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Gingerbread House Making: A Fun and Engaging Cross-Curricular Lesson

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I believe that educators can be intentional in setting up environments where learners’ propensity to create flourishes. Some elements that can assist with this kind of unbridled making and creating include:

  • Open ended projects that promote self-directed differentiation and personalization.
  • Choice of projects, methods, materials.
  • Some structure but lots of room for a personal touch; lots of room for creativity.
  • Educators letting go of expectations what the final project should look like.
  • Focus on the processes of learning.
  • Focus on the social emotional aspects of learning – collaboration, persistence, acceptance of failure.
  • Acceptance of a learner’s projects based on their own criteria of excellence rather than of the educator’s.
  • Reflection is built into the process so learners can revisit their projects with a critical eye.

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This past week I did a gingerbread house making activity (described below) that included math and language arts connections with my two groups of gifted 3rd through 6th graders. It met all of these criteria and resulted in 100% engagement – lots of fun for the students.

When I talk about making in the classroom with teachers, I often say it takes a lot of preparation time but then the students end up working harder than the teacher during class time – which I believe should always be the case. This activity took quite a bit of preparation plus I ended up spending about $50 out-of-pocket money for the supplies. For me, though, it was worth it as I got to see my students experience such joy and excitement creating their gingerbread houses along with joy in doing the math and language arts activities I built into the lesson.

The Gingerbread House Lesson

List of Activities

As a cross-curricular unit, this lesson addressed standards in language arts, math, science and the arts. The general lesson list of activities included:

  1. Showing students the story of The Gingerbread Man.
  2. Asking students to write a story that features a gingerbread house.
  3. Showing students a video about how to make a simple gingerbread house with graham crackers.
  4. Asking students to create a blueprint of their gingerbread house including estimates of their perimeters and area. This necessitated me reviewing how to calculate these.
  5. Having students create their own royal icing from powdered sugar and meringue power – doubling the recipe to include more math calculations.
  6. Giving students lots of time to make their gingerbread houses.

Standards Addressed

Language Arts Standards

  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.
  • Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, description, and pacing, to develop experiences and events or show the responses of characters to situations.

Math Standard

  • Apply the area and perimeter formulas for rectangles in real world and mathematical problems.

Next Generation Science Standard

  • Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.

Art Standards

  • Anchor Standard #1. Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
  • Anchor Standard #2. Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.
  • Anchor Standard #3. Refine and complete artistic work.

Social Emotional Learning Standards

  • Student demonstrates ability to manage emotions constructively. “I can appropriately handle my feelings.”
  • Student demonstrates ability to set and achieve goals. “I can set and achieve goals that will make me more successful.”

Materials

  • computers access (to write their stories)
  • graph paper
  • tape measures
  • markers or colored pencils of different colors
  • graham crackers ( a lot – I ran short)
  • royal icing: confectionary sugar and meringue (see recipe at http://www.inkatrinaskitchen.com/small-batch-royal-icing/)
  • electric hand mixer
  • gum drops
  • pretzels
  • candy canes
  • skittles or m&m’s
  • mini-marshmallows

Activity Details

Write a Story About a Gingerbread House

This part of the lesson was introduced to students by showing them the story of The Gingerbread House to show them what was possible for a creative story.

They then wrote a story about a gingerbread house. I have an Orthodox Jew in one of my classes so I kept it general rather than emphasizing a Christmas theme. Here is an example story:


Creating Blueprints of the Gingerbread Houses with the Perimeter and Area

Students were shown the following video to help them learn techniques for building their gingerbread houses and to get inspired for the type of gingerbread houses they wanted to make.

We then reviewed the formulas for estimating perimeter and area. As part of their blueprints, they included these estimates using one color marker for the perimeter and one for the area. They were given the option to use the squares on the graph paper or to use the tape measures to figure out their perimeter and area.

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Making Their Gingerbread Houses

Then came the gingerbread house making time. Students were split into groups of three and provided with the recipe for royal icing which they had to double (more math!) to have enough for the three of them. Also on their respective tables were food items for their gingerbread houses: graham crackers, gum drops, candy canes, skittles, pretzels, mini-marshmallows.

As I mentioned above, there was 100% of engagement by the students as evidenced in these photos.

