User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

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Sharing: A Responsibility of the Modern Educator

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In a past post blog I discussed the idea that every educator has a story and that they should share those stories:

Educators are doing amazing things with their learners in spite of the standards-based and accountability-driven movements. If all educators publicized the accomplishments they had in their classrooms using technology, hands-on activities, global collaborations, project-based learning; then an informal qualitative research project would result.  When educators are asked to provide evidence of efficacy to administrators, parents, other educators, funding sources, they could share these success stories.  This aggregate would become the collective narrative – story of education of our times in the beginnings of the 21st century. (https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2011/11/23/every-educator-has-a-story-just-tell-it/)

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As a follow-up to that post, I am amplifying my call to action to say that I believe it is the responsibility of every educator in this era of learning to share . . . resources, ideas, success, challenges, ahas, student insights, anything education related.

Sharing takes on many forms. Educators can talk to colleagues, write blogs, tweet, present at conferences – both virtually and face to face, talk to the media, and/or create a media product – video, podcast, photo essay – and post online.

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On a personal level, sharing assists the educator in becoming a better educator. The act of sharing requires reflection and preparation. The educator needs to reflect on his or her own practices to identify which ones they want to share and also needs to put that sharing artifact into a form (e.g. writing, images, audio, video) that will understood by an authentic audience. This process tends to help the educator improve instructional practices.

On a broader, more systemic level, sharing one’s experiences benefits other educators which, in turn, has the potential to advance the entire education field. It is the collective responsibility of all educators to create the change that they want to see in the education world. There really is no they in education. The they is really we-us. The we-us now have the means to have a voice.

The educator becomes a connected educator and through sharing, is an active participant and contributor to the connected educator movement.

Being a connected educator means connecting with other teachers to exchange ideas, improve your teaching practice, and in turn, make a change in education. It is only through being connected that we can collaborate and help to foster learning for the 21st century and beyond. (Being a Connected Educator)

The gap between what is and what could be in education is larger than it ever has  been.  I believe this is largely due to technology and the ability to establish global connections because of social media. Educators are more connected and more aware about education trends than any time in the history of public education.

Imagine how education could be transformed if all educators use their own personal, often passion-driven voices. The bottom line is that if any individual educator believes there are flaws in the education, that it can be done better, then s/he has the responsibility to say something. I reaching the point that I am starting to believe it is a moral imperative for educators to share what they know to be true with other educators; and with administrators, students’ families, community members, politicians . . . the larger global society.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 29, 2015 at 11:09 pm

Learning Needs a Context

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This is a follow up to a post I wrote, How Do We Learn? How Should We Learn?  The purpose of these posts is to encourage educators to examine practices they take for granted, implement without deep reflection of their efficacy. This post discusses the instructional practice of asking students to memorize information.

How often have students (ourselves included) been asked to memorize mass amounts of facts – historical dates, vocabulary words, science facts, get tested on them, just to forget almost all those memorized facts a week or two later? Given that is this learning experience is more common than not, why do educators insist on continuing this archaic and ineffective instructional practice?

To learn it in isolation is like learning the sentence “Hamlet kills Claudius” without the faintest idea of who either gentleman is–or, for what matter, of what “kill” means. Memorization is a frontage road: It runs parallel to the best parts of learning, never intersecting. It’s a detour around all the action, a way of knowing without learning, of answering without understanding. (When Memorization Gets in the Way of Learning)

The more closely we inspect this model of teaching and testing, the more problematic it reveals itself to be. First, there’s the question of what students are made to learn, which often is more oriented to factual material than to a deep understanding of ideas. Second, there’s the question of how students are taught, with a focus on passive absorption: listening to lectures, reading summaries in textbooks, and rehearsing material immediately before being required to cough it back up. Third, there’s the question of why a student has learned something: Knowledge is less likely to be retained if it has been acquired so that one will perform well on a test, as opposed to learning in the context of pursuing projects and solving problems that are personally meaningful. (Alfie Kohn)

The visual image I use to describe this is that there are all of these unconnected facts floating around in the learner’s brain. Since they have nothing to connect to, they end up flying away. This is especially true for abstract concepts.

floating facts

Memorizing facts often means a waste of students’ time and energy. In some cases, too many cases, learners lose their passion and excitement for a subject or topic that, if taught in another way, may have not been the case.

