Tag: 21st Century Skills (page 1 of 4)

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

He Thinks He’s Just Playing…

My son, Reilly, is a fairly typical 11-year old. He is into Pokemon, his Xbox, iPads, and sees school as valuable because it connects him to his friends and the library, but little else. It’s not that he is not a ravenous learner, mind you. Give him something challenging and interesting, and he is all in. It’s just that school is rarely either for him. He puts out the minimum effort he has to to make A’s, generally. At least to this point, he’s the polar opposite of my “valedictorian or bust” daughter, who applies laser focused effort no matter how mundane the school task.

If you want to see effort from Reilly, relevance and intrinsic motivation are where it’s at. For instance, he got engaged in an idea and ending up winning the award for the top 5th grade science project at his school this year. The project involved burning things and was completely his own invention. Fire and personal choice. Can’t miss.

Reilly's alter ego.

Reilly’s alter ego.

For consistent apex effort, though, you need to observe him working with and learning about Minecraft in all of its 8-bit, retro graphic beauty. His teachers would be insanely jealous. If allowed, he will spend hours researching, studying, creating, re-creating, collaborating, and communicating with, in, and about Minecraft. On occasion, I have been known to sit down and play Minecraft with Reilly. I tell people that the conversations go something like this:

Me: “Look, I made a house!”

Reilly: “Awesome, daddy! I made a city with a solar-powered, aerial tram system that is activated by this pressure plate inside the passenger cars. Each tram station also has an anti-creeper and zombie, redstone-powered security system and is designed to look like a natural part of the landscape and have zero carbon footprint.”

Me: “My house has windows.”

So last night I went into the living room to watch him play. He was in creative mode (meaning limitless resources, and you can fly) in an online Minecraft server. The last time I checked his game out a few days prior, he was creating a house he described as a “modern design”. Frank Lloyd Wright would have approved of the glass and lines, the big-screen television, the modular sofa, and the ground-level bed. He had since finished the 3-story house using blueprints found only in his mind and helpful tips from another community member whose structures Reilly had admired.

His next project was astounding to me. He had created an underground shop next to his house. Inside, visitors could find a collection of amazing and creative Minecraft character heads (Reilly referred to his store as a “head shop”. I internally giggled and decided that was some learning that could wait for much later.). There were at least 40 varieties of heads, as I recall. Visiting Minecrafters were actively browsing the store as I watched. Reilly had set up a brilliant system for visitors to order their own Minecraft heads:

  1. Visitors browse the collection of numbered heads, hanging on the shop walls.
  2. They next visit the order box and fill out an order form with the number assigned to each desired head. Return form to the box.
  3. Reilly reads the form, copies each desired head, and places the filled order into the filled order box.
  4. Visitors pick up filled orders.
  5. Reilly files filled order forms in another chest for safe keeping.

He explained that he could charge something like silver or gold or diamonds, but prefered to give the heads away for everyone else to enjoy. A “customer” messaged him as I watched and invited Reilly to visit his Minecraft home to see the collection on display. Reilly obliged and gave the inquisitive and grateful user a few tips on how to “rank up” before returning to his virtual home.

Image source: https://flic.kr/p/eXMx43

Image source: https://flic.kr/p/eXMx43

After dealing with several visitors back at the store, Reilly decided to post instructions on his shop wall, telling visitors how to make their own free copies using a combination of keyboard keys and mouse buttons. This would allow users to enjoy their own heads even while he was offline. It was a hoot watching him direct a pixelated customer over to the instructions, see the character reading them, and then heading over to copy a couple dozen varieties of heads.

If we don’t pay attention, we might miss all of the value here. Reilly created, he applied economic principles, he collaborated. He solved problems, designed, and redesigned (He tore the modern house apart numerous times as I watched, meticulously trying to get it just right.). He showed initiative in seeking knowledge from experts and shared his knowledge freely with other learners. He was organized, open to criticism, and willing to make mistakes. He demonstrated patience with others and their myriad questions and generosity with his resources. I observed him engaging in communication, science, art, and math.

Reilly calls this fun, a game. I call it worthwhile. I call it inspired. I call it amazing. I call it learning.

New Podcast: #20: 6 Skills You Should Have

Image source: https://conventionsofsociety.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/napoleon_1.jpeg

Image source: https://conventionsofsociety.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/napoleon_1.jpeg

Just uploaded a new episode of the Moss Free Show entitled 6 Skills You Should Have. That’s have, as in already. These are baseline, starter-level skills that all educators (administrators included) should possess by this time. I was inspired after reading about 10 different such articles and blog posts this week, some with as many as 33 skills teachers need (You see–I’m actually much more concise than you gave me credit for!). These kinds of posts are extremely abundant the past few months. I found examples from Discovery, Edudemic, THE Journal, Edutopia, just to name a few. As I read, I started to see that the vast, diverse skills were connected by just a few, broader categories, and this podcast/blog post was born. In summary, the 6 skills are:

  • Find information–Use a variety of tools and strategies to find exactly the thing or information that is needed, when it is needed.
  • Communicate–Use the right tool for the message and the audience; be able to use a variety of means and media, whether written, images, sound, video, etc.
  • Connect–Use technology’s networking capabilities to build relationships with other educators so that you can share ideas, questions, answers, frustrations, victories, etc.
  • Learn–Know how to develop your professional knowledge and skills using online resources.
  • Wisdom–Be able to avoid behaviors and practices that would endanger you or your students safety or privacy, your professional reputation, or your hardware/network.
  • Fit–Understand how technology fits into the flow of instruction in ways that make learning more relevant, exciting, and powerful. This should become as natural as blinking.

I explore these 6 to a little greater depth in the podcast below. Give it a listen and let me know–did I leave anything out? Am I way off or getting close?

Change the Subject(s)

Warning: Can of worms ahead. Proceed with caution.

3438757479_73d0de635f_zWe in education give a lot of attention to the latest ideas and shiny reform efforts, but we are fundamentally slogging around in wet cement when it comes to some of the most basic concepts, concepts such as school hierarchies, grade levels, age-based grades,  or even subject areas. These sacred cows are virtually unchallenged. Why? Tough question. Certainly, it’s easier on us to do what has always been done. It’s also almost certainly influenced by educators’ increasingly diminished power to control what they teach and how it is taught. Pressure to pass tests plays a part, as it seems to sap the creative, innovative spirit from even the best of teachers. It begins, though, with a lack of questioning. We’re a very passive bunch, we teachers. We’re also too busy, too uninformed about alternative ideas, and too darned nice. So, we just train our eyes ahead and march as we’ve always done.

The antiquated idea of teaching students subject-area knowledge in isolation is groundless (unless one considers a couple of centuries of tradition to be “grounded”). While some would argue that it once applied well to preparation for a different economy and simpler society, I would argue that it never did, and that the only place we go to learn something in isolated, sequential chunks is school. The rest of learning in life is situated in dealing with real problems with real people in real settings, and there is abundant, sloppy overlap. Quickly and without using a search engine answer the following:

  • Who was the 21st president of the United States?
  • Why did the US and the United Kingdom fight the War of 1812?
  • What is an isomer?
  • What do mitochondria do?
  • What is the slope-intercept equation of a line?
  • What is the formula for converting degrees to radians?
  • What is the difference between a gothic arch and a Roman arch?

How’d you do? I must admit, I wrote the questions, and I can only answer 3 correctly (I think.). I know for certain, though, that I learned every one of these things once upon a time. Some teacher believe he or she was imparting something very valuable to me. They may have been correct, but I can’t really judge, since I can’t remember. Maybe the girl sitting in the next row was distracting me that day.

I have 2 children, one starting the 5th grade this week, the other in the 8th. Both are bright, enthusiastic, high-achieving kids who kick STAAR (Texas’s state assessment) butt. They are great at the school “game.” While this certainly does not displease me, it is not what I stress with my kids. I don’t ask them to balance chemical equations or identify the main character and setting in Where the Red Fern Grows when they get home from school, because I frankly don’t care. I also suspect that their future employers, employees, customers, spouses, families, friends, etc. won’t care. They won’t care because these things just don’t matter, unless you’re in a tiny, specialized segment of society (Anyone have a lot of historian friends? No offense to historians–I’m sure you are very nice.). I taught 6th grade science, and I’d like to confess something to my former students: Your brilliant mastery of biomes? Completely useless. My apologies.

I know the defenders of the faith will rise up against such blasphemy. To them, I say I’m sorry. However, I’m not sure I can stand one more justification phrased as “Knowing this makes a person more well-rounded,” “Those who don’t learn from the past…” or “You need to know this to be a good citizen.” My highest priority for my children is not to be a well-rounded voter. Those are dandy, mind you, but just not good enough. What I want for my children are the traits and skills that have led to the successes of the most important, impactful people and the perfectly happy ordinary Joes alike. Among them…

  • Great communication skills. Our kids have to know how to read, write, and listen, and speak (Requires less shhhh-ing on the part of the teacher.).
  • Functional math. This means the minimum math needed for whatever direction they choose. Don’t force algebra on everyone. It really isn’t helpful. No, it isn’t.
  • Critical thinking. Don’t take everything at face value–a lot of ideas are wrong (even on the Internet). Know how to tell the good from the bad.
  • Problem solving. Failure and challenges are everywhere. Be prepared to take an alternate route, and another, until you find the right one. Innovation and creativity are closely related ideas. So is being able to figure out why your car won’t start.
  • Physical well-being. I want our kids to make choices that make them healthy (diet, exercise, etc.). I have a certain lifestyle I expect my kids to support in my old age.
  • Relationship skills. Not talking dating here–talking about being able to work with the person next to you or the person on the other end of that email. 2 is greater than 1 (That’s functional math right there.).
  • Technology literacy. Doesn’t mean every kid is a Mark Zuckerberg. It means every kid can safely, responsibly, and effectively leverage what they need when they need it.

Image source: https://flic.kr/p/4avhK1

I’m sure there are  more (Educator/author/reformer Roger Schank has a very thorough list here.). The point is, these are universally useful abilities and traits that span the traditional subjects. Couldn’t the old, establishment knowledge and skills (that still have relevance) be addressed in the context of mastering these new ones?  Couldn’t all of these be addressed in the process of inquiry- or project-based learning? If you REALLY want to get crazy, you totally abandon the neat, orderly idea of subjects entirely and put these life skills into whatever meaningful context they most naturally fit–maybe even in finding answers to kids‘ own questions.

I know this is real pie-in-the-sky stuff, but I’m an optimist. I know it can seem like we’re hopelessly oppressed under test and governmental agency and regulations. These kinds of changes would likely take too long to get started for my kids to benefit in any way. It’s good to have a dream, though, and this is mine, based upon 23 years as an educator and almost 14 as a dad. It’s also important to never settle. We can do better, but we have to be willing to question even the most fundamental ideas first, and this may be the most fundamental of all.

What’s Taking Us So Long?

The pace of educational change is frustrating.

The pace of educational change is frustrating.

Dean Shareski, an educator friend whose ideas I highly respect, recently shared a post  on his blog entitled “Why Teachers Aren’t Making ‘The Shifts'”. His post was in response to an earlier post by Will Richardson, one of my earliest ed-tech influences, entitled “My Summer of Confusion“. The two posts both address the issue of a lack of change in most classrooms, despite increasing resources and evidence supporting such changes. Why do so many teachers attend conferences, read articles, or hear in the teachers lounge about amazing, innovative practices, yet fail to implement any significant changes in their own practices? Here are a causes of this inertia that I took from each blog post.

Will:

  • Many teachers and administrators lack a clear vision of what teaching and learning, particularly with technology, should be.
  • Educators lack the technology experiences needed to take those tools and skills and put them to work.
  • Educators don’t do enough to stay abreast of the “latest research, technologies, and news that impact learning.”
  • Resistance to change as a by-product of defending the old system against corporate reform efforts–a bunker mentality.

Dean:

  • Lack of autonomy.
  • Demands on educators’ time are just too great.
  • Inadequate or misguided teacher training–teachers are told by “experts” who have done the legwork what to teach and how. They need time to work through what that means in their own classes.
  • Some (a small percentage) teachers are just more prone to change like this than others, for a variety of reasons.

So much to discuss there, but I’ll just touch on a couple and add a little to the discussion. The vision, experiences, and research are intertwined. As Dean touched on so well, they are also time-consuming. I am fortunate to have a job that encourages me to do all of these things. I do a great deal of the vision building on my own time, reading blogs, tech sites, magazines, and engaging in professional conversations outside of school hours. But I don’t sleep enough, either, so it’s probably taking years off of my life. Seriously, Not everyone can or wants to devote significant portions of their own time to grow professionally. Families, recreation, and other demands do matter greatly. I believe, therefore, it is critical to build in much more time for professional learning, planning, collaboration, and vision building during the school day. The US falls behind most other high-performing countries in the amount of time devoted to growing its teaching pros. In the highly respected educational system in Finland, teachers devote less than 600 hours per year to actual teaching, versus 1,600 for US teachers. Much more time is devoted to research, professional collaboration, mentoring, etc. Singapore provides 100 hours  of PD each year, plus 20 hours/week for co-planning, observing other teachers teaching, etc. Here in the US, we talk about longer school days and years and rarely discuss the role of time for learning and collaboration as a route to improvement.

Inquiry learning works for adults, too!

Inquiry learning works for adults, too!

Dean’s reflections on the typical nature and quality of his professional development sessions are important. Think about what we know about the ways kids (people) learn best: inquiry, problem solving, and discovery. This is precisely the opposite of most technology PD, at least most that I’ve delivered over the last 11 years. I, the expert, have done my extensive legwork, developed my vision, and attempted to impart it to the willing masses. Interestingly, however, some of my favorite professional development sessions have been the few where I’ve asked questions, guided teachers to the resources and tools they needed to answer the questions in their own way, then sat back and watched professionals get after it. I have, admittedly, not conducted research into how the “stickiness” of these sessions compared to more traditional ones. I did read the very positive post-session surveys, however, and I suspect that the sessions probably produced greater levels of change than my standard fare.

I would add but one thing to Dean’s and Will’s fantastic assessments: administrator influence. Administrators have an enormously powerful influence over how teachers do what they do. First of all, administrators in schools where teachers are making exciting changes encourage teachers to take well-educated risks. If you’ve researched it, can reasonably demonstrate that it should have positive effects, then do it. It doesn’t matter that it hasn’t been done in their schools before–change and risk are welcome (and even exciting). Administrators who feel the need to have their hands in every move made by their employees or to enforce a one-size-fits all, misguided philosophy of teaching and learning, will likely never see innovation in their classrooms. Additionally, and I’ve said it before, administrators who are using technologies in powerful ways in their own lives and work will encourage others to do so. Administrators I have seen who fit this description show up with the new Galaxy or iPhone the day after release, are rarely seen without a smartphone or iPad in hand, tend to mix it up with how they share information (YouTube channels/videos, streaming, Prezi instead of a PowerPoint, shared Google Docs, etc.), and they actually attend technology-focused professional development sessions.

This is a vital discussion. Clearly, there is a disconnect between what we know is possible and what we know is happening, and it shows glacially-slow signs of changing. I don’t purport to have the answers down, just a few insights from a long time in the business of trying to foster change. What are your thoughts? What IS taking us so long? What do we need to do differently, or possibly throw out entirely?

Image credits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/52748818@N07/4995276801;
http://www.flickr.com/photos/andercismo/2349098787

Summer Tech Camp Report and Reflections

photo10

Creating video game controllers using MakeyMakey.

Last week wrapped up 3 weeks of summer technology camps. These are the first for our district, and summer tech camps are something I’ve wanted to do for years. We offered students who are entering 2nd through 8th grades the choice between 2 robotics-focused camps or a week focusing on programming and innovation. Each week of camp ran from Monday through Thursday from 8:00 a.m. until noon. Camps were offered free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis. Approximately 80 students attended. Each camp had 3-5 adult counselors and 1-4 high school student CITs (<–callback for anyone who is a fellow Meatballs fan).

Campers build their first robot.

Campers build their first robot.

For the first attempt, each camp went off as smoothly as I could have hoped, primarily due to my phenomenal camp staff. Students were eager and engaged, and discipline issues were few and far between (Amazing how engagement solves so many of those issues, isn’t it?). Each day started with a quick debrief, then counselors either gave a mini-lesson or simply helped facilitate as students got to work. Robotics camp students initially completed a task involving creating a zip line with Legos. They next built their first, basic Mindstorms NXT robots. By the 2nd day, students were using their robots to complete tasks such as navigating a predetermined path on a Twister game mat. Local firefighters specializing in hazardous substance removal visited students to discuss how robots might be used to assist in their work, setting the stage for campers’ final project. Campers created and programmed robots to navigate a mock city (created by our CITs) and carry out specific tasks, such as obtaining simulated radiation measurements or moving hazardous cargo to a safe area.

photo8

SISD Robotics Camp

The final week of camp focused on programming, digital media, and inventing using MakeyMakey and a variety of household items. Students started this week by creating digital movies based upon the book Zoom by Istvan Banyai. They next created short stop motion videos using a free software tool called JellyCam, which I highly recommend. Next, campers explored MakeyMakey and invented their own video game controllers by pairing the devices with a variety of items, from limes and bananas to wires and nails to Play-Do. Finally, students learned the basics of Scratch and created their own video games. An example game by one of our campers is seen below.

I wanted to share a few lessons and observations from this experience, in hopes that they might be beneficial to others planning similar events in the future. I’ve also included a few student and parent comments shared in camp evaluations. I’ve attached both the student survey and parent survey we used.

  • Plan far enough in advance to ensure a smooth, simple registration process. We faced time constraints that made this process very cumbersome. Next year, we’ll be using some form of online registration to streamline things. I’m really intrigued by the Active Networks Camp Manager, which is feature-rich and FREE for organizations whose camps are free.

    photo7

    Campers created robots to complete challenges, such as detecting/removing hazardous cargo.

  • There should be a balance between structured activity and creative, explorative play. As an example, I thought that the initial robotics activities were great, but I was never satisfied with the hazardous waste project. I think I’d make that much more open-ended in the future. As one camper stated, “Make challenges more broad, less specific tasks–more thinking.
  • photo3I’m not sure about the age appropriateness of robotics activities for the youngest attendees. I felt as if many of the tasks eluded some of them, and we ended up separating older/younger campers and assigning slightly different tasks. However, one older camper requested that they “be a little more interactive with the younger kids,” and a younger camper asserted, “Little kids can do what the big kids are doing.” Even so, I’m leaning toward creating a very different, separate robotics experience for kids in 1st through 3rd grades next year.
  • I would really like to involve community members as volunteer camp counselors next year, particularly if they have relevant experience with technology (but not excluding those who do not).
  • We needed to create separate Scratch accounts for each student. My thinking was to use a single, camp login, which would put every project conveniently on the same page. Unfortunately, this resulted in chaos due to campers being constantly, unexpectedly logged off. Lesson learned.
  • Efforts should be made to contact families and remind them of camps when registration occurred weeks prior. The further from the registration date a camp was, the lower the percentage of attendance.

Parent comments:

  • “He was challenged and learned more about what computers can do.”
  • “He learned how to make anything control a computer and he’s happy with learning some programming.”
  • “I have been wanting to get my son started on tech knowledge, but I didn’t know where to start. This is a good launching point.”
  • “…make it a full week or 2 weeks at least”
  • “My child came home every day very excited about what she learned daily at camp. It’s great to hear that this camp sparked such an interest with her. Thanks!”

Overall, I was very pleased, and the many requests from parents for another opportunity next summer were very gratifying, as were the requests to incorporate more, similar experiences into the curriculum. Ultimately, I think this gave our students some valuable experiences, and we’ll hopefully see the fruits of the seeds we planted down the line.

Matador Innovators Team

MIT

Put 17 or 18 very bright, energetic, and creative students into a room with a variety of technology tools, give them some real-world (or out-of-the world) challenges, and watch their minds get to working. That is the basic idea behind a group I’ve started in our district, the Matador Innovators Team, or MIT. And, yes, the acronym was intentional. Could there be a better school for our students to want to emulate when it comes to technology and innovation? Also, there is zero reason why students from Seguin, Texas can’t or shouldn’t put prestigious schools like MIT on their radars for the future. Sometimes, a little subliminal messaging is a good thing.

Goals

My goals in starting this club are:

  • to provide students with opportunities to have hands-on experiences with technologies that go beyond the computer lab station.
  • to develop students’ collaboration, problem-solving, creativity, and innovation skills.
  • to foster interest in STEM activities and, possibly, careers.

Participants

The team consists primarily of 6th grade students, with one 3rd and one 4th grade student participating. 6th grade was selected as the focus age group because students are old enough to be able to take on some more advanced technology tasks, but too young to typically have such tech available as a part of the regular or elective curricula. One thing that was very surprising was that we only had a single girl applicant for this first season. Without any actual research, it can’t be definitively said what the reason for this is, but it is clear that I’ve got some work to do selling the program to our girls. Students had to pay a $20 fee to participate, which will be used to purchase team t-shirts, snacks, and consumables. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have several teachers and technology staff members volunteer their time to act as group mentors.

Timeline

MIT has been in the planning stages since last fall. A grant from Allstate was secured to help with the initial purchase of materials. Information about the program was disseminated through the local paper in January, and applications made available at k-6 campuses. Applications were due the first week of February, and invitations sent the following week. We had our first workshop this Monday, February 25th. Workshops will take place after school each Monday through the remainder of the school year, and are 2 hours each.

Resources

MIT technology resourcesI’ve assembled what I hope will be a good variety of technology resources for allowing students to take some inventive, creative routes to problem solving. Here is a list of the primary resources:

  • Scratch
  • Makey Makey
  • PicoBoard
  • Raspberry Pi
  • Lego Mindstorms
  • Little Things
  • Computer components

As I learned from the very first workshop, it doesn’t appear as if the traditional teacher role will be the main task for me or my other mentors, either. It became very evident as we started working with Scratch, a brief introduction was followed rapidly by students taking the software in a myriad of directions, as they explored its capabilities. Our primary responsibility then becomes providing the questions and problems to focus all of that eager energy.

The Plan

For the rest of the semester, workshop time will focus on learning the basics of the new technologies, such as how a Picoboard can be used with Scratch, practicing, inventing, and solving problems. An example project might be to create a new version of an existing title, such as Space Invaders or PacMan or creating a device that alerts when a lightbulb is left on. Much of the planning for projects will take place as we proceed, in part because the open-ended nature I’m hoping we’ll achieve makes flexibility important.

I do plan on providing updates later in the semester, including sharing student projects. Even in the first meeting, I was honestly very stunned at the complexity of some of the students’ first attempts at Scratch, so I feel as if we’re off to a great start. To get some discussion going…

  • If you had (or do have) a similar program starting (participants, technologies), what kinds of questions would you ask? What kinds of problems would your students tackle? 
  • What technologies am I neglecting to include?
  • What are you already doing to give kids similar experiences?
  • How can we do it better?
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