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The only change to this lesson that I would implement when I do it again (and I am definitely doing it again), would be more graham crackers and more time to make them.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 8, 2018 at 6:09 pm

Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) Displays: A Maker Education Project

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I have lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico for a few decades. One of my favorite things about living here is that my town celebrates and embraces Hispanic and Mexican cultural traditions. I have the privilege of working with gifted kids at two elementary schools with over 80% Hispanic students. For the past two years, I did Halloween Wars – based off of the Food Channel show. See Halloween Wars: An Interdisciplinary Lesson with a STEM, STEAM, Maker Education Focus for more about this. Because of the cultural heritage of my students and because I find the Day of the Dead holiday so intriguing and beautiful (the movie, Coco, helped bring its beauty to the masses), I decided to focus on having the students create Dia de los Muertos displays this year.

Standards Addressed

21st Century Skills

  • Using 21st century skills to understand and address global issues
  • Learning from and working collaboratively with individuals representing diverse cultures, religions and lifestyles in a spirit of mutual respect and open dialogue in personal, work and community contexts
  • Understanding  other nations and cultures, including the use of non-English languages
  • Create new and worthwhile ideas (both incremental and radical concepts)
  • Elaborate, refine, analyze and evaluate their own ideas in order to improve and maximize creative efforts
  • Create new and worthwhile ideas (both incremental and radical concepts)
  • Elaborate, refine, analyze and evaluate their own ideas in order to improve and maximize creative efforts

Next Generation Science Standards

  • Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
  • Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
  • Analyze and interpret data on the properties of substances before and after the substances interact to determine if a chemical reaction has occurred.

Common Core State Standards – ELA

  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

Getting Started – Gaining Attention

To introduce and show students the traditions related to Day of the Dead, they are shown the following videos:

. . . as well as given time to explore the Smithsonian Latino Center’s Theater of the Dead – http://latino.si.edu/dayofthedead/ which includes an interactive element to build their own alter or Ofrenda.

 

Writing a Story About Day of the Dead

Students write a story with a Day of the Dead theme. They are given the option to write it alone or with a partner. Here is an example from one of my 6th grade students:

 

Artifacts for the Day of the Dead Displays

Students make the following artifacts and then, in small groups of three students, decide if and how they want to use them in their Day of the Dead displays to reflect the stories they wrote.

Decorated Skulls with Paper Circuits for Eyes

Materials: skull outline and parallel circuit outline (one for each student), 5MM LED lights, copper tape, coin batteries, transparent tape, markers.

Students decorate their paper skulls and then make parallel paper circuits to light up the eyes of these skulls. I found a template of a skeleton skull online. I printed these out – one for each student. I then made an outline of a parallel circuit so that when connected and joined with the top part, the LEDs would show up as pupils of the decorated skull – see below.

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Students first cut out and decorate their skulls with markers. Images of decorated Day of the Dead skulls can be projected via a whiteboard so students can see examples. They then trace their cut out skulls onto the paper circuits template and cut that out. The bottom piece, containing the parallel circuit design, is then wired with the copper tape. The shorter copper tape is taped down from the battery placeholder to the end of its outline, so that the coin battery can be placed on top of that. For the longer piece of copper tape, about 1.5 inches is left at the end near the battery. This extra is folded onto itself so that after the battery is in place, this part of the copper tape can be taped on top of the battery. Having a folded over end piece makes it more manageable. Students should be reminded how to find the polarities of both the LEDs (the longer leg is positive) and the coin battery (it has a + on the top – that side with a little bit larger diameter). Students then tape their batteries and LEDs in place insuring that the positive legs of the LED lead to positive side of the battery and visa-versa. For more about paper circuits, see https://www.makerspaces.com/paper-circuits/. The LEDs are then poked through the eyes of the decorated skull. The top and bottom pieces are then stapled together.

Sugar Skulls

Materials: sugar, meringue powder, sugar skull molds

Sugar skull molds can be purchased from https://www.mexicansugarskull.com/sugar_skulls/sugar-skull-molds.html. Sugar skulls are incredibly easy to make – just combining the dry ingredients of sugar and meringue power and adding a little water so it becomes the consistency of dampened beach sand. More directions along with amounts can be found at https://www.mexicansugarskull.com/sugar_skulls/instructions.html. After waiting at least 24 hours for the skulls to harden, students can then decorate them using edible markers or royal icing.

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Skulls from Modeling Chocolate

Materials: white chocolate morsels, corn syrup.

This is another easy recipe to make (see http://artisancakecompany.com/recipe/how-to-make-perfect-modeling-chocolate/ for specific directions) although it is a bit tricky to get the modeling chocolate to the right consistency. Once the modeling chocolate is made, students sculpt it into 3D skulls.

