Monday, February 17, 2014

Maker Culture and Maker Spaces

Snowy greetings everyone!

I really should take some pictures of these epic snow piles in my driveway before they melt. Sadly, I think they might actually get bigger before that happens! I'm proud of them though - I built them and their height makes me exercise harder every time I shovel!

While we are speaking of creation, how many opportunities are you giving students to do just that? When I frame a mundane and sometimes challenging task of shoveling in the perspective that I can create something with that, I actually derive some enjoyment, and the time flies.

Right or wrong, I've really tried to avoid worksheets, recipe assignments, quizzes, and tests. I put the focus on students making things, doing projects, and more recently, proving their learning in whatever way they can do that. I believe that offering students choices in this regard will lead to increased engagement and creativity, as well as improved learning outcomes because the students will be more invested in the product. It won't be something that I WANT them to do, at least solely.

I'm still struggling with allowing these choices and I know I don't do it right every time, but I firmly believe the engagement in my students has never been higher.

So where do maker spaces fit in here? For the uninitiated a maker space is a place where students can make. Wow, really? Yes, it is that simple. As I read and discuss, the maker space is really more a state of mind (like Maker Culture) than an area. Andrew Carle (@tieandjeans)  has been a great help and guide in this area and I appreciate how open he is on Twitter. Getting students in the mindset to create, whether it is with computers, blocks, metal, or Minecraft, it a powerful reframing of the educational paradigm. It puts the control in the students' hands and makes them agents of change in their own learning. And through this creation, students put in a lot more effort trying to figure out how to make that work, rather than being told they have to do this one specific thing.

I've witnessed this in too many classes and places (like the students who learned Xcode all on their own to create an app for our school) for it to be a fluke. And the stories on Twitter continue to demonstrate how powerful creation is. Will it cover all the content standards? Probably not. But will it create engaged, creatively empowered students who feel they have control over their education? I believe it will. Whether it is a choice in presentation tools, guiding kids in learning programming, messing around with gadgets, building objects and furniture, or 3D printing, get making today! You don't need to spend millions, you just need to spend the time to create the culture.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

My Brain Hurts...Reflections on Learning Google Scripts


That is really all I can say. I don't have a headache (thank God), but my brain hurts. The kind of hurt you get when you have reached your limit for a time period. After two straight 8 hour days of intensive Google Scripts/Javascript training, I can safely say I've delved into something that doesn't come easy for me. And it is really quite a moment when you realize you are up against the very limits of your intellect.

However, this blog post isn't going to be heavy on what my experience was. I actually wanted to put this in the context of our students. After all, they are doing about 7 hours of learning, every day, on a variety of subjects, some of which may be pushing them to their limits.

After two days of this, even though it was on one subject, I had reached my limit and really need some time to reflect and plan my next step. In addition, we had regularly scheduled breaks, plenty of one on one support, a clear schedule, and generous lunch breaks. We knew we weren't going to be "graded" and that we'd have a safe place to share our thoughts, problems, and experiences with others.

On the other hand, let me compare that to the daily experience of one of our high school students.
Get to school in time to start class right at 8:00am.  Then 90 minutes of class, a 15 minute passing period, 90 more minutes of class, a short "enhancement" period for classwork help and organization meetings, a 30 minute lunch, and then 180 more minutes of class.  Essentially, students are in class for 360 minutes with about 50 minutes of breaks. Oh, and more than likely they have homework that they will be graded on.

There is always pressure and so little time to reflect and think.  We need to remember that they are kids with a lot going on. Yes, we should be pushing them to achieve their best. But is it realistic to expect them to be completely sharp and on every single day? I don't think so.

However, for right now, I'm trying to recover from just two days of intense learning. And man, my brain hurts.