User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Posts Tagged ‘21st century skills

Natural Differentiation and Personalization Through Open Ended Learning Activities

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This past summer I facilitated maker education classes for 5 to 10 year old kids. This school year I am a gifted teacher meeting with 2nd through 6 grades one day per week per group. I like mixed age groups and have no problem designing learning activities for them. I realized that the reason for this is that these activities are open ended permitting each student to naturally and instinctively to work at or slightly above his or her ability level.  This actually is a definition of differentiation.

Many classrooms consist of students from different knowledge backgrounds, multiple cultures, both genders, and students with a range of disabilities or exceptionalities (Alavinia & Fardy, 2012). Differentiated instruction is defined as “a philosophy of teaching that is based on the premise that students learn best when their teachers accommodate the differences in their readiness levels, interest, and learning profiles” (Konstantinou-Katzi et al., 2012, p. 333). (in http://edutechwiki.unige.ch/en/Differentiated_learning)

One of results or consequences of providing such activities is an increase in learner engagement, excitement, and motivation. Open ended learning activities permit and encourage learners to bring their “selves” into the work. They become agents of their own learning.

Because of this freedom, they often shine as true selves come through. Learners often surprise both the educator and themselves with what they produce and create. It becomes passion-based learning.  Not only do the activities become self-differentiated, they become personalized:

Personalization only comes when students have authentic choice over how to tackle a problem. A personalized environment gives students the freedom to follow a meaningful line of inquiry, while building the skills to connect, synthesize and analyze information into original productions. Diane Laufenberg in What Do We Really Mean When We Say ‘Personalized Learning’?

Personalized learning means that learning starts with the learner. Learning is tailored to the individual needs of each learner instead of by age or grade level. It is more than teaching to “one size fits all” or just moving to learner-centered learning and changing instruction. Personalized Learning takes a holistic view of the individual, skill levels, interests, strengths and challenges, and prior knowledge. The learner owns their learning. Barbara Bray in What is Personalized Learning?

The educator, in this environment, introduces the activities and then steps back to let the learners take over their own personal learning. The educator lets go of expectations what the final produce should be; should look like; should do.  The educator becomes a provider of resources, feedback giver, and communications facilitator. S/he becomes a tour guide of learning possibilities. S/he shows learners the possibilities and then gets out of the way.

Creating the conditions for self-differentiation and personalization can occur with learning objectives that start with action verbs such: create, write, explore, invent, make, imagine, prepare, build, compose, construct, design, develop, formulate, originate.

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Parting Shot: The following is an Animoto I created to show how many forms of making there are, but it also demonstrates what can happen when open ended projects are introduced into the learning environment.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 11, 2016 at 6:05 pm

Tangrams: A Cross Curricular, Experiential Unit

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Now that I am back in the classroom two days a week teaching gifted elementary students, I can do and report on the cross curricular units I plan and implement. There are several guiding factors that I use to design my units:

  • They need to be hands-on and experiential.
  • Learner choice and voice is valued.
  • They need to address cross curricular standards. It is like life. Life doesn’t segment content areas into separate entities.
  • They do not depend on the use of worksheets. Worksheets tend to address a single standard or skill. Plus, learning how to do worksheets is NOT a life skill.
  • 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 but with a focus on using it to interact with real world physical objects and people.
  • A reflective component is included.
  • The educator becomes a facilitator whereby activities are introduced and then the learners become the active agents of their own learning.
  • The goal is to create the conditions for learners to say they the best day ever.

Tangrams: Cross Curricular Unit

The tangram (Chinese: 七巧板; pinyin: qīqiǎobǎn; literally: “seven boards of skill”) is a dissection puzzle consisting of seven flat shapes, called tans, which are put together to form shapes. The objective of the puzzle is to form a specific shape (given only an outline or silhouette) using all seven pieces, which may not overlap. It is reputed to have been invented in China during the Song Dynasty,[1] and then carried over to Europe by trading ships in the early 19th century. . It is one of the most popular dissection puzzles in the world. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tangram)

Goals:

The students will be able to:

  • Read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, in the grades 4-5 text complexity band proficiently. (CCSS.ELA)
  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences. (CCSS.ELA)
  • Classify two-dimensional figures based on the presence or absence of parallel or perpendicular lines, or the presence or absence of angles of a specified size. Recognize right triangles as a category, and identify right triangles. (CCSS.MATH)
  • Understand that shapes in different categories (e.g., rhombuses, rectangles, and others) may share attributes (e.g., having four sides), and that the shared attributes can define a larger category (e.g., quadrilaterals). Recognize rhombuses, rectangles, and squares as examples of quadrilaterals, and draw examples of quadrilaterals that do not belong to any of these subcategories. (CCSS.MATH)
  • Develop and portray characters including specifics about circumstances, plot, and thematic intent, demonstrating logical story sequence and informed character choices. (ELA and Visual Arts)
  • Demonstrate ability to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams. (21st Century Skills)
  • Assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and value the individual contributions made by each team member. (21st Century Skills)
  • Solve different kinds of non-familiar problems in both conventional and innovative ways. (21st Century Skills)

Materials:

Learning Activities

Read Grandfather Tangrams + Learners Create Tangrams for Each Story Character

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Each learner is given a set of tangram puzzle pieces and a set of cards that shows how to make each tangram animal in the story. Grandfather Tang is read to the learners either directly from the book or through https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x74l1ZM-zP0 so it can be projected. The story is stopped each time there is a reference to one of the Tangram animals. Learners construct that animal using their own set of Tangrams.

Check-In with Tangrams

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One of my morning activities with learners is to have them check in as to how they are doing that day. The check in for this unit is to create a Tangram that represents how they are feeling. Selections are made from a sheet given to learners:

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Giant Puzzling Tangrams

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Making the props for this activity is worth the trouble as it is a very high engagement, high learning, high reward activity. To set it up, an area is chosen that is about 50 yards long (outside or in a gym) and the giant Tangram shapes are placed in a pile at the start of this area. Learners are given a card that has the design of a Tangram at the beginning of this area. They need to produce that Tangram and then all get on top of that shape. Their goal then becomes to cross the designated area using the Tangram pieces as stepping stones. If they fall off, they must go back to the beginning and start again. When they reach the end of the designated area, they are given another Tangram shape they need to construct prior to stepping off. This translates into the need for them to maneuver the Tangram pieces into the design while standing on pieces.

Tangoes Tangram Card Game – Paired Challenge

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Next, the learners play the Tangoes card game in pairs. The object of Tangoes is to form the image on the card using all seven puzzle in a challenge with another learner in a race to solve the puzzle. It helps build visual spatial skills as the cards don’t have demarcations for the individual Tangrams. I promote some cooperative work as I ask the partner who figured out the answer to help his or her partner to do so, too.

Make 3D Tangrams

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Learners are given the printed out templates for a set of 3D Tangrams and construct them.

Create a Story from 3D Tangrams – Take Photos and Write a Blog Post

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Learners think of a story using their 3D Tangrams and take photos for the scene(s) of their stories. They then upload these images to their blogs and write about their story.

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(Postscript: Wow – I didn’t review their blog posts until after school. We are definitely going to discuss this student’s blog post during on next class session. Great teachable moment to discuss this real life situation of one of their classmates.)

A Perfect Storm for Maker Education

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Originally published at http://blog.iat.com/2015/09/30/a-perfect-storm-for-maker-education/.

https://www.thinglink.com/scene/575147870160683008

Perfect Storm: an expression that describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation drastically.  The term is also used to describe an actual phenomenon that happens to occur in such a confluence, resulting in an event of unusual magnitude.

Maker Movement:

The maker movement, as we know, is the umbrella term for independent inventors, designers and tinkerers, a convergence of computer hackers and traditional artisans. Makers tap into an American admiration for self-reliance and combine that with open-source learning, contemporary design and powerful personal technology like 3-D printers. The creations, born in cluttered local workshops and bedroom offices, stir the imaginations of consumers numbed by generic, mass-produced, made-in–China merchandise. (Why the Maker Movement Is Important to America’s Future)

A movement made up of hobbyists, tinkerers, crafters and innovators is getting ready to change what you thought you knew about the American economy. They’re teaching a new generation how to repair rather than replace, and if what they’re looking for is not available, to invent it. They call themselves “makers,” and they will figure out how to build whatever you can imagine. (The Maker Movement Is About the Economy, Stupid)

There currently exists the conditions for a perfect storm for maker education due to:

  • The Do It Yourself (DIY) Movement
  • Focus on STEM and STEAM Education
  • Information Access and Information Abundance
  • Affordable Maker Technologies
  • Crowdsourcing and Participatory Culture
  • Open Source Resources

The Do It Yourself (DIY) Movement

Do It Yourself, or DIY, is a term that is used by various communities of practice that focus on people creating things for themselves without the aid of a paid professional. embers of these subcultures strive to blur the lines between creator and consumer by constructing a social network that ties users and makers close together. The phrase Do It Yourself along with its acronym is also commonly used where a layman endeavors to complete a project without the physical aid of a paid professional. http://72.9.148.189/library/D.I.Y.

What this means for young people is that they are growing up in DIY cultures, where they have role models who engage in DIY and where they have 24-7 access to information and technological resources. For example, younger makers can turn to DIY, a safe online community for kids to discover and learn new skills. Older makers can use Make: DIY Projects for inspiration, ideas, and how-tos.

Focus on STEM and STEAM Education

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One of President Obama’s initiatives has been a call to action for making STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education a priority in the United States. He emphasized the need to broaden participation to those groups who typically do not engage in STEM initiatives:

President Obama knows that we simply cannot, as a Nation, expect to maintain our run of ingenuity and innovation—we cannot maintain that stream of new and different ideas—if we do not broaden participation in STEM to all Americans, including women and girls and minorities. (Educate to Innovate)

Some professionals and practitioners are expanding STEM education to include the arts which translates in STEAM education.

In this climate of economic uncertainty, America is once again turning to innovation as the way to ensure a prosperous future. Yet innovation remains tightly coupled with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – the STEM subjects. Art + Design are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century just as science and technology did in the last century. (STEM to STEAM)

Maker education can be a gateway to STEM involvement by students who may not have had interest in the science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines in the past.

At a time when many people are asking how we can get more students interested in STEM fields, we are hearing from teachers who have found making to be a great way to get students excited and engaged in their classrooms. We are seeing making occurring in subject classes such as math or science — in classes specifically listed as maker classes — and in a variety of less formal settings such as clubs and study halls. Many of these projects incorporate a variety of STEM topics. Students working on designing and building furniture for their classroom use algebra and geometry to figure out the dimensions. E-textiles and soft circuitry, in which circuits are sewn using conductive thread or fabric, have shown to be an engaging way to teach electronics and programming, especially for young women. The possibilities for ways to incorporate making into the school day are endless, and it is exciting to see what teachers have been developing and sharing. (Engaging Students in the STEM Classroom Through “Making”)

Information Access and Abundance

We are living in one of the most exciting times in the history of humankind. Our world in now filled with information abundance, surplus, and access. The result is synergy whereby the human mind plus our current technologies far exceed the sum of these individual parts. We have technologies to access any type of information and to create products that match the pictures and voices in our minds; and we can use technology to get the assistance and feedback from folks around the globe. (Information Abundance and Its Implications for Education)

Anyone with access to the Internet has access to all kinds of information, resources, and tutorials. Young people are used to going online to find information and how-to tutorials via YouTube, Wikipedia, and their social networks. Young makers have taken advantage of this easy and free access information to make valuable contributions to our world. For example, Jack Andraka, who as a High School sophomore, discovered a test for pancreatic cancer through reading science research he found online. Katherine Wu, a ninth-grader, invented “the driver’s companion,” a device that could monitor drivers’ blinks and brain waves to see if they were in danger of falling asleep at the wheel. She studied neuroscience to find out how to identify signs of sleepiness, took an online course to learn how to create the computer code that would recognize those signs. (Local teens’ inventions impress scientists)

Affordable Maker Technologies

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Accessibility of affordable maker technologies (e.g., 3D Printers, DIY computer devices) is due, in part to the democratization of these technologies.

When something is democratized it means that it is accessible to everyone. When used in the context of the maker movement, ‘democratization’ refers to the decreasing cost of the tools and technologies credited with spurring the movement. The cost of 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC machines, and 3D scanners has dramatically decreased over the past five years. (Democratized tools of production: New technologies spurring the maker movement)

Today, the availability of affordable constructive technology and the ability to share online has fueled the latest evolutionary spurt in this facet of human development. New tools that enable hands-on learning — 3D printers, robotics, microprocessors, wearable computers, e-textiles, “smart” materials and new programming languages — are giving individuals the power to invent. (The maker movement: A learning revolution)

Maker technologies such as Makey-Makey, littleBits, Arduinos, 3D Printers, and robotics kits provide opportunities for learners to experiment and invent for themselves. They are accessible and usable by a wide range of skill and age levels; and even though there is a cost attached to them, they are more accessible to those with less financial means than similar technologies had been in the past. There does, though, need to be a continued dialogue and proactive efforts to create a maker culture of accessibility.

If the rise of the maker movement and these new tools for democratized production are going to create opportunity, how do we ensure that all people truly have access and training? It is essential to understand and address the social structures and identity categories that are inherent in the maker movement before the tools of production that play such a prominent role are truly democratized. (Democratized tools of production: New technologies spurring the maker movement)

If one of the characteristics of the maker movement is democratization of related tools, software, and techniques, then efforts need to focus on the education institutions that serve children (school, libraries, museums, after-school programs) especially underrepresented and underserved children. We need to insure that there is little or no gap between those of means and those with little means when it comes to maker education. Dr. David A. Williams (SVP of Program, Training & Youth Development at Boys and Girls Club of America) has tackled this head-on at BGCA (Tackling the Digital Divide & Closing the Opportunity Gap in STEM Education) and so has Congressman Joe Kennedy in Boston (Do Politicians Really Care About STEM Education?).

Crowdsourcing and Participatory Culture

The maker movement and makerspaces are that they are driven by principles of crowdsourcing and participatory cultures. Makers, as a group, freely share their makes so others can replicate and/or improve upon them.

Many maker movement initiatives are rooted in the idea of a “Participatory Culture,” a term coined by American media scholar Henry Jenkins. Henry Jenkins recognizes the key elements of a participatory culture to include low barriers to expression and engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations with others, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices. (Worlds of Making: Best Practices for Establishing a Makerspace for Your School By Laura Fleming)

And as Dale Dougherty (@dalepd), considered by many as the father of the maker movement, stated in the Maker Mindset:

The Maker Movement is spurred by [….] the increasing participation of all kinds of people in interconnected communities, defined by interests and skills online as well as hyper-local efforts to convene those who share common goals. (Dougherty, The Maker Mindset, 2013)

Massimo Banzi (@mbanzi), the inventor of the highly popular maker technology Arduino, noted how a participatory maker culture spurs creativity.

Whenever you design a tool that allows people to be creative, there are people who will start to be creative with the tool. Once we made that available, people are now responding and creating. So it’s not so much that we’ve become a world of people who do hardware hacking, but, I guess, a world where people are becoming more involved in the creation of products. (Arduino’s Massimo Banzi: How We Helped Make The Maker Movement)

Related to crowdsourcing is crowdfunding which, as it implies, is asking the public to fund some worthwhile causes. Crowdfunding sites like Donors Choose can help educators get maker materials for their classrooms, increasing the chances that underfunded classrooms can get the tools and materials related to the maker movement.

Open Source Resources

Open source software is software that can be freely used, changed, and shared (in modified or unmodified form) by anyone. Open source software is made by many people, and distributed under licenses that comply with the Open Source Definition.

Makers often share their “makes” so other can reproduce them and/or improve upon them. For example, Markerbot’s Thingiverse is probably one of the biggest online repositories of open source 3D designs. A quick perusal of the website shows designs everything from prosthetic devices to footwear to toys.

The sharing culture that marks the maker movement carries over into maker technology companies in that they often make their software and hardware open source. Popular educational maker hardware such as Arduinos and lillteBits are open source:

Open-source hardware shares much of the principles and approach of free and open-source software. In particular, we believe that people should be able to study our hardware to understand how it works, make changes to it, and share those changes. To facilitate this, we release all of the original design files (Eagle CAD) for the Arduino hardware. These files are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license, which allows for both personal and commercial derivative works, as long as they credit Arduino and release their designs under the same license. (Arduinos FAQ)

littleBits has the following to say about developing open source hardware:

Open Source Hardware means that we make the design files available for the circuit designs in our modules pursuant to the CERN Open Hardware License Version 1.2. It makes sense for us because littleBits products are a teaching tool: sharing our designs allows for the possibility of teaching how these circuit designs work down to a circuit level. (What does Open Source mean?)

The bottom line is that educators both in formal and informal settings would be foolish not to take advantage of this perfect storm of maker education resources, tools, and strategies that currently exist.

Maker Camp: Toy Making and Hacking

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For the past two summers, I have gotten the marvelous opportunity to teach maker education camps to elementary level students, ages 5 to 12. Each week has a different theme and each theme meets for the five weekdays from 9:00 to 12:00 with a half hour break. Our first week’s theme was on Toy Making and Hacking. Here are the webpages of resources I aggregated on these maker activities:

Below is a list of activities completed with the students along with descriptions and my reflections on the degree of success with these activities.

  • Stomp Rockets
  • Gami-Bots
  • Colorful Gears
  • Candy Gobbler
  • Small Toy Take Apart
  • Portable Gaming Devices Take Apart – Invent a New Game

Stomp Rockets

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Materials:

  • 1/2″ PVC Pipe (cut into 36″, 3 x 12″; 6″ segments – one set per participant.
  • 1/2″ right angle joints – 3 per participant
  • 1/2″ cross joints – 1 per participant
  • magazines
  • cotton balls
  • pennies
  • transparent tape

Procedures:

I made some minor modifications of plans presented at http://www.instructables.com/id/Paper-Stomp-Rockets-Easy-and-Fun/. For the camp, I had each camper make his or her own launcher. One or two launchers, though, would have been fine for this activity.

Reflection:

I was excited to begin our week together with this activity as it is high impact. I did stomp rockets before with this age group a few years back. What I didn’t anticipate was the difficulty the campers would have making their rockets. They had trouble rolling the magazine pages around the PVC pipe and taping everything together. I was actually a little baffled that they couldn’t do these not too difficult hands-on tasks. As such, their rockets didn’t perform as they should off and several campers were very disappointed.

I would like to do this activity again in the future. If so, I would (1) do it later in the camp week, and (2) concentrate more on making the rockets insuring that the kids build fairly functional rockets.

Gami-Bots

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Materials:

  • business cards
  • scissors
  • cell phone motors
  • double stick tape
  • transparent tape

Procedures:

The following plans were developed by Howtoons and can be found at http://www.howtoons.com/?page_id=3475

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Reflection:

The maker campers really loved this activity. They all were successful is getting their Gami-bots to move. They even invented a game using the floor tiles whereby they placed all of their Gami-bots inside the tile and the last Gami-bot left inside the boundaries of that tile won. I had one of the campers’ mother ask if I could do maker activities for her son’s birthday. This was one of the projects she requested.

Colorful Gears

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Materials:

  • laser cut gears of assorted sizes
  • magnets (6x6mm 1/4″X1/4″)
  • magnetic boards
  • permanent markers

Procedures:

I had seen something similar at an EdTech conference but out of wood.  Instead of wood, I laser cut the gears out of acrylic. I used http://geargenerator.com/ to get the size of interlocking gears I desired and sized the middle holes to be a little bigger than 1/4″ to fit the magnets. This site produced files I used with the laser cutter at a local makerspace. I had the campers color their gears with permanent markers and then attach them to magnetic boards using the magnets as pivot points.

Reflections:

I was really excited about this activity. I think gears are lots of fun. I also thought that by having the campers color and create their own patterns would increase interest. I was wrong. They did the activity, seemed to like it okay, but were ready to move on once they did a single gear connection. I attempted introducing group collaborative creations as can be seen in the right photo above. A few were interested but not with overwhelming enthusiasm. I probably won’t be doing this activity again.

Mad Monster Candy Snatch Game

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Materials:

  • 2 liter bottle
  • Tweezers
  • Doorstop spring
  • Aluminum foil
  • copper tape
  • 5 MM LED lights
  • Batteries and terminal connections
  • Double sided alligator cables
  • Candy or prizes for the gradding

Procedures:

I modified the plans presented at http://makezine.com/projects/make-41-tinkering-toys/monster-candy-game/.

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I simplified this design by creating parallel circuits to have the LED eyes light up if the Tweezers touch the wired mouth  (similar to a DIY operation game – see http://www.makereducation.com/operation-game.html).

Reflections:

I knew this would be a difficult one and warned the campers of the high difficulty level. Most kids had some problems getting their gobble monster to work so I asked them to reflect on their learning experiences:

 

Last summer I asked the campers to make Operation Games. All were successful so for future camps, I’ll stick with the Operation Game.

Toy Take Apart and Create Something New

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  • Small Toys-Electronics (bought from the Dollar Store)
  • Handheld Games (bought a box from ebay and from local thrift store)
  • Screwdrivers-hammers to take the toys apart
  • Hot Glue and/or Solder to create new toys

Procedures:

See http://www.makereducation.com/toy-take-apart.html for information and resources about doing toy take aparts and hacking. My biggest rule for doing toy take aparts is that the kids need to create something new – a new invention, a new toy, something to make the world better. It isn’t just about taking things apart, it is about using those parts to make something different  . . .  new  . . .  better. Below are a few of the maker education campers explaining their hacks:

Reflections:

Toy Take Aparts are always successful. The kids sometimes get frustrated trying to take the toys apart but with a hammer (used by me), we can break apart the most stubborn of toys. I love seeing the kids reactions as they find out what’s inside of an electronic toy and seeing them use their creativity to make something new out of the parts. This is a keeper!

Maker Education Card Game

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I like and have always used games in my classrooms. One of my current educational interests is maker education. As such, I have begun creating games for maker education – see my first one, a board game, at Reflecting on the Making Process. The game I am presenting here is a card game that ends with the makers making something based on selected cards. Each maker picks a card from each of the three categories:

  1. The Thing or Process
  2. The Product
  3. The Population.

For example, a maker may choose, Create a Blueprint from The Thing or Process category; a New Toy from the Product category; and Adults from the population category meaning the maker would create a blueprint for a new toy for adults. The educator and makers can choose whether it is a “blind” pick or one in which the makers see their options. (Note – I would love to increase options in all categories. If you have additional card ideas, please leave them in the comments section).

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 6, 2015 at 1:29 am

The Future Belongs to the Curious: How Are We Bringing Curiosity Into School?

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What is curiosity? The word is associated with the irregular form of the Latin verb cura, which can mean worry or care about or cure. The word closest in meaning is inquisitive, which also has a Latin root: quaere, to search into, to seek. (How Can Teachers Foster Curiosity?)

Curiosity is the quest for new ideas and information. Folks who are curious aren’t satisfied with what they already know or have figured out. They go after what they don’t know or can’t understand—and that missing information can become a driving need to find out. “Curiosity’s most distinguishing characteristic is its open willingness to explore….” (Cultivating Curiosity in Our Students as a Catalyst for Learning)

The future belongs to the curious . . .

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A recent research study found a connection between curiosity and deep learning:

The study revealed three major findings. First, as expected, when people were highly curious to find out the answer to a question, they were better at learning that information. More surprising, however, was that once their curiosity was aroused, they showed better learning of entirely unrelated information that they encountered but were not necessarily curious about. Curiosity may put the brain in a state that allows it to learn and retain any kind of information, like a vortex that sucks in what you are motivated to learn, and also everything around it. Second, the investigators found that when curiosity is stimulated, there is increased activity in the brain circuit related to reward.  Third, when curiosity motivated learning, there was increased activity in the hippocampus, a brain region that is important for forming new memories, as well as increased interactions between the hippocampus and the reward circuit. (How curiosity changes the brain to enhance learning)

So what are we doing (or not doing) in our educational institutions to encourage and spark the curiosity of learners?

Curiosity is inherently dynamic and propulsive, not sedentary and passive. Most traditional instruction depends on the latter state and seeks to control the former. This is true especially of the interrupting student or precocious child who wanders about, ignoring the lesson while remaining intent on some mission of his or her own.

The only rational answer to the conundrum of curiosity is to disengage our educational system from standardized testing and common curricula. Curiosity does not hold up well under intense expectation. Give agency to teachers, with the explicit message to slow down and provide students time to wonder and be curious. Counter-intuitively, our role as teachers is not to provide answers. Our role is to give time and free rein to inherent curiosity and questions, and let our students exist in the heightened state of hungering for knowledge. (How Can Teachers Foster Curiosity?)

In this era of overly scripted, overly tested, overly controlled students AND teachers, there seems to be little or no room for curiosity at school. So what is the cost of curiosity-void schools?  The result , way too often, is a school culture of malaise rather than a culture of curiosity, engagement, excitement and joy for learning. Educators along with their administrators need to be agents of their own teaching and bring curiosity into their classrooms especially if they have the slightest belief that the future belongs to the curious.

What follows are some strategies for allowing curiosity to flourish in the learning environment:

  • Acknowledge and model your own curiosity as an educator.
  • Bring lots of “What ifs” into the learning environment.
  • Find out what learners wonder about.
  • Have learners develop their own curiosity-driven questions.
  • Embrace and provide the time and setting for unstructured play, exploration, tinkering (for all ages).
  • Do curiosity projects.

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Acknowledge and model your own curiosity as an educator.

The first and possibly the most significant action that educators can take is tapping into the curiosity of their students is to find, embrace and use their own curiosity as an integral part of their teaching strategies.

The power of modeling and social learning cannot be overstated.

When researchers invite children into a room containing a novel object, they find that children are very attuned to the feedback of adults. When the experimenter makes encouraging faces or comments, children are more likely to explore the interesting object. Experiments I’ve done show that children show much more interest in materials when an adult visibly shows how curious he or she is about the materials. In other words, children’s curiosity can be fostered or squelched by the people they spend time with. (The Case for Curiosity)

Bring lots of “What ifs” into the learning environment.

“What ifs” are defined, in this case, as what could be, what is possible. It is about possibility thinking. “What ifs” open doors to curiosity, imagination, and divergent thinking. A classroom filed with “what ifs,” generated by both the educator and the learners, is open to all kinds of possibilities. It is not constrained by what it but is becomes a place where thinking centers on what could be.

Find out what learners wonder about.

Micheal Wesch, the acclaimed digital ethnography professor from Kansas State University, had this to say about wonder:

What is needed more than ever is to inspire our students to wonder, to nurture their appetite for curiosity, exploration, and contemplation, to help them attain an insatiable appetite to ask and pursue big, authentic, and relevant questions, so that they can harness and leverage the bounty of possibility all around us and rediscover the “end” or purpose of wonder, and stave off the historical end of wonder.

I’ve developed and implemented a What Do I Wonder About? activity that I’ve done both 1st graders, 5th graders, and even college students.  I observed 100% engagement by all aged learners. Other wonder activities can be found at 4 Ways to Cultivate a Sense of Wonder (And Why it’s Important).

Not only do activities like these assist the educator in discovering what their learners wonder about, they give learners the message that what they wonder about it important and valued.

Have learners develop their own curiosity-driven questions.

Wesch believes that a sense of wonder and curiosity is nourished by learning to ask and pursue big, authentic, and relevant questions. The great educational philosopher Paulo Freire agrees with the power of the question and its direct relationship to curiosity:

I believe in the pedagogy of curiosity. That’s why I defend the pedagogy of the question and not of the answer. The pedagogy of the question is the one that is based on curiosity. Without that pedagogy there would not be a pedagogy that augments that curiosity. (The Future of School)

There seems to be lots of educational writings about how educators can use effective questioning techniques in the classroom. But these are the questions that are of interest to the teacher; that are composed and asked by the teacher.  These questions may tap into the interests and curiosities of their learners, but they are may not. If educators really have a desire to open up the channels of curiosity in their learning environment, they will facilitate helping learners develop their own curiosity-driven questions. As I discussed in Learners Should Be Developing Their Own Essential Questions:

If the true goal of education is inspiring students with a lifelong capacity and passion for learning, it is at least as important that students be able to ask the right question as it is to know the right answer. (Learning To Ask The Right Question)

Embrace and provide the time and setting for unstructured play, exploration, tinkering (for all ages).

As formal educational settings have evolved (seems a bit like a misnomer), there has also been less time blocked off for unstructured play, exploration, and tinkering. It seems that most Kindergarten through graduate school education have added more and more instructional time during each day leaving less time to just play.

Everywhere we turn these days we find pundits and politicians arguing for more restrictive schooling. Of course they don’t use the word “restrictive,” but that’s what it amounts to. They want more standardized tests, more homework, more supervision, longer school days, longer school year. (Learning Requires Freedom)

If learners of all ages had more time to just play, then their natural curiosities would emerge:

Whatever happened to the idea that children [and the rest of us] learn through their own free play and exploration? Every serious psychological theory of learning, from Piaget’s on, posits that learning is an active process controlled by the learner, motivated by curiosity.

If we stop to think about it, that the most valuable lessons we have learned are not what we “learned in kindergarten,” nor what we learned in courses later on. They are, instead, the lessons that we learned when we allowed ourselves the luxury of following through on our own interests and our own drives to play, fully and deeply. (Learning Requires Freedom)

Do curiosity projects.

Educators can even do a guided curiosity project with their learners. If educators want more detailed directions or a template for bring a curiosity project into their classrooms, see https://goo.gl/8HgZ7s written and implemented by Scot Hoffman.

It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education. It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry. — Albert Einstein

Let’s change this! Let’s bring curiosity based learning into more formal education to help learners belong in the future of curiosity.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 14, 2015 at 2:50 pm

Cross Curricular Maker Education Activity That Addresses Common Core Standards

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My primary job is that of educating pre and in-service teachers with a bit of teaching elementary students along the way. I often say that there is not enough time during the school day and the school year to teach isolated and singular content area topics. I stress designing and teaching cross-curricular thematic units. Not only will the learners then get to experience multi-layered instruction, they will also experience more authentic learning experiences. Real life learning doesn’t segment itself into isolated content areas.

What follows is a specific lesson for upper elementary and middle school students. It combines geometry concepts with a language arts activity while addressing several common core standards.

  • Grade Level: Grades 6 through 8
  • Title: Geometry Meets Maker Education
  • Brief Description: Learners create a robot using geometric shapes and LEDs. They then compose a comic strip using Storyboard That which describes the geometric properties of their robot.
  • Common Core State Standards Addressed
    • Math: Solve real-world and mathematical problems involving area, surface area, and volume.
      • CCSS.Math.Content.6.G.A.4 Represent three-dimensional figures using nets made up of rectangles and triangles, and use the nets to find the surface area of these figures. Apply these techniques in the context of solving real-world and mathematical problems.
      • CCSS.Math.Content.7.G.B.6 Solve real-world and mathematical problems involving area, volume and surface area of two- and three-dimensional objects composed of triangles, quadrilaterals, polygons, cubes, and right prisms.
    • English Language Arts
      • ELA: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.2 Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.
      • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.2.d Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.
  • ISTE’s NETS-S standards addressed
    • Creativity and innovation: Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology.
      • Apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products, or processes
      • Create original works as a means of personal or group expression
      • Use models and simulations to explore complex systems and issues
    • Communication and collaboration: Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others.
      • Communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats.
  • The Learning Activities
    • Learners are offered a variety of styrofoam shapes, LED lights/coin batteries, miscellaneous art supplies and glue guns.
    • Learners are given the task of building a robot composed of geometric shapes.
    • 10704133_10152777880134939_5875649242895121512_nLearners are asked to determine the surface area of their robots using the tape measures to get dimensions of individual pieces. They can use the LearnZillion tutorial to assist them – https://learnzillion.com/resources/72676-use-nets-to-represent-three-dimensional-figures-and-find-surface-area-6-g-a-4.
    • Learners share their results, both their constructed robots and their surface area results, with peers. Peers give feedback.
    • Learners are then told that they are to explain the properties and story of their robots through a digital story using Storyboard That. Their stories need to be at least four panels and contain both images and test in each of the panels. These are shared with peers.

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  • Reflection

Having learners engage in hands-on activities, both with the art items and with the technologies, permits educators to directly observe the performances of their students. Because these activities are somewhat self-directed, educators can actually view the learning activities as formative assessments and intervene when individual learners are having problems. This increases the chances that mastery by all learners are achieved.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 11, 2015 at 4:56 pm

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