Author: Randy Rodgers (page 1 of 48)

10 Easy Steps to a Maker’s Mentality Classroom

Here are 10 things the innovators of tomorrow should have opportunities to do every single day:

1. Think critically about a real problem

2. Ask questions. Deep, probing, open-ended questions.

3. Communicate/debate the problem.

4. Envision solutions to the problem.

5. Test/prototype the solutions.

6. Solve problems arising from the solutions.

7. Persevere in the face of frequent failure.

8. Regroup and revise solutions.

9. Share what they’ve accomplished and learned.

10. Reflect on the bigger implications of what they did/learned.

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge — Supply List

In response to the overwhelming demand (Okay, 3 comments–w00t!), here are the supplies I included in each of the Mystery Maker Bags.

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
World’s Slowest Marble Coaster
Using the materials in the bag, create a marble roller coaster that takes as long as possible to get from the top of a table to the floor. If yours takes longer than 15 seconds, you are an engineering genius!

Materials: paper of different sizes; paper towel or toilet tissue tubes; marble; tape; scissors

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Never Underestimate the Power of the Gumdrop
Using only gumdrops and toothpicks, create a structure that can hold a textbook at least 6 inches off the ground for at least 1 minute. Feeling confident? How about 12 inches? How about 2 textbooks?

Materials: bag of gumdrops; at least 100 toothpicks; standard-sized textbook

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Foiled Again!
Using only the piece of foil included, create a boat that will stay afloat with as many pennies as possible. How much treasure will your boat float? 10¢? 25¢? A dollar?

Materials: 10″ x 10″ square piece of aluminum foil; couple of dollars worth of pennies, kiddie pool or sink filled w/water

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
One Small Step for Man…
Using the materials in the bag, paper rocket that will go as far on a breath as you possibly can. Feel free to customize the design. Does the shape affect the distance? Would adding extra features, like fins help?

Materials: paper; cardboard index cards; tape; soda straw; scissors

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Beware the Bridge to Nowhere!
Using the materials in the bag, create a platform that extends out as far as possible from the edge of a table or chair. The catch? There can be no supports or other parts of the platform touching the ground. If you’ve ever seen the Grand Canyon skywalk, you will get the basic idea!

Materials: newspaper; miscellaneous types/sizes paper; tape; cotton or nylon twine

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
A Bridge over Troubled Waters
Using only straws and pins, build a bridge that can hold as much weight as possible without collapsing. To test the bridge, use the cup and add a few pennies at a time. Don’t look down!

Materials: standard soda straws; box or pincushion and straightpins

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Ping Pong Zip Along
Using the materials in your bag, create a way to transport a ping-pong ball safely to the end of a zip line. If the ping pong ball falls or gets stuck, it’s game, set, and match!

Materials: cotton/nylon string or dental floss; ping pong ball; tape; paper clips; index cards

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
The Paper Elevator
Using nothing but paper and tape, create a structure that will hold a textbook at least 12 inches off the ground. Can you achieve this using the fewest pieces of paper necessary? How about TWO textbooks, smarty?

Materials: standard copier paper; clear tape; textbook

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Paper Helicopter
Using the materials inside your bag, create a helicopter that will fall to the ground as sloooooowly as possible. Make that landing as soft as possible!

Materials: copier paper; 2 index cards; scissors; tape; paperclip

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Launch Catapults!
Using the materials in the bag, create a catapult that can launch a pom-pom as far as you possibly can. Want an extra challenge? Try making the pom-pom hit a target or land in a specific place!

Materials: plastic cup, plastic spoons (2), rubber bands, pom-poms, craft sticks, index cards, scissors

Added this year:

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Don’t Break the Chain

Use the materials in your bag to create the longest chain you can that can support the weight of the included “cargo bag.”

Materials: construction paper, scissors, tape, cargo bags (zippered freezer bag with golf balls, coins, or other similar objects for mass, paperclip opened up and pushed through thick part of zipper for hanging onto chain)

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Tower of Power

Using only what is in the bag, create the tallest free-standing tower you can.

