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Specific Ideas for Intentional Creativity

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Recently I wrote a blog post about Intentional Creativity. Here is the graphic created for that post. Below the graphic are specific ideas I am using with my gifted elementary students this school year.

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What follows are the activities I am using this school year to be intentional with sparking creativity in my gifted education classrooms. The titles are links for these activities.

Destination Imagination Instant Challenges

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Goal: To spark creative divergent thinking for STEM, STEAM, and science based learning.

Description: Instant Challenges are fun, STEAM-based group activities that must be solved within a short period of time. Using your imagination, teamwork and few everyday materials, you and your friends will work together to see just how innovative you can be. With hundreds of potential combinations and ways to solve each Instant Challenge, the creative possibilities are endless!

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Write About

Goal: To get learners’ primed to do some creative writing.

Description: Don’t look at Write About as another thing to add. It’s a platform for writing and a community for publishing writing…regardless of the genre, purpose, length or audience. We believe a balance between digital and physical is a healthy thing, and support your pencil/paper writer’s notebooks whole heartedly! But when you want students to transition their writing skills into a digital space…when you want to empower them with choice and visual inspiration for creative sparks…when you want them to have an authentic audience for their writing…when you want them to leverage multi modal tools like audio and images…that’s where we come in!

Minute Mysteries

Goal: To help learners to think outside of the box; to develop alternative perspectives of perceived reality.

Description:  Minute mysteries are riddles where students ask yes or no questions to try and solve the riddle. They are called minute mysteries because they are usually a bit more complex than your average riddle.

Rebus Puzzles

Goal: To help learners playful interact with the symbolic nature of language.

Description: Rebus Puzzles are essentially little pictures or riddles, often made with letters and words, which cryptically represent a word, phrase, or saying.

Classroom Icebreakers

Goal: To build community; help create a classroom climate with a sense of fun and whimsy.

Description: Useful for the beginning of a class period or toward the beginning of a semester when students don’t know each other well, Introduction and Breaking-the-Ice games can dramatically transform the dynamics of your classroom. More ideas can be found at: https://www.pinterest.com/explore/classroom-icebreakers/

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 2, 2017 at 4:11 pm

Intentional Creativity

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Torrence, whose focus was on creativity, developed the Torrence Incubation Model of Creative Thinking (TIM) model.

As emphasized in this video, embedding creativity into the curriculum can and should be a strong component of content area teaching and learning. In other words, educators don’t need to plan to teach creativity as another part of curriculum.  Creativity is often an integral part of the practices of professionals including scientists, mathematicians, business people, artists, writers, and is an important part of their content area expertise. It follow, then, that learners should be taught in ways that help them think like a scientist . . . like an artist . . .  like a writer . . .  like a business person.

E. Paul Torrance, perhaps one of the most prominent scholars of creativity, conducted a variety of studies exploring the teaching and learning of creativity. His studies identified specific skills associated with creativity, and demonstrated success in the teaching of creativity through the Torrance Incubation Model of Creative Teaching and Learning. The Torrance Incubation Model of Creative Teaching and Learning can be applied to a lesson, unit or project. The application of TIM and the identification of a specific creativity skill is an effective way to teach creativity, without impacting the teaching of core objectives or curriculum content. TIM, has three stages: Stage One, Heighten Anticipation, is designed to adequately and mentally prepare the student (or students) for the project ahead. Torrance describes this as a ʻWarming Up Periodʼ with the following six functions, (1) Create the Desire to Know, (2) Heighten Anticipation and Expectation, (3) Get Attention, (4) Arouse Curiosity, (5) Tickle the Imagination, and (6) Give Purpose and Motivation. (Torrance Incubation Model of Creative Teaching and Learning (TIM))

Specific active methods for heightening anticipation include:

The benefits of educators being intentional with heightening anticipation include:

  • Increased engagement in and motivation for the learning activities.
  • Increased interest in content area learning; possibly stimulating new learner passions.
  • Deeper learning.
  • More generalizable skills related to creativity.

So just with a little planning, the educator can set up conditions that can significantly motivate learners and create an energized learning environment climate.

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 20, 2017 at 3:05 pm

Freedom to Learn

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I was painfully bored during my K-12 education. I looked forward to college anticipating that it would be different – more engaging, more interesting, more innovative. I was wrong. My undergraduate education, except for a few bright spots, was just an extension of my K-12 education including more grill and drill with sages on the stages (literally since I went to such a large university); taking notes and taking lots of multiple choice tests. During my freshman year, I thought that if I had one wish, it would be to change the educational system (which has stayed with me ever since). One of those bright spots was being asked to read Carl Rogers, Freedom to Learn, which was published 1969 in an upper level Educational Psychology course. The big aha for me was that school systems should be focused on helping learners develop the skills for how to learn not what to learn, one that was sorely lacking in most of my K-graduate-level education and a concept and goal that as an educator I’ve held onto ever since.

So now when I read about new “pedagogies” and instructional strategies based on self-directed learning, learning how to learn, self-determined learning, I kind of laugh to myself. Solid, valid, and student-focused pedagogy has been proposed ever since the beginnings of institutionalized education – think John Dewey, Maria Montessori, Kurt Hahn, and in this case, Carl Rogers.

The following text provides a summary of Rogers’ major themes  about learning and education from Freedom to Learn and comes from Weibell, C. J. (2011). Principles of learning: 7 principles to guide personalized, student-centered learning in the technology-enhanced, blended learning environment. Retrieved from https://principlesoflearning.wordpress.com.

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Rogers (1969) listed five defining elements of significant or experiential learning:

  1. It has a quality of personal involvement – Significant learning has a quality of personal involvement in which “the whole person in both his feeling and cognitive aspects [is] in the learning event” (p. 5).
  2. It is self-initiated – “Even when the impetus or stimulus comes from the outside, the sense of discovery, of reaching out, of grasping and comprehending, comes from within” (p. 5).
  3. It is pervasive – Significant learning “makes a difference in the behavior, the attitudes, perhaps even the personality of the learner” (p. 5).
  4. It is evaluated by the learner – The learner knows “whether it is meeting his need, whether it leads toward what he wants to know, whether it illuminates the dark area of ignorance he is experiencing” (p. 5).
  5. Its essence is meaning – “When such learning takes place, the element of meaning to the learner is built into the whole experience” (p. 5).

As an example of significant learning—the kind that illustrates his theory of freedom to learn—Rogers cited the informal notes kept by Barbara J. Shiel, a teacher, who out of despair and frustration decided to try a drastic experiment in promoting experiential learning in her sixth grade class. In the experiment Mrs. Shiel introduced the concept of work contracts. These were ditto sheets that contained a list of all of the subjects the class was to study, along with a list of suggestions for study under each, and a space for students to write their plans in each area.

“Because I was not free to discard the state-devised curriculum time schedule, I explained the weekly time-subject blocks to the children—this was to be a consideration in their planning. We also discussed sequential learning, especially in math, mastering a skill before proceeding to the next level of learning. They discovered the text provided an introduction to a skill, demonstrated the skill, and provided exercises to master it and tests to check achievement. When they felt they were ready to go on, they were free to do so. They set their own pace, began at their own level, and went as far as they were able or self-motivated to go.” (Rogers, 1969, pp. 17-18)

Since evaluation was self-initiated and respected by the teacher, there was no need for cheating to achieve success. “We discovered that “failure” is only a word, that there is a difference between “failure” and making a mistake, and that mistakes are a part of the learning process.” (Rogers, 1969, p. 18)

One cannot measure the difference in attitude, the increased interest, the growing pride in self-improvement, but one is aware that they exist. (Rogers, 1969, p. 19)

The experience of Mrs. Shiel’s experiment is illustrative of the principles of learning that Rogers (1969, pp. 157-164) abstracted from his own experience:

Human beings have a natural potentiality for learning. “They are curious about their world, until and unless this curiosity is blunted by their experience in our educational system” (p. 157).

Significant learning takes place when the subject matter is perceived by the student as having relevance for his or her own purposes. “A somewhat more formal way of stating this is that a person learns significantly only those things which he perceives as being involved in the maintenance of or the enhancement of his own self” (p. 158).

When threat to the self is low, experience can be perceived in differentiated fashion and learning can proceed. When [the learner] is in an environment in which he is assured of personal security and when he becomes convinced that there is no threat to his ego, he is once more free to…move forward in the process of learning. (p. 161)

Much significant learning is acquired through doing. “Placing the student in direct experiential confrontation with practical problems, social problems, ethical and philosophical problems, personal issues, and research problems, is one of the most effective modes of promoting learning” (p. 162).

Learning is facilitated when the student participates responsibly in the learning process. “When he chooses his own directions, helps to discover his own learning resources, formulates his own problems, decides his own course of action, lives with the consequences of these choices, then significant learning is maximized” (p. 162).

Self-initiated learning which involves the whole person of the learner—feelings as wells as intellect—is the most lasting and pervasive. This is not the learning which takes place “only from the neck up.” It is a “gut level” type of learning which is profound and pervasive. It can also occur in the tentative discovery of a new self-generated idea or in the learning of a difficult skill, or in the act of artistic creation—a painting, a poem, a sculpture. It is the whole person who “let’s himself go” in these creative learnings. An important element in these situations is that the learner knows it is his own learning and thus can hold to it or relinquish it in the face of a more profound learning without having to turn to some authority for corroboration of his judgment. (pp. 162-163)

Independence, creativity, and self-reliance are all facilitated when self-criticism and self-evaluation are basic and evaluation by others is of secondary importance. If a child is to grow up to be independent and self reliant he must be given opportunities at an early age not only to make his own judgments and his own mistakes but to evaluate the consequences of these judgments and choices. (p. 163).

The most socially useful learning in the modern world is the learning of the process of learning, a continuing openness to experience and incorporation into oneself of the process of change. If our present culture survives, it will be because we have been able to develop individuals for whom change is the central fact of life and who have been able to live comfortably with this central fact. They will instead have the comfortable expectation that it will be continuously necessary to incorporate new and challenging learnings about ever-changing situations. (pp. 163-164)

Rogers’ theory of learning also included principles that define the role of the teacher as a facilitator of learning. Rogers (1983) summarized this role by stating that “the primary task of the teacher is to permit the student to learn, to feed his or her own curiosity” (p. 18). Rogers’ principles of facilitation are complementary to his ten principles of learning. Together they form a human learning theory that emphasizes learner agency, growth, and affect. These ten principles are as follows (summarized from Rogers, 1969, pp. 164-166)):

  1. The educator has much to do with setting the initial mood or climate of the class experience. “If his own basic philosophy is one of trust in the group and in the individuals who compose the group, then this point of view will be communicated in many subtle ways” (p. 164).
  2. The educator helps to elicit and clarify the purposes of the individuals in the class.
  3. The educator relies upon the desire of each student to implement those purposes which have meaning for him or her, as the motivational force behind significant learning.
  4. The educator endeavors to organize and make easily available the widest possible range of resources for learning.
  5. The educator regards him/herself as a flexible resource to be utilized by the group.
  6. In responding to expressions in the classroom group, the educator accepts both the intellectual content and the emotionalized attitudes, endeavoring to give each aspect the approximate degree of emphasis which it has for the individual or group.
  7. As the acceptant classroom climate becomes established, the educator is able increasingly to become a participant learner, a member of the group, expressing his views as those of one individual only.
  8. The educator takes the initiative in sharing him/herself with the group—his/her feelings as well as thoughts—in ways which do not demand nor impose but represent simply a personal sharing which students may take or leave.
  9. As a facilitator of learning, the educator endeavors to recognize and accept his/her own limitations. “S/he realizes that s/he can only grant freedom to his/her students to the extent that s/he is comfortable in giving such freedom” (p. 166).

(For this final section, I took the liberty to change “facilitator” to “educator.”)

The following graphic developed by the Freedom to Learn Project, is based on Rogers’ ideas and exemplifies their manifesto.

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http://www.freedomtolearnproject.com/new/manifesto/

So the push towards self-directed learning – helping learners develop skills for directing their own learning really isn’t new BUT the Internet, social media, and open-source content just make it easier for the educator actually implement these practices especially when working with groups of students.

Online learning opportunities, pedagogical shifts and easy accessibility of Internet through multiple devices offer attractive opportunities for learners to assume greater responsibility and initiative in their own learning. In fact, it may not be hyperbole to state that self-directed learning is now a mandatory skill rather than optional in order to impart both work readiness and the development of global citizenry (diversified, culturally sensitive and fully contributing social citizens) among the growing generation of digital [savvy learners]. (Is Learning Increasingly Self-Directed in the Digital Era?)

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 12, 2017 at 5:15 pm

Beginning the School Year: It’s About the Learners Not the Content

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Too many classes, all grade levels, begin the school year with getting down to academic business – starting to cover content, discussing expectations regarding academic requirements, giving tests, and other academic information provided by the teacher to the students in a mostly one-way communication.  The human or social element is often disregarded.

I believe that all classes should begin with focusing on having the students make connections between themselves and the educator; and between one another.  I want students to learn about one another in a personal way.  I want to learn about my students so my instructional strategies can be more personalized and tailored to their needs and interests.  Beginning class with a focus on connections rather than content gives learners the following messages:

  • You are the focus of the class not me.
  • You are important as a learner in this class.
  • You will be expected to engage in the learning activities during class time.  You will be an active learner.
  • You will be expected to do collaborative learning during the class time.
  • I, as the class facilitator, will be just that – a facilitator.  I will introduce the learning activities, but you will be responsible for the actual learning.
  • I will get to know you as a learner and try to help you find learning activities that are of interest to you. (From my post: Beginning the School Year: It’s About Connections Not Content)

Two things that I believe needs to occur at the beginning of the schools year:

  1. Get to know the learners – as individuals with unique backgrounds, interests, strengths, weaknesses.
  2. Establish a learning community where all learners are seen as having value in our classroom

Getting to Know Learners

One of our primary goals at the beginning of the school year is to get to know our students. This is important for several reasons. First, the better we know our students, and the more they know we know them, the more invested they become in school. Also, a dynamic and vigorous learning environment is built on relationships. When we create strong connections with our students, we create a learning environment where risk-taking and collaborative learning can take place. Finally, the better we know our students, the better we can help craft learning experiences that match who they are. Knowing our students is fundamental to real differentiation. (6 Strategies For Getting To Know Your Students)

This coming school year I am working with gifted elementary students. To support those messages I discussed above, I am going to have them do the following Hyperdoc starting with our first meeting together.

Using a Hyperdoc such as this has the additional benefits:

  • It leverages the use of technology which consistently is of high interest, high engagement for my learners.
  • It is a Choice Board.  Choice Boards:
  • It supports several of the new ISTE NETS 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.
    • 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. (https://www.iste.org/standards/standards/for-students)

Building a Learning Community

Community building activities are important in my classroom. It begins the first week of school and continues throughout the entire school year.

The intentional building and supporting of friendships is a cornerstone of a caring school community. Providing frequent opportunities for students to be in close proximity to others is not always enough to enable them to build a net­work of friends and feel connected to the classroom and the wider school com­munity. Careful classroom management and planning of student-student and student-teacher interactions, together with appropriate instructional strategies, can have a positive impact on social relationships and lead to the development of a support system that will enhance students’ learning in all curriculum areas. (Why create positive classroom communities?)

A growing body of research confirms the benefits of building a sense of community in school. Students in schools with a strong sense of community are more likely to be academically motivated (Solomon, Battistich, Watson, Schaps, & Lewis, 2000); to act ethically and altruistically (Schaps, Battistich, & Solomon, 1997); to develop social and emotional competencies (Solomon et al., 2000); and to avoid a number of problem behaviors, including drug use and violence (Resnick et al., 1997). (Creating a School Community)

I’ve written several blog posts about team building activities I’ve used with my elementary students and will use again with them as (1) they really like the activities, and (2) there is almost always more to learn even in repeat activities.

STEM Activities That Support

Since my gifted classes have a strong focus on STEM, STEAM, and Maker Education, my learners will be asked to do several of the following team building activities:

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

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Team Building Activities

Other team building activities can be found within the following resources:

As a parting shot, I’d like to mention that some teachers believe they do not have the time to do activities such as these. To that, I counter with several arguments for their use:

  • Getting to know the students and building a community often act as a form of prevention for behavioral management problems. When learners have trust in their teacher, their peers, and the environment, they become more engaged and less likely to “act up.” This form of prevention actually saves time in that the educator doesn’t have to deal with misbehavior.
  • School should be lots more than just the transmittance of content. It should include social emotional life skills that will assist learners in navigating in their worlds outside of school now and in their futures.

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 9, 2017 at 12:38 am

Helping Learners Move Beyond “I Can’t Do This”

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I work part-time with elementary learners – with gifted learners during the school year and teaching maker education camps during the summer. The one thing almost all of them have in common is yelling out, “I can’t do this” when the tasks aren’t completed upon first attempts or get a little too difficult for them. I partially blame this on the way most school curriculum is structured. Too much school curriculum is based on paper for quick and one shot learning experiences (or the comparable online worksheets). Students are asked to do worksheets on paper, answer end-of-chapter questions on paper, write essays on paper, do math problems on paper, fill in the blanks on paper, and pick the correct answer out of a multiple choice set of answers on paper. These tasks are then graded as to the percentage correct and then the teacher moves onto the next task.

So it is no wonder that when learners are given hands-on tasks such as those common to maker education, STEM, and STEAM, they sometimes struggle with their completion. Struggles are good. Struggles with authentic tasks mimics real life so much more than completing those types of tasks and assessments done at most schools.

Problems like yelling out, “I can’t do this” arise when the tasks get a little too difficult (but ultimately are manageable). I used to work with at-risk kids within Outward Bound-type programs. Most at-risk kids have some self-defeating behaviors including those that result in personal failure. The model for these types of programs is that helping participants push past their self-perceived limitations results in the beginnings of a success rather than a failure orientation. This leads into a success building upon success behavioral cycle.

A similar approach can be used with learners when they take on a “I can’t do this” attitude. Some of the strategies to offset “I can’t do this” include:

  • Help learners focus on “I can’t do this . . .  YET.”
  • Teach learners strategies for dealing with frustration.
  • Encourage learners to ask for help from their peers.
  • Give learners tasks a little above their ability levels.
  • Emphasize the processes of learning rather than its product.
  • Reframe mistakes and difficulties as opportunities for learning.
  • Scaffold learning; provide multiple opportunities to learn and build upon previous learning.
  • Focus on mastery of learning; mastery of skills.
  • Avoid the urge to rescue them.
  • May need to push learners beyond self-perceived limits.
  • Build reflection into the learning process.
  • Help learners accept an “it’s okay” when a task really is too hard (only as a last resort).

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Focus on “I can’t do this . . .  YET.”

The use of “YET” was drawn from Carol Dweck’s work with growth mindsets.

Just the words “yet” or “not yet,” we’re finding give kids greater confidence, give them a path into the future that creates greater persistence. And we can actually change students’ mindsets. In one study, we taught them that every time they push out of their comfort zone to learn something new and difficult, the neurons in their brain can form new, stronger connections,and over time, they can get smarter. (Carol Dweck TED Talk: The power of believing that you can improve)

By asking learners to add “yet” to the end of their “I can’t do this” comments, possibilities are opened up for success in future attempts and iterations. It changes their fixed or failure mindsets to growth and possibility ones.

Teach learners strategies for dealing with frustration.

What often precedes learners yelling out, “I can’t do this” is that learners’ frustration levels have gotten a bit too high for them. Helping learners deal with their frustrations is a core skill related to their social-emotional development and helps with being successful with the given tasks.

The basic approach to helping a [student] deal with frustrating feelings is (a) to help them build the capability to observe themselves while they’re in the midst of experiencing the feeling, (b) to help them form a story or narrative about their experience of the feeling and the situation, and then (c) to help them make conscious choices about their behavior and the ways they express their feelings. (Tips for Parents: Managing Frustration and Difficult Feelings in Gifted Children)

You can help your [student] recognize that learning involves trial and error. Mastering a new skill takes patience, perseverance, practice, and the confidence that success will come. Instead of recognizing that failure is temporary, a [student] often concludes, “I’ll never succeed.” That is why encouragement is by far the most important gift you can give your frustrated [student]. Take her dejection seriously, but help her look at her challenge differently: “Never,” you might reply, “is an awfully long time.” Eventually, she’ll learn from your encouraging words to talk herself out of giving up. (Fight Frustration)

Encourage learners to ask for help from their peers.

I must tell both my gifted students and my summer campers several times a day to ask one of their classmates for help when they are stuck. I have a three before me policy in my classrooms, but sometimes when I tell them to ask for help, they look at me like I am speaking another language.  It makes sense, though, as they often have been socialized via school procedures to ask the teacher when they get stuck.

The following poster is going up in my classroom this coming year to remind them of the different possibilities for getting help if and when they get stuck on a learning task:

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The bottom line becomes facilitating learner self-reliance knowing that these are skills learners can transfer to outside of school activities where there often is not a teacher to provide assistance.

Emphasize the processes of learning rather than its product.

School curriculum often focuses on the whats of learning – the products – rather than the hows of learning – the processes. When the focus changes to the process of learning, learners are less apt to feel the pressure to create quality products. “Research has demonstrated that engaging students in the learning process increases their attention and focus, motivates them to practice higher-level critical thinking skills and promotes meaningful learning experiences” (Engaging students in learning).

The biggest step an educator can take to implement a process-oriented learning environment is to let go of expectations about what a product should be. Expectations can and should be around learning processes such as: following through to the task completion, finding help when needed, trying new things, taking risks, creating and innovating, tolerating frustration, and attempting alternative routes when one route isn’t working.

Reframe mistakes and difficulties as opportunities for learning.

I’ve blogged about normalizing failure and mistake making in The Over Promotion of Failure: 

I reframe the idea of failure, that oftentimes occur within open-ended, ill-defined projects, as things didn’t go as originally planned. It is just a part of the learning process. I explain to my learners that they will experience setbacks, mistakes, struggles. It is just a natural part of real world learning. Struggles, setbacks, and mistakes are not discussed as failure but as parts of a process that need improving.

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Contrary to what many of us might guess, making a mistake with high confidence and then being corrected is one of the most powerful ways to absorb something and retain it. Learning about what is wrong may hasten understanding of why the correct procedures are appropriate but errors may also be interpreted as failure. And Americans … strive to avoid situations where this might happen. (To Err Is Human: And A Powerful Prelude To Learning)

Scaffold learning; provide multiple opportunities to learn and build upon previous learning.

Many maker education, STEM, and STEAM activities require a skill set in order to complete them. For example, many of the learning activities I do with my students require the use of scissors, tape, putting together things. Even though some of the learners are as old as 6th grade, many lack these skills. As such, I do multiple activities that require their use. Learners are more likely to enjoy, engage in, and achieve success in these activities if related skills are scaffolded, repeated, and built upon.

In the process of scaffolding, the teacher helps the student master a task or concept that the student is initially unable to grasp independently. The teacher offers assistance with only those skills that are beyond the student’s capability. Of great importance is allowing the student to complete as much of the task as possible, unassisted. The teacher only attempts to help the student with tasks that are just beyond his current capability. Student errors are expected, but, with teacher feedback and prompting, the student is able to achieve the task or goal. (Scaffolding)

 By allowing students to learn from their mistakes, or circling back through the curriculum will allow more students to access your instruction and for you to have a better understanding of where they are at with their learning.  Let’s face it, learning can be messy and if you try to put it into a simple box or say a single class period and then move on, it isn’t always effective.  (Strategies and Practices That Can Help All Students Overcome Barriers)

Focus on mastery of learning; mastery of skills.

Sal Khan of Khan Academy fame has a philosophy that focuses on mastery of learning and skills that is applicable for all types of learning:

A problem, Khan says, is the next block of material builds on what the student was supposed to learn in the last lesson, and it’s usually more difficult to pick up. So a student learns only 75% of the material, we can’t expect that student to master the next section.

When students master concepts and learn at their own pace — all sorts of neat things happen. The students can actually master the concepts, but they’re also building their growth mindset, they’re building perseverance, they’re taking agency over their learning. And all sorts of beautiful things can start to happen in the actual classroom. (Sal Khan TED Talk Urges Mastery, Not Test Scores In Classroom)

This approach puts forward the notion that students should not be rushed through to more complex concepts without having the foundational knowledge needed to successfully transition to the next level.

Khan believes we should be teaching students to master the material before moving on, ensuring that students are given as much time and support as they need to tackle each new concept before trying to build upon it. As Khan says, you wouldn’t build the second floor of a house on a shaky foundation, otherwise it will collapse.

Mastery learning:

  • Reframes a student’s sense of responsibility, where performance is viewed as the product of instruction and practice, rather than a lack of ability.
  • Encourages a student to persevere and grasp knowledge they previously didn’t understand.
  • Gives students the time and opportunity as they need to master each step, instead of teaching to fixed time constraints.
  • Provides feedback and assessment throughout the learning process, not just after a major assessment. (Teaching for mastery)

     

Give learners tasks a little above their ability levels.

Giving learners tasks a little above their ability levels is actually a definition for differentiated instruction. It also helps to insure that new learning will occur; that learners will be challenged to go beyond their self-perceived limitations. ‘People can’t grow if they are constantly doing what they have always done. Let them develop new skills by giving challenging tasks” (15 effective ways to motivate your team). As learners overcome challenges, they will be more likely to take on new, even more challenging tasks.

Avoid the urge to rescue them.

I’ve had learners cry (even as old as 6th grade), get angry, sit down in frustration. Educators, by nature, are helpers. The tendency is for them to rescue learners from the stress and frustration of reaching seemingly unsurmountable challenges. But, and this is a big but, if educators do rescue them, then they are taking away learning opportunities, the possibility of the learner achieving success on his or her own.

May need to push learners beyond self-perceived limits.

This is the next step after not rescuing learners. The educator may have to push, encourage, cajole, coax, persuade, wheedle learners to go beyond what they thought possible. It is similar to a coach who really pushes her or his athletes. Sometimes it appears mean or callous. The big caveat to being successful with this strategy is that the educator must first have a good relationship with the leaners; that learners really understand that the educator has their best interests at heart.

Build reflection into the learning process.

Time needs to be built into the day or class period where students reflect on what they’ve learning and make meaning of it.  This helps with processing information as they reconcile it with their prior knowledge and work to make the information stick.  This is a great opportunity for thinking to be clarified, questions to be sought, or learning to be extended.  (Strategies and Practices That Can Help All Students Overcome Barriers)

Help learners accept an “it’s okay” when a task really is too hard (only as a last resort).

Yep – this is absolutely the last resort.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 24, 2017 at 11:47 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.

components_throwies

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 Maker Space

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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.

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.

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 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. Here is a list of affordable materials from Education Closet’s 114 Tips to Create a STEAM Makerspace in Schools:

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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.

Scavenged Materials

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

IMG_4324

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.”

IMG_0147

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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