User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Posts Tagged ‘tinkering

Making a Hacked-Out Ugly Christmas Sweater

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I’ve discussed the need to be a learner and lead learner in this era of education which includes maker education. What I find absolutely exciting about being a maker educator is that they need to be learners; dedicated and invested in attitudes and behaviors related to being lifelong learners as the maker movement is ever evolving with seemingly daily advances. I believe that being a lead learner involves documenting and reflecting on the iteration process that is common for maker education. I provided an example of this in my post, Educator as Lead Learner: Learning littleBits.

As a learner and maker educator who wants to keep developing my making skills, I decided to hack out an ugly Christmas vest. What follows is what I did and my reflections about the process of creating this vest:

Reflection on This Hack:

  • None of the original hacks worked correctly the first time. It was very frustrating but I had a need to make it work. Failure was not an option even if it meant my hacks weren’t as clean as I desired.
  • Even though they weren’t as clean as I originally pictured, there was joy in getting my hacks to work. It was rewarding and fun to see the finished vest.
  • The most joy I felt was when I wore the hacked out ugly Christmas vest to my health club. It was fun to watch others reactions –  their smiles, laughs, and comments were priceless when they realized all that was going on in my vest.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 21, 2015 at 1:35 am

LED Projects for Kids

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I have been offered an opportunity to teach maker education again at a local summer enrichment program during summer, 2016. Last summer was my first time around so I experimented with lots of different maker education activities to see what worked and didn’t work with the 5 to 10 year old kids. I now have this foundation and can build upon this foundation. I love creating new learning activities and will be thinking of new ways to use the materials so my returning students will have new activities. I plan to blog about those activities as I formulate them so (1) I don’t forget about them, (2) others will have access to them, and (3) folks will realize that maker education can be implemented with accessible, fairly cheap materials; that a makerspace is not required to do maker education.

LED Nametags



LED Throwies Meet the Magnetic Board


  • LEDs (see
  • Coin Batteries (I get mine in bulk from ebay)
  • Magnets (I also get these in bulk from ebay)
  • Electric tape
  • Individual Magnetic white boards
  • Dry erase markers


  • Each learner is given the task to make 4-6 LED throwies (with the intent that they aren’t going to be thrown.


  • Directions from Make Magazine:
    • Pinch the LED’s leads to the sides of the battery, with the longer lead (the anode) touching the battery’s positive (+) terminal, and the shorter lead (cathods) touching negative (–). It should light up.
    • Cut a 7″ length of strapping tape or electrical tape, and wrap the leads tightly to the battery so the LED does not flicker. Wrap once around both sides of the battery.
    • The battery’s positive contact surface extends around the edges of the battery, so don’t let the short lead (cathode) touch it or you’ll short the circuit.
  • More about LED throwies can be found at


  • Each learner is then given a magnetic dry erase board and the task to create a design using both their LED throwies and dry erase makers (like the opening photograph).
  • Since it is a dry erase board, learners can be encouraged to create multiple iterations of their LED-based art pieces. Photos can be taken so the learners feel comfortable with erasing and creating new art works.
  • Learners can work with partners and switch around their LED throwies creating new and unique designs.
  • Group Version:
    • Small groups form a design on a larger classroom whiteboard. They all put their LED throwies on the larger magnetic, dry erase board. They all then use the dry erase markers to create a group mural.


This is a whole group example prior to me realizing they could have decorated their LED group creation with the dry erase makers.

LED Craft Foam Bracelets, Bookmarks, and Pictures

Bubble Casing with LEDs

An LED-Lit City

Painters Cap Hacked with LEDs


  • White Painters’ Caps
  • Fabric Markers or Paint
  • LEDs
  • Cooper Tape or Lilypads (depending on age)

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 17, 2015 at 12:06 am

Maker Education: A “Good” 2013-14 Educational Trend

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In the midst of the implementation of common core state standards and no relief in sight from all the standardized testing, there’s been a breadth of fresh air in the form of maker education entering into many classrooms.  The Maker Movement is not easily defined nor placed neatly into a nice little box.  It can be high tech or low tech; hacking what is or creating from scratch; it can be creating from building and arts materials or creating on the computer.  We have entered into a convergence of several factors that are igniting the maker education movement.

The rise of maker culture has been slowly bubbling out of sheds, science labs, tech workshops, in schools and learning spaces. But, suddenly it is very present. The Imagination Foundation that has emerged out of energy and excitement of Caine’s Arcade is raising funds and investing in projects that support maker activities in education. The New Maker Education Initiative, backed by a range of organizations including Intel and Pixar, has just launched its first project called Maker Corps.  There are initiatives like the Make2Learn which aims to “leverage DIY culture, digital practices, and educational research to advocate for placing making, creating, and designing at the core of educational practice”. Makers and Teachers Unite!

Some maker-related educational movements that gained traction in 2013 and will most likely gain more momentum in 2014 include:

  • A focus on STEM (science, technology, education, and mathematics) and STEAM (science technology, engineering, arts, mathematics):

At a time when many people are asking how we can get more students interested in STEM fields, we are hearing from teachers who have found making to be a great way to get students excited and engaged in their classrooms. We are seeing making occurring in subject classes such as math or science — in classes specifically listed as maker classes — and in a variety of less formal settings such as clubs and study halls. Many of these projects incorporate a variety of STEM topics. (Engaging Students in the STEM Classroom Through “Making”)

New open-source microcontrollers, sensors, and interfaces connect the physical and digital worlds in ways never before possible. Plug-and-play devices that connect small microprocessors to the Internet, to each other, or to any number of sensors mean that low-cost, easy-to-make computational devices can test, monitor, and control your world. They offer much more than just “hands-on” crafting—these tools bring electronics, programming, and computational mathematics together in meaningful, powerful ways. We must reimagine school science and math not as a way to prepare students for the next academic challenge, or a future career, but as a place where students are inventors, scientists, and mathematicians today. (How the Maker Movement is Transforming Education)

  • The growing popularity of online game making and hacking platforms like Scratch and Minecraft:

Think of the Maker Movement as DIY for technology. It’s not just a passing fad – web tools like KidsRuby, Gamemaker, Scratch, Storify and Mozilla Webmaker make it possible for people of all ages to learn to code, build games, and re-mix media. For libraries and schools, the Maker Movement means new opportunities for promoting digital, media, visual, and critical literacies (21st century literacies). (Inanimate Alice and the Maker Movement)

  • An interest in and focus on design thinking both in educational and corporate sectors:

Making is a way of bringing creativity, authentic design thinking, and engineering to learners. Tinkering is the process of design, the way real scientists and engineers invent new things. Such concrete experiences provide a meaningful context for understanding abstract science and math concepts while often incorporating esthetic components. Creating opportunities for students to solve real problems, combined with imaginative new materials and technology, makes learning come alive and cements understandings that are difficult when only studied in the abstract. (Why we’re excited about the Maker Movement, maybe you should be too!)

3D Printing is one of the most disruptive technologies around. These printers are affordable, personal fabrication tools, compact enough to sit on any desktop, and allow anyone at any skill level to become producers, inventors and artists. Students participate in project-based learning that is experiential in nature and has real-world applications.  3D printing projects engage students in the world around them, kindles a curiosity about how machines work, how objects fit together, and how the designers, architects, and inventors who build the products, spaces and technology in their lives have found solutions to a variety of design problems.  (Makerbot Curriculum)

The goals of Imagination Foundation, who sponsors, the Cardboard Challenge is in line with many Maker Education Initiatives:

1. Instill Creative Thinking as a Core Skill and Social Value
Give kids the tools to develop as creative thinkers who can take on the jobs of the future, seek innovative and resourceful solutions, tackle social issues and find happiness.

2. Give Kids Opportunities to Create and Learn Based on their Passions
Help children find and develop their passions through play, hands-on learning and supportive communities. Design scalable Project-Based Learning programs that can be used by a wide range of communities.

3. Foster a Community of Creative Makers
Develop an engaged community (local and global) of young makers, parents, storytellers and educators who can share with, learn from, and inspire one another.  (Goals of the Imagination Foundation)

Common Core and the new Next Generation Science Standards emphasize critical thinking, creativity, and 21st century skills. To achieve these goals requires taking a hard look at both what we teach and how we teach it. The Maker Movement offers lessons, tools, and technology to steer a new course to more relevant, engaging learning experiences for all students. (Lessons from the Maker Movement for K-12 Educators)

Technology and the related movements as discussed above have amplified the human desire to create, innovate, share, learn from one another, and have an authentic audience.  What was once reserved for those with special skills and often lots of money is now accessible to the masses.  Maker education stems from developments related to Web 3.0 and the evovling Education 3.0 – which is characterized by learners being creators, contributors, connectors, and constructivists.  This is the type of education many of this generation are embracing often, sadly, in their “beyond school” learning.


These movements, initiatives, technological advancements show no signs of slowing down in the future and hopefully, will change education to better meet the needs, desires, interests, and passions of both educators and learners. Maker education has become a grassroots movement of informal learning as so many are craving and embracing this type of learning.  Just maybe, with educators and learners taking the initiative, these developments will work their way into more formal educational settings.

The maker movement has the opportunity to transform education by inviting students to be something other than consumers of education. They can become makers and creators of their own educational lives, moving from being directed to do something to becoming self-directed and independent learners. Increasingly, they can take advantage of new tools for creative expression and for exploring the real world around them. They can be active participants in constructing a new kind of education for the 21st-century, which will promote the creativity and critical thinking we say we value in people like Steve Jobs. Learning by Making: American kids should be building rockets and robots, not taking standardized tests by Dale Dougherty, founder, President & CEO of Maker Media, Inc.

Other posts on the Maker Movement:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 23, 2013 at 12:41 am

Maker Education Meets the Writers’ Workshop

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There is a current breath-of-fresh air movement (in my opinion) in some education circles that is known as Maker Education or the DIY Movement.  I wrote recent post on this topic, STEAM and Maker Education: Inclusive, Engaging, Self-Differentiating.

The hands-on, interdisciplinary, student-interest driven nature of Maker Education has always been a focus in my classroom environments.  Because of the current interest in Maker Education, I wanted to revisit and share a semester long Maker-Enhanced Writers’ Workshop project I did with a group of gifted elementary students a few years ago.

script rehearsal

Students began by developing their characters and plot – I am used selected sections from the free downloadable Young Novelist Workbook to guide them in this process.

Character Development

Each learner developed a character using the Young Novelists Workbook to guide the character development.  Their characters were further developed through drawing them,

IMG_1468 2. . . making masks of them,

IMG_1150. . . and creating 3d characters out of junk materials, hot glued together. DSC00664

An option for Character Development using a web tool is Scholastic’s Creature Creator –

Plot Development

Students were asked to group themselves by similarity of their characters.  They had to clearly be able to articulate the commonality among their characters. [Interestingly, many of them really attempted to group themselves by similar characters rather than working with their friends, which I expected.] Groups contained two to four writers.

The groups spent several weeks of the Writers’ Workshop developing their story plot using the activities from Young Novelist Workbook I, as the teacher, acted as the sounding board and feedback giver.  Representatives from the different working groups would come to me to pitch their stories and would return to their groups to report on the feedback I provided.

3D Setting

In conjunction with their plot development, students created a 3D storyboard setting with “natural” objects. They then “wired” them with PicoCricket to have programmable movement, lights, and sounds.



PicoCricket is no longer available, but learners can do similar electronic upgrades to their setting using Makey Makey, Arduino, or Hummingbird Kits.

An online version of the story’s setting can be created using or Minecraft.


Students made eBooks using their story line and plot from in the Young Novelist Workbook, scanned sketches and images of the characters, and the pictures of the 3D setting.

tikatok image(Note: We used Tikatok. They changed their user agreement and we lost all of the books.)

Options for student eBooks include: Storyjumper, Mixbook, and Big Universe (plus others).

Theme Song

A theme song was written and recorded for their stories.  It was introduced as having them develop a song for their stories like a TV theme song. They used Songsmith UJAM is another option for students to record their own story theme songs.

Here is an example from three 5th graders’ book the Three Islanders:

Readers’ Theater

Reader’s theater scripts were written in a scripting format using a Word program.  Students practiced reading their scripts and then created a podcast using a web tool such as or  See ReadWriteThink’s Readers Theatre about the logistics of creating one.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 28, 2013 at 12:50 am

STEAM and Maker Education: Inclusive, Engaging, Self-Differentiating

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The maker movement has the opportunity to transform education by inviting students to be something other than consumers of education. They can become makers and creators of their own educational lives, moving from being directed to do something to becoming self-directed and independent learners. Increasingly, they can take advantage of new tools for creative expression and for exploring the real world around them. They can be active participants in constructing a new kind of education for the 21st-century, which will promote the creativity and critical thinking we say we value in people like Steve Jobs. Learning by Making: American kids should be building rockets and robots, not taking standardized tests

When a kid builds a model rocket, or a kite, or a birdhouse, she not only picks up math, physics, and chemistry along the way, she also develops her creativity, resourcefulness, planning abilities, curiosity, and engagement with the world around her. But since these things can’t be measured on a standardized test, schools no longer focus on them. As our public educational institutions continue down this grim road, they’ll lose value as places of learning. That may seem like a shame, but to the members of the growing DIY schooling movement, it’s an irresistible opportunity to roll up their sleeves. School for Hackers: The do-it-yourself movement revives learning by doing.

For the past two weekends, I facilitated a three part/three day maker education workshop, From Puppets to Robots, at the Santa Fe Children’s Museum.  It was a small group ranging from a pair of 7 year girl twins to a few 8th grade boys.  All of the parents and kids expressed extreme satisfaction – see the photos below for some evidence of their involvement.

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Some of the reasons I believe the maker workshops were successful include (list still in progress):

  1. Maker activities are multi-sensory, hands-on, and concrete.
  2. The learning activities were scaffolded.  Participants were provided with basic skills during initial activities which led to success in the following, more advanced activities.
  3. The participants were taught and given examples of the processes involved.
  4. The focus was on the process not the product – the how-to’s were demonstrated rather than the end product.
  5. Asking a lot of questions and asking for help were normalized.
  6. Failure was looked at as “just information.”
  7. Peer tutoring and explanations were encouraged.

I have always been a hands-on, experiential educator, but I made a few observations about STEAM and Maker Education during the workshops over the past few weekends.  Maker Education, as I observed, has the following characteristics:

  • Participation is driven by intrinsic motivation
  • Maker education lends itself to 100% engagement by 100% participants almost 100% of the time.
  • Maker education is self-differentiating.
  • Age levels and gender are blurred; does not affect participation, engagement, and interest.
  • Maker education activities are multidisciplinary and authentic.
  • Maker education reinforces and teaches resilience.

Participation is driven by intrinsic motivation.

Maker education participants (of all ages) are driven by intrinsic motivation.  Using one’s own creativity and talents, the opportunity for self expression, and creating a product of one’s own are inherently motivating.  Extrinsic motivators such bribing through grades, rewards, and/or praise are not needed to coax individuals into participation in maker, DIY, STEAM activities.

Maker education lends itself to 100% engagement by 100% participants almost 100% of the time.

Due to similar factors as described above, I observed that all of the young people were engaged most of the time.  With maker activities being centered on interest-driven learning, a flow state of participation often results.  “Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does” ( Time blurs as participants engaged in creativity, innovation, and problem-solving.  Only a few times did any of the kids ask about the time, and this occurred towards the end of three hour sessions.

Maker education is self-differentiating.

The nature of the maker workshop activities permitted the participants to differentiate the activities for themselves.  Some of the kids picked up the processes being demonstrated as well as had visions about what they wanted to create faster than some of the other kids.  They were given the materials, permission, and encouragement to move forward independently.  Other kids needed a little bit more instruction and scaffolding.  The two facilitators then could provide them with the extra instruction.  Peer assistance and instruction also came naturally in this exploratory environment of experimentation, testing, revising, producing.

Age levels and gender are blurred.  Age and gender does not affect participation, engagement, and interest.

The traditional education model is to group kids by manufacture date, in other words in their cohort groups by age and date of birth.  As stated above, the maker workshop I facilitated over the past few weekends was open to kids from age 7 to 13.  The group ended up with 7 year old twin girls and a few 13 year old boys with a mix of ages and genders in the middle. Interestingly, the kids, themselves, made no comments about this diverse group.  It didn’t seem to phase them at all.

Because the nature of maker workshop activities being self-differentiating, the age and gender did not make a difference.  All ages and both genders were able to complete the tasks presented to them.  Because there were no expectations regarding the quality or types products, they all were successful in producing some form of the projects.  In fact, the younger girls came up with some robot construction strategies that were “copied” and co-opted by some of the older boys.

The benefits of diverse groups in maker education (and other educational settings, too) cannot be understated.  Diversity of groups often leads to broader perspectives, deeper problem solving, and richer products.  Diversity is enhanced through multi-age, mixed gender groups.  As David Kelley, founder of IDEO consultants and Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, notes, “Diversity is the number one thing that correlates to better innovation” (

Maker education activities are multidisciplinary and authentic.

Maker education activities make for a beautiful integration of STEAM.  For example, while the kids participated in the From Puppets to Robots, I noted the following disciplines being addressed:

  • Science:  Participants explored physics through movement, fulcrums, weight loads, light.
  • Technology:  Participants deepened their understanding of robotics through online simulations related to what they were building in real life.
  • Engineering: Several of the workshop projects required the participants to use engineering skills – building a robotic arm that could pick up objects, building a 3D self-standing robot prototype.
  • Arts:  Visual arts were used as participants created their shadow puppets and storyboarded their shadow puppets shoes; as they drew out their 2D robot prototypes and then built their robot prototypes.  Language arts became important when the participants wrote their shadow puppet stories and when they were continually asked to orally describe their projects to the rest of the group.
  • Mathematics:  Math concepts were needed to measure, cut, and build all of their prototypes.

Maker education reinforces and teaches resilience.

I wrote about resilience in Resilience: The Other 21st Century Skills. . .

Resiliency is not one specific thing, but a combination of skills and positive attributes that people gain from their life experiences and relationships. These attributes help them solve problems, cope with challenges and bounce back from disappointments. Personal resiliency is about our assets – the resources, attributes and skills that help us recover from negative events or feelings, cope with challenges and adversity, and look after ourselves when things aren’t going well. (Kids Can Cope: Parenting at Home and at School)

I realized the power of maker education to build resilience during one of the workshop sessions.  Eight year-old Dylan was building his robot prototype.  He constructed the robot’s leg and selected a heavy can for the body.  The legs couldn’t hold up the heavy body.  Dylan became teary-eyed insisting that this what he wanted.  Both his mother and I stressed that part of prototyping is using failure as information about what is possible/not possible, what needs to change.  We assisted him in choosing new materials for the robot body.  He ended up building a robot prototype that worked!  His mother told me “on the side” that Dylan has difficulty dealing with frustration when things don’t work out as he planned.  Hopefully, that day he received a small lesson on tenacity and resilience.

Obviously, I am a strong advocate of Maker Education.  For me, it is a natural way of teaching and learning.  I understand that this is a different model, way of thinking for many educators.  It is a risk to make changes in the classroom, but I believe that educators want what’s best for their students.  I “preach” to my pre- and in-service teachers to try one small change.  In this case, I would ask, “What are you already doing well in your classroom that could be further enhanced with some maker activities?” and then reinforce, “Just try it.  What is the worse thing that could happen? It fails and you move on.  What is the best thing that could happen? It adds to the students’ learning experience resulting in increased engagement and deeper understanding of the concepts.”

Resources to Learn More About Maker Education:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 23, 2013 at 11:48 pm

Let Children’s Play (with Technology) Be Their Work in Education

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The importance of play as part of a child’s development has been the focus of educational specialists and research for decades.  Piaget and Montessori have emphasized that a child’s play is his or her work.

Play activities are essential to healthy development for children and adolescents. Research shows that 75% of brain development occurs after birth. The activities engaged in by children both stimulate and influence the pattern of the connections made between the nerve cells. This process influences the development of fine and gross motor skills, language, socialization, personal awareness, emotional well-being, creativity, problem solving and learning ability.  The most important role that play can have is to help children to be active, make choices and practice actions to mastery. They should have experience with a wide variety of content (art, music, language, science, math, social relations) because each is important for the development of a complex and integrated brain. Play that links sensori-motor, cognitive, and social-emotional experiences provides an ideal setting from brain development.

Children are still playing in this age of technology but the type of play and results are evolving.  Lego, with its introduction of the new Mindstorm, created an infographic that describes the changing pattern of kids and young peoples’ use of technology and how it is affecting their development.


Of special note to educators is the section on the changing world of children at play. To summarize, the key areas of the change nature of play as identified by Lego are:

  1. The future will see the creation of more diversified playful relationships due to the ease of creating an online persona and free networking sites like Tumblr and Youtube.
  2. Children will continue to demand more control over complex outputs. Children are creating computer games, movies, their own content.
  3. Visual instruction is the way of the future. Kids go to Youtube to learn.  They create videos and complex stories via gaming platforms (Mindcraft, Scratch).
  4. The boundaries between digital and physical interaction will continue to blur.  Kids are growing up with augmented reality toys and body-gesture systems.
  5. Customizing one’s toys and play will be an integral of child development.  Creative expression via the DIY movement is rapidly growing.
  6. Children with share an increasingly amount of humanity with their toys and play.  Technology enables children to create, navigate and perform their emotional lives.

The world is qualitatively different than when the educational system was conceptualized; than when educators were students in that system.  Kids are growing up and developing in a world that is highly technologically-driven, information-rich, and connected.  The Institute for the Future discuss this in their Magic of Kidstech report:

With touchscreens, simple programming languages, and other lowered barriers for human-computer interaction, kids are poised to gain a high level of technical proficiency. When you combine this access with the resources kids have—time, a highly plastic brain, and the freedom to experiment with new behaviors, interests, and ways of being—it is not hard to imagine a level of empowerment for kids never before seen in human history.

The Institute for the Future reinforces some of the ideas the Lego shared.

  1. Authorship, storytelling, fantasy, and role-playing will expand into new media.  Growing up immersed in virtual worlds, social networks, and YouTube videos, children will develop a different set of expectations for evaluating human proximity and presence, as well as a comfortable confidence expressing their views.
  2. Play will be a more fluid material experience, blending the virtual and the physical.  Kids will have many fun options to explore depth, sound, gesture, and images.  By 2021, kids will expect their digital and physical objects to share more characteristics, including tangibility and connectivity.
  3. Toys show kids how to get emotional with technology.  Smart toys are becoming, in essence, sociable robots, and children are expanding the kinds of relationships they have with them via touch, voice, and gesture.  Sociable robots are drawing our children into caring for them, nurturing them, and creating more powerful and affective human-machine partnerships.  (
  4. Kids are global children.  Reality for children today is not confined to their room, or house, or school—it is a global community of networked peers and endless virtual horizons. Creating and sharing videos with billions is a normal activity for many kids today, giving them a vastly different perspective on distances, times, and relationship with others than previous generations held.
  5. Kids are empowered and connected in ways not seen before. This “magic” that they wield with ease, and the expectations that are being inculcated now for technology, society, and even reality, will echo through time as these generations grow into key players in the economy and society. (

How many educators are teaching in their classrooms the way kids are learning during their own playtime using their own technologies? How many state educational standards address how children are playing and learning in this amazing age of technology?  Many teachers, schools, district are not giving kids a chance to play nor use technology in ways that come naturally to them.

What follows are some simple suggestions I have to facilitate play with technology in educational settings:

  • Let learners bring in their devices (all types – mobile, gaming, robotics) for use in the classroom, to reinforce learning, and for show and tell.
  • Use some educational monies to purchase “fun” technologies – gaming systems, Lego robotics, iPad apps.
  • Give kids unstructured free time play using their and their peer’s devices.  See Tinkering and Technological Imagination in Educational Technology.
  • Ask learners to teach you and the class about a technology he or she is using at home.
  • Give learners a choice how they want to demonstrate their content area learning – a video? a online game?  a board game?
  • Explore and integrate Maker Education as part of the curriculum.
  • Encourage and provide the time and tools for students to share their learning with a global audience – e.g. Skyping with another classroom,  blogging, Tweeting, creating videos and newscast.

This pretty much sums it up . . .

New technologies are going to help many kids play the part of the magician. They will enchant us with their creations and sleight of hand. They will also amaze us with their ability to escape from the technological chains we’re tying them up with as well. We live in a world of fast and accelerating change. Kids are in some ways ideally prepared to deal with change, and may have more to say and more power to influence the world than at any other time in history. That new empowerment will be the real magic kids bring to the world. (

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 12, 2013 at 8:10 pm

The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture for Tinkering and Maker Education

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If you have been following my blog series on The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture, you know that I am using this opportunity, given all the press on flipped classroom, to discuss a model of teaching and learning based on experiential education.  It is a model in which authentic, often hands-on, experiences and student interests drive the learning process, and the videos, as they are being proposed in the flipped classroom discourse, support the learning rather than being central or at the core of learning.

The idea of experience being core to learning has been discussed by Dale Dougherty, the publisher of Make Magazine, in the context of Maker Education:

I see the power of engaging kids in science and technology through the practices of making and hands-on experiences, through tinkering and taking things apart. Schools seem to have forgotten that students learn best when they are engaged; in fact, the biggest problem in schools is boredom. Students sit passively, expected to absorb all the content that is thrown at them without much context. The context that’s missing is the real world.

Learning by doing was the distillation of the learning philosophy of John Dewey. He wrote: “The school must represent present life—life as real and vital to the child as that which he carries on in the home, in the neighborhood, or on the playground.”

Those involved in the maker movement have noted the problems with the type of learning occurring in the formal educational setting:

Formal education has become such a serious business, defined as success at abstract thinking and high-stakes testing, that thereʼs no time and no context for play. If play is what you do outside school, then that is where the real learning will take place and thatʼs where innovation and creativity will be found.

Our kids can be learning more efficiently—and as individuals. We imagine that schools can become places where students learn to identify their own challenges, solve new problems, motivate themselves to complete a project, engage in difficult tasks, work together, inspire others, and give advice and guidance to their peers. (Makerspace Playbook)

Initiatives such as the Tinkering School, Maker Education, and Expeditionary Learning are trying to change that.  My goal, in line with these initiatives, for proposing The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture is to honor a more natural and engaging process of learning.

A major purpose of maker education and the flipped classroom model based on tinkering is that it:

. . . exemplifies the kind of passion and personal motivation that inspires innovation. We can engage students as makers who learn how to use tools and processes to help them reach their own goals and realize their own ideas. (Makerspace Playbook)

This post describes how The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture can be used to support maker education and tinkering with the focus being on students acquiring more process-oriented “how-to” skills, skills needed to develop and enhance creativity and innovation.

The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture has four phases:

  1. Experiential Engagement: The Activity
  2. Concept Exploration: The What
  3. Meaning Making: The So What
  4. Demonstration: The Now What

This model has aspects and phases similar to Gever Tulley’s Brightworks Arc (used at his tinkering school).

Students explore ideas and pursue their interests through a structure we call an arc. Each arc takes as its premise a central theme, to be explored from multiple perspectives. Students interact with this theme in three different phases: exploration, expression, and exposition.

Experiential Engagement: The Activity

The cycle begins with students exploring the materials and the skills related to a topic of interest. They are provided with lots of tools, materials, and “stuff” to play with and explore. They are encouraged to just tinker.  Some suggested tinkering stations include:

  • Physics:  levers, locks, bicycle parts, machine parts
  • Music Creation:  musical instruments, objects that make sound
  • Art:  lots of art materials, paper, pens, markers, clay, paint
  • Writing: lots of different writing utensils, books making materials
  • Game Development: lots of board and card games, gaming devices with games
  • Robotics:  recycled items (to make robot prototypes), machine parts
  • Food: food items, cooking utensils, recipe books

(Note: These are just some basic suggestions to spark ideas. The station theme and materials should be decided by educator and students interests, budget, and desired outcomes.)

If a more structured or targeted outcome is desired, students can be asked to do one of the Make: Kids projects found at, the Tinkering Activities featured by the Exploratorium, or the Science Toy Maker. This still honors and emphasizes beginning the process with a making experience.

Whatever is decided, this introductory experience should have the following characteristics:

  • Consider the diverse interests and skill sets of your students
  • Make sure that the project you choose is open-ended enough to welcome all kinds learners
  • Build on the learnersʼ prior interests and knowledge.
  • Choose materials and phenomena to explore that are evocative and invite inquiry.
  • Provide multiple pathways, donʼt ask your students to adhere to rigid step-by-step instructions. (Makerspace Playbook)

The following video shows tinkering in action, a great example of what this phase should look like:

Concept Exploration: The What

This is where the use of videos, as proposed in the flipped classroom, is used.  The difference, though, is that the videos are selected and offered to the students once students identify their interests in the Experiential Engagement-tinkering phase as opposed to being selected prior to the lesson as typically occurs in traditional lessons.  In other words, through tinkering and making, they discover what they want to learn more about.  Once this is identified, the educator and other interested students find videos to support the learning.  The focus of these videos becomes on learning more of the how-tos.  Some video libraries and how-to websites that can be explored include:

While viewing the how-to resources, students can post thoughts, ideas, and questions via a collaborative online chat tools such as Google Docs, Primary Pad, or Wallwisher.

Meaning Making: The So What

During this phase, students synthesize and make meaning from their experiences and concept learnings from the previous phases.  It is a time for reflection.  Given the theme of making and tinkering, students can make meaning through:

  • Photo collages of key learnings
  • Mash-up videos from the How-To Videos
  • Use of Web 2.0 tools such as Wordle, VoiceThread, Imagechef, and others to showcase key concepts.

Demonstration and Application: The Now What

This is the phase where students demonstrate the expertise they achieved with their skill acquisitions.
Students can be encouraged to showcase a project created and/or demonstrate a set of skills learned.

Students present their work in a public exposition. They demonstrate skill, express understanding, and explain the workings of their creations, receiving feedback and critique from their audience.

This can be done through:

  • Live or videotaped instructional videos, where students teach others the skills acquired.
  • A performance or demonstration to a live audience
  • A pitch for a new invention or process: the learner presents ideas for a new invention with the audience providing recommendations and positive feedback.

Here are some examples:

  • 4th Grader demonstrates the windmill he created after tinkering with and learning about robotics.

  • 3rd Grader talks about his creation from our from puppets to robots unit.

  • 5th grader combined her desire to learn t-shirt design with her love of reading.

  • Graduate Education students demonstrate and teach how they plan to integrate the arts into their classrooms.  The following demonstrations show scrapbooking and guitar playing.  They had the other graduate students in the class learning these skills:


  • Upper elementary students spent a few months exploring and tinkering with Web 2.0 Tools (I’ve written about this at Tinkering and Technological Imagination in Educational Technology).  As part of her demonstration, this student shows another student how to create a Voki.  They shared a laptop while the other students watched via an image project via the LCD projects:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

June 16, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Tinkering and Technological Imagination in Educational Technology

with 2 comments

Given the infusion of technology in almost every aspect of our lives, the education sector is struggling on how to integrate it into the classroom.  We have seen current trends and attempts for the use of educational technology with the Flipped Classroom ala Khan Academy, Interactive Whiteboards in every classroom, and lots of discussion about what are the 21st century skills and literacies.

Most educators would agree that a major purpose of education is to assist learners in gaining the skills, attitudes, and knowledge for having a better quality of life now and in their futures.  So any discussion about technology integration should include this purpose.

Qualitative evidence points to the ease by which kids pick up their computer devices and use them as if they were brain-wired to do so.

But even as some parents and educators express unease about students’ digital diets, they are intensifying efforts to use technology in the classroom, seeing it as a way to connect with students and give them essential skills. Across the country, schools are equipping themselves with computers, Internet access and mobile devices so they can teach on the students’ technological territory.

“If it weren’t for the Internet, I’d focus more on school and be doing better academically,”  says one youth. But thanks to the Internet, he says, he has discovered and pursued his passion: filmmaking. Without the Internet, “I also wouldn’t know what I want to do with my life.”   Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction

Hmm.  So in the big picture, do we want students to do better academically or find and pursue their passions?  I do understand that many educators would argue for both.  The current educational climate is so centered on academic achievement and standards-based curriculum, I believe we need to make proactive, concentrated attempts to get the pendulum to swing towards semi-structured, open-ended, process-oriented and student-driven learning environments.

Two recent and interconnected discussions have implications about how technology can be used in the classroom to ignite passion, innovation, and creativity . . . technological imagination and tinkering/maker education.

Technological Imagination

Anne Balsamo, author of the Designing Culture: The Technological Imagination at Work, defines technological imagination as . . .

a character of mind and creative practice of those who use, analyze, design and develop technologies. It is a quality of mind that grasps the doubled-nature of technology: as determining and determined, as both autonomous of and subservient to human intentions. This imagination embraces the fact that all technologies have multiple and contradictory effects. This is the quity of mind that enables people to think with technology, to transform what is known into a set of possibilities, and to evaluate the consequences of possibilities from multiple perspectives (

A course being offered at the University of Washington provides this description of technological imagination.

Humans have always been technical beings. We live in and through our technology: from stone tools and woven baskets to combustion engines and computers, our society is continually altered by the existence of these technical objects. Living in a highly industrialized, networked society such as ours, one need only try to imagine life (let alone college life) without computer or Internet technologies, or any number of everyday information technologies which seamlessly mediate our daily routines; yet this is precisely what it is so difficult to do: to “think” technology, and to see its peculiar agency in our individual experiences and in our social world.  For us, this situation seems magnified by globalization and the intricate layering and interconnectedness of technical systems, complex industrial machines, and vast networks. Our needs go beyond an immediate understanding of a given technology to the development of a more reflective technological imagination in which we consider the ways technologies enable us, and shape and reshape our experience and social realities. “Developing the Technological Imagination” (Winter 2011)

Tinkering and Making

In order for technological imagination to develop, tinkering needs to be encouraged within educational settings.  In his discussion about Learning for the Digital Age, John Seely Brown presented the following slides about tinkering.

If we want more young people to choose a profession in one of the group of crucial fields known as STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — we ought to start cultivating these interests and skills early. But the way to do so may not be the kind of highly structured and directed instruction that we usually associate with these subjects.  Time: In Praise of Tinkering

In a discussion with Howard Rheinhold, Mitch Resnick stated the following about tinkering.

One thing we’ve seen is that the best learning experiences come when people are actively engaged in designing things, creating things, and inventing things – expressing themselves. It’s not just a matter of giving people opportunities to interact with technologies or using technologies, but if we want people to really be fluent with new technologies and learn through their activities, it requires people to get involved as makers – to create things.

A lot of the best experiences come when you are making use of the materials in the world around you, tinkering with the things around you, and coming up with a prototype, getting feedback, and iteratively changing it, and making new ideas, over and over, and adapting to the current situation and the new situations that arise.

I think there are lessons for schools from the ways that kids learn outside of schools, and we want to be able to support that type of learning both inside and outside of schools. Over time, I do think we need to rethink educational institutions as a place that embraces playful experimentation. Mitch Resnick: The Role of Making, Tinkering, Remixing in Next-Generation Learning

The full interview can be viewed . . .

More about tinkering in schools in general can be found with the Tinkering School page of Teaching with TED.

As I’ve stated before, I believe that the educator is now “the tour guide of learning possibilities”.  Educators should expose learners to the potential types and uses of technologies and then get out of the way so that the learners can tinker and develop their own technological imaginations . . .  ones not driven by state standards, competencies, outcomes, nor products.

Each educator needs to decide how to implement tinkering into his or her educational setting.  When I taught gifted elementary students, the last 45 minutes at the end of the school day was dedicated to tinkering.  I’d introduce the learners to Web 2.0 tools and hands-on technology kits like WeDo and PicoCricket.  I’d then get out of the way so they could  play, tinker, experiment while sharing their findings with me and their peers.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 11, 2011 at 8:04 pm

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