The Need for Context

Learning facts and knowledge about a content area topic is an important prerequisite to understanding that topic and then developing expertise. The key to this understanding is providing a context for the facts. The context becomes the glue to increase the stickiness, the longevity of long term memory of those facts. This is especially true for abstract concepts. These concepts need something concrete with which to attach.context

Lave and Wenger (1991) argue that learning should not be viewed as simply the transmission of abstract and decontextualised knowledge from one individual to another, but a social process whereby knowledge is co-constructed; they suggest that such learning is situated in a specific context and embedded within a particular social and physical environment. (Situated Learning)

Increasing Context and Relevancy

Authentic learning can be the driving force for increasing context and relevancy. Jan Herrington describes authentic learning along two axes – the authenticity of the task is on one axis (from authentic to decontextualised), and the setting is on the other (the classroom/university to the real setting). The goal of educators should be to increase authenticity which leads to more contextual learning (and vice versa).

Matrix pic 1(http://authenticlearning.info/AuthenticLearning/Matrix.html)

The following are some suggestions for establishing context (the list is just a start). Ironically, they are practices that are often recommended are best practices in teaching but they aren’t implement as often as they should be:

The bottom line is that regardless of the content area, students deserve educations that have self-perceived authenticity, relevancy, and a context that makes sense.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 21, 2015 at 6:17 pm

The Creativity Mindset

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I absolutely love all of the emphasis on mindsets these days. There are growth mindsets (which I discuss in The Educator with a Growth Mindset: A Staff Workshop) and maker mindsets (which I discuss in The Mindset of the Maker Educator). Mindsets are simply defined as “the ideas and attitudes with which a person approaches a situation.” Mindsets imply that mental and attitudinal states can assist one in being successful with a given skill set. I believe this to be true for engaging in the creative process, that a creative mindset is a prerequisite to being creative.

Creativity is a process in which the elements of mind consolidate in a completely new manner and something original comes into existence, a form of behavior in which a person resists routine answers, tolerates, and even seeks out the ambivalence, insecurity and vagueness that may serve as a basis for a new order (Gyarmathy, 2011). (http://www.academia.edu/2506344/Creative_climate_as_a_means_to_promote_creativity_in_the_classroom)

To be highly creative you first need the right creative mindset. Having the outlook, attitude and beliefs that empower and support you to be as creative as you can. (http://www.mind-sets.com/html/mind_power_programs/creativity_mindset.htm#sthash.ihA6Ng2q.dpuf)

A creative mindset gives meaning and value to how you approach your life, creative endeavors, and pretty much everything you do. Having a mindset for creativity opens you up to opportunities and possibilities because you are able to relish the creative process and embrace innovative thinking. Creativity is how we make our lives meaningful and by valuing your creativity, owning, and honoring it, you will move into a life that is purposeful, truthful, and feels free. (http://www.awakencreativity.com/a-creative-mindset/)

Some of the characteristics of the Creativity Mindset include:

  • Believes in One’s Own Creativity
  • Embraces Curiosity
  • Suspends Judgement – Silences the Inner Critic
  • Tolerates Ambiguity
  • Persists Even When Confronted with Skepticism & Rejection
  • Taps Into Childlike Imagination; a Child’s Sense of Wonder

creativity mindset

Believes in One’s Own Creativity

Central to a creativity mindset is the belief that one is and can be creative. It becomes self-statements that revolve around, “I can be creative.”

You have to believe that your creativity has meaning. You have to believe with all your heart that if you don’t express your creativity that you are not living up to your full potential, will never experience true happiness, or find the ultimate meaning of your existence. (http://www.awakencreativity.com/a-creative-mindset/believe-in-your-creativity-part-one-of-a-creative-mindset/)

Tina Seelig writes in inGenius that “in order to find creative solutions to big problems, you must first believe that you’ll find them. With this attitude, you see opportunities where others see obstacles and are able to leverage the resources you have to reach your goals” (p. 180). (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/creative-synthesis/201404/when-it-comes-creativity-attitude-is-key)

Embraces Curiosity

Creative people want to know things–all kinds of things– just to know them. Knowledge does not require a reason. The question, “Why do you want to know that?” seems strange to the creative person, who is likely to respond, “Because I don’t know the answer.” Knowledge is enjoyable and often useful in strange and unexpected ways. (http://www.virtualsalt.com/crebook1.htm)

Suspends Judgment – Silences the Inner Critic

The ability to hold off on judging or critiquing an idea is important in the process of creativity. Often great ideas start as crazy ones – if critique is applied too early the idea will be killed and never developed into something useful and useable. (note – this doesn’t mean there is never a time for critique or judgement in the creative process – it’s actually key – but there is a time and place for it). (http://www.problogger.net/archives/2007/05/09/9-attitudes-of-highly-creative-people/)

Many new ideas, because they are new and unfamiliar, seem strange, odd, bizarre, even repulsive. Only later do they become “obviously” great. Other ideas, in their original incarnations, are indeed weird, but they lead to practical, beautiful, elegant things. Thus, it is important for the creative thinker to be able to suspend judgment when new ideas are arriving, to have an optimistic attitude toward ideas in general.

Tolerates Ambiguity

Ambiguity tolerance may be… the “willingness to accept a state of affairs capable of alternate interpretations, or of alternate outcomes,” (English & English 1958). In other words, ambiguity tolerance may be central to creative thinking. (http://knowinnovation.com/tolerating-ambiguity/#sthash.XqxhaQh3.dpuf)

With the toleration of ambiguity, creativity gives way to new ideas, stimulates the acceptance of others’ viewpoints, and thus raises tolerance, understanding and cooperation. (http://www.academia.edu/2506344/Creative_climate_as_a_means_to_promote_creativity_in_the_classroom

Persists Even When Confronted with Skepticism & Rejection

Creative people who actually see their ideas come to fruition have the ability to stick with their ideas and see them through – even when the going gets tough. This is what sets apart the great from the good in this whole sphere. Stick-ability is key. (http://www.problogger.net/archives/2007/05/09/9-attitudes-of-highly-creative-people/)

Most people fail because they spend only nine minutes on a problem that requires ten minutes to solve. Creativity and problem solving are hard work and require fierce application of time and energy. There is no quick and easy secret. You need knowledge gained by study and research and you must put your knowledge to work by hard thinking and protracted experimentation.  (http://www.virtualsalt.com/crebook1.htm)

Taps Into Childlike Imagination; a Child’s Sense of Wonder

When children play, they often do so in very original ways. However, with the responsibilities of adulthood, this playful curiosity is sometimes lost and conventional responses often result. In a control condition, participants wrote about what they would do if school was cancelled for the day. In an experimental condition, the instructions were identical except that participants were to imagine themselves as 7-year-olds in this situation. Individuals imagining themselves as children subsequently produced more original responses. Merely being primed to think like a child resulted in the production of more original responses on a subsequent measure of creativity. (http://psycnet.apa.org/?&fa=main.doiLanding&doi=10.1037/a0015644)

Learning to ask ‘why’, ‘what if’ and ‘I wonder…’ are great questions to build into your life if you want to be a more creative person. (http://www.problogger.net/archives/2007/05/09/9-attitudes-of-highly-creative-people/)

Look at the clouds outside your window. When you were a child, you would probably find yourself looking at the clouds and seeing all kinds of shapes and figures and developing stories. Many adults, however, look at clouds and see them as nothing more than the threat of rain. Psychologists call this “functional fixedness”–we see things for their main function and thereby circumvent our imagination. To think creatively, we need to stop thinking, “What it is…” and instead think, “What could it be?” (http://www.inc.com/suzanne-lucas/the-5-attitudes-that-stifle-creativity.html)

Creative people are comfortable with imagination and with thinking so-called weird, wild, or unthinkable thoughts, just for the sake of stimulation. (http://www.virtualsalt.com/crebook1.htm)

I wholeheartedly believe that both educators and learners in any educational setting need to have a Creativity Mindset to grow, flourish, and feel accomplished with their learning.

