User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Posts Tagged ‘experiential learning

Scaffolding Maker Education Learning Experiences

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I often read via social media about the importance of student centered, student-driven instruction. I wholeheartedly agree. My blog post is called User-Generated Education for a reason. I also believe one of the roles of an educator, in the context of maker education, is to scaffold learning experiences so the end result is students becoming self-determined learning.

Thinking about the importance of learner autonomy and independence reminded me of my early career when I did counseling work with at-risk youth in wilderness settings, taking them on 2 to 3 week wilderness trips. We did what was called Huddle-Up Circles. Huddle-ups were called by the instructors and/or the youth participants any time a concern or problem arose. Everyone stopped what they were doing to gather in a circle to discuss the problem and generate solutions. Needless to say, the instructors were the ones who most often called and facilitated the huddle-ups at beginning of our trips.  Our goal, as instructors and counselors, was to have the young people run the huddle-ups themselves. We knew we were successful when we asked to step out of the huddle-ups by the young people because they wanted to run their own huddle-ups. During these times, we would stand outside of the huddle-up circles and silently observe their processes, only stepping in upon their request. The results not only included the development of skills and strategies for their own social-emotional development, but their success with their earned independence boosted their self-esteems.

This is how I approach facilitating maker education activities. Direct instruction is provided through structured and prescribed activities with the goal of learners then being able to eventually go into self-determined directions. There has been some criticism leveraged against out-of-the-box maker education kits, programmable robots, and step-by-step maker activities. My contention is that learners often don’t know what they don’t know; and that giving them the basic skills frees them to then use their creativity and innovation to take these tools into self-determined directions.

In response, I created and proposed Stages of Maker Education:

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In my robotics and coding classes, I use Ozobot, Spheros, Dash and Dot, microbits, Scratch, to name of few. I use a full spectrum of activities starting with direct instruction associated with the Copying stage, then assisting learners to move through the Advance, Modify, and Embellish stages by providing them with examples and resources, and finally, encouraging them to move into the Create stage. Sometimes I show them examples of possibilities for the Create stage. I show such examples to spark and ignite their creative juices. Because almost all of my learners have not had the freedom to create, these examples help to get them motivated and going. Here some are examples of two ends of the spectrum – Prescribed/Copy and Create – of some of these robotic and coding activities to show how learning basic skills can lead to creative activities:

My ultimate goal is to have students drive their own learning and I want to help them learn skills to be successful in their self-determined learning.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 19, 2017 at 8:26 pm

Qualities of Effective Educator Professional Development

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Most administrators and teachers believe in the importance and value of professional development.  Sadly, though, too many teachers believe that those mandatory, one-size-fits-all professional development sessions offered by their schools are a waste of time and money.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement, “Even high quality professional development must be directly relevant to the needs of teachers and genuinely improve teaching and learning.” Weingarten said. “And low-quality professional development, frankly, feels like detention.” (New Report Reveals That Teacher Professional Development Is Costly And Ineffective)

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. However, research has noted that many professional development initiatives appear ineffective in supporting changes in teachers’ practices and student learning.(Effective Teacher Professional Development)

What follows are the general guidelines I use to plan and structure my professional development workshops. Recently, I facilitated two weekends of math instruction for elementary teachers. I use these workshops as a reference in this discussion.

  • Voluntary
  • Models Best Classroom Practices
  • Active and Hands-On
  • Fun and Engaging
  • Engages the Mind, Body, Emotions
  • Time to Tinker and Play
  • Collaboration
  • Ability to Tailor to Own Needs
  • Natural Integration of Technology
  • Reflection Built In

qualities of effective PD

Voluntary

Teacher PD needs to be voluntary.

The fact that adults are voluntary participants in the learning situation has profound implications for how learning occurs. They are generally highly motivated and primed to get the most out of the situation as possible. They will tackle tasks with enthusiasm, provided they are seen as relevant. This means that they are more likely to embrace participatory learning techniques such as discussion, role playing, small group work and the analysis of personal experiences.

The reverse side of voluntary participation by adults is that they can just as easily withdraw. Unlike the disruption that occurs when participation is mandatory, adults are likely to do one of two things. They will either quietly withdraw altogether or, if that is not really an option, they will continue to show up and do what is minimally expected of them, but will essentially become passive participants. (Principles underlying Effective Practices in Adult Education)

My weekend math workshops were offered to elementary teachers in a specific school district as a voluntary opportunity. A grant did provide them with a stipend for attending but as one of the attending teachers noted, “Even with a stipend, I wouldn’t volunteer for a weekend workshop unless I was interested in learning how to be a better teacher of math” (in this case).

Models Best Classroom Practices

First and foremost, teacher PD needs to model best classroom practices. “Curricular models and modeling of instruction provide teachers with a clear vision of what best practices look like” (Effective Teacher Professional Development). If the desire is to have educators create and implement engaging, interactive, and fun learning activities, then PD needs to be a mirror of these practices. I always believed that is is hypocritical to lecture about these best practices. It should be a process of modeling.

In order to model best classroom practices during my math workshops:

  1. I used videos, mostly from The Teaching Channel, to show elementary teachers modeling best practices in math within their own elementary classrooms.
  2. I did math activities with the teacher participants as if they were students in my elementary classroom.

Active and Hands-On

Active learning engages teachers directly in designing and trying out teaching strategies, providing them an opportunity to engage in the same style of learning they are designing for their students. Such PD uses authentic artifacts, interactive activities, and other strategies to provide deeply embedded, highly contextualized professional learning. This approach moves away from traditional learning models and environments that are lecture based and have no direct connection to teachers’ classrooms and students. (Effective Teacher Professional Development)

Other than explaining activities, showing videos and presenting some technology options, all of learning activities during the weekend workshop were hands-on and active.

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Fun and Engaging

Somewhere along the line of professional development, it became a way too serious endeavor. I believe this is a major reason why teachers don’t enjoy their professional development opportunities.

Fun has a positive effect on motivation levels, determining what we learn and how much we retain. If the learning isn’t fun, it won’t be effective. That’s not just a sneaking suspicion – it’s cold, hard, scientific fact.

  • study in the journal, College Teaching, found that students could recall a statistics lecture more easily when the lecturer added jokes about relevant topics.
  • In her book, Neurologist, Judy Willis showed how fun experiences increase levels of dopamine, endorphins, and oxygen – all things that promote learning.
  • In a study for the Journal of Vocational Behaviour, Michael Tews found that employees are more likely to try new things if their work environment is fun. (Why Fun in Learning is Important)

Regardless of age, grade, content area, one measure of success I use is the quantity of laughter and squeals of joy. I heard lots of laughter during my workshops.

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Engages the Mind, Body, Emotions

As an experiential educator and regardless of the age level I am teaching, I emphasize multi-sensory, whole person learning.

We learn best when we think, feel and do.  That’s the message of Dr. Adele Diamond, a cognitive developmental neuroscientist who currently teaches at the University of British Columbia in Canada.  We might refer to this as “whole body learning.”  According to Dr. Diamond, the executive function of the brain — the prefrontal cortex — works best when we go beyond the rational mind by also involving emotions and physical behaviors.  That makes sense since the more we involve other parts of the brain, the more neural connections we make that reinforce learning. (Brain Research: To Improve Learning, Use Whole Body)

My math workshop was not exception as activities that use the body, mind, and emotions were introduced to the participating teachers.

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Time to Tinker and Play

Teachers and librarians, like their students, need hands-on experience with tools and with playing to learn as that helps them build creative confidence. (Crafting Professional Development for Maker Educators)

Teachers, during PD, should be provided with time, resources, and materials with which to play. It sets the expectation that they will be active agents of their own learning. It gives them the message it is okay to play and experiment with the materials; that tinkering is often needed as a part of learning new skills.

Given that the nature of the workshop was hands-on and active, workshop participants were time to tinker with the resources and materials provided.

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Ability to Tailor to Own Needs

One of the justified complaints of teachers regarding their schools’ professional development is that it is often of the too generic, one-size-fits all variety. To be effective, professional develop should help teachers address their own classroom needs. Participating teachers were given lots of resources and opportunities to develop math activities specific for their grade level and students.

Integrates Collaboration

High-quality PD creates space for teachers to share ideas and collaborate in their learning, often in job-embedded contexts. By working collaboratively, teachers can create communities that positively change the culture and instruction of their entire grade level, department, school and/or district. (Effective Teacher Professional Development)

At the beginning of the workshop, participants were asked to form groups with same grade level teachers forming what I called mini-PLNs. Part of the workshop time was devoted to teachers developing materials for their own classrooms and students. During the time, the teachers could work with their mini-PLNs. They were also asked to share, throughout the weekend, the activities they discovered and developed. These sharing sessions often led to feedback and ways the activities could be modified for a variety of student populations.

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Naturally Integrates Technology

Technology use within all learning and teaching environments including professional development should be ubiquitous; it’s use should be determine by its potential to enhance and increase learning.

During my math workshop, participants used technology to:

  • Access the workshop slides.
  • Explore learning activities for the manipulatives I provided: dice, pool noodles, Legos. playing cards, beach balls.
  • Try out online math games: ABCya, Toy Theater Math, Prodigy, and Code.org.
  • Take photos of math examples in school building.

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Builds in Reflection

High-quality professional learning frequently provides built-in time for teachers to intentionally think about, receive input on, and make changes to their practice by facilitating reflection and soliciting feedback. Feedback and reflection both help teachers to thoughtfully move toward the expert visions of practice. (Effective Teacher Professional Development)

As a final reflection for the weekend, I asked participating teachers to use the following prompt to create a mini-poster of their learning. It also modeled how to use such a reflection process with their students.

. . . and here is a video recording of one of the participating teacher’s reflections:

As a parting shot, here are the slides I used during the workshop:

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 8, 2017 at 12:34 am

Intentional Creativity

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Torrence, whose focus was on creativity, developed the Torrence Incubation Model of Creative Thinking (TIM) model.

As emphasized in this video, embedding creativity into the curriculum can and should be a strong component of content area teaching and learning. In other words, educators don’t need to plan to teach creativity as another part of curriculum.  Creativity is often an integral part of the practices of professionals including scientists, mathematicians, business people, artists, writers, and is an important part of their content area expertise. It follow, then, that learners should be taught in ways that help them think like a scientist . . . like an artist . . .  like a writer . . .  like a business person.

E. Paul Torrance, perhaps one of the most prominent scholars of creativity, conducted a variety of studies exploring the teaching and learning of creativity. His studies identified specific skills associated with creativity, and demonstrated success in the teaching of creativity through the Torrance Incubation Model of Creative Teaching and Learning. The Torrance Incubation Model of Creative Teaching and Learning can be applied to a lesson, unit or project. The application of TIM and the identification of a specific creativity skill is an effective way to teach creativity, without impacting the teaching of core objectives or curriculum content. TIM, has three stages: Stage One, Heighten Anticipation, is designed to adequately and mentally prepare the student (or students) for the project ahead. Torrance describes this as a ʻWarming Up Periodʼ with the following six functions, (1) Create the Desire to Know, (2) Heighten Anticipation and Expectation, (3) Get Attention, (4) Arouse Curiosity, (5) Tickle the Imagination, and (6) Give Purpose and Motivation. (Torrance Incubation Model of Creative Teaching and Learning (TIM))

Specific active methods for heightening anticipation include:

The benefits of educators being intentional with heightening anticipation include:

  • Increased engagement in and motivation for the learning activities.
  • Increased interest in content area learning; possibly stimulating new learner passions.
  • Deeper learning.
  • More generalizable skills related to creativity.

So just with a little planning, the educator can set up conditions that can significantly motivate learners and create an energized learning environment climate.

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 20, 2017 at 3:05 pm

Helping Learners Move Beyond “I Can’t Do This”

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I work part-time with elementary learners – with gifted learners during the school year and teaching maker education camps during the summer. The one thing almost all of them have in common is yelling out, “I can’t do this” when the tasks aren’t completed upon first attempts or get a little too difficult for them. I partially blame this on the way most school curriculum is structured. Too much school curriculum is based on paper for quick and one shot learning experiences (or the comparable online worksheets). Students are asked to do worksheets on paper, answer end-of-chapter questions on paper, write essays on paper, do math problems on paper, fill in the blanks on paper, and pick the correct answer out of a multiple choice set of answers on paper. These tasks are then graded as to the percentage correct and then the teacher moves onto the next task.

So it is no wonder that when learners are given hands-on tasks such as those common to maker education, STEM, and STEAM, they sometimes struggle with their completion. Struggles are good. Struggles with authentic tasks mimics real life so much more than completing those types of tasks and assessments done at most schools.

Problems like yelling out, “I can’t do this” arise when the tasks get a little too difficult (but ultimately are manageable). I used to work with at-risk kids within Outward Bound-type programs. Most at-risk kids have some self-defeating behaviors including those that result in personal failure. The model for these types of programs is that helping participants push past their self-perceived limitations results in the beginnings of a success rather than a failure orientation. This leads into a success building upon success behavioral cycle.

A similar approach can be used with learners when they take on a “I can’t do this” attitude. Some of the strategies to offset “I can’t do this” include:

  • Help learners focus on “I can’t do this . . .  YET.”
  • Teach learners strategies for dealing with frustration.
  • Encourage learners to ask for help from their peers.
  • Give learners tasks a little above their ability levels.
  • Emphasize the processes of learning rather than its product.
  • Reframe mistakes and difficulties as opportunities for learning.
  • Scaffold learning; provide multiple opportunities to learn and build upon previous learning.
  • Focus on mastery of learning; mastery of skills.
  • Avoid the urge to rescue them.
  • May need to push learners beyond self-perceived limits.
  • Build reflection into the learning process.
  • Help learners accept an “it’s okay” when a task really is too hard (only as a last resort).

moving beyond i can't

Focus on “I can’t do this . . .  YET.”

The use of “YET” was drawn from Carol Dweck’s work with growth mindsets.

Just the words “yet” or “not yet,” we’re finding give kids greater confidence, give them a path into the future that creates greater persistence. And we can actually change students’ mindsets. In one study, we taught them that every time they push out of their comfort zone to learn something new and difficult, the neurons in their brain can form new, stronger connections,and over time, they can get smarter. (Carol Dweck TED Talk: The power of believing that you can improve)

By asking learners to add “yet” to the end of their “I can’t do this” comments, possibilities are opened up for success in future attempts and iterations. It changes their fixed or failure mindsets to growth and possibility ones.

Teach learners strategies for dealing with frustration.

What often precedes learners yelling out, “I can’t do this” is that learners’ frustration levels have gotten a bit too high for them. Helping learners deal with their frustrations is a core skill related to their social-emotional development and helps with being successful with the given tasks.

The basic approach to helping a [student] deal with frustrating feelings is (a) to help them build the capability to observe themselves while they’re in the midst of experiencing the feeling, (b) to help them form a story or narrative about their experience of the feeling and the situation, and then (c) to help them make conscious choices about their behavior and the ways they express their feelings. (Tips for Parents: Managing Frustration and Difficult Feelings in Gifted Children)

You can help your [student] recognize that learning involves trial and error. Mastering a new skill takes patience, perseverance, practice, and the confidence that success will come. Instead of recognizing that failure is temporary, a [student] often concludes, “I’ll never succeed.” That is why encouragement is by far the most important gift you can give your frustrated [student]. Take her dejection seriously, but help her look at her challenge differently: “Never,” you might reply, “is an awfully long time.” Eventually, she’ll learn from your encouraging words to talk herself out of giving up. (Fight Frustration)

Encourage learners to ask for help from their peers.

I must tell both my gifted students and my summer campers several times a day to ask one of their classmates for help when they are stuck. I have a three before me policy in my classrooms, but sometimes when I tell them to ask for help, they look at me like I am speaking another language.  It makes sense, though, as they often have been socialized via school procedures to ask the teacher when they get stuck.

The following poster is going up in my classroom this coming year to remind them of the different possibilities for getting help if and when they get stuck on a learning task:

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The bottom line becomes facilitating learner self-reliance knowing that these are skills learners can transfer to outside of school activities where there often is not a teacher to provide assistance.

Emphasize the processes of learning rather than its product.

School curriculum often focuses on the whats of learning – the products – rather than the hows of learning – the processes. When the focus changes to the process of learning, learners are less apt to feel the pressure to create quality products. “Research has demonstrated that engaging students in the learning process increases their attention and focus, motivates them to practice higher-level critical thinking skills and promotes meaningful learning experiences” (Engaging students in learning).

The biggest step an educator can take to implement a process-oriented learning environment is to let go of expectations about what a product should be. Expectations can and should be around learning processes such as: following through to the task completion, finding help when needed, trying new things, taking risks, creating and innovating, tolerating frustration, and attempting alternative routes when one route isn’t working.

Reframe mistakes and difficulties as opportunities for learning.

I’ve blogged about normalizing failure and mistake making in The Over Promotion of Failure: 

I reframe the idea of failure, that oftentimes occur within open-ended, ill-defined projects, as things didn’t go as originally planned. It is just a part of the learning process. I explain to my learners that they will experience setbacks, mistakes, struggles. It is just a natural part of real world learning. Struggles, setbacks, and mistakes are not discussed as failure but as parts of a process that need improving.

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Contrary to what many of us might guess, making a mistake with high confidence and then being corrected is one of the most powerful ways to absorb something and retain it. Learning about what is wrong may hasten understanding of why the correct procedures are appropriate but errors may also be interpreted as failure. And Americans … strive to avoid situations where this might happen. (To Err Is Human: And A Powerful Prelude To Learning)

Scaffold learning; provide multiple opportunities to learn and build upon previous learning.

Many maker education, STEM, and STEAM activities require a skill set in order to complete them. For example, many of the learning activities I do with my students require the use of scissors, tape, putting together things. Even though some of the learners are as old as 6th grade, many lack these skills. As such, I do multiple activities that require their use. Learners are more likely to enjoy, engage in, and achieve success in these activities if related skills are scaffolded, repeated, and built upon.

In the process of scaffolding, the teacher helps the student master a task or concept that the student is initially unable to grasp independently. The teacher offers assistance with only those skills that are beyond the student’s capability. Of great importance is allowing the student to complete as much of the task as possible, unassisted. The teacher only attempts to help the student with tasks that are just beyond his current capability. Student errors are expected, but, with teacher feedback and prompting, the student is able to achieve the task or goal. (Scaffolding)

 By allowing students to learn from their mistakes, or circling back through the curriculum will allow more students to access your instruction and for you to have a better understanding of where they are at with their learning.  Let’s face it, learning can be messy and if you try to put it into a simple box or say a single class period and then move on, it isn’t always effective.  (Strategies and Practices That Can Help All Students Overcome Barriers)

Focus on mastery of learning; mastery of skills.

Sal Khan of Khan Academy fame has a philosophy that focuses on mastery of learning and skills that is applicable for all types of learning:

A problem, Khan says, is the next block of material builds on what the student was supposed to learn in the last lesson, and it’s usually more difficult to pick up. So a student learns only 75% of the material, we can’t expect that student to master the next section.

When students master concepts and learn at their own pace — all sorts of neat things happen. The students can actually master the concepts, but they’re also building their growth mindset, they’re building perseverance, they’re taking agency over their learning. And all sorts of beautiful things can start to happen in the actual classroom. (Sal Khan TED Talk Urges Mastery, Not Test Scores In Classroom)

This approach puts forward the notion that students should not be rushed through to more complex concepts without having the foundational knowledge needed to successfully transition to the next level.

Khan believes we should be teaching students to master the material before moving on, ensuring that students are given as much time and support as they need to tackle each new concept before trying to build upon it. As Khan says, you wouldn’t build the second floor of a house on a shaky foundation, otherwise it will collapse.

Mastery learning:

  • Reframes a student’s sense of responsibility, where performance is viewed as the product of instruction and practice, rather than a lack of ability.
  • Encourages a student to persevere and grasp knowledge they previously didn’t understand.
  • Gives students the time and opportunity as they need to master each step, instead of teaching to fixed time constraints.
  • Provides feedback and assessment throughout the learning process, not just after a major assessment. (Teaching for mastery)

     

Give learners tasks a little above their ability levels.

Giving learners tasks a little above their ability levels is actually a definition for differentiated instruction. It also helps to insure that new learning will occur; that learners will be challenged to go beyond their self-perceived limitations. ‘People can’t grow if they are constantly doing what they have always done. Let them develop new skills by giving challenging tasks” (15 effective ways to motivate your team). As learners overcome challenges, they will be more likely to take on new, even more challenging tasks.

Avoid the urge to rescue them.

I’ve had learners cry (even as old as 6th grade), get angry, sit down in frustration. Educators, by nature, are helpers. The tendency is for them to rescue learners from the stress and frustration of reaching seemingly unsurmountable challenges. But, and this is a big but, if educators do rescue them, then they are taking away learning opportunities, the possibility of the learner achieving success on his or her own.

May need to push learners beyond self-perceived limits.

This is the next step after not rescuing learners. The educator may have to push, encourage, cajole, coax, persuade, wheedle learners to go beyond what they thought possible. It is similar to a coach who really pushes her or his athletes. Sometimes it appears mean or callous. The big caveat to being successful with this strategy is that the educator must first have a good relationship with the leaners; that learners really understand that the educator has their best interests at heart.

Build reflection into the learning process.

Time needs to be built into the day or class period where students reflect on what they’ve learning and make meaning of it.  This helps with processing information as they reconcile it with their prior knowledge and work to make the information stick.  This is a great opportunity for thinking to be clarified, questions to be sought, or learning to be extended.  (Strategies and Practices That Can Help All Students Overcome Barriers)

Help learners accept an “it’s okay” when a task really is too hard (only as a last resort).

Yep – this is absolutely the last resort.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 24, 2017 at 11:47 pm

Maker Education Camp: Circuit Crafts

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This is my third summer offering maker education summer camps as part of a bigger program at a local school.  During mornings (9 to 12 with a half hour recess), campers, grades Kindergarten through 6th grade, can choose from one of four enrichment classes: art, drama, games, foreign languages, computers, and in my case, maker camps. During the afternoons, all campers get together for typical camp activities – fun and games, field trips, water sports, silly competitions. Each camp lasts a week. This summer I am offering: Cardboard Creations, Circuit Crafts, Toy Making and Hacking, and Robotics and Coding.

I often discuss the need to implement maker education programs with minimal cost materials and ones that offer the potential to tap into diverse learners and their diverse interests:

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 (Making MAKEing more inclusive).

Many of the discussions about and actions related to integrating maker education into educational environments center around the use of new technologies such computer components (Raspberry PisArduinos), interactive robots for kids (Dash and DotOzobotsSpheros), and 3D printers. These technologies are lots of fun and I facilitate Robotics and Computer Science with my gifted students and at one of my summer camps (noting that I purchased the robots myself). The learners engaged in these high tech learning activities with high excitement and motivation. Such high excitement, engagement and motivation, though, were also seen at my low tech/low cost maker education camps: LED crafts, Toy Hacking and Making, and Cardboard Creations. A recent NPR article discussed several challenges for maker education. One of them was related to equity issues, providing maker education for all students regardless of income level:

A big challenge for maker education: making it not just the purview mostly of middle- and upper-middle-class white kids and white teachers whose schools can afford laser cutters, drones or 3-D printers (3 Challenges As Hands-On, DIY Culture Moves Into Schools).

(Cardboard Creations: A Maker Education Camp )

This post lists the materials I used for the Circuit Crafts and descriptions of the activities.

Materials and Costs:

This camp did have some costs associated with it but I believe that given the wide range of activities offered, the costs were justified. The following is my materials list and costs. FYI – I actually purchased most of these materials cheaper via ebay.

  • Snap Circuits Pro (2 at $60 each – $120)
  • Circuit Maze (2 @ $23 each – $46)
  • Circuit Kits (3 at $14 https://www.amazon.com/Basic-Circuit-Kit-Batteries-Holders/dp/B00FKCVFPW – $42)
  • Squishy Circuits
    • Playdoh (two 10 packs at $8.00 each – $16)
    • modeling clay (24 color pack @ $14)
    • 5 mm LED’s – used for several projects (500 mixed color from ebay – $14)
    • 9V Batteries (10 2-packs from Dollar Store – $10)
    • battery terminals with wires (20 – $10)
  • Gami-Bots
    • business cards ($5)
    • coin pager motors (50 from ebay – $25; I got extras as sometimes the wires pull out and sometimes the campers want to make more than one)
    • coin batteries – used for several projects (200 from ebay – $20)
  • Wiggle or Art Bots
  • Paper Circuits
    • coin batteries (purchased quantity under Gami-bots)
    • 5 MM LED lights (purchased quantity under Squishy Circuits
    • copper tape (2 rolls of 1/8″ x 55 yd – $15)
  • Minecraft Blocks and Dollhouses
    • Cardstock (150 sheet pack from Walmart – $5.50)
  • Miscellaneous Supplies (found at school)
    • Tape
    • Two sided tape
    • Scissors
    • Paper
    • Butcher Block Paper
    • Markers

The total budget for serving 20 kids for 2.5 hours per day for 5 days was about $450 noting that the games and kits ($200 of the money) used to kick-off the camp were one time purchases. They will be used again for future camps. It ended up being $22 for each camper for the entire week – $12.50 without the games or kits. Having a materials fee; or doing DonorsChoose.org or a fundraiser can easily cover these costs.

What follows are descriptions and how-tos for the circuit activities at did at this maker camp.

Introduction to Circuits with Games and Manipulatives

To introduce learners to circuits, they played with:

For the first morning, I set up stations for each of the above. Learners were asked to work with a partner or two. They moved to any station at any time as long as they spent time finishing several projects at a given station.

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Squishy Circuits

Squishy Circuits uses conductive and insulating play dough to teach the basics of electrical circuits in a fun, hands-on way. There’s no need for breadboards or soldering – just add batteries and pre-made doughs (or make your own dough). Squishy Circuits are very simple and is based on two play doughs – one that is conductive (electricity flows through it) and one that is insulative (does not allow electricity to flow through it). Power is supplied by a 4AA battery pack and travels through the conductive dough to provide power to LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes), buzzers, or motors.  https://squishycircuits.com/what-is-squishy-circuits/

This PDF was shared with the makers campers: Squishy Circuits Introduction PDF.  It provides some background and simple get started activities.

I then project resources on the Whiteboard to spark ideas for creative use of Squishing Circuits:  http://www.pearltrees.com/jackiegerstein/squishy-circuits/id15355392squishy

 

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Gami-Bots

A Gami-Bot is a simple DIY origami robot that is made from a vibration motor, business card, 3v cell battery, and tape. It is so easy it practically builds itself (https://otherlab.com/blog/post/howtoons-gami-bot).

This was developed by Howtoons. They now sell it as a kit but I buy all of the materials separately as they are simple materials and easily accessible.

Directions can be found via this Howtoons cartoon:

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This is a high engagement, low entry activity for both younger and older (like adults) learners. I encourage learners to decorate them to make them more anthropomorphic and to engage in free play after their creation which often translates into competitions such as racing and length of time staying in determined area.

 

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Wiggle and Art Bots

As this was a summer camp with a budget, my “big” purchase for this camp was Wiggle Bots bought from TeachGeek , but with a few parts like 3v motors, AA batteries, AA battery holders, plastic cups, markers, and tape, learners can easily make their own wiggle and art bots. See my page of resources on Artbots and Scribbling Machines at http://www.makereducation.com/artbots–scribbling-machines.html

 

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LED Paper Projects

The last two days of camp were spent making LED projects:

  • Minecraft Blocks
  • Paper Circuits
  • Circuit City

Minecraft Blocks

I printed off paper templates for Minecraft Blocks from http://stlmotherhood.com/diy-minecraft-light-blocks-diamond-emerald-redstone/. (Yes, it requires a color copier which all of the schools where I work [including the Title 1 ones) have.) Campers were instructed to cut them out and hole punch out “windows” in their blocks to allow the light to shine out. After assembling their blocks leaving the top open, they inserted LED lights with coin batteries taped into place.

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http://www.technologystudent.com/elec_flsh/button1.html

 

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Paper Circuits

I printed off the the parallel and switch circuit templates found at paper-circuit-project-templates. I printed them in color but black and write would have been fine. Additional materials for this project were LEDs, copper tape, and coin batteries. The templates are pretty self-explanatory so I walked around and gave the campers assisted when needed.

 

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Circuit City

Finally, learners were given templates for paper house structures (https://www.template.net/business/paper-templates/paper-house-template/ – I encouraged campers to add lit LEDs as they did for their Minecraft blocks. They were asked to also use their Minecraft blocks and their paper circuits as part of the city. The miscellaneous materials (craft sticks, straws) were also available for them to use. A large piece of butcher block paper was placed on the floor and the learners were given the following simple directions, “Create a city out of your paper crafts: your houses, Minecraft blocks, and paper circuits. You can use the extra LED/coin batteries and markers to add to your city.” Once their city was complete, I darkened the room.

This is the second time I’ve done this activity, and both times, I observed the campers having lots of fun doing some spontaneous role play interacting with the city and each other.

 

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 8, 2017 at 4:41 pm

The Classroom or Library as a Maker Space

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Makerspaces, Maker Education, STEM, and STEAM are gaining lots of traction in Kindergarten though college level education. Articles, resources on social media, and conference presentations on these topics are proliferating at a rate that most educators are now familiar with maker education.

Makerspaces like vocational shops and science labs are great additions to schools. They often contain the tools, machinery, and technologies associated with making – 3D printers, laser cutters, vinyl cutters, high tech robotics, vocational tech machinery. These are great for educational institutions and learners that can afford them.

Problems occur when administrators, educators, learners, and communities come to believe that maker education is synonymous with these tools and spaces. First, they may be out of budget for schools especially those serving lower income populations. Second, the regular classroom teacher or librarian may be intimidated with these advanced tools and technologies. Finally, in order to prevent maker education in becoming the educational flavor of the month, administrators, educators, and libraries need to not be seduced by these high tech tools. The longevity and sustainability of maker education will depend on making it feasible, approachable, and accessible to the masses of educators.

A classroom or library can be transformed into its own makerspace, a space for powerful student learning by doing the following realistic and workable actions:

  • Removal of Obsolete, Non-Flexible Classroom Desks (including the traditional teacher’s desk)
  • Spaces for Playing, Tinkering, Making, Collaborating, Discussing, Researching, Reflecting
  • An Agile and Nimble Learning Environment
  • Materials Openly and Easily Available
  • Materials and Activities to Spark Diverse Learners and Their Diverse Interests
  • Scavenged Materials
  • A Place and Space That Supports Chaos and Messiness
  • Accessible, Low-Entry, High Ceiling Materials and Activities
  • A Learning Environment Driven by Learner Choice and Voice
  • The Space Screams of Fun and Engagement
  • The Space Screams of a Maker Mindset Not the Stuff

classroom makerspace

Removal of Archaic, Non-Flexible Classroom Desks

The image that often comes to mind about the classroom desk is one that features a plastic chair with chrome legs and a fiberboard tabletop that partially encloses a student’s body (for a history of the classroom desk, see A Visual History of School Desks). The first step for creating a classroom or library space that supports making is to get rid of these archaic pieces of furniture that seem to have been invented more for control than for learning.

The idea that students must be seated at desks working in rows is quickly becoming archaic. Technology and collaborative work environments are changing the design of learning spaces. Experts hope that the emerging paradigm will translate into improved learning spaces (Learning Environment: 20 Things Educators Need to Know about Learning Spaces).

Spaces for Playing, Tinkering, Making, Collaborating, Discussing, Researching, Reflecting

Classroom educators and librarians may wonder how they might create spaces for playing, tinkering, making, collaborating, discussing, researching, and reflecting. First and foremost, they need to develop an innovator’s mindset, one outside of the box of what a classroom should look, sound, and be like. Second, practitioners need to become intentional in insuring that a full spectrum of making skills, attitudes, and knowledge is offered to learners. What will follow is educators and librarians who are creative, innovative, and resourceful in creating spaces that can offer a variety of learning activities. The types of desired learning activities should drive how the learning space should be set up as discussed in the case studies reported by the Hechinger Report article, Personalized Learning: Why Your Classroom Should Sound Like A Coffee Shop:

As a first step, they began with ideas and used them to define the space. Searching questions such as “What types of activities will define this flexible space?” were used to escape the constraints of the physical space and get beyond our own set of normal limitations.

An Agile and Nimble Learning Environment

The intentional use of flexible seating that form agile and nimble learning spaces support the learning intentions discussed in the previous section.

An agile learning environment is an educational playground that is intentionally designed to be adjustable, exchangeable and moveable. The learning space is designed to support idea generation, collaboration and experimentation. agile learning environments ultimately showcase how the design of a physical space, as well as the implementation of technology within that space, can shift how people communicate with one another.

The primary goal of an agile learning environment is flexibility. The furniture in the space, and the technology used within it, are flexible so that it can be configured and re-configured to suit different approaches to learning and teaching. An agile learning environment has the ability to turn a static or ‘dead’ space into a dynamic space (The primary goal of an agile learning environment).

With some creativity and flexibility, the practitioner can set up a unique, multipurpose space to serve the goals of making, the learners, and multipurpose uses specified above. The spaces become agile and nimble. There are lots of resources that discuss flexible seating. Here is a ScoopIt aggregate of resources  http://www.scoop.it/t/flexible-seating-1

Affordable Materials Openly and Easily Accessible

In a learner-centered classroom environment, materials are displayed openly – being accessible to the learners on an as-needed-when-needed basis.  Both of the elementary schools where I work have general consumables for educators (and I believe it’s true for most schools): xerox paper, butcher block paper, crayons, scissors, tape, markers, rubber bands, paper clips. These materials are stored openly in bins in cubbies for my learners. Here is a list of affordable materials from Education Closet’s 114 Tips to Create a STEAM Makerspace in Schools:

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Materials such as these can provide a foundation for making; brainstorming, prototyping, reflecting and should be available for learners to use for their making activities without asking the teacher. Having them displayed can spark learners’ ideas. So when a learner says, “I need some paper.” (They ask because of their previous school experiences.) My comment back is, “Then go get it.”

Materials and Activities to Spark Diverse Learners and Their Diverse Interests

The maker education and maker spaces movements are way too often symbolized by the machines; 3D printers, laser cutters, high tech components (Raspberry Pi and Arduino) and way too often it is white males who are attracted to these machines. In order to respect the diverse learners represented by gender, age, ethnic and racial background, then first, the definition of making needs to be expanded. As Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame noted in his 2016 Bay Area Maker Faire talk:

What is making? It is a term for an old thing, it is a new term for an old thing. Let me be really clear, making is not simply 3D printing, Art Lino, Raspberry Pi, LEDs, robots, laser and vinyl cutters. It’s not simply carpentry and welding and sculpting and duct tape and drones. Making is also writing and dance and filmmaking and singing and photography and cosplay.

Every single time you make something from you that didn’t exist in the world, you are making. Making is important; it’s empowering. It is invigorating, but why? There are lots of results that are good that come from making. We improve the world around us. We show people how much we care about them. We solve problems, both personal and societal (Adam Savage’s 2016 Bay Area Maker Faire Talk).

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With this expanded definition of making, it follows that the activities and materials in the classroom or library should reflect the diverse learners and their specific interests.

Scavenged Materials

There are so many avenues for acquiring materials for the classroom or library seeking to be at least a part-time makerspace. Once educators open themselves up to all of the possibilities of making, they will find free materials everywhere – cardboard at stores; recycled plastic bottles at school or the local recycling center; the storage closest at school where all of the old science kits are stored (I’ve found them at every school where I work) with all kinds of making supplies; old technologies and appliances for learners to take apart and build new inventions.

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A Place and Space That Supports Chaos and Messiness

Traditional classrooms and libraries are often marked by students at their desks completing their learning tasks quietly, independently with as little movement of possible. This is opposite of what happens in a making environment. The classroom or library becomes loud, seemingly chaotic, and messy, but authentic and engaged learning is often messy.

Learning is often a messy business. “Messy” learning is part trial and error, part waiting and waiting for something to happen, part excitement in discovery, part trying things in a very controlled, very step by step fashion, part trying anything you can think of no matter how preposterous it might seem, part excruciating frustration and part the most fun you’ll ever have. Time can seem to stand still – or seem to go by in a flash. It is not unusual at all for messy learning to be …um …messy!  But the best part of messy learning is that besides staining your clothes, or the carpet, or the classroom sink in ways that are very difficult to get out … it is also difficult to get out of your memory! (http://www.learningismessy.com/quotes/)

Accessible, Low-Entry, High Ceiling Materials and Activities

“When discussing technologies to support learning and education, my mentor Seymour Papert often emphasized the importance of “low floors” and “high ceilings.” For a technology to be effective, he said, it should provide easy ways for novices to get started (low floor) but also ways for them to work on increasingly sophisticated projects over time (high ceiling).” Mitch Resnick in https://design.blog/2016/08/25/mitchel-resnick-designing-for-wide-walls/

I do conference presentations where I have educators and librarians make paper circuits and Gami-bots. The success rate for these projects is 100% which translates into low entry into making (I took liberty to change low low to low entry). At one of my recent workshops, one teacher made the following design out of her paper circuit which says, “The moment your realize you can be a maker.”

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Similar materials can also create a high ceiling or more complex activities such as advanced art projects, most complex paper circuit projects, use of more advanced maker technologies.

A Learning Environment Driven by Learner Choice and Voice

The bottom line of setting up a learning environment based on the tenets typically associated with making is that learner voice and choice is enhanced. When choice and voice are intentionally built into learning then school and education work.

School works when students have opportunities to produce quality work about issues that matter. Education works when people have opportunities to find and develop unaccessed or unknown voices and skills. Audre Lord poignantly describes this “transformation of silence into language and action [as] an act of self-revelation.” Opportunities for flexibility and choice assist learners in finding passion, voice, and revelation through their work (Student Choice Leads to Student Voice).

The Space Screams of Fun and Engagement; a Place for and By Learners

Piaget famously noted that play is the work of children and I have the belief that all humans maintain the sense of wonder of a child. Embedding fun into making; into learning in general increases engagement, joy, creativity, innovation, and collaboration.

In our test-driven educational world of today being on task and on time in many schools leaves little time for play. Lunch periods have been shortened and days and years have been lengthened in an apparent quest to make our students into perfect little technicians, automatons who can react specifically in isolation to a set of pre- set stimuli in a consistent and certain way. Little room is left for the unexpected or the un-planned in our modern classrooms. It is a strangely disastrous way to prepare our children for a future where it appears that the only constant will be continual change. By play I do not mean little league, dance, or any other adult controlled activity. It must be kid controlled, kid directed, and kid policed for real learning about life to take place. Is it possible that our current infatuation with the concept that spending more time on something will make it better is so logical and easily observable and testable that just as logic and observation has in the past it might make people believe that the Earth is flat? (“Play is the work of children”….. J. Piaget).

Fun can be felt, seen, experienced when as soon as learners and visitors walk into the space.  I love watching the faces on visitors when they enter my own classroom. They light up as they see my sofas, chairs, lamps; making supplies in cubbies in the back of the room; and most of all my learners’ work such as LED lit on student-generated posters hanging on the wall, paper roller coasters in-process of being made, and Lego creations on the Lego wall.

The Space Screams the Maker Mindset Not the Stuff

The battle cry of educators using educational technology is that the pedagogy needs to come before the technology. I am baffled, then, why I go to edtech conferences and find so many sessions on the technology, e.g., 60 apps in 60 minutes. The same seems to be true for the maker movement these days. Practitioners talk about the maker mindset and then speak of the shiny new toys they use without talking about the context – of what skills and knowledge students learn from it. For example, with the 3D printer, they might talk about the Yoda they made and I say, “So what?” It really is about having a maker mindset not about the shiny, new maker tools. It’s about the making process; about the engagement, creativity, innovation, struggles to complete a difficult task, sense of accomplishment. A cardboard box, for example, can become a chariot, rocket, robot, marble run, Foosball game, dollhouse, Hot Wheels track, house, fort, castle, game.

We must exercise the discipline to refrain from attaching too quickly to an idea just because it’s new. Making is no exception, so to truly prepare ourselves to be successful in this new venture, let’s be sure we set our students up to have the right mindset to be courageous innovators (6 Must-Haves for Developing a Maker Mindset).

With a maker mindset and some of the strategies outlined above, any classroom or library can become a makerspace.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 2, 2017 at 2:09 pm

Documenting and Reflecting on Learning

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I am a strong proponent of encouraging learners of all ages to engage in reflective practice.

Learners do not just receive information only at the time it is given; they absorb information in many different ways, often after the fact, through reflection. The most powerful learning often happens when students self-monitor, or reflect. Students may not always be aware of what they are learning and experiencing. Teachers must raise students’ consciousness about underlying concepts and about their own reactions to these concepts. ETE Team

Documenting Learning

Silvia Tolisano sees documenting learning as:

  • a process of intentional documenting serves a metacognitive purpose
  • a creative multimedia expression (oral, visual, textual)
  • a component of reflective practice
  • taking ownership of one’s learning
  • a memory aid
  • curation
  • being open for feedback  (Documenting FOR Learning)

http://langwitches.org/blog/2014/07/01/documenting-for-learning/

Blogging as a Form of Documenting Learning and Reflection

I find blogging to be a one of the most powerful ways to documenting learning and engage in reflective practice.

Blogging has its own unique benefits as Sylvia Duckworth’s Sketchnote summarizes:

Top-10-Reasons-for-Students-to-Blog-Sylvia-Duckworth-CC-BY-flickr

Experiential, STEM, STEAM, and maker education are the focus of my gifted education classes. The learners in my gifted education classes have access to Chromebooks.  Having learners take pictures of their artifacts and describing what they did is a standard practice in my classes.

Sometimes I list vocabulary words I ask learners to include in their blogs. For example, for a design challenge, I asked learners to include the following vocabulary:

  • design thinking
  • communicate
  • empathy
  • tolerance

Here are some example blog posts from 6th grade students:

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Blogging, as opposed to keeping a hand-written journal of classroom experiences, has unique advantages in my classroom:

  • Learners can easily include photos of their work.
  • Work is easily reviewed and edited for errors.
  • Learners’ classmates can easily view and comment on one another’s work.
  • Blogging acts as a formative assessment whereby I, as the educator, get an opportunity to learn what elements of the projects were significant for my learners.

A Picture Tells So Many Stories

Because my classroom activities are high engagement, learners become totally immersed in the activities. They aren’t interested in taking photos during the activities. Also due to the student-centric nature of the learning activities, my role becomes that of facilitator walking through the classroom and visiting with individual groups of students to find out what they are doing, answer questions, give feedback. This guide-on-the-side role allows me to take lots of photos of the students. In essence, then, I become the official photography documenting student learner so they and their parents have an archive of the school year’s activity. We review these photos throughout the school year as a form of reflection. It’s fun to hear the learner comments exclaiming joy and amazement in what they learned earlier in the school year.

Here are links to photos I took for my two gifted classes and posted to a shared folder on Google Photos during the 2016-17 school year:

A Final Reflection

As a way to wrap-up the school year, learners should be given the opportunity to review their work from the past school year. For my learners, I asked them to look through all of the photos I took and the blog posts they wrote and choose between 5 and 10 of their most favorite and best projects. (It was great listening them express their delight in reviewing all of the projects they completed during the school year.) After selecting these, learners were asked to create a presentation of their chosen works using one of the following options:

They then presented their work to their peers and a group of adults: parents, school officials, visitors to the school.

A few afterthoughts about this final activity:

  • Throughout the school year, learners were asked to present their learning in front audiences. One of the students has a dual diagnosis – gifted and Asperger’s. This student wouldn’t even talk to the group at the beginning of the year. Loved the confidence shown during the final presentation.
  • The final presentations gave me, as the educator, a type of program evaluation where I got the opportunity to learn the most significant classroom projects from my learners’ perspectives.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 21, 2017 at 5:42 pm

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