Monday, November 26, 2018

@littleBits Are Not Stopped By Language Barriers

One of the things I was able to share with educators while I was in Iceland was the awesomeness of littleBits. With a Code kit and the workshop kit, I was able to open up a world of bits to teachers without the worry of language barriers. While the teachers can speak and read English well, that was not needed as they were able to just grab bits and connect them together. Here are some photos of them working. 

These educators had so much fun exploring each bit and what they could do with other bits. The code kit opened up another world for them because block based coding was new to many of them and it was a great way to take the coding I had just covered in my workshop and connect it with physical items. The teachers had a great time and planned on getting their own littleBits for their classrooms to help students explore the engineering side of making. 

When I look at this for students, it is a big deal because there are plenty of students that struggle with language every day and littleBits is a great tool to allow those students the freedom to create and express themselves even if they have limited language skills. These could be ESL students or others still learning to read. The color coded bits and the easy to use bits make littleBits amazing to have in the classroom because it is welcoming to all students, no matter where they are on their educational journey. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

What I Learned About Literacy After I Left The English Classroom #EngChat #Literacy

Making the decision to move from my high school English Literature and Composition job after 15 years to build a makerspace and support tech integration for teachers, was very tough. I loved working with students and helping them read and evaluate texts. I thought I would never again be able to work with students to help them explore the deeper meaning of a piece of poetry and how it connects to their lives. After a year and a few months in my job, there are some thing I have learned about literacy that were not clear to me while in the classroom.

Literacy takes many forms

One of the things I would always focus on in my classroom is the importance of reading, writing, and speaking. All three allow a person to understand and communicate. No matter where you go in life, these three things will always help you. I see that this is only partially true. A person can read, write, and speak well, but if they do not know how to use those tools to problem solve, how helpful are they truly going to be? Watching students struggle to solve problems in the makerspace has shown me that there needs to be more time given to teaching these problem solving skills as part of their overall literacy. Using those skills to know how to identify a problem, research the appropriate sources, create a protoype, and articulate the problem and solution to others is very important.

There is not such thing as grade or age appropriate (kind of)

All too often, students would want to read something or explore something and they would be told that is not appropriate for their grade or age. The curriculum is designed to for grade and age appropriateness and teachers are stuck in that box. In the makerspace, I have learned that there is no such thing as age or grade appropriateness. If the student is willing to take on the challenge of something complex and want to work their way through it, why should I, or the school, stand in their way? For those that are going to say things like, "So I should let me 5th grader read "Fifty Shades of Grey'?" No, you shouldn't, but you should probably talk to them about why they want to read it and see what is at the root of their request. Let students experiment and push the boundaries of their reading, writing, and making. That is where they will learn the most.

The struggle is real and important

It can be so easy to just write the topic sentence for the student or do the citation for them. It is much faster when you have 29 other students to conference with over the next 40 minutes. However, they struggle of learning to read and write is so important as long as students are allowed to feel comfortable to try and fail. I think I got better with the try and fail aspect of writing in my class, but, for too long, it was a one attempt and move on mentality in my classroom. The Makerspace has shown me how effective a try, fail, try again approach to learning is needed in literacy and everywhere else in schools. Give student the time to experiment with their poetry or their essays. Give the students time to try new rhetorical devices. Let them struggle to find their personal, beautiful, and authentic voice by trying as many voices as they like until the find the one that is just right for them.

Leaving the direct instruction position after 15 years to a position that supports students and teachers in different ways has allowed me to take a step back and really see what literacy, and instruction overall, can and should look like. The best I can do now is share with the teachers around me and write on this blog.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Adventures in Icelandic Schools #MakerEd #MakerMentality

I have been very lucky to spend a couple of days exploring Icelandic schools before providing workshops for the Icelandic educational community. I have been so impressed with the amazing things I have seen in the classrooms. Here are a few things that stuck out to me.

Here are a couple of photos of the woodshop class that students in grades 1-8 all take at Arskoli. They work on projects to learn various skills. I love that this is a required class for students in this age group. The more work I do with Makerspaces, the more I see the value in getting students comfortable using these types of tools at a young age. It really opens up the possibilities for projects down the line when they have a wider base of skills.

Here is a Home Ec class that these 3rd grade students are taking. They are making cookies and the teacher is recording them and posting their explanation of the baking process to SeeSaw. This is a wonderful way for students to work with their hands and demonstrate understanding of what was covered in class. Adding the video to SeeSaw for parents and students to see is an awesome addition to the process. 

In this photo, students are in Textiles class learning to knit, sew, crochet, and more. Again, all project based and students produce artifacts to demonstrate their learning.  

Art class students are making with clay. Students were making candle holders and small animals. One group was spending time making clay mice. I figured I would give it a go, but the side-eye from this young student suggests she was wary of my clay skills. 

The nice part about all of this is that these skills are all transferable to all of the other classes the students attend. Maths, English, Science, etc. are all using Project Based Learning to explore ideas and the students have the skills to create varied artifacts to demonstrate their learning.

Being able to present and connect with the amazing teachers from Iceland was an amazing experience. I also was able to spend some time with some fabulous educators from North America as well.

It was such an amazing opportunity to learn about the educational culture of another country and see how I can implement what they have done in my school so we can all be better together. There are more posts to come on my Icelandic Adventure, I just need more time to unpack them all.

Hugs and High Fives,


Thursday, November 1, 2018

Don't Forget the A when talking STEM #MakerEd

One of the things that has bothered me over the years has been the dismissal of the Arts as part of an important, well-rounded education. I don't want to think that it has been intentional, but I do know that many schools around the country will cuts the Arts programs before anything else.

With the push for a heavier focus on Science for our students, STEM has become the go to buzzword for educators around the country. We need STEM if we are going to be competitive in the world. We need more time to focus on STEM activities in the class. STEM is the only way we can prepare our students for the world ahead. These are the types of things that are being said. It drives me nuts because everyone seems to forget about the value and need for the Arts. It also seems to be cyclical.

We move away from the Arts, then someone does a study and realizes that the Arts are an important part of the education process. People act completely surprised and Arts teachers nod their head as they read the report telling them something they already know. It does not have to be this way though.

Ditch the idea of STEM and use STEAM. The Arts are an important part of becoming a well rounded learner. I'm tired of hearing, "But not all students are going to be artists, dancers, or musicians." No kidding. Not everyone is going to be a writer, scientist, historian, or mathematician. Yet, we drill these subjects into our students because they have been deemed an important part of becoming a well rounded individual.

We teach Math because it helps students grow problem solving skills. We teach history because it is important to know about the past as we live in the present and consider the future. We teach Science because it is important for students to have a basic understanding of the world around them. We teach these things because they are important. The arts are extremely important. They make students better learners. Here is a study that says so.

For all of the teachers/librarians out there that are thinking about Makerspaces and are hearing about how Makerspaces support STEM learning, push back a little and remind those people that a Makerspace can support all learning when you make it STEAM.