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Posts Tagged ‘professional development

Introduction to Design Thinking for Educators Workshop

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I had the opportunity to facilitate a workshop on design thinking for educators at the New Mexico Association for the Gifted Fall Institute. Here is a round-up of what we did.

Warm Up: Instant Challenge

Participants were asked to warm-up for the session with a challenge from the Destination Imagination Instant Challenge App.

Instant Challenges are fun, STEAM-based group activities that must be solved within a short period of time. Using your imagination, teamwork and few everyday materials, you and your friends will work together to see just how innovative you can be. With hundreds of potential combinations and ways to solve each Instant Challenge, the creative possibilities are endless! https://www.destinationimagination.org/blog/new-instant-challenge-app/

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Introduction to the Squishy Circuits: The Medium for the Design Challenge

I then had the participating educators familiarize themselves with Squishy Circuits to prepare them for the upcoming design challenge and to deepen their engagement with the workshop content.

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An Overview of Design Thinking

The following videos and graphics about design thinking were introduced and discussed with participants.

John Spencer’s Video on the Launch Cycle

Design thinking was introduced to the participating educators through showing them John Spencer‘s video.

The Characteristics of Design Thinking

The following graphic, which I created for this workshop, was discussed.

characteristics of design thinking

Design Thinking Process and UDL Planning Tool for STEM, STEAM, Maker Education

Design Thinking Process and UDL Planning Tool for STEM, STEAM, Maker Education developed by Barbara Bray and me was then introduced to the participants.

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The Design Challenge

The major challenge or task was to create a design using Squishy circuits based on a partner’s specifications. Only the designer could touch the materials not the “client” who verbally described her desired design. To further explain this challenge, I showed a video of my gifted elementary students engaged in the challenge.

. . .  and some photos of the participating educators doing this challenge.

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Sidenote

One of the partner teams was one of my colleagues, Anna, an amazing art teacher, who was the client paired with a gifted ed teacher, the designer. Anna provided the verbal directions for her partner to make an elephant drinking water. We were reaching the end of the session without its completion. I told them to just let it go – the elephant was complete but the lighting was not. During the time that the workshop participants were walking around looking at one another’s creations, Anna and her partner completed the elephant using the LEDs to light up his eyes. The look of pride and empowerment in both Anna and her partner, who obviously has never completed such a project and was glowing with well-deserved pride, was priceless – touching me quite deeply. The moral of the story for me: Teachers should be provided with PD opportunities to deeply engage in learning to the point where they feel empowered. I believe this will help increase the transfer of learning to their own classrooms as they will want their own learners to feel that same sense of empowerment.

Here is the slide deck from my presentation:

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 22, 2017 at 7:34 pm

Qualities of Effective Educator Professional Development

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

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

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

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

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

qualities of effective PD

Voluntary

Teacher PD needs to be voluntary.

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

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

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

Models Best Classroom Practices

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

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

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

Active and Hands-On

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

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

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Fun and Engaging

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

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

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

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

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Engages the Mind, Body, Emotions

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

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

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

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Time to Tinker and Play

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

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

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

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Ability to Tailor to Own Needs

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

Integrates Collaboration

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

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

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Naturally Integrates Technology

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

During my math workshop, participants used technology to:

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

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Builds in Reflection

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

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

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

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

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 8, 2017 at 12:34 am

Beginning the School Year: It’s About the Learners Not the Content

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Too many classes, all grade levels, begin the school year with getting down to academic business – starting to cover content, discussing expectations regarding academic requirements, giving tests, and other academic information provided by the teacher to the students in a mostly one-way communication.  The human or social element is often disregarded.

I believe that all classes should begin with focusing on having the students make connections between themselves and the educator; and between one another.  I want students to learn about one another in a personal way.  I want to learn about my students so my instructional strategies can be more personalized and tailored to their needs and interests.  Beginning class with a focus on connections rather than content gives learners the following messages:

  • You are the focus of the class not me.
  • You are important as a learner in this class.
  • You will be expected to engage in the learning activities during class time.  You will be an active learner.
  • You will be expected to do collaborative learning during the class time.
  • I, as the class facilitator, will be just that – a facilitator.  I will introduce the learning activities, but you will be responsible for the actual learning.
  • I will get to know you as a learner and try to help you find learning activities that are of interest to you. (From my post: Beginning the School Year: It’s About Connections Not Content)

Two things that I believe needs to occur at the beginning of the schools year:

  1. Get to know the learners – as individuals with unique backgrounds, interests, strengths, weaknesses.
  2. Establish a learning community where all learners are seen as having value in our classroom

Getting to Know Learners

One of our primary goals at the beginning of the school year is to get to know our students. This is important for several reasons. First, the better we know our students, and the more they know we know them, the more invested they become in school. Also, a dynamic and vigorous learning environment is built on relationships. When we create strong connections with our students, we create a learning environment where risk-taking and collaborative learning can take place. Finally, the better we know our students, the better we can help craft learning experiences that match who they are. Knowing our students is fundamental to real differentiation. (6 Strategies For Getting To Know Your Students)

This coming school year I am working with gifted elementary students. To support those messages I discussed above, I am going to have them do the following Hyperdoc starting with our first meeting together.

Using a Hyperdoc such as this has the additional benefits:

  • It leverages the use of technology which consistently is of high interest, high engagement for my learners.
  • It is a Choice Board.  Choice Boards:
  • It supports several of the new ISTE NETS for Students:
    • Empowered Learner: Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences.
    • Digital Citizen: Students recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical.
    • Knowledge Constructor: Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.
    • Creative Communicator: Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals. (https://www.iste.org/standards/standards/for-students)

Building a Learning Community

Community building activities are important in my classroom. It begins the first week of school and continues throughout the entire school year.

The intentional building and supporting of friendships is a cornerstone of a caring school community. Providing frequent opportunities for students to be in close proximity to others is not always enough to enable them to build a net­work of friends and feel connected to the classroom and the wider school com­munity. Careful classroom management and planning of student-student and student-teacher interactions, together with appropriate instructional strategies, can have a positive impact on social relationships and lead to the development of a support system that will enhance students’ learning in all curriculum areas. (Why create positive classroom communities?)

A growing body of research confirms the benefits of building a sense of community in school. Students in schools with a strong sense of community are more likely to be academically motivated (Solomon, Battistich, Watson, Schaps, & Lewis, 2000); to act ethically and altruistically (Schaps, Battistich, & Solomon, 1997); to develop social and emotional competencies (Solomon et al., 2000); and to avoid a number of problem behaviors, including drug use and violence (Resnick et al., 1997). (Creating a School Community)

I’ve written several blog posts about team building activities I’ve used with my elementary students and will use again with them as (1) they really like the activities, and (2) there is almost always more to learn even in repeat activities.

STEM Activities That Support

Since my gifted classes have a strong focus on STEM, STEAM, and Maker Education, my learners will be asked to do several of the following team building activities:

Team Building Activities That Support Maker Education, STEM, and STEAM 

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Team Building Activities

Other team building activities can be found within the following resources:

As a parting shot, I’d like to mention that some teachers believe they do not have the time to do activities such as these. To that, I counter with several arguments for their use:

  • Getting to know the students and building a community often act as a form of prevention for behavioral management problems. When learners have trust in their teacher, their peers, and the environment, they become more engaged and less likely to “act up.” This form of prevention actually saves time in that the educator doesn’t have to deal with misbehavior.
  • School should be lots more than just the transmittance of content. It should include social emotional life skills that will assist learners in navigating in their worlds outside of school now and in their futures.

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 9, 2017 at 12:38 am

Teacher PD: Purposeful Tinkering and Application

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As a preface to this post, my belief is that deep learning does not occur through sit and get. Deep learning occurs through experiential, authentic, interactive, collaborative instructional processes.  If deep learning is desired for teacher professional development, then it should reflect best practices for teaching and learning.

Professional learning must focus on creating safe and productive spaces for teachers to begin planning and experimenting with the concepts that have been shared. Too often, facilitation centers on giving strategies to teachers rather than coaching them on how to deliver the strategies to students. As a result, teachers leave the session with a toolbox of ideas that are never implemented. Instead, more professional learning time should be spent helping teachers plan, develop materials, and practice delivering the strategies with colleague support. (http://inservice.ascd.org/personalized-professional-development-moving-from-sit-and-get-to-stand-and-deliver/)

When I design teacher PD-related workshops, I am guided by the following principles:

  1. Teachers need time to tinker, play, and experiment with instructional materials and resources especially with new forms of teaching/learning technologies.
  2. For skills development, such as using new technologies, scaffolding and increasing complexity should be a strong component of the PD process.
  3. Teachers need to be offered lots of instructional suggestions and resources so they can tailor their PD learning to their own teaching environments.
  4. Intentional and active reflection and goal setting should be included to increase the chances of transfer of learning.

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Tinkering With Instructional Materials

Teachers and librarians, like their students, need hands-on experience with tools and with playing to learn as that helps them build creative confidence. (https://www.edutopia.org/blog/crafting-professional-development-maker-educators-colleen-graves)

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

Scaffolding and Introducing Complexity

As teachers, we have come to learn over the years that we should never expect our students to fully understand a new idea without some form of structured support framework, or scaffolding as the current buzzword defines it.  The same, of course, should be the case in supporting learning for our fellow teachers. (http://mgleeson.edublogs.org/2012/03/10/when-it-comes-to-technology-teachers-need-as-much-scaffolding-as-students/)

Once teachers get familiar with instructional materials and resources through tinkering, they should be guided through a series of skills that are increasingly complex; that honor the process of scaffolding.  As with tinkering, this should be a hands-on process where teachers can try out these skills with facilitator and colleague support and guidance. As confidence is built through success with basic skills and strategies, more complex skills and strategies will be more welcomed by teachers.

Lots of Instructional Strategies and Resources

Even with fairly homogeneous groups of teachers, their teaching and learning needs can be vastly different. They often teach different groups of students, different grades, different content areas. They often have different backgrounds, years of experience, and personal and professional interests. As such, they should be provided with lots of instructional strategies and resources to help them make direct connections to their own teaching environments. Given the plethora and free resources that can be found online, curated aggregates of resources can be provided to the teachers. Time should be allotted during the PD training for them to examine and discuss these resources with their colleagues.

Transfer of Learning Through Reflection and Goal Setting

Reflection is essential for learning. In order to “make meaning” of an experience, the learner must have an opportunity to reflect on or process the experience. To help ensure that program participants transfer learning and training experiences into real-world applications, we must be intentional about both engaging the learners and creating opportunity for meaningful reflection. (https://www.e-volunteerism.com/volume-xvi-issue-1-october-january-2016/training-designs/enhance_learning)

Facilitators of teacher professional development need to be more intentional to include specific strategies to help insure that learning is transferred in teachers’ educational environments. Reflection and goal setting, two powerful transfer of learning strategies, should be built into teacher professional development.

A Recent Example

Because of on my request, my district gifted education supervisor purchased 3 sets/3 dozen Spheros. As a follow-up, he asked me to facilitate a teacher professional development workshop on their use.

The schedule for this afternoon workshop was:

  1. Short Introductory video about Sphero in schools: Gain Attention and Provide a Context
  2. Orienting and Simple Driving the Sphero: Tinkering
  3. Using the Draw Program: Tinkering
  4. Video Tutorial and Practice of Simple Block Programming: Increasing Complexity
  5. Build a Project-Chariot or Tug Boat: Increasing Complexity and Instructional Resources
  6. Review Curricula for Use in the Classroom: Instructional Resources and Transfer of Learning
  7. Final Reflections – Sharing about one’s own processes and possible applications in one’s own classroom: Transfer of Learning Through Reflection and Goal Setting
  8. Email Exchange – for sharing how the use of Spheros are being implemented in the classroom: Transfer of Learning

The slide presentation used and shared with this group of teachers:


Workshop photos showing teacher engagement:

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A Model for Teacher Development: Precursors to Change

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Too often teachers are passive recipients of professional development rather than being active agents of their own development and change. Several recent reports have indicated that teacher professional development, as it is being implemented in most schools, is ineffective and a waste of time and money.

Several studies over the past few years that have found professional development to be largely ineffective or unhelpful for teachers. Only 30 percent of teachers improve substantially with the help of district-led professional development, even though districts spend an average of $18,000 on development for each teacher per year, according to a new report. Most professional development today is ineffective. It neither changes teacher practice nor improves student learning.

The hard truth is that the help most schools give their teachers isn’t helping all that much. When it comes to teaching, real improvement is a lot harder to achieve—and we know much less about how to make it happen—than most of us would like to admit. (New report reveals that teacher professional development is costly and ineffective)

My beliefs around teacher professional development are that it should be:

  1. driven by the teacher, him or herself.
  2. based on change models which result in deep, meaningful, lasting changes.

Conventional wisdom on teacher development tells us that we already know what works when it comes to professional development for teachers—typically “job-embedded,” “ongoing” and “differentiated” kinds of development opportunities, in contrast to old-school “drive-by PD.” (Do We Know How to Help Teachers Get Better?)

I believe that professional development needs to go even deeper than being job-embedded, ongoing, and differentiated. Teachers need to receive training on models of change. Teachers should be trained in identifying their own professional development needs based on their classroom performance, areas that they aren’t performing up to par based on their own personal self-assessments as well as feedback from students, colleagues, and supervisors followed by intentional processes to help make positive changes in their work environments.

The model being proposed is based on a series of strategies for working with counseling clients entitled 7 Precursors for Change. I modified it to be more in line with teacher professional development. This is just an overview. Each step would need further exploration and explanation if presented as a model of change for teachers. Plus, these are not linear and they are all interconnected.

1) A sense of necessity: The educator must see a need for change; that there is a belief that something can be done better; that some circumstance of teaching is not working. Driving questions include:

  • What do you value as a teacher? What are actions are you doing in the classroom that address those values?
  • What do you want for yourself as a teacher? for your students? What are you doing to get it?
  • What is not working for you when teaching your students?

2) A willingness or readiness to experience anxiety or difficulty: The educator must be willing to deal with the inevitable discomfort which arises naturally with the onset of change. Moving from how one typically behaves to how one would like to behave is a process that often involves a difficult transition or a groan zone. It is an awareness and acceptance that change requires going from one’s comfort zone to a groan zone prior to coming into the growth zone. It is about accepting that failure and iteration are part of the growth process.

Any kind of creative activity is likely to be stressful. The more anxiety, the more you feel that you are headed in the right direction. Easiness, relaxation, comfort – these are not conditions that usually accompany serious work. Joyce Carol Oates

3) Awareness: This is simply knowing that a problem in one’s performance related to teaching exists and then being able to isolate what thoughts behaviors and feelings are connected to the problem. This is closely related to accurately perceiving one’s environment. The big driving question is, “When you think about a specific performance problem or issue you are having, what thoughts and feelings do you experience?”

The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance. Nathaniel Branden

4) Looking directly at the problem: This is when the educator is willing to focus his/her attention on the problem so s/he can fully understand all of its’ attributes. Essentially this is knowing and accepting all the effects of the problem and admitting the truth to oneself. A powerful driving questions is: “If you were to wake up tomorrow morning and the problem was solved, how would things be different?”

The formulation of the problem is often more essential than its solution. Albert Einstein

A problem well put is half solved. John Dewey

5) Effort towards change is the actual actions taken to solve the presenting problem. This is the actual effort. Changing something that isn’t quite working often takes a series of actions or graduated tasks over time.

We always hope for the easy fix: the one simple change that will erase a problem in a stroke. But few things in life work this way. Instead, success requires making a hundred small steps go right – one after the other.   Atul Gawande, Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance

6) Hope for change: This is having the belief that change will occur. This is a realistic expectation based on rationale thoughts and behaviors. Hope in this sense is not synonymous with wish. Hope involves seeing how things will change and believing they can be accomplished. It is related to having a growth mindset – that growth and change are possible and probable.

Hope is a vision for a new reality. Hope means to become a steward for a new reality. Again, to hope is not just a wish. It’s full-on engagement with vision and potential. Alfred Adler

Instilling a sense of hope can occur when the educator finds, listens to, and/or reads about colleagues who have gone through similar challenges and change. It provides a type of support as s/he takes action to make changes which directly connects to the final step.

7) Social support for change: This is about finding people in the educator’s life that are supportive of the relevant change to be made by the educator. This is where establishing, connecting with, and proactively using a professional learning network comes into play. Educators working through this model of change should be encouraged to and provided with strategies for building both face-to-face and online professional learning networks.

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Implementation of this model  is not a quick and easy fix to teacher professional development. Implementing it will take time, commitment, and struggles but what is the alternative –  costly and ineffective teacher professional development?

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. R. Buckminster Fuller

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 6, 2016 at 5:14 pm

Cardboard Challenges: No Tech/Low Cost Maker Education

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I believe in the importance of participating in ongoing and continuous reflective practice as an educator. This is my reflection on my Cardboard Challenges Maker Education Camp that was taught to twelve 5 to 10 year old learners for five days, 2.5 hours each morning.  My Cardboard Challenges webpage of ideas can be found at http://www.makereducation.com/cardboard-challenge.html.

This post is divided into three sections: (1) a rationale for using no tech, minimal cost materials, (2) some of my general observations about how the learners interacted with the materials, the projects, and each other during the camp, and (3) a description of the specific cardboard activities along with my observations how well they worked with the learners.

A Rational for Using No Tech, Minimal Cost Materials

The Cardboard Challenges Maker Education Camp utilized no technology (except for projecting images of example projects on the whiteboard) and low/no cost materials. Many of the discussions about and actions related to integrating maker education into educational environments center around the use of new technologies such computer components (Raspberry Pis, Arduinos), interactive robots for kids (Dash and Dot, Ozobots, Spheros), and 3D printers. These technologies are lots of fun and one of my maker education camps this past summer was Bots and Coding. The learners engaged in these learning activities with high excitement and motivation. Such high excitement, engagement and motivation, though, were also seen at my low tech/low cost maker education camps: LED crafts, Toy Hacking and Making, and Cardboard Challenges.

As a recent NPR article discussed several challenges for maker education. One of them was related to equity issues, providing maker education for all students regardless of income level:

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

In order to adequately address this challenge, it becomes important to speak of making in broader terms; that maker education is so much more than 3D printing, drones, and robots. As Adam Savage from Mythbusters notes:

What is making? It is a term for an old thing, it is a new term for an old thing. Let me be really clear, making is not simply 3D printing, Art Lino, Raspberry Pi, LEDs, robots, laser and vinyl cutters. It’s not simply carpentry and welding and sculpting and duct tape and drones. Making is also writing and dance and filmmaking and singing and photography and cosplay. Every single time you make something from you that didn’t exist in the world, you are making. Making is important; it’s empowering. It is invigorating (Adam Savage’s 2016 Bay Area Maker Faire Talk).

Doing and promoting maker experiences such as cardboard projects have the potential to offset the challenges associated with access and costs as well as provide opportunities for making by all.

 General Observations from the Cardboard Challenges Maker Education Camp: How the Learners Interacted with the Materials,  Projects, and Each Other 

Going with Learners’ Energy and Ideas

During the making activities, I had one learner who often generated ideas for extending the projects we were doing. For example, when we made jet packs (see below), he asked for permission and made a space helmet to go with it. When we made small robots (see below), he proposed making a cardboard house for his robot. The other learners loved his ideas and joined him in these extensions of the make projects. I believe it is important to follow learners’ leads and ideas as it creates energy, motivation, and momentum for learning.  Traditional teaching is way too often focused on keeping to an agenda both in time and with the learning activities. I think it is important to grab onto those teachable moments; the moments when learners propose what direction they would like to go. It validates that their voices as students are valued and acted upon.

The Experiential Nature of Maker Activities Makes Them Messy, Loud, and Chaotic

Traditional classrooms are often marked by students quietly at their desks completing the same tasks at the same time. This is opposite of what went on during the Cardboard Challenges Maker Education camp. The classroom was loud, seemingly chaotic and messy. Cutting and working with cardboard creates a mess, but authentic and engaged learning is often messy.

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

This description marked what occurred during all of the five days of the Cardboard Challenges camp and I believe lots of learning resulted.

Concepts and Skills Naturally Embedded in the Experiential Activities

Concepts and skills became embedded in the experiential activities. Learning of concepts and skills occurred at the time when the campers’ interest and need were the highest.  For example, when the learners did the cardboard garages and ramps for toy cars, several concepts were introduced and talked about: inclined plane, angles, rate of acceleration, and weight and density. These discussions and knowledge helped them to better their design their ramps. Their learning had a context and a reason.

The same was true for the the learning of skills. Learners were motivated and attentive when I demonstrated certain cardboard folding and connecting techniques. This also included soft skills such as communicating needs, asking for what they needed, and collaborating with others as they found a genuine need and desire to use them.

Shared and Collaborative Learning: Natural and As Needed

Research supports the use of collaborative and shared learning. The best kind of collaborative and shared learning, I believe, is when it occurs naturally and when needed (similar to the learning of skills as discussed above). Shared learning was evident when the learners created space helmets after one learner started his; when the youngest learner, a 5 year old girl, showed others how to use the shelf contact paper correctly (also demonstrating that learners of all ages and genders had something to contribute to the learning community). Collaborative learning happened when the learners began to individually create their car garages and ramps, and realized that if they combined their creations, they would have cooler and more elaborated structures.

Semi Structured Projects with Simple Photographic Examples Work Well

This elementary age group seemed to respond well to semi-structured cardboard projects. For all of the cardboard challenge activities, I only needed to show the learners a few examples projected on the whiteboard. From these examples, the learners gathered enough information and were able to take off to construct their own modifications of the projects. The cardboard projects became personal as the campers became self-directed learners.

Assumptions About Skill Levels

The educator needs to be an astute observer of how learners interact with instructional materials, and make adjustments if problems arise. How this translated into the cardboard challenge is that I assumed the learners could use transparent tape, hot glue guns, and scissors. I knew the younger ones, the Kindergarten students, would have some problems but didn’t expect this of the older ones, 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. I observed the learners as they interacted with the cardboard constructing tools. I had transparent tape in the disposable plastic dispensers. Most of the campers had trouble getting it off. I realized that the heavy duty tape dispensers worked better and switched to using those. I used hot glue guns with elementary level kids for years but this group had an especially difficult time using them resulting in minor burns by 3/4 of the learners. I was forced to ban them half way through the week. I needed to change the use of hot glue to duct tape and cardboard screws from the Makedo kits. These may seem like small or inconsequential things but insuring that the learners can effectively use the tools and materials can make the difference in their success with the projects.

Cardboard Challenges: Descriptions and Reflections

This section provides brief descriptions of the activities I did during this camp and my reflections on their degree of success with the learners.

Jet Packs

Directions for constructing the jet packs can be found at http://www.kiwicrate.com/projects/Recycled-Jet-Pack-Costume/500 . I spray painted them silver prior to the camp but the kids constructed the rest of their jet packs.

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Reflection:

This was a great way to start off the week. All of the learners seemed to enjoy creating them and adding their own personal touches. One of the learners, a 10 year old boy, asked if he could use another box to create a space helmet. I said, “Of course,” and the other learners began to follow their lead (which led me to spray painting the helmets during their recess).  I would definitely do this activity again and would facilitate extensions of the activity such as, “Is there anything else you’d like to create to go with your jet pack?’

Marble Run

Directions for a Marble Run can be found http://lemonlimeadventures.com/recycled-marble-run/.

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Reflection:

The Marble Run was another very engaging and successful activity. The learners worked on different methods and materials to make the marble run. There were lots of iterations of this project but all the learners were successful in getting their marbles to drop from tube to tube.

I would definitely do this activity again. I would add, though, sketching the marble run designs and patterns on a piece of paper and then on their large pieces of cardboards prior to adding the tubes and other obstacles. I had marbles and small balls available to test the runs but would include additional types of small balls in the future.

Marble Maze

Directions for building a version of this can be found at http://frugalfun4boys.com/2015/10/14/how-to-make-a-cardboard-box-marble-labyrinth-game/

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Reflection:

This seemed to be another highly engaging activity. I would do this again in the future. I would just include more options to create the maze – e.g., construction paper, cubs, toilet paper tubes – as some of the learners had trouble managing and building the walls out of cardboard.

Cardboard Roll Robot

A version of this project can be found at http://gluesticksgumdrops.com/robot-toilet-paper-roll-craft/. I added the vending machine bubbles for use for heads and feet; and LED lights to light up the head.

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Reflection:

I believe the learners found this fun but not overwhelming so. What added to this activity was a learner who asked if he could make a cardboard house for his bot with the other learners then following his lead.

This activity was okay – engaging but not highly engaging. I would do it again as an auxiliary to another activity – e.g., being the characters for a cardboard city.

Basketball Hoop/Ring Toss

I obtained boxes and figured out how to fold them to create a type of basketball arcade game and added the triangle in the front (based off of http://www.artistshelpingchildren.org/boxescardboardboxesartscraftstideasprojectskids.html). I used pool dive rings so the learners can use the ring as both a basketball hoop and a ring toss. After its completion, the learners painted their boxes with poster paint.

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Reflection:

Since this was a sports – arcade type of project, I expected high interest and high engagement. The most fun, I believe, was when they painted their games. They didn’t seem to have much interest in playing the game. This also might be that this project had the least wiggle room for personalization. I will probably not include this activity for future cardboard challenges.

Parking Garages and Ramps for Toy Cars

For example directions for the cardboard parking garage, see http://frugalfun4boys.com/2015/02/03/cardboard-box-hot-wheels-car-garage-ramps/. For example directions for car ramps, see http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/1023689/diy-race-car-track-crafts-for-kids.

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Reflection:

The learners really jumped into this project. Anything with hot wheel type cars, I believe, are attractive for elementary students. I offered an option to build a zoo to take into account the girls and any boys who wanted such an option. Only one of the three girls at this camp selected the zoo option.

This was a very high interest and engagement activity which is what I expected. What I didn’t expect was how several of the learners ended up joining their structures to create bigger structures. I found that with projects that include buildings and other city structures, the elementary level kids naturally join them together resulting in collaborative work. This also happened during my LED craft camp.

I would definitely do this activity again. In the future, though, I would intentionally build in connecting structures together as a group.

Pinball Machines

Directions for very similar Pinball Machines can be found at http://www.instructables.com/id/Makedo-Pinball-Machine/ and http://www.artistshelpingchildren.org/kidscraftsactivitiesblog/2011/02/how-to-make-simple-pinball-machine-with-recycled-materials-crafts-project-for-kids/. To prepare for this activity, I cut the boxes as can be seen the picture below. To the plans, I added the use of shelf contact paper to cover the pinball cardboard face.

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Reflection:

This was also a high engagement activity, but parts of creating the pinball machine were difficult for most of the learners, e.g., adding flippers. One of the highlights for learners, I believe, was the use of the Makedo kits. First, the screws take the place of adhesives such as hot glue, tape, etc., and second, the learners got the chance to use and learn how to use simple tools: saw, screw driver, screws. Both the kids and I loved these kits and I would use them again for the cardboard challenges.

We worked on the pinball machines for about 3 hours and only two of the learners were able to add their pinball flippers. I would do this activity again but would spend more time preparing the boxes ahead of time. I would cut the holes for the flippers, ball catchers, and as I spent a lot of time doing this during the activity. I would also plan for more time to put the finishing touches on them.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 25, 2016 at 10:50 pm

Breaking Things as a Form of Education

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One of my learners’ favorite things to do at my maker education summer camps is taking toys apart – breaking them and then putting back together in another form. This got me thinking that breaking things should be part of every teacher’s and learner’s education. These include:

  • Breaking physical objects apart to see their components and how they work.
  • Breaking apart how the physical classroom is set up and letting learners help create the setting where they will learn.
  • Breaking down barriers of communication . .  between educators and learners; between learners and other learners; between the school and parents; between school and the community; between the community of learners and the rest of the world.
  • Breaking apart and crushing stereotypes about different genders, ages, ethnicities, and sexual orientation when age appropriate.
  • Breaking down walls that keep schools isolated from the world outside of those walls.
  • Breaking attitudes that “we’ve always done it that way.”
  • Breaking a system that believes children should be grouped by age and grade.
  • Breaking (and throwing away forever) the current assessment systems and the related belief that standardized tests actually measure student performance and achievement.
  • Breaking apart the idea and practice that children and youth cannot nor should not be teachers.
  • And one big NOT . . . NOT breaking the natural passion and excitement that humans have to learn.

These are just my initial thoughts. What would you add to this list of breaking things as a form of education? I want to create an infographic on this list so please add to it!

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 5, 2016 at 10:51 pm

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