Monday, October 8, 2018

Writing IS Making #MakerEd #CSforAll

The more I have spent time sharing Making and Makerspace with people, the more I get to reflect on those conversation and see how others perceive the act of making. I also spend time thinking about my own practices and how I used to teach in my English classes. The one thing that stands out is that writing is an act of making that should be in the same conversation as coding, 3D design, and other forms of creation.

When I work with students and teachers, the focus of making is not learning tools. The focus is on designing to meet the task at hand. The process looks a little like this;

1. Identify the problem or question

2. Generate ideas to address the problem/question

3. Prototype one or multiple of those ideas

4. Evaluate the prototype and have others offer feedback

5. Iterate the prototype or start over with a different concept

6. Repeat steps 3-5 until a final concept is found.

7. Take prototype and turn it into a final product.

8. Share your final product

(Editor's Note: Now, these are not the end all be all steps in the making process. Every person with have their own steps and some mini-steps that fit in here. There are things I might not have written that I take for granted as part of one of these steps. The point I'm trying to get at is that I don't want people to feel that this is a set in stone guideline on how to make.)

These are steps I present to teachers as they plan lessons that involve Project Based Learning and will require students to create an artifact to demonstrate understanding. I also use these steps to support students as they explore creating something that really want. As I started to articulate these steps, I noticed something that connected to my English background. This is the very similar to the writing process.

For writing, I would ask my students to follow this process when writing,

1. What is the question you are being asked to address or the assignment you were given?

2. Generate different ideas to address the topic of this paper or assignment.

3. Put together a rough draft of one of your ideas.

4. Review your rough draft and share with others for their feedback.

5. Make corrections and change the piece based on feedback and observation.

6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until a final draft emerges.

7. Submit final draft to class.

This writing process can work for a formal essay, a short story, a poem, or any other form of writing. When people talk about STEM only used for Makerspaces, it really bothers me because the Arts belong in a Makerspace. We need to bring all of these pieces together to form STEAM so that all students can feel like the type of making they want to do is valid.

For ELA teachers, I want you to look at this model and see how similar it is to the writing process and I hope you feel more comfortable trying to integrate other forms of making into your classroom. If the students mirror the writing process, they can follow the maker process because they are one in the same.

This one of the ways that The Maker Mentality works across curriculum and can help create a culture that all students and teachers are makers that just use different mediums. So, before you dismiss writing as an act of making, focus on the process and not the tools. I think you will see that making is all around you. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

Building Community Through a House System #EdChat

I'm really excited about the Middle School this year. Besides the regular awesomeness that comes with being in Middle School, the Middle School staff is rolling out a housing system this year! For those that are not familiar with the House System, think about the system used in Harry Potter. If you are not familiar with Harry Potter, why are you reading a blog title, "The Nerdy Teacher"?

If you have questions on what a House System is, check out this resource to walk you through it.

While the House System gained fame through the Harry Potter series, HP did not originate the concept. They have been part of the English school system for a very long time and there are schools in the US that have been using a House System as well. The number one reason we wanted to implement a House System was to help build a stronger community.

We have an amazing community at University Liggett School and things run rather smoothly. However, smooth is not good enough. We want a community that transcends grade levels and really brings students together in a shared experience that goes beyond traditional learning. Our house system looks like this;

6 Houses - Each named after a street one of our predecessor buildings was located. (Burns Rules!)

We researched Knightly Traits (We are the Liggett Knights) and found traits that we felt were important for our students to have as they moved through school. These traits were spread out over the houses and an animal was chosen that represents those traits. 

ex. Burns House - Bravery and Strength - Bear

Students were sorted into each house and teachers were sorted as well. Each house has three adults and around 20 students. 

We held a huge sorting ceremony where each student was sorted into their house.

We have a flex period at the end of the day that can be used as needed, so we spread out house meetings during this time so students can work on various house related projects. 

There is a philanthropy aspect that students will work on over the course of the year in their houses. 

There will be house games that involve teachers and students.

Students are working on deciding what their house colors are going to be and will be designing their own House flag as well. They will also create their own representation of their House animal that will be used for t-shirts and other items throughout the year.  

We have games and other events planned all year to get the students excited about this new tradition at University Liggett Middle School. 

At the end of the school year, points will be added up and a House Cup will be awarded. Here is an example of a House Game we played. 

We are excited about this new tradition at our school because it will bring students across the grades in the middle school together to work on common goals. We see this is a great for leadership opportunities for all grade levels and it will bring everyone together in a spirit of community.

If you are in a school that does a House System, please reach out. I'd love to connect and pick your brain. If you do not have a House System, but are interested in starting one for your school, reach out to me and I'm happy to share the work our committee has done to bring this to our school.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Bring Project Pals into the New School Year

Digitized project-based learning transforms the traditional group project into a deeply collaborative, creative experience for students.
I know how challenging it can be to take a step back from your back-to-school preparation to learn a new tool—especially when what you currently use isn’t broken. But then I read yet another article on the popular Lean methodology, and I can’t help but seek tools that will help teachers and students use time more effectively.
Most teachers have group projects listed in the itinerary for the semester. By the time each student has a handle on a topic, their research, and materials, getting students prepared takes the same amount of time as completing the project. I discovered a company that has brought a project management tool, a resource that is popular in the corporate world, into the classroom. I met the team behind Project Pals, a dynamic, all-in-one platform that digitizes project-based-learning (PBL).
Project Pals is perfect for teachers who are both brand new and experienced in online PBL. Coordinating collaborative work is just the beginning of what Project Pals can do for students. Students and teachers can create project assets, import media, and visualize relationships within an interactive and collaborative workspace that is updated in real time. Project Pals integrates with Google Classroom, making creation and collaboration easy for everyone. At the end of a project, students have more than a shareable presentation; they have a gallery of information they can reference for future assignments and exams.

If you’re just getting started with PBL, you’ll definitely want to check out Project Pals’ catalog of pre-made content, as well as the option to create your own project. The catalog houses dozens of projects covering a wide-range of topics—everything from George Washington and the Issue of Slavery to Photosynthesis. Project Pals’ analytics and real-time whiteboard functionality make it a cross-curricular powerhouse. Project Pals allows educators to upload and link all the resources students need at one time and in one place. Getting students on board with the right resources for traditional projects helps them spend less time searching and more time learning.

Another game-changer the company brings to PBL is the ability to assess each student’s contribution. Project Pals’ analytics dashboard provides easy-to-read data on which students are playing large and small roles in each project. Finished work can be shared with parents and added to a digital portfolio that serves as proof of knowledge throughout a student’s academic career.

Bringing PBL to Your Classroom
When preparation time isn’t clouding the experience, students have more autonomy over the level of learning they want to achieve. Educators can create project templates and let students run with whatever topic they are passionate about. Students can store resources in one spot, and showcase their findings using a wide-variety of components available in the platform. In the YouTube video embedded below, you’ll see how Project Pals guides students to researching and writing a biography about anyone they choose.
The template guides students to create an introductory story about the person’s life, timeline, and map out the key events of the person’s life. Digitizing PBL provides an outlet for students to dig deep into their interests.

Support for the PBL Switch
Group projects have been a staple of the classroom experience for decades. Luckily, the Project Pals team understands that going from poster board and cutouts to an online platform can seem like an upheaval. A friendly member of the staff is happy to give interested teachers a free demo to see if the program is a good fit. Project Pals also offers free lesson plans that revolve around topics including digital citizenship and the disappearance of honeybees. For those who want to dive deeper into PBL, you can download The Educator’s Ultimate Guide to Project Based Learning eBook.
Head over to the Project Pals website to sign up for a free account for up to 20 projects and 50 students!

While this is a sponsored post, that doesn't make this any less awesome. Check out Project Pals to get a start on Project Based Learning. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Assessing Making #MakerEd #MakerMentality

The other day, I was doing a webinar for littleBits and I was asked a question I often receive when talking about Makerspaces.

"How do you assess the making that happens in a Makerspace?" This question and slight variations often come up because we are a system that can only understand something if it is assessed. For somethings, I understand the need to assess skills to see improvement. Assessing writing skills and reading skills can help a teacher better support a student in their class. If someone wanted, they could create assessments for soldering, wiring, coding, etc. Every aspect of a Makerspaace could be dissected and assessments can be created. However, that is the antithesis of making.

A Makerspace is another tool that students and teachers can use to accomplish different tasks. Project Based Learning and Makerspaces go so well together because the assessment in PBL is whether or not students demonstrated understanding of the topics assigned. They can do that through so many different parts of a Makerspace. The assessment given by teachers should not be about how well they used an LED or Raspberry Pi, it should focus on how well the students were able to demonstrate understanding.

Badging systems are in place in many spaces and we are looking to expand our badging system this year, but badges are in recognition of student skills, not an assessment. I know this might be semantics, but it is about the mentality of the makers that makes the semantics work. The benchmarks to earn a badge are there for students as they learn different skills. It is not something imposed on them with strict timelines. Students demonstrate their skills when they feel they have mastered them and they receive a badge to recognize that learned skill. No fear of failure or lowering of the GPA. They are learning because they want to learn.

If your focus is on how to assess making in a makerspace, you have lost what it is that makes a makerspace so special. It is supposed to be a place where anyone can come and explore design and creation without the fear of judgement. The minute you start putting assessment around making, you strip it of the purity of learning for learning's sake. With so many things assessed and measured, let's keep the makerspace free of archaic measurements and let people make in peace.

If you want to learn more about creating a specific culture around your makerspace, consider picking up The Maker Mentality to help make that transition happen. If you need to focus on building the space, then Your Starter Guide to Makerspaces is what you need.