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Posts Tagged ‘Education

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.

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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

The 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/

Perfect Storm: an expression that describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation drastically.  The term This 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)

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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

perfect storm

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

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.

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

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 the Boys and Girls Club of America) has tackled this head-on at BGCA (Tackling the Digital Divide & Closing the Opportunity Gap in STEM Education).

Crowdsourcing and Participatory Culture

The maker movement and makerspaces 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.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 16, 2015 at 9:15 pm

Creating the Classroom Conditions for the Best Day Ever

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Lately, I have become a little obsessed with idea of the best day ever. It is undeniably obvious when you see someone have or experience for yourself a peak experience: succeeding with a difficult, seemingly impossible task; getting a unexpected, amazing gift; finishing or winning a competitive event (depending on your goal); being given special accolades for a personal accomplishment.  I personally perceive it as a coming together or congruence of the mind, heart, body, and spirit where all of them are present in the moment and fulfilled. It translates into experiencing a flow state.

So this has led to me thinking how educators can create the conditions for learners to have and exclaim, “This is the best day ever!” Whoever said or made up the rules that school should be serious, boring, or painful? The institutions and places where learning takes place should be joyful and exciting places.

Strategies to help facilitate learners having the best day ever:

  • Build on learner interests and passions
  • Involve learners in the what and how of instruction
  • Use whole body and hands-on learning
  • Allow learners to work with others if they choose
  • Embed seemingly unreachable challenges
  • Encourage and acknowledge a broad range of emotions
  • Celebrate both effort and success
  • Respect the process – creating the best day ever takes time
  • Respect the process – let go of the need to create the best day ever

We cannot predict nor force learners to have the best day ever but we can set up the conditions to increase its possibility.

bestdayever

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 24, 2015 at 1:22 am

Schools Need to Include More Visual-Based Learning

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When asked what my first language is, I often answer, “visual.” I think in images, prefer to be taught through images, and like to express what I know through images. I find it disconcerting that as learners progress to the higher grades, there is less use of images and visuals to teach concepts.

The power of the use of vision for learning is emphasized by developmental molecular biologist, John Medina, where in his publication, Brain Rules, he states:

Vision Trumps All Other Senses

We are incredible at remembering pictures. Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65%. Professionals everywhere need to know about the incredible inefficiency of text-based information and the incredible effects of images (http://www.brainrules.net/vision).

Created by students for teachers, the following video shows students frustrated with the lack of visual learning in the classroom:

This post is a call to action to increase visual-based learning in the classroom through:

  • Using visuals, images, video, and other visual media to teach and demonstrate concepts.
  • Using and teaching learners how to make concept maps.
  • Using and teaching learners how to do sketchnotes.
  • Allowing and encouraging learners to show what they know through visual imagery.
  • Teaching visual literacy.
A Visual Enhanced Classroom

Use Visuals, Images, Data Visualizations, Infographics and Videos to Teach Concepts

Our brains are wired to rapidly make sense of and remember visual input. Visualizations in the form of diagrams, charts, drawings, pictures, and a variety of other ways can help students understand complex information. A well-designed visual image can yield a much more powerful and memorable learning experience than a mere verbal or textual description (http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/visual-thinking/).

Because of all of the multimedia available to teachers, there has been an increased use of visual presentation of content in the classroom.  Educators, though, should assess their visual impact. Youtube videos of talking heads or PowerPoint presentations that are text based just reinforce instructional systems too heavily dependent on the verbal and written word.

The use of slide presentations by educators help to provide visual stimulus for their learners. They tend, though, to be way too text based as satirized in Life After Death by PowerPoint by Don McMillan . Truthfully, I am a strong proponent of using PowerPoints for teaching given that they are image rich and text limited. Garr Reynolds or Presentation Zen provides tips for preparing presentations that honor the use of visuals in Top Ten Slide Tips.

Concepts can also be demonstrated through data visualizations and infographics.

Visual analytics play off the idea that the brain is more attracted to and able to process dynamic images than long lists of numbers. But the goal of information visualization is not simply to represent millions of bits of data as illustrations. It is to prompt visceral comprehension, moments of insight that make viewers want to learn more (http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/08/data-visualized-more-on-teaching-with-infographics/)

Strategies for using data visualizations and inforgraphics in the class can be found at Data Visualized: More on Teaching With Infographics.

Use and Teach Learners How to Make Concept Maps and Graphic Organizers

Research tells us that the majority of students in a regular classroom need to see information in order to learn it. Some common visual learning strategies include creating graphic organizers, diagramming, mind mapping, outlining and more. These strategies help students or all ages better manage learning objectives and achieve academic success. As students are required to evaluate and interpret information from a variety of sources, incorporate new knowledge with what they already have learned, and improve writing skills and think critically, visual learning tools help students meet those demands. Paired with the brain’s capacity for images, visual learning strategies help students better understand and retain information (http://www.inspiration.com/visual-learning).

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For more ideas for using mind maps in the classroom, see 10 Mind Mapping Strategies For Teachers.

Use and Teach Learners How to Do Sketchnotes

Sketchnotes are rich visual notes created from a mix of handwriting, drawings, hand-drawn typography, shapes, and visual elements like arrows, boxes, and lines (definition from Mike Rohde, The Sketchnote Handbook).  Although sketchnoting was born out of the need to take better notes at conferences and in meetings, I believe the process of making sketchnotes may have tremendous educational value for students and professionals.  This is especially true for students who struggle taking traditional notes or need a fresh approach to learning.  Please keep in mind that this is about ideas, not art (The Sketchnote Handbook) (http://campus.murraystate.edu/faculty/jcox/sketch.html).

I discuss Sketnoting in more detail in my post – Visual Note-Taking and/or see the work of Sylvia Duckworth at https://sylviaduckworth.com/sketchnotes/.

Allow and Encourage Learners to Show What They Know Through Visual Imagery

Allowing learners to show what they know through visuals supports Universal Design for Learning second principle, Provide Multiple Means of Expression:

It is important to provide alternative modalities for expression, both to the level the playing field among learners and to allow the learner to appropriately (or easily) express knowledge, ideas and concepts in the learning environment. These include:

  • Compose in multiple media such as text, speech, drawing, illustration, design, film, music, dance/movement, visual art, sculpture or video
  • Use social media and interactive web tools (e.g., discussion forums, chats, web design, annotation tools, storyboards, comic strips, animation presentations)
  • Compose in multiple media such as text, speech, drawing, illustration, comics, storyboards, design, film, music, visual art, sculpture, or video

Such alternatives reduce media-specific barriers to expression among learners with a variety of special needs, but also increases the opportunities for all learners to develop a wider range of expression in a media-rich world (http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines/principle2).

Teach Visual Literacy

If we think of literacy as reading and writing words, visual literacy can be described as the ability to both interpret and create visuals. With the constant, overwhelming flow of information and communication today, both parts of this modern literacy equation are non-negotiable (http://gettingsmart.com/2015/07/the-new-literacy-equation-visual-literacy-is-non-negotiable/).

Visual literacy is important in multiple ways:

  • Teaching visual literacy helps kids better interpret art and visual media that they come in contact with.
  • Visual literacy allows a deeper interaction with texts of all kinds and introduces the process of analytical thinking about representation and meaning.
  • There is evidence that, even for older children, examining and understanding how art and text interact may allow readers to “visualize” while they read–a key to proficiency in and enjoyment of reading.
  • By teaching “educated perception” of artwork (for instance, how certain techniques elicit specific emotions or effects) you can teach children how to be more skeptical and informed viewers of all visual media, including advertising (http://ccb.lis.illinois.edu/Projects/youth/literacies/visual2.html).
visual-literacy

Here is list of visual literacy resources as compiled by Kathy Schrock:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 11, 2015 at 2:44 pm

A Culture of Numbers, Spreadsheets, and Accountability

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Yesterday I was one of several speakers at a mini-conference sponsored by a New Mexico agency whose sole purpose is to raise the reading achievement scores of the student body of low performing skills. My piece was to present on the Growth Mindset (the interest of the agency in Growth Mindsets was due to its potential to raise test scores – e.g., see https://www.mindsetworks.com/page/increase-students-motivation-grades-and-achievement-test-scores.aspx).

What I was most stuck by, during this mini-conference, was the embracing of and joy in reporting the rising test scores and achievement scores of students. The two other speakers, one an administrator with that New Mexico agency and the other a principal, had slide after slide with numbers, percentages, and spreadsheets. The audience clapped and cheered at these reports, at spreadsheets with countless columns and rows of data, at images of whiteboards filled with numbers, at pictures of storage rooms filled with shelf after shelf of loose leaf binders of scripted reading program materials. I sat there feeling like an alien in this culture of tests, data, and accountability.

As I watched these presentations, several questions crossed my mind:

  • Did the initiatives help raise students’ interest in and enjoyment of reading?
  • Do the students, themselves, care that their achievement scores increased?
  • The scores of a student who went from a 3rd grade reading level to a 5th grade level was shown. Another student’s scores were shown who did not progress with reasons of why s/he did not do so (e.g., s/he was not assessed correctly in the first test). I wonder what these students would say about all of the reading interventions if they were personally asked.

I do believe that data can enhance the learning process if it is used as direct and immediate feedback to help both the educator and the learner get information about what the learner is doing well and what areas could be improved. But let’s not delude ourselves, these accountability systems have been designed by adults for adults. The students become numbers – a commodity in the adult games of NCLB, Race to the Top, and Annual Yearly Progress. Too often the individual children behind these numbers are not considered in these games centered on increasing the numbers.  My overriding question is then, “What are both short term and long term effects of this culture of testing, numbers, accountability and data on individual children?’

A recent study examined the affects of these initiatives on high poverty, low performing schools:

Anjale D. Welton, a professor of educational policy at the University of Illinois, explored how these performance mandates affected the school’s culture. During interviews, Welton and her colleagues found that the students felt “stigmatized” and “humiliated” by their school’s failing status.

Welton says her research suggests the school’s declining academic reputation also resulted in higher teacher turnover, denying students the consistent social support they need to become first-generation college students.

“This school was so focused on meeting the demands of state policy that it was unaware of the toll it was taking on the culture and climate of the school,” Welton argued. Rather than centering performance problems on students and teachers, policymakers should take into consideration the systemic inequities and larger sociopolitical contexts in which schools operate,” Williams said. “We also need to be more aware of the impact of labeling schools ‘high minority, high poverty’ and ‘low performing,’ because these descriptors convey deficit connotations.” (Teaching to the test may hinder college preparedness)

. . . and in closing, here is a quote from a favorite book of mine, The Little Prince:

Grown-ups like numbers. When you tell them about a new friend, they never ask questions about what really matters. They never ask: “What does his voice sound like?” “What games does he like best?” “Does he collect butterflies?”. They ask: “How old is he?” “How many brothers does he have?” “How much does he weigh?” “How much money does his father make?” Only then do they think they know him.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 15, 2015 at 9:13 pm

Educators Teaching Learners; Educators Teaching Educators; Learners Teaching Learners; Learners Teaching Educators

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Google has an initiative entitled Googlers Teaching Googlers:

Googler to Googler places employees from across departments into teaching roles. Classes taught Googler to Googler—everything from kickboxing to parenting— are initiated and designed by employees. Telling your employees that you want them to learn is different than asking them to promote that culture themselves. Giving employees teaching roles makes learning part of the way employees work together. It’s a remarkable thing to put someone in teaching mode. In a way, you get to see the best of them. (Here’s A Google Perk Any Company Can Imitate: Employee-To-Employee Learning)

In other words, Google has embraced the idea that their employees have valuable skills and expertise to share with other members of their community. Within many media outlets, there’s a lot of positive acknowledgement and discussion of the power of learning communities where all members of the learning community are both teachers and learners. Current thinking about communities of practice, teachers as lead learners, and networked learning support the idea of learning communities. I advocate for and practice identifying the expertise in any given learning environment and setting up the conditions for having those experts teach the rest of us that skill. The benefits are limitless. Expertise, especially in this age of information abundance, is often not determined by age. If learning communities, both formal ones such as school and informal ones such as community center classes, want to take advantage of and leverage all available resources, then they would embrace a culture where educators teach learners, educators teach other educators, learners teach learners, and learners teach educators.

