User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Posts Tagged ‘project-based learning

Practicing the Educator as a Maker Educator Mindset

with 4 comments

I’ve written about the Educator as a Maker Educator.

educator as maker educator 1 

In order to practice and reinforce my maker skills as well as these “mindsets”, I enrolled in the online course, Tinkering Fundamentals: A Constructionist Approach to STEM Learning.  What attracted me to this course was not only the focus on tinkering and maker education but also that the participants are asked to engage in hands-on activities.  Their course introduction follows – worth a view by anyone interested in making and tinkering:

The activity for this week, week 2, we were asked to create  circuit_boards (downloadable PDF).

The following materials were recommended


(plus some general others – tape, Stainless steel or copper nails, Philips head screws, Flat head screws, Coated wire, Zip ties, Soldering irons, Solder, Power drill screwdriver, Hammer, Saw, Sand paper, Wire cutter, Wire stripper).

Maker Educator as a Resource Suggester and Provider

I am a teacher educator of mostly public school teachers and am attempting to get in the back into the classroom as a public school gifted educator.  This material list would be fine for a maker space in, possibly, a museum or library, but not feasible in terms of costs in a public school classroom with up to 30 students.  So I sought other ways to complete this week’s activity with my goal of learning circuit boards but on a budget.  A characteristic of a Maker Educator is a resource provider that is feasible given the environment, the facilitators, and the learners.

I found a few circuit building learning activities from the Museum of Science and Industry – Make a Circuit Board Quiz Board and Instructables –Build a Simple Circuit from a Pizza Box.


Maker Educator as Lead (or LED – maker humor) Learner

I already had the LED lights, the 3v battery and the metal brads; went out to purchase the paper clips, electrical tape, and decided to use foam core board instead of a pizza box (I don’t eat pizza); and set out to construct the circuit board as explained by the author of this activity.  (FYI – the cost of this project would be less than $3.00 per student – the major costs being the LED lights and the battery).

Quickly, I ran into problems.  The paper clips didn’t have the conductivity needed for electrical current and I couldn’t make them “fit” as described in the directions.  So that meant I needed to change my ideas and plans.

Maker Educator as Normalizer of Problem Solving and Failure as Iterative

I was failing at creating this circuit board, but understand that “Failure and iteration make everything better. In DIY and Maker culture, failure is expected and part of the fun” (  Based on this mindset, I made changes.  I used craft wire instead of paper clips.  I used a second LED instead of a buzzer (which I did not have), and cut out the sensor (which I also did not have).  The result was a circuit board with two working LEDs and a switch to alternate which LED is lit – not pretty, looks quite different than the original but it works – not bad for someone who has never made or played with circuit boards.


Maker Educator as Process Facilitator

I got to experience the processes of creating, assessing, revising throughout this process.  It was definitely about about the processes.  Once I succeeded and took the pictures, I put the project in a closet as an example for my future students.  The satisfaction came from the processes of creating, re-creating, assessing, reassessing, revising, and revising yet again.  I have a belief that educators, me included, need to experience these processes personally in order to facilitate, model, and demonstrate them to their students.

Maker Educator as Technology Tutor and Scaffolder of Experiences

I used the directions I found on the Internet as a guide.  I didn’t have any experience with creating a circuit board and needed to use some directions or tutorial as a form of scaffolding; to give me a foundation of skills to successfully complete the activity.  This reinforces that some form of instruction is often required when introducing learners to new maker activities.  The educator can provide direct instruction, video tutorials, or other learners as a means to give learners some basic foundational skills for the activities.  Some learners have enough self-direction to seek out the resources on their own, but other learners, without the background experiences or scaffolding, may give up with frustration.

Sidebar:  I am a proponent of educators blogging, and have been promoting it even stronger than ever to other educators.  This is my attempt to blog not only about my thoughts, resources, and philosophy, as I typically do, but also blog about my processes as an forever developing educator in order to share with and model this process for other educators.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

June 30, 2014 at 9:20 pm

Creating Engaging Curriculum: A More Perfect World

with 2 comments

Recently I revised my A More Perfect World curriculum unit.  I reformatted it to a Weebly website for ease of access and update the links and web tools.


This unit is driven by several of my core beliefs regarding effective instructional practices:

  • Reading as Choice: Reading is such an amazing gift we have as humans and way too many students don’t like to read for their own pleasure and learning.  Reading engagement and enjoyment are increased when students are permitted to choose what they read. No single practice inspires my students to read as much as the opportunity to choose their own books (Becoming a Classroom of Readers).
  • Choices in Learning Content:  Choice in how the content is learned increases engagement and intrinsic motivation.  Students should be given choices as to how to learn the content.  Content should be presented to learners in a variety of ways: readings, videos, graphics with the only expectation that they learn it in a way that works for them.  This is in line with Universal Design for Learning Principle: Provide Multiple Means of Representation.
  • Choices in Expressing Knowledge and Competency: Choice in how the learner demonstrates his or her knowledge of the content increases engagement and intrinsic motivation.  Learners should be given a choice as to how they want to and can express what they learned about the content based on their own styles, interests, and strengths.  This is in line with the Universal Design for Learning Principle: Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression.
  • Student Interest: Incorporating student interests into the curriculum increases relevancy.  Curiosity and thus learning thrive when connected to and/or emergent from contexts which are familiar and meaningful to the learner (The Importance of Engaging Students’ Interest in their Learning).   In this case, this unit incorporate the current interest of many young people in dystopian fiction as well as gives them opportunities to delve into their own interest areas throughout the lessons.
  • Project-Based Learning: Project-based learning is a dynamic approach to teaching in which students explore real-world problems and challenges, simultaneously developing cross-curriculum skills. Because project-based learning is filled with active and engaged learning, it inspires students to obtain a deeper knowledge of the subjects they’re studying. Research also indicates that students are more likely to retain the knowledge gained through this approach far more readily than through traditional textbook-centered learning. (Why Teach with Project-Based Learning?: Providing Students With a Well-Rounded Classroom Experience).  For more about project-based learning, see my curated Scoopit on Project-Based Learning and my post Is It Project-Based Learning, Maker Education or Just Projects?
  • Drawing on Learners’ Idealism; Desire for a Better World: Many young people think about ways to create a better world. Idealism is a developmental milestone of adolescence. Young adolescents are idealistic at this stage, and they are quick to point out what is fair and what is not.  Their idealism pours into asking questions about the meaning of life, questions for which there are not definitive answers. They also become inwardly reflective about who they are and the roles they play. It is a great stage of life and a great opportunity and challenge to meet the needs of these young adolescents (Adolescent Development). These ideas should be integrated into the learning setting.
  • Arts Integration:  Arts integration is highly effective in engaging and motivating students. The arts provide students multiple modes for demonstrating learning and competency. A rich array of arts skills and intellectual processes provide multiple entry points for students linking to content in other subject areas. Similarly, arts instruction is deepened through integration of content from the other subject areas. It enlivens the teaching and learning experience for entire school communities. At its best, arts integration is transformative for students, teachers and communities. The imaginations and creative capacities of teachers and students are nurtured and their aspirations afforded many avenues for realization and recognition (Creating an Arts Integration School).

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 29, 2013 at 11:06 pm

Is It Project-Based Learning, Maker Education or Just Projects?

with 2 comments


Zak Malamed of StuVoice.Org mentioned in a student voice panel that when given projects by teachers to complete, it was often just another “thing” to get done, just like a paper or worksheet.  I have seen lessons shared by teachers that they called Project-Based Learning, Inquiry Learning, or Maker Education, but upon close examination they appear to be another form of direct instruction with a hands-on activity thrown into the mix. These activities had no connections and very limited relevancy to the real lives of students.  Students using scissors, markers, drawings, or a Web 2.0 tool does not make a PBL or Maker Education curricular unit.

Just because it’s hands-on doesn’t mean it’s minds-on. Many projects, problems, situations, and field trips do not yield lasting and transferable learning because too little attention is given to the meta-cognitive and idea-building work that turns a single experience into insight and later application. Grant Wiggin’s Experiential Learning

As noted in the TLC High School Google site in Projects” vs. Project Based Learning’s What’s the difference or are they the same?

Projects done in school are usually the result of learning students have done. The typical approach is to learn about a topic through readings, worksheets, direct teacher instruction, then to create a project that demonstrates the learning that has occurred through the unit.

Project Based Learning is an approach that guides the learning, through driving questions and student inquiry, to uncover or discover the information needed to answer a question, solve a problem/mystery, or invent/create something new.  In Project Based Learning, the project is not simply the visible result or culmination of the learning, but rather the cause of the learning.

This got me thinking about the necessary conditions for implementing PBL or Maker Education as a viable and effective instructional strategy.  The guiding questions I developed are:

  • Does the educator have a deep understanding the philosophical principles and theoretical underpinnings of the instructional strategy?
  • Is there an authentic and relevant context directly related to the students’ lives?
  • Does the educator incorporate student voice and interests in its conception and development?
  • In its implementation, do the students have permission and freedom to go in a direction that interests them?
  • In its implementation, does the teacher fade into the background with students coming into the foreground of thinking, doing, and discussing?
  • Are there the venues, space, time, strategies for reflection so students can construct their own meanings and understandings?

Does the educator have a deep understanding the philosophical principles and theoretical underpinnings of the instructional strategy?

In order to use any instructional technique effectively, the teacher needs to understand the fundamental principles and assumptions upon which the specific technique is based ( Educators should go through a process of learning, understanding, and articulating the theory and guiding principles of a new teaching strategy-framework when considering the use of the strategy in their own classrooms.

Grant Wiggins recommends asking students the following questions about their learning within an experiential framework, but educators could benefit from also addressing these questions in determining and developing PBL and Maker Education curriculum:

Free and accessible content on the Internet provides educators with a variety and full range of opportunities to learn about the instructional strategies being considered for implementation in the classroom.

Resources for Project-Based Learning:

Resources For Maker Education:

Is there an authentic and relevant context directly related to the students’ lives?

The topics, content, and processes being introduced to students need to be relevant to the students themselves.  It needs to have a context within their lives.  School curriculum often presents content in these bits and pieces of facts and knowledge that are un- and disconnected to anything related to the students’ prior knowledge and life experiences.  Because of this disconnectedness, this content often floats away.  A relevant, current, and timely context provides students with the stickiness needed to make the content relevant, deep, and long lasting.

Contemporary views on learning see it as an active and recursive process. This perspective is driven by greater recognition of the pivotal role of the ‘learning context’ in knowledge construction and understanding. This is the constructivist perspective on learning. It is grounded in the belief that learning and cognition are most potent when situated within a meaningful context, and within the culture and the community within which learners live. (

“In education we provide problems separate from the relevance or the context in which they need to be used.” Ntiedo Etuk (

Without meaningful context and sensible processes, learning can become, well, merely academic. The learning system of the 21st century must be designed to deliver the right content via the right processes in the right context. The definition of “right” is whatever gives learners access to their own skills, creativity, and success. What works today could be obsolete in six months, so we must focus on creating opportunities for self-generated, relevant learning that allows people to discover avenues for self-empowerment in the future (

Project-Based Learning and Maker Education, when effectively implemented, have the potential to establish relevancy.  Hands-on, experiential activities, the uses of all senses, a sense of play and fun, and immediate and authentic feedback are natural elements of these instructional strategies. They are multisensory, multidisciplinary, and multidimensional increasing the chances to be seen as relevant by the students.

Because the educator has the background knowledge and skills related to the PBL or Maker Education curriculum being implemented, s/he can clearly address each of the following questions:

Add to this mix student voice and choice (see next section), then relevancy can be almost assured.

Does the educator incorporate student voice and interests in curricular conception and development?

If the educator develops the guiding questions, the methods of exploration and inquiry, and the expected outcomes, then it is the teacher’s project not the students’.  The students still may be interested in the lesson, but the ownership is still that of the teacher.

Effective PBL and Maker Education are often driven by guiding or essential questions.  If the educator is serious about students voice, then s/he will involve students in generating these questions.  As I discussed in Learners Should Be Developing Their Own Essential Questions:

The most important questions of all are those asked by students as they try to make sense out of data and information. These are the questions which enable students to make up their own minds. Powerful questions – smart questions, if you will – are the foundation for information power, engaged learning and information literacy. ( (

. . . and if students are helping to generate the guiding questions for the PBL or Maker Education curricular unit, then it follows that their interests, passions, and wonderings will also be incorporated

As both PBL and Maker-Education are process-oriented instructional strategies, these questions should be re-visited throughout the process by the students to see if they need to be changes, revised, or re-generated.

In its implementation, do the students have permission and freedom to go in a direction that interests them?

PBL and Maker Education entails the educator becoming a tour guide of learning possibilities; showing the students the learning opportunities and then getting out of the way.  This translates into letting go of expected products or outcomes; letting the learning process naturally go in the directions that students take them; expecting and embracing failure as learning opportunities; and listening to and validating student suggestions.

In its implementation, does the teacher fade into the background with students coming into the foreground of thinking, doing, and discussing?

Another one of my beliefs about good education is that the students should be doing more talking, doing, and thinking than the teacher during instructional time.  This literally means the educator becomes the guide on the side and the observer from the back.  Students naturally emerge as co-learners and peer tutors as the PBL and Maker Education learning activities evolve when they given the permission and freedom to do so.

Are there the venues, space, time, strategies for reflection so students can construct their own meanings and understandings?

PBL and Maker Education, when done “right”, become discovery-based learning leading to students constructing their own understandings and meaning.  It is a constructivist approach to learning.

Discovery learning is an inquiry-based, constructivist learning theory that takes place in problem solving situations where the learner draws on his or her own past experience and existing knowledge to discover facts and relationships and new truths to be learned. Students interact with the world by exploring and manipulating objects, wrestling with questions and controversies, or performing experiments. As a result, students may be more more likely to remember concepts and knowledge discovered on their own. (

Incorporating reflection into the instructional process with the goal of articulating learning insights helps insure that learning is not left up to change.   Moon points out the conditions for reflection include time and space, a good facilitator, a supportive curricular, and an emotionally supportive environment (  It needs to be intentionally built into the curriculum and as with all aspects of instruction, student voice is the primary voice during the reflection process.  To read more on the reflection process, visit Where is reflection in the learning process?

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 22, 2013 at 3:18 am

%d bloggers like this: