Back to school, back to making!

back to schoolYou may have heard that it’s best to “ease” into hands-on project-based learning at the start of the school year. Maybe you feel your students aren’t ready, need some skills development, or just need to have a few weeks of settling down before getting started with more independent work.

I think this is a big mistake.

Why? Two reasons: habits are formed and messages matter starting day one.

If you are looking at making and makerspace activities as a way to give students more agency over their own learning, why not start building those habits immediately to send that message early and often.

Many teachers feel that they have students who aren’t ready for a more independent approach to learning. However, how will they get ready if they don’t practice it? Many teachers say that students have to be “unschooled” out of practices like constantly expecting to be told what to do. So why not start to build those habits and expectations on day one?

That doesn’t mean that you have to start with a monumental project. Start with something small. Shorter, more contained projects will build their confidence and skills. Mix these projects with less structured time to explore, invent, and tinker. If it’s chaos, you can add some constraints, but don’t give up!

Empowering students to believe in themselves as capable of making things that matter, both in the physical and digital world, is a crucial part of learning.

The message is also going home to parents every day — what they expect to see all year starts today. Explain what you are doing and why, and reinforce that with every communication with parents.

So whatever you call it, making, project-based learning, hands-on, or inquiry learning – the time to start is always NOW!

Before you “do a makerspace” – four considerations

When we talk about making, there is a tendency to overlap our terms, like saying we’re going to “do makerspace”. I think unpacking these terms help uncover underlying assumptions, especially when designing new spaces and learning opportunities. I see this as four distinct aspects that work together:

  1. Place – Makerspace, hackerspace, Fab Lab, Techshop, shop, science lab, open classroom, studio
  2. Culture – Maker movement, hacker culture, craft, green, economic self-determinism, service-learning, artisanal, amateur science, citizen science, urban agriculture, slow food
  3. Process – Making, tinkering, Design Thinking, design, Genius Hour, PBL
  4. Underlying belief about teaching & learning – Instructionism, behaviorism, constructivism, constructionism

By looking at these four aspects, we can untangle some of the confusion about what “making” in education is. These can combine in interesting ways – you can have a Design Thinking program that is strongly teacher directed in a makerspace that has a green eco-streak that permeates the projects. The place doesn’t dictate the process, which is good and bad.

Many times, when designing new learning opportunities or spaces it is assumed that their current culture will transform as well. Space planning doesn’t magically transform pedagogy. You can’t assume that just because you build a flexible space with terrific materials, it will magically be filled with wonderful student-centered, open-ended projects.

Here’s a “cheat sheet” for the four aspects.

Place

Both formal (credit-bearing courses, primarily at schools) and informal (extra-curricular activities, clubs, libraries, museums, community organizations, commercial spaces)

  • Hackerspace – “Hacking” indicates both an activity and political belief that systems should be open to all people to change and redistribute for the greater good. (roots in the 1960’s). More prevalent in Europe than US.
  • Makerspace – MAKE magazine (2005 – present). Popular Science for the 21st century. DIY and DIWO. Maker Faires. Adopted as a softer, safer alternative to hackerspace. Can be a separate room or integrated into classrooms.
  • Fab Lab – Spaces connected to the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms (565 worldwide) with a common charter and specific requirements for space and tools. Fablab also used as a generic nickname for any fabrication lab.
  • TechShop (and others) – non-profit or commercial organizations offering community tool sharing, classes, or incubation space.
  • Shop, science lab, classroom, studio – traditional names for school spaces for learning via hands-on activities.

Culture

  • Maker movement – technology-based extension of DIY culture, incorporating hobbyist tools to shortcut a traditional (corporate) design and development process, and the internet to openly share problems and solutions. Maker mindset – a positive, energized attitude of active tinkering to solve problems, using any and all materials at hand.
  • Hacker/hacking – Essential lessons about the world are learned “..from taking things apart, seeing how they work, and using this knowledge to create new and even more interesting things.” – Steven Levy
  • Green – values of ecology, conservation, and respect for the environment.
  • Citizen/amateur science – participation of non-professional scientists in gathering and interpreting data or collaborating in research projects.
  • Artisanal/craft movements – engaging in mindful and ethical practices to humanize activities, products, and production.

