effective making processes that have the potential to benefit their learners.



If educators embrace the prospect of being a lead learner, then it naturally follows they should be lead innovators, too. Lead inno- vators model eight characteristics of the innovator’s mindset; they are empathetic, problem finders, risk takers, networked, creators, observant, resilient, and reflective (Couros, 2015). “Ultimately, what [innovation] really is about in education is creating new and better ways of learning, which is something educators should all get behind. If I can help more educators see themselves as innova- tors, and help them embrace this mindset, our students will have better opportunities in learning. . . . It is meant to not only help see change as something we embrace and model ourselves but help create the foundation where change is more likely to happen with others” (Larken, 2015, paras. 2, 3).

A common characteristic of making across settings, age levels, socioeconomic backgrounds, and genders is that it is taps into the innovation of the participating learners. When educators model innovation by trying new projects, new teaching procedures, and new technologies, they are not only showing and telling students that innovation is valued in their classrooms but also demonstrating a willingness to take risks often associated with innovation—especially in the sometimes noninnovative environment of traditional schools.

Process Facilitator

Another hallmark of maker education is that the making processes are equally important as the products created. The processes used to make something often carry over to future projects and products. To truly focus on the process—rather than on the products of learning—the educator needs to let go of expectations and preconceived notions about what the specific products students produce “should” look like.

This approach translates into several benefits for learners:

  • Learners are not limited by educators’ expectations or the expectations of a lesson or assessment developed by an out- side entity (e.g., textbook or testing company).
  • Learners’ engagement, motivation, curiosity, and excitement increase.
  • Learners learn to tolerate and embrace ambiguity.
  • Natural differentiation and individualization result.
  • Learners gain skills such as self-directed learning, taking ini- tiative, locating resources, and asking for help—all of which can be transferred to all learning endeavors.
  • It reflects and models how learning occurs outside of school.
  • Learners take an increased investment and pride in their work.
  • Learners develop both a sense of confidence and a sense of competence.

Safe Environment Manager

An educator’s role as safe environment manager is a two-pronged one. First, teachers must ensure that the learning environment is physically safe. Because a maker environment often contains lots of tools, ranging from scissors and knives to hot glue guns to power tools, the maker educator must establish an environment in which learners’ physical safety is of primary concern. Second, teachers must make sure that learners also feel safe emotionally— that they are willing to take risks and know that their ideas will be accepted and valued by everyone in the classroom. There are some general guidelines for creating a physically safe makerspace. Consider the following as you set up your own maker environment:

  • Research how the tools you plan to use in your maker pro- gram operate and the safety procedures associated with them.
  • Teach students how to safely use all of the tools in the maker area, including seemingly “simple” tools such as scissors and hot glue guns. Don’t make any assumptions.
  • Develop and review procedures about what to do if students notice an unsafe practice or if there is a medical emergency.
  • Establish behavioral expectations that students know and understand. These will be guided by the age of your students but can include rules such as no horseplay and keep your hands to yourself.
  • Establish, post, and teach clean-up procedures.

More information about creating a physically safe makerspace can be found at https://makezine.com/2013/09/02/safety-in-school-makerspaces/.

Because making often involves taking risks, dealing with failure, asking for help, getting and receiving feedback, and sharing projects with peers, it is important that you also establish a work-learning environment that is emotionally safe for all students. This should be thought out and factored into your maker program from the beginning to develop a healthy sense of community. This can be accomplished through team-building activities with a STEM or maker education focus. Activities such as these help students learn to work collaboratively, communicate, and problem solve with one another. Students also learn to support one another.

As a safe environment manager, teachers should teach and model what emotional safety looks, sounds, and feels like in the learning environment. It then becomes the students’ responsibility to maintain and reinforce that emotional safety. Comments that reflect an emotionally safe and supportive environment include

  • “Your effort shows and is admirable.”
  • “I like the way you are helping and supporting one another.”
  • “Failure is OK; just give it another attempt.”

Students should be acknowledged when they are heard using such comments.

