In a previous blog entry, I reflected on the successes and next steps when using squishy circuits with class 1A.
One of the conclusions our "maker team" (Karen and I) have discovered is that we need to give our students more time to tinker, explore and play to create something unique and totally their own. (Not just the simple circuit that we modelled for them to demonstrate how squishy circuits work)
And as I continue to document making and makerspaces in our school I often wonder: are makerspaces and making valuable for our students? Why? What skills do they bring about in learning?
Late last week, Karen revisited squishy circuits with her class. She encouraged students to create something that was their very own "most magnificent thing".
She documented that there was a period of time where students had to tinker and play to remember how the circuit really worked and some critical thinking had to be employed. She also noted that many students who might not be regularly engaged in other classroom activities during the day were fully immersed in their creations and acted as the leaders in the class. Students' self-esteem in their own abilities shone through as they experimented and created new things that worked and lit up.
The big takeaways from this session for Karen's students were: the emergence of leadership from students who didn't normally step up to the plate, students' engagement and the ability to remain fully on task (especially those students who thrive on hands on activities)and the development of their self esteem as makers and creators.
At the end of their making, Karen took pictures of everyone's designs. We had had discussions before about creating a "makerspace" wall to showcase their squishy circuits (and other future makings). She used this experience as a purposeful writing activity - underneath their picture students wrote about what they made.
This board certainly helps to make learning visible for students and their parents who will come in later this week for Open House - but I wonder if we can do more. Is this display really making their learning visible? Or what they made visible? (Read more here )
It certainly serves its purpose to showcase how making can serve as a prompt for meaningful, relevant and engaging writing opportunities for our students. However, what if next time we took pictures of their creations and put speech bubbles beside their work that described their thinking processes?
Prompts to consider: How did you make your creation? What was the most difficult thing about making your item? Did you have to change your mind when you were making? What problems do you have to solve? How did you solve them?
Wouldn't that make the writing process even more valuable for students? And put the focus back on the process of learning rather than the product?
I wonder what other tools we could explore to help students document not ONLY their learning but their THINKING about their learning? I have ideas...I have ideas....I have ..... so much more learning to do.
For the past few weeks, Mr. Maharajh and I have been working to establish a maker culture and mindset with his class. In some ways, we have been successful beginning our journey. Other ideas.... need a little more fine tuning.
Our journey began when I visited the class and introduced myself, and the concept of makerspaces. We asked them if they liked to make and asked them for some examples of things they had "made" - it was a rather lackluster response. When we asked about more specific examples of making - if anyone had heard of 3D printing and were interested in it - heads started perking up. Good to know.
Our next step was to create a virtual space using Google Sites for them to explore potential maker tools. The site was shared with students via their board gmail accounts - all were given editing rights so that they could add content at a later date. Students were given one class to explore the site and the tools.
Students seemed open to the concept and began exploring the site....but that's where it really ended. I think they were humouring me - I think it was too much to introduce at once. I wonder if my enthusiasm for making is too much (do you think?). I wonder if students thought I was going to force them to "make" and "make" a decision they weren't comfortable with? I wonder if students need some more time to have hands on experience with a few tools in order to decide? Is it a case of when "you don't know what you don't know"?
Ok, so I admit I went overboard - I introduced students to over 20 tools :), embedded a google form and sheet to get to know them and what they wanted to learn. Ok - so maybe I get it. Too much, too fast - system overload. I can't force students to make - and I think this is what it might have felt like? Making has to grow organically .... (However, I still wonder when I could introduce the concept of a shared virtual space again.)
Licking my wounds, we decided to try another approach - introduce some making activities one by one.
On Monday, we tried finger knitting with the whole class with the mindset that they didn't have to do this again if they didn't want to - but they had to be open to try the experience. We stressed the importance that we are all teachers and learners in this space and we were here to mentor each other.
And everyone DID try the experience and were engaged....even Mr. Maharajh. :)
Some students struggled and did not get it by the end of the class, but the important note is that no one gave up. Students helped each other through the process. Other comments I heard were:
"I finally got this and I am so happy!"
"Can I have more yarn? I need to make this longer!"
"I'm going to try this at home"
Some did not want to stop - and were rushing to finish before math class.
During the process I was snapping photos. I also took photos of finger knitting on various devices .... some photos were of finger knitting experiments that weren't quite there... yet. Before I could download all them to my computer, some were deleted. I wonder about this - should we only document our successes? I believe we should also document our failures....and show growth and resilience. How valuable might a photo be for students to reflect on their failure as a pathway to success? As a means to acquiring the knowledge to solving problems they might still encounter?
I wonder how can we make learning through failure visible, valuable and meaningful for our students?
Since Monday, I have seen students wearing their finger knitted items as headbands and necklaces. I see finger knitted scraps of different coloured yarn on desks.
We have also since taught some of them how to make their own pom poms to add to their knitted creations.
One of the students immediately proclaimed "I can use it as a cat toy!"
Some students have shared that they have since tried finger knitting at home. I have also seen new student designs: bracelets and pom pom decorating zipper pull up sweatshirts.
Sometimes, I wonder when you slow things down, can you speed things up? Finger knitting may not be for everyone, but at least they've had the chance to experience it and decide whether it's right for them.
Today left the eights with a little gift this morning ... only time will tell what will happen next.
(Well one thing that I know will happen - based on student interest and engagement with this activity, (and conferencing with each other about its' success/failures/next steps Mr. M is going to use finger knitting as a provocation for his next math lesson. Students will be given 1 m of yarn - how much will they need to knit a piece measuring 30 cm?)
Is this a prime example of how documentation can drive meaningful and relevant student learning opportunties in the class? I think it might be.
I'm going to bring in the 3D printer tomorrow.
After previously using Ashely Spires "The Most Magnificent Thing" to inspire creations in Ms. Wallace's grade one class we'd thought we'd up the ante by introducing Squishy Circuits.
For those of you unfamiliar with squishy circuits please enjoy AnnMarie's Thomas' explanation how to use them with young learners below.
Before we began the making process, I had jotted down some ideas for a series of prompts we could use with the students to guide their thinking/making and creations.
As discussed in one of my previous posts, I think the first question was too limiting - and in reflection I think I would change it to (given the next opportunity I have to work with another class) ask:
What kind of magnificent thing do you think you would like to create? What kinds of materials would you need to make it?
We began this making session with the prompt:
Is making with playdough fun? Why?
(One of the most important things I have learned already in my journey to document learning is that I need to take a picture the anecdotal notes I take while observing/listening to learners. The notes I took this afternoon have promptly disappeared from where I thought I put them and I am working from memory right now)
Students responded that yes, making with playdough was fun and the most resounding answer to why it was fun was because you could squish it and make it into anything you wanted.
I even went so far as to ask why/how does playing with playdough help us learn (Karen suggested that this question might be too abstract - I think she was right - but I asked it anyways) The answer, for the most part, remained the same: because you can make anything out of it. Again, no surprise - isn't that the beauty of play dough and why it is used and so many early years classrooms?
The next few questions got a bit tricky:
How would your "most magnificent thing" change if you could add a working light to it?
Initially, students began listing the things they had made previously, just with a light on it.
Ss: A hot dog with a light?
T: That's a great idea! Where would the light be? What would it represent?
Then students began listing things that WERE lights:
Ss: A lamp, a light bulb...
T: Those are all good ideas. Think back to the hot dog idea - could the lights be used for eyes on the hot dog? What other things can we think of that have lights?
Ss: A Christmas tree!
(I am wondering....how could I have better prompted this question to elicit some different responses? Or is that sequence or progression of thinking fine - because they did get there. Would some images have helped maybe? Or am I wondering too much :)
In small groups we began teaching them how squishy circuits worked. We don't have a document camera hooked up yet so I didn't think teaching in a large group would have worked (too many students crammed into a small viewing area - yes, no thank you!). Students were engaged in making something new with the playdough while we went around modelling how to make a squishy circuit - it worked well. (as well as it can go for grade one students impatient to get results...)
I was surprised to see how quickly most students grasped the concept of how to get their squishy circuit to function. We found the terminology that AnnMarie Thomas used in her video was easily grasped by the students; with additional scaffolding and modelling, most students had created a squishy circuit that lit up in about 15 minutes.
One effective documentation strategy noted in Visible Learners, is to notice when things are going well ... or going poorly by observing exactly what is happening. The emotions being experienced by the students in the classroom are "important indicators of the quality of the learning experience" (Krechevsky, Mardell, Rivard & Wilson, 2013). I noticed several students had difficulties getting their circuit to work; before they got too frustrated, we continued to prompt in small groups, having students help each other. Students were elated when their circuit worked and lit up. Perhaps the favorite key moment I witnessed was the pure delight and joy of one boy who finally got his circuit to work after several attempts. Hands clasped together, I could almost see the excitement dancing in his head. I often have doubts about what and how to introduce making in the classroom - but this moment clearly told me that this experience was worthwhile for the students.
Once students became more comfortable they began to add more LED lights to their creations. The LED lights I gave the students were different sizes and lit up with differing intensities prompting one student to ask: Why is this light brighter than the other? (What a great question for future inquiry - and a discovery we will share in our next session. Why do we think this is?)
If you've thought about running a makerspace in your classroom or school, you've probably heard of Laura Fleming and her makerspace planning model.
The key to the success of any makerspace is the voice of its' students. Our students' passions, interests and needs should be the driving force in the creation and implementation of our makerspaces.
Also important to note is that “no two school makerspaces should ever be exactly alike, because no two school communities are ever exactly alike” (Fleming, 2015).
From personal experience, I found our space to be much more rewarding for our students when I kept this in mind. I used to constantly compare the space we had last year to others I would see on Twitter. To be honest, I wasted time when I should have been channelling my energy to support the learning of our own students, and not to compare their learning to those of others. Personalizing the space to meet your students’ passions and interests will make the space successful, not the flashy gadgets you put inside it.
A key learning for me was to realize that our role in this environment was not to choose the tools the students would use to explore, innovate and create. Our role is guide their explorations (regardless of tool) and facilitate opportunities in and outside the classroom to ensure that meaningful and relevant learning occurs.
So how does one ensure that they know their learners best in order to provide the most enriching and productive learning environment?
(Enter Pedagogical Documentation....)
My UOIT M.Ed professor, Dr. Janette Hughes introduced me to the concept of pedagogical documentation (also known as "learning stories" in New Zealand and "pedagogical narration" in BC) as an option to explore for my project on makerspaces this term.
Pedagogical documentation is a form of documenting the learning in one's classroom/space that makes learning visible. Documentation can take many forms: video, photographs, conversations, anecdotal notes etc.
It calls on the teacher to accept the "humility of not knowing" or not to make assumptions about how their students learn. It requires one to document learning in order to wonder, question and reflect upon the learning experiences that are happening. One must look at learning through a student lens if we are to truly understand our learners and what environments/scaffolding we need to provide them in order to help them succeed.
Wien, Guyevskey & Berdoussis (2011) state that through the documentation process, teachers curate, analyze and reflect upon their understanding of what is occurring in the classroom though multiple lenses.
Through this analysis, we can come to new understandings about how learning occurs.
It is hoped that through the creation of this blog, I will be able to document the learning of students in our school and dialogue with our colleagues and students about how they envision continued learning experiences.
Ultimately, it will become a process which will inform our decisions of when and what to offer students in our maker environments. It is hoped that by listening, observing and making learning visible in our learning communities, we will be able to positively impact the delivery of meaningful and engaging learning opportunities in our classes.
Wien, C. A., Guyevskey, V., & Berdoussis, N. (2011). Learning to document in Reggio-inspired education. Early Childhood Research & Practice, 13(2). Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=PROF&sw=w&u=peel_dsb&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA276438062&asid=7abc5f78d42b7827f3aaa6a41376660c
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I am fortunate to be working with some pretty awesome people. One of them is Ms. Wallace (Karen) of 1A who welcomed me into her class to begin our makerspace journey.
As we brainstormed some ideas - we thought we could start making in her classroom with some squishy circuits:
a) because I love squishy circuits (you might call it an obsession really)
b) because I'm getting really good at making play dough
At first I thought of some specific things we could help direct them make - but then I thought - no - making has to be open for exploration and discovery! Guide on the side!
We both thought to begin with a book for inspiration. As such, we began our journey into the maker world with a story by Ashley Spires. (Kudos to Karen for choosing it - it was absolutely PERFECT)
After Karen read the book and checked in with her students for comprehension and connections - (particularly focusing on the maker mindset illustrated in the book), we prompted the students with a question.
What magnificent thing could you make if you had some play dough?
Now that I think back, I'm wondering if this question was too direct and restrictive in nature, especially since this was our first foray into making in the classroom. I'm wondering if we should have prompted:
What kind of magnificent thing do you think you would like to create? What kinds of materials would you need to make it?
Hindsight is such a wonderful thing, isn't it? This would have REALLY opened up opportunities for exploration and given the students the driver's seat and ownership over their own learning and making. I still might have had to direct students back to eventually making a magnificent thing using play dough - simply because it's the only material we we had on hand. (Keep in mind we are a brand new school that opened for teachers two days before school began.)
Really, this prompt would have been a wonderful opportunity to really get to know our students and identify their passions and skills. After all, a makerspace should be driven by the students and their interests. I am also wondering, how do we make their skills and passions for making and creating visible in the classroom? In the school? To students? To teachers?
Ok, next time I need to remember this.
After the prompt, students brainstormed a list of things they could make with play dough . We gave each student their own ball of play dough to begin making; no one was surprised to see that everyone was engaged and motivated to create. As per the maker mindset illustrated in "The Most Magnificent Thing" , many creations were changed, re-formed and re-worked.
Due to time restraints, we ended with students sharing their most magnificent things with their table group and taking pictures before packing up the day.
Our next step is to introduce students to the concept of squishy circuits and ask them how their "most magnificent thing" design might change if they could put add a working light!
As I begin a new year at a new building - I have realized I have a lot of learning to do regarding the implementation of a makerspace enviornment in a K-8 setting. What I did at my middle school last year may not work at this school.
To begin with, using term "makerspace" concerns me. Currently, our library learning commons is still in a state of disarray. We have not completely unpacked or set up the environment. But I ask, is that such a bad thing? Last year, the LLC was the prime hub in the school for all things making. This year I don't know if I want the same thing.
I'm reminded of a Krissy Vensodale tweet about makerspaces:
Yes, I agree that the library learning commons should encourage making, exploration and discovery - but it can't been seen as the primary place where this happens. We need to develop a maker mindset in our school that encourages the fact that making can happen EVERYWHERE using ANYTHING. Making, creating and innovation does not depend on the 3D printer or other flashy gadgets that may be housed in a library learning commons. I am hesitant to define any space in our school as a makerspace unless we define EVERY SPACE as such.
The fact that the library learning commons is not ready for students is really a blessing in disguise. (Let me remember this tomorrow while I am still unpacking and shelving) I am co-planning, co-teaching, dialoguing and conversing with students and teachers on a personal level, in their classrooms where making should truly take root. The library learning commons is only another such place where students' dreams, passions, interests, creations, innovations and discoveries can flourish.
I can't wait to see where we grow next.