User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Posts Tagged ‘experiential learning

Reflecting on the Making Process

with 2 comments

My background is in experiential education. One of the strategies used in experiential education is debriefing or reflecting on the experience. In other words, learning from direct experience is not left to chance. The educator becomes proactive in debriefing or processing the experiences to increase the chances that learning occurs. This is in line with John Dewey’s ideas:

We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.’

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. (

In line with reflecting on experiences, I developed a list of questions and a board game (I love using board games in my classrooms of all ages from elementary to graduate level!) to help with reflecting on the maker process following the completion of maker projects. The purpose of these tools is to increase the possible learning and insights that learners extract from their maker projects.

a making reflection

A Maker Reflection: The Game

maker game best

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 5, 2015 at 10:02 pm

Creating the Classroom Conditions for the Best Day Ever

with 6 comments

Lately, I have become a little obsessed with idea of the best day ever. It is undeniable 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 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.


Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 24, 2015 at 1:22 am

Making MAKEing More Inclusive

with 8 comments

Update/Addendum: Last evening I traveled to Albuquerque with a friend to see the makerspace there and attend their monthly meeting. It is a very well-appointed makerspace and there was good attendance for the meeting. I discussed with my friend on the drive back home my concern with the homogeneous demographic make-up of those in attendance. They were mostly white men and women who seemed to have a comfortable income. I stated that given that this makerspace is fairly well established with a five year history, the folks running the space should now be more proactive in increasing the diversity of their membership and becoming more inclusive. My friend took issue with my comment, saying that this is not their purpose. She basically said that the makerspace is what it is, that becoming more inclusive is not their purpose, and that they doing fine with those who they are currently serving. I talked about initiatives like Black Girls Code which does outreach for the goal of providing skills to a population who might not gain these skills without this type of outreach. She saw no reason for this makerspace to change their status quo. We ended up agreeing to disagree but I did get motivated to revisit and update this post . . .

The maker movement and maker education, in my perspective, are such great initiatives – really in line with what student-centric education should be in this era of formal and informal learning.

Maker education (often referred to as “Maker Ed”) is a new school of educational thought [at least in terms of having an “official” educational label – JG] that focuses on delivering constructivist, project-based learning curriculum and instructional units to students. Maker education spaces can be as large as full high school workshops with high-tech tools, or as small and low-tech as one corner of an elementary classroom. A makerspace isn’t just about the tools and equipment, but the sort of learning experience the space provides to students who are making projects. (9 Maker Projects for Beginner Maker Ed Teachers)

Social media has helped me see more of the big picture and become aware of some of the problems associated with the maker movement. The two I discuss in this post are:

  1. Maker movement initiatives are often driven by more affluent white males.
  2. The maker movement is too often being associated with the tech stuff – 3D Printers, Arduinos, littleBits, Makey-Makeys – stuff that less affluent schools and community programs can afford.

Maker movement initiatives are often driven by affluent white males.

When the language, culture, and tools of the current makerspaces, maker faires, MAKE publications are examined, they tend to be less inclusive of females, older adults, and people of color.

Spaces and ‘Maker’ activities are promoted as being inclusive, open spaces. However, this type of rhetoric tends to ignore social inequalities that impede access and participation, where privilege, oppression, and domination over some groups of people are not acknowledged (Dunbar-Hester, 2014). If technical tinkering, STEM, and digital fabrication are the economic forces that will empower Makers, and women and people of color are not participating in these activities in a visible way, that power will remain unequally distributed.  It is possible that the maker movement will have a transformative effect and create opportunity for upward mobility but we must acknowledge the fact that the idea of “making” is a privileged idea. (Power, Access, Status: The Discourse of Race, Gender, and Class in the Maker Movement)

The Maker movement has grown large enough and influential enough that it’s time to turn a critical eye to the culture of the community, what we want it to be and what it really is,” declared Dr. Buechley. The most striking statistics Buechley shared focused on the race and gender of the Makers on its covers. Of the 40 people featured, she found that 85% have been men and boys–and none were people of color. The current editorial staff has a similar ratio–87% men, and also no people of color. “Are you serious!? MAKE, you can do better. It’s your responsibility to do better,” Buechley exclaimed. (Watch Dr. Buechley’s talk at The notion that one does not need to talk about gender, race, sexual orientation, class, etc. because what matters is how well you can hack largely disregards privileges that people have in society and constitutes part of the explanation for why there are so few women, queers, and people of color in hackerspaces. But women aren’t the only ones who have felt marginalized and isolated at mainstream hackerspaces. Many men have also found the culture exclusionary or aggressive and are also also seeking safer spaces. (Is the Maker Movement About Hacking Society—Or Just Hardware?)