In order to teach creativity, one must teach creatively; that is, it will take a great deal of creative effort to bring out the most creative thinking in your classes. (http://www.celt.iastate.edu/teaching-resources/classroom-practice/teaching-techniques-strategies/creativity/techniques-creative-teaching/)

There are some conditions that the educator can establish to facilitate a Creativity Mindset. Coleman and Deutsch (2006) summarize guidelines for fostering creative problem-solving, which also underlie the importance of optimal environmental conditions. These include:

  • Challenge the common myths that block creativity. Many ideas about creativity have developed in people’s minds that influence the procedure of creativity in a negative way.  Ken Robinson (2011) states that every person possesses a huge creative potential, simply by virtue of being human.
  • Create a time-space oasis for creativity. According to John Cleese (1991) the most important factor is to provide an appropriate physical environment and enough time to become absorbed in a task, then work persistently on the solution, this is called a time-space oasis, a necessary condition for creative production.
  • Formulate a serious but playful atmosphere. Humor and playfulness decrease anxiety and thus make us more open to new approaches.
  • Foster learner’s self -confidence to bear the risk of unusual behavior. Some self-confidence or assertiveness is indispensable if we want to come up with new ideas, so self-reliance should be enhanced to encourage people to be more willing to take risks and consider novel ideas. http://www.academia.edu/2506344/Creative_climate_as_a_means_to_promote_creativity_in_the_classroom)

As a parting shot, here is a short RSA Animate video on the power to create:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 15, 2015 at 1:44 pm

How Do We Learn? How Should We Learn?

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If I ask you or your students, “How do you learn,” how many of you could clearly articulate this process? If you can, are the strategies you’re using the best ones for learning? Furthermore, if the research on the process of learning is compared to the practices being implemented in school, does this research influence school practices?

During my school years, I noticed there was a problem with how I was being asked to learn. Cramming and memorizing information, being tested for mastery prior to having enough practice time, having units of study with supposedly beginnings and endings, and learning facts with no context were counterproductive and at times, painful to me.

The unintended consequences of these artificial and unnatural ways of learning include believing that learning is or should be difficult, painful, disciplined, and not fun. This, too often, results in learners believing that they cannot or do not want to learn new things especially in those areas where and when learning was painful. I believe learning can or should be natural, fun, engaging.

Benedict Carey informs us that “most of our instincts about learning are misplaced, incomplete, or flat wrong” and “rooted more in superstition than in science.” That’s a disconcerting message, and hard to believe at first. But it’s also unexpectedly liberating, because Carey further explains that many things we think of as detractors from learning — like forgetting, distractions, interruptions or sleeping rather than hitting the books — aren’t necessarily bad after all. They can actually work in your favor, according to a body of research that offers surprising insights and simple, doable strategies for learning more effectively. (http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/08/how-does-the-brain-learn-best-smart-studying-strategies/)

Instead of making assumptions about the best and most natural learning strategies, it is best to research and study this process. “Unfortunately, most people, educators included, are unaware of the lessons from the science of learning” (http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/08/how-does-the-brain-learn-best-smart-studying-strategies/).

What follows are some of those strategies that research has indicated are some of the better ones. It obviously is not extensive nor inclusive of all possible learning strategies, but it is a good start to reflect on how educators ask students to learn.

Productive Failure

We’ve heard a lot lately about the benefits of experiencing and overcoming failure. One way to get these benefits is to set things up so that you’re sure to fail—by tackling a difficult problem without any instruction or assistance. Manu Kapur, a researcher at the Learning Sciences Lab at the National Institute of Education of Singapore, has reported that people who try solving math problems in this way don’t come up with the right answer—but they do generate a lot of ideas about the nature of the problems and about what potential solutions would look like, leading them to perform better on such problems in the future. Kapur calls this “productive failure,” and you can implement it in your own learning by allowing yourself to struggle with a problem for a while before seeking help or information. (http://lifehacker.com/the-science-behind-how-we-learn-new-skills-908488422)

Spaced-Out Practice

When we’re picking up a new skill or learning something entirely new, it’s easy to binge-learn and obsessively work on it over time. However, that’s not always the best idea. In fact, spreading out learning, also known as distributed practice, is thought to be a better way to learn. A review of studies in Psychological Science in the Public Interest found that spreading out learning is far more effective than cramming. Distributed practice is an old technique, but it actually works really well for the busy lives most of us lead. Instead of sitting down for hours on end to learn a skill, distributed practice is all about shorter, smaller sessions where you’re stimulating the link between the neurons more often throughout time. (http://lifehacker.com/the-science-behind-how-we-learn-new-skills-908488422)

Breaking up and spacing out study time over days or weeks can substantially boost how much of the material students retain, and for longer, compared to lumping everything into a single, nose-to-the-grindstone session. (http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/08/how-does-the-brain-learn-best-smart-studying-strategies/)

Take Breaks to Allow for Incubation

There’s a whole bunch of science looking at problem-solving. In problem-solving, when you get stuck, you’ve run out of ideas, distraction is really your best friend. You need to stand up, let it go — walk around the block, go to the cafe, drink a beer, whatever it is — and that is really your best shot at loosening the gears a little bit and allowing yourself to take a different and more creative approach to the problem. (http://www.npr.org/2014/08/23/342219405/studying-take-a-break-and-embrace-your-distractions)

A 15-minute break to go for a walk or trawl on social media isn’t necessarily wasteful procrastination. Distractions and interruptions can allow for mental “incubation” and flashes of insight — but only if you’ve been working at a problem for a while and get stuck, according to a 2009 research meta-analysis. (http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/08/how-does-the-brain-learn-best-smart-studying-strategies/)

Try Alternate and More Fun Ways of Learning Before Giving Up on Something New

When trying to learn something new, you can easily get burned out and feel defeated if the subject is taught by rote. The problem was the way the books “dragged [him] through a series of structured principles” lifelessly. This is not to say that learning through books is bad (not all books are terrible) or that all classes are like this. If you find yourself, though, thinking of giving up on a subject you really want to learn because you’re struggling with it, consider how you’re learning or being taught. Try to find a way to learn through play (http://lifehacker.com/5810326/try-alternate-and-more-fun-ways-of-learning-before-giving-up-on-learning-something-new)

Apply New Learning Often and in Meaningful Contexts

The more you can apply what you’re learning to your every day, the more it’ll stick in your head. The reason is simple. When you’re learning by doing, you’re implementing everything that makes our memory work. When you’re able to connect what you’re learning with a real world task, that forms the bonds in your brain, and subsequently the skills you’re learning will stick around.

We learn best when we have context, and that applies to new skills as much as it does random facts in school. That’s why something like the transfer of learning is helpful when your learning a new skill. This means you’re applying your new skills in your day to day life in a context that matters. (http://lifehacker.com/the-science-behind-how-we-learn-new-skills-908488422)

Questions to Help Guide Learning:

  • Is failure viewed as normal and as a productive part of the learning process?
  • Is learning spaced out over time rather than crammed into a short time period?
  • Are distractions during learning normalized?
  • Is the learning practiced often and in a variety of contexts?
  • Is learning playful and fun? This is especially important when 0ne gets “stuck” at an impasse.

learning

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 8, 2015 at 12:11 am

Maker Education Activities

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This coming summer I am getting the opportunity to teach a maker education camp for three weeks, half-days at a local elementary school.  The descriptions for the three one-week workshops are:

  • Circuit Crafts: Build glowing, sensing, and interactive circuit projects; make electronic stickers, circuit sketchbooks, circuit cards, and sewn circuits.
  • Sweet Robotics: Make simple robotics using Popsicle sticks and LED lights; play with and build some robots with Makey Makey, littleBits, Hummingbird, and Modular Robotics.
  • Toy Hacking: Take apart simple electronic toys to see how they work & then put them back together again creating a new toy; make an operation game.

I created a website in order to aggregate possible activities, resources, and tutorials; and as a means to promote the workshops to parents, so they can see examples projects that the kids will be working on. Below is a link to my website.

2015-03-01_1648http://makereducation.weebly.com/

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 2, 2015 at 12:04 am

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 met 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 two week 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 in 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 my heart was immediately 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/or the kids if a problem arose. Everyone 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 am not 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

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