User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Posts Tagged ‘disrupting education

Questions Learners Should Be Addressing Every Day at School

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I believe it is every educator’s responsibility to help insure that learners are addressing the following questions during each school day:

  • What questions am I asking today?
  • What answers am I seeking today?
  • What am I exploring today?
  • What am I making today?
  • What am I finding exciting today?
  • How am I playing and having fun today?
  • How am I using failure to inform my learning today?
  • What am I doing today to cooperate with others?
  • How am I documenting my learning today?
  • How am I sharing with others what I am learning today?
  • What am I doing today that has the potential to benefit the world?

questions

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 15, 2016 at 1:20 am

Documenting Learning

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As I’ve discussed in numerous posts, I am an experiential educator. I believe in and promote learning-by-doing and hands-on learning. I approach experiential learning from a cycle of learning which includes reflecting on and analysis of things done through learning-by-doing.

CycleofLearninghttps://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2016/01/13/a-natural-and-experiential-cycle-of-learning/

Reflection, as part of the experiential learning cycle, is often as or even more important than the making itself.

Untitled

A recent research study published via Harvard Business Review concluded that:

  • Learning from direct experience can be more effective if coupled with reflection-that is, the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience.
  • Reflecting on what has been learned makes experience more productive.
  • Reflection builds one’s confidence in the ability to achieve a goal (i.e., self-efficacy), which in turn translates into higher rates of learning. (http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/7498.html)

I am excited about the current trend towards maker education but I believe it needs to embrace a full cycle of learning including engaging in reflection. Reflection within the maker movement and maker education can occur through a process of documenting learning.

Document4Learning

Documenting learning can take on many forms:

  • writing a blog
  • doing a photo essay which includes
  • creating a video
  • making a podcast
  • doing a class wiki
  • doing a backchannel through Twitter with a hashtag or a platform like TodaysMeet
  • making Sketchnotes and/or mindmaps
  • using apps such as Seesaw or Educreations

The key is to offer the learners choices. This builds in and honors more personalized means of reflective learning.

Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano created the following infographic that describes some strategies for documenting for learning.

documenting-for-as-learning-tolisano2

http://langwitches.org/blog/2015/11/22/a-conversation-about-documenting-for-and-as-learning/

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 8, 2016 at 9:37 pm

Maker Education and Social-Emotional Development

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Planning educational activities that incorporate social-emotional learning has broad benefits. Research shows that SEL can have a positive impact on school climate and promote a host of academic, social, and emotional benefits for students. Durlak, Weissberg et al.’s recent meta-analysis of 213 rigorous studies of SEL in schools indicates that students receiving quality SEL instruction demonstrated:

  • better academic performance: achievement scores an average of 11 percentile points higher than students who did not receive SEL instruction;
  • improved attitudes and behaviors: greater motivation to learn, deeper commitment to school, increased time devoted to schoolwork, and better classroom behavior;
  • fewer negative behaviors: decreased disruptive class behavior, noncompliance, aggression, delinquent acts, and disciplinary referrals; and
  • reduced emotional distress: fewer reports of student depression, anxiety, stress, and social withdrawal. (http://www.casel.org/social-and-emotional-learning/outcomes/)

Daniel Goleman and CASEL has identified five interrelated sets of cognitive, affective, and behavioral competencies:

  • Self-awareness: The ability to accurately recognize one’s emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior. This includes accurately assessing one’s strengths and limitations and possessing a well-grounded sense of confidence and optimism.
  • Self-management: The ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations. This includes managing stress, controlling impulses, motivating oneself, and setting and working toward achieving personal and academic goals.
  • Social awareness: The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures, to understand social and ethical norms for behavior, and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.
  • Relationship skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. This includes communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, resisting inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking and offering help when needed.
  • Responsible decision making: The ability to make constructive and respectful choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and the well-being of self and others. (http://www.casel.org/social-and-emotional-learning/core-competencies)

Maker Education and Social Emotional Learning

Maker education, when planned around skills acquisition, can enhance social-emotional development.

Self-Awareness: Making in all its forms requires a full range of skills including cognitive, physical, and affective skills. Given this need for multiple and diverse skill set, effective and successful making comes from an accurate assessment of one’s strengths and limitations as well as having optimism and confidence that challenges can be overcome within the making process. Example questions related to self-awareness and making include:

  • What strategies am I using to increase my awareness of my emotions and how they influence my performance during the making-related tasks?
  • What are my strengths given this particular making task?
  • What are my limitations and how can I use my strengths to overcome them?

