User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Posts Tagged ‘school reform

Promises to My Learners as a Maker Educator

leave a comment »

I used to teach a graduate course in professional ethics for the educator. One of the assignments I did is have these inservice educators develop a list of promises to their students. I asked them to make it poster size so they can post these promises in their classrooms. Here is an example: 10 Amazing Teacher Promises for the Beginning of School.

As I prepared to teach a summer school/camp on maker education (see, I decided compose a list of promises to my learners as a maker educator.

  1. I promise to make the making environment positive, joyful and physically and emotionally safe so you feel safe enough to take risks, ask questions, make mistakes, and test things out.
  2. I promise you to provide you with resources and materials to help you create, make, innovate.
  3. I promise that I will respect and support your own unique ways of thinking, learning, creating, and interacting with others.
  4. I promise to work with you to create learning experiences that are personally relevant to you.
  5. I promise to support and help you understand and navigate the ups and downs, the mistakes and failures, and the trials and errors associated with making.
  6. I promise to give you time and opportunities to collaborate and share with other makers (of all ages).
  7. I promise to provide you with positive feedback on things you can control—such as effort, strategies, and behaviors.
  8. I promise to encourage you to critically think, formulate questions of your own, and come up with your own conclusions.
  9. I promise you that I will not intervene with your learning process unless you ask me to do so.
  10. I promise to support you as you embrace the joy in creating, playing, innovating, and making.

promises as a maker educator

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 27, 2015 at 3:01 am

Becoming a Lifelong Maker: Start Young

with 2 comments

I was recently asked what is was about my childhood that led to me being an adult who makes and who advocates that everyone should make in one form or another.  I believe there were several childhood experiences that contributed to me becoming a lifelong maker.

  • I was born a very curious and creative kid. This was accepted by my mother who gave me the freedom to be so. My mother let me go free range. I spent lots of my out of school time with the neighborhood kids. We engaged in lots of unstructured play with no adults telling us how to play.
  • Related to my unstructured play, I was given the permission, time, resources, and support to create. One of my favorite activities for a number of years was creating a type of midway fair in my backyard out of cardboard boxes.
  • I went to a summer day camp every summer for about 10 years. The focus on the creative arts, peer and informal learning, and lots of hands-on activities helped me develop skills for being creative.
  • My mother supported my interests by allowing for and paying for interest-driven classes at a local community center. I remember taking a “how to make a radio” class. She wasn’t thrilled about my interest in this boy populated class but still let me take the class.
  • The word “failed” didn’t exist during my young age. My play, projects, making things worked or didn’t work. If it didn’t work, I either moved on to something else or tried again doing something different.

In her book, Making Makers: Makers as Children, Children as Makers, AnneMarie Thomas interviewed dozens of adult makers to find out what childhood experiences helped lead to their becoming “makers of things.” Here are some excerpts about those early childhood experiences:

When I asked what drove them as children, all three Hillises explicitly mentioned “curiosity.” Noah and Asa, twins now in their twenties, have fallen into the “take things apart” category for as long as they could remember. They recalled a time when they, as toddlers, managed to take apart their crib and, subsequently, their window’s locks.

As an elementary school student, Eric Rosen Baum he often spent long creative afternoons with a friend named Elan, who lived just up the street. They were constantly making up new games to play. Some involved chasing each other with stuffed animals, others involved running up and down the stairs or dueling with Wiffleball bats, blankets, and laundry hampers.

Steve Hoefer maintains that a childhood on a farm instilled this in him. So many of his daily tasks as a child could be summed up as “Go and do something you’ve never done before. Figure it out. Learn something. Maybe even discover a better way of doing it.” Steve recalled, “[T]here were daily events where we were told to go off and do something, usually important, given the tools and materials, and the rest we had to figure out for ourselves. And usually it worked out. And when it didn’t, it wasn’t the end of the world.”

It is not surprising, then, that making, innovating, and being creative as a child leads to being innovative as an adult.

A new study from Michigan State University found that childhood participation in arts and crafts leads to innovation, patents, and increases the odds of starting a business as an adult. If you look at the mavericks of science and technology you will see a pattern of creative outlets being a key to their childhood. Creative activity in childhood rewires your brain into think out-of-the-box according to the researchers. In fact, the group reported using artistic skills—such as analogies, playing, intuition and imagination—are all key to to solving complex problems (Childhood Creativity Leads to Innovation in Adulthood).

What follows are some suggestions about how to set up an environment where kids feel free and inspired to make:

  • Provide kids with camp-like activities.
  • Let go of expectations about the learning process and end products.
  • Allow kids to go free range.
  • Allow for and encourage unstructured play time.
  • Help kids locate human and material resources that support their creative making.
  • Normalize failure as part of the learning process; as part of everyday life.

Provide Camp-like Activities

If school were more like camp, students would spend less time sitting at a desk quietly working by themselves on a work sheet and more time practicing teamwork and collaboration, working on science projects and presentations, acting out a book they are reading, and building their creativity and problem-solving skills Students would be encouraged to delve deeply into topics that interest them, regardless of what’s on the list of standards (Why Can’t School Be More Like Camp?).

See more at a blog post I wrote – School Should Be More Like Camp.

Let Go of Expectations About the Learning Process and End Products

Too often kids are told what they need to learn, how they need to learn it, and what they need to produce. Too often, though, this overly structured education environment stifles learning. Learning occurs naturally with most kids when expectations on what and how to learn is not presented as part of the process. This freedom to learn has lots of potential rewards, not just for the learner but for the larger community.

The thrill of jumping off a cliff by deciding to do so yourself is a high you will never have if someone else pushes you off of it. In other words, the top-down, teacher-student model of learning does not maximize learning as it devours curiosity and eliminates intrinsic motivation. Students of all ages must be afforded liberties to pursue educational opportunities and approaches for learning that are appropriate for them (Manifesto 15).

Provide Time for Unstructured Play and Allow Kids to Go Free Range

Kids need to have unstructured, unscheduled time just to be kids. Play is natural to kids. If their time is always structured, they learn, sadly often at a young age, how not to play. They don’t know what to do with themselves when given any free time. They lose their sense of freestyle and joyful play. Somewhere in the evolution (or devolution) of education; parents, educators, policy makers have forgotten the value of unstructured play in promoting significant learning:

Humans have an amazing natural sense of curiosity that will lead us to learn everything we need. We’re born with a drive to explore, with imagination and curiosity and wonder, which we retain throughout our lives, if they aren’t ‘taught’ out of us. We learn from experience; in fact, we learn all the time from everything we do. We live our life by living our lives (Free Range Learning: A Dialogue).

At play, children learn the most important of life’s lessons. To learn these lessons well, children need lots of play — lots and lots of it, without interference from adults. what children in our culture want to learn when they are free turns out to be skills that are valued in our culture and that lead to good jobs and satisfying lives. When they play, these students learn to read, calculate, and use computers with the same playful passion with which hunter-gatherer kids learn to hunt and gather. They don’t necessarily think of themselves as learning. They think of themselves as just playing, or ‘doing things’, but in the process they are learning.

Help kids locate human and material resources that support their creative making.

How do we as teachers, become activists who help our students form relationships and build alliances based on particular interest or issues and passions? Our role (as the adults in kids’ lives) takes a different kind of vision of what adults should do–we’re not there to tell students what to be interested in; we’re there to take their interests and help them run with it by introducing them to resources they might not have thought of (Mimi Ito in What Does “Interest-Driven” Look Like?)

Normalize Failure as Part of the Learning Process

We need to give our children more opportunities to build a relationship with failure. Children are innately risk-takers. If there is a curb, they will try to balance on it. If there is a shiny object, they will reach out for it. This is how they discover the world. Failure and risk-taking are how they learn. However, that sense of discovery and wonder is squelched in the classroom. We need to bring risk-taking back (Making Friends with Failure).

The bottom line is that if kids are given the time, opportunity, resources, and encouragement, they will do what comes naturally. They will make. If Kids What is your childhood story about why and how you become a maker? An aggregate of these stories can help educators identify and then use similar strategies in their own maker education settings.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 6, 2015 at 9:51 pm

When It Comes to Education, We Have to Stop Pretending

with 2 comments

Responding to Scott McLeod challenge and Steve Hargadon’s Tag: When it comes to education, we have to stop pretending. .

  • That “we” know best what students should learn; that it is okay for students to not have the freedom, time, resources to pursue their own interests and passions.
  • That it is okay to make students sit in a desk for hours and hours every day learning things they don’t want to learn in a way and a place they don’t want to learn it.
  • That it is okay to separate students from the real world – real world environments, real world people, real world problems.
  • That testing matters; that it is okay to make students take tests and assessments that have absolutely no connection to real life.
  • That it is okay for removed stakeholders to make educational decisions; that it is okay for students, parents, community members not to have a voice in their students’ educations.

Tagging Sylvia Tolisano, Barbara Bray, Terry Heick, Patrick Larkin, Eric Sheninger Please join us. When it comes to education, what are 5 things that we have to stop pretending? Post on your blog, tag 5 others, and share using the #makeschooldifferent hashtag. Feel free to also put the URL of your post in the comments area so others can find it!


Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 14, 2015 at 12:38 am

Learning Needs a Context

with 2 comments

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(

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 Other 21st Century Skills: Educator Self-Assessment

with 11 comments

I’ve posted about The Other 21st Skills and Attributes.  This post provides links and resources about these skills as well as an educator self-assessment.  This assessment contains questions to assist the educator in evaluating if and how s/he is facilitating these skills and attributes in the learning environment. skills

21st century skills

Related Resources:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 16, 2015 at 8:08 pm

Best Education-Related Videos of 2014

with one comment

I love end of year “best of” lists.  My own list is what I found to be the most powerful education related videos of 2014. They all, in some way, address the mind, heart, and spirit of education.  Each touched me in some way to help illuminate the purpose and core of education. Let me know of any others that you found of value during 2014!

Malala Yousuf Nobel Prize Speech

So through my story I want to tell other children all around the world that they should stand up for their rights. They should not wait for someone else and their voices are more powerful. Their voices – it would seem that they are weak, but at the time when no one speak, your voice gets so loud that everyone has to listen to it. Everyone has to hear it. So it’s my message to children all around the world that they should stand up for their rights.

Maya Angelou on George Stroumboulopoulos

Always so very beautiful – RIP, beautiful woman!

I must must tell you the truth as I understand it.  You might be the last person with whom I speak. Life is life and death is death, so I must tell the truth when I speak.

What I really want to do is be a representative of my race; the human race. I have a chance to show how kind we can be, how intelligent and generous we can be. I have a chance to teach and to love and to laugh.

Carol Dweck: The Power of Believing You Can Improve

How are we raising our children? Are we raising them for now instead of yet? Are we raising kids who are obsessed with getting A’s? Are we raising kids who don’t know how to dream big dreams?  Let’s not waste any more lives, because once we know that abilities are capable of such growth, it becomes a basic human right for children, all children, to live in places that create that growth, to live in places filled with yet.  

Sir Ken Robinson: Can Creativity Be Taught

Teaching is a process of enabling. It’s a process of giving people opportunities. It’s a process of encouragement. It’s a process of inspiration, of mentoring.  Gifted teachers help people discover their creative talents, to nurture them, to hone them, and to become more creative as a result.

President Obama on the Whitehouse Maker Faire

But what’s happening is, is that the young people now are able to learn by doing. So math, science all gets incorporated into the task of actually making something, which the students tell me makes the subject matter that much more interesting. We’re helping schools take shop class into the 21st century, because one of the things I’m really interested in is how do we redesign high schools so that young people are able to do stuff as they are learning.

Toxic Culture of Education: Joshua Katz

THOSE students are marginalized by what I call our “Toxic Culture of Education.” It doesn’t matter if a student is a gifted artist, a loving caretaker, a poetic writer, or a talented musician. THOSE students are the fish being measured on how they climb trees.  We need to start paying attention to our students. If a student fails Algebra 1 in the ninth grade, chances are it is not because they do not understand the material. Chances are it’s not because the teacher isn’t teaching. Chances are it’s not because of the school. Chances are it is because the student lacks some type of intangible characteristic (a “Non-Cognitive Behavior”) that enables them to succeed. Things like persistence, initiative, social skills, common sense, a full belly, or a good night’s sleep.

The necessity of the student voice | Catherine Zhang

Our projects seem more like coloring activities than actual content, and we were forced to only consider one interpretation especially on multiple choice tests. We knew there was something fundamentally wrong with the way we were being taught, but as students we were powerless. At a time we are trying to answer these large questions about the future of education, we’re leaving out this huge portion of the population.  Student are this untapped resource.  We’re the only ones at the receiving end of education. Asking these educational experts about what appeals to kids without asking students, themselves, is like asking your 92 year old grandmother how to use Instragram when you have a teenager in the house.

Rethinking Learning in the Digital Age – Mitchel Resnick

Not only do new technologies have us rethink what we learn and how we learn, we can also rethink where we learn, when we learn, and with whom we learn. With technology we can be learning all of the time.  If we think of technology in the right way, we can break out of old outmoded models of learning.  New technologies help us rethink the structures of schools.

Individualization, failure and fun | Cordell Steiner

Failure was an awesome experience and had a purpose. You are able to learn from your failure. You have the opportunity to go back over and over again; and work until you master a skill.

Inspire Her Mind

Isn’t it time we tell her she is PRETTY BRILLIANT, too.

You can help stop the violence against young black men | Verna Myers

And we’ve got to be willing to not shelter our children from the ugliness of racism when black parents don’t have the luxury to do so, especially those who have young black sons. We’ve got to take our lovely darlings, our future, and we’ve got to tell them we have an amazing country with incredible ideals, we have worked incredibly hard, and we have made some progress, but we are not done. We still have in us this old stuff about superiority and it is causing us to embed those further into our institutions and our society and generations, and it is making for despair and disparities and a devastating devaluing of young black men. We still struggle, you have to tell them, with seeing both the color and the character of young black men, but that you, and you expect them, to be part of the forces of change in this society that will stand against injustice and is willing, above all other things, to make a society where young black men can be seen for all of who they are.

If I Knew Then: A Letter to Me on My First Day Teaching

Kid President Throws a Surprise Party for a Retiring Teacher

Erzah French: Sportskid of the Year

You can dream it, you can hope it, you can make it happen; I choose to make it happen.

Malcolm Mitchell Book Club

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 18, 2014 at 11:35 pm

Experiential Learning: Is there really a question about this?

with 6 comments

The things we have to learn before we do them, we learn by doing them. Aristotle

Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results. John Dewey

My training as an educator occurred through experiential education rather than the traditional route.  Experiential Education is based on the following principles as articulated by the Association for Experiential Education:

  • Experiential learning occurs when carefully chosen experiences are supported by reflection, critical analysis and synthesis.
  • Experiences are structured to require the learner to take initiative, make decisions and be accountable for results.
  • Throughout the experiential learning process, the learner2 is actively engaged in posing questions, investigating, experimenting, being curious, solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative, and constructing meaning.
  • Learners are engaged intellectually, emotionally, socially, soulfully and/or physically. This involvement produces a perception that the learning task is authentic.
  • The results of the learning are personal and form the basis for future experience and learning.
  • Relationships are developed and nurtured: learner to self, learner to others and learner to the world at large.
  • The educator and learner may experience success, failure, adventure, risk-taking and uncertainty, because the outcomes of experience cannot totally be predicted.
  • Opportunities are nurtured for learners and educators to explore and examine their own values.
  • The educator’s primary roles include setting suitable experiences, posing problems, setting boundaries, supporting learners, insuring physical and emotional safety, and facilitating the learning process.
  • The educator recognizes and encourages spontaneous opportunities for learning.
  • Educators strive to be aware of their biases, judgments and pre-conceptions, and how these influence the learner.
  • The design of the learning experience includes the possibility to learn from natural consequences, mistakes and successes. (

I know no other way of teaching.  Knowing the powerful results of experiential education, it confuses me as to why more (if not all) educators don’t teach this way.  In the graphic below, the images in the left column are learners from my own classrooms, the images on the right symbolize more traditional approaches in educational institutions.  As “A picture says a 1000 words,” the expressions of the learners say engagement, interest, joy, and learning.  Which do you want your students, your children to experience at school?


Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 26, 2014 at 2:23 pm


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 25,198 other followers

%d bloggers like this: