User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Posts Tagged ‘maker education

Robot-Enhanced Creative Writing and Storytelling (featuring Ozobot and Wonder’s Dot)

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There have been complaints leveraged against out of the box robots like Dash and Dot, Ozobot, Hummingbird, Sphero. The complaints usually revolve around the canned and prescriptive nature of their uses and programs, that they lack creative engagement by the younger users. I personally love the excitement my learners have using these robots. As with all tools and technologies and with creative framing, though, they can be used in creative and imaginative ways.

Mention robots to many English teachers and they’ll immediately point down the hall to the science classroom or to the makerspace, if they have one. At many schools, if there’s a robot at all, it’s located in a science or math classroom or is being built by an after-school robotics club. It’s not usually a fixture in English classrooms. But as teachers continue to work at finding new entry points to old material for their students, robots are proving to be a great interdisciplinary tool that builds collaboration and literacy skills. (How Robots in English Class Can Spark Empathy and Improve Writing)

This past term, I had my 2nd through 4th grade students work on their robot-enhanced creative writing and stories. In small groups, students were asked to create a fictional storyline and use StoryboardThat.com to create both the physical scenes and the accompanying narrative. As part of their directions, they were told that they were going to create a 3D setting out of cardboard boxes, foam board, LED lights, and other craft materials; and that they would use Wonder’s Dot with the Blocky App and Ozobot as the characters in their stories. Preparation time was divided between storyboarding, creating the scene, and learning how to use/code the robots. Because of all of the preparation and practice, the recording actually went quite quick and smoothly.

Here is a break down of the learning events that learners were asked to complete:

In small groups, create a storyboard using StoryboardThat which includes both the scenes and the narration.

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Create the scenes or setting using craft materials, cardboard boxes, foam board, LED lights

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Learn how to use and code Ozobots and Wonder’s Dot

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Work out the details of completed stories prior to recording

. . . and here are their recorded stories (along with some clips of their preparation). They did such a good job – it is very much worth a view.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 15, 2018 at 9:58 pm

Assessing Maker Education Projects

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assessment

Institutionalized education has given assessment a bad reputation; often leaves a sour taste in the mouths of many teachers, students, and laypeople. This is primarily due to the testing movement, the push towards using student assessment in the form of tests as a measure of student, teacher, principal, and school accountability.

Educators should be clear about why they include assessment in their instruction; be strategic and intentional in its use. For me, assessment really should be about informing the learner about his or her performance so that increased learning and future improvement result for that learner.

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. (Learner-Centered Assessment on College Campuses: Shifting the Focus from Teaching to Learning)

As Hattie, Fry, and Fischer note in Developing “Assessment Capable” Learners:

If we want students to take charge of their learning, we can’t keep relegating them to a passive role in the assessment process.

When we leave students out of assessment considerations, it is akin to fighting with one arm tied behind our backs. We fail to leverage the best asset we have: the learners themselves. What might happen if students were instead at the heart of the assessment process, using goals and results to fuel their own learning? ((http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb18/vol75/num05/Developing-%C2%A3Assessment-Capable%C2%A3-Learners.aspx)

Maker Education and Assessment

As maker education infiltrates more formal educational settings, there’s been and will continue to be efforts to include assessment as part of its implementation. It is important, though, to keep in mind the characteristics of maker education and the role assessment has within it.

Making innately provides evidence of learning. The artifact that results, in addition to the process that a student works through, provides a wealth of evidence, indicators, and data of their learning. Overall, though, assessing making comes back to the original (and difficult) question of what learning outcomes we’re seeking. Assessment is critical for understanding the scope and impact of learning, as well as the associated teaching, environment, culture, and content. (https://www.edutopia.org/blog/assessment-in-making-stephanie-chang-chad-ratliff)

Being a teacher, you’re constantly faced with having to assess student learning,” said Simon Mangiaracina, a sixth-grade STEM teacher. “We’re so used to grading work and giving a written assessment or a test. When you’re involved in maker education it should be more dynamic than that.” Part of the difficulty is that, in evaluating a maker project, teachers don’t want to undo all of the thinking that went into it. For instance, one of the most important lessons maker education can teach is not to fear failure and to take mistakes and let them inform an iterative design process — a research-informed variation of “guess and check” where students learn a process through a loop of feedback and evaluation.  (https://rossieronline.usc.edu/maker-education/7-assessment-types/  from USC Rossier’s online master’s in teaching program)