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micro:bit Lit Skull

Materials: micro:bit (one for each team), heavy stock cardboard, (servos with jumper wires and alligator clips if movement is designed)

A micro:bit is mini-computer, half the size of a credit card equipped with 25 red LED lights that can flash messages. The micro:bit features an embedded compass, accelerometer, mobile, and web-based programming capabilities. It is compatible with a number of online code editors across a number of different languages (https://learn.sparkfun.com/tutorials/getting-started-with-the-microbit). For this activity, students cut out a skull with a window in the middle for the micro:bit (see below). They then use https://makecode.microbit.org/ to (1) create a message on the LEDs about Day of the Dead, and (2) code the servo to rotate the skull in a small arc from side to side (see https://sites.google.com/view/microbitofthings/7-motor-control/11-servo-control?authuser=0 for how to do this).

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Tissue Paper Marigolds

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Materials: yellow tissue paper, pipe cleaners.

The directions for how to make these can be found at https://tinkerlab.com/simple-paper-marigolds-dia-de-los-muertos/,

Edible Slime

Materials: sugar free Jello, starch

This is an easy recipe with the slime made by combining sugar free Jello, food starch, and water. Colors are determined by the flavor of the Jello – I like using lime for green slime and strawberry for red slime. For more information, visit https://thesoccermomblog.com/edible-silly-putty/

Miscellaneous Materials

Students are provided with core board and also given candy bones, candy gravestones, and chocolate animal crackers (to be crushed into dirt) so that these items along with the projects described above can be used for their displays, again reminding students that the displays should directly reflect their stories about Dead of the Day – Dia de los Muertos.

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Student Reflection

Students were asked to randomly choose five cards from the deck of my Maker Reflection Cards to reflect on their experiences with this project. They were told that they could discard two of them but would need to answer three of them via a blog post, and I was totally elated when one asked if he could answer more – seven of them! Here are screenshots of his and another student’s reflections.

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 6, 2018 at 1:55 am

A STEM Camp for Young Learners

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I just finished a week long – half day STEM camp for learners, ages 7 through 12, half girls and half boys. The energy in the room throughout the week was pretty incredible. There was close to 100% engagement the entire time which is always my goal in teaching. I love turning kids onto STEM, and there is evidence that exposure at a younger age increases the chances of later interest.

Some Evidence of the Importance of STEM in the Early Years

Research tells us that children’s early experience builds brain architecture and lays the foundation for one’s lifelong thinking skills and approach to learning, both critical roots of STEM success. After all, the STEM disciplines require not only content knowledge but also robust thinking dispositions—such as curiosity and inquiry, questioning and skepticism, assessment and analysis—as well as a strong learning mindset and confidence when encountering new information or challenges. These need to be developed in a child’s early education, beginning in infancy and continuing through third grade to lay the roots for STEM success. (McClure et al., 2017) (The Roots of STEM Success: Changing Early Learning Experiences to Build Lifelong Thinking Skills)

According to a new research project, children who engage in scientific activities at an early age (between birth and age 8) develop positive attitudes toward science, build up their STEM “vocabularies” and do better at problem solving, meeting challenges and acquiring new skills. “STEM starts early: Grounding science, technology, engineering and math education in early childhood,” published by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and New America and supported by a National Science Foundation grant, has asserted that “the seeds of STEM must be planted early,” right alongside the “seeds of literacy.” Together, the report said, “these mutually enhancing, interwoven strands of learning will grow well informed, critical citizens prepared for a digital tomorrow.”  (Research: Let’s Move STEM Learning Earlier)

The Camp

Due to the experiential nature of most of my instruction, I use an experiential cycle of learning:

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What follows is how I applied it during the STEM camp.

Framing the Activities

The STEM activities were introduced through (1) the use of Brainpop videos and their accompanying quizzes, and (2) tutorial videos and/or webpages with directions. Brainpop videos, due to their animation and humor, have a high interest value for kids, and their follow-up quizzes help to create more active learning. After the Brainpop video introduction, the campers were given an overview of the specific activities through the tutorials. I then would show them the tutorial step-by-step. For some campers, seeing the tutorial in its entirety was enough for them to do the project. Others needed me to go over the project step-by-step using the tutorials as guides. I prefer using online tutorials rather than doing them myself as demonstrations because the tutorials can be projected for a larger image and better viewing by all of the learners.

These specific resources can be found in the slide deck below:

The Doing

The camp consisted mostly of campers DOING the STEM activities. See below for a photographic journey of their engagement in the activities.

Reflection

Activity reflections occurred after the completion of the day’s activities using science journals:

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https://www.lakeshorelearning.com/products/el/s/HH258

Journals such as these not only benefit the learners but the educator, too. They provide such good activity evaluation information. For example, the last day of camp, students selected two photos from the week from all of the week’s photos that represented their favorite activities. These were printed for them and they then glued the images into their journals and wrote about them. They then did a verbal check-in to tell the rest of us which ones they selected and why.

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When they were sharing these with the rest of the group, one of the girls mentioned that the DIY crystals was her favorite. I was totally surprised. I thought this activity was a dude as the kids didn’t seem that excited about them. I was thinking about dropping it as a STEM activity in the future but now I will, due to her comment, consider using it again.

Our Week in Images

Chemistry – Elephant Toothpaste

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Chemistry – Slime

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Chemistry – Orbeez Stress Balls

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Solar – Solar Cars

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Solar – Solar Ovens

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Art and Science – Geometric Structures

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Art and Science – DIY Crystals

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Kinetic Projects – Cranky Contraptions

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Kinetic Projects – Helium Balloon Blimp

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Kinetic Projects – Motor Boats

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 14, 2018 at 5:27 pm

Integrating Maker Education into the Curriculum

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Rather than the maker experiences being an after school program, an add on activity, or an activity that is implemented when students have done their regular lessons work, it should be part of the regular, day-to-day curriculum. As noted in USC Rossier Online, “In order for your school and students to be fully invested in maker education, it has to be integrated into your curriculum, not squeezed in” (https://rossieronline.usc.edu/maker-education/sync-with-curriculum/).  Ayah Bdeir, who invented and runs littleBits, had this to say about integrating maker education into the curriculum:

It’s time for maker ed to move into the mainstream. Making should not be relegated to the times spent outside of class, e.g. lunch or after school. Nor should it only flourish in private schools, which don’t have to teach to standards. We need to work to show how making is a rigorous process that leads to valuable new technologies, products and experiences. Specifically, we need to tie maker projects to standards-based curriculum and show clearly the kinds of knowledge, skills and practices students learn as part of making (https://www.edsurge.com/news/2015-09-24-building-connections-between-maker-ed-and-standards)

Albemarle County Public School District is very intentional in their implementation of maker projects:

Maker projects can be created to support just about any subject area, from science to history to language arts. Maker education can be a tool for teaching the curriculum that you already have, At a glance, maker projects may appear disconnected from the curriculum. What may look like an arts and crafts activity, or just a bunch of kids playing with Legos, is actually a way to teach about ancient Rome or how to write a persuasive essay. (https://www.edutopia.org/practice/maker-education-reaching-all-learners)

To do this, though, the educator needs to approach his or her curriculum and lessons with a maker mindset. With this mindset, he or she figures out creative ways to integrate maker activities into existing lessons and instructional activities. The educator in these situations starts with the standards and objectives of their lessons, as they typically do with their regular lessons, and then designs and/or locates maker activities that fit the lesson. It simply becomes, “How can I add a making element to my lessons to reinforce concepts being learned?”

For subjects like science, this is a little easier as the labs that often accompany science lessons often have a hint of STEM or maker education. With a little tweaking, these labs can become more of a maker education type of activity. For example, if students are learning about circuits, they could wire cardboard model houses with lights and fans.  

For subjects like language arts, this integration is a little more challenging but with a little creativity, it is possible and exciting. An example is Tufts University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach’s program, Novel Engineering:

Novel Engineering is an innovative approach to integrate engineering and literacy in elementary and middle school. Students use existing classroom literature – stories, novels, and expository texts – as the basis for engineering design challenges that help them identify problems, design realistic solutions, and engage in the Engineering Design Process while reinforcing their literacy skills.

Example books that offer engineering or maker education challenges include:

The benefits of this type of curriculum integration include all those benefits described for maker education, in general, but also include:

  • Increased learner interest in and engagement with content rich lesson activities.
  • Lesson activities may become a gateway to content areas for learners who may not have been interested in that content area in the past. For example, making in language arts may spark a STEM interest for students who have previously only been interested in language arts; spark the interest of STEM-oriented students in language arts.

To help integrate maker education into the curriculum, I developed the following lesson plan template to assist teachers with this process.

Maker Lesson Plan

Example Maker Education Lesson Plan

Vision for this Lesson and for Student Learning (What is the overarching purpose of this lesson? How does making  enhance the lesson? Consider relevancy, authenticity, transfer to other life situations):

 

Student Voice  (What are the interests and needs of the students? How is their voice incorporated into the development of this lesson?):

 

Standards Addressed (Think cross-curriculum and 21st century skills; think process as well as content learnings):

 

 

 

 

 

  • ISTE Standards for Students (for detailed descriptions and sub-standards, see https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students):
    • Empowered Learner: Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences.
    • Digital Citizen: Students recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical.
    • Knowledge Constructor: Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.
    • Innovative Designer: Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.
    • Computational Thinker: Students develop and employ strategies for understanding and solving problems in ways that leverage the power of technological methods to develop and test solutions.
    • Creative Communicator: Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals.
    • Global Collaborator: Students use digital tools to broaden their perspectives and enrich their learning by collaborating with others and working effectively in teams locally and globally.
  • 21st Century Skills (see for detailed descriptions at http://www.p21.org/our-work/p21-framework to add specifics):
    • Global Awareness: _________________________________________________
    • Financial, Economic: _______________________________________________
    • Business and Entrepreneurial Literacy: _________________________________
    • Civic Literacy: _____________________________________________________
    • Health Literacy: ___________________________________________________
    • Environmental Literacy: _____________________________________________
    • Creativity and Innovation: ___________________________________________
    • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: _________________________________
    • Communication: ___________________________________________________
    • Collaboration: _____________________________________________________
    • Information Literacy: _______________________________________________
    • Media Literacy: ____________________________________________________  
    • ICT Literacy: ______________________________________________________
    • Flexibility and Adaptability: ___________________________________________
    • Initiative and Self-Direction: __________________________________________
    • Social and Cross-Cultural Skills: ______________________________________
    • Productivity and Accountability: _______________________________________
    • Leadership and Responsibility: _______________________________________

Lesson Challenge Statement – Framing the Experience: (How will the maker lesson be framed or frontloaded?  – What is the big challenge for this activity? What essential questions do you want learners to explore? What overarching concepts do you want learners to investigate? Is the challenge open and ill-defined so there are multiple opportunities for student interpretation, innovation, and creativity?) The maker lesson can be framed or frontloaded through:

  • Introducing Essential Questions
  • The Use of Scenarios
  • Specifying the Standards
  • Asking Questions Related To Personal Skills
  • Asking Questions to Help with Scaffolding and Sequencing the Activities
  • Asking Questions Related To Using Peer Support-Working Collaboratively

(More information about frontloading the maker experience can be found at https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2016/03/16/framing-and-frontloading-maker-activities/)

Required Prerequisite Knowledge and Skills:

Vocabulary: (What vocabulary do you want learners to learn and use?)

Getting Started: (What high impact activity will you do to get learners excited about or hooked into the upcoming lesson?)

  • Video: _________________________________________________________________
  • Hands-On Demonstration: _________________________________________________
  • AR/VR Simulation: _______________________________________________________
  • Online Virtual Simulation: _________________________________________________
  • Live Guest Speaker (in person or via Skype/Google Hangout): ____________________
  • Game (analog or digital): __________________________________________________
  • Group Discussion About the Learning Challenge

Tinkering and Exploration: (Will the learners benefit with some free-play tinkering with and exploring the materials?)

Skills and Knowledge Direct Instruction: (What, if any, knowledge and skills do you need to teach directly prior to the maker activity?)

Learner Planning Time: Time for learners to research and plan what they will do for the maker challenge.

Learner Creation Time: Time for the learners to create, to try out several iterations of their ideas, if needed.

Learner Sharing and Feedback Time: Time for learners to share what they are making with their peers; whose role then is to give feedback.

Documenting Learning and Reflection: How will learners document and reflect on their learning? Possible reflection questions include:

  • What new skills have you learned because of the maker experience?
  • What are the most important learning moments you take with you from this maker experience?
  • Would you do this or a similar maker project again? Why or why not?
  • Has this maker experience changed you? If yes, how?
  • Describe what you have learned about yourself as a result of your maker experience.
  • What would you like to change about your maker experience?
  • What were the benefits from you participating in this making activity?
  • What surprised you the most during your maker experience?
  • What did you do that seemed to be effective?
  • What did you do that seemed to be ineffective?
  • What were the most difficult parts of the maker experience? Why?
  • What were the most satisfying parts of the maker experience? Why?
  • What personal characteristics made this maker experience successful for you?
  • Describe an awareness about a personal characteristic that has been enhanced by your maker experience.
  • How does the maker experience relate to your long-term goals?
  • How have you been challenged during the maker experience?
  • How do you feel about what you made? What parts of it do you particularly like? Dislike?
  • What lessons can you learn from the maker experience?
  • What positives can you take away from the maker experience?
  • How can you apply what you learned from maker experience in your life?
  • What advice would you give to someone else working on the maker activities?
  • What did you learn through this experience and how can you use it in the future?
  • Looking back on the maker experience, what two things stand out to you the most and why?

(For more on reflecting on the maker experience, see https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2018/03/10/reflecting-on-maker-experiences-with-reflection-cards/.) 

Assessment: How will learners be assessed? (This is especially important in a school setting where grades and accountability are expected.)

  • Rubric – Based on Standards and Objectives
    • Teacher Generated
    • Student Generated
  • Portfolio Artifact
    • Submitted to a Blog
    • Submitted to a web platform like Seesaw
  • Peer Assessments

Sharing Out Findings: How will learners share out what they learned with a larger maker education community? Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame stated: Sharing is s a vital aspect of maker culture that is intrinsic to the underlying ethos of what it means to be a maker and by extension, in my opinion, a human being (https://boingboing.net/2018/05/23/adam-savage-at-maker-faire-th.html).

  • Use of Social Media?
  • Presentations to Local Students and Community Members?
  • News Coverage?
  • Teaching Others?

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 6, 2018 at 12:40 am

The Myth of Neutral Makerspaces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liberatory Consciousness

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

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

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

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

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

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

Developing Best Practices for Makerspaces

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

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

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 1, 2018 at 11:35 pm

Robot-Enhanced Creative Writing and Storytelling (featuring Ozobot and Wonder’s Dot)

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There have been complaints leveraged against out of the box robots like Dash and Dot, Ozobot, Hummingbird, Sphero. The complaints usually revolve around the canned and prescriptive nature of their uses and programs, that they lack creative engagement by the younger users. I personally love the excitement my learners have using these robots. As with all tools and technologies and with creative framing, though, they can be used in creative and imaginative ways.

Mention robots to many English teachers and they’ll immediately point down the hall to the science classroom or to the makerspace, if they have one. At many schools, if there’s a robot at all, it’s located in a science or math classroom or is being built by an after-school robotics club. It’s not usually a fixture in English classrooms. But as teachers continue to work at finding new entry points to old material for their students, robots are proving to be a great interdisciplinary tool that builds collaboration and literacy skills. (How Robots in English Class Can Spark Empathy and Improve Writing)

This past term, I had my 2nd through 4th grade students work on their robot-enhanced creative writing and stories. In small groups, students were asked to create a fictional storyline and use StoryboardThat.com to create both the physical scenes and the accompanying narrative. As part of their directions, they were told that they were going to create a 3D setting out of cardboard boxes, foam board, LED lights, and other craft materials; and that they would use Wonder’s Dot with the Blocky App and Ozobot as the characters in their stories. Preparation time was divided between storyboarding, creating the scene, and learning how to use/code the robots. Because of all of the preparation and practice, the recording actually went quite quick and smoothly.

Here is a break down of the learning events that learners were asked to complete:

In small groups, create a storyboard using StoryboardThat which includes both the scenes and the narration.

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Create the scenes or setting using craft materials, cardboard boxes, foam board, LED lights

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Learn how to use and code Ozobots and Wonder’s Dot

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Work out the details of completed stories prior to recording

. . . and here are their recorded stories (along with some clips of their preparation). They did such a good job – it is very much worth a view.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 15, 2018 at 9:58 pm

Elementary Social Entrepreneurship: A Perfect STEAM Lesson

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I am completing a social entrepreneurship unit with my gifted students, grades 2nd through 5th. It was one of my favorite units . . . ever, and from their reactions, I believe it was one of theirs, too. I call it a perfect STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) unit. The first part of this post explains some of the rationale for this project, and the second part describes the unit, itself.

Why a Unit on Social Entrepreneurship

First, I wanted my learners, who are from lower income families, to develop both an entrepreneur mindset and entrepreneur skills along with the creativity and innovation that comes with these skills.

Entrepreneurship education benefits students from all socioeconomic backgrounds because it teaches kids to think outside the box and nurtures unconventional talents and skills. Furthermore, it creates opportunity, ensures social justice, instills confidence and stimulates the economy. Because entrepreneurship can, and should, promote economic opportunity, it can serve as an agent of social justice. Furthermore, entrepreneurship has historically spurred minorities, women and immigrants to create better lives for themselves and their families.  (Why Schools Should Teach Entrepreneurship)

Second, not only did I want my learners to gain entrepreneur skills, I wanted them to experience the benefits of starting a company in order to raise money to give to a “cause” also known as a form of social entrepreneurship.

Not every child is temperamentally suited to be a social entrepreneur. Not every child is suited to be a scientist, mathematician, or artist. But elementary school-age kids do have the natural curiosity, imagination, drive, and ability to come up with innovative ways to change the world for the better. By exposing our kids to a variety of disciplines, including social entrepreneurship, we are teaching them they have what it takes to “be the change.” One well-known expert on social entrepreneurship, David Bornstein, puts it this way: Once an individual has experienced the power of social entrepreneurship, he or she will “never go back to being a passive actor in society.” (Young Kids Need to Learn About Social Entrepreneurship)

Third, this unit met my own criteria for an effective and powerful unit:

  • Instructional challenges are hands-on, experiential, and naturally engaging for learners.
  • Learning tasks are authentic, relevant, and promote life skills outside of the formal classroom.
  • The challenges are designed to be novel, and create excitement and joy for learners.
  • Learner choice and voice are valued.
  • Lessons address cross curricular standards. They are interdisciplinary (like life) where multiple, cross-curricular content areas are integrated into the instructional activities.
  • Learning activities get learners interested in and excited about a broad array of topics especially in the areas of science, engineering, math, language arts, and the arts.
  • Communication, collaboration, and problem solving are built into the learning process.
  • Reading and writing are integrated into the learning activities in the form of fun, interesting books and stories, and writing stories, narratives, journalistic reports.
  • Educational technology is incorporated with a focus on assisting with the learning activities not to learn technology just for the sake of learning it.
  • There is a natural building of social emotional skills – tolerance for frustration, expression of needs, working as a team.

Schedule of Learning Activities

Here was the schedule of learning activities I used for this unit:

  •  Introduction
    • Video
    • Online Games
    • Kidpreneurs
  • Market Survey – Google Form
  • Analyzing Results, Deciding of Products, Testing Products
  • Expense Sheet – Expenses and Assets
  • Business Plan
  • Promotional Flyer
  • Sales and Record Sheet

Introduction

Video. Learners were introduced to entrepreneurship with the following video:

Kidpreneur Readings and Workbook. We began reading the Kidpreneurs’ book (free book can be ordered at https://kidpreneursbook.com/free-book) and doing exercises from the accompanying  workbook – these readings and exercises continued throughout the unit. Here is an infographic from the authors of these books:

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Online Games. They were then given the opportunity to play some online games that focus on entrepreneurship:

Market Survey 

Based on their own interests and hobbies (and with the help of the Kidpreneur workbook), my learners decided on possible products they could sell, and with my help, added possible organizations where profits would go. They developed a market survey from this information:


Analyzing Results, Deciding of Products, Testing Products

Learners requested that their respective classes and family members take their survey. It was quite a treat watching them continually examine the graphs found on the Google form response page. Here is an example from one student:

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From the results, they decided to sell Orbeez Stress Balls and glitter slime donating the profits to our school. They tested out making these products – different sizes and slime recipes – to discover which would be best for production.

Expense Form

I acted as the bank and purchased the materials for the learners to make Orbeez Stress Balls and Slime. I saved the receipts, made copies of them, and had each learner create her or his Google sheet to record expenses.

(Still making sales – students will update income this coming week.)

Business Plan

From all of this information, the learners developed a business plan using the following Kids-Business-Plan simplified for kids. It included:

  • Their business name – Gifted Community Craft Story
  • Startup costs
  • Cost per item
  • Marketing strategies

Promotional Flyer

The learners created the following promotional flyer using Google Docs. Luckily, our school has a color printer so I was able to print them out in color for the learners to post throughout the school.


Sales and Record Sheet

Another document created by the learners was the order form:

Highlights – Selling, Making, Packaging, and Delivering the Products

Additional Resources

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 13, 2018 at 11:29 pm

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