Category Archives: Reflections

Let’s Let All Educators Learn by Experience

learning to paint

Last week, I had the unique opportunity to take an impromptu painting class as part of a professional development program I’m involved in at my school. The interesting part was that learning to paint wasn’t the ultimate goal. Instead, our focus was on the experience.

  • What does it feel like to be a novice and learner and, for many of us, in a foreign context?
  • How does learning by doing differ from sitting in a classroom and being told how to learn or what to do?
  • What does painting show us about the importance of each individual learner’s perspective?

These were just a few of the questions that began to emerge as the evening progressed. All us in the class worked to paint a still life after receiving nothing more than a brief 15 minute instructional tutorial.

I thought about other experiential learning experiences I’ve had, whether they’ve involved learning to program an Arduino or making jewelry, they have all been powerful. What makes these experiences so meaningful? Do my students experience the same benefits?

There seem to be some core components that help make experiential learning both memorable and a natural entry point into deep learning:

  • Opportunities to learn with/from peers –> community of learners
  • Appreciation for individuality and varying skills –> self-awareness
  • Being receptive to feedback and critique –> growth
  • Diving in with minimal training or prep –> learn as you go
  • Setting your own learning goals –> empowerment
  • Ownership of the work –> intrinsic motivation
  • Freedom to take risks –> creative innovation

How can we find ways to integrate these components into everyday classroom learning? I’ve found that two new educational movements or approaches facilitate this work very well: the Maker Movement and Design Thinking.

The first is sweeping the nation, as shown in part by Obama’s announcement this week to host a Maker Faire at the White House this year! Making as a mindset for learning involves encouraging students to create products and be completely immersed in inventing and tinkering as they follow their passions. There are more and less scaffolded approaches to making and many schools are struggling right now with how to assess and structure making but in my Maker Club, I’ve seen students thrive. Students that might feel hesitant talking in class are suddenly giving me detailed explanations about the projects they’ve built and taking on new roles as collaborators and designers. They’re excited to learn and enthusiastic about taking risks and developing new skills.

The second approach, Design Thinking, involves challenging students to respond to prompts like “How might we …” to solve real-world problems. By exploring, researching, empathizing, prototyping, seeking feedback, improving, and creating a final product, students engage in deep learning experiences. Whether they are trying to solve global water issues or prototype a new and better snowplow, students are experiencing many of the components I listed above while also learning valuable skills they can use for life.

I’m still learning daily about both the maker movement and design thinking and ways to integrate them meaningfully in schools. And although I’m also still reflecting on the answers to the questions that first came to mind during our painting class, I’m also wondering how we can infuse more of these experiences into our lives as educators?

My biggest takeaway from our painting class was:

It’s extremely important to engage in learning experiences where you are inspired and motivated to wonder, particularly in settings where you are asked to take risks, learn from the perspectives of your peers, and think critically about your pedagogy.

I think that in addition to seeking ways to integrate more experiential learning opportunities for students, we need to be asking how to create and offer more of them for teachers too. Take a look at our experience when we were asked to learn by painting (captured with Google Glass!):

An #Educon Manifesto for Educators

In the spirit of the Wonder by Design session I attended at Educon this past weekend, I thought I would summarize some of my ah-ha moments and key takeaways in an Educon Manifesto (in draft form, of course!). I see it as a manifesto for teaching and learning and maybe more importantly, something to post in my class for daily inspiration – a reminder of the work I want to do and why it’s essential.

Here’s the short version:
Educon Manifesto

Here’s the long version: 

Be a Wonderer 

Because who wouldn’t want to be? Wondering leads to all sorts of inquiry and investigation and it’s often the impetus for meaningful dialogue and deep learning. We need it in all of our classrooms to drive exploration and sustain a sense of awe in our day-to-day work as educators.

Plus, as Loris Malaguzzi said,

“The art of research already exists in the hands of children acutely sensitive to the pleasure of surprise. The wonder of learning, of knowing, of understanding is one of the first, fundamental sensations each human being expects from experiences faced alone or with others.” 

It seems vitally important that we don’t take that expectation away from our students or deny it from ourselves.

Prototype it!

If you’re interested in trying a new structure for your class or you’re considering building a new space in your school … prototype it! Design it and try it out before setting it in stone (which hopefully doesn’t happen to often in schools).

It seems simple enough but how often do we actually test out an idea and see how well it works and then get feedback from students and other audiences that will be affected by a change before we implement it?

Make the Space You Need

After you’ve tested out a variety of prototypes and improved on the parts that have failed, get started making! Whether it’s a new school, a makerspace, a standing classroom, or a nook in the corner that just needed a redesign, take initiative to make your learning spaces into what you need them to be. It could be as simple as changing the lighting or it might be as complicated as working with architects and consultants to construct something completely new.

There’s plenty of inspiration out there and lots of resources to work with so let’s put on our Maker Hats and design the environments needed for a maker mentality and wonder to flourish.

Tinker with Technology, Don’t Just Use It

Kano Kit

As Sylvia Martinez suggested in one of the #MakerEd sessions, computing is the game-changer in bricolage that allows us to dig into deeper learning and making. We need to tinker and experiment with technology and help our students learn how to create it for themselves so they can create new inventions for others.

Don’t consume tech –> Create it. Don’t take for granted how tech works –> Tinker with it until you find out!

Let “Real Life” into Your Classroom

Richard Culatta, Director of Ed Tech, encouraged educators to stop giving fictitious problem sets to students and instead to provide real life problems for them to solve.

It’s time to start breaking down the artificial dichotomies between school and the “real world” so that students walk away with experience engaging in dialogue about current events and issues facing their communities. Let’s start asking students what problems they want to solve and making school a place to tackle them.

IT Starts With the Students & Always Will

A reminder about the importance and value of the learner and creating learner-driven classrooms. Our role as educators is to foster wonder and make spaces where students feel encouraged to learn. It’s easy to get caught up in the tasks, standards, and restrictions that seem to hold us back and turn our attention away from the students. Yet, our work has always been and will be, to honor their voices, respect their choices, and empower their actions as they make, tinker, problem-solve, and create anew each day.

Document, Document, Document … Reflect

365daysofglassAlthough not a huge focus of #educon, documentation has been a highlight of my work this year as I explore ways to use Google Glass in the classroom. It seems that if we want to encourage wonder and focus on student interests, then we need to be constantly documenting the teaching and learning happening in our classrooms so we have material to review and reflect on. To be intentional in our teaching and help scaffold student inquiry, we need to act as researchers and reflective practitioners and to do that, we must start by documenting.

Definitions are Defined by Context 

A big question in the Designing Learning Organizations session was “what is the new learning context?” Ultimately, we decided that the context is rooted in what we value and our values affect how we define learning and schooling. Therefore, if we want to create a new context for learning, we have to look at how we’re defining learning and make a space, as well as develop a mindset, that supports our desired definitions.

Basically, if we want to work and learn in organizations that are flexible, responsive, collaborative, and full of wonder, we have to take into consideration how we’re defining learning and how our space and context is shaping that definition, so we can understand what might need to change.

Decide to Always be Learning 

Another topic under discussion at #educon was how to create change in traditional schools and envision a learning organization. A big part of the answer seems to be a mindset. Whether it’s a mindset for making, a mindset towards openness, or one of design thinking and PBL, you have to decide that you are going to engage in that work and commit to it.

I’m not sure that there’s any one mindset that’s best for all teachers and students aside from a mindset to always be learning. So decide that you want to keep growing and constantly continue to learn.

Learn to Keep Asking Questions 

Questions were a hot topic at #educon. Some people talked about needing to ask the right questions, others encouraged making questions more inclusive “what if we …”, while another educator suggested that the goal is to “keep falling in love with the question” without finding The Answer.

Whether your questions are open-ended, categorized, or unanswerable, I think the most important piece is to keep asking them! Ask them over and over, in new ways and in old ones, just never stop asking questions.

Stay Inspired & Keep Playing 

In order to see wonder and come up with creative ideas for prototypes and spaces, we need a key ingredient: inspiration. It pushes us to tinker and guides us to question, it feeds our thirst for learning and helps us be open to new mindsets. Inspiration is the energy drink of educators and with it, we can take up @ChristianLong and @djakes charge to “assume epic success” and be “extraordinary!” My best advice is to stay inspired and keep playing – with ideas, with questions, with technology and most of all, with young children who can help us remember the “pleasure of surprise” and the “wonder of learning.” 

Now it’s your turn … what would your manifesto include?

What I Learned at the #ettipad Summit

Last week, I attended the Ed Tech Teacher iPad (#ettipad) Summit in Boston. The entire conference was focused on using iPads … and yet, it wasn’t. It was announced at the start of the conference that if you were there looking for “an app for that” then you were in the wrong place because #ettipad was a summit for educators to think about the pedagogical implications of integrating these devices. Of course, plenty of practical tips were still shared and there was a lot of technical guidance being provided and exchanged at the conference.

I appreciated that the core focus wasn’t so much on what tech we were using but how and why we were using certain apps or tools. For example, multiple sessions and speakers discussed the idea of “app smashing” or “app flows” which combine and  build upon content that’s created in multiple apps to develop a unique product that students can share with the world. It doesn’t necessarily matter which apps you use in your flow, as long as they’re “empty apps that users fill with knowledge and share.” This idea of creating and sharing knowledge was a key part of David Weinberger’s opening keynote. He raised some questions and ideas about how we define knowledge that I want to continue examining and reflecting on.

In the past, we have defined knowledge based upon the scope of what we can manage, so facts and stories were cut from encyclopedias or words were left out of dictionaries to prevent us from having endless books that no one could carry. Now, how we acquire and use knowledge is changing. We have new, digital mediums, which gives us access to content at a much faster rate and on a larger scale. Everything is linked together, so while a Wikipedia article may not encompass all of the data needed to explain a topic, it is full of links to other sources which provide more and then more information. Even academic research is being pushed out to the public for faster review and discussion. As Dr. Puentedura mentioned, the public now has access to Watson, the IBM supercomputer that could make it possible to “Google” answers to complex medical problems or other challenging questions.

Knowledge Notes

The public nature of knowledge was something else Dr. Weinberger emphasized in his keynote, saying that if ideas are to be scalable, they have to become public and be shared early, with large groups of people so they can be available for debate and disagreement. This also connects to the value of having open access and making (educational) resources open and available for anyone to use and remix or build on. This includes our students’ work and the knowledge they’re building! This process can be messy but Dr. Weinberger suggests that it’s from that messiness that we end up with new knowledge that can create change and growth.

The problem with all of these developments and this redefinition of how we conceptualize knowledge is that our school systems and classrooms are not necessarily structured to support it and instead, teachers end up trying to teach students to stick to old (outdated?) ways of learning and knowing.

It seems like this is where tools like the iPad and educators who are open to adapting their pedagogy to new definitions of knowledge, can have an important impact. If we can be willing to question what we know and how we know it, we can help our students begin that same journey of looking deeply at knowledge and designing new ways to share and express it. As we try these new projects and approaches, we might fail and we might fail often but I think many of us have come to see the value in failure and modeling that experience for students.

So, if our goal is to create engaging, agile learning environments where both teachers and students feel like they are striving to achieve something awesome, we need to think critically about our recipe for teaching. Does it include ingredients like:

ipad teaching ingredients

And finally, does it include your students’ voice and choice?

If you want to hear more about #ettipad, check out the notes and ideas that I compiled in Storify.

P.S. I realized that while I called this post “What I learned at the #ettipad Summit” I really should clarify that this is some or maybe even a little of what I learned. There’s much more I’m still reflecting on and I hope to share more of my takeaways as they become clearer and better synthesized.

Making Sense of NYC Maker Faire 2013

Back in September, I had the awesome opportunity to attend my first Maker Faire in NYC. I had read some different blogs posts and heard from some other Makers about what it would be like but I was still unsure exactly what to expect.

Maker Faire Map

What I discovered was a huge array of opportunitiesto learn, make, and be exposed to new ideas and materials. I also found out how challenging it could be to navigate the space (especially with the high winds and blowing dirt!) and see everything I wanted to see. There were more exhibits and new creations to see than I could possibly visit in two days so I had to figure out a system to try and catch the sessions I was most interested in.

making

I was particularly excited about the Education Cafe and all of the sessions by both students and educators about integrating making into schools and educational environments. I had the chance to listen in on Making in the Classroom: Reports from the Front Lines, where educators, including many  I had met at CMK, shared how they are creating Makerspaces, holding Maker Clubs, and integrating making into their curriculum. It was reassuring to hear that they experience many of the same challenges I have encountered, such as dealing with scheduling and time restrictions or finding ways to explain the value of making for our students.

I also loved hearing more about the Wiki Seat project and I would recommend that anyone who hasn’t heard about it, check it out! It’s a great example of how making can be integrated into a core academic subject and how inventive students can be when given the opportunity to make something meaningful.

On the Make Live Stage, I saw “Five Accomplished Young Makers,” ranging from 2nd grade to high school seniors, who shared their stories of making everything from a DIY Segway to a 3D scanner. These students shared how powerful it was for them to take up a project that they were passionate about and then have to learn new skills along the way to accomplish their goals. One student has even started his own business after running a successful crowdfunding campaign. Examples like these demonstrate the valuable life-skills that students can gain from engaging in making and the high levels of self-motivation that they find to learn new things and then share with others.

Another one of my favorite education sessions was Children as Makers, Makers as Children, by AnnMarie Thomas. She gave a great presentation on the abilities of very young children to begin making and the benefits of trusting them to use real tools and explore diverse materials. This resonated with me because it aligns with the Reggio practice of respecting young children and the hundreds of languages they (should) have to express themselves. Understandably, many parents are wary of having their young children use hammers and other potentially dangerous tools that may be common when making. Yet, if we scaffold and support children’s use of more complex materials and tools, maybe they would learn from a younger age how to use them safely and also feel more empowered to choose them when they would be the best tool to accomplish their goal.

3D Printing

Aside from the various education sessions I attend, I also listened in on some talks about Arduino and Raspberry Pi and a range of other new technologies and tools. I was amazed to see some of the small, affordable 3D printers in the 3D Printer Village. I also loved getting a chance to walk inside and explore the house that the Sketch Up team constructed in just a few days. Other favorite stops along my Maker Faire tour included seeing the homemade cars on the racetrack, the exhibits run by young makers from schools around the country, the life-size mousetrap and some of the amazing inventions inside the Hall of Science.

Although I gained a lot from listening, watching, and learning at different exhibits and sessions, it was an overwhelming experience. I wish there was some kind of starter guide for newbies that explained more of how Maker Faire works (for example, I didn’t realize so much of it would be outside or that all of the sessions would be so quick). It was great to have an app where I could select exhibits I wanted to see and talked I wanted to attend but there were still so many to sort through that in the end, I took a “let’s head this way and see what we find” approach. This worked out pretty well as I saw and learned things I’m sure I wouldn’t have otherwise but I think it could help to have a site where you could choose different options (e.g., “I want to … learn how to make things, hear from young makers, etc”) and then you could be given a sample itinerary to help guide you.

soldering

My absolute favorite thing at Maker Faire was having a chance to learn to solder! I had never had the time or tools to learn before and it was so exciting and empowering to pick up a new skill and apply it to make something fun like the Make Robot pin! It was also a great memento to bring back and wear at school because it served as a great conversation starter with students and teachers about making and Maker Faire! My one hope for future Maker Faires would be for them to incorporate more actual making. Of course, you might just need to know where to go, and I understand expense can be an issue, but I was hoping there would be more opportunities to learn to make things, whether it be an Arduino sketch, a Robot pin, or a 3D design (props to Google Maker Camp for having multiple making activities and giving away T-shirts to encourage people to join in the making).

For Maker Faire veterans,  what do you think … are there many opportunities to learn new skills and make things you can walk away with at Maker Faire? What are your favorite parts of going and what do you wish could change in the future?