Process

  • Making – the act of creation. “Learning by making happens only when the making changes the maker.” – Sylvia Martinez
  • Tinkering – non-linear, iterative approach to reaching a goal. “messing about” with materials, tools, and ideas. “Making, fixing, and improving mental constructions.” – Seymour Papert
  • Design Thinking – customer-centered product design and development process popularized by IDEO and the Stanford d.school
  • Design – “to give form, or expression, to inner feelings and ideas, thus projecting them outwards, making them tangible.” – Edith Ackermann
  • Genius Hour – specific classroom time devoted to tinkering and open-ended projects. Patterned after companies (Google and FedEx, primarily) that allow employees to work on non-company projects on company time, thereby boosting morale and possibly resulting in products useful to the company.
  • Project-based Learning (PBL) – Projects are…“work that is substantial, shareable, and personally meaningful.” – Martinez & Stager

Beliefs about teaching and learning

  • Instructionism – Belief that learning is the result of teaching. Lecture, direct instruction.
  • Behaviorism – Belief that behavior is a result of reinforcement and punishment. Rote learning, worksheets, stars/stickers, grades.
  • Constructivism – Piagetian idea that learning is a personal, internal reconstruction—not a transmission of knowledge. Socratic method, modeling, manipulatives, experiments, research, groupwork, inquiry.
  • Constructionism – Seymour Papert extended constructivism with the idea that learning is even more effective when the learner is creating a meaningful, shareable artifact. PBL, making, citizen science.

What if… those helpful instructions aren’t so helpful

My last post linked to a video showing Dr. Paulo Blikstein of Stanford University showcasing the research going on in his department regarding how making becomes learning.

The next question is what to do when faced with early research? Do we just wait until the research is done? Or maybe even validated with other studies?

I don’t believe this.

I want to know, “What if these early findings are true? Would it change my practice? What would it look like in my classroom or school?”

Let’s just take one of the research questions being asked – Do detailed instructions help or hinder student understanding? What is the difference between a learner who is given step-by-step instructions vs. being given time to explore a new technology? It is often assumed that the way to learn something new is to follow explicit directions for a couple of tries, and then eventually do it on your own.

The early research is showing, however, that students who are given explicit instructions do NOT move to not needing those instructions. They stay “stuck” in a habit of depending on  instructions.

Uh oh. As someone who works with teachers learning new technology, what should I do? Should I hide my handouts? Make them less explicit? I don’t know, but I’m sure thinking about it.

Maybe you are thinking about this with your students. Why not do a little experiment? If you give students detailed instructions “just to get them started” on early project work – why not see what happens if you skip the tutorials and hide the handouts? After some early confusion (where you will have to refrain from jumping in with the rescue) you may see new patterns emerging.

I know I’m not waiting around for the perfect research to happen. I want to find out the “what if…” sooner rather than later.

Speak Up 2012 report: “From Chalkboards to Tablets: The Emergence of the K-12 Digital Learner”

“The results being released today show that we are indeed in a new world. And we as adults need to learn from kids in this instance. We need to learn from students about how they learn, where they learn, and how they seek information. I believe we must harness this information to give all students a 21st century skill set to prepare them for high-growth, high-demand jobs in the global economy.”U.S. Rep. George Miller, the senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

Project Tomorrow has released the Speak Up 2012 report: “From Chalkboards to Tablets: The Emergence of the K-12 Digital Learner

This report is the second in a two part series to document the key national findings from Speak Up 2012. In 2003, The Speak Up National Research Project was born to give K-12 students a voice in critical conversations, and to hopefully provide their parents, teachers and administrators with new insights about the expectations and aspirations of these newly minted digital learners. Now in its tenth year, the annual Speak Up National Research Project and the resulting trends analysis provides a birds’ eye view of the changing environment for digital learning, both in and out of school.

Why is this important?

If you are working in a school, district, or organization planning your educational technology vision, you need to know the latest data on technology usage from the real users of technology. Don’t be satisfied with what you think you know about technology – find out! In fact, poll your own students on these same questions. If you are one of the smart schools that participated in the Speak Up data survey, lucky you! You are getting your own customized set of data for your own use. If aren’t participating – make plans for next year now!

Key Findings from this year’s report

  • With smartphone usage dramatically on the rise – 65 percent of students in grades 6-8 and 80 percent of students in grades 9-12 are smartphone users – a main concern among today’s digital learners is how to leverage the unique features of different devices, from laptops to smartphones to tablets or digital readers, and use them for certain academic tasks.
  • While only 21% of teachers in middle and high schools are assigning Internet homework on a weekly basis, 69% of high school seniors, 61% of high school freshman and 47% of 6th graders are online at least weekly to find resources to support their homework.
  • In just one year, the number of middle school students with a personally acquired, digital reader more than doubled from 17 percent in 2011 to 39 percent in 2012.
  • In fall 2011, 26 percent of students in grades 6-8 said that they had a personal tablet computer. In one year’s time, the percentage of middle school students with tablets jumped to 52 percent, a doubling over the 2011 percentage.
  • Despite this increase of mobile devices in the hands of students, schools are still reluctant to allow them. Among high school students with smartphones, only half say they can use their device at school and only nine percent of students say they can use their personal tablets at school. With 73 percentage of high school seniors saying they have a laptop, only 18 percent of the Class of 2013 say they are allowed to use their personal laptop at school.

Download both reports!

Sylvia

STEM resources

New NASA iPad Magazine App “Space Place Prime” is a new NASA magazine only for the iPad. This brand new app gathers some of the best and most recent Web offerings from NASA. It taps engrossing articles from The Space Place website, enlightening NASA videos, and daily images such as the Astronomy Picture of the Day and the NASA Earth Observatory Image of the Day.

“Space Place Prime” targets a multigenerational audience. Kids, teachers, parents, space enthusiasts, and everyone in between will find fascinating features on this new, free NASA app.

More information about the new magazine and other NASA apps.

Source: NASA Education Express Message — September 20, 2012

“Curiosity in the Classroom” STEM Resources
Discovery Education and Intel Corporation have partnered to create learning resources for the Discovery Channel’s series Curiosity. The site has lesson plans and activities that create STEM connections across various subjects including: artificial intelligence, communications, computers, nanotechnology, and robotics. CuriosityintheClassroom.com


Change the Equation Releases State Data on STEM Learning
The 2012 Vital Signs reports paint a wide-ranging and in-depth picture of the condition of STEM learning in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. View the full report

Back to School 2012 – Start your “year of empowerment” now!

Start the year off with hands on
Think you need to wait for kids to settle down and learn the basics before you let them do projects and hands-on work? Not according to this expert teacher.

What tech vision will you share?
What message does your Acceptable Use Policy send when it goes home with students for them and their parents to sign? This year, change overly complex, negative language to language that celebrates the potential of technology – and students.

Games for collaboration and teamwork
Want to create a more collaborative, constructivist classroom? Instead of traditional icebreakers, try these games that encourage collaboration and teamwork.

What do students want from teachers?
Listen to what students say they really want from teachers. And no, it’s not “more recess.”

Student technology leadership teams for laptop schools
Are you getting more devices this year? Laptops, iPads, iTouches, netbooks or going 1:1? Do you have enough tech support? Enough support for teachers using new technology? Enough support for students? No? Well then learn how students can be a great resource in laptop schools to ease the burden on overworked teachers and IT staff – and mentor other students. Genius bar, anyone?

Ten commandments of tech support
Ten ideas for making technology support more learner-centered and less network-centered.

8 Big Ideas of the Constructionist Learning Lab
Last but by far not least, if you are looking for some inspiration to post on your wall, here are 8 Big Ideas of the Constructionist Learning Lab. These eight ideas give actionable advice to create opportunities for deep learning for all. (Also in Spanish)

Happy back to school!

Sylvia

Can students record a lecture?

Bob Sprankle writes a very interesting post on the Tech+Learning blog this month – Who has the Right? where he asks a lot of very good questions and offers some advice about the use of a LiveScribe pen to record audio from the classroom while taking notes.

But there are still lots of questions about this. It’s really more than just about this one technology – you can ponder about any recording device in the classroom from video cameras and phones to many laptops that have this capability.

Some questions this brings up:

  • Should a teacher be asked before recording? Does the law require consent, or merely notification?
  • What if the student has special needs for recording and playing back? Does it matter if there is an IEP in place or not?
  • Does a teacher have to have a “valid” reason to say no? If they simply don’t like the idea, does this negate the student’s right to an accessible education? A teacher couldn’t take a student’s glasses away just because they don’t like them.
  • Do wiretapping laws apply?
  • What if other students in the class are recorded? Is that fair/legal? Might it stop open classroom discussion?
  • If a student does record a lecture, does anyone (administrators, parents, etc.) have the right to ask for that recording?
  • Are there restrictions on what the student can do with the recording, such as post it online or give it to other students?
  • Are there any restrictions for teachers recording their own class? Do they need student/parent/school permission? Who owns that recording and what can it be used for?
  • Can a teacher record their own lecture and put it online? Can they sell it?

Common courtesy and knowing the law may not be enough to answer these questions!

Sylvia

EdGamer Episode 8 – Sylvia Martinez Says YES to EdGaming

EdGamer Episode 8 – Sylvia Martinez Says YES to EdGaming is live!

Last week I had a wonderful time speaking with Zack Gilbert and Gerry James who do EdGamer podcasts over at EdReach, a new site where lots of educators are collaborating on blogs, podcasts, and more. It was fun (and funny) and we touched on a wide range of subjects beyond games, including how I got into designing games and the work of Generation YES.

And of course we talked mostly about games in the classroom – both the hype and the hope that exist out there. The podcast is a nicely edited version of our conversation. Sylvia Martinez Says YES to EdGaming

I so admire podcasters – editing is difficult and time consuming work! Hope there are many more EdGamer episodes, and I’d be happy to spend more time with the Click and Clack of Educational Gaming.

Sylvia

Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions

“Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions” – a quick Google search didn’t turn up the source for this quote, but I’ve heard it for years. It’s one of those simple yet profound statements that sums up interconnectedness, yet vast difference between teaching and learning. “Managing” these conditions on either side without the core involvement of the teacher or the student is just impossible.

In this new report, Transforming School Conditions, 14 accomplished teachers from urban districts around the country merge their own experience in high-needs schools with the best current education research, to discuss conditions that are are needed for teachers to teach all students effectively. Their recommendations for school policy and practice offer a guide to developing systems of support for meaningful and sustainable school reform.

Their recommendations highlight the need for any reforms in teaching to come with a high degree of involvement of the affected teachers — not to be delivered from the top down, outside in, or by an imaginary superhero. The changes have to come from those “at the coalface,” as they say in Australia, meaning those who are in the trenches doing the real work.

 

Bill Ferriter provides a summary and perspective on this report if you don’t have time to read the whole thing (but you should!)

Shipwrecks, sunken treasure, lost civilizations – nearly free stuff for classrooms

The Museum of Underwater Archaeology (MUA) is pleased to offer several resources for classroom teachers. This page provides information on our “Holding History in Your Hand” kit which includes a written curriculum presenting the six steps of the archaeological process, replicas of artifacts for examination, videos, a sidescan sonar slideshow, bookmarks, and other activities for further exploration. This opportunity is free to all classroom teachers (there is a small fee to help cover shipping and packaging.

via The Museum of Underwater Archaeology About the MUA.