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Starting Off the School Year: It’s About the Learners

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I always start off the school year focusing on connections – my connections to the students, their connections to me and the other in the class. 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 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.

This past week was the first week of school and the first week that I am teaching these students in a 9th Grade Freshman Seminar. After the first day introductions with fun games such as Warp Speed and Jenga Q & A (descriptions of these can be found at https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2018/08/12/beginning-the-school-year-with-connections-2018/ . The rest of the week was spent on the learners working on the activities from the following Hyperdoc.



By far, the most valuable activity for me is the Student Interest Survey as it provides me with so much information about each student in such an easy format. With 25 students in the class, it would have taken me months to learn all I did using the following Google Form.

The results of the survey, which follow, provide me with so much valuable information. I discovered their passions, aspirations, dreams, and even some fears. For example, I found out their career aspirations: pathologist, mechanical engineer, police officer, orthopedic doctor, electrical engineer, doctor. veterinarian, architect, actress, civil engineer, professional racer for anything with a motor, teacher, interior designer, photographer, nurse, writer, artist, dancer, music producer, singer psychologist, forensic scientist, neurosurgeon. This information will assist me in planning activities based on their interests.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 17, 2019 at 10:41 pm

Letting Your Learners Experience Productive Struggle

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I came into teaching through a non-traditional, backdoor route – through a graduate degree in counselor education and through being an adventure therapist, whereby I took at-risk youth on extended wilderness trips. There have been a plethora of lessons I learned through these experiences that have served me well as a teacher.

As part of my counselor training, we were taught to not try to take away a client’s pain or struggle; that they often need to experience these struggles in order to move forward. My role during client distress was not to try to take their pain away but to offer my presence, listening skills, and being a witness to their stories.

As an adventure therapist, the youth often had a difficult time during wilderness activities such as rock climbing, rappelling, and the wilderness solo (spending 24 hours alone). Many become scared and wanted to give up. My role during these times was to encourage them and not let them give up. The results of successfully completing these activities that seemed unsurmountable were feelings of accomplishment; an increase of positive self-esteem.

This often seems contrary to being in a role of a helper, either as a counselor or as a teacher. Being a helper translates into wanting to take away the struggles and pain of others. The paradox becomes in that by allowing our clients or students to work through their pain and struggles, it helps them to grow.

Productive Struggle

In 1910, John Dewey described learning as beginning with a dilemma—an uncertainty about how to proceed. Struggling to work through uncertainty and ambiguity to discover a solution was, for Dewey, essential to meaningful learning. Struggling and persisting in the face of uncertainty is finding its way back into prescriptions for good classroom practice. Advocates for meaningful struggle recommend that teachers avoid telling students how to solve problems. Instead, teachers are urged to allow students to wrestle with a problem and try to solve it themselves.

Engaging students in productive struggle is a challenge for teachers as well as the students. It takes time, persistence, and some experimenting to plan rich learning opportunities that challenge but don’t frustrate students. Activities need to stretch students’ thinking and performance just beyond the level they can do on their own. Struggle works and does not frustrate when students have the knowledge and tools to tackle novel problems—ones they’ve not seen before, and are just beyond what they’ve already learned and mastered.

Another crucial teaching role in productive struggle lessons is providing timely assistance. When a challenging task opens a productive-struggle zone, the teacher’s judgment is again critical. Success depends on teachers recognizing when a little timely assistance sustains student persistence but does not prematurely terminate productive struggle and learning.

Getting the right balance can be difficult. For teachers accustomed to avoiding student struggles, there is temptation to intervene and help students get the right answers. To do so runs the risk of turning the activity into the classic recitation-style lesson—turning students into passive receivers of knowledge and teachers into “tellers.” (Beyond Growth Mindset: Creating Classroom Opportunities for Meaningful Struggle)

Maker Education and Productive Struggle

I’ve been integrating maker education activities into my gifted classes for the past several years. The ill-defined tasks that often characterize maker education create situations whereby my learners often struggle. In fact, I’ve had 6th grade boys cry due to this. Being gifted, they’ve developed a school history of being able to quickly and successfully the tasks given to them so when given tasks they can’t do easily, they become distressed.

