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Posts Tagged ‘social-emotional learning

The Magic of Making: The Human Need to Create

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Recently I had the privilege of facilitating two half day workshops entitled, A Framework for Maker Education. The workshop including several mini-sessions of participants creating their own maker projects (Paper Circuits, Squishy Circuits, Gami-Bots, Brush bots, and micro:bit projects). What struck me most during these creating sessions was the high degree of energy, excitement, and joy in the room – it was palatable – with 100% participant engagement. As evidence, see the photos below:

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The conclusion I came up with for this energy and engagement was that the human need to create is innate; and that too many people, starting during their childhood public education, stop creating. When they were given the opportunity, permission/invitation, materials, and methods, they fully embraced making and creating.

I believe that educators can be intentional in setting up environments where learners’ propensity to create flourishes. Some elements that can assist with this kind of unbridled making and creating include:

  • Open ended projects that promote self-directed differentiation and personalization.
  • Choice of projects, methods, materials.
  • Some structure but lots of room for a personal touch; lots of room for creativity.
  • Educators letting go of expectations what the final project should look like.
  • Focus on the processes of learning.
  • Focus on the social emotional aspects of learning – collaboration, persistence, acceptance of failure.
  • Acceptance of a learner’s projects based on their own criteria of excellence rather than of the educator’s.
  • Reflection is built into the process so learners can revisit their projects with a critical eye.

Conditions for Creating

Open ended projects that promote self-directed differentiation and personalization

Open ended projects equal lots of options for what the learners can make. So given similar materials and methods, each learner is able to create a project based on his or her own interests and skills. For example, during the workshop, learners were instructed how to make a simple paper circuit but then transformed that paper circuit into a personalized art piece as can be seem in the images above.

Open ended projects permit each student to naturally and instinctively to work at or slightly above his or her ability level.  One of results or consequences of providing such activities is an increase in learner engagement, excitement, and motivation. Open ended learning activities permit and encourage learners to bring their “selves” into the work. They become agents of their own learning. Because of this freedom, they often shine as true selves come through. Learners often surprise both the educator and themselves with what they produce and create. It becomes passion-based learning.  Not only do the activities become self-differentiated, they become personalized. (Natural Differentiation and Personalization Through Open Ended Learning Activities)

Choice matters

Choice in the maker education environment can include a choice of projects; a choice of materials; and a choice of methods. During the maker education workshop, learning stations were set up from which the learners could choose: more advanced paper circuits, Gami-bots, bristlebots, Squishy Circuits, and micro:bit projects. Not only were the learners able to choose which projects they wanted to create, but these projects offered them the option to add their own personal touches.

Learning that incorporates student choice provides a pathway for students to fully, genuinely invest themselves in quality work that matters. Participating in learning design allows students to make meaning of content on their own terms. Education works when people have opportunities to find and develop unaccessed or unknown voices and skills. Audre Lorde poignantly describes this “transformation of silence into language and action [as] an act of self-revelation.” Opportunities for flexibility and choice assist learners in finding passion, voice, and revelation through their work. (Student Choice Leads to Student Voice)

Some structure but lots of room for a personal touch; lots of room for creativity.

Learners, during these workshops, were provided with foundational skills for making the projects through direct instruction, videos, handouts that could then be used as springboards for their own creativity. Maker activities such as these were new to these learners; scaffolding was needed in order for them to develop the foundational skills which in turn increased their creativity.

Direct instruction is provided through structured and prescribed activities with the goal of learners then being able to eventually go into self-determined directions. There has been some criticism leveraged against out-of-the-box maker education kits, programmable robots, and step-by-step maker activities. My contention is that learners often don’t know what they don’t know; and that giving them the basic skills frees them to then use their creativity and innovation to take these tools into self-determined directions. (Scaffolding Maker Education Learning Experiences)

Educators letting go of expectations what the final project should look like.

In Focusing on the Process: Letting Go of Product Expectations , I discussed the following:

To truly focus on the process rather than products of learning, the educator needs to let go of expectations about the specific products that should be produced by the students. There are expectations regarding some of the processes in which learners should engage (e.g., divergent thinking, questioning, researching, creating, innovating) but the educator lets go of the pictures in her or his mind about what the products should look like.

The benefits for learners when the educator lets go of final product expections include:

  • They are not limited by my expectations nor the expectations of a lesson or assessment developed by an outside entity (e.g., textbook or testing company).
  • Their engagement, motivation, curiosity, and excitement increase.
  • They learn to tolerate and then embrace ambiguity.
  • They learn skills such as self-directed learning, taking initiative, locating resources, asking for help that can be transferred to all learning endeavors.
  • It reflects and models how learning occurs outside of school.
  • There is an increased investment and pride in their work.
  • They develop both a sense of confidence and a sense of competence.

Focus on the processes of learning.

When educators let go of expectations of what the products should be, which I believe is especially important in a maker education environment, the focus becomes on the processes of learning.

Focusing on the learning process emphasizes the students’ responsibility in the learning-teaching interaction. It both enables and encourages students to engage in their own learning. This engagement helps both students and teachers to build learning up from standards and to achieve competencies needed in our modern world. (Is Learning a Product or Process – part 2 )

Accept a learners’ projects based on their own criteria of excellence rather than of the educator’s criteria.

When the educator lets go of expectations of the final product, the learner develops his or his criteria of success.2018-03-05_0657 During one of my maker education workshops, one of the participants finished the basics of the introductory LED paper circuit activity. While the other participants were adding their artistic slants, J. sat there with her simple paper projectseemingly satisfied with her project. I went over to talk to her. She said that she was finished, and I said back to her, “That’s fine. You don’t have to do any embellishments if you choose not to.” She later told me of a second grade teacher who criticized her art (yikes – that teacher should have been fired). J. told me later that this acceptance of where she was at actually became encouragement for her to take some risks for later projects in the workshop. Her reflective piece included the following:

I learned a lot about myself about how I actually had been discouraged till now to try any kind of artsy or crafty projects, however, with encouragements from partners and Jackie, I was encouraged to go further and do/attempt additional Maker projects/products.

Focus on the social emotional aspects of learning – collaboration, persistence, acceptance of failure.

When the maker activities are open ended and process-oriented, social-emotional skills such as collaboration, acceptance of failure, and persistence naturally emerge.

Self-Awareness: Making in all its forms requires a full range of skills including cognitive, physical, and affective skills. Given this need for multiple and diverse skill set, effective and successful making comes from an accurate assessment of one’s strengths and limitations as well as having optimism and confidence that challenges can be overcome within the making process.

Self-Management: Making, especially making something new, often includes developing goals on the fly, revising those goals, and managing frustrations as the maker works through and learns new skills, processes, and knowledge related to that make.

Relationship skills: The power of being a maker is amplified when one works collaboratively on projects, gets help from others, and shares findings with others. (Maker Education and Social-Emotional Development)

The educator in this context plants the seeds of social emotional learning (SEL) through the use of language of SEL and strategic questioning such as:

  • What processes are you using to develop, assess, and revise your goals while making?
  • What strategies are you using to manage any frustrations or failures that are occurring during making your project?
  • How your using others to help you with your project?
  • How are you collaborating with your peers?
  • Are you asking for help if and when you get stuck making your project?
  • How are you sharing my ideas with others?

Here are some of the reflective comments by my workshop participants related to their social emotional learning:

This was the first time I had experimented with making electrical circuits and we tried some fun activities that I hope to apply in my classroom. In the first activity I learned that having a creative context or backstory to the work was motivating and helped me to extend myself beyond the basic task. In the final activity I found I was able to respond to a problem, persevere and create an original solution while maintaining the integrity of my design.

We were able to learn that in order to succeed we must try and try again. At times it was frustrating but we were able to collaborate between the team and find solutions and were able to solve the problems we faced.

Today I was reminded of the power of learning environments which invite creative, collaborative thinking  – curated with a variety of flexible materials which offer endless possibilities and room for all people to enter into play.

Reflection is built into the process so learners can revisit their projects with a critical eye.

Insuring that a reflective piece is included in the maker education process assists learners in developing their own criteria of excellence and evaluating their performance based on this criteria. The reflection process is as or even more important as the making itself. John Dewey famously stated, “We don’t learn from experience . . . we learn from reflecting on experience.” Reflection can be a form of making in itself. Participants, during my workshops, were given the option to reflect on their learning using online tools such as word clouds, video creators, audio pieces, photo essays, online storybooks. What follows is a sampling of reflections from my maker education workshops. I used Google Slides so all reflections are aggregated in one location for access by all participants to later review and examine them:

 

Educators as Purveyors of Hope

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My advanced degree is in counseling. I sought this degree due to my affinity towards at-risk and adjudicated youth. One of the most powerful learnings from my training as a counselor was a comment I heard at a conference, Counselors need to be purveyors of hope since many clients get in trouble and/or seek counseling due to a lack of hope.

I have since become a teacher educator (with some teaching of elementary gifted students at a few Title 1 schools thrown in). I believe that educators do more counseling of children and young people than any other profession. Teachers, then, should be purveyors of hope especially for those students who lack the belief in their own capabilities and potential  This includes students who lack hope that they can do well in certain subjects; students who lack hope that they can do well in school-as-a-whole; and saddest of all, students who lack hope for their futures. The educator, as a purveyor of hope, gives these types of learners the overt message, “I will hold hope for you because I believe in you. The goal, though, is for you to develop your own sense of hope.”

Hope often gets a bad rap. For some, it conjures up images of a blissfully naïve chump pushing up against a wall with a big smile. That’s a shame. Cutting-edge science shows that hope, at least as defined by psychologists, matters a lot.

Hope is not just a feel-good emotion, but a dynamic cognitive motivational system. Under this conceptualization of hope, emotions follow cognitions, not the other way round. Hope-related cognitions are important. Hope leads to learning goals, which are conducive to growth and improvement. People with learning goals are actively engaged in their learning, constantly planning strategies to meet their goals, and monitoring their progress to stay on track. A bulk of research shows that learning goals are positively related to success across a wide swatch of human life—from academic achievement to sports to arts to science to business. In contrast to both self-efficacy and optimism, people with hope have the will and the pathways and strategies necessary to achieve their goals (The Will and Ways of Hope).

Over the last 20 years, researchers have gained a clearer understanding of the relationships between hope and important aspects of students’ lives. Put simply, research demonstrates that more hopeful students do better in school and life than less hopeful students.

  • Hope is positively associated with perceived competence and self-worth (Marques, Pais-Ribeiro, & Lopez, 2009) and negatively associated with symptoms of depression (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997).
  • High-hope students typically are more optimistic (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997), develop many life goals, and perceive themselves as being capable of solving problems that may arise (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997).
  • Accumulating evidence suggests that hope is related to life satisfaction and wellbeing (e.g., Gilman, Dooley, & Florell, 2006).
  • Hope is linked consistently to attendance and credits earned (Gallup, 2009a).
  • Hopeful middle school students have better grades in core subjects (Marques, Pais-Ribeiro, & Lopez, 2011) and on achievement tests (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997).
  • Hopeful high school students (Gallup, 2009b; Snyder et al., 1991) and beginning college students (Gallagher & Lopez, 2008; Snyder et al., 2002) have higher overall grade point averages.
  • Hope predicts academic achievement, and the predictive power of hope remains significant even when controlling for intelligence (e.g., Snyder, Cheavens, & Sympson, 1997), prior grades (e.g., Gallagher & Lopez, 2008; Snyder et al., 1991; Snyder et al., 2002), self-esteem (Snyder et al., 2002), personality (Day, Hanson, Maltby, Proctor, & Wood, 2010), and college entrance examination scores such as high school GPA and ACT/SAT (Gallagher & Lopez, 2008; Snyder et al., 2002).
  • Higher hope has been correlated positively with social competence (Barnum, Snyder, Rapoff, Mani, & Thompson, 1998), pleasure in getting to know others, enjoyment in frequent interpersonal interactions (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997), and interest in the goal pursuits of others (Snyder, Cheavens, & Sympson, 1997). (Measuring and Promoting Help in Schoolchildren)

Some of the characteristics or skills sets of hope include:

  • Positive View About the Future
  • Can Do Attitude
  • Personal Agency
  • Engage in Positive Self Talk
  • Belief in Ability to Solve Problems
  • Belief in One’s Ability to Impact Positively on One’s Situation.
  • Maintaining Perspective
  • Sense of Efficacy

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For educators who want to help their students build these skills of hope, here are five research-based guidelines. From How to Help Students Develop Hope:

  1. Identify and prioritize their top goals, from macro to micro. Start by having students create a “big picture” list of what’s important to them—such as their academics, friends, family, sports, or career—and then have them reflect on which areas are most important to them and how satisfied they are with each.
  2. Breakdown the goals—especially long-term ones—into steps. Research has suggested that students with low hope frequently think goals have to be accomplished all-at-once, possibly because they haven’t had the parental guidance on how to achieve goals in steps. Teaching them how to see their goals as a series of steps will also give students reasons to celebrate their successes along the way—a great way to keep motivation high!
  3. Teach students that there’s more than one way to reach a goal. Studies show that one of the greatest challenges for students with low hope is their inability to move past obstacles. They often lack key problem-solving skills, causing them to abandon the quest for their goals.
  4. Tell stories of success.  Scientists have found that hopeful students draw on memories of other successes when they face an obstacle; however, students with low hope often don’t have these kinds of memories. That’s why it’s vital for teachers to read books or share stories of other people—especially kids—who have overcome adversity to reach their goals.
  5. Keep it light and positive. It’s important to teach students to enjoy the process of attaining their goals, even to laugh at themselves when they face obstacles and make mistakes. Above all, no self-pity! Research has found that students who use positive self-talk, rather than beating themselves up for mistakes, are more likely to reach their goals.

Parting Shot: I recently watched the documentary STEP, which provides a great example of administrators and teachers instilling hope into a high risk population.

STEP documents the senior year of a girls’ high-school step dance team against the background of inner-city Baltimore. These young women learn to laugh, love and thrive – on and off the stage – even when the world seems to work against them. Empowered by their teachers, teammates, counselors, coaches and families, they chase their ultimate dreams: to win a step championship and to be accepted into college.  This all female school is reshaping the futures of its students’ lives by making it their goal to have every member of their senior class accepted to and graduate from college, many of whom will be the first in their family to do so (http://www.foxsearchlight.com/stepmovie/).

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 5, 2018 at 10:40 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting to Know Learners

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

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

Using a Hyperdoc such as this has the additional benefits:

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

Building a Learning Community

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

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

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

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

STEM Activities That Support

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

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

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Team Building Activities

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

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

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

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 9, 2017 at 12:38 am

Team-Building with Elementary Students

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Yes, there are mounds of curricula students must master in a wide breadth of subjects, but education does not begin and end with a textbook or test. Other skills must be honed, too, not the least of which is how to get along with their peers and work well with others. This is not something that can be cultivated through rote memorization or with strategically placed posters. Students must be engaged and cooperation must be practiced, and often. (http://www.teachthought.com/critical-thinking/10-team-building-games-that-promote-critical-thinking/)

I meet with two groups of gifted elementary students, grades 2nd through 6th, for a full day each week. I begin our days together with a team building activity. The benefits for doing so cannot be overstated:

  • It sets the climate that cooperation and collaboration is an expectation in the classroom.
  • It reinforces that each person’s ideas and contribution will be respected.
  • It’s whole body-mind learning.
  • It builds a sense of classroom community which carries over through all of the classroom activities.
  • Communication, listening, and problem-solving skills are developed and enhanced.
  • Divergent thinking is honored and expected to successfully approach and complete the activities.

Lists and descriptions of team-building activities can be found at:

Several of the activities require some props. I enjoy making my own but they can also be purchased from the stores that sell sports goods to schools:

Sample Team-Building Activities

Spaghetti-Marshmallow Tower

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Materials:

  • Mini-marshmallow
  • Dry spaghetti

Task:

Split students into groups of 3 to 4 participants and given marshmallows and spaghetti (equal quantities of supplies per group). They are then given the task to only use the marshmallows and spaghetti to build the tallest tower.

Great Egg Drop

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Materials:

  • One egg per group
  • 40 straws per group
  • a few feet of masking tape – same amount

The Task:

Divide the group into small teams of 3 – 4.  Give each team one raw egg, 40 straws, 1 meter of duck tape, and other materials as listed above. Tell them that the goal is to design and build a structure that will prevent their raw egg from breaking from a high drop (from the top of the playground structure.

Traveling Tangrams

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Materials:

The Task:

To begin, give all of the large Tangram pieces and a few copies of the specific Tangram shape that you want the students to create. As a group, they need to create that shape using all 7 pieces at the beginning of the crossing area/the beginning “shore of the river.” The rest of the activity is similar to the River Crossing team-building activity. The object of the activity is to get all members of the group safely across the river; a designated area 25 to 50 yards wide. They must go as one big group, not multiple smaller ones. Everyone must be on the river before anyone can get off the river, forcing the entire group to be engaged at once. Participants cannot touch the water (floor/grass) and therefore must use rafts (Tangram pieces) to cross. If one member does touch, the entire group must begin again. Once they reach the other side/shore, give them another Tangram shape to create and explain that they must stay on the pieces to form that shape. They can get off on the other side/shore once the Tangram shape is formed.

Copy the Structure

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Materials: Several identical sets of Legos (or similar building bricks) that vary in size and color.

The Task:

Create a Lego structure out of different colored and sized Legos and place it somewhere in the room where it can’t be seen until the activity begins. Divide the group into smaller teams (depending on number of available Legos and size of the group). Each team should be given a set of bricks to build an exact copy of the Lego structure you have already built. The rules are that only one person from each team is allowed to go and have a look at the structure. When they come back to their team, they cannot touch the bricks, but they can tell the others how to build their copy. Anybody from the team can go and have a look, but only one at a time. Once another person comes back from having a look, the previous person can then touch their bricks to help build. Be sure to emphasize that the goal is for each team to complete an exact replica of the model.

Source: https://guideinc.org/2016/04/20/team-building-activity-lego-structure-copy/

Human Knot

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Materials: none

The Task:

Starting in a circle, students connect hands with two others people in the group to form the human knot – right hand to right hand; left hand to left hand; connecting with two different people. As a team they must then try to unravel the “human knot” forming into a untangled circle by untangling themselves without breaking the chain of hands.

Pipeline

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Materials:

  • 1″ PVC pipe cut down the middle – a 18″ section per participant (pool noodles can be substituted)
  • a golf ball

The Task:

Students, as a big group, are asked to work together to transport golf balls across a designated area through the chain of plastic tubes, lining them up and acting quickly so they don’t let the golf balls drop! That means that the first person in line must run to the end of the chain. A course can be set up ahead of time but I like to tell them the course as they go. If they are performing well, I ask them to go up, over, and through playground equipment. They can only touch the pipes not the balls. If a ball drops, the group must begin again. Once the marbles pass through their tube, kids have to move to the end of the line to keep the flow going.

Pinball Tarp Machine

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Materials:

  • One  tarpaulin is cut randomly with 8 to 10 holes and numbered from 1 through 8-10 depending on how many holes are cut (or two tarps if you want to have more than one group. I usually have two groups competing). The word START is written at one of the corners.
  • Small playground ball – a little smaller than the cut holes

The Task:

Between 8 and 20 participants surround the tarp spacing themselves out evenly holding on to the tarp with both hands, creating a table top effect. Supply the groups with one small playground ball. Their goal is to get the ball to roll through the holes consecutively from 1 to 8 or 10. On each successful number, the ball is picked up from the ground and placed on START.  If the ball falls off the tarp or through a hole, the group can start from the number where they left off or if a more difficult challenge is desired, the game starts over. If more than one group is playing, then the team that gets their ball through all of the holes first wins.

Catch the Foxtail

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Materials:

  • Foxtail balls – 3 per group (http://www.usgames.com/p-e-activities/toss-catch/foxtails)
  • Rock climbing webbing – 5-6 foot diameter loop (like a hula hoop) for each groups (I like webbing because: (1) it is soft and pliable, and (2) it sits better in students’ hands. Ropes could cause rope burns)

The Task:

Split students into 5 or 6 participants per group.  Each group is given three foxtail balls and a circle webbing. All members of that subgroup except for one student form a circle with the webbing so that the web forms into a big type of basketball hoop. The remaining member throws each of the foxtail balls one at a time up into the air. The task of the hoop holders is the try to get the balls through the hoop while all keep their two hands on the hoop. Getting the ball through the hoop after a bounce does not count. They often need to run together to get under the ball. After the three balls are thrown, the thrower switches places with one of the holders. All students should get a chance to throw the balls. The team with the most “baskets” wins.

Robot Drawing

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There are two versions:

  1. The Toobeez version – http://www.toobeez.com/teambuilding-book/17-Robot-Writer-Activity.html
  2. The Duct Tape version – http://groupdynamix.com/ducttapegame/

Toxic Waste

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Materials:

  • two plastic bucket, one with 8′ ropes tied into it (I drill holes in the side and tied the end of nylon ropes through the holes – one per participant)
  • plastic balls
  • another piece of rope tied together to create a loop with a 8′ diameter – this acts as a boundary
  • a much more expensive version can be purchased – http://everlastclimbing.com/products/toxic-waste-transfer/

The Task:

  • Set Up – Set up the 8′ rope circle. Put the plastic balls into the bucket with the ropes. Put the other bucket next to it.
  • Situation to Tell Students – A bucket of highly toxic popcorn (the plastic balls) has contaminated a circle approximately 8 feet in diameter. The toxic area extends to the sky (meaning that hands and arms cannot cross into the area. If the poisonous popcorn is not transferred to a safe container (the other bucket) for decontamination, the toxic popcorn will contaminate and destroy the population of the entire city.
  • The Task –  You must find a way to safely transfer the toxic popcorn from the
    unsafe container to the safe container, using only the materials provided to you. Each student must always hold onto the end of his or her rope.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 6, 2017 at 11:57 pm

The Imperative of Experiential and Hands-On Learning

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For the past several decades, I have had my feet in both elementary education and teacher training and development. Regardless of age, grade level, and setting, I include hands-on and experiential learning as a integral part of my instruction. It is learning by doing with a reflective element which, in turn, creates conditions for deeply engaged learning.

Experiential education is a philosophy 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. Throughout the experiential learning process, the learner is actively engaged in posing questions, investigating, experimenting, being curious, solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative, and constructing meaning. (What is EE)

One of my favorite expressions is “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  There’s lots of lip service about closing the achievement gap, serving marginalized populations, helping students gain 21st century skills, and preparing students for STEM-related careers. The problem is that the school systems working toward these changes are using a factory model of education prevalent in the 19th and 20th centuries to do so. The changes that are being sought are not coming into fruition as different outcomes are expected out of doing more of the same thing. This is why I titled this post, The Imperative of Experiential and Hands On Learning. I believe that current instructional strategies need to be turned on their heads to achieve desired results and outcomes. Hands-on and experiential learning is used in some elementary schools but this diminishes as students get older. In too many high schools and colleges, instruction seems to occur through engaging the ears and sometimes the eyes (through visuals such as with slide presentations). Interestingly, though, a Study Finds 52% of U.S. Adults Say No. 1 Way to Learn is Through Active Participation, Followed by Visual Demonstration.

Some benefits of experiential and hands-on learning include:

  • Increases motivation and engagement.
  • Engages most of the senses.
  • Builds social emotional skills.
  • More likely to engage emotions.
  • Lots of brain activation.
  • Increases retention of learning.
  • Making mistakes becomes a natural part of the learning process.
  • Expands critical thinking skills.
  • Preparation for real life.

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Increases motivation and engagement.

Hands-on learning is often lots of fun; and having fun increases engagement and motivation.

Hands-on activities encourage a lifelong love of learning and motivate students to explore and discover new things (Bass, et al.).(Case for Hands-On Learning)

Learning by doing allows students to become personally invested in their own learning process. Becoming actively engaged in their education builds confidence, as the lessons require students to rely on their own abilities to obtain knowledge. That confidence and self-reliance inspires students to embrace the learning process and enthusiastically seek out additional knowledge.   (Importance of a Hands-On Experience in the Elementary Classroom)

Engages the senses.

Hands-on and experiential learning often is multi-sensory learning often engaging sight, hearing, tactile kinesthetic senses as learners participate in the educational activities.

By definition, hands-on learning requires students to engage in the education process using multiple senses, including sight, hearing and touch. Known as multisensory learning, the hands-on teaching strategy engages the senses in a way that promotes learning comprehension on multiple levels.  (Importance of a Hands-On Experience in the Elementary Classroom)

More likely to engage emotions.

The personal nature of experiential learning engages the students’ emotions as well as enhancing their knowledge and skills. When students see the concrete fruits of their labor, they experience greater gratification and pride, thus enhancing their enthusiasm for continued learning.  (The Benefits of Experiential Learning)

Lots of brain activation.

When you combine activities that require movement, talking, and listening, it activates multiple areas of the brain. “The more parts of your brain you use, the more likely you are to retain information,” says Judy Dodge, author of 25 Quick Formative Assessments for a Differentiated Classroom (Scholastic, 2009). “If you’re only listening, you’re only activating one part of the brain,” she says, “but if you’re drawing and explaining to a peer, then you’re making connections in the brain.”(Hands-On is Minds-On)

Builds social-emotional skills.

Lots of social-emotional skills are addressed with hands-on, experiential learning.  Some of the specific skills that hands-on learning address are:

  • Goal-setting
  • Tolerance for frustration
  • Persistence
  • Asking for help
  • Working with others

Increases retention of learning.

When it comes to what learning methods work best, everyone is different, but the survey clearly demonstrates that hands-on training is favored by most Americans. Students who practice what they’re learning in a hands-on environment can often retain much more information when compared with sitting passively in a lecture room, so it’s not a surprise that hands-on training is the overwhelming favorite. (Majority of Americans Prefer Hands-On Training in Educational Settings, Survey Finds)

There is a huge increase in the amount of information that is retained by students who are given the opportunity to practice what they are learning in the form of hands-on training. When students sit and listen passively in a lecture-style environment, they retain 20 percent of the information. When they are given the chance to practice what they have just learned, that percentage increases to 75 percent. (What Are the Benefits of Hands-on Training?)

Making mistakes becomes a natural part of the learning process.

Experiential learning involves trial by error. As students engage in hands-on tasks, they find that some approaches work better than others. They discard the methods that don’t work, but the act of trying something and then abandoning it – ordinarily considered a “mistake” – actually becomes a valuable part of the learning process. Thus, students learn not to fear mistakes, but to value them. (The Benefits of Experiential Learning)

Expands critical thinking skills.

The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking defines critical thinking as the “process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication.”  Hands-on learning allows students to experience a problem or task and make adjustments to improve outcomes. This “trial and error” exploration develops critical thinking and improves an understanding of abstract concepts that can be applied to real-life experience. (Improve Learning with Hands-on Activities)

Preparation for real life.

Experiential learning takes data and concepts and makes them “real” by applying them to hands-on tasks, with real results. As the student interacts with the information, it becomes real to them.

Many experiential learning projects are career-oriented, because they are, by nature, grounded in “real-world” activities. Through these activities, students start to discover and develop their own skills, aptitudes and passions. This discovery in turn sets them on a more defined path to college and careers. (The Benefits of Experiential Learning)

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 23, 2016 at 12:20 am

Tangrams: A Cross Curricular, Experiential Unit

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Now that I am back in the classroom two days a week teaching gifted elementary students, I can do and report on the cross curricular units I plan and implement. There are several guiding factors that I use to design my units:

  • They need to be hands-on and experiential.
  • Learner choice and voice is valued.
  • They need to address cross curricular standards. It is like life. Life doesn’t segment content areas into separate entities.
  • They do not depend on the use of worksheets. Worksheets tend to address a single standard or skill. Plus, learning how to do worksheets is NOT a life skill.
  • Communication, collaboration, and problem solving are built into the learning process.
  • Reading and writing are integrated into the learning activities in the form of fun, interesting books and stories, and writing stories, narratives, journalistic reports.
  • Educational technology is incorporated but with a focus on using it to interact with real world physical objects and people.
  • A reflective component is included.
  • The educator becomes a facilitator whereby activities are introduced and then the learners become the active agents of their own learning.
  • The goal is to create the conditions for learners to say they the best day ever.

Tangrams: Cross Curricular Unit

The tangram (Chinese: 七巧板; pinyin: qīqiǎobǎn; literally: “seven boards of skill”) is a dissection puzzle consisting of seven flat shapes, called tans, which are put together to form shapes. The objective of the puzzle is to form a specific shape (given only an outline or silhouette) using all seven pieces, which may not overlap. It is reputed to have been invented in China during the Song Dynasty,[1] and then carried over to Europe by trading ships in the early 19th century. . It is one of the most popular dissection puzzles in the world. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tangram)

Goals:

The students will be able to:

  • Read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, in the grades 4-5 text complexity band proficiently. (CCSS.ELA)
  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences. (CCSS.ELA)
  • Classify two-dimensional figures based on the presence or absence of parallel or perpendicular lines, or the presence or absence of angles of a specified size. Recognize right triangles as a category, and identify right triangles. (CCSS.MATH)
  • Understand that shapes in different categories (e.g., rhombuses, rectangles, and others) may share attributes (e.g., having four sides), and that the shared attributes can define a larger category (e.g., quadrilaterals). Recognize rhombuses, rectangles, and squares as examples of quadrilaterals, and draw examples of quadrilaterals that do not belong to any of these subcategories. (CCSS.MATH)
  • Develop and portray characters including specifics about circumstances, plot, and thematic intent, demonstrating logical story sequence and informed character choices. (ELA and Visual Arts)
  • Demonstrate ability to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams. (21st Century Skills)
  • Assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and value the individual contributions made by each team member. (21st Century Skills)
  • Solve different kinds of non-familiar problems in both conventional and innovative ways. (21st Century Skills)

Materials:

Learning Activities

Read Grandfather Tangrams + Learners Create Tangrams for Each Story Character

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Each learner is given a set of tangram puzzle pieces and a set of cards that shows how to make each tangram animal in the story. Grandfather Tang is read to the learners either directly from the book or through https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x74l1ZM-zP0 so it can be projected. The story is stopped each time there is a reference to one of the Tangram animals. Learners construct that animal using their own set of Tangrams.

Check-In with Tangrams

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One of my morning activities with learners is to have them check in as to how they are doing that day. The check in for this unit is to create a Tangram that represents how they are feeling. Selections are made from a sheet given to learners:

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Giant Puzzling Tangrams

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Making the props for this activity is worth the trouble as it is a very high engagement, high learning, high reward activity. To set it up, an area is chosen that is about 50 yards long (outside or in a gym) and the giant Tangram shapes are placed in a pile at the start of this area. Learners are given a card that has the design of a Tangram at the beginning of this area. They need to produce that Tangram and then all get on top of that shape. Their goal then becomes to cross the designated area using the Tangram pieces as stepping stones. If they fall off, they must go back to the beginning and start again. When they reach the end of the designated area, they are given another Tangram shape they need to construct prior to stepping off. This translates into the need for them to maneuver the Tangram pieces into the design while standing on pieces.

Tangoes Tangram Card Game – Paired Challenge

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Next, the learners play the Tangoes card game in pairs. The object of Tangoes is to form the image on the card using all seven puzzle in a challenge with another learner in a race to solve the puzzle. It helps build visual spatial skills as the cards don’t have demarcations for the individual Tangrams. I promote some cooperative work as I ask the partner who figured out the answer to help his or her partner to do so, too.

Make 3D Tangrams

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Learners are given the printed out templates for a set of 3D Tangrams and construct them.

Create a Story from 3D Tangrams – Take Photos and Write a Blog Post

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Learners think of a story using their 3D Tangrams and take photos for the scene(s) of their stories. They then upload these images to their blogs and write about their story.

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(Postscript: Wow – I didn’t review their blog posts until after school. We are definitely going to discuss this student’s blog post during on next class session. Great teachable moment to discuss this real life situation of one of their classmates.)

The First Days of School: Setting the Climate for Year

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I have written before about the beginning of the school year, Beginning the School Year: It’s About Connections Not Content.

I begin all classes focusing on having the students make connections between each other and with me.  I want students to learn about one another in a personal way. I want to learn about my students so my instructional strategies can be more personalized and tailored to their needs and interests.

As we begin this new school year, I want to share my own ideas for what I believe represent best practices for doing so. I have the following goals for beginning the school year:

  • To have the learners get to know one another and if they do know one another, to deepen that understanding.
  • To have the learners get to know me as an educator.
  • To set the climate that the classroom will experiential, engaging, fun, and student-centric.
  • To begin the process of having learners learn to solve problems as a group and work cooperatively with one another.
  • To begin creating a supportive climate – where learners support one another and I support their learning efforts.
  • To give the message that social-emotional learning is important.
  • To have the learners take ownership of their classroom.

What should also be obvious from this list is what is not on it – namely a focus on content-driven instruction during the first days of school.

These are the activities I used on the first day of school with my gifted class of 2nd to 6th grade students:

Morning Check-In

I believe in including classroom activities that build emotional intelligence and social emotional learning. I begin my mornings throughout the school year with emotional check-ins, a way for each learner to check in with how they are doing that day. I use props such as feeling cards to do so. On this first day, I used Stones Have Feelings, Too.

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For more ideas on the types of check-ins I have used, see Morning Meetings, Check-Ins, and Social-Emotional Learning.

Thumball Ice Breaker

For the second activity, the learners were asked to form a circle to participate in a Thumball Ice Breaker.

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A learner tosses it to another learner. The catcher then responds to the prompt closest to her or his left them. After doing so, the learner throws it to another learner. I typically do two to three rounds where each learner gets the ball during a round. Example prompts include:

  • Three Wishes
  • Happiest Memory
  • Three Yummy Foods
  • Three Gross Foods
  • Favorite TV Show or Movie
  • Best Book or Author
  • Great Vacation Place
  • Funniest Cartoon

Warp Speed

As a former adventure educator, I have a fondness for team building and group problem solving activities, and regularly incorporate them into my classroom. A good list of these types of activities can be found on Teampedia.

During on first day together, I facilitated Warp Speed with the learners.

Toss the ball around the circle until everyone has caught it once and it is returned to the leader. For Warp Speed, you need to establish a pattern of tossing one object around the group. Once the pattern has been established, ask the group to see how quickly they can move the object through the pattern with each person touching it in the order that has been established. Time this, and give the group several opportunities to improve their time (http://www.lifeway.com/studentministry/2014/07/07/game-warp-speed/).

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As each effort was timed with the 3 second penalties per drop, I had them practice mental math. I showed them their times as recorded via my iPhone, asked them to multiple the number of drops times 3 and then add this total to their time. On subsequent efforts, I asked them to subtract the difference. Later they compared their improvements.

LED Enhanced All About Me Posters

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I like using the All About Me posters at the beginning of the school year as it lets me know a lot about the learners in a very short time. I also use them to decorate my classroom walls. Since I have been involved in maker education running a maker summer camp, I showed the kids how to use LED lights creating circuits with copper tape. They used these materials to created LED enhanced All About me Posters.

Autobiographical Activities

The All About Me Poster was actually the beginning of their autobiographical activity unit. The learners were provided with a Google Doc with the following:

Required:

Choose Three:

  • Magnetic Poetry – refrigerator magnet words to write a 5 line poem or a Haiku about yourself.
  • Get Anagrams for Your Name – http://www.wordsmith.org/anagram/index.html (list 15 of them)
  • Do an A-Z book – each letter needs a word and an picture to describe you.
  • Write out 10 equations about you represented by number.
  • Make a T-shirt tote – http://www.mommypotamus.com/no-sew-t-shirt-tote-bag-tutorial/ and bring three objects from home in your tote for a show and tell.
  • Do I Am Poem on notepaper add to a decorated self portrait.

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The learners began these activities at the end of our day by starting their magnetic poems, A-Z books, and Word Clouds.

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Final Thoughts

There were three things that happened during this first day that especially made me so grateful and excited about being a teacher.

First, one of the girls has a twice exceptional label – gifted and autistic. I was told that she might take weeks to start talking in class. Also, given her attributes, peers relationships, at times, at strained or even nonexistent. She loved all of the hands on activities especially the LED lights. After a bit of quietness during the beginning of the morning, she talked throughout our time together. What was especially cool was that a few of her classmates from her regular classroom came to get her for a visit to the school nurse. When they came into my classroom and saw her LED enhanced poster, they got very excited. Another teacher noticed the kids going down the hall and heard the them talking about the project – asking this girl all about. The other teacher knows that girl from past years and told me it warmed her heart to see her excitedly share her learning . . . and the other kids listening to her. I smile ever time I picture it.

Second, one of the boys worked very hard at creating his magnetic poem – see above. He read it several times to different students as he created it. I loved the pride and joy I saw in his face when saw and heard his peers’ reactions. It was definitely priceless.

Finally, there was a boy in the class who is new to the school. I met his mom during the morning prior to coming to my gifted class (it meets a full day per week) and she told me that he was not at all happy at this new school, that he wanted to go back to his old school but that was happy about coming to the gifted program. His total excitement and engagement as well as his connections to the other students in the program throughout the day brings a tear to my eye. It really seemed as though he found his tribe; a place where he belongs.

I wholeheartedly believe that the only reason these events occurred was due to my focus on the learners and on establishing our community during on first day together.

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 27, 2016 at 1:44 am

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