Tag Archives: student-centered learning

Creating a Maker Culture

“The emergence of maker culture depends a great deal on our understanding that different people learn through different means. Some are auditory learners, and some are visual learners. Yet another group learns best by doing. These are the makers.” –William Craig in Forbes

Over the past few months I have written about our efforts to turn a room in our district’s high school into a makerspace. While the makerspace will always be evolving with the addition of new materials and technology, we can say for now that it is done and ready for use. The first order of business once the room was completed was to begin instilling in our students an idea that can best be summarized as the maker culture. As William Craig explained in Forbes magazine, the maker culture leans heavily on a constructivist approach to

Students work with littleBits to create a city.
Students work with littleBits to create a city.

education–that is the notion that learning is best done through doing. In a sense we all probably understand that one of the best ways to learn something is to do it yourself. Trial and error and intellectual risk taking are all part of this makerspace learning experience. American history is filled with stories of makers who tinkered around, explored how things work, and ultimately changed the world forever. From Edison to Wozniak, the maker culture has been an important part of the American experience. As educators, we need to ensure our students are familiar with this. The maker culture in schools is one that encourages students to explore new technology, to collaborate with others, to use materials in new ways, and to ultimately learn by doing. Maker culture is about breaking down barriers and making new technology and ideas accessible in a low-risk environment. Since our makerspace opened, we have been working hard to bring this maker culture mindset to all our students.

To open the makerspace we planned for a series of Saturday morning makerdays for students in our school district. We have invited elementary and middle school students to come into the high school’s space and make. With support from our board of education and education foundation, we have hosted two of these makerdays for students and can see a maker culture beginning to develop. For elementary students, we created a challenge where teams of students had to learn about circuits and the electricity grid, then build their own cities powered by littleBits. Our young makers had a blast and built some amazing cities as you can see in this gallery.

We also hosted a makerday for middle school students that featured three engineering design challenges using an old invention–the popsicle stick. Students were tasked with creating a catapult that can fire a marshmallow the farthest, building a bridge that can hold the most weight, and finding a way to protect an egg so it will not break when dropped from fifteen feet high. The pictures below show some of the amazing bridges students were able to build in forty minutes using only popsicle sticks, glue, and about two feet of string. The winning design spanned over fourteen inches and was able to hold about thirteen pounds of sand!

We will host additional makerdays this year with the goal of creating a district-wide vertically articulated makerspace culture. Like all makers, we have learned a ton in the process of putting these events together. Not everything has been perfect, and we will continue to refine our makerday approach. The one constant has been our talented students who are able to work collaboratively to make amazing inventions. They are beyond impressive. We hope they will be influenced by their time in the makerspace and continue to embody the maker culture by tinkering, exploring, and inventing.

Some Thoughts On Informational Text

Did that title get your attention? Just kidding! As school districts throughout the PARCC consortium, like us, pore over their test results, it will likely become clear that students didn’t perform as well as they could have on an assessment category called reading informational text. It will be important for school districts and parents to look to improve this area of assessment moving forward. The shift towards informational text becoming an important part of standardized assessment–in this case PARCC–became apparent when the Common Core standards were released a fewScreen Shot 2016-01-26 at 8.15.12 PM years ago. Controversial at the time (okay, still controversial to some), the Common Core called for a greater emphasis on the reading of informational text across the curriculum in schools. Ultimately, the Common Core recommends a split in what high school students read: 70% informational text and 30% literary works. For many teachers, this split was a drastic change from what was traditionally done in classrooms. This blog isn’t the place to debate the merits of this decision. All I will say is that I am in favor of students reading as much as possible regardless of its kind. I love both fiction and non-fiction and hope students feel the same. I also realize students will frequently encounter informational text when they enter college and join the work force; therefore, it is certainly important that we teach students how to read this genre. One way to improve students’ comprehension when reading informational text is through the website Newsela.

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 8.58.03 PM
An article from Newsela

I have become a huge fan of Newsela (pronounced NEWS-ELLA) because of its design, the selection of informational articles available for readers, and the assessments that come with each article. I had heard of Newsela over the past few years but was initially skeptical. I am decidedly old school when it comes to reading. For many years when I taught I got hard copies of the newspaper delivered every day for my students to read. Even so, I realized a few months ago that my second-grade son needed some help with his reading. My son loves to read, but I noticed he was reading way too fast and not really comprehending what he had read. I realized something was up when he claimed to have finished a book in about fifteen minutes. Before you think I am some sort of an “intense reading dad,” I’m not. My son can read whatever he wants from Captain Underpants to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. As long as he is reading, I am happy. But, my son still needs to understand HOW to read. So, I started using Newsela with him, and I think it is wonderful.

Newsela is a free site (subscription model available) that edits news articles from organizations like the Washington Post, Associated Press, and Scientific American into different levels of complexity using the Lexile framework. This enables readers of different levels to all be reasonably challenged. Classes with different levels of Unknownreaders can be differentiated as students are able to read the same article but at different Lexile levels. Each article comes with a few assessment questions that reinforce important content or vocabulary from a related article. Parents and teachers can track a child’s or student’s progress as they read, giving them insight into strengths and weaknesses. Newsela just released an app for Apple devices and it is most impressive. I think this app can be an important addition to a class set of iPads and any reading program. I honestly never thought I would like a site like Newsela. However, I think its ease of use, the quality of its informational text, and the fact that it gives real-time data on reading progress makes it something English and elementary teachers should consider using in their classes. Parents, like me, should also consider using it with their children. Overall, it is a great product and something I think will help students tremendously as they learn to read informational text.

What Does The Future Hold for Schools?

The New Media Consortium (NMC), a community of hundreds of leading universities, colleges, museums, and research centers, has issued an important report called the Horizon Report: 2015. The report examines emerging technologies for their potential impact on and use in teaching, learning, and creative inquiry in schools (access the report here). The driving question for the report is “What is on the five-year horizon for K-12 schools worldwide?” A team of experts engaged with the report agreed on two long-term trends: “rethinking how schools work in order to bolster student engagement and drive more innovation, as well as shifting to deeper learning approaches, such as project- and challenge-based learning.” The report is a must read for any school district personnel looking to map out the next five years in terms of where they see technology and instruction heading.

Makerspace education also has the potential to empower young people to become agents of change in their communities. (The Horizon Report)

I’m still working my way through the study, but one part that caught my eye was the analysis of the future role makerspaces will play in schools. A makerspace is a place where anyone interested in learning something new can come together to design, create, and build projects of their choosing. In short, makerspaces are where learners can explore their curiosity in a low-risk environment. “Makerspaces are places where anyone, regardless of age or experience, can exercise their ingenuity to construct tangible products,” write the authors in their report. “Schools are turning to makerspaces to facilitate activities that inspire confidence in young learners, and help them acquire entrepreneurial skills that are immediately applicable in the real world.” The report shares a number of makerspace success stories from around the world that are particularly inspiring and also provides a host of links to examples of makerspaces currently in use in K-12 education.

The growing global makerspace movement has influenced our district to begin the creation of makerspace areas in our schools. We have spent a fair amount of time visiting other makerspaces in the area, researching best practices, and creating implementation plans. It’s clear that makerspaces are going to be a vital component of a modern learning environment. “The turn of the 21st century has signaled a shift in the types of skillsets that have real, applicable value in a rapidly advancing world,” asserts the authors of the Horizon Report. “In this landscape, creativity, design, and engineering are making their way to the forefront of educational considerations, as tools such as robotics, 3D printers, and web-based 3D modeling applications become accessible to more people.” A makerspace can bring these tools to students while encouraging the use of skills they will need to compete in the 21st century. The Horizon Report is packed with anecdotes from case studies and external links to additional resources. It’s a must read for any educator wondering what the future holds for their students.

Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 10.35.36 AM
A graphic representing the challenges and developments facing K-12 education. Source: The Horizon Report

 

Invent Anything

As someone who has spent a lifetime in education, I’m always on the lookout for free or cheap ways to do cool stuff in classrooms. Whenever a new idea comes out, I always try to find ways to lower costs or to get the latest fad for free. I obviously don’t mind spending money on quality products (hello, Apple and WordPress), but I have to be wowed before I can be convinced to splurge on something that costs money. I’m fearful of not spending wisely or spending money on something that could be irrelevant in a year or two. It seems that technology improves so fast that it can be difficult to commit to anything because you fear your purchase might be obsolete in a few months. As David Pogue wrote in Scientific American, “It’s human to fear new technology.” However, you can’t let fear of making a bad decision paralyze progress. You need to take chances and try your hardest to give students all the tools they will need to be competitive in an ever-evolving workplace.

In an edcamp raffle last week, I won a Little Bits Base Kit that comes with everything youbaseBoxAngled need to get started creating amazing inventions. Little Bits says their mission is to “democratize hardware” but I think they have done more than that. They have created a way to bring the spirit of innovation to students by introducing them to circuits, hardware, basic technology, and encouraging them to experiment. I set out to test Little Bits with my seven-year-old son and am blown away by the product. I think a series of Vines will tell our Little Bits story better than words, so here it is:

We opened the box and made a buzzer (you need sound):

We used the dimmer (you need sound):

We made a tickle machine (this is cool and it works):

We made a windmill (I’m most proud of this!):

Watch the founder of the company, Ayah Bdeir talk about why she wanted to democratize hardware. After watching her talk and playing with Little Bits, you’ll realize why they should probably be a cornerstone of every classroom makerspace.

Primary Sources & Post-It Notes

This post is by Michael Lonie, a history teacher at Randolph High School

Sticky_Notes_800x800-BKT_19531

Recently, I have been exploring new ways of integrating primary source analysis and discussion in the social studies classroom. In my Advanced Placement European History course, we constantly read, annotate, and analyze primary source documents to help the students better understand the major trends and paradigm shifts in European thought. I noticed that things began to get a bit stale in our normal classroom discussions, and I wanted to attempt a lesson that would both reinvigorate the conversation, while continuing to assess all students on their comprehension of the material. My solution came in the form of a wonderful professional development offered by the instructional coaches at Randolph High School. At a recent workshop, the coaches introduced ways to use Post-It notes of all shapes and sizes in a variety of different classroom activities. This “Post-It Pandemonium” is entirely student-centered, and provides easy ways for teachers to assess progress and comprehension while keeping students engaged in the lesson.

In order to apply these Post-It activities in my AP European History course, I designed a discussion-based lesson centered on the European philosophers Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill. For the lesson, students were attempting to evaluate the differing opinions ofScreen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.42.54 PM the two philosophers regarding individuality and community in nineteenth-century Europe. In preparation for this lesson, students needed to read and annotate a primary source packet with documents from both philosophers, as well as a variety of different critiques to their positions. Upon arriving to the class, students were divided into groups of three, and given a large Post-It note. Half of the groups were assigned to be experts on Marx, and the other half of the students focused on Mill’s theories of Utilitarianism. Students then had time to summarize their philosopher’s position regarding individuality on the Post-It note, incorporating evidence from the text. After placing these large Post-It notes on the board, a representative from each group chose a Post-It from the opposing philosopher, and, on a separate, smaller Post-It, had to write how their philosopher would respond to the ideas written on the original note. During this time, I circulated the room, and was extremely impressed with the high level of discussion occurring within each group. The students worked diligently to assume the role of their philosopher, and to justify their beliefs with textual evidence.

After placing their philosopher’s rebuttal on the board, I decided to add one last twist to the lesson. After briefly discussing the initial analysis with all students, I gave each group a Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.41.21 PMcritique of their original philosopher from a nineteenth-century intellectual (i.e. Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Pope Leo XIII). Students then had to read the primary source from their critic, and, on an even smaller Post-It note, write how this critic would respond to the writings of their original philosopher. When the students placed their final products on the board, they had a chain of Post-It notes analyzing their original philosopher’s beliefs, a response from either Marx or Mill, and a critique from nineteenth-century society. We ended class with a brief discussion, peppering in any material the students may have missed during their small-group discussion. Based on the exit tickets from the class, students were not only able to meet the lesson’s objectives, but they appeared to have a fun time along the way. As I circulated the room, I found myself engaged in the small-group discussions, and was able to interact with students individually. Overall, I found that incorporating Post-Its into my classroom discussion was a simple and engaging way of assessing student learning, and I would definitely plan these activities into future lessons in the social studies classroom.

Everything You Need For SOLE

The idea of SOLE, or a Self-Organized Learning Environment, began as the brainchild of Sugata Mitra, a professor from Newcastle University in England. In 2013, Mitra was the first-ever recipient of the $1 million TED prize for his ideas about how to improve education. Mitra is a proponent of student-centered learning and his SOLE model was developed as a way for teachers and schools to better understand and implement his philosophy. While SOLE lessons are traditionally geared toward younger students, teachers at our high school have found tremendous value when incorporating them into their daily lessons at times during the school year. Here is a movie I made about how teachers at our school have embraced the concept of SOLE, what they have learned from implementing these lessons, and why they think SOLE lessons work.

Click here for the SOLE Toolkit for everything you need to get started developing your own Self-Organized Learning Environment at your school.

Click here for information from Mitra’s School in the Cloud and here to register to join the SOLE community.

On April 25, 2015 I presented at Ednado about SOLE. Here’s my short slide show.

Here is Mitra’s 2013 TED Talk that inspired schools throughout the world to go SOLE.

Using the ShowMe App

This post is by Bree Valvano, an English teacher at Randolph High School

image-3

Last year I wrote a blog entry about the app ShowMe which allows the user to create tutorials on a whiteboard that can be uploaded and shared with others. Since then, I have been creating videos with the app to help my students gain a better understanding of how to annotate a text. I believe these videos are a valuable resource for students who may need extra reinforcements.

However, after attending a web conference on using tablets in the classroom, I heard about another interesting way to use this app in the classroom. The speakers in the web conference suggested having students use the app to create their own videos. Since I now have access to five iPads for my students, I thought this would be a great way to make my classroom more student focused. By doing this, students will be able to demonstrate their ability to use their active reading skills and share their ideas with others.

I plan to try this idea out in a week or so in my English IVB classes. I have already posted a few videos on Blackboard to model how to annotate a text (you can see a sample here). Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 8.18.34 PMNext, I plan to have students work in small groups, using their own annotations of chapters from The Kite Runner, to create their own videos. I am hoping that this lesson allows me to assess what students are picking out of the novel and help them improve their ability to actively read a text. Once the videos are completed, students will share the link with me, and I will post them on our class Blackboard page. If all goes as planned, we will also use this tool when reading the more complex play Hamlet later this semester.  I am hoping that the students enjoy taking ownership of their own learning and enjoy hearing their own voices, and the voices of their peers, as they talk through the process of breaking down the text.

Image from Showme.com
Image from Showme.com

I don’t want my fellow teachers to think that this will only work in the English classroom. I think this idea could work in any subject area. Students in a math classroom could create videos to demonstrate how to use a specific formula or demonstrate how to solve a problem. Students in a science classroom could demonstrate their thinking when completing a lab or explaining how the life cycle works. Students in a history classroom could demonstrate how they would annotate a primary source document. Really, the possibilities are endless. I believe that if we put the responsibility of learning in the hands of the students, we will be pleasantly surprised.