I have my gifted students do lots maker activities where I meet with the 2nd through 6th graders for 3 to 5 hours a week. Since I do not have to grade them (not in the traditional sense as I have to write quarterly progress reports), I don’t have to give them any tests (phew!). I do ask them, though, to assess their work. I believe as Dale Dougherty, founder of MAKE Magazine, does:

[Making] is intrinsic, whereas a lot of traditional, formal school is motivated by extrinsic measures, such as grades. Shifting that control from the teacher or the expert to the participant to the non-expert, the student, that’s the real big difference here. Dale Dougherty

Christa Flores in Alternative Assessments and Feedback in a MakerEd Classroom stated:

In a maker classroom, learning is inherently experiential and can be very student driven; assessment and feedback needs to look different than a paper test to accurately document and encourage learning. Regardless of how you feel about standardized testing, making seems to be immune to it for the time being (one reason some schools skip the assessment piece and still bill making as an enrichment program). Encouragingly, the lack of any obvious right answers about how to measure and gauge success and failure in a maker classroom, as well as the ambiguity about how making in education fits into the common standards or college readiness debate, has not stopped schools from marching forward in creating their own maker programs.

If the shift of control is given to the students within maker education settings, then it follows that the students should also be in charge of their assessments. One of the goals of maker education should be self-determined learning. This should include learners engaging in their own personal and personalized form of assessment.

Student self-assessment involves students in evaluating their own work and learning progress.

Self-assessment is a valuable learning tool as well as part of an assessment process.  Through self-assessment, students can:

  • identify their own skill gaps, where their knowledge is weak
  • see where to focus their attention in learning
  • set realistic goals
  • revise their work
  • track their own progress
  • if online, decide when to move to the next level of the course

This process helps students stay involved and motivated and encourages self-reflection and responsibility for their learning. (https://teachingcommons.stanford.edu/resources/teaching/evaluating-students/assessing-student-learning/student-self-assessment)

Witnessing the wonders of making in education teaches us to foster an environment of growth and self-actualization by using forms of assessment that challenge our students to critique both their own work and the work of their peers. This is where the role of self-assessment begins to shine a light. Self-assessment can facilitate deeper learning as it requires students to play a more active role in the cause of their success and failures as well as practice a critical look at quality. (Role and Rigor of Self-Assessment in Maker Education by Christa Flores in http://fablearn.stanford.edu/fellows/sites/default/files/Blikstein_Martinez_Pang-Meaningful_Making_book.pdf)

Documenting Learning

To engage in the self-assessment process of their maker activities, I ask learners to document their learning.

We need to integrate documenting practices as part of making activities as well as designing, tinkering, digital fabrication, and programming in order to enable students to document their own learning process and experiment with the beauty of building shared knowledge. Documentation is a hard task even for adults, but it is not so hard if you design a reason and a consistent expectation that everyone will collect and organize the things they will share. (Documenting a Project Using a “Failures Box” by Susanna Tesconi in http://fablearn.stanford.edu/fellows/sites/default/files/Blikstein_Martinez_Pang-Meaningful_Making_book.pdf)

Documenting their learning can include one or a combination of the following methods:

  • Taking notes
  • Talking to a fellow learner or two.
  • Making sketches
  • Taking photos
  • Doing audio recordings
  • Making videos

(For more information, see Documenting Learning https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2016/04/08/documenting-learning/)

The folks at Digital Promise have the following message for maker educators regarding documentation:

Make the documentation an organic and expected part of the process. When documentation feels like it is added without reason, students struggle to engage with the documentation process. Help students consider how in-process documentation and reflection can help them adapt and improve the project they are working on. Help them see the value of taking time to stop and think.(http://global.digitalpromise.org/teachers-guide/documenting-maker-projects/)

Documenting learning during the making process serves several purposes related to assessment:

  1. It acts as ongoing and formative assessment.
  2. It gives learners the message that the process of learning is as important as the products of learning, so that their processes as well as their products are assessed. (For more information on the process of learning, see Focusing on the Process: Letting Go of Product Expectations https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2017/12/17/focusing-on-the-process-letting-go-of-product-expectations/)

Maker Project Reflections

Because many students haven’t had the experience of reflection and self-assessment, I ease them into this process.  With my gifted students, I ask them to blog their reflections after almost all of their maker education activities. They take pictures of their makes, and I ask them to discuss what they thought they did especially well, and what they would do differently in a similar future make. Here are some examples:

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Teacher and Peer Feedback

The learners’ peers and their educators can view their products, documented learning, and reflections in order to provide additional feedback. A culture of learning is established within the maker education community in that teacher and peer feedback is offered and accepted on an ongoing basis. With this type of openness and transparency of the learning process, this feedback not only benefits that individual student but also the other students as they learn from that student what worked and didn’t work which in turn can help them with their own makes.

The Use of Assessment Rubrics

As a final thought, there has been some thoughts and efforts into using rubrics as assessment tools. Here is one developed by Lisa Yokana and discussed in Creating an Authentic Maker Education Rubric 

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I think rubrics, such as this, can be of value in assessing student work and/or having them assess their own work, but I prefer more open ended forms of assessment so the learners can but more of their selves into the process.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 5, 2018 at 10:01 pm

Reflecting on Maker Experiences with Reflection Cards

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I’ve discussed the importance of reflection in my Framework for Maker Education; and specifically discussed reflecting on the maker experiences in several of my blog posts:

One of my friends and colleagues, Lucie DdeLaBruere, interviewed me and recently blogged about my thoughts and strategies for reflecting on the maker experience in Create Make Learn: March 5 – Reflection as part of Maker Centered Learning http://createmakelearn.blogspot.com/2018/03/march-5-reflection-as-part-of-maker.html?spref=tw

One of the tools I use to facilitate the reflective process is a board game – see below.

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Some of the things that I believe makes this game successful are:

  • The questions provide the prompts but they are open enough to be personalized by the learners.
  • The game promotes discourse and active listening.
  • The interactive and semi-structure of the game make it fun for the learners.

Because of the success of the game, I was motivated to create a similar tool for maker reflections. I created a set of reflection cards that I believe can facilitate some deeper reflection.

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 10, 2018 at 5:44 pm

The Magic of Making: The Human Need to Create

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Recently I had the privilege of facilitating two half day workshops entitled, A Framework for Maker Education. The workshop including several mini-sessions of participants creating their own maker projects (Paper Circuits, Squishy Circuits, Gami-Bots, Brush bots, and micro:bit projects). What struck me most during these creating sessions was the high degree of energy, excitement, and joy in the room – it was palatable – with 100% participant engagement. As evidence, see the photos below:

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The conclusion I came up with for this energy and engagement was that the human need to create is innate; and that too many people, starting during their childhood public education, stop creating. When they were given the opportunity, permission/invitation, materials, and methods, they fully embraced making and creating.

I believe that educators can be intentional in setting up environments where learners’ propensity to create flourishes. Some elements that can assist with this kind of unbridled making and creating include:

  • Open ended projects that promote self-directed differentiation and personalization.
  • Choice of projects, methods, materials.
  • Some structure but lots of room for a personal touch; lots of room for creativity.
  • Educators letting go of expectations what the final project should look like.
  • Focus on the processes of learning.
  • Focus on the social emotional aspects of learning – collaboration, persistence, acceptance of failure.
  • Acceptance of a learner’s projects based on their own criteria of excellence rather than of the educator’s.
  • Reflection is built into the process so learners can revisit their projects with a critical eye.

Conditions for Creating

Open ended projects that promote self-directed differentiation and personalization

Open ended projects equal lots of options for what the learners can make. So given similar materials and methods, each learner is able to create a project based on his or her own interests and skills. For example, during the workshop, learners were instructed how to make a simple paper circuit but then transformed that paper circuit into a personalized art piece as can be seem in the images above.

Open ended projects permit each student to naturally and instinctively to work at or slightly above his or her ability level.  One of results or consequences of providing such activities is an increase in learner engagement, excitement, and motivation. Open ended learning activities permit and encourage learners to bring their “selves” into the work. They become agents of their own learning. Because of this freedom, they often shine as true selves come through. Learners often surprise both the educator and themselves with what they produce and create. It becomes passion-based learning.  Not only do the activities become self-differentiated, they become personalized. (Natural Differentiation and Personalization Through Open Ended Learning Activities)

Choice matters

Choice in the maker education environment can include a choice of projects; a choice of materials; and a choice of methods. During the maker education workshop, learning stations were set up from which the learners could choose: more advanced paper circuits, Gami-bots, bristlebots, Squishy Circuits, and micro:bit projects. Not only were the learners able to choose which projects they wanted to create, but these projects offered them the option to add their own personal touches.

Learning that incorporates student choice provides a pathway for students to fully, genuinely invest themselves in quality work that matters. Participating in learning design allows students to make meaning of content on their own terms. Education works when people have opportunities to find and develop unaccessed or unknown voices and skills. Audre Lorde 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)

Some structure but lots of room for a personal touch; lots of room for creativity.

Learners, during these workshops, were provided with foundational skills for making the projects through direct instruction, videos, handouts that could then be used as springboards for their own creativity. Maker activities such as these were new to these learners; scaffolding was needed in order for them to develop the foundational skills which in turn increased their creativity.

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. (Scaffolding Maker Education Learning Experiences)

Educators letting go of expectations what the final project should look like.

In Focusing on the Process: Letting Go of Product Expectations , I discussed the following:

To truly focus on the process rather than products of learning, the educator needs to let go of expectations about the specific products that should be produced by the students. There are expectations regarding some of the processes in which learners should engage (e.g., divergent thinking, questioning, researching, creating, innovating) but the educator lets go of the pictures in her or his mind about what the products should look like.

The benefits for learners when the educator lets go of final product expections include:

  • They are not limited by my expectations nor the expectations of a lesson or assessment developed by an outside entity (e.g., textbook or testing company).
  • Their engagement, motivation, curiosity, and excitement increase.
  • They learn to tolerate and then embrace ambiguity.
  • They learn skills such as self-directed learning, taking initiative, locating resources, asking for help that can be transferred to all learning endeavors.
  • It reflects and models how learning occurs outside of school.
  • There is an increased investment and pride in their work.
  • They develop both a sense of confidence and a sense of competence.

Focus on the processes of learning.

When educators let go of expectations of what the products should be, which I believe is especially important in a maker education environment, the focus becomes on the processes of learning.

Focusing on the learning process emphasizes the students’ responsibility in the learning-teaching interaction. It both enables and encourages students to engage in their own learning. This engagement helps both students and teachers to build learning up from standards and to achieve competencies needed in our modern world. (Is Learning a Product or Process – part 2 )

Accept a learners’ projects based on their own criteria of excellence rather than of the educator’s criteria.

When the educator lets go of expectations of the final product, the learner develops his or his criteria of success.2018-03-05_0657 During one of my maker education workshops, one of the participants finished the basics of the introductory LED paper circuit activity. While the other participants were adding their artistic slants, J. sat there with her simple paper projectseemingly satisfied with her project. I went over to talk to her. She said that she was finished, and I said back to her, “That’s fine. You don’t have to do any embellishments if you choose not to.” She later told me of a second grade teacher who criticized her art (yikes – that teacher should have been fired). J. told me later that this acceptance of where she was at actually became encouragement for her to take some risks for later projects in the workshop. Her reflective piece included the following:

I learned a lot about myself about how I actually had been discouraged till now to try any kind of artsy or crafty projects, however, with encouragements from partners and Jackie, I was encouraged to go further and do/attempt additional Maker projects/products.

Focus on the social emotional aspects of learning – collaboration, persistence, acceptance of failure.

When the maker activities are open ended and process-oriented, social-emotional skills such as collaboration, acceptance of failure, and persistence naturally emerge.

Self-Awareness: Making in all its forms requires a full range of skills including cognitive, physical, and affective skills. Given this need for multiple and diverse skill set, effective and successful making comes from an accurate assessment of one’s strengths and limitations as well as having optimism and confidence that challenges can be overcome within the making process.

Self-Management: Making, especially making something new, often includes developing goals on the fly, revising those goals, and managing frustrations as the maker works through and learns new skills, processes, and knowledge related to that make.

Relationship skills: The power of being a maker is amplified when one works collaboratively on projects, gets help from others, and shares findings with others. (Maker Education and Social-Emotional Development)

The educator in this context plants the seeds of social emotional learning (SEL) through the use of language of SEL and strategic questioning such as:

  • What processes are you using to develop, assess, and revise your goals while making?
  • What strategies are you using to manage any frustrations or failures that are occurring during making your project?
  • How your using others to help you with your project?
  • How are you collaborating with your peers?
  • Are you asking for help if and when you get stuck making your project?
  • How are you sharing my ideas with others?

Here are some of the reflective comments by my workshop participants related to their social emotional learning:

This was the first time I had experimented with making electrical circuits and we tried some fun activities that I hope to apply in my classroom. In the first activity I learned that having a creative context or backstory to the work was motivating and helped me to extend myself beyond the basic task. In the final activity I found I was able to respond to a problem, persevere and create an original solution while maintaining the integrity of my design.

We were able to learn that in order to succeed we must try and try again. At times it was frustrating but we were able to collaborate between the team and find solutions and were able to solve the problems we faced.

Today I was reminded of the power of learning environments which invite creative, collaborative thinking  – curated with a variety of flexible materials which offer endless possibilities and room for all people to enter into play.

Reflection is built into the process so learners can revisit their projects with a critical eye.

