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Posts Tagged ‘reflective practice

The Maker as a Reflective Practitioner

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This coming year, I am doing several keynotes and workshops on the reflecting on the making process. Two elements from my training as an educator lead me to really embrace this topic:

  1. Background in Experiential Education
  2. Studying the Reflective Practitioner During Graduate School

Experiential Learning

Experiential learning is the process of learning through experience, and is more specifically defined as “learning through reflection on doing.” Experiential learning is distinct from rote or didactic learning, in which the learner plays a comparatively passive role. The general concept of learning through experience is ancient. Around 350 BCE, Aristotle wrote in the Nichomachean Ethics “for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experiential_learning)

Experiential education is a philosophy that informs many methodologies in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, clarify values, and develop people’s capacity to contribute to their communities. (http://www.aee.org/what-is-ee)

There are several elements of experiential learning that are relevant to this discussion. First is that learning starts with an experience. This permits learners to have a direct and sensory experience interacting with the instructional materials. This often permits deeper and more significant learning. Second is that there is a huge reflective component to experiential learning. A saying from this field is that if there is no reflection on the experience, then learning is left to change.

The Reflective Practitioner

During several of my graduate courses, the idea of the reflective practitioner was introduced through studying the works of Donald Schon and Stephen Brookfield. Donald Schon explains the characteristics of the reflective practitioner:

The reflective practitioner allows himself to experience surprise, puzzlement, or confusion in a situation which he finds uncertain or unique. He reflects on the phenomenon before him, and on the prior understandings which have been implicit in his behavior. He carries out an experiment which serves to generate both a new understanding of the phenomenon and a change in the situation. (http://infed.org/mobi/donald-schon-learning-reflection-change/)

Stephen Brookfield describes reflective practice as:

Reflective practice has its roots in the Enlightenment idea that we can stand outside of ourselves and come to a clearer understanding of what we do and who we are by freeing ourselves of distorted ways of reasoning and acting.  There are also elements of constructivist phenomenology in here, in the understanding that identity and experience are culturally and personally sculpted rather than existing in some kind of objectively discoverable limbo. (http://elearning.olc4tpd.com/enrol/index.php?id=5)

A recent research study published via Harvard Business Review concluded that:

  • Learning from direct experience can be more effective if coupled with reflection-that is, the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience.
  • Reflecting on what has been learned makes experience more productive.
  • Reflection builds one’s confidence in the ability to achieve a goal (i.e., self-efficacy), which in turn translates into higher rates of learning. (http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/7498.html)

Reflection in the Maker Process

The maker movement and maker education are becoming very popular in school and after school settings, libraries, and community centers. If making is to go beyond something that is just fun to do while doing it, then reflection can and should be used to help insure that the knowledge, skills, dispositions, attitudes, and values learned through individual making sessions are transferred to other settings.

Here is the slide deck I started for use during my presentations this year:

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 2, 2016 at 12:21 am

A Natural and Experiential Cycle of Learning

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Given this era of learning where information is abundant and easily accessible, it is even more important than ever to help learners understand the learning process. As such, one of the major responsibilities of an educator in this era of education is to make the learning process overt and intentional so learners develop skills for becoming more effective learners. To do so, though, educators need to explore and deeply understand the processes and cycles of learning. Real life learning or learning outside of school usually doesn’t entail studying textbook materials and then taking tests to assess learning.

I’ve discussed the learning cycle in The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture, the need to provide context to learning, being intentional with students about the metacognitive process, and the importance of reflection in the learning process. These ideas and the works of John Dewey, Carl Rogers, and David Kolb provide the foundation for a natural and experiential cycle of learning presented in this post:

An educative experience, according to Dewey, is an experience in which we make a connection between what we do to things and what happens to them or us in consequence; the value of an experience lies in the perception of relationships or continuities among events. Before we are formally instructed, we learn much about the world, ourselves, and others. It is this natural form of learning from experience, by doing and then reflecting on what happened, which Dewey made central in his approach to schooling. (http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/1914/Dewey-John-1859-1952.html#ixzz3x3JsjkBP)

The famous psychologist and a founder of humanism, Carl Rogers, also emphasizes the importance of experiential learning:

Rogers distinguished two types of learning: cognitive (meaningless) and experiential (significant). The former corresponds to academic knowledge such as learning vocabulary or multiplication tables and the latter refers to applied knowledge such as learning about engines in order to repair a car. The key to the distinction is that experiential learning addresses the needs and wants of the learner. Rogers lists these qualities of experiential learning: personal involvement, self-initiated, evaluated by learner, and pervasive effects on learner. To Rogers, experiential learning is equivalent to personal change and growth. Rogers feels that all human beings have a natural propensity to learn. According to Rogers, learning is facilitated when: (1) the student participates completely in the learning process and has control over its nature and direction, (2) it is primarily based upon direct confrontation with practical, social, personal or research problems, and (3) self-evaluation is the principal method of assessing progress or success. Rogers also emphasizes the importance of learning to learn and an openness to change. (http://www.instructionaldesign.org/theories/experiental-learning.html)

David Kolb proposes that experiential learning has six main characteristics:

  • Learning is best conceived as a process, not in terms of outcomes.
  • Learning is a continuous process grounded in experience.
  • Learning requires the resolution of conflicts between dialectically opposed modes of adaptation to the world (learning is by its very nature full of tension).
  • Learning is a holistic process of adaptation to the world.
  • Learning involves transactions between the person and the environment.
  • Learning is the process of creating knowledge that is the result of the transaction between social knowledge and personal knowledge. (http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/styles/kolb.html)

Too often in way too many school settings of all grades and levels; concepts, ideas, and skills are presented as abstract concepts. Students can learn these concepts theoretically but not with deep understanding. Deep understanding often requires learners to intimately interact with the material and for them to interact intimately with material, they need to learn about and know the material experientially.

Kolb conceptualized learning as a cyclical model.

Effective learning is seen when a person progresses through a cycle of four stages: of (1) having a concrete experience followed by (2) observation of and reflection on that experience which leads to (3) the formation of abstract concepts (analysis) and generalizations (conclusions) which are then (4) used to test hypothesis in future situations, resulting in new experiences. (http://www.simplypsychology.org/learning-kolb.html)

[I am referring to and discussing Kolb’s ideas re: the natural cycle of learning not his ideas re: learning styles].

An Experiential and Natural Cycle of Learning

What follows is my version and explanation of the Experiential Learning Cycle:

CycleofLearning

The Stimulus; Gaining Interest

Gaining interest through some form of stimulus is a precursor to and a necessary component of engagement and entering into the experiential learning cycle. Gaining attention or interest is actually the first event of Gagne’s 9 events. According to Gagne’s nine events of instruction, gaining attention is the first key step taken into account when designing instruction. The basic idea is to grab the learners’ attention by presenting an interest device or a teaser. (http://elearningindustry.com/5-step-design-model-gain-attention-learner)

Both in real life and in the classroom, the learners’ attention and interest occurs when some stimulus is found to be interesting, novel, engaging, and/or exciting by the learner. It can be a demonstration, video, something someone has said, something a friend explained, a magazine article, a game. But again, it is something that the learners, themselves, find inherently interesting; something they want to learn more about due to some characteristics they find intrinsically motivating.

For example, I started playing Pickleball a few months ago. The stimulus came from several friends who began to play it at a local community college and told me repeatedly how much fun it is. This combined with my desire to add some fun sports-related work-outs to my routines acted as motivator for me to try it out for myself.

The Experience: The Doing and Redoing

The idea of experience as part of the learning process is central to John Dewey’s beliefs about powerful education.

The underlying philosophy of experiential learning cycle (ELC) models is Deweyian.  By Deweyian is meant that Experiential Learning Cycle models emphasize that the nature of experience as of fundamental importance and concern in education and training.  A further, Deweyian assumption underlying ELCs is that people learn experientially and that some experiences are educative whilst other experiences are miseducative.  All experiences are understood to be continuous, that is, each experience influences each future experience.  It is the teacher’s responsibility to structure and organize a series of experiences which positively influence each individual’s potential future experiences (Dewey, 1938/1997).  In other words, “good experiences” motivate, encourage, and enable students to go on to have more valuable learning experiences, whereas, “poor experiences” tend to lead towards a student closing off from potential positive experiences in the future.  (http://wilderdom.com/experiential/elc/ExperientialLearningCycle.htm)

Once attention and interest are sparked, learners typically have a desire to try that thing out. There are lots of ways the learners to have an experience including sensory-rich and kinesthetic experiences; hands-on use of and experimentation with materials and objects; and well designed virtual experiences and simulations. For my Pickleball example, it simply meant joining the group who play at the local community college.

The Reflection: Self-Assessing

We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience. – John Dewey

I believe as John Dewey does that deep, meaningful, long-lasting learning is left to chance if it is not a strategic, integrated part of the learning process.

Critical reflection is an important part of any learning process. Without reflection, learning becomes only an activity — like viewing a reality TV show — which was never meant to have meaning, but was only meant to occupy time. Critical reflection is not meditation, rather it is mediation — an active, conversive, dialectical exercise that requires as much intellectual work as does every other aspect of the learning process, from analysis to synthesis to evaluation. But in reflection, all the learned material can be gathered about, sorted and resorted, and searched through for greater understanding and inspiration (https://canvas.instructure.com/courses/612829/wiki/heres-what-to-do-on-saturday).

In terms of this learning cycle, it becomes reflecting deeply on what worked, what didn’t work during the doing phase and exploring reasons why. For my own Pickleball example, I spend time after each play day assessing which individual plays went well and which did not along with coming up with my own reasons why for each.

The Conceptualization: Researching

Once learners have the experience and have reflected on the experience, they are ready to research ways to improve and increase their learning. The research is designed to hone skills and improve future performance. Since learners have had the experience of doing and reflecting on what worked and didn’t work in the implementation of the doing, they can research specific and personalized ways to improve. This research can come in many forms based on learner preferences. It can include doing online research, watching videos, talking to friends, colleagues and experts, and/or watching experts in action.

In my example of learning Pickleball, I went online and read blogs as well as viewed Youtube videos on how to play pickleball. I learn more about how and where to stand in the court, how to hold the racket, and how to read my opponents. None of these ideas or tips would have made any sense to me had I done the research prior to playing Pickleball.

Return to Doing and Redoing

Once the learner completes the cycle of experience, reflect, and research, they return to the doing phase to try it, reflect on it, and research it again.

For Pickleball, I return to the court to try out my new skills.

Going back through the cycle repeatedly reinforces that learning process is iterative. Iteration is the act of repeating a process with the aim of approaching a desired goal, target or result. Each repetition of the process is also called an “iteration”, and the results of one iteration are used as the starting point for the next iteration. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iteration)  This cycle of learning reinforces that learning any new skill – making something, writing something, learning new technology, developing skills in physical movement, music, the arts – is an iterative process.

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 13, 2016 at 11:12 pm

Reflecting on the Making Process

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My background is in experiential education. One of the strategies used in experiential education is debriefing or reflecting on the experience. In other words, learning from direct experience is not left to chance. The educator becomes proactive in debriefing or processing the experiences to increase the chances that learning occurs. This is in line with John Dewey’s ideas:

We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.’

A recent research study published via Harvard Business Review concluded that:

  • Learning from direct experience can be more effective if coupled with reflection-that is, the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience.
  • Reflecting on what has been learned makes experience more productive.
  • Reflection builds one’s confidence in the ability to achieve a goal (i.e., self-efficacy), which in turn translates into higher rates of learning. (http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/7498.html)

In line with reflecting on experiences, I developed a list of questions and a board game (I love using board games in my classrooms of all ages from elementary to graduate level!) to help with reflecting on the maker process following the completion of maker projects. The purpose of these tools is to increase the possible learning and insights that learners extract from their maker projects.

a making reflection

A Maker Reflection: The Game

maker game best

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 5, 2015 at 10:02 pm

Stages of Being a Maker Learner

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So what is making? I’ve proposed that the heart of making is creating new and unique things. I also realize that in order for this type of making to occur, there needs to be some scaffolding so that maker learners can develop a foundation of knowledge and skills. The end result, though should be maker learners creating new things by and for themselves. The ideas in this post have been sparked by the SAMR model. I see a similar pattern or progression with maker education:

  • Copy – make something almost exactly as someone else has done.

In this age of information abundance, there really is an unlimited number of DIY resources, tutorials, Youtube videos, online instructors and instructions on making all kind of things. These resources provide a good beginning for acquiring some solid foundational skills and knowledge for learning how a make something one has never made before.

  • Advance – gain more advance knowledge and skills by doing similar projects

During this stage, the maker learner, who desires to learn more about a given skill, project, or product, gains more advanced skills and knowledge by exploring additional and more advanced resources and by using these resources to create more advanced makes.

  • Embellish – add something that has been done; add a little of one’s self to it.

When embellishing, maker learners extend their copied projects to include their own ideas. They tailor the copied projects to include their own ideas or embellishments. Example embellishments can be found with 3D printing, Makey-Makey, and littleBits adaptations.

  • Modify – take what others have done and modify or morph it into something new.

When modifying, maker learners take something that has been created before and tweak it to make something new. An example is the cardboard challenge where kids who were inspired by Caine’s Arcade build their own cardboard creations.

  • Create – make or create some new, unique, different than what has been created before

When creating, maker learners create some unique or new. A simple example is when kids (and adults) take apart toys and use those parts to create new kinds of toys. A more complex example was the first folks who created prosthetic arms for 3-D printers.

Getting to Create stage will not occur for everyone but the Create doesn’t have to be that unique or earth shattering. It just means making something – anything more different or unique than what has been made before. I do believe, though, that maker learners need to get beyond the Copy and Advance stages to add something of themselves to their makes. I believe this is what true making is all about.

makeredmodel

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 28, 2015 at 3:27 am

Sharing: A Responsibility of the Modern Educator

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In a past post blog I discussed the idea that every educator has a story and that they should share those stories:

Educators are doing amazing things with their learners in spite of the standards-based and accountability-driven movements. If all educators publicized the accomplishments they had in their classrooms using technology, hands-on activities, global collaborations, project-based learning; then an informal qualitative research project would result.  When educators are asked to provide evidence of efficacy to administrators, parents, other educators, funding sources, they could share these success stories.  This aggregate would become the collective narrative – story of education of our times in the beginnings of the 21st century. (https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2011/11/23/every-educator-has-a-story-just-tell-it/)

2011-11-23_0817

As a follow-up to that post, I am amplifying my call to action to say that I believe it is the responsibility of every educator in this era of learning to share . . . resources, ideas, success, challenges, ahas, student insights, anything education related.

Sharing takes on many forms. Educators can talk to colleagues, write blogs, tweet, present at conferences – both virtually and face to face, talk to the media, and/or create a media product – video, podcast, photo essay – and post online.

IMG_1003

On a personal level, sharing assists the educator in becoming a better educator. The act of sharing requires reflection and preparation. The educator needs to reflect on his or her own practices to identify which ones they want to share and also needs to put that sharing artifact into a form (e.g. writing, images, audio, video) that will understood by an authentic audience. This process tends to help the educator improve instructional practices.

On a broader, more systemic level, sharing one’s experiences benefits other educators which, in turn, has the potential to advance the entire education field. It is the collective responsibility of all educators to create the change that they want to see in the education world. There really is no they in education. The they is really we-us. The we-us now have the means to have a voice.

The educator becomes a connected educator and through sharing, is an active participant and contributor to the connected educator movement.

Being a connected educator means connecting with other teachers to exchange ideas, improve your teaching practice, and in turn, make a change in education. It is only through being connected that we can collaborate and help to foster learning for the 21st century and beyond. (Being a Connected Educator)

The gap between what is and what could be in education is larger than it ever has  been.  I believe this is largely due to technology and the ability to establish global connections because of social media. Educators are more connected and more aware about education trends than any time in the history of public education.

Imagine how education could be transformed if all educators use their own personal, often passion-driven voices. The bottom line is that if any individual educator believes there are flaws in the education, that it can be done better, then s/he has the responsibility to say something. I reaching the point that I am starting to believe it is a moral imperative for educators to share what they know to be true with other educators; and with administrators, students’ families, community members, politicians . . . the larger global society.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 29, 2015 at 11:09 pm

Learning Needs a Context

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This is a follow up to a post I wrote, How Do We Learn? How Should We Learn?  The purpose of these posts is to encourage educators to examine practices they take for granted, implement without deep reflection of their efficacy. This post discusses the instructional practice of asking students to memorize information.

How often have students (ourselves included) been asked to memorize mass amounts of facts – historical dates, vocabulary words, science facts, get tested on them, just to forget almost all those memorized facts a week or two later? Given that is this learning experience is more common than not, why do educators insist on continuing this archaic and ineffective instructional practice?

To learn it in isolation is like learning the sentence “Hamlet kills Claudius” without the faintest idea of who either gentleman is–or, for what matter, of what “kill” means. Memorization is a frontage road: It runs parallel to the best parts of learning, never intersecting. It’s a detour around all the action, a way of knowing without learning, of answering without understanding. (When Memorization Gets in the Way of Learning)

The more closely we inspect this model of teaching and testing, the more problematic it reveals itself to be. First, there’s the question of what students are made to learn, which often is more oriented to factual material than to a deep understanding of ideas. Second, there’s the question of how students are taught, with a focus on passive absorption: listening to lectures, reading summaries in textbooks, and rehearsing material immediately before being required to cough it back up. Third, there’s the question of why a student has learned something: Knowledge is less likely to be retained if it has been acquired so that one will perform well on a test, as opposed to learning in the context of pursuing projects and solving problems that are personally meaningful. (Alfie Kohn)

The visual image I use to describe this is that there are all of these unconnected facts floating around in the learner’s brain. Since they have nothing to connect to, they end up flying away. This is especially true for abstract concepts.

floating facts

Memorizing facts often means a waste of students’ time and energy. In some cases, too many cases, learners lose their passion and excitement for a subject or topic that, if taught in another way, may have not been the case.

The Need for Context

Learning facts and knowledge about a content area topic is an important prerequisite to understanding that topic and then developing expertise. The key to this understanding is providing a context for the facts. The context becomes the glue to increase the stickiness, the longevity of long term memory of those facts. This is especially true for abstract concepts. These concepts need something concrete with which to attach.context

Lave and Wenger (1991) argue that learning should not be viewed as simply the transmission of abstract and decontextualised knowledge from one individual to another, but a social process whereby knowledge is co-constructed; they suggest that such learning is situated in a specific context and embedded within a particular social and physical environment. (Situated Learning)

Increasing Context and Relevancy

Authentic learning can be the driving force for increasing context and relevancy. Jan Herrington describes authentic learning along two axes – the authenticity of the task is on one axis (from authentic to decontextualised), and the setting is on the other (the classroom/university to the real setting). The goal of educators should be to increase authenticity which leads to more contextual learning (and vice versa).

Matrix pic 1(http://authenticlearning.info/AuthenticLearning/Matrix.html)

The following are some suggestions for establishing context (the list is just a start). Ironically, they are practices that are often recommended are best practices in teaching but they aren’t implement as often as they should be:

The bottom line is that regardless of the content area, students deserve educations that have self-perceived authenticity, relevancy, and a context that makes sense.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 21, 2015 at 6:17 pm

The Creativity Mindset

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I absolutely love all of the emphasis on mindsets these days. There are growth mindsets (which I discuss in The Educator with a Growth Mindset: A Staff Workshop) and maker mindsets (which I discuss in The Mindset of the Maker Educator). Mindsets are simply defined as “the ideas and attitudes with which a person approaches a situation.” Mindsets imply that mental and attitudinal states can assist one in being successful with a given skill set. I believe this to be true for engaging in the creative process, that a creative mindset is a prerequisite to being creative.

Creativity is a process in which the elements of mind consolidate in a completely new manner and something original comes into existence, a form of behavior in which a person resists routine answers, tolerates, and even seeks out the ambivalence, insecurity and vagueness that may serve as a basis for a new order (Gyarmathy, 2011). (http://www.academia.edu/2506344/Creative_climate_as_a_means_to_promote_creativity_in_the_classroom)

To be highly creative you first need the right creative mindset. Having the outlook, attitude and beliefs that empower and support you to be as creative as you can. (http://www.mind-sets.com/html/mind_power_programs/creativity_mindset.htm#sthash.ihA6Ng2q.dpuf)

A creative mindset gives meaning and value to how you approach your life, creative endeavors, and pretty much everything you do. Having a mindset for creativity opens you up to opportunities and possibilities because you are able to relish the creative process and embrace innovative thinking. Creativity is how we make our lives meaningful and by valuing your creativity, owning, and honoring it, you will move into a life that is purposeful, truthful, and feels free. (http://www.awakencreativity.com/a-creative-mindset/)

Some of the characteristics of the Creativity Mindset include:

  • Believes in One’s Own Creativity
  • Embraces Curiosity
  • Suspends Judgement – Silences the Inner Critic
  • Tolerates Ambiguity
  • Persists Even When Confronted with Skepticism & Rejection
  • Taps Into Childlike Imagination; a Child’s Sense of Wonder

creativity mindset

Believes in One’s Own Creativity

Central to a creativity mindset is the belief that one is and can be creative. It becomes self-statements that revolve around, “I can be creative.”

You have to believe that your creativity has meaning. You have to believe with all your heart that if you don’t express your creativity that you are not living up to your full potential, will never experience true happiness, or find the ultimate meaning of your existence. (http://www.awakencreativity.com/a-creative-mindset/believe-in-your-creativity-part-one-of-a-creative-mindset/)

Tina Seelig writes in inGenius that “in order to find creative solutions to big problems, you must first believe that you’ll find them. With this attitude, you see opportunities where others see obstacles and are able to leverage the resources you have to reach your goals” (p. 180). (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/creative-synthesis/201404/when-it-comes-creativity-attitude-is-key)

Embraces Curiosity

Creative people want to know things–all kinds of things– just to know them. Knowledge does not require a reason. The question, “Why do you want to know that?” seems strange to the creative person, who is likely to respond, “Because I don’t know the answer.” Knowledge is enjoyable and often useful in strange and unexpected ways. (http://www.virtualsalt.com/crebook1.htm)

Suspends Judgment – Silences the Inner Critic

The ability to hold off on judging or critiquing an idea is important in the process of creativity. Often great ideas start as crazy ones – if critique is applied too early the idea will be killed and never developed into something useful and useable. (note – this doesn’t mean there is never a time for critique or judgement in the creative process – it’s actually key – but there is a time and place for it). (http://www.problogger.net/archives/2007/05/09/9-attitudes-of-highly-creative-people/)

Many new ideas, because they are new and unfamiliar, seem strange, odd, bizarre, even repulsive. Only later do they become “obviously” great. Other ideas, in their original incarnations, are indeed weird, but they lead to practical, beautiful, elegant things. Thus, it is important for the creative thinker to be able to suspend judgment when new ideas are arriving, to have an optimistic attitude toward ideas in general.

Tolerates Ambiguity

Ambiguity tolerance may be… the “willingness to accept a state of affairs capable of alternate interpretations, or of alternate outcomes,” (English & English 1958). In other words, ambiguity tolerance may be central to creative thinking. (http://knowinnovation.com/tolerating-ambiguity/#sthash.XqxhaQh3.dpuf)

With the toleration of ambiguity, creativity gives way to new ideas, stimulates the acceptance of others’ viewpoints, and thus raises tolerance, understanding and cooperation. (http://www.academia.edu/2506344/Creative_climate_as_a_means_to_promote_creativity_in_the_classroom

Persists Even When Confronted with Skepticism & Rejection

Creative people who actually see their ideas come to fruition have the ability to stick with their ideas and see them through – even when the going gets tough. This is what sets apart the great from the good in this whole sphere. Stick-ability is key. (http://www.problogger.net/archives/2007/05/09/9-attitudes-of-highly-creative-people/)

Most people fail because they spend only nine minutes on a problem that requires ten minutes to solve. Creativity and problem solving are hard work and require fierce application of time and energy. There is no quick and easy secret. You need knowledge gained by study and research and you must put your knowledge to work by hard thinking and protracted experimentation.  (http://www.virtualsalt.com/crebook1.htm)

Taps Into Childlike Imagination; a Child’s Sense of Wonder

When children play, they often do so in very original ways. However, with the responsibilities of adulthood, this playful curiosity is sometimes lost and conventional responses often result. In a control condition, participants wrote about what they would do if school was cancelled for the day. In an experimental condition, the instructions were identical except that participants were to imagine themselves as 7-year-olds in this situation. Individuals imagining themselves as children subsequently produced more original responses. Merely being primed to think like a child resulted in the production of more original responses on a subsequent measure of creativity. (http://psycnet.apa.org/?&fa=main.doiLanding&doi=10.1037/a0015644)

Learning to ask ‘why’, ‘what if’ and ‘I wonder…’ are great questions to build into your life if you want to be a more creative person. (http://www.problogger.net/archives/2007/05/09/9-attitudes-of-highly-creative-people/)

Look at the clouds outside your window. When you were a child, you would probably find yourself looking at the clouds and seeing all kinds of shapes and figures and developing stories. Many adults, however, look at clouds and see them as nothing more than the threat of rain. Psychologists call this “functional fixedness”–we see things for their main function and thereby circumvent our imagination. To think creatively, we need to stop thinking, “What it is…” and instead think, “What could it be?” (http://www.inc.com/suzanne-lucas/the-5-attitudes-that-stifle-creativity.html)

Creative people are comfortable with imagination and with thinking so-called weird, wild, or unthinkable thoughts, just for the sake of stimulation. (http://www.virtualsalt.com/crebook1.htm)

I wholeheartedly believe that both educators and learners in any educational setting need to have a Creativity Mindset to grow, flourish, and feel accomplished with their learning.

In order to teach creativity, one must teach creatively; that is, it will take a great deal of creative effort to bring out the most creative thinking in your classes. (http://www.celt.iastate.edu/teaching-resources/classroom-practice/teaching-techniques-strategies/creativity/techniques-creative-teaching/)

There are some conditions that the educator can establish to facilitate a Creativity Mindset. Coleman and Deutsch (2006) summarize guidelines for fostering creative problem-solving, which also underlie the importance of optimal environmental conditions. These include:

  • Challenge the common myths that block creativity. Many ideas about creativity have developed in people’s minds that influence the procedure of creativity in a negative way.  Ken Robinson (2011) states that every person possesses a huge creative potential, simply by virtue of being human.
  • Create a time-space oasis for creativity. According to John Cleese (1991) the most important factor is to provide an appropriate physical environment and enough time to become absorbed in a task, then work persistently on the solution, this is called a time-space oasis, a necessary condition for creative production.
  • Formulate a serious but playful atmosphere. Humor and playfulness decrease anxiety and thus make us more open to new approaches.
  • Foster learner’s self -confidence to bear the risk of unusual behavior. Some self-confidence or assertiveness is indispensable if we want to come up with new ideas, so self-reliance should be enhanced to encourage people to be more willing to take risks and consider novel ideas. http://www.academia.edu/2506344/Creative_climate_as_a_means_to_promote_creativity_in_the_classroom)

As a parting shot, here is a short RSA Animate video on the power to create:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 15, 2015 at 1:44 pm

All Kids Have Worth

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All kids have worth. Some, though, want to prove to us that they have none. Our job as caring educators is to prove them wrong.

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This post was sparked by a blog post by Brian Aspinall, 5 Reasons Why I Stopped Sending Kids Out of Class and a follow up Twitter conversation I had with Brian Aspinall and Terry Heick.

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This got me thinking about my own past experiences with very high risk youth. I used to facilitate wilderness adventure therapy programs for adjudicated youth. This is a story of one youth in the program.

The Story of Timmy MadDog

In preparation for our two week wilderness course, I met each of the kids in their social workers’ offices. I knew the kids would be a challenge. They were given the choice between going on the two week wilderness course or going to juvenile detention. Prior to meeting Timmy, his social worker told me he was a handful, that both adults and his peers feared him. I took in a deep breath in preparation for meeting him. In walks in a 13 year-old boy with shabby clothes, shaggy blond hair, and about 4’10 in height. The first thing he said was, “My name in MadDog.” I laughed out loud given the incongruence between his description and his appearance; but my heart was immediately drawn to this kid.

As expected, MadDog caused a lot of problems “mouthing off” to both staff and his peers. None of problems, though, were outrageous or dangerous. We used huddle-ups or the tenets positive peer culture to deal with problems:

PPC is a peer-helping model designed to improve social competence and cultivate strengths in troubled and troubling youth. “Care and concern” for others (or “social interest”) is the defining element of PPC. Rather than demanding obedience to authority or peers, PPC demands responsibility, empowering youth to discover their greatness. Caring is made fashionable and any hurting behavior totally unacceptable. PPC assumes that as group members learn to trust, respect, and take responsibility for the actions of others, norms can be established. These norms not only extinguish antisocial conduct, but more importantly reinforce pro-social attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Positive values and behavioral change are achieved through the peer-helping process. Helping others increases self-worth. As one becomes more committed to caring for others, s/he abandons hurtful behaviors. http://www.cebc4cw.org/program/positive-peer-culture/

The bottom line was, “You can have problems but you need to deal with them.” The huddle-ups were group meetings called by both staff and/or the kids if a problem arose. Everyone would immediately stop what they were doing and get in a huddle to discuss the problem. The huddle-up went on as long as needed to address the problem and insure that everyone was comfortable with solutions.  Needless to say, Timmy MadDog had a large share of huddle-ups called on him.

We were in the second week, Timmy MadDog had reached the end of everyone’s nerves. We had a long and intense huddle-up. The kids, good problem-solvers by this point, had a list of changes they wanted Timmy MadDog to make. Their ultimatum was make these changes or leave the course. I respected the kids’ decisions – especially at this point of the course. I had really grown to care about Timmy MadDog and didn’t want their decision to be to kick him out of the course. Timmy MadDog sighed and said, “I really want to change but I have been acting this way for 13 years. How can you expect me to change overnight?” The group voted for him to say.

During the final days of the course, we saw subtle but significant changes. The baseball cap that he had worn so low it almost covered his eyes during all of his waking hours was no longer being worn at all. The other kids would often chant “Don’t treat your puppy like a dog, dog, dog (from the old tv commercial). You think you are a MadDog but you are just a puppy dog,” to which he would laugh and smile. Less huddle-ups were called on him.

The final night of the two week wilderness trip was marked by a graduation. The kids, after cleaning up and getting dressed up, went to a dinner in honor of their achievements. Their family members, social workers, and probation officers were invited to attend. To receive their graduation certificate, each had to stand up in front of the entire group and talk about what the course meant to them. It was Timmy’s turn. He stood up in front of the group and said, “I learned that I am not such a fuck up.” This wasn’t the most proper way to say it in front of all of these people but the message was huge. Timmy learned he had worth.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 27, 2015 at 9:11 pm

Educator as Lead Learner: Learning littleBits

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I have discussed educators as model learners before:

The educator’s role has or should change in this age of information abundance or Education 2.0-3.0. The educator’s role has always been to model and demonstrate effective learning, but somewhere along the line, the major role of the educator became that of content and knowledge disseminator. Now that in this information age content is freely and abundantly available, it is more important than ever to assist learners in the process of how to learn. (Educator as Model Learner)

I advocate for the educator, as leader learner, to demonstrate the process of learning:

To effectively do so, though, the educator needs to understand and be able to articulate and demonstrate the process of learning, him or herself. It is a mistaken assumption that educators know how to do so. The learning process can be made overt through recording and clearly articulating the steps, procedures, and/or strategies for doing so. (Educators as Lead Learners)

To learn and model this process, I recommend that educators pick something new to learn and practice doing the following: educator as lead learner I am teaching at a maker education camp this summer and want to integrate LittleBits into my curriculum. As such, I am learning how they work. In order to model my process as lead learner, I noted how I am learning how to use Littlebits. I will ask the older kids to do a similar process and will have them explore my documentation to get an idea how to do this.

Note My Steps to the Learning Process

Why I Became Interested As a avid user of Twitter, I have a column for tweets hashtagged as #makered. LittleBits come up often. I have been watching how they evolved over the past year or so; and how they support and are being used by educators. Purchasing and Examining LittleBits LittleBits has several kits. I looked them over online and decided to purchase two kits: The Basic and the Arduino Coding Kit.  I examined both sets to insure I was getting different LittleBits with the two kits. Since I am a consumer shopper, I found both these sets via eBay – new for about half of the original cost – score!

How I Am Learning

As many of us do in this century of learning, I go online to find tutorials. I am using the following resources to help me get acquainted

I try a few of the simple projects to learn about the functions of the different Littlebits. I then read over the projects offered in the manual. I mentally picture building them. Because I knew I could easily build the beginning ones, I skip to the last project in the manual – the Three-Wheeler and also view it online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=niEsF4jeXU0. I have a belief that maker education is not about copying what has been already created. As such, I think about how I wanted to adapt the projects.

I conceptualize an adaptation of the three-wheeler as a cat toy/feeder. I come up with a mental picture of the cat toy-feeder. I would be using the light light sensor and bar graph to activate the toy when the sun comes up in the morning. Once activated due to the sun, the engine would move and the LED in the feathered tail would light up.  The moving device with the trailing feathers and LED would encourage my cat to chase it, hence getting a little exercise prior to catching the reward of her cat food situated on the truck bed. Her body would cover the light sensor causing it to stop and giving her a chance to eat (photos can be found at the end of this post).

I have a bunch of Legos and tinker toys that I use when teaching and bring these out to help me build. Combining the Legos with Littlebits makes sense but connecting them takes some work with the use of tape. I guess LittleBits figured this out because I went online and found the brick adapter: http://littlebits.cc/accessories/brick-adapter. Because I have so many parts which includes LittleBits, Legos, Tinker Toys  – some on the top and some on the bottom, I have to manipulate and play with different configurations to get everything to fit together and work correctly.

Thinking About My Thinking

Some of the thoughts I had during the building of this project:

  • I love that I can jump on the internet and immediate get tutorials and example projects that others have done.
  • I like the car project and believe the kids will like this, too, but I want to create my own version rather than following the directions as written.
  • I have all of these building supplies from teaching – Legos, Tinker Toys, Pico Cricket. I can go find those to use with the LittleBits in order to complete my own design.
  • How silly it is that I am an older woman “playing” with Legos. I need to let go of this thought.
  • I figured some things out but dropping the little pieces a lot frustrated me. I decided to put it away and start again tomorrow morning.
  • I feel a sense of accomplishment figuring out how to “fix” things so they work better.
  • I think that being a ceramics potter and teaching EdTech has made me a better problem solver.
  • I used the LittleBits motor to make it move, how can I use some of the other LittleBits to embellish it – add more features?
  • I like combining the Littlebits with Legos but they are a little unruly. I have to “MacGyver” them together. This is making the project a lot more difficult.
  • I know that letting ideas float around in my mind for a while often yields results, so after thinking about how I might adapt it, I came up with a cat feeder and toy.
  • I know that I can successfully visualize art projects without needing to sketch them out. I know this is not true for everyone.
  • It is taking a lot more time than expected – hopefully my hard work will pay off.
  • Not having the right tools (e.g., not have the brick connectors) can be very frustrating.
  • I don’t like how all of the electrical tape is showing so I’ll cover the top of the Lego plate. It will also serve to create a surface that will more easily clean off the cat food.
  • Yea – it works. I am laughing and clapping at the whimsical nature of this project.

Iterations

The maker movement is driven by the DIY movement, creating and recreating new “things.” At its core, then, making is about experimentation, about trial and error, about trying things out to see what works and what doesn’t. As such, failure is seen as iteration. Part of being a lead learner, of understanding and documenting the learning process is recording the iterations of the project. I engaged in a lot of experimentation but had basically two iterations. I believe I would have had more but due to some experience with robotics, I had a good idea of what would work – not work.

1st Iteration

  • Had wheel extended too far back – couldn’t mount the motor.
  • Front wheels bumping into base – needed to add spacers.
  • The single back wheel didn’t work with a Lego wheel; too long of a motor stem made the wheel off centered and with the weight of the motor it fell to one side.

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2nd Iteration

The second iteration was actually the final one but it took a lot of manipulating the back wheel and motor to get them to stay put.

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Self-Evaluation

I worked on this project over two days. I feel successful in a number of ways:

  • Because I have done some simple robotics (Pico Crickets),  ith my students before, I found that this background, helped me understand the functions of many of the Littlebits. It felt good to be able to quickly understand how Littlebits functioned.
  • I am proud of the final project in terms of function but not so much in form.  I don’t like all the tape I used and the wheel is a bit precariously connected. Maybe I’ll buy to brick connectors at some point.
  • I was very excited about the final project. It worked as I conceptualized and my cat enjoyed it, too!

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 23, 2015 at 1:18 am

Educators as Lead Learners

with 3 comments

I have discussed educators as model learners before:

The educator’s role has or should change in this age of information abundance or Education 2.0-3.0. The educator’s role has always been to model and demonstrate effective learning, but somewhere along the line, the major role of the educator became that of content and knowledge disseminator. Now that in this information age content is freely and abundantly available, it is more important than ever to assist learners in the process of how to learn. (Educator as Model Learner)

The goal of this post is to encourage educators not only to adopt the mindset of the educator as a lead learner but also to model, demonstrate, and teach his/her learners the process of learning how to learn new “things”.

In our schools, “the emphasis is on what students need to learn, whereas little emphasis—if any—is placed on training students how they should go about learning the content and what skills will promote efficient studying to support robust learning,” writes John Dunlosky, professor of psychology at Kent State University in Ohio. However, he continues, “teaching students how to learn is as important as teaching them content, because acquiring both the right learning strategies and background knowledge is important—if not essential—for promoting lifelong learning.” (Smart Strategies That Help Students Learn How to Learn)

To effectively do so, though, the educator needs to understand and be able to articulate and demonstrate the process of learning, him or herself. It is a mistaken assumption that educators know how to do so. The learning process can be made overt through recording and clearly articulating the steps, procedures, and/or strategies for doing so. To learn and model this process, I recommend that educators pick something new to learn and practice doing the following:

  1. Explicitly state and record the metacognitive process while learning.
  2. Demonstrate and articulate the actual steps of learning.
  3. Record the stages of artifact development.
  4. Understand and embrace the iterative process of learning.
  5. Use and demonstrate the self-evaluative reflection process.

educator as lead learner

Deep Understanding of Metacognitive Processes The educator should be familiar with and able to demonstrate metacognitive processes. “The most effective learners are metacognitive; that is, they are mindful of how they learn, set personal learning goals, regularly self-assess and adjust their performance, and use strategies to support their learning” (http://sites.cdnis.edu.hk/school/ls/2011/05/12/teachers-as-lead-learners/). Developing one’s on metacognitive skills begins with developing an awareness of one’s own thought processes while learning new things. Once this awareness is developed, the steps of learning can be more clearly articulated.  

Articulate and Showcase the Actual Steps of Learning If learning is understood as a process – one that goes from not knowing to one of knowing, then educators should know, understand, and clearly articulate the steps to that process. Granted, learning different things requires some different strategies, but there are some steps that cut across disciplines. For example, some of these steps include how one does the following:

  • How do I gather information about what it is that I want to learn?
  • What are the steps am I taking to learn?
  • How do I know if I am adequately acquiring the knowledge, skills, etc., related to that learning?
  • What do I do when I get stuck?
  • What do I do when I need help?

So related to the metacognitive process, if the educator records the steps to their learning process, this can help make it more overt and obvious.

Understand and Embrace the Iterative Process of Learning The following video discusses that “effective” learning is often iterative which involves prototyping, testing, failing, tweaking, and then repeating this cycle.

Learning As Iterative

The educator as a lead learner normalizes, embraces, models, and reinforces the iterative process of learning.

 Record the Stages of Artifact Development This strategy can be especially useful if the goal is to create or make something. It can include writing something, learning a new skill, and making something (as in Maker Education).  Too often education techniques focus on exemplary models. This gives the message that perfection is expected – not respecting that there are several stages, often several prototypes or iterations on the road towards perfection. Recording those iterations as artifacts through images, pictures, descriptive narratives will support and reinforce learning as a process.

Use and Demonstrate the Self-Evaluative Reflection Process

The authors [of this research] argue that learning from direct experience can be more effective if coupled with reflection—that is, the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience. The results reveal reflection to be a powerful mechanism behind learning, confirming the words of American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey: “We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience.” (Learning By Thinking: How Reflection Improves Performance)

Another strategy, intimately connected with the others presented in this post, is engaging in periodic self-evaluative reflection. It involves the revisiting the following question throughout the learning process, “What criteria am I using to assess the “goodness” and accuracy of my learning? In the absence of meeting that criteria, what do I do to adapt my strategies to meet this standard?”


Knowledge of one’s learning process can (and should) be used as part of an educator’s professional development. If done as such, it teaches and reinforces:

  • The importance of learning new things; the importance of being a lifelong learner.
  • The process of learning so this process can be more easily described and reinforced with students;
  • The importance of a growth mindset; that growth is possible during any time of one’s career.

It is important to realize the implications for our students of our own critical reflection. Students put great store by our actions and they learn a great deal from observing how we model intellectual inquiry and democratic process. Given that this is so, a critically reflective teacher activates her classroom by providing a model of passionate skepticism. As Osterman (1990) comments, “critically reflective teachers – teachers who make their own thinking public, and therefore subject to discussion – are more likely to have classes that are challenging, interesting, and stimulating for students” (p. 139). Stephen Brookfield

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 15, 2015 at 2:49 pm

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