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All Kids Have Worth

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All kids have worth. Some, though, want to prove to us that they have none. Our job as caring educators is to prove them wrong.

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This post was sparked by a blog post by Brian Aspinall, 5 Reasons Why I Stopped Sending Kids Out of Class and a follow up Twitter conversation I had with Brian Aspinall and Terry Heick.

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This got me thinking about my own past experiences with very high risk youth. I used to facilitate wilderness adventure therapy programs for adjudicated youth. This is a story of one youth in the program.

The Story of Timmy MadDog

In preparation for our two week wilderness course, I was to meet each of the kids in their social workers’ offices. I knew the kids would be a challenge. They were given the choice between going on the wilderness course or going to juvenile detention. Prior to meeting Timmy, his social worker told me he was a handful, that both adults and his peers feared him. I took a deep breath in preparation for meeting him. In walks in a 13 year-old boy with shabby clothes, shaggy blond hair, and about 4’10 in height. The first thing he said was, “My name in MadDog.” I laughed out loud given the incongruence between his description and his appearance; but internally my heart immediately was drawn to this kid.

As expected, MadDog caused a lot of problems “mouthing off” to both staff and his peers. None of problems, though, were outrageous or dangerous. We used huddle-ups or the tenets positive peer culture to deal with problems:

PPC is a peer-helping model designed to improve social competence and cultivate strengths in troubled and troubling youth. “Care and concern” for others (or “social interest”) is the defining element of PPC. Rather than demanding obedience to authority or peers, PPC demands responsibility, empowering youth to discover their greatness. Caring is made fashionable and any hurting behavior totally unacceptable. PPC assumes that as group members learn to trust, respect, and take responsibility for the actions of others, norms can be established. These norms not only extinguish antisocial conduct, but more importantly reinforce pro-social attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Positive values and behavioral change are achieved through the peer-helping process. Helping others increases self-worth. As one becomes more committed to caring for others, s/he abandons hurtful behaviors. http://www.cebc4cw.org/program/positive-peer-culture/

The bottom line was, “You can have problems but you need to deal with them.” The huddle-ups were group meetings called by both staff and the kids if a problem arose. Everything would immediately stop what they were doing and get in a huddle to discuss the problem. The huddle-up went on as long as needed to address the problem and insure that everyone was comfortable with solutions.  Needless to say, Timmy MadDog had a large share of huddle-ups called on him.

We were in the second week, Timmy MadDog had reached the end of everyone’s nerves. We had a long and intense huddle-up. The kids, good problem-solvers by this point, had a list of changes they wanted Timmy MadDog to make. Their ultimatum was make these changes or leave the course. I respected the kids’ decisions – especially at this point of the course. I had really grown to care about Timmy MadDog and didn’t want their decision to be to kick him out of the course. Timmy MadDog sighed and said, “I really want to change but I have been acting this way for 13 years. How can you expect me to change overnight?” The group voted for him to say.

During the final days of the course, we saw subtle but significant changes. The baseball cap that he had worn so low it almost covered his eyes during all of his waking hours was no longer being worn at all. The other kids would often chant “Don’t treat your puppy like a dog, dog, dog (from the old tv commercial). You think you are a MadDog but you are just a puppy dog” to which he would laugh and smile. Less huddle-ups were called on him.

The final night of the two week wilderness trip was marked by a graduation. The kids, after cleaning up and getting dressed up, went to a dinner in honor of their achievements. Their family members, social workers, and probation officers were invited to attend. To receive their graduation certificate, each had to stand up in front of the entire group and talk about what the course meant to them. It was Timmy’s turn. He stood up in front of the group and said, “I learned that I wasn’t such a fuck up.” This wasn’t the most proper way to say it in front of all of these people but the message was huge. Timmy learned he had worth.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 27, 2015 at 9:11 pm

Educator as Lead Learner: Learning LittleBits

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I have discussed educators as model learners before:

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

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

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

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

Note My Steps to the Learning Process

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

How I Am Learning

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

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

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

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

Thinking About My Thinking

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

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

Iterations

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

1st Iteration

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

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2nd Iteration

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

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Self-Evaluation

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

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

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 23, 2015 at 1:18 am

Educators as Lead Learners

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I have discussed educators as model learners before:

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

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

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

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

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

educator as lead learner

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

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

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

Learning As Iterative

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 15, 2015 at 2:49 pm

Questions to Ask Oneself While Designing Learning Activities

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

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

lesson reflection

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 31, 2015 at 11:31 pm

Things We Want Our Learners to Say

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

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

students say

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 20, 2015 at 3:19 am

The Other 21st Century Skills: Educator Self-Assessment

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

21st century skills

Related Resources:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 16, 2015 at 8:08 pm

Creativity and Orbiting the Giant Hairball of School

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

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

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

The Giant Hairball of School

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

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

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

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

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

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

CREATE

Resources and Articles

As a parting shot – some creativity in education quotes:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 26, 2014 at 11:07 pm

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