Insuring that a reflective piece is included in the maker education process assists learners in developing their own criteria of excellence and evaluating their performance based on this criteria. The reflection process is as or even more important as the making itself. John Dewey famously stated, “We don’t learn from experience . . . we learn from reflecting on experience.” Reflection can be a form of making in itself. Participants, during my workshops, were given the option to reflect on their learning using online tools such as word clouds, video creators, audio pieces, photo essays, online storybooks. What follows is a sampling of reflections from my maker education workshops. I used Google Slides so all reflections are aggregated in one location for access by all participants to later review and examine them:

 

Focusing on the Process: Letting Go of Product Expectations

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I am a process-oriented educator. I focus on how to learn rather than what to learn. I’ve addressed this in Freedom to Learn:

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In order to facilitate these desired elements of learning, I believe it is important to focus on the process of learning rather than the products of learning.

When learning is viewed as a product, and the same performance measure applies to all students, learning facilitation can be reduced to cookie-cutter teaching: same pieces of information and instruction are seen sufficient for all students. In a product-centered learning environment emphasis is often in doing activities – worksheets, charts, pre-designed projects – that are either teacher-made or provided by the publisher of the curriculum. The important part of completing these products is getting them right because these products are usually graded! Skilled and obedient students comply with these requests and try hard to get their tasks done right, yet there are many students who just leave them undone.

What about viewing learning as a process? Because students begin their daily/weekly/yearly learning from different levels of knowledge and understanding, they also will end up in different competency levels. And that is okay, honestly. We are not clones. Students shouldn’t be treated like ones. When learning is understood primarily as a process of acquisition and elaboration of information, the natural consequences in the classroom are ongoing differentiation and individualization. Approaching learning as an individual process helps us refocus learning and teaching: the student is in the nexus of her/his own learning, (Is Learning a Product or a Process?)

The following principles from Rogers’ Freedom to Learn are directly addressed when the process of learning becomes the intent of instructional practices:

Much significant learning is acquired through doing. “Placing the student in direct experiential confrontation with practical problems, social problems, ethical and philosophical problems, personal issues, and research problems, is one of the most effective modes of promoting learning” (p. 162).

Learning is facilitated when the student participates responsibly in the learning process. “When he chooses his own directions, helps to discover his own learning resources, formulates his own problems, decides his own course of action, lives with the consequences of these choices, then significant learning is maximized” (p. 162).

The most socially useful learning in the modern world is the learning of the process of learning, a continuing openness to experience and incorporation into oneself of the process of change. If our present culture survives, it will be because we have been able to develop individuals for whom change is the central fact of life and who have been able to live comfortably with this central fact. They will instead have the comfortable expectation that it will be continuously necessary to incorporate new and challenging learnings about ever-changing situations. (pp. 163-164)

Weibell, C. J. (2011). Principles of learning: 7 principles to guide personalized, student-centered learning in the technology-enhanced, blended learning environment. Retrieved from https://principlesoflearning.wordpress.com.

To truly focus on the process rather than products of learning, the educator needs to let go of expectations about the specific products that should be produced by the students. There are expectations regarding some of the processes in which learners should engage (e.g., divergent thinking, questioning, researching, creating, innovating) but the educator lets go of the pictures in her or his mind about what the products should look like.

The benefits for my learners include:

  • They are not limited by my expectations nor the expectations of a lesson or assessment developed by an outside entity (e.g., textbook or testing company).
  • Their engagement, motivation, curiosity, and excitement increase.
  • They learn to tolerate and then embrace ambiguity.
  • Natural differentiation and individualization result.
  • They learn skills such as self-directed learning, taking initiative, locating resources, asking for help that can be transferred to all learning endeavors.
  • It reflects and models how learning occurs outside of school.
  • There is an increased investment and pride in their work.
  • They develop both a sense of confidence and a sense of competence.

The benefits for me, as the educator, include:

  • I work hard to pre-plan process-oriented classroom activities but the learners work harder than me during class time. Students should work harder than the educator during class time.
  • I am continually surprised at and elated about what learners produce. Because of this, I get to learn from them, too. We become a learning community.
  • I get to directly observe how each individual student approaches learning tasks. This furthers my ability to plan learning tasks tailored to the learners’ unique abilities and interests.
  • I get to experience the joy with them as they accomplish a learning task on their own using their own personal abilities, intelligence, learning strategies, and struggles. This joy rarely occurs with standardized curriculum and assessments.

Here are some examples of process-oriented learning activities I have done with my students:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 17, 2017 at 9:43 pm

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

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

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