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Posts Tagged ‘STEAM

Integrating Maker Education into the Curriculum

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Rather than the maker experiences being an after school program, an add on activity, or an activity that is implemented when students have done their regular lessons work, it should be part of the regular, day-to-day curriculum. As noted in USC Rossier Online, “In order for your school and students to be fully invested in maker education, it has to be integrated into your curriculum, not squeezed in” (https://rossieronline.usc.edu/maker-education/sync-with-curriculum/).  Ayah Bdeir, who invented and runs littleBits, had this to say about integrating maker education into the curriculum:

It’s time for maker ed to move into the mainstream. Making should not be relegated to the times spent outside of class, e.g. lunch or after school. Nor should it only flourish in private schools, which don’t have to teach to standards. We need to work to show how making is a rigorous process that leads to valuable new technologies, products and experiences. Specifically, we need to tie maker projects to standards-based curriculum and show clearly the kinds of knowledge, skills and practices students learn as part of making (https://www.edsurge.com/news/2015-09-24-building-connections-between-maker-ed-and-standards)

Albemarle County Public School District is very intentional in their implementation of maker projects:

Maker projects can be created to support just about any subject area, from science to history to language arts. Maker education can be a tool for teaching the curriculum that you already have, At a glance, maker projects may appear disconnected from the curriculum. What may look like an arts and crafts activity, or just a bunch of kids playing with Legos, is actually a way to teach about ancient Rome or how to write a persuasive essay. (https://www.edutopia.org/practice/maker-education-reaching-all-learners)

To do this, though, the educator needs to approach his or her curriculum and lessons with a maker mindset. With this mindset, he or she figures out creative ways to integrate maker activities into existing lessons and instructional activities. The educator in these situations starts with the standards and objectives of their lessons, as they typically do with their regular lessons, and then designs and/or locates maker activities that fit the lesson. It simply becomes, “How can I add a making element to my lessons to reinforce concepts being learned?”

For subjects like science, this is a little easier as the labs that often accompany science lessons often have a hint of STEM or maker education. With a little tweaking, these labs can become more of a maker education type of activity. For example, if students are learning about circuits, they could wire cardboard model houses with lights and fans.  

For subjects like language arts, this integration is a little more challenging but with a little creativity, it is possible and exciting. An example is Tufts University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach’s program, Novel Engineering:

Novel Engineering is an innovative approach to integrate engineering and literacy in elementary and middle school. Students use existing classroom literature – stories, novels, and expository texts – as the basis for engineering design challenges that help them identify problems, design realistic solutions, and engage in the Engineering Design Process while reinforcing their literacy skills.

Example books that offer engineering or maker education challenges include:

The benefits of this type of curriculum integration include all those benefits described for maker education, in general, but also include:

  • Increased learner interest in and engagement with content rich lesson activities.
  • Lesson activities may become a gateway to content areas for learners who may not have been interested in that content area in the past. For example, making in language arts may spark a STEM interest for students who have previously only been interested in language arts; spark the interest of STEM-oriented students in language arts.

To help integrate maker education into the curriculum, I developed the following lesson plan template to assist teachers with this process.

Maker Lesson Plan

Example Maker Education Lesson Plan

Vision for this Lesson and for Student Learning (What is the overarching purpose of this lesson? How does making  enhance the lesson? Consider relevancy, authenticity, transfer to other life situations):

 

Student Voice  (What are the interests and needs of the students? How is their voice incorporated into the development of this lesson?):

 

Standards Addressed (Think cross-curriculum and 21st century skills; think process as well as content learnings):

 

 

 

 

 

  • ISTE Standards for Students (for detailed descriptions and sub-standards, see https://www.iste.org/standards/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.
    • Innovative Designer: Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.
    • Computational Thinker: Students develop and employ strategies for understanding and solving problems in ways that leverage the power of technological methods to develop and test solutions.
    • 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.
    • Global Collaborator: Students use digital tools to broaden their perspectives and enrich their learning by collaborating with others and working effectively in teams locally and globally.
  • 21st Century Skills (see for detailed descriptions at http://www.p21.org/our-work/p21-framework to add specifics):
    • Global Awareness: _________________________________________________
    • Financial, Economic: _______________________________________________
    • Business and Entrepreneurial Literacy: _________________________________
    • Civic Literacy: _____________________________________________________
    • Health Literacy: ___________________________________________________
    • Environmental Literacy: _____________________________________________
    • Creativity and Innovation: ___________________________________________
    • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: _________________________________
    • Communication: ___________________________________________________
    • Collaboration: _____________________________________________________
    • Information Literacy: _______________________________________________
    • Media Literacy: ____________________________________________________  
    • ICT Literacy: ______________________________________________________
    • Flexibility and Adaptability: ___________________________________________
    • Initiative and Self-Direction: __________________________________________
    • Social and Cross-Cultural Skills: ______________________________________
    • Productivity and Accountability: _______________________________________
    • Leadership and Responsibility: _______________________________________

Lesson Challenge Statement – Framing the Experience: (How will the maker lesson be framed or frontloaded?  – What is the big challenge for this activity? What essential questions do you want learners to explore? What overarching concepts do you want learners to investigate? Is the challenge open and ill-defined so there are multiple opportunities for student interpretation, innovation, and creativity?) The maker lesson can be framed or frontloaded through:

  • Introducing Essential Questions
  • The Use of Scenarios
  • Specifying the Standards
  • Asking Questions Related To Personal Skills
  • Asking Questions to Help with Scaffolding and Sequencing the Activities
  • Asking Questions Related To Using Peer Support-Working Collaboratively

(More information about frontloading the maker experience can be found at https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2016/03/16/framing-and-frontloading-maker-activities/)

Required Prerequisite Knowledge and Skills:

Vocabulary: (What vocabulary do you want learners to learn and use?)

Getting Started: (What high impact activity will you do to get learners excited about or hooked into the upcoming lesson?)

  • Video: _________________________________________________________________
  • Hands-On Demonstration: _________________________________________________
  • AR/VR Simulation: _______________________________________________________
  • Online Virtual Simulation: _________________________________________________
  • Live Guest Speaker (in person or via Skype/Google Hangout): ____________________
  • Game (analog or digital): __________________________________________________
  • Group Discussion About the Learning Challenge

Tinkering and Exploration: (Will the learners benefit with some free-play tinkering with and exploring the materials?)

Skills and Knowledge Direct Instruction: (What, if any, knowledge and skills do you need to teach directly prior to the maker activity?)

Learner Planning Time: Time for learners to research and plan what they will do for the maker challenge.

Learner Creation Time: Time for the learners to create, to try out several iterations of their ideas, if needed.

Learner Sharing and Feedback Time: Time for learners to share what they are making with their peers; whose role then is to give feedback.

Documenting Learning and Reflection: How will learners document and reflect on their learning? Possible reflection questions include:

  • What new skills have you learned because of the maker experience?
  • What are the most important learning moments you take with you from this maker experience?
  • Would you do this or a similar maker project again? Why or why not?
  • Has this maker experience changed you? If yes, how?
  • Describe what you have learned about yourself as a result of your maker experience.
  • What would you like to change about your maker experience?
  • What were the benefits from you participating in this making activity?
  • What surprised you the most during your maker experience?
  • What did you do that seemed to be effective?
  • What did you do that seemed to be ineffective?
  • What were the most difficult parts of the maker experience? Why?
  • What were the most satisfying parts of the maker experience? Why?
  • What personal characteristics made this maker experience successful for you?
  • Describe an awareness about a personal characteristic that has been enhanced by your maker experience.
  • How does the maker experience relate to your long-term goals?
  • How have you been challenged during the maker experience?
  • How do you feel about what you made? What parts of it do you particularly like? Dislike?
  • What lessons can you learn from the maker experience?
  • What positives can you take away from the maker experience?
  • How can you apply what you learned from maker experience in your life?
  • What advice would you give to someone else working on the maker activities?
  • What did you learn through this experience and how can you use it in the future?
  • Looking back on the maker experience, what two things stand out to you the most and why?

(For more on reflecting on the maker experience, see https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2018/03/10/reflecting-on-maker-experiences-with-reflection-cards/.) 

Assessment: How will learners be assessed? (This is especially important in a school setting where grades and accountability are expected.)

  • Rubric – Based on Standards and Objectives
    • Teacher Generated
    • Student Generated
  • Portfolio Artifact
    • Submitted to a Blog
    • Submitted to a web platform like Seesaw
  • Peer Assessments

Sharing Out Findings: How will learners share out what they learned with a larger maker education community? Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame stated: Sharing is s a vital aspect of maker culture that is intrinsic to the underlying ethos of what it means to be a maker and by extension, in my opinion, a human being (https://boingboing.net/2018/05/23/adam-savage-at-maker-faire-th.html).

  • Use of Social Media?
  • Presentations to Local Students and Community Members?
  • News Coverage?
  • Teaching Others?

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 6, 2018 at 12:40 am

Robot-Enhanced Creative Writing and Storytelling (featuring Ozobot and Wonder’s Dot)

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There have been complaints leveraged against out of the box robots like Dash and Dot, Ozobot, Hummingbird, Sphero. The complaints usually revolve around the canned and prescriptive nature of their uses and programs, that they lack creative engagement by the younger users. I personally love the excitement my learners have using these robots. As with all tools and technologies and with creative framing, though, they can be used in creative and imaginative ways.

Mention robots to many English teachers and they’ll immediately point down the hall to the science classroom or to the makerspace, if they have one. At many schools, if there’s a robot at all, it’s located in a science or math classroom or is being built by an after-school robotics club. It’s not usually a fixture in English classrooms. But as teachers continue to work at finding new entry points to old material for their students, robots are proving to be a great interdisciplinary tool that builds collaboration and literacy skills. (How Robots in English Class Can Spark Empathy and Improve Writing)

This past term, I had my 2nd through 4th grade students work on their robot-enhanced creative writing and stories. In small groups, students were asked to create a fictional storyline and use StoryboardThat.com to create both the physical scenes and the accompanying narrative. As part of their directions, they were told that they were going to create a 3D setting out of cardboard boxes, foam board, LED lights, and other craft materials; and that they would use Wonder’s Dot with the Blocky App and Ozobot as the characters in their stories. Preparation time was divided between storyboarding, creating the scene, and learning how to use/code the robots. Because of all of the preparation and practice, the recording actually went quite quick and smoothly.

Here is a break down of the learning events that learners were asked to complete:

In small groups, create a storyboard using StoryboardThat which includes both the scenes and the narration.

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Create the scenes or setting using craft materials, cardboard boxes, foam board, LED lights

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Learn how to use and code Ozobots and Wonder’s Dot

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Work out the details of completed stories prior to recording

. . . and here are their recorded stories (along with some clips of their preparation). They did such a good job – it is very much worth a view.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 15, 2018 at 9:58 pm

Elementary Social Entrepreneurship: A Perfect STEAM Lesson

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I am completing a social entrepreneurship unit with my gifted students, grades 2nd through 5th. It was one of my favorite units . . . ever, and from their reactions, I believe it was one of theirs, too. I call it a perfect STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) unit. The first part of this post explains some of the rationale for this project, and the second part describes the unit, itself.

Why a Unit on Social Entrepreneurship

First, I wanted my learners, who are from lower income families, to develop both an entrepreneur mindset and entrepreneur skills along with the creativity and innovation that comes with these skills.

Entrepreneurship education benefits students from all socioeconomic backgrounds because it teaches kids to think outside the box and nurtures unconventional talents and skills. Furthermore, it creates opportunity, ensures social justice, instills confidence and stimulates the economy. Because entrepreneurship can, and should, promote economic opportunity, it can serve as an agent of social justice. Furthermore, entrepreneurship has historically spurred minorities, women and immigrants to create better lives for themselves and their families.  (Why Schools Should Teach Entrepreneurship)

Second, not only did I want my learners to gain entrepreneur skills, I wanted them to experience the benefits of starting a company in order to raise money to give to a “cause” also known as a form of social entrepreneurship.

Not every child is temperamentally suited to be a social entrepreneur. Not every child is suited to be a scientist, mathematician, or artist. But elementary school-age kids do have the natural curiosity, imagination, drive, and ability to come up with innovative ways to change the world for the better. By exposing our kids to a variety of disciplines, including social entrepreneurship, we are teaching them they have what it takes to “be the change.” One well-known expert on social entrepreneurship, David Bornstein, puts it this way: Once an individual has experienced the power of social entrepreneurship, he or she will “never go back to being a passive actor in society.” (Young Kids Need to Learn About Social Entrepreneurship)

Third, this unit met my own criteria for an effective and powerful unit:

  • Instructional challenges are hands-on, experiential, and naturally engaging for learners.
  • Learning tasks are authentic, relevant, and promote life skills outside of the formal classroom.
  • The challenges are designed to be novel, and create excitement and joy for learners.
  • Learner choice and voice are valued.
  • Lessons address cross curricular standards. They are interdisciplinary (like life) where multiple, cross-curricular content areas are integrated into the instructional activities.
  • Learning activities get learners interested in and excited about a broad array of topics especially in the areas of science, engineering, math, language arts, and the arts.
  • 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 with a focus on assisting with the learning activities not to learn technology just for the sake of learning it.
  • There is a natural building of social emotional skills – tolerance for frustration, expression of needs, working as a team.

Schedule of Learning Activities

Here was the schedule of learning activities I used for this unit:

  •  Introduction
    • Video
    • Online Games
    • Kidpreneurs
  • Market Survey – Google Form
  • Analyzing Results, Deciding of Products, Testing Products
  • Expense Sheet – Expenses and Assets
  • Business Plan
  • Promotional Flyer
  • Sales and Record Sheet

Introduction

Video. Learners were introduced to entrepreneurship with the following video:

Kidpreneur Readings and Workbook. We began reading the Kidpreneurs’ book (free book can be ordered at https://kidpreneursbook.com/free-book) and doing exercises from the accompanying  workbook – these readings and exercises continued throughout the unit. Here is an infographic from the authors of these books:

1396292681-5-ways-teach-children-kidpreneurs-infographic

Online Games. They were then given the opportunity to play some online games that focus on entrepreneurship:

Market Survey 

Based on their own interests and hobbies (and with the help of the Kidpreneur workbook), my learners decided on possible products they could sell, and with my help, added possible organizations where profits would go. They developed a market survey from this information:


Analyzing Results, Deciding of Products, Testing Products

Learners requested that their respective classes and family members take their survey. It was quite a treat watching them continually examine the graphs found on the Google form response page. Here is an example from one student:

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From the results, they decided to sell Orbeez Stress Balls and glitter slime donating the profits to our school. They tested out making these products – different sizes and slime recipes – to discover which would be best for production.

Expense Form

I acted as the bank and purchased the materials for the learners to make Orbeez Stress Balls and Slime. I saved the receipts, made copies of them, and had each learner create her or his Google sheet to record expenses.

(Still making sales – students will update income this coming week.)

Business Plan

From all of this information, the learners developed a business plan using the following Kids-Business-Plan simplified for kids. It included:

  • Their business name – Gifted Community Craft Story
  • Startup costs
  • Cost per item
  • Marketing strategies

Promotional Flyer

The learners created the following promotional flyer using Google Docs. Luckily, our school has a color printer so I was able to print them out in color for the learners to post throughout the school.


Sales and Record Sheet

Another document created by the learners was the order form:

Highlights – Selling, Making, Packaging, and Delivering the Products

Additional Resources

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 13, 2018 at 11:29 pm

Assessing Maker Education Projects

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assessment

Institutionalized education has given assessment a bad reputation; often leaves a sour taste in the mouths of many teachers, students, and laypeople. This is primarily due to the testing movement, the push towards using student assessment in the form of tests as a measure of student, teacher, principal, and school accountability.

Educators should be clear about why they include assessment in their instruction; be strategic and intentional in its use. For me, assessment really should be about informing the learner about his or her performance so that increased learning and future improvement result for that learner.

Assessment is the process of gathering and discussing information from multiple and diverse sources in order to develop a deep understanding of what students know, understand, and can do with their knowledge as a result of their educational experiences; the process culminates when assessment results are used to improve subsequent learning. (Learner-Centered Assessment on College Campuses: Shifting the Focus from Teaching to Learning)

As Hattie, Fry, and Fischer note in Developing “Assessment Capable” Learners:

If we want students to take charge of their learning, we can’t keep relegating them to a passive role in the assessment process.

When we leave students out of assessment considerations, it is akin to fighting with one arm tied behind our backs. We fail to leverage the best asset we have: the learners themselves. What might happen if students were instead at the heart of the assessment process, using goals and results to fuel their own learning? ((http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb18/vol75/num05/Developing-%C2%A3Assessment-Capable%C2%A3-Learners.aspx)

Maker Education and Assessment

As maker education infiltrates more formal educational settings, there’s been and will continue to be efforts to include assessment as part of its implementation. It is important, though, to keep in mind the characteristics of maker education and the role assessment has within it.

Making innately provides evidence of learning. The artifact that results, in addition to the process that a student works through, provides a wealth of evidence, indicators, and data of their learning. Overall, though, assessing making comes back to the original (and difficult) question of what learning outcomes we’re seeking. Assessment is critical for understanding the scope and impact of learning, as well as the associated teaching, environment, culture, and content. (https://www.edutopia.org/blog/assessment-in-making-stephanie-chang-chad-ratliff)

Being a teacher, you’re constantly faced with having to assess student learning,” said Simon Mangiaracina, a sixth-grade STEM teacher. “We’re so used to grading work and giving a written assessment or a test. When you’re involved in maker education it should be more dynamic than that.” Part of the difficulty is that, in evaluating a maker project, teachers don’t want to undo all of the thinking that went into it. For instance, one of the most important lessons maker education can teach is not to fear failure and to take mistakes and let them inform an iterative design process — a research-informed variation of “guess and check” where students learn a process through a loop of feedback and evaluation.  (https://rossieronline.usc.edu/maker-education/7-assessment-types/  from USC Rossier’s online master’s in teaching program)

I have my gifted students do lots maker activities where I meet with the 2nd through 6th graders for 3 to 5 hours a week. Since I do not have to grade them (not in the traditional sense as I have to write quarterly progress reports), I don’t have to give them any tests (phew!). I do ask them, though, to assess their work. I believe as Dale Dougherty, founder of MAKE Magazine, does:

[Making] is intrinsic, whereas a lot of traditional, formal school is motivated by extrinsic measures, such as grades. Shifting that control from the teacher or the expert to the participant to the non-expert, the student, that’s the real big difference here. Dale Dougherty

Christa Flores in Alternative Assessments and Feedback in a MakerEd Classroom stated:

In a maker classroom, learning is inherently experiential and can be very student driven; assessment and feedback needs to look different than a paper test to accurately document and encourage learning. Regardless of how you feel about standardized testing, making seems to be immune to it for the time being (one reason some schools skip the assessment piece and still bill making as an enrichment program). Encouragingly, the lack of any obvious right answers about how to measure and gauge success and failure in a maker classroom, as well as the ambiguity about how making in education fits into the common standards or college readiness debate, has not stopped schools from marching forward in creating their own maker programs.

If the shift of control is given to the students within maker education settings, then it follows that the students should also be in charge of their assessments. One of the goals of maker education should be self-determined learning. This should include learners engaging in their own personal and personalized form of assessment.

Student self-assessment involves students in evaluating their own work and learning progress.

Self-assessment is a valuable learning tool as well as part of an assessment process.  Through self-assessment, students can:

  • identify their own skill gaps, where their knowledge is weak
  • see where to focus their attention in learning
  • set realistic goals
  • revise their work
  • track their own progress
  • if online, decide when to move to the next level of the course

This process helps students stay involved and motivated and encourages self-reflection and responsibility for their learning. (https://teachingcommons.stanford.edu/resources/teaching/evaluating-students/assessing-student-learning/student-self-assessment)

Witnessing the wonders of making in education teaches us to foster an environment of growth and self-actualization by using forms of assessment that challenge our students to critique both their own work and the work of their peers. This is where the role of self-assessment begins to shine a light. Self-assessment can facilitate deeper learning as it requires students to play a more active role in the cause of their success and failures as well as practice a critical look at quality. (Role and Rigor of Self-Assessment in Maker Education by Christa Flores in http://fablearn.stanford.edu/fellows/sites/default/files/Blikstein_Martinez_Pang-Meaningful_Making_book.pdf)

Documenting Learning

To engage in the self-assessment process of their maker activities, I ask learners to document their learning.

We need to integrate documenting practices as part of making activities as well as designing, tinkering, digital fabrication, and programming in order to enable students to document their own learning process and experiment with the beauty of building shared knowledge. Documentation is a hard task even for adults, but it is not so hard if you design a reason and a consistent expectation that everyone will collect and organize the things they will share. (Documenting a Project Using a “Failures Box” by Susanna Tesconi in http://fablearn.stanford.edu/fellows/sites/default/files/Blikstein_Martinez_Pang-Meaningful_Making_book.pdf)

Documenting their learning can include one or a combination of the following methods:

  • Taking notes
  • Talking to a fellow learner or two.
  • Making sketches
  • Taking photos
  • Doing audio recordings
  • Making videos

(For more information, see Documenting Learning https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2016/04/08/documenting-learning/)

The folks at Digital Promise have the following message for maker educators regarding documentation:

Make the documentation an organic and expected part of the process. When documentation feels like it is added without reason, students struggle to engage with the documentation process. Help students consider how in-process documentation and reflection can help them adapt and improve the project they are working on. Help them see the value of taking time to stop and think.(http://global.digitalpromise.org/teachers-guide/documenting-maker-projects/)

Documenting learning during the making process serves several purposes related to assessment:

  1. It acts as ongoing and formative assessment.
  2. It gives learners the message that the process of learning is as important as the products of learning, so that their processes as well as their products are assessed. (For more information on the process of learning, see Focusing on the Process: Letting Go of Product Expectations https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2017/12/17/focusing-on-the-process-letting-go-of-product-expectations/)

Maker Project Reflections

Because many students haven’t had the experience of reflection and self-assessment, I ease them into this process.  With my gifted students, I ask them to blog their reflections after almost all of their maker education activities. They take pictures of their makes, and I ask them to discuss what they thought they did especially well, and what they would do differently in a similar future make. Here are some examples:

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Teacher and Peer Feedback

The learners’ peers and their educators can view their products, documented learning, and reflections in order to provide additional feedback. A culture of learning is established within the maker education community in that teacher and peer feedback is offered and accepted on an ongoing basis. With this type of openness and transparency of the learning process, this feedback not only benefits that individual student but also the other students as they learn from that student what worked and didn’t work which in turn can help them with their own makes.

The Use of Assessment Rubrics

As a final thought, there has been some thoughts and efforts into using rubrics as assessment tools. Here is one developed by Lisa Yokana and discussed in Creating an Authentic Maker Education Rubric 

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I think rubrics, such as this, can be of value in assessing student work and/or having them assess their own work, but I prefer more open ended forms of assessment so the learners can but more of their selves into the process.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 5, 2018 at 10:01 pm

Helping Learners Move Beyond “I Can’t Do This”

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I work part-time with elementary learners – with gifted learners during the school year and teaching maker education camps during the summer. The one thing almost all of them have in common is yelling out, “I can’t do this” when the tasks aren’t completed upon first attempts or get a little too difficult for them. I partially blame this on the way most school curriculum is structured. Too much school curriculum is based on paper for quick and one shot learning experiences (or the comparable online worksheets). Students are asked to do worksheets on paper, answer end-of-chapter questions on paper, write essays on paper, do math problems on paper, fill in the blanks on paper, and pick the correct answer out of a multiple choice set of answers on paper. These tasks are then graded as to the percentage correct and then the teacher moves onto the next task.

So it is no wonder that when learners are given hands-on tasks such as those common to maker education, STEM, and STEAM, they sometimes struggle with their completion. Struggles are good. Struggles with authentic tasks mimics real life so much more than completing those types of tasks and assessments done at most schools.

Problems like yelling out, “I can’t do this” arise when the tasks get a little too difficult (but ultimately are manageable). I used to work with at-risk kids within Outward Bound-type programs. Most at-risk kids have some self-defeating behaviors including those that result in personal failure. The model for these types of programs is that helping participants push past their self-perceived limitations results in the beginnings of a success rather than a failure orientation. This leads into a success building upon success behavioral cycle.

A similar approach can be used with learners when they take on a “I can’t do this” attitude. Some of the strategies to offset “I can’t do this” include:

  • Help learners focus on “I can’t do this . . .  YET.”
  • Teach learners strategies for dealing with frustration.
  • Encourage learners to ask for help from their peers.
  • Give learners tasks a little above their ability levels.
  • Emphasize the processes of learning rather than its product.
  • Reframe mistakes and difficulties as opportunities for learning.
  • Scaffold learning; provide multiple opportunities to learn and build upon previous learning.
  • Focus on mastery of learning; mastery of skills.
  • Avoid the urge to rescue them.
  • May need to push learners beyond self-perceived limits.
  • Build reflection into the learning process.
  • Help learners accept an “it’s okay” when a task really is too hard (only as a last resort).

moving beyond i can't

Focus on “I can’t do this . . .  YET.”

The use of “YET” was drawn from Carol Dweck’s work with growth mindsets.

Just the words “yet” or “not yet,” we’re finding give kids greater confidence, give them a path into the future that creates greater persistence. And we can actually change students’ mindsets. In one study, we taught them that every time they push out of their comfort zone to learn something new and difficult, the neurons in their brain can form new, stronger connections,and over time, they can get smarter. (Carol Dweck TED Talk: The power of believing that you can improve)

By asking learners to add “yet” to the end of their “I can’t do this” comments, possibilities are opened up for success in future attempts and iterations. It changes their fixed or failure mindsets to growth and possibility ones.

Teach learners strategies for dealing with frustration.

What often precedes learners yelling out, “I can’t do this” is that learners’ frustration levels have gotten a bit too high for them. Helping learners deal with their frustrations is a core skill related to their social-emotional development and helps with being successful with the given tasks.

The basic approach to helping a [student] deal with frustrating feelings is (a) to help them build the capability to observe themselves while they’re in the midst of experiencing the feeling, (b) to help them form a story or narrative about their experience of the feeling and the situation, and then (c) to help them make conscious choices about their behavior and the ways they express their feelings. (Tips for Parents: Managing Frustration and Difficult Feelings in Gifted Children)

You can help your [student] recognize that learning involves trial and error. Mastering a new skill takes patience, perseverance, practice, and the confidence that success will come. Instead of recognizing that failure is temporary, a [student] often concludes, “I’ll never succeed.” That is why encouragement is by far the most important gift you can give your frustrated [student]. Take her dejection seriously, but help her look at her challenge differently: “Never,” you might reply, “is an awfully long time.” Eventually, she’ll learn from your encouraging words to talk herself out of giving up. (Fight Frustration)

Encourage learners to ask for help from their peers.

I must tell both my gifted students and my summer campers several times a day to ask one of their classmates for help when they are stuck. I have a three before me policy in my classrooms, but sometimes when I tell them to ask for help, they look at me like I am speaking another language.  It makes sense, though, as they often have been socialized via school procedures to ask the teacher when they get stuck.

The following poster is going up in my classroom this coming year to remind them of the different possibilities for getting help if and when they get stuck on a learning task:

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The bottom line becomes facilitating learner self-reliance knowing that these are skills learners can transfer to outside of school activities where there often is not a teacher to provide assistance.

Emphasize the processes of learning rather than its product.

School curriculum often focuses on the whats of learning – the products – rather than the hows of learning – the processes. When the focus changes to the process of learning, learners are less apt to feel the pressure to create quality products. “Research has demonstrated that engaging students in the learning process increases their attention and focus, motivates them to practice higher-level critical thinking skills and promotes meaningful learning experiences” (Engaging students in learning).

The biggest step an educator can take to implement a process-oriented learning environment is to let go of expectations about what a product should be. Expectations can and should be around learning processes such as: following through to the task completion, finding help when needed, trying new things, taking risks, creating and innovating, tolerating frustration, and attempting alternative routes when one route isn’t working.

Reframe mistakes and difficulties as opportunities for learning.

I’ve blogged about normalizing failure and mistake making in The Over Promotion of Failure: 

I reframe the idea of failure, that oftentimes occur within open-ended, ill-defined projects, as things didn’t go as originally planned. It is just a part of the learning process. I explain to my learners that they will experience setbacks, mistakes, struggles. It is just a natural part of real world learning. Struggles, setbacks, and mistakes are not discussed as failure but as parts of a process that need improving.

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Contrary to what many of us might guess, making a mistake with high confidence and then being corrected is one of the most powerful ways to absorb something and retain it. Learning about what is wrong may hasten understanding of why the correct procedures are appropriate but errors may also be interpreted as failure. And Americans … strive to avoid situations where this might happen. (To Err Is Human: And A Powerful Prelude To Learning)

Scaffold learning; provide multiple opportunities to learn and build upon previous learning.

Many maker education, STEM, and STEAM activities require a skill set in order to complete them. For example, many of the learning activities I do with my students require the use of scissors, tape, putting together things. Even though some of the learners are as old as 6th grade, many lack these skills. As such, I do multiple activities that require their use. Learners are more likely to enjoy, engage in, and achieve success in these activities if related skills are scaffolded, repeated, and built upon.

In the process of scaffolding, the teacher helps the student master a task or concept that the student is initially unable to grasp independently. The teacher offers assistance with only those skills that are beyond the student’s capability. Of great importance is allowing the student to complete as much of the task as possible, unassisted. The teacher only attempts to help the student with tasks that are just beyond his current capability. Student errors are expected, but, with teacher feedback and prompting, the student is able to achieve the task or goal. (Scaffolding)

 By allowing students to learn from their mistakes, or circling back through the curriculum will allow more students to access your instruction and for you to have a better understanding of where they are at with their learning.  Let’s face it, learning can be messy and if you try to put it into a simple box or say a single class period and then move on, it isn’t always effective.  (Strategies and Practices That Can Help All Students Overcome Barriers)

Focus on mastery of learning; mastery of skills.

Sal Khan of Khan Academy fame has a philosophy that focuses on mastery of learning and skills that is applicable for all types of learning:

A problem, Khan says, is the next block of material builds on what the student was supposed to learn in the last lesson, and it’s usually more difficult to pick up. So a student learns only 75% of the material, we can’t expect that student to master the next section.

When students master concepts and learn at their own pace — all sorts of neat things happen. The students can actually master the concepts, but they’re also building their growth mindset, they’re building perseverance, they’re taking agency over their learning. And all sorts of beautiful things can start to happen in the actual classroom. (Sal Khan TED Talk Urges Mastery, Not Test Scores In Classroom)

This approach puts forward the notion that students should not be rushed through to more complex concepts without having the foundational knowledge needed to successfully transition to the next level.

Khan believes we should be teaching students to master the material before moving on, ensuring that students are given as much time and support as they need to tackle each new concept before trying to build upon it. As Khan says, you wouldn’t build the second floor of a house on a shaky foundation, otherwise it will collapse.

Mastery learning:

  • Reframes a student’s sense of responsibility, where performance is viewed as the product of instruction and practice, rather than a lack of ability.
  • Encourages a student to persevere and grasp knowledge they previously didn’t understand.
  • Gives students the time and opportunity as they need to master each step, instead of teaching to fixed time constraints.
  • Provides feedback and assessment throughout the learning process, not just after a major assessment. (Teaching for mastery)

     

Give learners tasks a little above their ability levels.

Giving learners tasks a little above their ability levels is actually a definition for differentiated instruction. It also helps to insure that new learning will occur; that learners will be challenged to go beyond their self-perceived limitations. ‘People can’t grow if they are constantly doing what they have always done. Let them develop new skills by giving challenging tasks” (15 effective ways to motivate your team). As learners overcome challenges, they will be more likely to take on new, even more challenging tasks.

Avoid the urge to rescue them.

I’ve had learners cry (even as old as 6th grade), get angry, sit down in frustration. Educators, by nature, are helpers. The tendency is for them to rescue learners from the stress and frustration of reaching seemingly unsurmountable challenges. But, and this is a big but, if educators do rescue them, then they are taking away learning opportunities, the possibility of the learner achieving success on his or her own.

May need to push learners beyond self-perceived limits.

This is the next step after not rescuing learners. The educator may have to push, encourage, cajole, coax, persuade, wheedle learners to go beyond what they thought possible. It is similar to a coach who really pushes her or his athletes. Sometimes it appears mean or callous. The big caveat to being successful with this strategy is that the educator must first have a good relationship with the leaners; that learners really understand that the educator has their best interests at heart.

Build reflection into the learning process.

Time needs to be built into the day or class period where students reflect on what they’ve learning and make meaning of it.  This helps with processing information as they reconcile it with their prior knowledge and work to make the information stick.  This is a great opportunity for thinking to be clarified, questions to be sought, or learning to be extended.  (Strategies and Practices That Can Help All Students Overcome Barriers)

Help learners accept an “it’s okay” when a task really is too hard (only as a last resort).

Yep – this is absolutely the last resort.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 24, 2017 at 11:47 pm

Maker Education Camp: Circuit Crafts

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This is my third summer offering maker education summer camps as part of a bigger program at a local school.  During mornings (9 to 12 with a half hour recess), campers, grades Kindergarten through 6th grade, can choose from one of four enrichment classes: art, drama, games, foreign languages, computers, and in my case, maker camps. During the afternoons, all campers get together for typical camp activities – fun and games, field trips, water sports, silly competitions. Each camp lasts a week. This summer I am offering: Cardboard Creations, Circuit Crafts, Toy Making and Hacking, and Robotics and Coding.

I often discuss the need to implement maker education programs with minimal cost materials and ones that offer the potential to tap into diverse learners and their diverse interests:

3d Printers, Ardinos, litteBits, Makey-Makeys, GoSpheros, Lillipads, . . . oh my! These technologies are seductive especially seeing all the press they get on social media, blogs, and Kickstarter.  Given all of the media coverage, an educator new to Maker Education may get the perception that it is all about this kind of high tech stuff. For less affluent schools or after-school programs, it may seem that maker education is out of their reach given budgetary restraints. A maker education program can be fully implemented with minimal cost supplies. Cardboard boxes, recycled materials such as water bottles, detergent bottles, and other plastic throwaways, tape, glue guns, scissors/knives, and markers in conjunction with learners’ imaginations, creativity, and innovative ideas can be the stuff that makerspaces are made of (Making MAKEing more inclusive).

Many of the discussions about and actions related to integrating maker education into educational environments center around the use of new technologies such computer components (Raspberry PisArduinos), interactive robots for kids (Dash and DotOzobotsSpheros), and 3D printers. These technologies are lots of fun and I facilitate Robotics and Computer Science with my gifted students and at one of my summer camps (noting that I purchased the robots myself). The learners engaged in these high tech learning activities with high excitement and motivation. Such high excitement, engagement and motivation, though, were also seen at my low tech/low cost maker education camps: LED crafts, Toy Hacking and Making, and Cardboard Creations. A recent NPR article discussed several challenges for maker education. One of them was related to equity issues, providing maker education for all students regardless of income level:

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

(Cardboard Creations: A Maker Education Camp )

This post lists the materials I used for the Circuit Crafts and descriptions of the activities.

Materials and Costs:

This camp did have some costs associated with it but I believe that given the wide range of activities offered, the costs were justified. The following is my materials list and costs. FYI – I actually purchased most of these materials cheaper via ebay.

  • Snap Circuits Pro (2 at $60 each – $120)
  • Circuit Maze (2 @ $23 each – $46)
  • Circuit Kits (3 at $14 https://www.amazon.com/Basic-Circuit-Kit-Batteries-Holders/dp/B00FKCVFPW – $42)
  • Squishy Circuits
    • Playdoh (two 10 packs at $8.00 each – $16)
    • modeling clay (24 color pack @ $14)
    • 5 mm LED’s – used for several projects (500 mixed color from ebay – $14)
    • 9V Batteries (10 2-packs from Dollar Store – $10)
    • battery terminals with wires (20 – $10)
  • Gami-Bots
    • business cards ($5)
    • coin pager motors (50 from ebay – $25; I got extras as sometimes the wires pull out and sometimes the campers want to make more than one)
    • coin batteries – used for several projects (200 from ebay – $20)
  • Wiggle or Art Bots
  • Paper Circuits
    • coin batteries (purchased quantity under Gami-bots)
    • 5 MM LED lights (purchased quantity under Squishy Circuits
    • copper tape (2 rolls of 1/8″ x 55 yd – $15)
  • Minecraft Blocks and Dollhouses
    • Cardstock (150 sheet pack from Walmart – $5.50)
  • Miscellaneous Supplies (found at school)
    • Tape
    • Two sided tape
    • Scissors
    • Paper
    • Butcher Block Paper
    • Markers

The total budget for serving 20 kids for 2.5 hours per day for 5 days was about $450 noting that the games and kits ($200 of the money) used to kick-off the camp were one time purchases. They will be used again for future camps. It ended up being $22 for each camper for the entire week – $12.50 without the games or kits. Having a materials fee; or doing DonorsChoose.org or a fundraiser can easily cover these costs.

What follows are descriptions and how-tos for the circuit activities at did at this maker camp.

Introduction to Circuits with Games and Manipulatives

To introduce learners to circuits, they played with:

For the first morning, I set up stations for each of the above. Learners were asked to work with a partner or two. They moved to any station at any time as long as they spent time finishing several projects at a given station.

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Squishy Circuits

Squishy Circuits uses conductive and insulating play dough to teach the basics of electrical circuits in a fun, hands-on way. There’s no need for breadboards or soldering – just add batteries and pre-made doughs (or make your own dough). Squishy Circuits are very simple and is based on two play doughs – one that is conductive (electricity flows through it) and one that is insulative (does not allow electricity to flow through it). Power is supplied by a 4AA battery pack and travels through the conductive dough to provide power to LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes), buzzers, or motors.  https://squishycircuits.com/what-is-squishy-circuits/

This PDF was shared with the makers campers: Squishy Circuits Introduction PDF.  It provides some background and simple get started activities.

I then project resources on the Whiteboard to spark ideas for creative use of Squishing Circuits:  http://www.pearltrees.com/jackiegerstein/squishy-circuits/id15355392squishy

 

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Gami-Bots

A Gami-Bot is a simple DIY origami robot that is made from a vibration motor, business card, 3v cell battery, and tape. It is so easy it practically builds itself (https://otherlab.com/blog/post/howtoons-gami-bot).

This was developed by Howtoons. They now sell it as a kit but I buy all of the materials separately as they are simple materials and easily accessible.

Directions can be found via this Howtoons cartoon:

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This is a high engagement, low entry activity for both younger and older (like adults) learners. I encourage learners to decorate them to make them more anthropomorphic and to engage in free play after their creation which often translates into competitions such as racing and length of time staying in determined area.

 

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Wiggle and Art Bots

As this was a summer camp with a budget, my “big” purchase for this camp was Wiggle Bots bought from TeachGeek , but with a few parts like 3v motors, AA batteries, AA battery holders, plastic cups, markers, and tape, learners can easily make their own wiggle and art bots. See my page of resources on Artbots and Scribbling Machines at http://www.makereducation.com/artbots–scribbling-machines.html

 

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LED Paper Projects

The last two days of camp were spent making LED projects:

  • Minecraft Blocks
  • Paper Circuits
  • Circuit City

Minecraft Blocks

I printed off paper templates for Minecraft Blocks from http://stlmotherhood.com/diy-minecraft-light-blocks-diamond-emerald-redstone/. (Yes, it requires a color copier which all of the schools where I work [including the Title 1 ones) have.) Campers were instructed to cut them out and hole punch out “windows” in their blocks to allow the light to shine out. After assembling their blocks leaving the top open, they inserted LED lights with coin batteries taped into place.

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http://www.technologystudent.com/elec_flsh/button1.html

 

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Paper Circuits

I printed off the the parallel and switch circuit templates found at paper-circuit-project-templates. I printed them in color but black and write would have been fine. Additional materials for this project were LEDs, copper tape, and coin batteries. The templates are pretty self-explanatory so I walked around and gave the campers assisted when needed.

 

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Circuit City

Finally, learners were given templates for paper house structures (https://www.template.net/business/paper-templates/paper-house-template/ – I encouraged campers to add lit LEDs as they did for their Minecraft blocks. They were asked to also use their Minecraft blocks and their paper circuits as part of the city. The miscellaneous materials (craft sticks, straws) were also available for them to use. A large piece of butcher block paper was placed on the floor and the learners were given the following simple directions, “Create a city out of your paper crafts: your houses, Minecraft blocks, and paper circuits. You can use the extra LED/coin batteries and markers to add to your city.” Once their city was complete, I darkened the room.

This is the second time I’ve done this activity, and both times, I observed the campers having lots of fun doing some spontaneous role play interacting with the city and each other.

 

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 8, 2017 at 4:41 pm

The Classroom or Library as a Makerspace

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Makerspaces, Maker Education, STEM, and STEAM are gaining lots of traction in Kindergarten though college level education. Articles, resources on social media, and conference presentations on these topics are proliferating at a rate that most educators are now familiar with maker education.

Once again this school year, schools will be ramping up robotics programs and opening more makerspaces, according to the latest report from the New Media Consortium and the Consortium for School Networking. As for “important developments” on the horizon, makerspaces (first listed as a trend in the 2015 report) will pick up speed over the next one to two years. As schools continue to foster 21st century skills in students in order to prepare them for the demands of a global workforce, K–12 will see the adoption of more makerspaces and research efforts to surface best benefits and practices. Furthermore, the report noted that “makerspaces were initially lauded for their role in stimulating interest in STEM fields,” but now they are often viewed as conduits to STEAM education with more emphasis on the humanities, visual arts, dance, drama and other areas of the arts (Ravipati, 2017).

Makerspaces like vocational shops and science labs are great additions to schools. They often contain the tools, machinery, and technologies associated with making – 3D printers, laser cutters, vinyl cutters, high tech robotics, vocational tech machinery. These are great for educational institutions and learners that can afford them.

Problems occur when administrators, educators, learners, and communities come to believe that maker education is synonymous with these tools and spaces. First, they may be out of budget for schools especially those serving lower income populations. Second, the regular classroom teacher or librarian may be intimidated with these advanced tools and technologies. Finally, in order to prevent maker education in becoming the educational flavor of the month, administrators, educators, and libraries need to not be seduced by these high tech tools. The longevity and sustainability of maker education will depend on making it feasible, approachable, and accessible to the masses of educators.

Public focus on maker education often centers on flashy technology, but it is more than just that. Maker education is about building educational experiences that are based in the real world, that allow student choice, and that achieve multiple objectives. Maker education can be used in a variety of ways and projects can be adjusted in scale or scope to meet individual class or student needs. The key to successful maker education implementation is finding project ideas that seamlessly integrate “making” into the lessons. In the end, maker education is all about providing engaging experiences for students that brings out the best in them in the form of problem solving and determination (https://sparkfuneducation.com/what-is-maker-education.html.).

With these broader definitions and approaches to maker education, and with the realization that maker education does not have to be about the shiny, new toys; more school administrators, librarians, and educators may be willing to embrace maker education within their own work settings.  A classroom or library can be at least partially transformed into its own makerspace, a space for powerful student learning by doing the following actions workable and realistic for most librarians and educators:

A classroom or library can be transformed into its own makerspace, a space for powerful student learning by doing the following realistic and workable actions:

  • Removal of Obsolete, Non-Flexible Classroom Desks (including the traditional teacher’s desk)
  • Spaces for Playing, Tinkering, Making, Collaborating, Discussing, Researching, Reflecting
  • An Agile and Nimble Learning Environment
  • Materials Openly and Easily Available
  • Materials and Activities to Spark Diverse Learners and Their Diverse Interests
  • Scavenged Materials
  • A Place and Space That Supports Chaos and Messiness
  • Accessible, Low-Entry, High Ceiling Materials and Activities
  • A Learning Environment Driven by Learner Choice and Voice
  • The Space Screams of Fun and Engagement
  • The Space Screams of a Maker Mindset Not the Stuff

classroom makerspace

Removal of Archaic, Non-Flexible Classroom Desks

The image that often comes to mind about the classroom desk is one that features a plastic chair with chrome legs and a fiberboard tabletop that partially encloses a student’s body (for a history of the classroom desk, see A Visual History of School Desks). The first step for creating a classroom or library space that supports making is to get rid of these archaic pieces of furniture that seem to have been invented more for control than for learning.

The idea that students must be seated at desks working in rows is quickly becoming archaic. Technology and collaborative work environments are changing the design of learning spaces. Experts hope that the emerging paradigm will translate into improved learning spaces (Learning Environment: 20 Things Educators Need to Know about Learning Spaces).

Spaces for Playing, Tinkering, Making, Collaborating, Discussing, Researching, Reflecting

Classroom educators and librarians may wonder how they might create spaces for playing, tinkering, making, collaborating, discussing, researching, and reflecting. First and foremost, they need to develop an innovator’s mindset, one outside of the box of what a classroom should look, sound, and be like. Second, practitioners need to become intentional in insuring that a full spectrum of making skills, attitudes, and knowledge is offered to learners. What will follow is educators and librarians who are creative, innovative, and resourceful in creating spaces that can offer a variety of learning activities. The types of desired learning activities should drive how the learning space should be set up as discussed in the case studies reported by the Hechinger Report article, Personalized Learning: Why Your Classroom Should Sound Like A Coffee Shop:

As a first step, they began with ideas and used them to define the space. Searching questions such as “What types of activities will define this flexible space?” were used to escape the constraints of the physical space and get beyond our own set of normal limitations.

An Agile and Nimble Learning Environment

The intentional use of flexible seating that form agile and nimble learning spaces support the learning intentions discussed in the previous section.

An agile learning environment is an educational playground that is intentionally designed to be adjustable, exchangeable and moveable. The learning space is designed to support idea generation, collaboration and experimentation. agile learning environments ultimately showcase how the design of a physical space, as well as the implementation of technology within that space, can shift how people communicate with one another.

The primary goal of an agile learning environment is flexibility. The furniture in the space, and the technology used within it, are flexible so that it can be configured and re-configured to suit different approaches to learning and teaching. An agile learning environment has the ability to turn a static or ‘dead’ space into a dynamic space (The primary goal of an agile learning environment).

With some creativity and flexibility, the practitioner can set up a unique, multipurpose space to serve the goals of making, the learners, and multipurpose uses specified above. The spaces become agile and nimble. There are lots of resources that discuss flexible seating. Here is a ScoopIt aggregate of resources  http://www.scoop.it/t/flexible-seating-1

Affordable and Scavenged Materials

There are so many avenues for acquiring materials for the classroom or library seeking to be at least a part-time makerspace.

Makerspace materials

Once educators open themselves up to all of the possibilities of making, they will find free materials everywhere – cardboard at stores; recycled plastic bottles at school or the local recycling center; the storage closet at school where all of the old science kits are stored (I’ve found them at every school where I work) with all kinds of making supplies; old technologies and appliances for learners to take apart and build new inventions

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Affordable Materials Openly and Easily Accessible

In a learner-centered classroom environment, materials are displayed openly – being accessible to the learners on an as-needed-when-needed basis.  Both of the elementary schools where I work have general consumables for educators (and I believe it’s true for most schools): xerox paper, butcher block paper, crayons, scissors, tape, markers, rubber bands, paper clips. These materials are stored openly in bins in cubbies for my learners.

Materials such as these can provide a foundation for making; brainstorming, prototyping, reflecting and should be available for learners to use for their making activities without asking the teacher. Having them displayed can spark learners’ ideas. So when a learner says, “I need some paper.” (They ask because of their previous school experiences.) My comment back is, “Then go get it.”

Materials and Activities to Spark Diverse Learners and Their Diverse Interests

The maker education and maker spaces movements are way too often symbolized by the machines; 3D printers, laser cutters, high tech components (Raspberry Pi and Arduino) and way too often it is white males who are attracted to these machines. In order to respect the diverse learners represented by gender, age, ethnic and racial background, then first, the definition of making needs to be expanded. As Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame noted in his 2016 Bay Area Maker Faire talk:

What is making? It is a term for an old thing, it is a new term for an old thing. Let me be really clear, making is not simply 3D printing, Art Lino, Raspberry Pi, LEDs, robots, laser and vinyl cutters. It’s not simply carpentry and welding and sculpting and duct tape and drones. Making is also writing and dance and filmmaking and singing and photography and cosplay.

Every single time you make something from you that didn’t exist in the world, you are making. Making is important; it’s empowering. It is invigorating, but why? There are lots of results that are good that come from making. We improve the world around us. We show people how much we care about them. We solve problems, both personal and societal (Adam Savage’s 2016 Bay Area Maker Faire Talk).

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With this expanded definition of making, it follows that the activities and materials in the classroom or library should reflect the diverse learners and their specific interests.

A Place and Space That Supports Chaos and Messiness

Traditional classrooms and libraries are often marked by students at their desks completing their learning tasks quietly, independently with as little movement of possible. This is opposite of what happens in a making environment. The classroom or library becomes loud, seemingly chaotic, and messy, but authentic and engaged learning is often messy.

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

Accessible, Low-Entry, High Ceiling Materials and Activities

“When discussing technologies to support learning and education, my mentor Seymour Papert often emphasized the importance of “low floors” and “high ceilings.” For a technology to be effective, he said, it should provide easy ways for novices to get started (low floor) but also ways for them to work on increasingly sophisticated projects over time (high ceiling).” Mitch Resnick in https://design.blog/2016/08/25/mitchel-resnick-designing-for-wide-walls/

I do conference presentations where I have educators and librarians make paper circuits and Gami-bots. The success rate for these projects is 100% which translates into low entry into making (I took liberty to change low low to low entry). At one of my recent workshops, one teacher made the following design out of her paper circuit which says, “The moment your realize you can be a maker.”

IMG_0147

Similar materials can also create a high ceiling or more complex activities such as advanced art projects, most complex paper circuit projects, use of more advanced maker technologies.

A Learning Environment Driven by Learner Choice and Voice

The bottom line of setting up a learning environment based on the tenets typically associated with making is that learner voice and choice is enhanced. When choice and voice are intentionally built into learning then school and education work.

School works when students have opportunities to produce quality work about issues that matter. Education works when people have opportunities to find and develop unaccessed or unknown voices and skills. Audre Lord 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).

The Space Screams of Fun and Engagement; a Place for and By Learners

Piaget famously noted that play is the work of children and I have the belief that all humans maintain the sense of wonder of a child. Embedding fun into making; into learning in general increases engagement, joy, creativity, innovation, and collaboration.

In our test-driven educational world of today being on task and on time in many schools leaves little time for play. Lunch periods have been shortened and days and years have been lengthened in an apparent quest to make our students into perfect little technicians, automatons who can react specifically in isolation to a set of pre- set stimuli in a consistent and certain way. Little room is left for the unexpected or the un-planned in our modern classrooms. It is a strangely disastrous way to prepare our children for a future where it appears that the only constant will be continual change. By play I do not mean little league, dance, or any other adult controlled activity. It must be kid controlled, kid directed, and kid policed for real learning about life to take place. Is it possible that our current infatuation with the concept that spending more time on something will make it better is so logical and easily observable and testable that just as logic and observation has in the past it might make people believe that the Earth is flat? (“Play is the work of children”….. J. Piaget).

Fun can be felt, seen, experienced when as soon as learners and visitors walk into the space.  I love watching the faces on visitors when they enter my own classroom. They light up as they see my sofas, chairs, lamps; making supplies in cubbies in the back of the room; and most of all my learners’ work such as LED lit on student-generated posters hanging on the wall, paper roller coasters in-process of being made, and Lego creations on the Lego wall.

The Space Screams the Maker Mindset Not the Stuff

The battle cry of educators using educational technology is that the pedagogy needs to come before the technology. I am baffled, then, why I go to edtech conferences and find so many sessions on the technology, e.g., 60 apps in 60 minutes. The same seems to be true for the maker movement these days. Practitioners talk about the maker mindset and then speak of the shiny new toys they use without talking about the context – of what skills and knowledge students learn from it. For example, with the 3D printer, they might talk about the Yoda they made and I say, “So what?” It really is about having a maker mindset not about the shiny, new maker tools. It’s about the making process; about the engagement, creativity, innovation, struggles to complete a difficult task, sense of accomplishment. A cardboard box, for example, can become a chariot, rocket, robot, marble run, Foosball game, dollhouse, Hot Wheels track, house, fort, castle, game.

We must exercise the discipline to refrain from attaching too quickly to an idea just because it’s new. Making is no exception, so to truly prepare ourselves to be successful in this new venture, let’s be sure we set our students up to have the right mindset to be courageous innovators (6 Must-Haves for Developing a Maker Mindset).

With a maker mindset and some of the strategies outlined above, any classroom or library can become a makerspace.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 2, 2017 at 2:09 pm

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