I also teach summer camps with a maker education focus. This past week I taught Toy Making and Hacking to 2nd through 6th graders. Many of them struggled and due to these struggles quickly exclaimed, “I can’t do this.” This occurred mainly during the Toy Take Apart and Repurposing and through making Wiggle Bots.

Assisting Learners With Their Productive Struggles

First and foremost, I let them struggle. Second, I say to my learners who struggle and want me to fix it – do it for them something such as:

  • I know you can figure it out.
  • I won’t do it for you. I have faith that you can do it.
  • You got this.
  • Take as much time as you need. There is no time limit.
  • Why not try for ___ minutes? If you don’t get it by then, I’ll help you.
  • What steps can you take in order to be successful?
  • Why not ask a classmate how they worked on the problem?
  • You might want to try something different.

Finally, I do offer and give help to those who have struggled and are reaching high levels of stress.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 13, 2019 at 4:40 pm

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

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Implementing Maker, STEM, STEAM Education

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

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

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

Professional Development

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benefits

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

Implementation Suggestions

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

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

An Example

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

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

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

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

June 9, 2019 at 10:04 pm

Game Jam: Creating a Video Game

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The Game Jam was developed for and offered through the Santa Fe Public Schools’ SAGE (Services for Advanced and Gifted Education) Program although any school or youth group could enter. The game categories were: Board, Card, Action, and Video games. The criteria used to judge the games:

The contest was conceived and developed by Steve Heil – Santa Fe Public Schools Gifted Program Support Specialist. For more information, contact him at sheil@sfps.k12.nm.us.

I encouraged my 5th and 6th grade gifted learners at one of my schools to enter the video game category. I scaffolded instruction (described below) but they created their story narratives, storyboards, and video games.

Introduction to Story Narratives

They were introduced to world and character through the following Pixar in a Box video.

Storyboarding with Storyboard That

Learners used Storyboard That to create the storyboards for their video games.

Storyboard That is a graphic organizer and storyboard creator . The program provides pre-made scenes, characters, text boxes, shapes, and other images to choose from,  Students are able to drag and drop these items into their chosen layout. Scenes are organized into locational and thematic categories (e.g. school). Characters are organized similarly and can be customized with hair color, eye color, and other edits. Text boxes allow the student to give voice to their characters. Shapes and additional images add props to the story. (https://www.edsurge.com/product-reviews/storyboard-that-product)

It was continually reinforced that their storyboards needed to include strong characters, settings, and plot.

Video Game Creation

Learners were given the option of two game creation platforms:-

  1. Scratch – https://scratch.mit.edu/
  2. Makecode Arcade – https://arcade.makecode.com/

To help them make their decision about which platform to use, they were asked to do tutorials offered by each of these platforms. Two of the teams selected MakeCode Arcade and one of the teams selected Scratch. The MakeCode teams were able to create their characters using the pixel image creation function, and the Scratch team created their characters using this platform’s drawing tool.

MakeCode Avatars

Scratch Avatars

Links to the Learner Created Games

Video Overviews

As part of the game jam submission procedures, learners had to record a video overview. Here are their video overviews:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 24, 2019 at 10:26 pm

Shoe Design Project

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As the final project of the school year, I asked a group of my gifted 4th through 6th graders to design and prototype a new type of shoe. In a recent post from Idea U, Why Everyone Should Prototype (Not Just Designers), Chris Nyffeler, IDEO Executive Design Director, discussed the purpose and value of prototyping:

When we say prototype, that’s anything that gets the idea in your head into an artifact people can experience and offer feedback on.

You use prototyping to process the ideas themselves and to help you think through the idea better.

It’s not that you process your idea and then communicate it through a prototype. You actually use prototyping to process the ideas themselves and to help you think through the idea better.

Keep early prototypes quick and scrappy. By starting with tools that are familiar to you and easy to use, you can quickly create something tangible that will allow you to gather feedback and learn what’s working and what’s not.

Videos for Inspiration

After being told about their task – to design a new type of shoe with new and unique features, learners were shown the following videos for inspiration:

Writing a Description of Shoe Characteristics

Learners were asked to begin their design process by writing about each of the following:

  • Age Group?
  • Gender?
  • Kind of Shoe (e.g., athletic, fashion)?
  • Special Features?

What follows are some examples of their descriptions:

Creating a Shoe Design Sketch

Learners were asked to begin prototyping their shoe designs by sketching them.

  • Front, Side, and Bottom Views in Color
  • Special Features
  • Materials Used (they were asked to do online research on the different types of materials that can be used for shoe construction.)

Creating a Logo

It was the learners’ idea to create a logo for their shoes. One of them knew about an online logo creator at https://www.freelogodesign.org/ which they all used. Here is one of them that impressed me. He worked a long time fine tuning it.

Shoe Logo Design Using https://www.freelogodesign.org/

Creating a 3D Model

Option 1 – A 3D Model Out of Cardstock

This part of the activity was taken from Summer Fun: How to Make a Paper Shoe https://kidzeramag.wordpress.com/2014/07/07/summer-fun-how-to-make-a-paper-shoe/ – the template and instructional video follow:

Learners began creating their design with the cardboard template adapted the template to better match their sketches. We ran out of time to complete this part due to the school year ending.

Option 2 – 3D Model Using Google Sketchup

Some learners attempted to create their 3D designs using Google Sketchup – https://app.sketchup.com/app?hl=en. This is the free version so there was limited functions but the learners enjoyed experimenting with it.

Reflecting with the Creative Product Assessment Rubric

As part of their gifted program, learners complete quarterly assessments. For the final quarter, they use the Creative Product Assessment Rubric.

Adapted from Creative Product Analysis Matrix, Besemer, 1984

An Example

Product Name: Ixploz, v.1
Product Description: Athletic Shoe
Problem or Need Statement: To make an athletic shoe that is comfortable and relaxing.

In grade 6, O. reviewed his product, Ixploz, an athletic shoe, using the Creative Product Assessment Rubric. The CPAR assesses novelty, resolution, and style as factors of creativity. This product scored 3/5 for novelty, 3.8/5 for resolution and 3.6/5 for style. Averaging the factors, it scored 3.5/5 overall, accumulating 52/75 possible points.

Strengths Noted: It looks nice and it is comfortable
Questions: If made in real life, would it be successful?

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 23, 2019 at 7:04 pm

I Have a Dream: Authentic Learning

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I wrote a post earlier this year entitled, Authentic Learning Experiences. Some of the characteristics of authentic learning I identified are summarized in this graphic:

The Task

Learners, 4th through 6th graders in my gifted education language arts class, were given the task of composing and then recording their own I Have a Dream speeches.

Writing Their Speeches

This authentic learning experience began by watching Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech. Interestingly and sadly, there were a few students who had never seen it.

They then wrote and published their I Have a Dream speeches on Kidblog. These were projected as each learner read her speech. Their peers offered feedback about both the content and the mechanics of grammar and spelling with changes made accordingly. Here are some of the edited examples:

Recording Their Speeches

An authentic learning experience offers learners choice and voice. In this case, students were offered a choice of recording their speeches as part of a video in front of a green screen or by just making an audio recording. Half chose the green screen and the other half chose the audio recording. The videos were recorded using my iphone, the audio recordings via Quicktime on a Mac. Their recordings were uploaded to iMovie. All students were asked to add photos to their recordings. They added images found at Unsplash, over 850,000 free (do-whatever-you-want) high-resolution photos by the world’s most generous community of photographers (my favorite online tool for finding and using images). Learners took turns editing their speeches and their final video follows. Note their different styles and as mentioned earlier, reinforces student voice and choice.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 5, 2019 at 6:34 pm

Pi Day: An Example of an Interdisciplinary, Engaging Lesson

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I have the privilege of teaching my gifted elementary students for multiple years. At my one school, I have them in class for a full day each week, and each year I have special thematic days for which the students get very excited, e.g., Halloween and Day of the Dead “Wars,” Valentines Day, Book Celebrations, and Pi Day. I love planning a variety of interdisciplinary activities for these days and I love watching how 100% are fully engaged for the entire time.

I’ve blogged about the value of interdisciplinary units before – All Lessons Should Be Interdisciplinary https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2019/01/13/all-lessons-should-be-interdisciplinary/

benefits-of-interdisciplinary-learning

Pi Day Activities

The day consisted of the following activities:

  • Digital Breakout
  • Making and Decorating Pies
  • Book: Sir Cumference
  • Measuring for Pi
  • Kahoot Pi Games

Standards Addressed

Common Core Math Standards:

  • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.7.G.B.4
    Know the formulas for the area and circumference of a circle and use them to solve problems; give an informal derivation of the relationship between the circumference and area of a circle.
  • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.5.MD.A.1
    Convert among different-sized standard measurement units within a given measurement system, and use these conversions in solving multi-step, real world problems.

Common Core English Language Arts Standards:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6.7
    Integrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.5.10
    By the end of the year, read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, at the high end of the grades 4-5 text complexity band independently and proficiently.

ISTE Standards for Students:

  • Students plan and employ effective research strategies to locate information and other resources for their intellectual or creative pursuits.
  • Students collect data or identify relevant data sets, use digital tools to analyze them, and represent data in various ways to facilitate problem-solving and decision-making.

21st Partnership for 21st Century Skills:

  • Collaborate with others
  • Demonstrate ability to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams
  • Exercise flexibility and willingness to be helpful in making necessary compromises to accomplish a common goal
  • Assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and value the individual contributions made by each team member

Digital Breakout EDU – Pi Day

So what is this about Digital Breakout EDU games?  Simply put, it’s taking the same concept, but turning it all digital.  Participants are given a one-page site that includes text, images and links to clues, some of which may be misleading.  There is a Google Form embedded on the page where you submit your answers to a series of “lock” questions and each lock will immediately tell you if you’re successful (http://wordpress.barrow.k12.ga.us/21stcenturytips/?p=6989).

To start off our Pi day activities, students did a Pi Day Digital Breakout EDU game.

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Can be accessed at https://platform.breakoutedu.com/game/play/pi-day-digital-breakout-4th-6th-grades-90608 .

Making and Decorating Pies

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One of the activities students enjoy the most during Pi day is making pies. They were given ingredients and recipes for:

They needed to follow the recipe which included figuring out the directions and using measurements. After the pies were made, they decorated them with Pi symbols.

Sir Cumference

The students then were shown a reading of Sir Cumference and the First Round Table (A Math Adventure) by Cindy Neuschwander:

Join Sir Cumference, Lady Di of Ameter, and their son Radius for wordplay, puns, and problem solving in this geometry-packed math adventure. King Arthur was a good ruler, but now he needs a good ruler. What would you do if the neighboring kingdom were threatening war? Naturally, you’d call your strongest and bravest knights together to come up with a solution. But when your conference table causes more problems than the threat of your enemy, you need expert help. Enter Sir Cumference, his wife Lady Di of Ameter, and their son Radius. With the help of the carpenter, Geo of Metry, this sharp-minded team designs the perfect table conducive to discussing the perfect plan for peace (https://www.amazon.com/Cumference-First-Round-Table-Adventure/dp/1570911525).

Measuring for Pi

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With tape measures in hand, groups of students carefully measure the circumferences and diameters of various round objects.  The class makes a table of measured values and calculates the quotients.  When they see time and time again the same answer result from division, whether it be from big circular objects or small ones—eureka!—they will have unwittingly discovered π for themselves (http://ccssimath.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-life-of-pi.html).

Pi Kahoots

Using Kahoot wasn’t planned for the day but the students asked for it. I love that they ask for learning tasks. The Kahoot quizzes made and submitted by other teachers make it so easy to use them spontaneously. Here are the two Pi Kahoots I did with the students:

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Accessed at: https://create.kahoot.it/details/pi-day/877d64ee-3003-4a30-9d82-f1cd81721749

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Accessed at: https://create.kahoot.it/details/pi-day-trivia/a7605cd3-4c93-4c13-bc23-eec96da2a627

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 31, 2019 at 4:39 pm

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