Here are some additional quotes, articles that discuss the need for a maker environment more inclusive of gender and people of color.

I know that the Maker Movement is working to be more inclusive and I challenge its leadership to do even more to include every kid in every community in its programming. I challenge each of us to support not just our own daughters and sons in Making but the girls and boys in all communities. (Welcoming All Girls in the Maker Movement: Let’s Make it Happen)

Maker and hackerspaces are meant to be places to build, tinker, and fix things, but that process won’t flourish without a friendly, inclusive environment. (Is the Maker Movement About Hacking Society—Or Just Hardware?)

The idea of inclusion is not only important for community organizations or schools serving underserved populations. Every makerspace should be aware of their capacity to serve all people: children and adults, all genders, all backgrounds, and those who are interested in the arts, engineering, or both. Even in the best-resourced maker environments, there should be constant vigilance about the assumptions that are made about the people who might want to use them. (Making for All: How to Build an Inclusive Makerspace)

The maker movement is too often being associated with the tech stuff – stuff that less affluent schools and community programs cannot afford.

Changing Perceptions About the Stuff

3d Printers, Ardinos, litteBits, Makey-Makeys, GoSpheros, Lillipads, . . . oh my! These technologies are seductive especially seeing all the press they get on social media, blogs, and Kickstarter.  Given all of the media coverage, an educator new to Maker Education may get the perception that it is all about this kind of high tech stuff. For less affluent schools or after-school programs, it may seem that maker education is out of their reach given budgetary restraints. A maker education program can be fully implemented with minimal cost supplies. Cardboard boxes, recycled materials such as water bottles, detergent bottles, and other plastic throwaways, tape, glue guns, scissors/knives, and markers in conjunction with learners’ imaginations, creativity, and innovative ideas can be the stuff that makerspaces are made of. Presentation2

In addition, there are lots of making resources that are inexpensive. Here is an image of the circuit kit I prepared for my week long maker camp for over a dozen kids. It cost less than $100 with careful shopping via ebay and the local dollar store. It contains LEDs, batteries, alligator clips, copper tape, magnets, paper clips, and electrical tape. It served these dozen+ kids for five half days of making.


Changing Perceptions about What Activities Are Considered Making

In addition, to using cheaper materials, we need to expand our perceptions about what constitutes maker activities.

In an analysis of every MAKE magazine cover since the first issue in 2005–36 in all–Buechley found that the photos portrayed a “very narrow definition” of Maker activities. The themes have skewed heavily towards electronics, which have been featured on 53% of covers, followed by vehicles (31%), robots (22%), rockets (8%), and music (5%).  What’s missing, she said, are examples from the world of ceramics, costume-engineering, and weaving. She pleaded with the audience to reach out to a more diverse group of makers and include all types of kids. “You gotta do more than robots,” she said.  (MAKE’ing More Diverse Makers)

Changing Perceptions: Making Is About a Mindset and a Process Not About the Stuff

Finally, in the same vein as it’s about the pedagogy, not about the technology; making is about a mindset and the act of doing, it’s not about the high tech stuff. As I discussed in The Intersection of Growth Mindsets and Maker Education:

A maker mindset involves having a can-do attitude and a growth mindset – a belief that your capabilities can be developed, improved and expanded.  It’s not just a matter of what you know, it’s a matter of taking risks and perhaps failing and learning from those failures.  It’s a matter of being open to exploring new possibilities and developing your full potential. (The Intersection of Growth Mindsets and Maker Education)

If making, the maker movement, maker education is viewed as a mindset, as a process, as a way to be creative and innovative; then the types and kinds of materials don’t matter. What matters, first and foremost, is the act of making.


Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 20, 2015 at 11:55 pm

Maker Education Activities

with 2 comments

This coming summer I am getting the opportunity to teach a maker education camp for three weeks, half-days at a local elementary school.  The descriptions for the three one-week workshops are:

  • Circuit Crafts: Build glowing, sensing, and interactive circuit projects; make electronic stickers, circuit sketchbooks, circuit cards, and sewn circuits.
  • Sweet Robotics: Make simple robotics using Popsicle sticks and LED lights; play with and build some robots with Makey Makey, littleBits, Hummingbird, and Modular Robotics.
  • Toy Hacking: Take apart simple electronic toys to see how they work & then put them back together again creating a new toy; make an operation game.

I created a website in order to aggregate possible activities, resources, and tutorials; and as a means to promote the workshops to parents, so they can see examples projects that the kids will be working on. Below is a link to my website.


Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 2, 2015 at 12:04 am

Experiential Learning: Is there really a question about this?

with 6 comments

The things we have to learn before we do them, we learn by doing them. Aristotle

Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results. John Dewey

My training as an educator occurred through experiential education rather than the traditional route.  Experiential Education is based on the following principles as articulated by the Association for Experiential Education:

  • Experiential learning occurs when carefully chosen experiences are supported by reflection, critical analysis and synthesis.
  • Experiences are structured to require the learner to take initiative, make decisions and be accountable for results.
  • Throughout the experiential learning process, the learner2 is actively engaged in posing questions, investigating, experimenting, being curious, solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative, and constructing meaning.
  • Learners are engaged intellectually, emotionally, socially, soulfully and/or physically. This involvement produces a perception that the learning task is authentic.
  • The results of the learning are personal and form the basis for future experience and learning.
  • Relationships are developed and nurtured: learner to self, learner to others and learner to the world at large.
  • The educator and learner may experience success, failure, adventure, risk-taking and uncertainty, because the outcomes of experience cannot totally be predicted.
  • Opportunities are nurtured for learners and educators to explore and examine their own values.
  • The educator’s primary roles include setting suitable experiences, posing problems, setting boundaries, supporting learners, insuring physical and emotional safety, and facilitating the learning process.
  • The educator recognizes and encourages spontaneous opportunities for learning.
  • Educators strive to be aware of their biases, judgments and pre-conceptions, and how these influence the learner.
  • The design of the learning experience includes the possibility to learn from natural consequences, mistakes and successes. (

I know no other way of teaching.  Knowing the powerful results of experiential education, it confuses me as to why more (if not all) educators don’t teach this way.  In the graphic below, the images in the left column are learners from my own classrooms, the images on the right symbolize more traditional approaches in educational institutions.  As “A picture says a 1000 words,” the expressions of the learners say engagement, interest, joy, and learning.  Which do you want your students, your children to experience at school?


Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 26, 2014 at 2:23 pm

The Educator as a Maker Educator eBook

leave a comment »

I self-published an eBook: The Educator as a Maker Educator.  It is available through Amazon at



The Maker Movement and the accompanying Maker Education are inching their ways in both formal (school) and informal (after school – camp) settings.

Whether it’s a paper airplane or a robot that walks, kids have always wanted to create functional objects with their own two hands. These days, many educators are channeling that natural urge to build with help from the wider maker movement, which has spawned maker faires and dedicated make spaces” in classrooms and media centers around the country. Pam Moran, superintendent of theAlbemarle County Public Schools in Virginia, contends that American classrooms of the past regularly fueled this type of creativity, and now is the time to bring back that spirit of innovation. “I see the maker movement as being a reconnect, both inside schools, as well as in communities, to redevelop the idea that we are creative individuals,” Moran said. “We are analytical problem-solvers, and we are people who, in working with our hands and minds, are able to create and construct. We are makers by nature.” (

Those involved in the maker movement have noted the problems with the type of learning occurring in the formal educational setting:

Formal education has become such a serious business, defined as success at abstract thinking and high-stakes testing, that thereʼs no time and no context for play. If play is what you do outside school, then that is where the real learning will take place and thatʼs where innovation and creativity will be found.

Our kids can be learning more efficiently—and as individuals. We imagine that schools can become places where students learn to identify their own challenges, solve new problems, motivate themselves to complete a project, engage in difficult tasks, work together, inspire others, and give advice and guidance to their peers. (Makerspace Playbook)

The potential of maker education and related STEM, STEAM (science, technology, education, arts, math), and DIY movements to transform education in transformative ways cannot be understated.

The maker movement has the opportunity to transform education by inviting students to be something other than consumers of education. They can become makers and creators of their own educational lives, moving from being directed to do something to becoming self-directed and independent learners. Increasingly, they can take advantage of new tools for creative expression and for exploring the real world around them. They can be active participants in constructing a new kind of education for the 21st-century, which will promote the creativity and critical thinking we say we value in people like Steve Jobs. Learning by Making: American kids should be building rockets and robots, not taking standardized tests

When a kid builds a model rocket, or a kite, or a birdhouse, she not only picks up math, physics, and chemistry along the way, she also develops her creativity, resourcefulness, planning abilities, curiosity, and engagement with the world around her. But since these things can’t be measured on a standardized test, schools no longer focus on them. As our public educational institutions continue down this grim road, they’ll lose value as places of learning. That may seem like a shame, but to the members of the growing DIY schooling movement, it’s an irresistible opportunity to roll up their sleeves. School for Hackers: The do-it-yourself movement revives learning by doing.

The following interactive video, made with Mozilla Popcorn further describes Maker Education –

This ebook is a compilation of blog posts I wrote about Maker Education. They can all be found online but this compilation permits for easy access of all of them online and offline. The eBook includes theoretical ideas and research, some suggestions for implementation, the role of the educator as a maker educator, example units, and some informal research-observations.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 20, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Teaching and Facilitating Entrepreneurship in the School Setting

with 4 comments


I grew up in a family where my grandfathers and father were entrepreneurs – they started and ran their own businesses.  My paternal grandfather, as a young man, bought a small vacuum cleaner sales store and later, changed it to selling entertainment electronics.  Later, with my father, they moved to a larger space with increased inventory.  A smaller store was opened in a a town nearby where I was a sales clerk during my teenage years.  Their small business was a financial success as it supported our families with a strong middle class lifestyle for close to fifty years.  I rejected this entrepreneurship spirit.  Making money never interested me (I am a teacher, for gosh sake).

Fast forward to last year – I had the privilege of visiting Blanche Kelso Bruce Academy (BKBA) in Detroit and spending some time with its superintendent, Blair Evans.  Mr. Evans demonstrated the school’s digital fabrication program and explained their permaculture program.  I was impressed with these real-life skills building programs, but what resonated with me was what he said about educating the poor Detroit youth.  He said that poor communities are very dependent on purchasing goods and services from sources outside of their communities.  They lacked the awareness, skills, and where-with-all related to producing services and products for themselves.  The goal is for the youth learn some skills, such as growing their own food or producing their own products, to establish some self-sufficiency.

This is reinforced by Steve Mariotti, founder of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), an expert in education for at-risk youth.

As an educator of at-risk youth for over thirty years, I’ve seen only one thing consistently bring children raised in poverty into the middle class: entrepreneurship education. Owner-entrepreneurship education empowers young people to make well-informed decisions about their future, whether they choose to become entrepreneurs or not. Our students discover that, like every individual, they already own five powerful assets: time, talent, attitude, energy and unique knowledge of one’s local market. They learn to use these assets to create businesses and jobs, and build wealth in their communities. I’ve seen apathetic kids whose families have been on welfare for generations get excited about school and their futures. They discover that they can participate in our economy and earn money. They quickly realize that to do so, they must to learn to read, write and do math. (Why Every School in America Should Teach Entrepreneurship)

This had me thinking of lessons I learned growing up in family focused on entrepreneurship.  I learned customer service, the ethics being in business (and then ethics, in general), focusing on being the best while not worrying about the other “guy” while you do, and the skills-motivation to go after what I need and want.  None of these lessons focuses directly on making money.

Because of my visit to BKBA and reflecting on my family’s business, I moved from an attitude of rejecting entrepreneurship (thinking it was about working for money) in formal education to being an advocate as I realized all of the life skills it can teach and reinforce.