Normalizer of Ambiguous Problem Finding and Solving

Another difference between traditional education and maker education is that the former too often presents problems that have a single, correct answer, whereas maker education embraces ill-de- fined problems that don’t often have obvious or “correct” answers. Iteration and related failure often accompany maker projects that are based on ill-defined problems and solutions. Failure often has a negative connotation in education, but within the maker mindset, failure is celebrated. Adam Savage, former host of the popular TV show Mythbusters, often wears a shirt that says, “Failure is always an option.” Maker educators should normalize iteration and
failure by emphasizing and reemphasizing the idea that ill-defined and ambiguous problems and solutions are part of the making process—and real life.

Resource Provider

Because there is so much free information available online, the 21st century educator needs to be a curator of content. As a curator, the maker educator locates and vets resources, especially those that will be used by younger students. These resources can include YouTube videos; tutorials from companies such as Spark- fun, Make: Magazine, Instructables, and Adafruit; relevant books and magazines; social media accounts and hashtags (e.g., #mak- ered, #stem); and online communities, such as Facebook groups. Since the goal is to have learners use self-directed or heutagogical practices, the educator—as a maker educator—should offer resources as suggestions based on individual learners’ projects.

Nevertheless, students should make the final decision about which resources to use and to what degree they want to use them. The educator as a resource provider means that he or she becomes a coach or a mentor to learners. Educators are the adult experts in the room, and learners will often go to the educator for assistance, especially when they get stuck on a problem or need 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]” (Tomlinson, 2011, p. 92).

The educator as a resource provider also implies that he or she has multiple skill sets—expertise in the process of learning, exper- tise in how to navigate online environments, and the ability to mentor learners during their maker education experiences. They need to model how to vet the resources and determine their use- fulness and value. They scaffold resource curation and ultimately release responsibility to students as they become more skilled at finding and vetting their own resources.

Technology Tutor

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 universally digitally savvy and know how to use every form of emerging technology. However, teachers “are increasingly finding that their students’ comfort zone is often limited to social media and internet apps that don’t do much in the way of productivity” (Proffitt, 2012, para. 2).

Technology can dramatically enhance maker experiences since it provides access to resources and tutorials. It also provides a means for learners to share their processes and products. With this in mind, the maker educator can help learners find resources (as previously discussed) and teach them how to use educational technology such as blogs, videos, video creation tools, e-books, podcasts, collages, sketches, and Google apps to document and share their learning.

Relationship Enabler and Builder

Another important hallmark of the maker movement is its strong focus on community. The maker education community, both the in-person and broader global one, is overwhelmingly based on sharing with and learning from one another. Though not every maker shares his or her knowledge or creations, the existence of large online communities shows that many do. People share for various reasons: to exchange information, educate others, get feed- back, and feel connected. This type of collaboration often comes naturally in a making environment, but educators can and should facilitate it through asking—sometimes coaxing—learners to share their ideas, opinions, resources, successes, and failures with other maker learners.

To help facilitate this process, maker educators can ask stu-dents to share what they’ve accomplished so far with their project, where they think things are going in the project, and what issues they have experienced or anticipate experiencing. Students can also document and share their processes and findings in a manner that allows both other students in the class and the larger maker community to review and comment.

Feedback Facilitator

Learners getting feedback on their work is always valuable and important—even more so in the maker environment. Indeed, the maker environment should be rich in feedback. As a feedback facilitator, maker educators not only provide learners with feedback about their maker projects but also teach and facilitate a process for learners to give and receive feedback to one another. Too many educational environments don’t actively teach learners methods and strategies for giving and receiving feedback. Since one of the characteristics of the maker environment is that is it community based, facilitating a feedback process supports and reinforces this sense of community. Because making is often an iterative process, feedback from other community members often facilitates and accelerates that process.

Promises to My Learners as a Maker Educator

Because maker education is so different from traditional education, and because the maker educator’s roles are also so different, I developed the following promises to my learners as a facilitator of their learning as makers:

  1. I promise to make the making environment positive, joyful, and physically and emotionally safe so you feel safe enough to take risks, ask questions, make mistakes, and test things out.
  2. I promise to provide you with resources and materials that help you create, make, and innovate.
  3. I promise to respect and support your unique ways of think- ing, learning, creating, and interacting with others.
  4. I promise to work with you to create learning experiences that are personally relevant to you.
  5. I promise to support and help you understand and navigate the ups and downs, the mistakes and failures, and the trials and errors associated with making.
  6. I promise to give you time and opportunities to collaborate and share with other makers (of all ages).
  7. I promise to provide you with positive feedback on things you can control—such as effort, strategies, and behaviors.
  8. I promise to encourage you to critically think, formulate questions of your own, and come up with your own conclusions.
  9. I promise not to intervene with your learning process unless you ask me to do so.
  10. I promise to support you as you embrace the joy of creating, playing, innovating, and making.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 15, 2019 at 5:55 pm

Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) Displays: A Maker Education Project

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I have lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico for a few decades. One of my favorite things about living here is that my town celebrates and embraces Hispanic and Mexican cultural traditions. I have the privilege of working with gifted kids at two elementary schools with over 80% Hispanic students. For the past two years, I did Halloween Wars – based off of the Food Channel show. See Halloween Wars: An Interdisciplinary Lesson with a STEM, STEAM, Maker Education Focus for more about this. Because of the cultural heritage of my students and because I find the Day of the Dead holiday so intriguing and beautiful (the movie, Coco, helped bring its beauty to the masses), I decided to focus on having the students create Dia de los Muertos displays this year.

Standards Addressed

21st Century Skills

  • Using 21st century skills to understand and address global issues
  • Learning from and working collaboratively with individuals representing diverse cultures, religions and lifestyles in a spirit of mutual respect and open dialogue in personal, work and community contexts
  • Understanding  other nations and cultures, including the use of non-English languages
  • Create new and worthwhile ideas (both incremental and radical concepts)
  • Elaborate, refine, analyze and evaluate their own ideas in order to improve and maximize creative efforts
  • Create new and worthwhile ideas (both incremental and radical concepts)
  • Elaborate, refine, analyze and evaluate their own ideas in order to improve and maximize creative efforts

Next Generation Science Standards

  • Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
  • Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
  • Analyze and interpret data on the properties of substances before and after the substances interact to determine if a chemical reaction has occurred.

Common Core State Standards – ELA

  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

Getting Started – Gaining Attention

To introduce and show students the traditions related to Day of the Dead, they are shown the following videos:

. . . as well as given time to explore the Smithsonian Latino Center’s Theater of the Dead – http://latino.si.edu/dayofthedead/ which includes an interactive element to build their own alter or Ofrenda.

 

Writing a Story About Day of the Dead

Students write a story with a Day of the Dead theme. They are given the option to write it alone or with a partner. Here is an example from one of my 6th grade students:

 

Artifacts for the Day of the Dead Displays

Students make the following artifacts and then, in small groups of three students, decide if and how they want to use them in their Day of the Dead displays to reflect the stories they wrote.

Decorated Skulls with Paper Circuits for Eyes

Materials: skull outline and parallel circuit outline (one for each student), 5MM LED lights, copper tape, coin batteries, transparent tape, markers.

Students decorate their paper skulls and then make parallel paper circuits to light up the eyes of these skulls. I found a template of a skeleton skull online. I printed these out – one for each student. I then made an outline of a parallel circuit so that when connected and joined with the top part, the LEDs would show up as pupils of the decorated skull – see below.

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Students first cut out and decorate their skulls with markers. Images of decorated Day of the Dead skulls can be projected via a whiteboard so students can see examples. They then trace their cut out skulls onto the paper circuits template and cut that out. The bottom piece, containing the parallel circuit design, is then wired with the copper tape. The shorter copper tape is taped down from the battery placeholder to the end of its outline, so that the coin battery can be placed on top of that. For the longer piece of copper tape, about 1.5 inches is left at the end near the battery. This extra is folded onto itself so that after the battery is in place, this part of the copper tape can be taped on top of the battery. Having a folded over end piece makes it more manageable. Students should be reminded how to find the polarities of both the LEDs (the longer leg is positive) and the coin battery (it has a + on the top – that side with a little bit larger diameter). Students then tape their batteries and LEDs in place insuring that the positive legs of the LED lead to positive side of the battery and visa-versa. For more about paper circuits, see https://www.makerspaces.com/paper-circuits/. The LEDs are then poked through the eyes of the decorated skull. The top and bottom pieces are then stapled together.

Sugar Skulls

Materials: sugar, meringue powder, sugar skull molds

Sugar skull molds can be purchased from https://www.mexicansugarskull.com/sugar_skulls/sugar-skull-molds.html. Sugar skulls are incredibly easy to make – just combining the dry ingredients of sugar and meringue power and adding a little water so it becomes the consistency of dampened beach sand. More directions along with amounts can be found at https://www.mexicansugarskull.com/sugar_skulls/instructions.html. After waiting at least 24 hours for the skulls to harden, students can then decorate them using edible markers or royal icing.

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Skulls from Modeling Chocolate

Materials: white chocolate morsels, corn syrup.

This is another easy recipe to make (see http://artisancakecompany.com/recipe/how-to-make-perfect-modeling-chocolate/ for specific directions) although it is a bit tricky to get the modeling chocolate to the right consistency. Once the modeling chocolate is made, students sculpt it into 3D skulls.

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micro:bit Lit Skull

Materials: micro:bit (one for each team), heavy stock cardboard, (servos with jumper wires and alligator clips if movement is designed)

A micro:bit is mini-computer, half the size of a credit card equipped with 25 red LED lights that can flash messages. The micro:bit features an embedded compass, accelerometer, mobile, and web-based programming capabilities. It is compatible with a number of online code editors across a number of different languages (https://learn.sparkfun.com/tutorials/getting-started-with-the-microbit). For this activity, students cut out a skull with a window in the middle for the micro:bit (see below). They then use https://makecode.microbit.org/ to (1) create a message on the LEDs about Day of the Dead, and (2) code the servo to rotate the skull in a small arc from side to side (see https://sites.google.com/view/microbitofthings/7-motor-control/11-servo-control?authuser=0 for how to do this).

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Tissue Paper Marigolds

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Materials: yellow tissue paper, pipe cleaners.

The directions for how to make these can be found at https://tinkerlab.com/simple-paper-marigolds-dia-de-los-muertos/,

Edible Slime

Materials: sugar free Jello, starch

This is an easy recipe with the slime made by combining sugar free Jello, food starch, and water. Colors are determined by the flavor of the Jello – I like using lime for green slime and strawberry for red slime. For more information, visit https://thesoccermomblog.com/edible-silly-putty/

Miscellaneous Materials

Students are provided with core board and also given candy bones, candy gravestones, and chocolate animal crackers (to be crushed into dirt) so that these items along with the projects described above can be used for their displays, again reminding students that the displays should directly reflect their stories about Dead of the Day – Dia de los Muertos.

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Student Reflection

Students were asked to randomly choose five cards from the deck of my Maker Reflection Cards to reflect on their experiences with this project. They were told that they could discard two of them but would need to answer three of them via a blog post, and I was totally elated when one asked if he could answer more – seven of them! Here are screenshots of his and another student’s reflections.

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 6, 2018 at 1:55 am

Integrating Maker Education into the Curriculum

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Rather than the maker experiences being an after school program, an add on activity, or an activity that is implemented when students have done their regular lessons work, it should be part of the regular, day-to-day curriculum. As noted in USC Rossier Online, “In order for your school and students to be fully invested in maker education, it has to be integrated into your curriculum, not squeezed in” (https://rossieronline.usc.edu/maker-education/sync-with-curriculum/).  Ayah Bdeir, who invented and runs littleBits, had this to say about integrating maker education into the curriculum:

It’s time for maker ed to move into the mainstream. Making should not be relegated to the times spent outside of class, e.g. lunch or after school. Nor should it only flourish in private schools, which don’t have to teach to standards. We need to work to show how making is a rigorous process that leads to valuable new technologies, products and experiences. Specifically, we need to tie maker projects to standards-based curriculum and show clearly the kinds of knowledge, skills and practices students learn as part of making (https://www.edsurge.com/news/2015-09-24-building-connections-between-maker-ed-and-standards)

Albemarle County Public School District is very intentional in their implementation of maker projects:

Maker projects can be created to support just about any subject area, from science to history to language arts. Maker education can be a tool for teaching the curriculum that you already have, At a glance, maker projects may appear disconnected from the curriculum. What may look like an arts and crafts activity, or just a bunch of kids playing with Legos, is actually a way to teach about ancient Rome or how to write a persuasive essay. (https://www.edutopia.org/practice/maker-education-reaching-all-learners)

To do this, though, the educator needs to approach his or her curriculum and lessons with a maker mindset. With this mindset, he or she figures out creative ways to integrate maker activities into existing lessons and instructional activities. The educator in these situations starts with the standards and objectives of their lessons, as they typically do with their regular lessons, and then designs and/or locates maker activities that fit the lesson. It simply becomes, “How can I add a making element to my lessons to reinforce concepts being learned?”

For subjects like science, this is a little easier as the labs that often accompany science lessons often have a hint of STEM or maker education. With a little tweaking, these labs can become more of a maker education type of activity. For example, if students are learning about circuits, they could wire cardboard model houses with lights and fans.  

For subjects like language arts, this integration is a little more challenging but with a little creativity, it is possible and exciting. An example is Tufts University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach’s program, Novel Engineering:

Novel Engineering is an innovative approach to integrate engineering and literacy in elementary and middle school. Students use existing classroom literature – stories, novels, and expository texts – as the basis for engineering design challenges that help them identify problems, design realistic solutions, and engage in the Engineering Design Process while reinforcing their literacy skills.

Example books that offer engineering or maker education challenges include:

The benefits of this type of curriculum integration include all those benefits described for maker education, in general, but also include:

  • Increased learner interest in and engagement with content rich lesson activities.
  • Lesson activities may become a gateway to content areas for learners who may not have been interested in that content area in the past. For example, making in language arts may spark a STEM interest for students who have previously only been interested in language arts; spark the interest of STEM-oriented students in language arts.

To help integrate maker education into the curriculum, I developed the following lesson plan template to assist teachers with this process.

Maker Lesson Plan

Example Maker Education Lesson Plan

Vision for this Lesson and for Student Learning (What is the overarching purpose of this lesson? How does making  enhance the lesson? Consider relevancy, authenticity, transfer to other life situations):

 

Student Voice  (What are the interests and needs of the students? How is their voice incorporated into the development of this lesson?):

 

Standards Addressed (Think cross-curriculum and 21st century skills; think process as well as content learnings):

 

 

 

 

 

  • ISTE Standards for Students (for detailed descriptions and sub-standards, see https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students):
    • Empowered Learner: Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences.
    • Digital Citizen: Students recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical.
    • Knowledge Constructor: Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.
    • Innovative Designer: Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.
    • Computational Thinker: Students develop and employ strategies for understanding and solving problems in ways that leverage the power of technological methods to develop and test solutions.
    • Creative Communicator: Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals.
    • Global Collaborator: Students use digital tools to broaden their perspectives and enrich their learning by collaborating with others and working effectively in teams locally and globally.
  • 21st Century Skills (see for detailed descriptions at http://www.p21.org/our-work/p21-framework to add specifics):
    • Global Awareness: _________________________________________________
    • Financial, Economic: _______________________________________________
    • Business and Entrepreneurial Literacy: _________________________________
    • Civic Literacy: _____________________________________________________
    • Health Literacy: ___________________________________________________
    • Environmental Literacy: _____________________________________________
    • Creativity and Innovation: ___________________________________________
    • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: _________________________________
    • Communication: ___________________________________________________
    • Collaboration: _____________________________________________________
    • Information Literacy: _______________________________________________
    • Media Literacy: ____________________________________________________  
    • ICT Literacy: ______________________________________________________
    • Flexibility and Adaptability: ___________________________________________
    • Initiative and Self-Direction: __________________________________________
    • Social and Cross-Cultural Skills: ______________________________________
    • Productivity and Accountability: _______________________________________
    • Leadership and Responsibility: _______________________________________

Lesson Challenge Statement – Framing the Experience: (How will the maker lesson be framed or frontloaded?  – What is the big challenge for this activity? What essential questions do you want learners to explore? What overarching concepts do you want learners to investigate? Is the challenge open and ill-defined so there are multiple opportunities for student interpretation, innovation, and creativity?) The maker lesson can be framed or frontloaded through:

  • Introducing Essential Questions
  • The Use of Scenarios
  • Specifying the Standards
  • Asking Questions Related To Personal Skills
  • Asking Questions to Help with Scaffolding and Sequencing the Activities
  • Asking Questions Related To Using Peer Support-Working Collaboratively

(More information about frontloading the maker experience can be found at https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2016/03/16/framing-and-frontloading-maker-activities/)

Required Prerequisite Knowledge and Skills:

Vocabulary: (What vocabulary do you want learners to learn and use?)

Getting Started: (What high impact activity will you do to get learners excited about or hooked into the upcoming lesson?)

  • Video: _________________________________________________________________
  • Hands-On Demonstration: _________________________________________________
  • AR/VR Simulation: _______________________________________________________
  • Online Virtual Simulation: _________________________________________________
  • Live Guest Speaker (in person or via Skype/Google Hangout): ____________________
  • Game (analog or digital): __________________________________________________
  • Group Discussion About the Learning Challenge

Tinkering and Exploration: (Will the learners benefit with some free-play tinkering with and exploring the materials?)

Skills and Knowledge Direct Instruction: (What, if any, knowledge and skills do you need to teach directly prior to the maker activity?)

Learner Planning Time: Time for learners to research and plan what they will do for the maker challenge.

Learner Creation Time: Time for the learners to create, to try out several iterations of their ideas, if needed.

Learner Sharing and Feedback Time: Time for learners to share what they are making with their peers; whose role then is to give feedback.

Documenting Learning and Reflection: How will learners document and reflect on their learning? Possible reflection questions include:

  • What new skills have you learned because of the maker experience?
  • What are the most important learning moments you take with you from this maker experience?
  • Would you do this or a similar maker project again? Why or why not?
  • Has this maker experience changed you? If yes, how?
  • Describe what you have learned about yourself as a result of your maker experience.
  • What would you like to change about your maker experience?
  • What were the benefits from you participating in this making activity?
  • What surprised you the most during your maker experience?
  • What did you do that seemed to be effective?
  • What did you do that seemed to be ineffective?
  • What were the most difficult parts of the maker experience? Why?
  • What were the most satisfying parts of the maker experience? Why?
  • What personal characteristics made this maker experience successful for you?
  • Describe an awareness about a personal characteristic that has been enhanced by your maker experience.
  • How does the maker experience relate to your long-term goals?
  • How have you been challenged during the maker experience?
  • How do you feel about what you made? What parts of it do you particularly like? Dislike?
  • What lessons can you learn from the maker experience?
  • What positives can you take away from the maker experience?
  • How can you apply what you learned from maker experience in your life?
  • What advice would you give to someone else working on the maker activities?
  • What did you learn through this experience and how can you use it in the future?
  • Looking back on the maker experience, what two things stand out to you the most and why?

(For more on reflecting on the maker experience, see https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2018/03/10/reflecting-on-maker-experiences-with-reflection-cards/.) 

Assessment: How will learners be assessed? (This is especially important in a school setting where grades and accountability are expected.)

  • Rubric – Based on Standards and Objectives
    • Teacher Generated
    • Student Generated
  • Portfolio Artifact
    • Submitted to a Blog
    • Submitted to a web platform like Seesaw
  • Peer Assessments

Sharing Out Findings: How will learners share out what they learned with a larger maker education community? Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame stated: Sharing is s a vital aspect of maker culture that is intrinsic to the underlying ethos of what it means to be a maker and by extension, in my opinion, a human being (https://boingboing.net/2018/05/23/adam-savage-at-maker-faire-th.html).

  • Use of Social Media?
  • Presentations to Local Students and Community Members?
  • News Coverage?
  • Teaching Others?

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 6, 2018 at 12:40 am

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