User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Posts Tagged ‘passion-based learning

Natural Differentiation and Personalization Through Open Ended Learning Activities

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This past summer I facilitated maker education classes for 5 to 10 year old kids. This school year I am a gifted teacher meeting with 2nd through 6 grades one day per week per group. I like mixed age groups and have no problem designing learning activities for them. I realized that the reason for this is that these activities are open ended permitting each student to naturally and instinctively to work at or slightly above his or her ability level.  This actually is a definition of differentiation.

Many classrooms consist of students from different knowledge backgrounds, multiple cultures, both genders, and students with a range of disabilities or exceptionalities (Alavinia & Fardy, 2012). Differentiated instruction is defined as “a philosophy of teaching that is based on the premise that students learn best when their teachers accommodate the differences in their readiness levels, interest, and learning profiles” (Konstantinou-Katzi et al., 2012, p. 333). (in

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:

Personalization only comes when students have authentic choice over how to tackle a problem. A personalized environment gives students the freedom to follow a meaningful line of inquiry, while building the skills to connect, synthesize and analyze information into original productions. Diane Laufenberg in What Do We Really Mean When We Say ‘Personalized Learning’?

Personalized learning means that learning starts with the learner. Learning is tailored to the individual needs of each learner instead of by age or grade level. It is more than teaching to “one size fits all” or just moving to learner-centered learning and changing instruction. Personalized Learning takes a holistic view of the individual, skill levels, interests, strengths and challenges, and prior knowledge. The learner owns their learning. Barbara Bray in What is Personalized Learning?

The educator, in this environment, introduces the activities and then steps back to let the learners take over their own personal learning. The educator lets go of expectations what the final produce should be; should look like; should do.  The educator becomes a provider of resources, feedback giver, and communications facilitator. S/he becomes a tour guide of learning possibilities. S/he shows learners the possibilities and then gets out of the way.

Creating the conditions for self-differentiation and personalization can occur with learning objectives that start with action verbs such: create, write, explore, invent, make, imagine, prepare, build, compose, construct, design, develop, formulate, originate.


Parting Shot: The following is an Animoto I created to show how many forms of making there are, but it also demonstrates what can happen when open ended projects are introduced into the learning environment.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 11, 2016 at 6:05 pm

Maker Education: Pedagogy, Andragogy, Heutagogy

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Maker education is currently a major trend in education. But just saying that one is doing Maker Education really doesn’t define the teaching practices that an educator is using to facilitate it. Maker education takes on many forms. This post provides an overview of how maker education is being implemented based on the teaching practices as defined by the  Pedagogy, Andragogy, Heutagogy (PAH) continuum.


created by Jon Andrews

Traditionally, Pedagogy was defined as the art of teaching children and Andragogy as teaching adults. These definitions have evolved to reflect teacher practices. As such, andragogical and heutagogical practices can be used with children and youth.

PAH within a Maker Education Framework

The following chart distinguishes and describes maker education within the PAH framework. All teaching styles have a place in Maker Education. For example, pedagogical practices may be needed to teach learners some basic making skills. It helps to scaffold learning, so learners have a foundation for making more complex projects. I do, though, believe that maker education projects and programs should go beyond pedagogical oriented teaching as the overriding goal of maker education is for learners to create something, anything that they haven’t before.

Driving Questions

  • Pedagogy – How well can you create this particular maker education project?
  • Andragogy –  How can this prescribed maker project by adapted and modified?
  • Heutagogy – What do you want to make?

Overall Purpose or Goal

  • Pedagogy – To teach basic skills as a foundation for future projects – scaffolding.
  • Andragogy – To provide some structure so learners can be self-directed.
  • Heutogogy – To establish an environment where learners can determine their own goals, learning paths, processes, and products for making.

Role of the Educator

  • Pedagogy – To teach, demonstrate, help learners do the maker education project correctly.
  • Andragogy – To facilitate, assist learners, mentor
  • Heutagogy – To coach, mentor, be a sounding board, be a guide very much on the side.

Making Process

  • Pedagogy – Use of prescribed kits, templates; step-by-step directions and tutorials.
  • Andragogy  – Use of some templates; learners add their own designs and embellishments.
  • Heutagogy -Open ended; determined by the learner.

Finish Products

  • Pedagogy – A maker project that looks and acts like the original model.
  • Andragogy – A maker project that has some attributes of the original model but that includes the learner’s original ideas.
  • Heutagogy – A maker project that is unique to the learner (& to the learning community).




Feelings During FLOW-Related Learning

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Watch children, youth, and even adults when they are immersed in learning something of interest of them, and you will see often complete engagement and personal joy. When education is done “right”, learners often feel and experience the following in their both formal and informal educational environments:

  • Joy
  • Engaged
  • Excited
  • Wonderment
  • Intrinsically Motivated
  • Creative
  • Accomplishment and Pride (in themselves and in their work)
  • Connected (to the content, to other learners, to experts)
  • Purposeful
  • Important
  • Valued

Learners Should Experience

All of these feelings described above are often experienced as part of a FLOW state. The characteristics of “Flow” according to its originator and researcher, Czikszentmihalyi, are:

  1. Completely involved, focused, concentrating – with this either due to innate curiosity or as the result of training
  2. Sense of ecstasy – of being outside everyday reality
  3. Great inner clarity – knowing what needs to be done and how well it is going
  4. Knowing the activity is doable – that the skills are adequate, and neither anxious or bored
  5. Sense of serenity
  6. Timeliness – thoroughly focused on present, don’t notice time passing
  7. Intrinsic motivation – whatever produces “flow” becomes its own reward (

Joy and engagement are intentionally at the top of the list as I believe these two feelings  are needed in order for all others to occur, for flow to occur. First and foremost, for me, is my desire to help learners experience joy in the learning process:

Building on a child’s ability to feel joy, rather than pushing it aside, wouldn’t be that hard. It would just require a shift in the education world’s mindset. Instead of trying to get children to buckle down, why not focus on getting them to take pleasure in meaningful, productive activity, like making things, working with others, exploring ideas, and solving problems? These focuses are not so different from the things to which they already gravitate and in which they delight.(Joy: A Subject Schools Lack)

As for student engagement . . .

Student engagement, described as the tendency to be behaviorally, emotionally, and cognitively involved in academic activities, is a key construct in motivation research (Thijs & Verkuyten, 2009). Consequently, compared to less engaged peers, engaged students demonstrate more effort, experience more positive emotions and pay more attention in the classroom (Fredricks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004). Further, engagement has also been associated with positive student outcomes, including higher grades and decreased dropouts (Connell, Spencer, & Aber, 1994). (Encouraging Positive Student Engagement and Motivation: Tips for Teachers)

I wholeheartedly believe that one of the roles and responsibilities of the modern educator is to set up the conditions for learners to experience flow. To achieve a state of flow in the educational environment isn’t nor does it need to be that complicated. It can be as simple as replicating real life learning in more formal schools. I have discussed this in my post Natural Versus Unnatural Learning. In real life, learners learn through . . .

  • Setting up environmental conditions for themselves – often in comfortable furniture sitting and laying in positions that work for them; eating and drinking when desired; going to the bathroom when needed and by not asking for permission.
  • Moving around and engaging in distractions which can help in processing information.
  • Asking others for information, ideas, and help on an as needed basis.
  • Getting online to explore personalized inquiry about the content they are learning about.
  • Interacting intimately with content related, real life objects.
  • Learning in a context where that learning real world applications. Deep and meaningful learning occurs within a context.
  • Watching and learning from those more experienced than them. Now with technology, this observation can come in the form of videos, social media, and live communication networks such as Skype and Google Hangouts. Natural Versus Unnatural Learning

Given a growth and flexible mindset, educators can easily implement these ideas within their own classrooms.


Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 23, 2016 at 11:43 pm

Approaching Marginalized Populations from an Asset Rather Than a Deficit Model of Education

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Too often marginalized populations (e.g., some populations of people of color, students from lower economic communities) are approached with a deficit model. Attempts are made to instill in these groups of students the skills to make them successful at the Eurocentric education that dominates most schools in the United States.

The deficit model of education sees kids as

  • lacking in some way
  • defective
  • deficient
  • needing to be fixed
  • not as good as . . .
  • needing to develop skills valued by mainstream society

And in schools all over America, students are forced to “learn” in a way that befits deficit model thinking. We make sure that students are doubled and tripled up in the subjects they are worst at. Schools are reducing the amount of time students have music and phys-ed and even science so that kids have more time to raise their test scores. It is as if the sole purpose of schooling for many kids is just to make sure that they are slightly less bad at the things they are worst at. We have created a schooling environment where the sole purpose seems to be to ameliorate the worst of abilities our students have, rather than nurture the best of who they are. (

Sadly, many educators and administrators aren’t even aware of the deficit model of education prevalent in many schools systems. It follows, then, that they are definitely not aware of the differences between deficit and asset models.

The differences between deficit and strength-based thinking help to explain why efforts to improve the public schools have often been counterproductive and certainly less than sustainable.  Most elected leaders and educational bureaucrats tend to view the public schools in deficit terms and seldom focus on individual and school-wide strengths. (

screen shot 2012-09-20 at 7.51.33 am

The asset model of education approaches kids from marginalized populations as:

  • having unique strengths, passions, and interests
  • being competent and capable in settings that are important to the learners
  • having their own personal powers
  • having much to offer to other learners and their school communities
  • sources for educating others about their communities and cultures
  • thriving in a climate of differentiated instruction and Universal Design for Learning
  • even though they are not marching to the beat of traditional school design, it doesn’t mean they are out of step


Every child has a gift; the challenge is helping them discover that gift. This strategy focuses on the students’ abilities rather than inabilities. As students understand what they have to offer, they can focus on their abilities to accomplish tasks in any subject area. (

There is a growing body of research that urges schools to acknowledge the social and cultural capital present in communities of color and poor communities (Moll & Greenberg, 1990; Gonzalez, 2005; Yosso, 2005). Tara Yosso (2005), for example, critiques static notions of cultural capital that fail to recognize what she refers to as “community cultural wealth”—characteristics, such as resiliency, that students of color and poor students often bring to school that should be recognized and built upon. Similar research by Wenfan Yan (1999) suggests that academically successful African American students bring unique forms of social capital with them into the classroom that are distinct from white, middle-class cultural models and that African American parents tended to contact their children’s schools regarding their teens’ future career aspirations and experiences in schools more than White parents. As this body of research continues to develop, schools and school agents may abandon deficit perspectives, affirm the cultural richness present in these communities, and implement more culturally responsive approaches aimed at improving the educational experiences and outcomes for students of color and students from lower socioeconomic strata. (

Of special interest is the current trend towards maker education in both formal and informal educational environments and insuring equity for all populations:

A huge part of trying to bring equity to every moment of tinkering is to see students as full of strengths from their home community, their families, and their experiences. Kids are brilliant and it’s our responsibility to notice their brilliance and deepen it. This perspective has allowed kids who don’t fit into traditional ideas about what it means to be smart, or academic, thrive in the tinkering space. (

If we sincerely believe in creating school systems based on equity, then we need to design systems that honor and respect all students.


Questions Learners Should Be Addressing Every Day at School

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I believe it is every educator’s responsibility to help insure that learners are addressing the following questions during each school day:

  • What questions am I asking today?
  • What answers am I seeking today?
  • What am I exploring today?
  • What am I making today?
  • What am I finding exciting today?
  • How am I playing and having fun today?
  • How am I using failure to inform my learning today?
  • What am I doing today to cooperate with others?
  • How am I documenting my learning today?
  • How am I sharing with others what I am learning today?
  • What am I doing today that has the potential to benefit the world?



Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 15, 2016 at 1:20 am

Learner Empowerment

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A major theme during the Educon 2.8 conference in Philadelphia during the last week of January, 2016, was learner empowerment. Here is a Storify of tweets about empowerment from the conference:  Highlighted Tweets include . . .








The conference and Twitter discussions motivated me to write this post on learner empowerment. Thomas and Velthouse offered a specific description of learner empowerment by identifying four dimensions:

  1. Meaningfulness – This describes the value of the task in relation to individual beliefs, ideals, and standards. If the work you need to do doesn’t have much or any meaning to you, doesn’t seem to hold much or any importance, then there isn’t much or any motivation to work hard and produce quality work.
  2. Competence – Here’s the confidence piece. Empowerment derives from feeling qualified and capable of performing the work. You can handle what you’re being asked to do.
  3. Impact – The more impact you believe you will have, the more motivation you feel to work hard. You are empowered if you believe you’re doing work that makes a difference—work that matters and is important.
  4. Choice – This dimension relates to whether you get to determine the task goals and how you will accomplish them. The more choice you have, the more empowered you feel (

Sadly, most educational institutions from Kindergarten through College do not create conditions for empowerment. They are often the antithesis of empowerment. Students of all ages are told what to learn, how to learn it, and how they will be assessed for what they are supposed to learn. Way too often there is a lack of opportunities for meaningful learning and choices for individual learners. Competence only comes for the best traditional students, ones who thrive in these drill and test environments. Too many learners often feel that whatever they do within school doesn’t matter.

In a school climate of empowerment, educators become purveyors of hope.

Empowerment refers to measures designed to increase the degree of autonomy and self-determination in people and in communities in order to enable them to represent their interests in a responsible and self-determined way, acting on their own authority (

With the assistance of educators, learners can develop feelings of empowerment within their school settings. This often translates into increased hope for their educations, their lives, their communities, and their futures.

Some strategies that educators can do for setting up conditions for learner empowerment include:


As a parting shot, here is a video of one of the Educon 2.8 panels on empowerment:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 13, 2016 at 2:39 pm

A Model of Good Teaching?

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One of my guilty pleasures is watching MasterChef Junior, a cooking competition for 8 to 12 year olds, and as an educator, I have been analyzing it as a model for good teaching.  My observations include:

  • The challenges are hands-on and naturally engaging for these kids. They are based on the kids’ passion for and interest in cooking.
  • The kids don’t need to be graded about their performances. Consequences are natural. Food gets burned. The kids sometimes get burned. The food dishes taste good or they don’t.
  • There is a gamelike atmosphere. There are elements of play, leveling up (each subsequent challenge is more difficult), a sense of mastery or achievement upon accomplishing each challenge. The experience is immersive with the kids living the part of a chef. The kids get to try new roles such as team leaders, lead chefs, team representative, and being popular (this is one of the first situations that some of these kids get to shine).
  • The kids push themselves to the limit within seemingly impossible challenges – mostly because of their love for cooking, a strong intrinsic motivator. The kids often create very difficult food dishes that they have never created before. They often rise to the challenges surprising both themselves and the judges with what they created.

Just seeing the kids … when their hands go up, and the look on their faces of what they have done is unbelievable. You can tell right on their face at that moment if they’re happy or if they’ve completely blown it. Obviously there are failures, and they’re crying. For the ones that have done well, when they put their hands up and they are proud of what they just put on the plate, that look — there’s no words to even go there with it. It’s unbelievable, because you know that they put everything into it. (Inside “MasterChef Junior,” the best cooking show on television)

  • The challenges are designed to be novel and create excitement and joy for the kids – there are things like mystery food boxes; the judges introduces challenges are astronauts; the kids cooking for other kids at an amusement. The kids visible shake with excitement and anticipation while the challenges are being introduced.
  • The judges are clear, specific, and truthful with their feedback: both positive and negative. The judges give brutally honest feedback. They are very specific in describing what worked and what didn’t work about about the kids’ food creations. Sometimes the kids cry but there is visible respect that the kids have for the judges and that judges have for the kids.

Even when Gorden (the top chef and host) is disciplining them, or yelling at them about something, there’s this level of respect that the child has for him, and he has for the child, that total care. They know, they get it. He’s this grandiose father figure that has the career of their dreams, and he just does it so naturally. He doesn’t sugarcoat things for them like they are a toddler. I mean, he really goes at them when they need it, but there’s always this wonderful constructive element. So that was awesome to see. (Inside “MasterChef Junior,” the best cooking show on television)

  • There is an atmosphere of mutual respect . . . kids for the judges, judges for the kids, and kids for one another.
  • The adult judges will come in and help the kids if they see any individual being pushed too far over their limits and capabilities. This intervention is based on teaching the kids proper technique not doing it for them.
  • There is a healthy competition where the kids have to compete against one another. The objective is to win but the kids seem more concerned about their own performance rather than the performance of their peers.
  • The kids, through working together on many of their challenges, develop into a close knit team and visibly support each other. Even though they are competing against each other, they seem to understand they are with like minded peers. In effect, they develop their own PLNs based on similar interests. For some, it is the first time they have been with peers with a passion for cooking.  Many cry when one of their peers in eliminated from the competition and say that they made friends for life.


What I believe the kids learn during their MasterChef Junior experiences:

  • Additional cross-curricular skills including math skills, oral communication, following directions;
  • Working with a team;
  • Tolerance for frustration;
  • That their passions and interests are valuable and meaningful.

Many of the kids in interviews following their elimination from the competition state that it was the best experience of their lives.  I have a hunch that many of these kids would say their MasterChef experiences taught them as much or more than all of the school years combined. I’ve written about creating the conditions for the best day ever.

It’s mind blowing how much I grew as a chef, how much I grew as a person. 12 year old Zac

Educators, in this era of learning, should focus on those conditions that create an environment that each and every one of their students love coming to school and love learning.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 26, 2015 at 2:39 pm

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