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Expert Mentors: A Professional Development Model for STEM and Maker Education Implementation

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Implementing Maker, STEM, STEAM Education

In order to prevent STEM and maker education from becoming a flavor of the month, there needs to be specific strategies provided to educators on how to embed STEM and maker activities into their curriculum. A good number of educators have not received training on how to integrate activities into their classroom practices which entail resource heavy, hands-on learning.

One of the elementary schools where I work is going to implement maker education this coming school year. In a discussion with the principal and a small number of teachers, we realized that some of the teachers will be resistant due to their lack of experience with the activities, resources, and tools related to maker education, and frankly, their fear of doing something as foreign as maker education.

A key to increase their comfort with and chances for implementing these activities is to provide them with professional development opportunities, but the PD needs to be designed based on research.

Professional Development

Teacher professional learning is of increasing interest as a critical way to support the increasingly complex skills students need to learn in order to succeed in the 21st century. Sophisticated forms of teaching are needed to develop student competencies such as deep mastery of challenging content, critical thinking, complex problem solving, effective communication and collaboration, and self-direction. In turn, effective professional development (PD) is needed to help teachers learn and refine the instructional strategies required to teach these skills. (Effective Teacher Professional Development).

The Learning Policy institute examined rigorous studies that have demonstrated a positive link between teacher professional development, teaching practices, and student outcomes. They discovered that not all professional development experiences are equal and that effective PD has specific characteristics. Their findings included:

Active learning provides teachers with opportunities to get hands-on experience designing and practicing new teaching strategies. In PD models featuring active learning, teachers often participate in the same style of learning they are designing for their students, using real examples of curriculum, student work, and instruction. 

Curricular models and modeling of instruction provide teachers with a clear vision of what best practices look like. Teachers may view models that include lesson plans, unit plans, sample student work, observations of peer teachers, and video or written cases of accomplished teaching.

Effective professional development provides teachers with adequate time to learn, practice, implement, and reflect upon new strategies that facilitate changes in their practice. As a result, strong PD initiatives typically engage teachers in learning over weeks, months, or even academic years, rather than in short, one-off workshops (Effective Teacher Professional Development).

After attending the New Mexico Computer Science week whereby engineering college students acted as mentors for the participating teachers, I realized that having experts in the classroom working directly with educator can be a great form of professional development. In this case, it was the engineering college undergraduates but it could also be trainers from STEM-related organizations or other educators who have developed their STEM instructional practices. This model has the potential to discuss the properties of effective professional development discussed above. Mainly, educators would be able to see STEM and maker instructional practices being modeled.

Benefits

  • Directly observing how the expert interacts with their content and with the learners.
  • Experiencing the benefits of team teaching – pairing a content expert with an education.
  • Learning how to troubleshoot when the activities don’t work as planned.
  • Assisting both the educator and their learners to see failure as iteration and growth opportunities.
  • Getting to see how learners respond to the hands-on experiences . . . often with excitement and engagement.

Implementation Suggestions

Some suggestions for implementing this form of professional development follow. It obviously is just a beginning.

  • Train expert mentors in interacting with learners using hands-on activities.
  • Train and plan meetings between educators and mentor experts making sure that they include collaborative and active learning strategies.
  • Needs to occur over time through multiple sessions – not a single time experience.
  • Include educator reflection and follow-up as an integral component of the professional development.

An Example

An example of a mentoring program is my local area is the New Mexico STEM Mentor Collective.

The Northern New Mexico STEM Mentor Collective, funded by NSF INCLUDES (Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science) seeks to raise aspirations and expectations in Middle & High School STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) topics by training and planting (in local schools and libraries) a paid STEM Mentor Corps comprised of caring, exemplary NNMC (Northern New Mexico College) undergraduates

Even though it is designed to bring Engineering undergraduates into the classroom to provide young people with mentors, I contend it could also be used to help educators learn how to implement STEM and maker education activities. I am planning to work with my principal this coming school year to help develop this as a model of professional development.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

June 9, 2019 at 10:04 pm

Maker-Enhanced Writing Workshop: Character Development

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Readers of my blog know my thoughts and feelings about effective student learning. I have written blogs on:

This month I started a maker-enhanced writing workshop with a group of gifted 3rd through 6th grade students. As with all of my lessons, I strive to practice what I preach in my blog posts – being interdisciplinary; using technology to enhance their work; and making, creating, innovating, and inventing.

Standards Addressed

21st Century Skills

  • 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.
  • Develop, implement and communicate new ideas to others effectively.
  • Articulate thoughts and ideas effectively using oral, written and nonverbal communication skills in a variety of forms and contexts.

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.

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.

National Core Arts Standards

  • Students will generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.

ISTE Standards for Students

  • Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.

National Novel Writer’s Month Young Novelist’s Workbook

For this project, I use parts of the National Novel Writer’s Month Young Novelist’s Workbook found at https://ywp.nanowrimo.org/pages/educator-resources.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, empowering approach to creative writing. The Young Writers Program (YWP) allows 17-and-under participants to set reasonable-but-challenging individual word-count goals.

The YWP also helps K–12 educators facilitate NaNoWriMo in schools, libraries, and community centers around the world. We provide virtual classroom spaces on our site, as well as student workbooks, Common Core-aligned curricula, and free motivational materials (https://ywp.nanowrimo.org/).

Since I work with 3rd through 6th graders, I use the one for elementary students. I also like the way it is formatted with lots of places to insert one’s own answers and ideas.  Here is the PDF – elementary_school_workbook_ed4_INTERIOR.

Character Development

After some introductory information, the workbook jumps into character develop. I like having my learners begin by developing their characters. They did so by:

  • Describing their character (pages 11 – 25 in the workbook).
  • Drawing a picture of their characters.
  • Creating a more artistic version of their character using additional art materials.
  • Posting a description and image of their character onto Kidblog.
  • Using Scratch and Makey Makey to describe the main characteristics of their characters.

Example Character Description and Artistic Creation

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Programming Character Details Using Scratch and Makey Makey

The idea for this part of the lesson came from the Makey Makey Biography Bottles https://labz.makeymakey.com/cwists/preview/1506-biography-bottlesx. In the case of their character development, students programmed Scratch to tell a fact about their character upon the touch of each button.

The first step is to create the physical element, the character is glued onto a piece of cardstock (file folders work well for this). Holes are punched along the bottom – five for five facts and one for the Makey Makey ground wire. Large brass fasteners are inserted so that one of the fastener legs is bent to hold it in place and the other hangs over the edge. This permits the connection between the object and the Makey Makey.

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Students then program Scratch so that when different fasteners are touched, a different fact about that character is verbalized. Scratch 3.0 now has extensions for Makey Makey and Text to Speech – both which are used for this project.

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They upload a picture of their character and choose five facts about their character – one fact for each of the Makey Makey keys – space, up arrow, down arrow, left arrow, and right arrow.  These facts are made via Text to Speech blocks. Students can even change accents and languages with these blocks.

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Now you are ready to connect the Makey Makey! Connect alligator clips to the legs of the brass fasteners that protrude from the conductive plate. It is a good idea to mark which button you want to trigger each key press. Connect the other end of each alligator clip to the matching input on the Makey Makey. Make sure you have a clip attached to the ground. Connect the Makey Makey to the computer. Run your Scratch program. Hold the ground clip (making sure you are touching the metal part) and lightly touch each button (https://labz.makeymakey.com/cwists/preview/1506-biography-bottlesx).

To see how it all works, watch the video below:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 17, 2019 at 2:40 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

The Myth of Neutral Makerspaces

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Recently, I attended the Nation of Makers Conference whose theme was intentional inclusion. The single comment from the conference that stood out for me was:

Before we consider intentional inclusion, we need to consider and explore unintentional exclusion.

When I think about unintentional exclusion, I think about how implicit biases are present and strong in every human being.

An implicit bias, or implicit stereotype, is the unconscious attribution of particular qualities to a member of a certain social group. Implicit stereotypes are influenced by experience, and are based on learned associations between various qualities and social categories, including race or gender. Individuals’ perceptions and behaviors can be affected by implicit stereotypes, even without the individuals’ intention or awareness. Implicit bias is an aspect of implicit social cognition, the phenomenon that perceptions, attitudes, and stereotypes operate without conscious intention. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Implicit_stereotype)

Recent research sadly indicates that implicit bias is pervasive and insidious in makerspaces . . .

After a 10-state tour through educational makerspaces (both in-school and off-site facilities with an educational penchant), researchers from Drexel University’s ExCITe Center found a non-inclusive culture with a lack of attention to implicit biases.

Per the study, student participation rates change dramatically from K-8 (where there’s nearly equal participation by gender) to high school (where male students outnumber females by a factor of three). Program leaders and instructors remain predominantly male, and a language analysis of recruiting and instruction materials revealed evidence of implicit bias.

“Implicit bias is pervasive and insidious,” the report states. “Our evidence is specific to gender, but there may be other forms. We recommend open and frank discussions that raise awareness of implicit bias, particularly in language, internal and external communications, and design curricula that may lead to bias.” The most urgent recommendation, according to Kim, is to create concerted efforts around recruitment and language that combat existing bias in gender, race and beyond. (K-12 makerspaces lack inclusive culture, Drexel study says)

Because these stereotypical biases are often implicit and unconscious, it makes them especially resistant to awareness, exploration and modification. Due to this, I don’t believe that a truly neutral makerspace is possible but I do believe efforts should be made towards that goal or end.

Liberatory Consciousness

Liberatory Consciousness was a practice promoted and used during the Nation of Maker pre-conference and threaded through the inclusion track of the conference.

Liberatory consciousness is a force that enables an individual to live his or her life in oppressive systems and institutions with awareness and intentionality.

We understand that inequity, racial and otherwise, is the result of cumulative disadvantage built into social institutions, via law, policy, and everyday practice.

We work from an intersectional perspective, which believes that organizations and communities thrive when they build cultures that are inclusive of wide-ranging ethnic, racial, gender, sexual, religious, and national identities and abilities.

We understand that the targets of oppression are required  to be at the center of efforts to transform oppression. http://desireeadaway.com/awareness-analysis-action/ 

Philosophically, these tenets, in my perspective, are pretty amazing and right on target. The difficulty comes in operationalizing them – making them into concrete practices for makerspaces.

Developing Best Practices for Makerspaces

After the conference, I did an extensive search on codes of conduct and inclusion for makerspaces. I expected to find a decent number of articles on this topic, but became a bit dismayed on how few I found. One article that did stand out for me was by Sylvia Martinez’s Edsurge piece, Making for All: How to Build an Inclusive Makerspace (but it’s from 2015). Some of practices she recommends for creating a more inclusive makerspace:

  • Empower students not just to be passive objects of the lessons, but to include them as allies and advocates for making things that matter to them.
  • Culturally responsive, situated, and relevant doesn’t mean asking students to write hip hop lyrics about the scientific method. But it doesn’t mean ignoring hip hop either. Seeing cultural practices in a maker light can open doors and blur the lines between teachers and learners.
  • Sensitivity to surroundings. Research shows that girls react to surroundings that reflect stereotypical “hacker” culture by denying that they are interested in science and engineering. If you aren’t sure what vibe your classroom or makerspace is communicating, ask some kids.
  • Reduce competition. Both overt contests and more subtle competition, like competition caused by a lack of adequate materials and tools, can reduce participation of girls. It can also be a barrier for beginners and students who don’t see themselves as “technical.” The competition aspect raises the stakes to a level that is too risky for students to jump in and try something they may actually enjoy.
  • Don’t advantage one kind of building over another. Robots are cool, but the same technologies of micro-controllers, sensors, motors, and lights could make smart clothes, a useful invention for an elderly aunt, or better still, something no one has thought of before. Provide incentives, multiple on-ramps, praise, and glory for all kinds of making.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 1, 2018 at 11:35 pm

Assessing Maker Education Projects

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assessment

Institutionalized education has given assessment a bad reputation; often leaves a sour taste in the mouths of many teachers, students, and laypeople. This is primarily due to the testing movement, the push towards using student assessment in the form of tests as a measure of student, teacher, principal, and school accountability.

Educators should be clear about why they include assessment in their instruction; be strategic and intentional in its use. For me, assessment really should be about informing the learner about his or her performance so that increased learning and future improvement result for that learner.

Assessment is the process of gathering and discussing information from multiple and diverse sources in order to develop a deep understanding of what students know, understand, and can do with their knowledge as a result of their educational experiences; the process culminates when assessment results are used to improve subsequent learning. (Learner-Centered Assessment on College Campuses: Shifting the Focus from Teaching to Learning)

As Hattie, Fry, and Fischer note in Developing “Assessment Capable” Learners:

If we want students to take charge of their learning, we can’t keep relegating them to a passive role in the assessment process.

When we leave students out of assessment considerations, it is akin to fighting with one arm tied behind our backs. We fail to leverage the best asset we have: the learners themselves. What might happen if students were instead at the heart of the assessment process, using goals and results to fuel their own learning? ((http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb18/vol75/num05/Developing-%C2%A3Assessment-Capable%C2%A3-Learners.aspx)

Maker Education and Assessment

As maker education infiltrates more formal educational settings, there’s been and will continue to be efforts to include assessment as part of its implementation. It is important, though, to keep in mind the characteristics of maker education and the role assessment has within it.

Making innately provides evidence of learning. The artifact that results, in addition to the process that a student works through, provides a wealth of evidence, indicators, and data of their learning. Overall, though, assessing making comes back to the original (and difficult) question of what learning outcomes we’re seeking. Assessment is critical for understanding the scope and impact of learning, as well as the associated teaching, environment, culture, and content. (https://www.edutopia.org/blog/assessment-in-making-stephanie-chang-chad-ratliff)

Being a teacher, you’re constantly faced with having to assess student learning,” said Simon Mangiaracina, a sixth-grade STEM teacher. “We’re so used to grading work and giving a written assessment or a test. When you’re involved in maker education it should be more dynamic than that.” Part of the difficulty is that, in evaluating a maker project, teachers don’t want to undo all of the thinking that went into it. For instance, one of the most important lessons maker education can teach is not to fear failure and to take mistakes and let them inform an iterative design process — a research-informed variation of “guess and check” where students learn a process through a loop of feedback and evaluation.  (https://rossieronline.usc.edu/maker-education/7-assessment-types/  from USC Rossier’s online master’s in teaching program)

I have my gifted students do lots maker activities where I meet with the 2nd through 6th graders for 3 to 5 hours a week. Since I do not have to grade them (not in the traditional sense as I have to write quarterly progress reports), I don’t have to give them any tests (phew!). I do ask them, though, to assess their work. I believe as Dale Dougherty, founder of MAKE Magazine, does:

[Making] is intrinsic, whereas a lot of traditional, formal school is motivated by extrinsic measures, such as grades. Shifting that control from the teacher or the expert to the participant to the non-expert, the student, that’s the real big difference here. Dale Dougherty

Christa Flores in Alternative Assessments and Feedback in a MakerEd Classroom stated:

In a maker classroom, learning is inherently experiential and can be very student driven; assessment and feedback needs to look different than a paper test to accurately document and encourage learning. Regardless of how you feel about standardized testing, making seems to be immune to it for the time being (one reason some schools skip the assessment piece and still bill making as an enrichment program). Encouragingly, the lack of any obvious right answers about how to measure and gauge success and failure in a maker classroom, as well as the ambiguity about how making in education fits into the common standards or college readiness debate, has not stopped schools from marching forward in creating their own maker programs.

If the shift of control is given to the students within maker education settings, then it follows that the students should also be in charge of their assessments. One of the goals of maker education should be self-determined learning. This should include learners engaging in their own personal and personalized form of assessment.

Student self-assessment involves students in evaluating their own work and learning progress.

Self-assessment is a valuable learning tool as well as part of an assessment process.  Through self-assessment, students can:

  • identify their own skill gaps, where their knowledge is weak
  • see where to focus their attention in learning
  • set realistic goals
  • revise their work
  • track their own progress
  • if online, decide when to move to the next level of the course

This process helps students stay involved and motivated and encourages self-reflection and responsibility for their learning. (https://teachingcommons.stanford.edu/resources/teaching/evaluating-students/assessing-student-learning/student-self-assessment)

Witnessing the wonders of making in education teaches us to foster an environment of growth and self-actualization by using forms of assessment that challenge our students to critique both their own work and the work of their peers. This is where the role of self-assessment begins to shine a light. Self-assessment can facilitate deeper learning as it requires students to play a more active role in the cause of their success and failures as well as practice a critical look at quality. (Role and Rigor of Self-Assessment in Maker Education by Christa Flores in http://fablearn.stanford.edu/fellows/sites/default/files/Blikstein_Martinez_Pang-Meaningful_Making_book.pdf)

Documenting Learning

To engage in the self-assessment process of their maker activities, I ask learners to document their learning.

We need to integrate documenting practices as part of making activities as well as designing, tinkering, digital fabrication, and programming in order to enable students to document their own learning process and experiment with the beauty of building shared knowledge. Documentation is a hard task even for adults, but it is not so hard if you design a reason and a consistent expectation that everyone will collect and organize the things they will share. (Documenting a Project Using a “Failures Box” by Susanna Tesconi in http://fablearn.stanford.edu/fellows/sites/default/files/Blikstein_Martinez_Pang-Meaningful_Making_book.pdf)

Documenting their learning can include one or a combination of the following methods:

  • Taking notes
  • Talking to a fellow learner or two.
  • Making sketches
  • Taking photos
  • Doing audio recordings
  • Making videos

(For more information, see Documenting Learning https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2016/04/08/documenting-learning/)

The folks at Digital Promise have the following message for maker educators regarding documentation:

Make the documentation an organic and expected part of the process. When documentation feels like it is added without reason, students struggle to engage with the documentation process. Help students consider how in-process documentation and reflection can help them adapt and improve the project they are working on. Help them see the value of taking time to stop and think.(http://global.digitalpromise.org/teachers-guide/documenting-maker-projects/)

Documenting learning during the making process serves several purposes related to assessment:

  1. It acts as ongoing and formative assessment.
  2. It gives learners the message that the process of learning is as important as the products of learning, so that their processes as well as their products are assessed. (For more information on the process of learning, see Focusing on the Process: Letting Go of Product Expectations https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2017/12/17/focusing-on-the-process-letting-go-of-product-expectations/)

Maker Project Reflections

Because many students haven’t had the experience of reflection and self-assessment, I ease them into this process.  With my gifted students, I ask them to blog their reflections after almost all of their maker education activities. They take pictures of their makes, and I ask them to discuss what they thought they did especially well, and what they would do differently in a similar future make. Here are some examples:

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Teacher and Peer Feedback

The learners’ peers and their educators can view their products, documented learning, and reflections in order to provide additional feedback. A culture of learning is established within the maker education community in that teacher and peer feedback is offered and accepted on an ongoing basis. With this type of openness and transparency of the learning process, this feedback not only benefits that individual student but also the other students as they learn from that student what worked and didn’t work which in turn can help them with their own makes.

The Use of Assessment Rubrics

As a final thought, there has been some thoughts and efforts into using rubrics as assessment tools. Here is one developed by Lisa Yokana and discussed in Creating an Authentic Maker Education Rubric 

edutopia-yokana-maker-rubric.jpg

I think rubrics, such as this, can be of value in assessing student work and/or having them assess their own work, but I prefer more open ended forms of assessment so the learners can but more of their selves into the process.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 5, 2018 at 10:01 pm

Reflecting on Maker Experiences with Reflection Cards

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Slide05

I’ve discussed the importance of reflection in my Framework for Maker Education; and specifically discussed reflecting on the maker experiences in several of my blog posts:

One of my friends and colleagues, Lucie DdeLaBruere, interviewed me and recently blogged about my thoughts and strategies for reflecting on the maker experience in Create Make Learn: March 5 – Reflection as part of Maker Centered Learning http://createmakelearn.blogspot.com/2018/03/march-5-reflection-as-part-of-maker.html?spref=tw

One of the tools I use to facilitate the reflective process is a board game – see below.

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Some of the things that I believe makes this game successful are:

  • The questions provide the prompts but they are open enough to be personalized by the learners.
  • The game promotes discourse and active listening.
  • The interactive and semi-structure of the game make it fun for the learners.

Because of the success of the game, I was motivated to create a similar tool for maker reflections. I created a set of reflection cards that I believe can facilitate some deeper reflection.

MakerReflection cards.jpg

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 10, 2018 at 5:44 pm

Scaffolding Maker Education Learning Experiences

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I often read via social media about the importance of student centered, student-driven instruction. I wholeheartedly agree. My blog post is called User-Generated Education for a reason. I also believe one of the roles of an educator, in the context of maker education, is to scaffold learning experiences so the end result is students becoming self-determined learning.

Thinking about the importance of learner autonomy and independence reminded me of my early career when I did counseling work with at-risk youth in wilderness settings, taking them on 2 to 3 week wilderness trips. We did what was called Huddle-Up Circles. Huddle-ups were called by the instructors and/or the youth participants any time a concern or problem arose. Everyone stopped what they were doing to gather in a circle to discuss the problem and generate solutions. Needless to say, the instructors were the ones who most often called and facilitated the huddle-ups at beginning of our trips.  Our goal, as instructors and counselors, was to have the young people run the huddle-ups themselves. We knew we were successful when we asked to step out of the huddle-ups by the young people because they wanted to run their own huddle-ups. During these times, we would stand outside of the huddle-up circles and silently observe their processes, only stepping in upon their request. The results not only included the development of skills and strategies for their own social-emotional development, but their success with their earned independence boosted their self-esteems.

This is how I approach facilitating maker education activities. Direct instruction is provided through structured and prescribed activities with the goal of learners then being able to eventually go into self-determined directions. There has been some criticism leveraged against out-of-the-box maker education kits, programmable robots, and step-by-step maker activities. My contention is that learners often don’t know what they don’t know; and that giving them the basic skills frees them to then use their creativity and innovation to take these tools into self-determined directions.

In response, I created and proposed Stages of Maker Education:

makeredmodel1

In my robotics and coding classes, I use Ozobot, Spheros, Dash and Dot, microbits, Scratch, to name of few. I use a full spectrum of activities starting with direct instruction associated with the Copying stage, then assisting learners to move through the Advance, Modify, and Embellish stages by providing them with examples and resources, and finally, encouraging them to move into the Create stage. Sometimes I show them examples of possibilities for the Create stage. I show such examples to spark and ignite their creative juices. Because almost all of my learners have not had the freedom to create, these examples help to get them motivated and going. Here some are examples of two ends of the spectrum – Prescribed/Copy and Create – of some of these robotic and coding activities to show how learning basic skills can lead to creative activities:

My ultimate goal is to have students drive their own learning and I want to help them learn skills to be successful in their self-determined learning.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 19, 2017 at 8:26 pm

Maker Education Camp: Circuit Crafts

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This is my third summer offering maker education summer camps as part of a bigger program at a local school.  During mornings (9 to 12 with a half hour recess), campers, grades Kindergarten through 6th grade, can choose from one of four enrichment classes: art, drama, games, foreign languages, computers, and in my case, maker camps. During the afternoons, all campers get together for typical camp activities – fun and games, field trips, water sports, silly competitions. Each camp lasts a week. This summer I am offering: Cardboard Creations, Circuit Crafts, Toy Making and Hacking, and Robotics and Coding.

I often discuss the need to implement maker education programs with minimal cost materials and ones that offer the potential to tap into diverse learners and their diverse interests:

3d Printers, Ardinos, litteBits, Makey-Makeys, GoSpheros, Lillipads, . . . oh my! These technologies are seductive especially seeing all the press they get on social media, blogs, and Kickstarter.  Given all of the media coverage, an educator new to Maker Education may get the perception that it is all about this kind of high tech stuff. For less affluent schools or after-school programs, it may seem that maker education is out of their reach given budgetary restraints. A maker education program can be fully implemented with minimal cost supplies. Cardboard boxes, recycled materials such as water bottles, detergent bottles, and other plastic throwaways, tape, glue guns, scissors/knives, and markers in conjunction with learners’ imaginations, creativity, and innovative ideas can be the stuff that makerspaces are made of (Making MAKEing more inclusive).

Many of the discussions about and actions related to integrating maker education into educational environments center around the use of new technologies such computer components (Raspberry PisArduinos), interactive robots for kids (Dash and DotOzobotsSpheros), and 3D printers. These technologies are lots of fun and I facilitate Robotics and Computer Science with my gifted students and at one of my summer camps (noting that I purchased the robots myself). The learners engaged in these high tech learning activities with high excitement and motivation. Such high excitement, engagement and motivation, though, were also seen at my low tech/low cost maker education camps: LED crafts, Toy Hacking and Making, and Cardboard Creations. A recent NPR article discussed several challenges for maker education. One of them was related to equity issues, providing maker education for all students regardless of income level:

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

(Cardboard Creations: A Maker Education Camp )

This post lists the materials I used for the Circuit Crafts and descriptions of the activities.

Materials and Costs:

This camp did have some costs associated with it but I believe that given the wide range of activities offered, the costs were justified. The following is my materials list and costs. FYI – I actually purchased most of these materials cheaper via ebay.

  • Snap Circuits Pro (2 at $60 each – $120)
  • Circuit Maze (2 @ $23 each – $46)
  • Circuit Kits (3 at $14 https://www.amazon.com/Basic-Circuit-Kit-Batteries-Holders/dp/B00FKCVFPW – $42)
  • Squishy Circuits
    • Playdoh (two 10 packs at $8.00 each – $16)
    • modeling clay (24 color pack @ $14)
    • 5 mm LED’s – used for several projects (500 mixed color from ebay – $14)
    • 9V Batteries (10 2-packs from Dollar Store – $10)
    • battery terminals with wires (20 – $10)
  • Gami-Bots
    • business cards ($5)
    • coin pager motors (50 from ebay – $25; I got extras as sometimes the wires pull out and sometimes the campers want to make more than one)
    • coin batteries – used for several projects (200 from ebay – $20)
  • Wiggle or Art Bots
  • Paper Circuits
    • coin batteries (purchased quantity under Gami-bots)
    • 5 MM LED lights (purchased quantity under Squishy Circuits
    • copper tape (2 rolls of 1/8″ x 55 yd – $15)
  • Minecraft Blocks and Dollhouses
    • Cardstock (150 sheet pack from Walmart – $5.50)
  • Miscellaneous Supplies (found at school)
    • Tape
    • Two sided tape
    • Scissors
    • Paper
    • Butcher Block Paper
    • Markers

The total budget for serving 20 kids for 2.5 hours per day for 5 days was about $450 noting that the games and kits ($200 of the money) used to kick-off the camp were one time purchases. They will be used again for future camps. It ended up being $22 for each camper for the entire week – $12.50 without the games or kits. Having a materials fee; or doing DonorsChoose.org or a fundraiser can easily cover these costs.

What follows are descriptions and how-tos for the circuit activities at did at this maker camp.

Introduction to Circuits with Games and Manipulatives

To introduce learners to circuits, they played with:

For the first morning, I set up stations for each of the above. Learners were asked to work with a partner or two. They moved to any station at any time as long as they spent time finishing several projects at a given station.

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Squishy Circuits

Squishy Circuits uses conductive and insulating play dough to teach the basics of electrical circuits in a fun, hands-on way. There’s no need for breadboards or soldering – just add batteries and pre-made doughs (or make your own dough). Squishy Circuits are very simple and is based on two play doughs – one that is conductive (electricity flows through it) and one that is insulative (does not allow electricity to flow through it). Power is supplied by a 4AA battery pack and travels through the conductive dough to provide power to LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes), buzzers, or motors.  https://squishycircuits.com/what-is-squishy-circuits/

This PDF was shared with the makers campers: Squishy Circuits Introduction PDF.  It provides some background and simple get started activities.

I then project resources on the Whiteboard to spark ideas for creative use of Squishing Circuits:  http://www.pearltrees.com/jackiegerstein/squishy-circuits/id15355392squishy

 

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Gami-Bots

A Gami-Bot is a simple DIY origami robot that is made from a vibration motor, business card, 3v cell battery, and tape. It is so easy it practically builds itself (https://otherlab.com/blog/post/howtoons-gami-bot).

This was developed by Howtoons. They now sell it as a kit but I buy all of the materials separately as they are simple materials and easily accessible.

Directions can be found via this Howtoons cartoon:

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This is a high engagement, low entry activity for both younger and older (like adults) learners. I encourage learners to decorate them to make them more anthropomorphic and to engage in free play after their creation which often translates into competitions such as racing and length of time staying in determined area.

 

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Wiggle and Art Bots

As this was a summer camp with a budget, my “big” purchase for this camp was Wiggle Bots bought from TeachGeek , but with a few parts like 3v motors, AA batteries, AA battery holders, plastic cups, markers, and tape, learners can easily make their own wiggle and art bots. See my page of resources on Artbots and Scribbling Machines at http://www.makereducation.com/artbots–scribbling-machines.html

 

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LED Paper Projects

The last two days of camp were spent making LED projects:

  • Minecraft Blocks
  • Paper Circuits
  • Circuit City

Minecraft Blocks

I printed off paper templates for Minecraft Blocks from http://stlmotherhood.com/diy-minecraft-light-blocks-diamond-emerald-redstone/. (Yes, it requires a color copier which all of the schools where I work [including the Title 1 ones) have.) Campers were instructed to cut them out and hole punch out “windows” in their blocks to allow the light to shine out. After assembling their blocks leaving the top open, they inserted LED lights with coin batteries taped into place.

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http://www.technologystudent.com/elec_flsh/button1.html

 

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Paper Circuits

I printed off the the parallel and switch circuit templates found at paper-circuit-project-templates. I printed them in color but black and write would have been fine. Additional materials for this project were LEDs, copper tape, and coin batteries. The templates are pretty self-explanatory so I walked around and gave the campers assisted when needed.

 

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Circuit City

Finally, learners were given templates for paper house structures (https://www.template.net/business/paper-templates/paper-house-template/ – I encouraged campers to add lit LEDs as they did for their Minecraft blocks. They were asked to also use their Minecraft blocks and their paper circuits as part of the city. The miscellaneous materials (craft sticks, straws) were also available for them to use. A large piece of butcher block paper was placed on the floor and the learners were given the following simple directions, “Create a city out of your paper crafts: your houses, Minecraft blocks, and paper circuits. You can use the extra LED/coin batteries and markers to add to your city.” Once their city was complete, I darkened the room.

This is the second time I’ve done this activity, and both times, I observed the campers having lots of fun doing some spontaneous role play interacting with the city and each other.

 

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 8, 2017 at 4:41 pm

The Classroom or Library as a Makerspace

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Makerspaces, Maker Education, STEM, and STEAM are gaining lots of traction in Kindergarten though college level education. Articles, resources on social media, and conference presentations on these topics are proliferating at a rate that most educators are now familiar with maker education.

Once again this school year, schools will be ramping up robotics programs and opening more makerspaces, according to the latest report from the New Media Consortium and the Consortium for School Networking. As for “important developments” on the horizon, makerspaces (first listed as a trend in the 2015 report) will pick up speed over the next one to two years. As schools continue to foster 21st century skills in students in order to prepare them for the demands of a global workforce, K–12 will see the adoption of more makerspaces and research efforts to surface best benefits and practices. Furthermore, the report noted that “makerspaces were initially lauded for their role in stimulating interest in STEM fields,” but now they are often viewed as conduits to STEAM education with more emphasis on the humanities, visual arts, dance, drama and other areas of the arts (Ravipati, 2017).

Makerspaces like vocational shops and science labs are great additions to schools. They often contain the tools, machinery, and technologies associated with making – 3D printers, laser cutters, vinyl cutters, high tech robotics, vocational tech machinery. These are great for educational institutions and learners that can afford them.

Problems occur when administrators, educators, learners, and communities come to believe that maker education is synonymous with these tools and spaces. First, they may be out of budget for schools especially those serving lower income populations. Second, the regular classroom teacher or librarian may be intimidated with these advanced tools and technologies. Finally, in order to prevent maker education in becoming the educational flavor of the month, administrators, educators, and libraries need to not be seduced by these high tech tools. The longevity and sustainability of maker education will depend on making it feasible, approachable, and accessible to the masses of educators.

Public focus on maker education often centers on flashy technology, but it is more than just that. Maker education is about building educational experiences that are based in the real world, that allow student choice, and that achieve multiple objectives. Maker education can be used in a variety of ways and projects can be adjusted in scale or scope to meet individual class or student needs. The key to successful maker education implementation is finding project ideas that seamlessly integrate “making” into the lessons. In the end, maker education is all about providing engaging experiences for students that brings out the best in them in the form of problem solving and determination (https://sparkfuneducation.com/what-is-maker-education.html.).

With these broader definitions and approaches to maker education, and with the realization that maker education does not have to be about the shiny, new toys; more school administrators, librarians, and educators may be willing to embrace maker education within their own work settings.  A classroom or library can be at least partially transformed into its own makerspace, a space for powerful student learning by doing the following actions workable and realistic for most librarians and educators:

A classroom or library can be transformed into its own makerspace, a space for powerful student learning by doing the following realistic and workable actions:

  • Removal of Obsolete, Non-Flexible Classroom Desks (including the traditional teacher’s desk)
  • Spaces for Playing, Tinkering, Making, Collaborating, Discussing, Researching, Reflecting
  • An Agile and Nimble Learning Environment
  • Materials Openly and Easily Available
  • Materials and Activities to Spark Diverse Learners and Their Diverse Interests
  • Scavenged Materials
  • A Place and Space That Supports Chaos and Messiness
  • Accessible, Low-Entry, High Ceiling Materials and Activities
  • A Learning Environment Driven by Learner Choice and Voice
  • The Space Screams of Fun and Engagement
  • The Space Screams of a Maker Mindset Not the Stuff

classroom makerspace

Removal of Archaic, Non-Flexible Classroom Desks

The image that often comes to mind about the classroom desk is one that features a plastic chair with chrome legs and a fiberboard tabletop that partially encloses a student’s body (for a history of the classroom desk, see A Visual History of School Desks). The first step for creating a classroom or library space that supports making is to get rid of these archaic pieces of furniture that seem to have been invented more for control than for learning.

The idea that students must be seated at desks working in rows is quickly becoming archaic. Technology and collaborative work environments are changing the design of learning spaces. Experts hope that the emerging paradigm will translate into improved learning spaces (Learning Environment: 20 Things Educators Need to Know about Learning Spaces).

Spaces for Playing, Tinkering, Making, Collaborating, Discussing, Researching, Reflecting

Classroom educators and librarians may wonder how they might create spaces for playing, tinkering, making, collaborating, discussing, researching, and reflecting. First and foremost, they need to develop an innovator’s mindset, one outside of the box of what a classroom should look, sound, and be like. Second, practitioners need to become intentional in insuring that a full spectrum of making skills, attitudes, and knowledge is offered to learners. What will follow is educators and librarians who are creative, innovative, and resourceful in creating spaces that can offer a variety of learning activities. The types of desired learning activities should drive how the learning space should be set up as discussed in the case studies reported by the Hechinger Report article, Personalized Learning: Why Your Classroom Should Sound Like A Coffee Shop:

As a first step, they began with ideas and used them to define the space. Searching questions such as “What types of activities will define this flexible space?” were used to escape the constraints of the physical space and get beyond our own set of normal limitations.

An Agile and Nimble Learning Environment

The intentional use of flexible seating that form agile and nimble learning spaces support the learning intentions discussed in the previous section.

An agile learning environment is an educational playground that is intentionally designed to be adjustable, exchangeable and moveable. The learning space is designed to support idea generation, collaboration and experimentation. agile learning environments ultimately showcase how the design of a physical space, as well as the implementation of technology within that space, can shift how people communicate with one another.

The primary goal of an agile learning environment is flexibility. The furniture in the space, and the technology used within it, are flexible so that it can be configured and re-configured to suit different approaches to learning and teaching. An agile learning environment has the ability to turn a static or ‘dead’ space into a dynamic space (The primary goal of an agile learning environment).

With some creativity and flexibility, the practitioner can set up a unique, multipurpose space to serve the goals of making, the learners, and multipurpose uses specified above. The spaces become agile and nimble. There are lots of resources that discuss flexible seating. Here is a ScoopIt aggregate of resources  http://www.scoop.it/t/flexible-seating-1

Affordable and Scavenged Materials

There are so many avenues for acquiring materials for the classroom or library seeking to be at least a part-time makerspace.

Makerspace materials

Once educators open themselves up to all of the possibilities of making, they will find free materials everywhere – cardboard at stores; recycled plastic bottles at school or the local recycling center; the storage closet at school where all of the old science kits are stored (I’ve found them at every school where I work) with all kinds of making supplies; old technologies and appliances for learners to take apart and build new inventions

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Affordable Materials Openly and Easily Accessible

In a learner-centered classroom environment, materials are displayed openly – being accessible to the learners on an as-needed-when-needed basis.  Both of the elementary schools where I work have general consumables for educators (and I believe it’s true for most schools): xerox paper, butcher block paper, crayons, scissors, tape, markers, rubber bands, paper clips. These materials are stored openly in bins in cubbies for my learners.

Materials such as these can provide a foundation for making; brainstorming, prototyping, reflecting and should be available for learners to use for their making activities without asking the teacher. Having them displayed can spark learners’ ideas. So when a learner says, “I need some paper.” (They ask because of their previous school experiences.) My comment back is, “Then go get it.”

Materials and Activities to Spark Diverse Learners and Their Diverse Interests

The maker education and maker spaces movements are way too often symbolized by the machines; 3D printers, laser cutters, high tech components (Raspberry Pi and Arduino) and way too often it is white males who are attracted to these machines. In order to respect the diverse learners represented by gender, age, ethnic and racial background, then first, the definition of making needs to be expanded. As Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame noted in his 2016 Bay Area Maker Faire talk:

What is making? It is a term for an old thing, it is a new term for an old thing. Let me be really clear, making is not simply 3D printing, Art Lino, Raspberry Pi, LEDs, robots, laser and vinyl cutters. It’s not simply carpentry and welding and sculpting and duct tape and drones. Making is also writing and dance and filmmaking and singing and photography and cosplay.

Every single time you make something from you that didn’t exist in the world, you are making. Making is important; it’s empowering. It is invigorating, but why? There are lots of results that are good that come from making. We improve the world around us. We show people how much we care about them. We solve problems, both personal and societal (Adam Savage’s 2016 Bay Area Maker Faire Talk).

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With this expanded definition of making, it follows that the activities and materials in the classroom or library should reflect the diverse learners and their specific interests.

A Place and Space That Supports Chaos and Messiness

Traditional classrooms and libraries are often marked by students at their desks completing their learning tasks quietly, independently with as little movement of possible. This is opposite of what happens in a making environment. The classroom or library becomes loud, seemingly chaotic, and messy, but authentic and engaged learning is often messy.

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

Accessible, Low-Entry, High Ceiling Materials and Activities

“When discussing technologies to support learning and education, my mentor Seymour Papert often emphasized the importance of “low floors” and “high ceilings.” For a technology to be effective, he said, it should provide easy ways for novices to get started (low floor) but also ways for them to work on increasingly sophisticated projects over time (high ceiling).” Mitch Resnick in https://design.blog/2016/08/25/mitchel-resnick-designing-for-wide-walls/

I do conference presentations where I have educators and librarians make paper circuits and Gami-bots. The success rate for these projects is 100% which translates into low entry into making (I took liberty to change low low to low entry). At one of my recent workshops, one teacher made the following design out of her paper circuit which says, “The moment your realize you can be a maker.”

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Similar materials can also create a high ceiling or more complex activities such as advanced art projects, most complex paper circuit projects, use of more advanced maker technologies.

A Learning Environment Driven by Learner Choice and Voice

The bottom line of setting up a learning environment based on the tenets typically associated with making is that learner voice and choice is enhanced. When choice and voice are intentionally built into learning then school and education work.

School works when students have opportunities to produce quality work about issues that matter. Education works when people have opportunities to find and develop unaccessed or unknown voices and skills. Audre Lord 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 Choice Leads to Student Voice).

The Space Screams of Fun and Engagement; a Place for and By Learners

Piaget famously noted that play is the work of children and I have the belief that all humans maintain the sense of wonder of a child. Embedding fun into making; into learning in general increases engagement, joy, creativity, innovation, and collaboration.

In our test-driven educational world of today being on task and on time in many schools leaves little time for play. Lunch periods have been shortened and days and years have been lengthened in an apparent quest to make our students into perfect little technicians, automatons who can react specifically in isolation to a set of pre- set stimuli in a consistent and certain way. Little room is left for the unexpected or the un-planned in our modern classrooms. It is a strangely disastrous way to prepare our children for a future where it appears that the only constant will be continual change. By play I do not mean little league, dance, or any other adult controlled activity. It must be kid controlled, kid directed, and kid policed for real learning about life to take place. Is it possible that our current infatuation with the concept that spending more time on something will make it better is so logical and easily observable and testable that just as logic and observation has in the past it might make people believe that the Earth is flat? (“Play is the work of children”….. J. Piaget).

Fun can be felt, seen, experienced when as soon as learners and visitors walk into the space.  I love watching the faces on visitors when they enter my own classroom. They light up as they see my sofas, chairs, lamps; making supplies in cubbies in the back of the room; and most of all my learners’ work such as LED lit on student-generated posters hanging on the wall, paper roller coasters in-process of being made, and Lego creations on the Lego wall.

The Space Screams the Maker Mindset Not the Stuff

The battle cry of educators using educational technology is that the pedagogy needs to come before the technology. I am baffled, then, why I go to edtech conferences and find so many sessions on the technology, e.g., 60 apps in 60 minutes. The same seems to be true for the maker movement these days. Practitioners talk about the maker mindset and then speak of the shiny new toys they use without talking about the context – of what skills and knowledge students learn from it. For example, with the 3D printer, they might talk about the Yoda they made and I say, “So what?” It really is about having a maker mindset not about the shiny, new maker tools. It’s about the making process; about the engagement, creativity, innovation, struggles to complete a difficult task, sense of accomplishment. A cardboard box, for example, can become a chariot, rocket, robot, marble run, Foosball game, dollhouse, Hot Wheels track, house, fort, castle, game.

We must exercise the discipline to refrain from attaching too quickly to an idea just because it’s new. Making is no exception, so to truly prepare ourselves to be successful in this new venture, let’s be sure we set our students up to have the right mindset to be courageous innovators (6 Must-Haves for Developing a Maker Mindset).

With a maker mindset and some of the strategies outlined above, any classroom or library can become a makerspace.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 2, 2017 at 2:09 pm

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