User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Posts Tagged ‘experiential learning

Civic Engagement for Young People During Social Distancing

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Many of us feel a bit helpless to help others out during these coronavirus social distancing and isolation times. This also true for kids and young people. There are actions they can take as part of their home schooling. They can participate in civic engagement and activism activities.

Civic engagement is defined as “working to make a difference in the civic life of one’s community and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference (https://youth.gov/youth-topics/civic-engagement-and-volunteering).”

Quite frequently, not only do state standards permit teachers and schools to support student activism, but they encourage student activism as a means by which to develop civic understanding. Although standards vary from state to state, many of them are modeled on the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards (NCSS, 2013), which specifically endorses student activism:  “Civics is not limited to the study of politics and society; it also encompasses participation in classrooms and schools, neighborhoods, groups, and organizations . . . In civics, students learn to contribute appropriately to public processes and discussions of real issues. Their contributions to public discussions may take many forms, ranging from personal testimony to abstract arguments. They will also learn civic practices such as voting, volunteering, jury service, and joining with others to improve society. Civics enables students not only to study how others participate, but also to practice participating and taking informed action themselves” (https://kappanonline.org/student-activism-civics-school-response-singer/).

Civic engagement and activism in normal times has benefits, but in these times of coronavirus and social distancing-isolation, the benefits are amplified as such engagement can move young people from feelings of helplessness to feelings of empowerment.

Even in social isolation, there are actions young people and kids can do. The following activity guide can provide ideas and give some structure to civics activity engagement.

The following PDF has links with more information about how to do that challenge:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 24, 2020 at 2:06 am

Sometimes Kids Just Need to Play During School

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Teachers get so much pressure to meet standards and prepare students for state mandated tests, that I believe they forget their students are just kids. Because of this pressure, too many teacher education and professional development strategies stress the concept of time on task. For example, see Identifying (and Engaging Students in), Time-on-Task Activities, Increasing Time on Task, and Time on Task. This has some importance in teaching and learning but it shouldn’t always be the professed key to good instruction. This leaves little time for play. Play is important for students of all ages and grades.

This week I was reminded of the importance of playing and having fun; and that play and fun are determined by the kids, themselves. I planned a math lesson based on visual patterning, The concluding activity was for them to make a Fractal Tetrahedron, a marshmallow-toothpick tower. I had planned to have them work on it during a series of math classes, but they asked to stay through lunch and recess to work on it.

I started working with this group of gifted middle school students in January. I always have a goal of engaging learners as I believe it is the foundation of all good learning. I have had difficulty engaging them even with the use of Breakout EDU escape boxes, art activities, and games. Some engaged. Some did not. This marshmallow-toothpick activity brought a new energy into this group. All of them participated. They worked together. They laughed. They excitedly kept building and building. They added pieces to it that weren’t part of the plan. They played and had fun. A new group and classroom dynamic emerged which I believe was due with just letting them play with this project.

I discussed the beauty of spontaneous play (lots of play is spontaneous) in An Education Filled with Wonder:

One day I was substituting for a 2nd grade class.  It had begun to snow as we arrived to school that morning.  By mid-morning, a few inches covered the ground.  It was time for recess but, as expected, a voice came over the intercom to state that recess would be inside within each teacher’s classroom.  I heard the kids moan as they came to school dressed for snow with boots and winter jackets.  I threw caution into the wind.  I asked the kids to bundle up so we could go outside.  The kids became . . . well, kids.  They ran through the fresh snow in the huge back-of-the-school play area with no other students out there. They examined the footprints they created in the snow.  When one found something of interest, they called the others over to see.  They caught snow flakes with their tongues and made snow angles.  There were no conflicts nor arguing as was common to this group of kids.  They just ran, played, and laughed together as a unified group reminding me of a flock of geese.  I watched them with a tear in my eye, one that reflected the beauty I was witnessing. 

I wonder (even though I intuitively know the answer) whether learners in their adulthoods will better remember the types of activities I described above or their very structured time-on-task classroom activities.

The Harvard Graduate School of Education discussed the importance of play in Playing to Learn: How a pedagogy of play can enliven the classroom, for students of all ages:

Play and school can seem diametrically opposed. School is structured, often focused on order; play, by definition, is not.

But within this paradox of play and school, educators can find meaningful learning opportunities, advancing students’ academic skills as well as the social skills that will allow them to thrive in adulthood and enjoy their childhood now, according to researchers from Project Zero (PZ), a research center at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

“Play is a strategy for learning at any age,” says Project Zero’s researcher Mara Krechevsky. While older students and their teachers might have more curricular demands than younger students, playful learning still has an important role to play — it might just look different.

There is a universality to play: children are often more relaxed and engaged during play, and it’s enjoyable — all aspects that facilitate learning.

I think most educators innately know about the importance of play but according to many of them, they don’t have the time during the school day to permit kids to play outside of recess . . . but I ask, “What are the costs of not permitting them to play?”

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 7, 2020 at 6:42 pm

My 2019 Highlights

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The post describes my 2019 Highlights. I did this for four main reasons:

  1. We, especially as teachers, should spend more time reflecting on what we are doing well – our accomplishments. Often, we don’t get the recognition we deserve. Too often educators feel too timid or undeserving to publicly acknowledge their accomplishments believing that others will perceive them as braggarts. (Self-disclosure: I actually spend way too much time being critical of myself so this is actually really healthy for me to do.)
  2. I believe and include in the bio I share for conference presentations and PD consults that one of the major responsibilities of the modern day educator is to share resources, learning activities, thoughts, and insights with other educators. I do so through this blog and my Twitter account.
  3. I have a “nice box” which, for me, is actually a basket. It is where I put cards and gifts I have received from my students over the years. I tell my pre-service teachers to start one so that when they are feeling ineffective, challenged, or disillusioned, they can go to it for a boost. This post will act as a type of “nice box.”
  4. Finally, I am a strong proponent of being a reflective practitioner. For more about this, see Stephen Brookfield’s book, Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. Blogging, such as this post, is part of my reflective practice.

Here is my list.

I had a book on maker education published by ASCD.

I really love the maker movement. I have always had my students make things. As such, I was often seen as an outlier by the other teachers and principals at my schools. Now that it has become more mainstream, there is a much greater acceptance by my colleagues (and it helps that I now have an amazing and supportive principal). Words cannot describe how exciting I find this movement and hope it stands the test of time in our schools.

Writing this book took about two years but it fits with my mission of sharing resources, learning activities, and ideas with other educators. Given the amount of work it took, I am proud of this accomplishment. The description of the book is:

Transferring this innovative, collaborative, and creative mindset to the classroom is the goal of maker education. A makerspace isn’t about the latest tools and equipment. Rather, it’s about the learning experiences and opportunities provided to students. Maker education spaces can be as large as a school workshop with high-tech tools (e.g., 3D printers and laser cutters) or as small and low-tech as the corner of a classroom with bins of craft supplies. Ultimately, it’s about the mindset—not the “stuff.”

In Learning in the Making, Jackie Gerstein helps you plan, execute, facilitate, and reflect on maker experiences so both you and your students understand how the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of maker education transfer to real-world settings. She also shows how to seamlessly integrate these activities into your curriculum with intention and a clearly defined purpose (http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/119025.aspx).


I keynoted and presented a workshop at Edutech Asia in Singapore.

Sketchnote Made During My Keynote

I did a keynote in front of 1000+ people. Due to this anticipated audience size, I was worried about it for months. Because I focus on active participation, I asked them to make a one page book and then answer some reflection questions. It didn’t go over as well as I would have liked (yes, being self-critical) but I did something I feared. I also (re)learned I am a facilitator of experiences rather than a public speaker.

Slides from my keynote:



The final day I did a full day workshop. I was excited about having teachers and other professionals from Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia, India, Malaysia, and New Zealand attend. This was way more successful – the participants being very engaged and excited. Here are the slides:




I did some very cool activities with my gifted students.

I love designing and implementing cross-curricular project-based learning with my gifted students, grades 3rd through 6th. Below are blog post links to some of my favorites from the 2018-19 school year.

Social Entrepreneurship

This is one of my favorites . . . ever. I am now in the process of doing it for a 3rd time with a current group of students. For more about this project, visit https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2018/05/13/elementary-social-entrepreneurship-a-perfect-steam-lesson/. Here is a video of a few of my students delivering raised monies to a local charity.

Design a Shoe

https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2018/05/13/elementary-social-entrepreneurship-a-perfect-steam-lesson/

Game Jam: Designing a Video Game

https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2019/05/24/game-jam-creating-a-video-game/

I passed my ISTE Certification

ISTE Certification is a competency-based, vendor-neutral teacher certification based on the ISTE Standards for Educators. It recognizes educators who use edtech for learning in meaningful and transformative ways (https://www.iste.org/learn/iste-certification)

Doing the portfolio for the ISTE certification was a bear of a task. I worked on it for weeks for several hours a day during this past summer. I did enjoy the process of aggregating and discussing some of the edtech projects I have done.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 29, 2019 at 7:19 pm

micro:bits for good

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At the beginning of November, 2019, I had the opportunity to travel to Singapore to attend and present at Edutech Asia 2019. During that time, I had the opportunity to hear about their initiative to use micro:bits to help students learn technology in authentic ways. An article from 2017, Micro:bit launch: What you need to know about the coding gadget Singapore plans to introduce, explained it as:

School-going children in Singapore will soon be using a pocket-sized, codeable computer, called the micro:bit, to pick up coding skills. The move is aimed at instilling passion for technology among young Singaporeans. The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) will work with the Ministry of Education (MOE) to roll out micro:bit as part of its new Digital Maker Programme over the next two years.

In the exhibit hall at the conference, IMDA showcased the micro:bit-for-good projects that groups of Singapore students created. The following video provides a sampling of students explaining their projects.

micro:bit Global Challenge

The Micro:bit Education is sponsoring a challenge to use micro:bits to address two of the UN’s Global Goals: Life Below Water and Life on Land. They provide lots of resources on their website:

Previous micro:bit Global Challenge

In 2015, world leaders came together to decide on a series of “global goals” to build a better world. We challenged students aged 8-12 across the globe to consider how these goals could change the lives of themselves and others, and to design solutions to these goals using the micro:bit (https://microbit.org/global-challenge/)

Although this contest/initiative has officially ended, it could still be used by groups of students as a reference to create micro:bit-for-good projects. Some resources from this challenge follow:

The following is a guide developed by Canada Learn Code to help students prototype their micro:bit global challenge idea.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 24, 2019 at 10:30 pm

Creating a New Makerspace at Our School

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I am beyond elated – our PreK-6 elementary school received monies, through our district’s Computer Science Resolution 2025, to create a STEAM (science, technology, arts, math) makerspace. I never thought our Title 1 school would get the opportunity to create such a space. I never thought I would get the opportunity to help create a fully equipped makerspace. A few of use spent the past few weeks rearranging our library so that one side contains our books and the other our STEAM materials.

We received the following items. Some were put out in the STEAM makerspace and some items the teachers will check out for use in their classrooms:

  • Dremel Laser Cutter (in makerspace)
  • Makedo Kits (in makerspace)
  • Strawbees (in makerspace)
  • Dash and Dot (in makerspace and can be checked out)
  • OSMO Coding (in makerspace)
  • Makerspace Kit (in makerspace)
  • BeeBot Robots (in makerspace)
  • Squishy Circuits (in makerspace)
  • Makey-Makeys (can be checked out)
  • littleBits Base Invent Kit (in makerspace)
  • micro:bits (3rd-6th grade teachers received their own sets)
  • Circuit Playground (can be checked out)
  • SAM Lab (can be checked out)
  • Green Screen (in makerspace)

Integrating Maker Education Activities Into the Curriculum

As we (the steering committee) envisioned adding a STEAM – Makerspace at our school, we realized that its success will be dependent on the teachers integrating these activities into their curriculum rather than an extra “recreational” activity.