Through entrepreneurship education, young people learn organizational skills, including time management, leadership development and interpersonal skills, all of which are highly transferable skills sought by employers. According to a report by the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Corporation, other positive outcomes include:

  • improved academic performance, school attendance; and educational attainment
  • increased problem-solving and decision-making abilities
  • improved interpersonal relationships, teamwork, money management, and public speaking skills
  • job readiness
  • enhanced social psychological development (self-esteem, ego development, self-efficacy), and
  • perceived improved health status (

Yong Zhao in his book, World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students, proposes that learner entrepreneurship should be integrated into school curriculum due to the following:

  1. Massive changes brought about by population growth, technology, and globalization not only demand but also create opportunities for “mass entrepreneurship” and thus require everyone to be globally minded, creative, and entrepreneurial. Entrepreneurship is no longer limited to starting or owning a business, but is expanded to social entrepreneurship, policy entrepreneurship, and intrapreneurship.
  2. Traditional schooling aims to prepare employees rather than creative entrepreneurs. As a result the more successful traditional schooling is (often measured by test scores in a few subjects), the more it stifles creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit.
  3. To cultivate creative and entrepreneurial talents is much more than adding an entrepreneurship course or program to the curriculum. It requires a paradigm shift—from employee-oriented education to entrepreneur-oriented education, from prescribing children’s education to supporting their learning, and from reducing human diversity to a few employable skills to enhancing individual talents.
  4. The elements of entrepreneur-oriented education have been proposed and practiced by various education leaders and institutions for a long time but they have largely remained on the fringe. What we need to do is to move them to the mainstream for all children.

More simple, Blair Evans of BKBA stated, “We’re building people, not just products. We get better outcomes if the kids can engage in useful work. This is much more effective than having them sit on a couch and talk. (Fab Lab: The DIY Factory That Can Make Anyone a Maker)

Raleigh Werberger, a high school history and humanities teacher in Hawaii, got inspired by Zhao’s book.  He and his colleagues wanted to develop a ninth grade curriculum that was not only focused on project-based learning, but also wanted to encourage “an authentic, self-starting kind of drive — the sort of thing we see when kids are playing sports, making music, or doing anything that stems from personal passion — in other words, the internal desire to continually improve and to work hard at doing it.”

Students are working in teams to design and construct a small table- or desk-top aquaponics system for the home, and then market their product.  In other words, we are blending academics and entrepreneurialism and challenging students to make Hawai’i’s growth more environmentally sustainable.

They are competing to present the best designs – scientifically, educationally and aesthetically – but also the best PR and marketing strategies.  On Monday, April 22nd, 2013, they will present their designs and pitches to a team of experts – similar to the ABC show Shark Tank

More remarkably, this project even changed how they used their free time. I saw our students enrolling in online courses in either website or business development. Their social media use took on more significance and had a more authentic stake for them, as students began communicating with web journals and community organizations to expand their online presence and gain “endorsements” for their products. Eventually, their work became polished enough to attract the interest of a few local entrepreneurs who volunteered not only to teach them business skills, but also to host a Shark Tank event and bankroll the winners. While only one team won, the other teams vowed to continue developing their ideas and seek their own independent funding. They had redefined success as not necessarily getting A’s or passing the class, but as refusing to take no for an answer. (Using Entrepreneurship to Transform Student Work)

Finally, there is a current push for bringing Maker Education into the classroom.  Making and entrepreneurship go hand-in-hand.  Recently, President Obama to hosted the first-ever White House maker faire where the theme was A Nation of Makers: Empowering America’s Students and Entrepreneurs to Invent the Future.

America has always been a nation of tinkerers, inventors, and entrepreneurs. In recent years, a growing number of Americans have gained access to technologies such as 3D printers, laser cutters, easy-to-use design software, and desktop machine tools, with even more being created by the day. These tools are enabling more Americans to design and build almost anything.

The rise of the Maker Movement represents a huge opportunity for the United States. Nationwide, new tools for democratized production are boosting innovation and entrepreneurship in manufacturing, in the same way that the Internet and cloud computing have lowered the barriers to entry for digital startups, creating the foundation for new products and processes that can help to revitalize American manufacturing. (President Obama to Host First-Ever White House Maker Faire)

Additional Resources for bringing entrepreneurship into the classroom:


Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 6, 2014 at 4:17 pm


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 24,752 other followers

%d bloggers like this: