Reflections on the Maker Movement & CEP 811

The last 8 weeks have really flown by, and believe it or not, I’m now at the end of my CEP 811 course.  As I look back at my blog posts from this course, I’m amazed at the variety of topics I’ve been able to explore: MOOCs, EdCamps, the Maker Movement, learning theories, UDL, and the design of learning spaces.  We covered a lot of ground in this course, and I gained experience with some new tech tools (like SketchUp andPopcornMaker) through this course.

As the course ends, I think it’s valuable to reflect on my biggest take-aways, because without that reflection piece, I tend to compartmentalize everything I’ve learned and quickly forget about it.  (Just like my students!) But I’ve learned so many things in this course that I’d like to transfer to my teaching practice.

Maker Movement

One big piece of this course was getting involved in the “Maker Movement”.  I was initially pretty ambivalent about this.  I know that might be bad for a STEM educator to say, but I feared that it was just a trendy fad that I was going to have to try to squeeze into an already packed science curriculum.  But after studying it and engaging in it (in a very beginning way!), I realize how naturally it can fit into what I already do and what I want to do more of with my students.

The Maker Movement emphasizes hands-on creation, application, and sharing, shifting education away from content acquisition.  It fits well with learning theories like constructivism and experiential learning that posit that learning occurs most effectively when students construct their own understanding through exploration and then combine their new learning with their prior understandings to produce something new.  If students can’t produce or create something with their new knowledge, I doubt that it will really “stick” with them past the final exam.  They won’t internalize it and transfer it to new domains.

My MakeyMakey creation

My MakeyMakey creation

As I’ve learned more about learning theories and had my own new experiences as a learner in a Maker Movement class, I’ve begun to feel more comfortable with letting my students play and explore in their learning. For this class, I had to struggle to figure out how to use the MakeyMakey.  And I now believe that the MakeyMakey is a relatively cheap and easy way to get my students to dip their toes in the waters of the Maker Movement.  I am excited to try out my MakeyMakey lesson plan on conductivity with my students in the next unit, when we study bonding.  I don’t see myself using this specific tool extensively, but it is just an example of one tool that could allow me to help my students become producers rather than just consumers of content.

This week, I read a blog post by Grant Wiggins, “On Assessing Creativity“, and was challenged to think about how to assess my students’ creations for the lesson plan I designed in this course, as well as in other creative projects we do in class.  I have always struggled with how much to weight creativity, since it seems subjective and not an essential part of a traditional science curriculum.  But creative thinking is actually VITAL to being a good scientist, and to being successful in other domains.  I was glad to hear Wiggins acknowledge that both teachers and students can recognize when something is boring versus engaging, but was saddened to read the student quote, “Oh, you mean you don’t want it to be dull and boring?… Oh, we didn’t think that mattered in school writing.”  We are doing our students a disservice if we don’t give them meaningful learning opportunities and valid feedback about the effectiveness of their creation and communication.  I certainly have room to grow in what opportunities I give my students to create and share with authentic audiences, and in how I assess that work.  But through this class, I have created at least one more way for that to occur in my class, and I have the tools to continue to do it.

Self-Reflection

Speaking of areas for growth, I have learned a lot about myself through this course.  Specifically, I’ve learned that it is very difficult for me to balance being a student and a teacher at the same time.  It felt hectic to divide my time and attention between my work and personal responsibilities and my coursework.  It gave me more empathy for my students who are involved in many commitments outside of their schoolwork.

However, there was a lot of value in being able to immediately apply what I was learning each week in this class.  And as a new part-time technology coach, I found a lot of connections between what I was learning through this class and the new teachers and content areas I am now interacting with.  The biggest example of that was in the week we studied UDL theories and tools, which I was immediately able to share with some special education teachers. More broadly, I also benefited from thinking about how adults learn (andragogy) in different ways than high school students, and how professional development can come in different forms like EdCamps and MOOCs, rather than traditional lecture or workshop PD sessions.  This was different than my mindset when taking CEP 810, when I was focused only on how my students learn.  I realize I have so much yet to learn about how to best help adults learn.

Because I’ve learned so much of great value in both CEP 810 and CEP 811, I’m already looking forward to taking CEP 812 and tackling some of the “wicked problems” in education.  I will probably wait until summer to take it, though, because these courses are not easy and I want to be able to give the course my full attention so I can get maximal benefit from it!

In the meantime, I am excited to have more time to increase my presence on Twitter, to attend EdCamps (live and in person!) and to do some Google Hangouts with other teachers.  I’ve learned that it is so valuable to connect with educators outside of your local context, because it is energizing to find educators with similar interests, struggles, and goals.   I am so glad I have this chance to expand my PLN with my classmates from this course!

 

Reference:

Wiggins, G. (2012, February 3). On assessing for creativity: yes you can, and yes you should. [Web log comment]. Retreived from http://grantwiggins.wordpress.com/2012/02/03/on-assessing-for-creativity-yes-you-can-and-yes-you-should/

Redesigning Spaces

At the beginning of this school year, I took on a new part-time position as an instructional technology coach at my high school.  This is a new position for my school, so the other instructional technology coach and I have had the pleasure and challenge of shaping our roles and shaping the area of the building that we call “home”.  That area has been carved out of the back of a computer lab, just off of the library.  There was no budget set aside for our physical space, but by working with the custodians and administrators over the past couple of months, we have managed to make a few steps toward making the space more inviting and functional.

Here is a picture of our space from the beginning of the year. We are lucky to have such a large office, but it felt so empty!

tech office - at first

And our space currently looks like this:

2014-11-21 11.57.46

Here’s a link to an album with more views of the current space.

When I had the opportunity to research what makes a learning space effective as part of my CEP 811 class this week, I was inspired to continue dreaming about what we could do continue to tweak this space.  As you can see in the photo album, there is a computer lab attached to our office, and as our school (hopefully) goes 1:1 in the next few years, I hope that we can utilize this space in a new way.

My Design:

I used a tool called SketchUp to create a model of what this space could look like:

tech office

On the far left of the first picture, the office has been turned into a conference room / recording studio.  Coaches can use this space to meet 1-on-1 with teachers in a quiet, private space, and everyone (teachers, coaches, and students) can use this space to record screencasts and/or videos.  There is also a small sink and Keurig coffee maker because, let’s be honest, providing caffeine is a key way to help many adults feel comfortable and excited about learning.

The main portion of the room has been divided by a clear glass wall.  The space to the left of the wall is primarily for tech coaching and small-group collaboration among teachers, and the space on the right is a “Creativity Center”, where teachers can bring their classes or where larger groups of teachers can meet.

The tech coaching portion of the space contains a desk for teach tech coach, facing each other to facilitate conversation and collaboration between the coaches.  in the back of the room, there is a Media:Scape station, where small groups of teachers can plug in and project their computer screens as they collaborate on lesson planning or reflection.  A couch with a large natural-lighting lamp is available as a comfortable spot to have conversations or plan together.

tech office view 2In the Creativity Center, a variety of seating options are available to learners: comfortable chairs, high-top toables, round tables, and Media:Scape tables.  Because this room will be used for a variety of purposes, this variety will be necessary and helpful.  All of the seating is designed to facilitate collaboration and small-group discussion.  Ideally, all of the chairs would be on wheels so that learners can move freely and the room could be rearranged quickly, if a teacher wants to address the whole to focus their attention in one direction.  A SmartBoard in the middle of the room could be used for presentations, or by small groups not working at the Media:Scape tables.  The lower half of each wall is covered with Dry Erase paint, so that teams can make notes on the walls as they work.  A green screen covers part of the wall, so that learners can record videos and add their own backgrounds.

Because learners will each bring their own device, no computers are present, but the room will be equipped with adequate electrical outlets.  Although the room is inside the building, windows have been added in two different places, so that natural light from the windows in the hallway and from the commons area can enter.

Design & Learning Theories:

As an instructional technology coach, I work with adult learners to help them feel more comfortable with new technology and to help them transform their teaching by using the available technology.  I was convicted by David Kelley’s TED talk, “How To Build Your Creative Confidence“, that teachers often are so busy that they lose sight of their inner creativity.  All teachers, but especially teachers who are intimidated by new technology, need a place where they feel inspired, free to explore, and in-touch with their inner creativity.  This redesigned space is built with them in mind, from the Keurig coffee maker to the warm sun-like lighting above the comfortable couch, to the Media:Scape table that allows for easy collaboration.  The colors and lighting are consistent with the school colors and designed to make them feel at ease and empowered.

The creativity center portion of this room is designed to allow learners (both teachers and students) to explore, collaborate, and create in ways that are consistent with learning theories of constructivism and experiential learning, as well as research into design and learning. According to Barrett, Zhang, Moffat, Kobbacy (2012), learners benefit from having flexible spaces where they can re-arrange the furniture to suit their collaborative tasks, and they need interesting seating that provides them some empowered choice over how they complete their learning activities.  This redesigned space will allow them to do that, along with providing a space where they can “hang out, geek out, and mess around”, which Malin (2012) identifies as 3 key aspects of the type of social learning that is quickly becoming the norm.

Items to be Obtained:

  • Glass Wall & Windows.  I am not sure what it costs to build a wall or install windows, but I have been told that the school is planning to build this wall over the summer, and I know they have recently added windows to a couple of internal rooms.
  • Additional electrical outlets.  Custodians or school-contracted electricians can install these quite economically.
  • Smartboard.  Already located in district and not being used.  Just needs to be mounted on the wall.
  • 3 Media:Scapes.  Two are already owned by the school in an area where they are being less effectively used, and so could be moved into this area.  1 more would need to be purchased.  These are quite expensive, but a makeshift Media:Scape could be made by using a large TV monitor (~$400)
  • Couch. Ikea, $550, or Turnstone, $1500
  • 2 area rugs.  Target, $150 each.
  • 4 arm chairs.  Ikea, $280 each, or Turnstone, $750 each.
  • 2 coffee tables.  Turnstone, $350 each
  • 2 High Top tables. Ikea, $625 each, or
  • 3 Round tables & chairs. Ikea, $515 each.
  • Green Screen, $120.
  • Dry Erase paint. $20 per 7’x7′ area
  • Sink. Cost will depend on the ease of installing plumbing in this area.
  • Keurig.  $100
  • 1 Campfire Big Lamp by Turnstone.  $999.  This is a dream item, and would probably be omitted in reality (unless I win a generous grant!)

These items could be purchased in stages, and they are roughly arranged in the order in which they should be purchased.  I imagine that our computer lab will need to exist in its current form for a couple more years, as we will probably phase in 1:1 with our students, but funds will hopefully be available to improve the instructional tech coaching office for next year.  I would love to apply for one of our local school district foundation’s grants this year, and look for other national grants that could help us transform the space we have into one that could open up doors for students to learn, collaborate, create, and share in meaningful ways.  I am excited to see how learning is transformed through the changes I am able to make in this space!

Resources

Barrett, P., Zhang, Y., Moffat, J., & Kobbacy, K. (2013). A holistic, multi-level analysis identifying the impact of classroom design on on pupils’ learning. Building and Environment, 59, 678-689. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2012.09.016

Kelley, D. (2012, March 1). How to build your creative confidence. Retrieved November 23, 2014, from http://www.ted.com/talks/david_kelley_how_to_build_your_creative_confidence?language=en

Malin, S. (2012, September 1). What If? Exploring How Libraries Can Embody Trends of the Twenty-First Century. Young Adult Library Services.

Making Sense of Maker Theories

I recently created a new lesson plan for teaching electrical conductivity in my Honors Chemistry class.  In the past, I’ve taught the topic of conductivity in a pretty traditional way: I’ve described to students how bonding type determines whether something is conductive or not, and then expected students to identify chemical substances as conductive based on formulas or descriptions.  In this new lesson, my students will get to explore electrical conductivity by creating a music video with the help of a Makey Makey, a Scratch program, and a variety of household objects.  If you haven’t watched the video I created as an example to introduce the project to my students, check it out here.

In CEP 811 this week, we watched Richard Culatta’s TED talk entitled “Reimagining Learning“, and it made me feel even more excited about trying out my new lesson.  In his talk, Culatta emphasized that technology should not just be used to replace our current tools and continue to let education be about passive transmission of information.  Instead, he challenged his audience to imagine the ways that technology can create powerful transformation in learning and teaching.  I see aspects of this in my new lesson.  Rather than having to wait until I grade a worksheet or a quiz, my students will get immediate feedback about whether they understand conductivity:  no sound will be produced if an object is not conductive!  And the lesson is arranged around a problem that students must collaboratively solve, in a way that would not be possible without the technologyHow can we make music from household objects?

As I contemplated this and a variety of learning theories this week for class, I realized that my new lesson will have a greater impact on students’ learning not just because of the technology they use, but also because of the learning theories underlying this redesign.  My old way of teaching this concept is based on instructivism, with me clearly explaining the information to students and asking them to demonstrate their understanding in a traditional way.  The new lesson uses aspects of both constructivism and experiential learning to teach this concept in a more engaging and more effective way.

Constructivism:

Constructivism is a theory that posits that students learn best when they are given guided opportunities to construct their own understanding of a concept.  As a science teacher, I have found this learning theory to be a very powerful way to help my students understand the scientific processes at work in the world around them, especially for concepts that they can experience in tangible ways.  Granted, it takes longer to teach a concept in this way, but research shows that learners are more engaged and their mental schema are more deeply changed as a result.  The image below describes the roles of teachers, students, and the environment in a constructivist learning environment:

In his 2012 paper entitled “Millennial Expectations and Constructivist Methodologies”, Timothy Carter describes how especially powerful constructivist approaches can be for current high school students, who are part of the Millennial Generation.  According to Carter, many recent studies show that Millennials are used to learning by trial-and-error, learning in socially connected and collaborative ways, and seeking out mentors for help on an as-needed basis, rather than being told what to know by an expert.  This fits well with a constructivist theory of learning, in which the teacher is a facilitator for learning that guides students as they carry out activities and seek out resources that help them construct a new understanding of the world.

My new lesson is built on constructivist theory, in that students make initial observations about what is possible with the MakeyMakey tool and conductive materials, conduct an exploration to discover what other materials work, and then create products (both video and written) that demonstrate their understanding of the underlying concepts.  They will rely on each other and on me as the teacher to guide them in this process, along with finding online resources to help them figure out how to use the MakeyMakey and Scratch program.

Experiential Learning:

The other main learning theory supporting my new lesson plan is Experiential Learning.  David Kolb, who is credited with this theory, explains that learning occurs in a cycle of experiencing, reflecting, thinking and acting, as shown in the diagram below.

I am struck by the importance of the reflection and acting parts of this cycle.  Reflection requires the learner to connect their experience with prior knowledge, and acting requires them to transfer their knowledge to new situations.  The cyclical nature of this process is also important, as it requires iterative play and change.  In his 2010 paper, Kolb emphasizes the importance of play in the learning process.  It’s easy to justify play in an elementary classroom, but it is often pushed to the side in favor of “rigorous standards” as students enter high school.  Kolb describes an adult softball league and how important learning occurs as they navigate through uncertainty, feel free to exhibit foolishness, create a community culture, and feel safe to bring their full selves to the environment.

I believe that the same elements that were vital in that environment can be transferred to learning in a high school classroom. Formulating an identity is an important developmental task for a high school student, and being aware of that as a classroom teacher, I seek to create environments and opportunities where students can do this as they learn.  I felt a little foolish making my demo video and playing “Old McDonald Had a Farm”, but I’ve learned that being playful and foolish myself creates a culture where students also feel safe to do the same.  This lesson will allow students to incorporate their own interests, personalities, and creativity as they playfully work to discover how conductivity works.  The students will inevitably hit roadblocks as they playfully create their videos. But the iterative process of experiencing and observing, reflecting on what they saw, thinking about what it happened and how it could be applied in a new situation, and acting to make those changes will help them learn more deeply than just hearing me explain conductivity.

Conclusion:

The lesson plan I created is solidly supported by both constructivism and experiential learning theory.  Over the past 7 years of teaching, I have learned, through trial-and-error, how to guide students through the constructive process of learning by asking questions rather than telling them answers.  I think my lesson plan could be more specific about the types of questions I would ask as students are working, so that another teacher could also use the lesson plan.

References:

Carter, T.L. (2008). Millennial Expectations and Constructivist Methodologies: Their Corresponding Characteristics and Alignment.  Action in Teacher Education.  Retreived from http://www.tandfonline.com.proxy1.cl.msu.edu/doi/pdf/10.1080/01626620.2008.10463498.

Culatta, Richard. (2013). Reimagining Learning: Richard Culatta at TEDxBeaconStreet. Retrieved from http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Reimagining-Learning-Richard-Cu.

Derekcx. The Constructivist Classroom. Digital image. College of Education Constructivism. N.p., 23 Aug. 2009. Web. 9 Nov. 2014. https://www.flickr.com/photos/29444537@N00/3892775860/. Creative Commons License (CC BY-SA 2.0).

GSE843. Steph_Kol_Model. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons. N.p., 12 Sept. 2010. Web. 9 Nov. 2014. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d7/Steph_Kol_Model.jpg. Public Domain.

Kolb, A. & Kolb, D. A., (2009). Learning to play, playing to learn: A case study of a ludic learning space. Journal of Organizational Change Management.