Maker education needs to be intentional. It follows, then, for maker education to be brought into more formal and traditional classrooms as well as more informal ones such as with afterschool and community programs, it needs to be integrated into the curriculum using lesson plans to assist with this integration (Learning in the Making).


To assist our teachers with integrating maker education activities into the curriculum, I created the following Pearltrees aggregate of possible classroom lessons and activities for each of the materials – products we purchased for our school:

https://www.pearltrees.com/jackiegerstein/curriculum-integration/id27094864

In this post, I am also including the following lesson plan template from my book, Learning in the Making that can help with integrating maker education activities into the curriculum :

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 5, 2019 at 10:25 pm

Learning in the Making: The Role of the Educator as a Maker Educator

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I have been working with ASCD for the past few years to publish my book, Learning in the Making: How to Plan, Execute, and Assess Powerful Makerspace Lessons. It has finally been released for sale! Below is an except – Chapter 5: The Role of the Educator as a Maker Educator.


The process of bringing maker education into formal and informal educational settings involves different approaches and strategies than in a more traditional educational setting. As such, the roles of the educator as a maker educator are also different.

  • Lead Learner
  • Process Facilitator
  • Safe Environment Manager
  • Normalizer of Ambiguous Problem Finding and Solving •
  • Resource Provider
  • Technology Tutor
  • Relationship Enabler and Builder
  • Feedback Facilitator

Lead Learner 

The educator’s role has always been to model and demonstrate effective learning, but somewhere along the line, the educator’s major role became content and knowledge disseminator. Today, content is freely and abundantly available, and it is more important than ever to help learners in the process of how to learn.

In most traditional education settings, the emphasis is on what students “need” to learn, and little emphasis is given to teaching students how they should go about learning the content or what skills will promote robust and effective learning. John Dunlosky, a professor of psychology at Kent State University, stated that “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” (Dunlosky, 2013, p. 13 ). 

Because maker education is as much (or even more) about the processes of learning as it is about the products, it becomes important for educators to understand and model the processes— or the “how-to”—of maker education. This often requires teachers to express out loud the metacognitive strategies they use when 

In most traditional education settings, the emphasis is on what students “need” to learn, and little emphasis is given to teaching students how they should go about learning the content or what skills will promote robust and effective learning. John Dunlosky, a professor of psychology at Kent State University, stated that “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 promot- ing lifelong learning” (Dunlosky, 2013, p. 13 ).

Because maker education is as much (or even more) about the processes of learning as it is about the products, it becomes important for educators to understand and model the processes— or the “how-to”—of maker education. This often requires teachers to express out loud the metacognitive strategies they use when approaching and doing maker activities, including how they learn about the task at hand, find resources, develop an overall goal for the activity, organize and keep track of materials, develop and manage timeframes, and judge their success. Importantly, it also requires teachers to explain what they do when they struggle with a make. This will help learners emulate these learning processes when they work on their own maker projects. Figure 5.2 provides methods and strategies that can be used by the educator to model effective making processes that have the potential to benefit their learners.



If educators embrace the prospect of being a lead learner, then it naturally follows they should be lead innovators, too. Lead inno- vators model eight characteristics of the innovator’s mindset; they are empathetic, problem finders, risk takers, networked, creators, observant, resilient, and reflective (Couros, 2015). “Ultimately, what [innovation] really is about in education is creating new and better ways of learning, which is something educators should all get behind. If I can help more educators see themselves as innova- tors, and help them embrace this mindset, our students will have better opportunities in learning. . . . It is meant to not only help see change as something we embrace and model ourselves but help create the foundation where change is more likely to happen with others” (Larken, 2015, paras. 2, 3).

A common characteristic of making across settings, age levels, socioeconomic backgrounds, and genders is that it is taps into the innovation of the participating learners. When educators model innovation by trying new projects, new teaching procedures, and new technologies, they are not only showing and telling students that innovation is valued in their classrooms but also demonstrating a willingness to take risks often associated with innovation—especially in the sometimes noninnovative environment of traditional schools.

Process Facilitator

Another hallmark of maker education is that the making processes are equally important as the products created. The processes used to make something often carry over to future projects and products. To truly focus on the process—rather than on the products of learning—the educator needs to let go of expectations and preconceived notions about what the specific products students produce “should” look like.

This approach translates into several benefits for learners:

  • Learners are not limited by educators’ expectations or the expectations of a lesson or assessment developed by an out- side entity (e.g., textbook or testing company).
  • Learners’ engagement, motivation, curiosity, and excitement increase.
  • Learners learn to tolerate and embrace ambiguity.
  • Natural differentiation and individualization result.
  • Learners gain skills such as self-directed learning, taking ini- tiative, locating resources, and asking for help—all of which can be transferred to all learning endeavors.
  • It reflects and models how learning occurs outside of school.
  • Learners take an increased investment and pride in their work.
  • Learners develop both a sense of confidence and a sense of competence.

Safe Environment Manager

An educator’s role as safe environment manager is a two-pronged one. First, teachers must ensure that the learning environment is physically safe. Because a maker environment often contains lots of tools, ranging from scissors and knives to hot glue guns to power tools, the maker educator must establish an environment in which learners’ physical safety is of primary concern. Second, teachers must make sure that learners also feel safe emotionally— that they are willing to take risks and know that their ideas will be accepted and valued by everyone in the classroom. There are some general guidelines for creating a physically safe makerspace. Consider the following as you set up your own maker environment:

  • Research how the tools you plan to use in your maker pro- gram operate and the safety procedures associated with them.
  • Teach students how to safely use all of the tools in the maker area, including seemingly “simple” tools such as scissors and hot glue guns. Don’t make any assumptions.
  • Develop and review procedures about what to do if students notice an unsafe practice or if there is a medical emergency.
  • Establish behavioral expectations that students know and understand. These will be guided by the age of your students but can include rules such as no horseplay and keep your hands to yourself.
  • Establish, post, and teach clean-up procedures.

More information about creating a physically safe makerspace can be found at https://makezine.com/2013/09/02/safety-in-school-makerspaces/.

Because making often involves taking risks, dealing with failure, asking for help, getting and receiving feedback, and sharing projects with peers, it is important that you also establish a work-learning environment that is emotionally safe for all students. This should be thought out and factored into your maker program from the beginning to develop a healthy sense of community. This can be accomplished through team-building activities with a STEM or maker education focus. Activities such as these help students learn to work collaboratively, communicate, and problem solve with one another. Students also learn to support one another.

As a safe environment manager, teachers should teach and model what emotional safety looks, sounds, and feels like in the learning environment. It then becomes the students’ responsibility to maintain and reinforce that emotional safety. Comments that reflect an emotionally safe and supportive environment include

  • “Your effort shows and is admirable.”
  • “I like the way you are helping and supporting one another.”
  • “Failure is OK; just give it another attempt.”

Students should be acknowledged when they are heard using such comments.

Normalizer of Ambiguous Problem Finding and Solving

Another difference between traditional education and maker education is that the former too often presents problems that have a single, correct answer, whereas maker education embraces ill-de- fined problems that don’t often have obvious or “correct” answers. Iteration and related failure often accompany maker projects that are based on ill-defined problems and solutions. Failure often has a negative connotation in education, but within the maker mindset, failure is celebrated. Adam Savage, former host of the popular TV show Mythbusters, often wears a shirt that says, “Failure is always an option.” Maker educators should normalize iteration and
failure by emphasizing and reemphasizing the idea that ill-defined and ambiguous problems and solutions are part of the making process—and real life.

Resource Provider

Because there is so much free information available online, the 21st century educator needs to be a curator of content. As a curator, the maker educator locates and vets resources, especially those that will be used by younger students. These resources can include YouTube videos; tutorials from companies such as Spark- fun, Make: Magazine, Instructables, and Adafruit; relevant books and magazines; social media accounts and hashtags (e.g., #mak- ered, #stem); and online communities, such as Facebook groups. Since the goal is to have learners use self-directed or heutagogical practices, the educator—as a maker educator—should offer resources as suggestions based on individual learners’ projects.

Nevertheless, students should make the final decision about which resources to use and to what degree they want to use them. The educator as a resource provider means that he or she becomes a coach or a mentor to learners. Educators are the adult experts in the room, and learners will often go to the educator for assistance, especially when they get stuck on a problem or need feedback. “The best coaches encourage young people to work hard, keep going when it would be easier to stop, risk making potentially painful errors, try again when they stumble, and learn to love [their learning]” (Tomlinson, 2011, p. 92).

The educator as a resource provider also implies that he or she has multiple skill sets—expertise in the process of learning, exper- tise in how to navigate online environments, and the ability to mentor learners during their maker education experiences. They need to model how to vet the resources and determine their use- fulness and value. They scaffold resource curation and ultimately release responsibility to students as they become more skilled at finding and vetting their own resources.

Technology Tutor

For learner agency and self-directed learning to occur, educators need to keep abreast of current and emerging technologies. There is an assumption that young people are universally digitally savvy and know how to use every form of emerging technology. However, teachers “are increasingly finding that their students’ comfort zone is often limited to social media and internet apps that don’t do much in the way of productivity” (Proffitt, 2012, para. 2).

Technology can dramatically enhance maker experiences since it provides access to resources and tutorials. It also provides a means for learners to share their processes and products. With this in mind, the maker educator can help learners find resources (as previously discussed) and teach them how to use educational technology such as blogs, videos, video creation tools, e-books, podcasts, collages, sketches, and Google apps to document and share their learning.

Relationship Enabler and Builder

Another important hallmark of the maker movement is its strong focus on community. The maker education community, both the in-person and broader global one, is overwhelmingly based on sharing with and learning from one another. Though not every maker shares his or her knowledge or creations, the existence of large online communities shows that many do. People share for various reasons: to exchange information, educate others, get feed- back, and feel connected. This type of collaboration often comes naturally in a making environment, but educators can and should facilitate it through asking—sometimes coaxing—learners to share their ideas, opinions, resources, successes, and failures with other maker learners.

To help facilitate this process, maker educators can ask stu-dents to share what they’ve accomplished so far with their project, where they think things are going in the project, and what issues they have experienced or anticipate experiencing. Students can also document and share their processes and findings in a manner that allows both other students in the class and the larger maker community to review and comment.

Feedback Facilitator

Learners getting feedback on their work is always valuable and important—even more so in the maker environment. Indeed, the maker environment should be rich in feedback. As a feedback facilitator, maker educators not only provide learners with feedback about their maker projects but also teach and facilitate a process for learners to give and receive feedback to one another. Too many educational environments don’t actively teach learners methods and strategies for giving and receiving feedback. Since one of the characteristics of the maker environment is that is it community based, facilitating a feedback process supports and reinforces this sense of community. Because making is often an iterative process, feedback from other community members often facilitates and accelerates that process.

Promises to My Learners as a Maker Educator

Because maker education is so different from traditional education, and because the maker educator’s roles are also so different, I developed the following promises to my learners as a facilitator of their learning as makers:

  1. I promise to make the making environment positive, joyful, and physically and emotionally safe so you feel safe enough to take risks, ask questions, make mistakes, and test things out.
  2. I promise to provide you with resources and materials that help you create, make, and innovate.
  3. I promise to respect and support your unique ways of think- ing, learning, creating, and interacting with others.
  4. I promise to work with you to create learning experiences that are personally relevant to you.
  5. I promise to support and help you understand and navigate the ups and downs, the mistakes and failures, and the trials and errors associated with making.
  6. I promise to give you time and opportunities to collaborate and share with other makers (of all ages).
  7. I promise to provide you with positive feedback on things you can control—such as effort, strategies, and behaviors.
  8. I promise to encourage you to critically think, formulate questions of your own, and come up with your own conclusions.
  9. I promise not to intervene with your learning process unless you ask me to do so.
  10. I promise to support you as you embrace the joy of creating, playing, innovating, and making.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 15, 2019 at 5:55 pm

Expert Mentors: A Professional Development Model for STEM and Maker Education Implementation

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Implementing Maker, STEM, STEAM Education

In order to prevent STEM and maker education from becoming a flavor of the month, there needs to be specific strategies provided to educators on how to embed STEM and maker activities into their curriculum. A good number of educators have not received training on how to integrate activities into their classroom practices which entail resource heavy, hands-on learning.

One of the elementary schools where I work is going to implement maker education this coming school year. In a discussion with the principal and a small number of teachers, we realized that some of the teachers will be resistant due to their lack of experience with the activities, resources, and tools related to maker education, and frankly, their fear of doing something as foreign as maker education.

A key to increase their comfort with and chances for implementing these activities is to provide them with professional development opportunities, but the PD needs to be designed based on research.

Professional Development

Teacher professional learning is of increasing interest as a critical way to support the increasingly complex skills students need to learn in order to succeed in the 21st century. Sophisticated forms of teaching are needed to develop student competencies such as deep mastery of challenging content, critical thinking, complex problem solving, effective communication and collaboration, and self-direction. In turn, effective professional development (PD) is needed to help teachers learn and refine the instructional strategies required to teach these skills. (Effective Teacher Professional Development).

The Learning Policy institute examined rigorous studies that have demonstrated a positive link between teacher professional development, teaching practices, and student outcomes. They discovered that not all professional development experiences are equal and that effective PD has specific characteristics. Their findings included:

Active learning provides teachers with opportunities to get hands-on experience designing and practicing new teaching strategies. In PD models featuring active learning, teachers often participate in the same style of learning they are designing for their students, using real examples of curriculum, student work, and instruction. 

Curricular models and modeling of instruction provide teachers with a clear vision of what best practices look like. Teachers may view models that include lesson plans, unit plans, sample student work, observations of peer teachers, and video or written cases of accomplished teaching.

Effective professional development provides teachers with adequate time to learn, practice, implement, and reflect upon new strategies that facilitate changes in their practice. As a result, strong PD initiatives typically engage teachers in learning over weeks, months, or even academic years, rather than in short, one-off workshops (Effective Teacher Professional Development).

After attending the New Mexico Computer Science week whereby engineering college students acted as mentors for the participating teachers, I realized that having experts in the classroom working directly with educator can be a great form of professional development. In this case, it was the engineering college undergraduates but it could also be trainers from STEM-related organizations or other educators who have developed their STEM instructional practices. This model has the potential to discuss the properties of effective professional development discussed above. Mainly, educators would be able to see STEM and maker instructional practices being modeled.

Benefits

  • Directly observing how the expert interacts with their content and with the learners.
  • Experiencing the benefits of team teaching – pairing a content expert with an education.
  • Learning how to troubleshoot when the activities don’t work as planned.
  • Assisting both the educator and their learners to see failure as iteration and growth opportunities.
  • Getting to see how learners respond to the hands-on experiences . . . often with excitement and engagement.

Implementation Suggestions

Some suggestions for implementing this form of professional development follow. It obviously is just a beginning.

  • Train expert mentors in interacting with learners using hands-on activities.
  • Train and plan meetings between educators and mentor experts making sure that they include collaborative and active learning strategies.
  • Needs to occur over time through multiple sessions – not a single time experience.
  • Include educator reflection and follow-up as an integral component of the professional development.

An Example

An example of a mentoring program is my local area is the New Mexico STEM Mentor Collective.

The Northern New Mexico STEM Mentor Collective, funded by NSF INCLUDES (Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science) seeks to raise aspirations and expectations in Middle & High School STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) topics by training and planting (in local schools and libraries) a paid STEM Mentor Corps comprised of caring, exemplary NNMC (Northern New Mexico College) undergraduates

Even though it is designed to bring Engineering undergraduates into the classroom to provide young people with mentors, I contend it could also be used to help educators learn how to implement STEM and maker education activities. I am planning to work with my principal this coming school year to help develop this as a model of professional development.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

June 9, 2019 at 10:04 pm

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