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Assessing STE(A)M Learning

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In Learning in the Making, I discuss assessment as follows:

Educators should be clear about how and why they include assessment in their instruction. They need to be strategic and intentional in its use. Assessment should be about informing learners about their performance so increased learning and future improvements can result. “Assessment is the process of gathering and discussing information from multiple and diverse sources in order to develop a deep understanding of what students know, understand, and can do with their knowledge as a result of their educational experiences; the process culminates when assessment results are used to improve subsequent learning” (Huba & Freed, 2000, p. 8). 

During Fall, 2019, I taught a graduate level STE(A)M [Science, Technology, Engineering, (Arts), Math] course for Antioch University. Their last major assignment was to create methods for assessing STE(AM) learning. My goal was for the students, who are classroom teachers, to develop assessment strategies based on above. The description of the assignment follows:

Create a list possible strategies to assess students STEM/STEAM projects. It should be tailored to the (expected) age level of your learners, the focus of your learning activities (STEM, STEAM, or STREAM). Discuss several forms of formative and summative assessments that you can draw upon when you teach STEAM-based lessons. Review the following:

In developing your strategies and ideas include at least one strategy from each of the following:

  • Documenting Learning Strategies (formative)
  • Reflecting on Learning (formative)
  • Strategies that Leverage Technology, e.g., blogs, podcasts, videos, online tools (formative and summative) 
  • Assessing the Cross-Curricular Standards and Goals Associated with STEAM Education (formative and summative)
  • Going Beyond the Rubric (formative and summative)

You can share it in written form or create your version of assessment ideas using one of the following EdTech tools (they have free versions):

Student Examples

Two example student projects follow. One chose to use Book Creator while the other selected Piktochart. What was impressive to me was the professionalism of their work – both in their content and presentation, and that they created work that has the potential to be beneficial and useful for a wide audience of educators.

STE(A)M Assessments via Book Creator

Assessing STREAM

STE(A)M Assessments via Piktochart

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 8, 2019 at 6:00 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

A Maker Education PD Workshop

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I had the privilege of presenting a day long maker education workshop at Edutech Asia on November 7, 2019. I was excited about having teachers and other professionals from Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia, India, Malaysia, and New Zealand attend. What follows are some details and highlights.

As they arrived in the morning, I asked them to access the workshop slides and create a name card lit up with an LED.

They then used these name cards to introduce themselves.

Next, they were provided with copper tape, coin batteries, LEDs, and Chibitronics’ circuit stickers along with instructions about how to make series and parallel circuits; and asked to create pictures from their circuits. Here is a video of some of the participants sharing their processes:

Then, they were asked to further reflect on their learning by playing my Maker Reflection Game.

They were then introduced to their next making segment in which they could pick to do one or more of the following projects:

  • Bristlebots
  • Gami-bots
  • More advanced paper circuits
  • micro:bit books
  • Makey-Makey Characters

I repeatedly encouraged them to take pictures throughout their making processes in order to document their learning.

To reflect on this making segment, they were introduced to several types of online educational technology creation tools to use for their reflective piece. I believe that reflection and assessment should be as fun, exciting, valuable, and informative as the making process itself. Here are some examples from the workshop:



Finally, they were instructed to create a poster using visuals and LEDs in their small groups about their day and how they can apply their learnings when they return to their work environments.

. . . and here are the slides provided to the participants:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 18, 2019 at 2:36 am

Language Arts Lesson Using a micro:book

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In Learning in the Making I discuss the importance of and strategies for integrating technology into the curriculum.

Maker education needs to be intentional. It follows, then, that if we want to bring maker education into more formal and traditional classrooms—as well as more informal environments such as afterschool and community programs—it needs to be integrated into the curriculum using lesson plans. This chapter begins with a discussion of the characteristics of an effective maker education curriculum and then suggests a lesson plan framework for maker education– enhanced lesson plans.  A powerful maker education curriculum includes the following elements: 

  • Instructional challenges are hands-on, experiential, and naturally engaging for learners. 
  • Learning tasks are authentic and relevant, and they promote life skills outside of the formal classroom. 
  • Challenges are designed to be novel and create excitement and joy for learners. 
  • Learner choice and voice are valued. 
  • Lessons address cross-curricular standards and are interdisciplinary (like life).
  • Learning activities get learners interested in and excited about a broad array of topics, especially in the areas of science, engineering, math, language arts, and fine arts. 
  • Communication, collaboration, and problem solving are built into the learning process. 
  • Reading and writing are integrated into learning activities in the form of fun, interesting books and stories and through writing original stories, narratives, and journalistic reports. 
  • Educational technology is incorporated in authentic ways; the emphasis is not to learn technology just for the sake of learning it. 

Educators need to approach their curriculum and lessons with a maker mindset. With this mindset, they can figure out creative ways to integrate maker activities into existing lessons and instructional activities. Educators in these situations start with the standards and objectives of their lessons, as they typically do with “regular” lessons, and then design or identify maker activities that meet the standards and the lesson. It simply becomes a matter of “How can I add a making element to my lessons to reinforce concepts being learned?” 

The micro:book Lesson

After showing the micro:book activity (see https://make.techwillsaveus.com/microbit/activities/animated-microbook) to a bi-lingual co-teacher, Natalia, she took off with it to develop a lesson to teach her Spanish-speaking students types of sentences. See the video below for her explanation of this lesson and a student example.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 9, 2019 at 2:44 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

Design a Cardboard Chair Challenge

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In Learning in the Making: How to Plan, Execute, and Assess Powerful Makerspace Lessons, I discuss a Framework for Implementing Maker Experiences as depicted in the following diagram.

I recently asked my 9th grade students to do a cardboard chair challenge. What follows is how the students went through this framework.

Framing or Frontloading the Experience

Framing or frontloading a maker education experience increases the chances that transferable skills and knowledge result, is framing or frontloading the activities as part of introducing them.

This activity was framed as a continuation of the team building and group communication activities in which the students participated the previous week. They were told that they needed to practice the effective communication skills they identified during the previous activities.

The Experience

The experience is, obviously, the doing or making part of the framework. Below is a cardboard chair challenge guide I found from Creativity Lab and which was shared with students via Google Classroom.

Materials

Designs Created in Tinkercad

In their small groups, they created their chair designs using Tinkercad.

Chair Construction

In their teams, students built their cardboard chairs using the Zip Snip Cutting Tool and the Makedo screws to connect the cardboard pieces (worked wonderfully I want to add).

Reflecting on the Experience

To reflect on their maker experiences, student work groups were given a set of cards (see below) to, first, pick cards from the deck to verbally answer, and to, second, choose three of the cards to answer in a blog post.

Example Verbal Responses to the Reflection Questions

Reflection Card Blog Post Examples

The Conceptualization: Researching

Finally, students were asked to create a infographics

Example Student Infographics


Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 18, 2019 at 11:51 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

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