Educators need to explore with people in communities how all may participate to the full. One of the implications for schools is that they must prioritize instruction that builds on children’s interests in a collaborative way. Such schools need also to be places where ‘learning activities are planned by children as well as adults, and where parents and teachers not only foster children’s learning but also learn from their own involvement with children. (Jean Lave, Etienne Wenger and communities of practice)

communities

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 8, 2015 at 10:52 pm

Being a Growth Mindset Facilitator

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I was asked recently why I have a strong interest and innate understanding of the growth mindset. I believe it comes from a background of being an adventure educator, and even though it was not labeled as such, the adventure educator embraces a growth mindset when working with participants. The underlying tenet of adventure education is “You are capable of so much more than you can even imagine. I believe in you and your capabilities; and I will set up the conditions for you to develop and amplify that same belief in yourself.” quoteThis attitude or mindset was important given that the populations we worked with were especially at-risk: adjudicated youth youth; recovering substance abuse users; victims of domestic violence. Many had lost belief in themselves and developed a failure mindset. Our major goal was to shift that so that participants internalized a growth mindset; one that they would carry over into their everyday lives. Some of the underlying principles of adventure education that drive my process of being a Growth Mindset Facilitator include:

  • You are capable of so much more than you can even imagine.
  • I believe in you and your capabilities even if you don’t, but the ultimate goal is for you to internalize these beliefs.
  • Failure is okay but you need to stand up after you fall/fail.
  • Everyone’s unique self is valued and valuable.
  • Your peers and I will support you as you take risks; attempt new ways of being. It is up to you to decide the type of support you need.
  • Conditions will be set up for you to be challenged. It is up to you to take responsibility to embrace those challenges.
  • You can go beyond your self-perceived limits. I might push you a bit to do so because I believe you can succeed.

facilitating growth mindset

Also see The Educator with a Growth Mindset: A Staff Workshop http://wp.me/pKlio-1JD 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 12, 2015 at 11:39 pm

The Creativity Mindset

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I absolutely love all of the emphasis on mindsets these days. There are growth mindsets (which I discuss in The Educator with a Growth Mindset: A Staff Workshop) and maker mindsets (which I discuss in The Mindset of the Maker Educator). Mindsets are simply defined as “the ideas and attitudes with which a person approaches a situation.” Mindsets imply that mental and attitudinal states can assist one in being successful with a given skill set. I believe this to be true for engaging in the creative process, that a creative mindset is a prerequisite to being creative.

Creativity is a process in which the elements of mind consolidate in a completely new manner and something original comes into existence, a form of behavior in which a person resists routine answers, tolerates, and even seeks out the ambivalence, insecurity and vagueness that may serve as a basis for a new order (Gyarmathy, 2011). (http://www.academia.edu/2506344/Creative_climate_as_a_means_to_promote_creativity_in_the_classroom)

To be highly creative you first need the right creative mindset. Having the outlook, attitude and beliefs that empower and support you to be as creative as you can. (http://www.mind-sets.com/html/mind_power_programs/creativity_mindset.htm#sthash.ihA6Ng2q.dpuf)

A creative mindset gives meaning and value to how you approach your life, creative endeavors, and pretty much everything you do. Having a mindset for creativity opens you up to opportunities and possibilities because you are able to relish the creative process and embrace innovative thinking. Creativity is how we make our lives meaningful and by valuing your creativity, owning, and honoring it, you will move into a life that is purposeful, truthful, and feels free. (http://www.awakencreativity.com/a-creative-mindset/)

Some of the characteristics of the Creativity Mindset include:

  • Believes in One’s Own Creativity
  • Embraces Curiosity
  • Suspends Judgement – Silences the Inner Critic
  • Tolerates Ambiguity
  • Persists Even When Confronted with Skepticism & Rejection
  • Taps Into Childlike Imagination; a Child’s Sense of Wonder

creativity mindset

Believes in One’s Own Creativity

Central to a creativity mindset is the belief that one is and can be creative. It becomes self-statements that revolve around, “I can be creative.”

You have to believe that your creativity has meaning. You have to believe with all your heart that if you don’t express your creativity that you are not living up to your full potential, will never experience true happiness, or find the ultimate meaning of your existence. (http://www.awakencreativity.com/a-creative-mindset/believe-in-your-creativity-part-one-of-a-creative-mindset/)

Tina Seelig writes in inGenius that “in order to find creative solutions to big problems, you must first believe that you’ll find them. With this attitude, you see opportunities where others see obstacles and are able to leverage the resources you have to reach your goals” (p. 180). (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/creative-synthesis/201404/when-it-comes-creativity-attitude-is-key)

Embraces Curiosity

Creative people want to know things–all kinds of things– just to know them. Knowledge does not require a reason. The question, “Why do you want to know that?” seems strange to the creative person, who is likely to respond, “Because I don’t know the answer.” Knowledge is enjoyable and often useful in strange and unexpected ways. (http://www.virtualsalt.com/crebook1.htm)

Suspends Judgment – Silences the Inner Critic

The ability to hold off on judging or critiquing an idea is important in the process of creativity. Often great ideas start as crazy ones – if critique is applied too early the idea will be killed and never developed into something useful and useable. (note – this doesn’t mean there is never a time for critique or judgement in the creative process – it’s actually key – but there is a time and place for it). (http://www.problogger.net/archives/2007/05/09/9-attitudes-of-highly-creative-people/)

Many new ideas, because they are new and unfamiliar, seem strange, odd, bizarre, even repulsive. Only later do they become “obviously” great. Other ideas, in their original incarnations, are indeed weird, but they lead to practical, beautiful, elegant things. Thus, it is important for the creative thinker to be able to suspend judgment when new ideas are arriving, to have an optimistic attitude toward ideas in general.

Tolerates Ambiguity

Ambiguity tolerance may be… the “willingness to accept a state of affairs capable of alternate interpretations, or of alternate outcomes,” (English & English 1958). In other words, ambiguity tolerance may be central to creative thinking. (http://knowinnovation.com/tolerating-ambiguity/#sthash.XqxhaQh3.dpuf)

With the toleration of ambiguity, creativity gives way to new ideas, stimulates the acceptance of others’ viewpoints, and thus raises tolerance, understanding and cooperation. (http://www.academia.edu/2506344/Creative_climate_as_a_means_to_promote_creativity_in_the_classroom

Persists Even When Confronted with Skepticism & Rejection

Creative people who actually see their ideas come to fruition have the ability to stick with their ideas and see them through – even when the going gets tough. This is what sets apart the great from the good in this whole sphere. Stick-ability is key. (http://www.problogger.net/archives/2007/05/09/9-attitudes-of-highly-creative-people/)

Most people fail because they spend only nine minutes on a problem that requires ten minutes to solve. Creativity and problem solving are hard work and require fierce application of time and energy. There is no quick and easy secret. You need knowledge gained by study and research and you must put your knowledge to work by hard thinking and protracted experimentation.  (http://www.virtualsalt.com/crebook1.htm)

Taps Into Childlike Imagination; a Child’s Sense of Wonder

When children play, they often do so in very original ways. However, with the responsibilities of adulthood, this playful curiosity is sometimes lost and conventional responses often result. In a control condition, participants wrote about what they would do if school was cancelled for the day. In an experimental condition, the instructions were identical except that participants were to imagine themselves as 7-year-olds in this situation. Individuals imagining themselves as children subsequently produced more original responses. Merely being primed to think like a child resulted in the production of more original responses on a subsequent measure of creativity. (http://psycnet.apa.org/?&fa=main.doiLanding&doi=10.1037/a0015644)

Learning to ask ‘why’, ‘what if’ and ‘I wonder…’ are great questions to build into your life if you want to be a more creative person. (http://www.problogger.net/archives/2007/05/09/9-attitudes-of-highly-creative-people/)

Look at the clouds outside your window. When you were a child, you would probably find yourself looking at the clouds and seeing all kinds of shapes and figures and developing stories. Many adults, however, look at clouds and see them as nothing more than the threat of rain. Psychologists call this “functional fixedness”–we see things for their main function and thereby circumvent our imagination. To think creatively, we need to stop thinking, “What it is…” and instead think, “What could it be?” (http://www.inc.com/suzanne-lucas/the-5-attitudes-that-stifle-creativity.html)

Creative people are comfortable with imagination and with thinking so-called weird, wild, or unthinkable thoughts, just for the sake of stimulation. (http://www.virtualsalt.com/crebook1.htm)

I wholeheartedly believe that both educators and learners in any educational setting need to have a Creativity Mindset to grow, flourish, and feel accomplished with their learning.

In order to teach creativity, one must teach creatively; that is, it will take a great deal of creative effort to bring out the most creative thinking in your classes. (http://www.celt.iastate.edu/teaching-resources/classroom-practice/teaching-techniques-strategies/creativity/techniques-creative-teaching/)

There are some conditions that the educator can establish to facilitate a Creativity Mindset. Coleman and Deutsch (2006) summarize guidelines for fostering creative problem-solving, which also underlie the importance of optimal environmental conditions. These include:

  • Challenge the common myths that block creativity. Many ideas about creativity have developed in people’s minds that influence the procedure of creativity in a negative way.  Ken Robinson (2011) states that every person possesses a huge creative potential, simply by virtue of being human.
  • Create a time-space oasis for creativity. According to John Cleese (1991) the most important factor is to provide an appropriate physical environment and enough time to become absorbed in a task, then work persistently on the solution, this is called a time-space oasis, a necessary condition for creative production.
  • Formulate a serious but playful atmosphere. Humor and playfulness decrease anxiety and thus make us more open to new approaches.
  • Foster learner’s self -confidence to bear the risk of unusual behavior. Some self-confidence or assertiveness is indispensable if we want to come up with new ideas, so self-reliance should be enhanced to encourage people to be more willing to take risks and consider novel ideas. http://www.academia.edu/2506344/Creative_climate_as_a_means_to_promote_creativity_in_the_classroom)

As a parting shot, here is a short RSA Animate video on the power to create:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 15, 2015 at 1:44 pm

Educator as Lead Learner: Learning littleBits

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I have discussed educators as model learners before:

The educator’s role has or should change in this age of information abundance or Education 2.0-3.0. The educator’s role has always been to model and demonstrate effective learning, but somewhere along the line, the major role of the educator became that of content and knowledge disseminator. Now that in this information age content is freely and abundantly available, it is more important than ever to assist learners in the process of how to learn. (Educator as Model Learner)

I advocate for the educator, as leader learner, to demonstrate the process of learning:

To effectively do so, though, the educator needs to understand and be able to articulate and demonstrate the process of learning, him or herself. It is a mistaken assumption that educators know how to do so. The learning process can be made overt through recording and clearly articulating the steps, procedures, and/or strategies for doing so. (Educators as Lead Learners)

To learn and model this process, I recommend that educators pick something new to learn and practice doing the following: educator as lead learner I am teaching at a maker education camp this summer and want to integrate LittleBits into my curriculum. As such, I am learning how they work. In order to model my process as lead learner, I noted how I am learning how to use Littlebits. I will ask the older kids to do a similar process and will have them explore my documentation to get an idea how to do this.

Note My Steps to the Learning Process

Why I Became Interested As a avid user of Twitter, I have a column for tweets hashtagged as #makered. LittleBits come up often. I have been watching how they evolved over the past year or so; and how they support and are being used by educators. Purchasing and Examining LittleBits LittleBits has several kits. I looked them over online and decided to purchase two kits: The Basic and the Arduino Coding Kit.  I examined both sets to insure I was getting different LittleBits with the two kits. Since I am a consumer shopper, I found both these sets via eBay – new for about half of the original cost – score!

How I Am Learning

As many of us do in this century of learning, I go online to find tutorials. I am using the following resources to help me get acquainted

I try a few of the simple projects to learn about the functions of the different Littlebits. I then read over the projects offered in the manual. I mentally picture building them. Because I knew I could easily build the beginning ones, I skip to the last project in the manual – the Three-Wheeler and also view it online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=niEsF4jeXU0. I have a belief that maker education is not about copying what has been already created. As such, I think about how I wanted to adapt the projects.

I conceptualize an adaptation of the three-wheeler as a cat toy/feeder. I come up with a mental picture of the cat toy-feeder. I would be using the light light sensor and bar graph to activate the toy when the sun comes up in the morning. Once activated due to the sun, the engine would move and the LED in the feathered tail would light up.  The moving device with the trailing feathers and LED would encourage my cat to chase it, hence getting a little exercise prior to catching the reward of her cat food situated on the truck bed. Her body would cover the light sensor causing it to stop and giving her a chance to eat (photos can be found at the end of this post).

I have a bunch of Legos and tinker toys that I use when teaching and bring these out to help me build. Combining the Legos with Littlebits makes sense but connecting them takes some work with the use of tape. I guess LittleBits figured this out because I went online and found the brick adapter: http://littlebits.cc/accessories/brick-adapter. Because I have so many parts which includes LittleBits, Legos, Tinker Toys  – some on the top and some on the bottom, I have to manipulate and play with different configurations to get everything to fit together and work correctly.

Thinking About My Thinking

Some of the thoughts I had during the building of this project:

  • I love that I can jump on the internet and immediate get tutorials and example projects that others have done.
  • I like the car project and believe the kids will like this, too, but I want to create my own version rather than following the directions as written.
  • I have all of these building supplies from teaching – Legos, Tinker Toys, Pico Cricket. I can go find those to use with the LittleBits in order to complete my own design.
  • How silly it is that I am an older woman “playing” with Legos. I need to let go of this thought.
  • I figured some things out but dropping the little pieces a lot frustrated me. I decided to put it away and start again tomorrow morning.
  • I feel a sense of accomplishment figuring out how to “fix” things so they work better.
  • I think that being a ceramics potter and teaching EdTech has made me a better problem solver.
  • I used the LittleBits motor to make it move, how can I use some of the other LittleBits to embellish it – add more features?
  • I like combining the Littlebits with Legos but they are a little unruly. I have to “MacGyver” them together. This is making the project a lot more difficult.
  • I know that letting ideas float around in my mind for a while often yields results, so after thinking about how I might adapt it, I came up with a cat feeder and toy.
  • I know that I can successfully visualize art projects without needing to sketch them out. I know this is not true for everyone.
  • It is taking a lot more time than expected – hopefully my hard work will pay off.
  • Not having the right tools (e.g., not have the brick connectors) can be very frustrating.
  • I don’t like how all of the electrical tape is showing so I’ll cover the top of the Lego plate. It will also serve to create a surface that will more easily clean off the cat food.
  • Yea – it works. I am laughing and clapping at the whimsical nature of this project.

Iterations

The maker movement is driven by the DIY movement, creating and recreating new “things.” At its core, then, making is about experimentation, about trial and error, about trying things out to see what works and what doesn’t. As such, failure is seen as iteration. Part of being a lead learner, of understanding and documenting the learning process is recording the iterations of the project. I engaged in a lot of experimentation but had basically two iterations. I believe I would have had more but due to some experience with robotics, I had a good idea of what would work – not work.

1st Iteration

  • Had wheel extended too far back – couldn’t mount the motor.
  • Front wheels bumping into base – needed to add spacers.
  • The single back wheel didn’t work with a Lego wheel; too long of a motor stem made the wheel off centered and with the weight of the motor it fell to one side.

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2nd Iteration

The second iteration was actually the final one but it took a lot of manipulating the back wheel and motor to get them to stay put.

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Self-Evaluation

I worked on this project over two days. I feel successful in a number of ways:

  • Because I have done some simple robotics (Pico Crickets),  ith my students before, I found that this background, helped me understand the functions of many of the Littlebits. It felt good to be able to quickly understand how Littlebits functioned.
  • I am proud of the final project in terms of function but not so much in form.  I don’t like all the tape I used and the wheel is a bit precariously connected. Maybe I’ll buy to brick connectors at some point.
  • I was very excited about the final project. It worked as I conceptualized and my cat enjoyed it, too!

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 23, 2015 at 1:18 am

Educators as Lead Learners

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I have discussed educators as model learners before:

The educator’s role has or should change in this age of information abundance or Education 2.0-3.0. The educator’s role has always been to model and demonstrate effective learning, but somewhere along the line, the major role of the educator became that of content and knowledge disseminator. Now that in this information age content is freely and abundantly available, it is more important than ever to assist learners in the process of how to learn. (Educator as Model Learner)

The goal of this post is to encourage educators not only to adopt the mindset of the educator as a lead learner but also to model, demonstrate, and teach his/her learners the process of learning how to learn new “things”.

In our schools, “the emphasis is on what students need to learn, whereas little emphasis—if any—is placed on training students how they should go about learning the content and what skills will promote efficient studying to support robust learning,” writes John Dunlosky, professor of psychology at Kent State University in Ohio. However, he continues, “teaching students how to learn is as important as teaching them content, because acquiring both the right learning strategies and background knowledge is important—if not essential—for promoting lifelong learning.” (Smart Strategies That Help Students Learn How to Learn)

To effectively do so, though, the educator needs to understand and be able to articulate and demonstrate the process of learning, him or herself. It is a mistaken assumption that educators know how to do so. The learning process can be made overt through recording and clearly articulating the steps, procedures, and/or strategies for doing so. To learn and model this process, I recommend that educators pick something new to learn and practice doing the following:

  1. Explicitly state and record the metacognitive process while learning.
  2. Demonstrate and articulate the actual steps of learning.
  3. Record the stages of artifact development.
  4. Understand and embrace the iterative process of learning.
  5. Use and demonstrate the self-evaluative reflection process.

educator as lead learner

Deep Understanding of Metacognitive Processes The educator should be familiar with and able to demonstrate metacognitive processes. “The most effective learners are metacognitive; that is, they are mindful of how they learn, set personal learning goals, regularly self-assess and adjust their performance, and use strategies to support their learning” (http://sites.cdnis.edu.hk/school/ls/2011/05/12/teachers-as-lead-learners/). Developing one’s on metacognitive skills begins with developing an awareness of one’s own thought processes while learning new things. Once this awareness is developed, the steps of learning can be more clearly articulated.  

Articulate and Showcase the Actual Steps of Learning If learning is understood as a process – one that goes from not knowing to one of knowing, then educators should know, understand, and clearly articulate the steps to that process. Granted, learning different things requires some different strategies, but there are some steps that cut across disciplines. For example, some of these steps include how one does the following:

  • How do I gather information about what it is that I want to learn?
  • What are the steps am I taking to learn?
  • How do I know if I am adequately acquiring the knowledge, skills, etc., related to that learning?
  • What do I do when I get stuck?
  • What do I do when I need help?

So related to the metacognitive process, if the educator records the steps to their learning process, this can help make it more overt and obvious.

Understand and Embrace the Iterative Process of Learning The following video discusses that “effective” learning is often iterative which involves prototyping, testing, failing, tweaking, and then repeating this cycle.

Learning As Iterative

The educator as a lead learner normalizes, embraces, models, and reinforces the iterative process of learning.

 Record the Stages of Artifact Development This strategy can be especially useful if the goal is to create or make something. It can include writing something, learning a new skill, and making something (as in Maker Education).  Too often education techniques focus on exemplary models. This gives the message that perfection is expected – not respecting that there are several stages, often several prototypes or iterations on the road towards perfection. Recording those iterations as artifacts through images, pictures, descriptive narratives will support and reinforce learning as a process.

Use and Demonstrate the Self-Evaluative Reflection Process

The authors [of this research] argue 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. The results reveal reflection to be a powerful mechanism behind learning, confirming the words of American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey: “We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience.” (Learning By Thinking: How Reflection Improves Performance)

Another strategy, intimately connected with the others presented in this post, is engaging in periodic self-evaluative reflection. It involves the revisiting the following question throughout the learning process, “What criteria am I using to assess the “goodness” and accuracy of my learning? In the absence of meeting that criteria, what do I do to adapt my strategies to meet this standard?”


Knowledge of one’s learning process can (and should) be used as part of an educator’s professional development. If done as such, it teaches and reinforces:

  • The importance of learning new things; the importance of being a lifelong learner.
  • The process of learning so this process can be more easily described and reinforced with students;
  • The importance of a growth mindset; that growth is possible during any time of one’s career.

It is important to realize the implications for our students of our own critical reflection. Students put great store by our actions and they learn a great deal from observing how we model intellectual inquiry and democratic process. Given that this is so, a critically reflective teacher activates her classroom by providing a model of passionate skepticism. As Osterman (1990) comments, “critically reflective teachers – teachers who make their own thinking public, and therefore subject to discussion – are more likely to have classes that are challenging, interesting, and stimulating for students” (p. 139). Stephen Brookfield

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 15, 2015 at 2:49 pm

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