Self-Management: Making, especially making something new, often includes developing goals on the fly, revising those goals, and managing frustrations as the maker works through and learns new skills, processes, and knowledge related to that make. Example questions related to self-management and making include:

  • What processes am I using to develop, assess, and revise my goals while making?
  • What strategies am I using to manage any frustrations or failures that are occurring during making my project?

Social awareness:   A key area of social awareness is that of empathy – good listening and understanding the perspective of others. For many, design thinking goes hand-in-hand with the maker movement and maker education. Not all making is about attempting to design solutions to community and world problems, but building in that aspect has the potential to create more meaningful maker projects.

Making is a fantastic way to engage many students, but it’s only the first step toward an even greater revolution. The future of education cannot be about giving students the skills to fill jobs; it must be about giving them the skills to create jobs. This requires more than technical skills, it requires empathy, context and innovation. The heart of innovation is not technology, but people. Great innovators are able to deeply understand human needs and create useful solutions. Innovation simply requires empathy and experimentation. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/singularity/2014/07/29/beyond-the-maker-movement-how-the-changemakers-are-the-future-of-education/#328fd30c3b84)

Some example projects of making with useful solutions include:

Sample assessment questions for social awareness and making include:

  • What strategies am I using to find out the perspectives and ideas of potential users of my project?
  • How am I insuring that I am addressing the needs of diverse population of potential users of my project?

Relationship skills: The power of being a maker is amplified when one works collaboratively on projects, gets help from others, and shares findings with others. Example self-assessment questions for relationship skills and making include:

  • How am I using others to help me with my project?
  • How are my peers and I collaborating ?
  • Am I asking for help if and when I get stuck making my project?
  • How am I sharing my ideas with others?

Responsible decision making: Responsible decision making includes considering how one’s decisions surrounding making: (1) affects the safety of oneself and one’s peers, (2) is respectful of the rights of others, and (3) is done with the understanding of the possible of larger consequences for self and others.

  • What am I doing to keep my peers and me physically safe during the making of my project?
  • How am I making decisions that draw upon my own and my peers’ creativity, innovation, and insights?
  • What are the consequences of my actions on my peers and me during making my project?
  • What past projects are informing my decisions for this project?
  • How am I considering the humanitarian and ethical ramifications or consequences of my project?

The following infographic lists all of these questions. Questions should be selected and presented based of the types of maker projects, the goals of the maker projects, and the age of the makers.

makng and SEL

 

Natural Versus Unnatural Learning

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There is a huge disconnect between how people learn naturally and how students are taught in public education. Mark Twain once quipped, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

In school, students are expected to . . .

  • Sit in uncomfortable desks and chairs, and expected to pay attention for long periods of time.
  • Learn out of textbooks specifically designed for the institution of education – books that almost no one buys in real life.
  • Be quiet, interacting with peers occurs only periodically and only with permission from the teacher.
  • Learn and understand isolated content and topics often without a real world context and in a very linear manner.
  • Learn with same aged peers.
  • Not connect and learn with others outside of the classroom population.

The unintended consequences of these artificial and unnatural ways of learning include believing that learning is or should be difficult, painful, disciplined, and not fun. This, too often, results in learners believing that they cannot or do not want to learn new things especially in those areas where and when learning was painful. (How Do We Learn? How Should We Learn?)

In real life, learners learn through . . .

  • Setting up environmental conditions for themselves – often in comfortable furniture sitting and laying in positions that work for them; eating and drinking when desired; going to the bathroom when needed and by not asking for permission.
  • Moving around and engaging in distractions which can help in processing information.
  • Asking others for information, ideas, and help on an as needed basis.
  • Getting online to explore personalized inquiry about the content they are learning about.
  • Interacting intimately with content related, real life objects.
  • Learning in a context where that learning real world applications. Deep and meaningful learning occurs within a context.
  • Watching and learning from those more experienced than them. Now with technology, this observation can come in the form of videos, social media, and live communication networks such as Skype and Google Hangouts.

I am continually baffled about the gap between what we know about how people learn and the learning practices used in school settings.

There’s a tension in education right now as educators reluctantly part ways with our old reliable teaching methods—an orderly, silent classroom with students organized alphabetically in rows and a teacher lecturing from behind a desk—and begin to accept novel, research-based approaches to learning, such as student-led inquiry; small group, peer-to peer teaching; and problem-based learning. (Educating an Original Thinker)

It wouldn’t take that much to change classrooms from places of compliance to places of learning. When I taught gifted elementary students, my classroom was set up with a long table with chairs around it, two sofas, coffee tables, rugs, lamps, bookcases with books and games. I did purchase a lot of these items out of pocket but most of them were bought from a local thrift store for minimal costs. The walls were filled with posters and artifacts created by the kids themselves. The kids would come in and put their shoes in a crate at the front door (this evolved due to their desire to do so). As I had each grade for one full day of the week, many would say, “I love coming to this classroom.”  Other teachers who found their way to my classroom would note its homey appearance.

I rarely stood in front of the learners to lecture, only to explain the learning tasks or show them how to do something. We would start the day outside with a group challenge-team building activity. I would offer hands-on activities and choice menus throughout the day to study interdisciplinary topics. . . a mix of language arts, science, math, and arts. They could work anywhere in the rooms. Some stayed a the table. Some went to the sofa. Others worked on the rugs. The last hour of class was spent on choice time. I had computers, educational games, construction kits, art supplies. My only rule was that they had to be doing something “educational.”  The energy in my classroom was joyful, happy, engaged, and focused. The only thing I would add to my mix, given I had the choice, was having mixed ages to reinforce proximity of learning and scaffolding.

Kids learn social skills best by interacting with other kids, and a wide age range (age four and up) allows older kids to “create ‘scaffolds’ for the younger ones, bringing them up to higher skill levels,” Gray notes. “In turn, the older kids gain a sense of maturity and learn to be nurturing. Explaining things also helps them consolidate and understand the information better.” (Harnessing Children’s Natural Ways of Learning)

I written about school being more like camp. I have a hunch that if these ideas were to become a reality, more kids would love going to school, love learning, and most of all develop attributes, attitudes, and skills for lifelong learning.

school-camp

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 19, 2016 at 10:42 pm

Visions of Education Futures Floating Around in My Head

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Walk into a classroom in any part of the United States, even the world, and you most likely will scratch your head in disbelief asking yourself questions such as:

  • Why do the classrooms look pretty much like the ones in which I, my parents, and my grandparents learned?
  • Many students (of all ages) own computers in the form of their cell phones that are more powerful than all of the computer power of NASA back in 1969, when it placed two astronauts on the moon. Why aren’t they using them for learning?
  • Why are the kids still categorized and sorted by date of manufacture (birthdates)?
  • Why are the students using paper-based textbooks that are older than the students, themselves, and provide no options to check for information accuracy or to extend their learning based on areas of interest?
  • Why is there one person standing in front of the room doing all of the talking with students sitting passively at uncomfortable desks when we know that active, social, and experiential learning promotes interest, engagement, and deep learning?

Slowly, ever so slowly, 21st century technologies, networking, and daily living practices are inching their way into our public school institutions. It may, to the chagrin of many of us, be at a glacier’s pace, but there is hope for the future of education. Technology will free us to ask questions that have never been posed, to envision beauty never before unveiled in the mind’s eye. To achieve this, though, we’ll need to educate people very differently (Robot-Proof: How Colleges Can Keep People Relevant in the Workplace). This generation has never known a life without technology and are constantly inventing new ways to use it for education, communication, innovation, recreation, and creation. Their visions for how people should learn will permeate the current systems of education and they will hopefully be the change agents bringing in a new era of education. They are growing up in a world full of connection, networking, and innovation and will demand that their educations reflect that connectedness, inventiveness, and orientation towards the future.  “By creating millions of networked people, info-capitalism has created a new agent of change in history: the educated and connected human being (PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future).  There needs to be a different type of learning experience to prepare students for the future. The potential for the future of education is limitless. A vision for this future given technological and crowdsourced inspired advances include the following:

Information is abundant and education will become more evenly distributed. Our world is now marked by information abundance, surplus, and access. Learners are consuming real time and constant information, media, and news via Google, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, and forms of social media via their mobile devices. Due to the ubiquitous nature of mobile devices and increased bandwidth, quality education will be accessible to everyone regardless of geographical location and socio-economic status. The futures of education will include learners being given the skills and agency to access this information and use it to inform their learning. The human mind plus our current technologies will far exceed the sum of these individual parts potentially for everyone throughout the globe.

Social based and networked learning will become the norm and an expectation by both educators and learners within all types of educational venues – formal, online, face-to-face, and job training. The borders such as those between grade levels, communities, ethnicities, states, countries that, in the past, way too often created artificial demarcations in educational opportunities will diminish and eventually disappear as globalization reinforces and rewards learners’ collaboration and interdependence with one another.

The emerging pedagogy of this century isn’t carefully planned. Rather, it’s developed fluidly. Our traversals across networks are our pathways to learning, and as the network expands, so does our learning. We share our experiences, and create new (social) knowledge as a result. We must center on the ability of individuals to navigate this space and make connections on their own, discovering how their unique knowledge and talents can be contextualized to solve new problems ( http://www.manifesto15.org/en/ ).

We have technologies to access any type of information and to create products that match the pictures and voices in our minds. We will use technology to get the assistance and feedback from folks around the globe for own personalized learning.

The technologies associated with customized avatars, haptic sensors, and online language translators will evolve enabling us to hold Holographic Meetings. This will allow learners from all over the world to meet virtually face-to-face and network in real time where they can see and hear one another as if they were in the same space. Learners will come together for real time communications, brainstorming, problem solving, and collaborative learning.  Learners of all ages from all geographical locations will meet via these holographic meetings to discuss areas of personal and academic interest, ideas for creative pursuits, and entrepreneur-related initiatives.

Textbooks and lectures of the past will be replaced by augmented and virtual reality simulations. 3D, 4D and even 5D will create many opportunities for learners. Informational texts in the future will not just show 2D pictures and plain text. It will be built to display 3D images, videos, and simulations.

Project Based Learning and DIY (do it yourself) will replace drill and kill instruction. Today’s education too often focuses on thinking about things rather than actually engaging in hands-on and experiential learning. Learners will embrace the DIY movement, making and creating as much or more than consuming. Humans have an innate need to create, innovate, dream  . . .  to do rather than just to be. The learners will be the voices and drivers of their own self-tailored, real world, and authentic projects. Their educations will be interdisciplinary as is life. Skills such as reading, writing, math, and other related disciplines will be learned within the context of real life projects.

Learners along with their connected networks will create their own mash-up of learning materials – print, online, video, and others forms of media. These educational resources will be gathered, curated, and disseminated freely and openly through a sharing economy. Educators and learners as well as policy makers and businesses will embrace this sharing economy as they realize how much a sharing economy can benefit current and future learners.

On the local level, learners will find their way to Neighborhood Learning Centers. These neighborhood learning centers will combine the best of coffee shops, libraries, technology centers, and makerspaces. The sites, sounds, smells, and interactivity that attract people to these places will replace the dry, often lifeless classroom environments filled with uncomfortable desks, only one person taking at a time, passive learning, and lack of real life learning opportunities. Educators would be the facilitators in these spaces acting as mentors, coaches, guides on the side especially for the kids and young people who come there.

In other words, these meeting and learning spaces will be learning labs. Learning labs are innovative spaces that prepare learners to meet the challenges of a complex global economy and gain the skills they need to succeed in a rapidly changing world, while allowing them to follow their passions and to inspire one another. Learning labs enable people to build the skills and knowledge to pursue a personal interest or passion in an environment that provides support from friends and caring adults, and can link this learning and interest to academic or career success or to civic engagement (The Spread and Evolution of Learning Labs).  The learning centers and labs will drive technological and human advancements rather than being environments characterized by late adoption as is typical of today’s school systems. They will act as think tanks, be the hubs for visionaries and trendsetters, and be the leading edge of innovation that will influence all other institutions.

Interest and passion-based learning groups will form within these learning communities and labs. These groups will emerge as members interests emerge. They will be fluid as membership changes and members’ interests grow, evolve, and change. Because there will be a number of neighborhood learning centers in every community, each center will have its own unique voice, personality, and passion-based groups. This not only will give learners choices within a given neighborhood learning center but additional choices within other neighborhood centers.

The groups will be mixed ages and genders where members act both as learners and as teachers. There will be situational teaching and learning.  This means that if someone has the knowledge or skills related to a certain area of learning, then that member will emerge as the teacher regardless of age.  Contributions by all not only will make everyone feel valued, the community as a whole will benefit.

The essence of the demand for freedom is the need of conditions which will enable an individual to make his own special contribution to a group interest, and to partake of its activities in such ways that social guidance shall be a matter of his own mental attitude, and not a mere authoritative dictation of his acts.

John Dewey, Education Philosopher in Early 20th Century

Professionals will go to these learning labs to locate and recruit learners to come to their organizations for short and longer apprenticeships. Learning in apprenticeship is not just about learning to do (active learning), but also requires an understanding of the contexts in which the learning will be applied. In addition there is a social and cultural element to the learning, understanding and embedding the accepted practices, customs and values of experts in the field (Models for teaching by doing (labs, apprenticeship, etc.). The organizations will benefit by having the fresh perspectives of the apprentices who received their training and educations at the learning centers. The apprentices will benefit through gaining experience in the real world of work, and the learning centers will benefit as the apprentices bring back their experiences to the centers creating a full and fresh cycle of learning.

Learners will be asked to publish apps, articles, videos, or games; or develop a new invention or some form of new technology in order to graduate. New technologies are emerging at rate never seen before in the history of humankind. Each day brings new ways in which media, news, entertainment, photos, videos, games, apps, and augmented and virtual reality are being conceptualized, produced, and disseminated. Graduation requirements from High School and College will be based on learners adding something of value to their fields of interests and thus, to the world. Educational institutions, including the learning centers discussed earlier, will create ecosystems that support all kinds of student entrepreneurship and reinforce the values of inventiveness and innovation. Knowledge and skills will be demonstrated through portfolios and public demonstrations of completed projects. It’ll be a micro-credentialed and competency based education so employers and interested others will know the knowledge and skill sets of potential employees. This will include service to others.

Globalization creates an increased awareness and fuller picture of world issues which often leads to increased empathy. Today’s kids are growing up witnessing social activism via social networks, crowdsourced fundraising for those in need with initiatives like DonorsChoose and Indiegogo, and resourceful students doing projects to serve the underserved such as creating prosthetic arms with 3D printers and turning plastic bags into sleeping mats for the homeless. The result will be a world where Altruism and Service will become the norm addressing the need for humans to create safety, opportunity, and prosperity (intellectual, emotional, social) for all. We will err towards humanitarianism as global stewardship will permeate all aspects of education. Writing, inventing, creating media, and entrepreneurship for change will drive educational endeavors supporting the belief that all humans want to live a life based on, “I want to do things that will change people’s lives.” Problems will always exist in the world, but the collective whole of the human race, given the advancements specified in this article, will actively and proactively seek their amelioration.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 5, 2016 at 11:22 pm

A Model of Good Teaching?

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One of my guilty pleasures is watching MasterChef Junior, a cooking competition for 8 to 12 year olds, and as an educator, I have been analyzing it as a model for good teaching.  My observations include:

  • The challenges are hands-on and naturally engaging for these kids. They are based on the kids’ passion for and interest in cooking.
  • The kids don’t need to be graded about their performances. Consequences are natural. Food gets burned. The kids sometimes get burned. The food dishes taste good or they don’t.
  • There is a gamelike atmosphere. There are elements of play, leveling up (each subsequent challenge is more difficult), a sense of mastery or achievement upon accomplishing each challenge. The experience is immersive with the kids living the part of a chef. The kids get to try new roles such as team leaders, lead chefs, team representative, and being popular (this is one of the first situations that some of these kids get to shine).
  • The kids push themselves to the limit within seemingly impossible challenges – mostly because of their love for cooking, a strong intrinsic motivator. The kids often create very difficult food dishes that they have never created before. They often rise to the challenges surprising both themselves and the judges with what they created.

Just seeing the kids … when their hands go up, and the look on their faces of what they have done is unbelievable. You can tell right on their face at that moment if they’re happy or if they’ve completely blown it. Obviously there are failures, and they’re crying. For the ones that have done well, when they put their hands up and they are proud of what they just put on the plate, that look — there’s no words to even go there with it. It’s unbelievable, because you know that they put everything into it. (Inside “MasterChef Junior,” the best cooking show on television)

  • The challenges are designed to be novel and create excitement and joy for the kids – there are things like mystery food boxes; the judges introduces challenges are astronauts; the kids cooking for other kids at an amusement. The kids visible shake with excitement and anticipation while the challenges are being introduced.
  • The judges are clear, specific, and truthful with their feedback: both positive and negative. The judges give brutally honest feedback. They are very specific in describing what worked and what didn’t work about about the kids’ food creations. Sometimes the kids cry but there is visible respect that the kids have for the judges and that judges have for the kids.

Even when Gorden (the top chef and host) is disciplining them, or yelling at them about something, there’s this level of respect that the child has for him, and he has for the child, that total care. They know, they get it. He’s this grandiose father figure that has the career of their dreams, and he just does it so naturally. He doesn’t sugarcoat things for them like they are a toddler. I mean, he really goes at them when they need it, but there’s always this wonderful constructive element. So that was awesome to see. (Inside “MasterChef Junior,” the best cooking show on television)

  • There is an atmosphere of mutual respect . . . kids for the judges, judges for the kids, and kids for one another.
  • The adult judges will come in and help the kids if they see any individual being pushed too far over their limits and capabilities. This intervention is based on teaching the kids proper technique not doing it for them.
  • There is a healthy competition where the kids have to compete against one another. The objective is to win but the kids seem more concerned about their own performance rather than the performance of their peers.
  • The kids, through working together on many of their challenges, develop into a close knit team and visibly support each other. Even though they are competing against each other, they seem to understand they are with like minded peers. In effect, they develop their own PLNs based on similar interests. For some, it is the first time they have been with peers with a passion for cooking.  Many cry when one of their peers in eliminated from the competition and say that they made friends for life.

goodteaching.jpg

What I believe the kids learn during their MasterChef Junior experiences:

  • Additional cross-curricular skills including math skills, oral communication, following directions;
  • Working with a team;
  • Tolerance for frustration;
  • That their passions and interests are valuable and meaningful.

Many of the kids in interviews following their elimination from the competition state that it was the best experience of their lives.  I have a hunch that many of these kids would say their MasterChef experiences taught them as much or more than all of the school years combined. I’ve written about creating the conditions for the best day ever.

It’s mind blowing how much I grew as a chef, how much I grew as a person. 12 year old Zac

Educators, in this era of learning, should focus on those conditions that create an environment that each and every one of their students love coming to school and love learning.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 26, 2015 at 2:39 pm

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).

makercardgame.jpg

makercardgame2

makercardgame3.jpg

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 . . .

20140207-1500

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.

curiosity

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.

DSC00574

  • 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

The Educator as a Maker Educator: the eBook

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makered bookcover

I compiled all of my blog posts about Maker Education into an ebook that I published via Amazon Kindle. The price is $3.99.  It can be accessed at http://www.amazon.com/Educator-as-Maker-ebook/dp/B016Z5NZ6O/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

The pieces include theoretical ideas, informal research-observations, ideas related to the educator as a maker educator, the maker education process, suggestions for implementation, and reflecting on the making process. Graphics and infographics created to support the chapter content are included.

The Table of Contents:

  • Introduction
  • The Perfect Storm for Maker Education
  • Is It Project-Based Learning, Maker Education or Just Projects?
  • Maker Education and Experiential Education
  • MAKE STEAM: Giving Maker Education Some Context
  • The Intersection of Growth Mindsets and Maker Education
  • Becoming a Lifelong Maker: Start Young
  • Making and Innovation: Balancing Skills-Development, Scaffolding, and Free Play
  • Let Children’s Play (with Technology) Be Their Work in Education
  • Tinkering and Technological Imagination in Educational Technology
  • Educator as a Maker Educator
  • Educator as Lead Learner
  • Promises to My Learners as a Maker Educator
  • The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture for Tinkering and Maker Education
  • Maker Education: Inclusive, Engaging, Self-Differentiating
  • Team Building Activities That Support Maker Education, STEM, and STEAM
  • Stages of Being a Maker Learner
  • Making MAKEing More Inclusive
  • Example Lesson:  Maker Education Meets the Writers’ Workshop
  • Reflecting on the Making Process

 

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