Materials: 20-25 sheets paper, tape

TIP: Schools throw out a LOT of printed-on paper. Instead of using blank paper in some of these projects, hit up the recycling bins and put the used to good re-use!

The Teacher’s Role in the Blended Learning Environment

Source: https://flic.kr/p/5KS8nD

Beth Holland has a great post in Edutopia on what is necessary for blended learning to be disruptive, transformative, and powerful. There are so many excellent discussion points in Beth’s article that it’s hard to begin to respond. What resonates most with me at the moment, though, is the role of the teacher in a blended learning environment (BLE).

Very significantly, Beth makes the point that the BLE should take control out of the teacher’s hands and make learning more individualized and learner-centered. As she points out,

“True blended learning affords students not only the opportunity to gain both content and instruction via online as well as traditional classroom means, but also an element of authority over this process.”

The blended classroom should offer students not only a variety of means to get information, but options for communicating and applying learning. Contrary to this, many so-called BLEs merely digitize the traditional, teacher-centered lessons, activities, and assessments of yesterday. Paraphrasing a point I made in a recent conversation with a wonderful, forward-thinking educator, “Simply substituting the teacher’s voice on a video for a lecture is not transformative and is, in fact, quite likely to be less engaging.”

Source: https://flic.kr/p/dryrWw

If Beth’s points about moving away from the teacher-centered, traditional mode of instruction are viewed as valid, what, then, become of the teacher’s role? I have a few roles I think are as or even more important in a BLE:

  • Stage Setter. There is a real art in catching hold of the imagination and engaging students in learning. Teachers should be skilled at asking head-scratcher questions, provoking debate, stimulating questions, etc. This is also where scaffolding and differentiation of instruction can take place.
  • Resource Gatherer. The teacher likely has a broader range of sources for information or creating/sharing products than many students. Once a student is hooked and engaged in learning/doing, the teacher should actively provide the tools (websites, books, software, outside experts, etc.) to get them where they want to be (as needed).
  • Model Learner. Students are not born with the complete set of skills needed to be powerfully equipped, independent learners of everything. Teachers should model skills such as asking deep, open-ended questions, evaluating the quality & usefulness of information, organization, effective communication strategies, collaboration skills, empathy, and more.
  • Co-Pilot. Even enthusiastic learners engaged in powerful, student-driven learning often benefit from redirection. The teacher in a BLE should be actively communicating and monitoring every learner to identify misconceptions or guide students to more effective strategies, resources, etc.
  • Assessment PartnerUnless the robots take over, the teacher will always play the key role in the assessment of student learning, both formative and summative. In a BLE, students’ roles in assessing their own learning and doing should be amplified, but the teacher should be the highest authority in classroom assessment.
  • Motivator. The best teachers have always made children hungry to learn, hungry to achieve. That doesn’t change in a BLE–teachers provide leadership and motivation for learning by helping students understand the power and benefits they can expect. They create a welcoming and positive atmosphere that makes the classroom a desirable place to be.

Blended learning has been proven to be effective and impactful, but it can only reach its potential when the classroom teacher abandons the roles of the past. As Beth states,

“Blended learning can mean a step forward toward something greater—giving students agency over their own learning, but that is dependent on the direction chosen by the teacher.”

Many of our students will embrace the computers, the websites, the iPads, the videos regardless of how we teach, because students simply love the resources. We have to teach differently, better, though, or we should consider spending our education dollars in more worthwhile places.

5 Classroom Strategies to Build STEM/STEAM Skills

One reason I and others promote STEM or STEAM education so passionately goes far beyond the outstanding job opportunities the field affords. Beyond this is the abundance and importance in STEAM of so-called “soft skills”such as problem identification, creativity, innovative thinking, collaboration, critical thinking, etc. Creating a generation of students who are thusly skilled is not just vital to ensuring competitiveness in the current and future global economy, it equips them for life. This is particularly true when paired with other traits/skills, such as adaptability, organization, empathy, initiative, and grit.  As I am preparing for a talk at the STEAM Academy at TCEA next week, the following are some ideas and classroom strategies to promote STEAM-related skills, including critical thinking and problem solving in any subject area:

  1. Stimulate wonder. In any subject area, teachers should work to create situations that will make students scratch their heads and experience a certain level of confusion leading to curiosity. I don’t want to confuse this idea with what I was taught as a young teacher was the “anticipatory set”, which was basically review at worst and far from engaging or stimulating on a good day. Think of a provocative statement, an argument, a perplexing question, a quick but powerful video, or a dramatic demonstration. Our kids need more opportunities to get really engaged in a topic and experience fascination and wonder.
  2. Solicit questions. Once students have been hooked, get them asking good, probing, open-ended questions.

    Image Source: Right Question Institute

    As discussed here before, this is no given, since students all but forget how to ask such questions by middle school.  Re-teach them using a process such as the Question Formulation Technique and give them daily opportunities to practice.

  3. Be less direct. Let your students sort through processes without so much guidance from you. I know I was very guilty of step-by-stepping most of the labs in my science classroom to death when I was still teaching middle school. The best ones, though, were ones where I followed my own advice above and set the stage with a statement or demonstration, then let the kids figure out how to explain, prove, disprove, etc. on their own or collaboratively.
  4. Forsake the multiple choice. I have heard “assessment experts” defend the venerable A, B, C, or D (all of the above) test format for years, claiming it is poor question design that has weakened the art. I believe anything worth learning cannot be sufficiently expressed and assessed with such a format and with no opportunity to see into the student’s thinking. The product of such assessments has no relevance or meaning in the real world, and is I believe multiple choice assessments are a reflection of teacher laziness or inexperience (Before anyone gets your feathers too ruffled, I was as guilty as anyone. Remember those clickers? Ugh.). Leave the format to the people who are paid big bucks to construct shallow assessments and disengage our kids–the testing companies. Instead, utilize performance and alternative assessments, such as rubrics, face-to-face conferencing, self-assessment, demonstrations/presentations, physical products, etc.
  5. Failure doesn’t end with an “F”. There are times in life when you get one shot to get something right, like choosing when to cross the street in heavy traffic. Most of life outside of school, however, is based on a series of trial-and-error events and choices. Whether designing a science project, solving a math problem,  writing a narrative essay, or learning to shoot a basketball, students need to tackle tasks that require evaluation and improvement. Our obsession with grades (in the face of much research demonstrating their failures) means that we too often give students failing marks for a failed attempt, usually the first attempt, when we should be offering meaningful feedback into the process the student is going through. If your school/district requires grades, use them in conjunction with actual feedback that makes the numbers have actual meaning. But, as I advised a robotics instructor in my own district, be careful not to view a step in the process as the end, and be careful not to see a project that has not met hoped for goals as a failure. I watched a robotics team build no fewer than 20 prototypes of 1 model without achieving their very lofty desired outcome, but the group made strides and learned everything I could have hoped. An “F” would have been both crushing and inappropriate.

This is a work in progress, so please give me any ideas or feedback you might have. If I use your comments/ideas, I will even give you a shoutout in my presentation. Thanks!

STEM students image source: http://www.dfrobot.com.cn/images/upload/Image/20140306141707uca3mg.jpg

A 3D Design and Printing High 5 Moment

This is why you write the grant, buy the equipment, train the teachers, and plan the curriculum. 4th  and 5th graders on an after-school robotics team at Rodriguez Elementary had recently learned the basics of 3D design using the Tinkercad platform during their weekly technology applications class. When faced with a robotics challenge of rounding up some objects and holding them in their robot, one team came up with a brilliant idea: design a containment system using Tinkercad and print it with the school’s Dremel Idea Builder 3D printer. A couple of prototypes are seen below.

A final, top-secret version is coming before this weekend’s TCEA Area 13 competition. The team’s coach, an outstanding teacher at the campus, keeps telling me, “They have not spent much time on the programming, so I don’t think they’ll do very well.” Do very well? I’d say they have nailed the innovative spirit of the event perfectly. This is amazing on so many levels:

  • Based upon a real, relevant problem, kids came up with a completely original solution.
  • Students did 100% of the design work, including carefully measuring the dimensions of the robot and the mount where the scoop will be placed.
  • The 4 students worked together as a team and truly collaborated.
  • They made numerous mistakes in their design but pressed on, improving their product each time.

This collectively is what problem solving looks like, and it results in real, enduring learning. The teacher’s role, by the way, was primarily to answer questions and manage the printer–she let the kids develop the expertise here. I’m super proud of this team and look forward to many more moments of this sort in coming days around the district!

UPDATE: The final design, with some significant modifications is seen below. Students will get to put it to the test on Saturday.

Introduction to Robotics, Semester 2 Plans

Our first middle school robotics courses got rolling back in August. It has been a learning experience, but it has mostly been very positive. The curriculum from Carnegie Mellon University via  Robomatter has been very successful. Teachers have sorted out management of robots, charging, etc. Assessment was a concern at first, as our district requires a minimum number of daily and major grades. Those concerns have been addressed by having students complete the curriculum lessons/quizzes, complete frequent reflection tasks in engineering journals, and assessment of completed projects. As for students , they have struggled nicely at times, but for the most part have fought through glitches and design errors to create a variety of successful robots.

A surprise was sprung upon us when we learned that students who are currently enrolled in the course will be allowed to take it for another semester. While this is exciting, it is a challenge, because we don’t have a year’s worth of curriculum materials. So we are having to do a little scrambling. What we are planning to do is to make the class more of a project based, independent learning course for the students who took it in the first semester. I am working to prepare a list of resources and project prompts, with students also having the flexibility to design their own projects. Embedded below is the working document, which will see lots of updates in the coming weeks. Feel free to borrow, and any suggestions are very welcome. I anticipate projects will last anywhere from a couple of days to a month or more, depending upon complexity.

Local Leaders Get Hands-on With Coding

Elementary campuses in Seguin this week have had several visitors attend technology classes to participate in Hour of Code activities. We have been privileged and excited to host current  and former school board members, a city councilperson, the president of our local chamber of commerce, the mayor of Seguin, and our county judge. Our guests tried their hands at a variety of coding tools, including Code.org, CodeMonkey, Lightbot, and CodeCombat, were introduced to the campuses’ 3D printing and design programs, and got a first-hand look at some of the ways the district is trying to give students a wide range of computer science experiences.

Block coding tools like Code.org have been used to intruduce basic concepts.

Block coding tools like Code.org have been used to intruduce basic concepts.

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City Councilwoman Fonda Mathis joined Jenifer Wells’ students at Rodriguez Elementary.

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Trusty Cindy Thomas-Jimenez received pointers from a Rodriguez Elementary coding pro.

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Trustee Ben Amador observes student coders using CodeMonkey at Patlan Elementary.

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20 levels of CodeMonkey have been added to Learning.com resources this school year.

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Code.org resources include educational videos, such as this one featuring one of the founders of the videogame Minecraft.

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Seguin mayor Don Keil joined students at Patlan Elementary for his second Hour of Code.

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Patlan Elementary students are excited about learning about coding!

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Mayor Keil and team work through a particularly challenging task.

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Seguin Councilwoman Fonda Mathis brought her computer science background to Rodriguez Elementary.

Trustee Amador also paid a visit to Mrs. Casiano's lab at Koennecke Elementary, where students were learning Python code using CodeCombat.

Trustee Amador also paid a visit to Mrs. Casiano’s lab at Koennecke Elementary, where students were learning Python code using CodeCombat.

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Trustee Cinde Thomas-Jimenez joined Rodriguez Elementary students in an Hour of Code.

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