Tag: invention (page 1 of 2)

Grade Your Makers, Kill Your Makerspace

I read an article this  morning in Edutopia titled Creating an Authentic Maker Education Rubric by Lisa Yokana. The article has some very good suggestions for the types of things we might look for in students’ makerspace projects, specifically three very sound categories: process; understanding; and product. It is worth a read and has given me some useful ideas about posters or rubrics or group discussion guides I might want to include in the makerspaces I am planning for my own schools.

parkerOne sentence right up front in the article made me cringe, however. Ms. Yokana asks “How will we justify a grade to students and parents alike, especially to the student who ‘just isn’t good at art’?” This sentence really sidetracked me, and I almost stopped reading the rest of the piece, which does have some good, useful stuff. Ms. Yokana, in her Edutopia bio, mentions the need for a “change of paradigm” and states that the “present model is no longer valid.” Yet, bam! Right from the start, we are talking about…grades. Grades in a makerspace. Grades in a place that is about innovation, creativity, and imagination. Grades where kids engage in playful, curious experimentation and (if I can use the phrase without risking our district’s state rating) the joy of learning.

It probably should not surprise me, given the fact that I have seen teachers assign grades to anything and everything a kid does in the school. I have seen a kid’s average go up because she brought the box of tissues on the school supply list. Permission slip returned? A+!  Walking in a straight line? Extra credit!

I hate grades–okay, I’ve said it. Grades are mostly for the kids who have hacked the system, who know how to play the game. Grades are overblown, overused, and usually give very little or no insight into learning. Grades do not engage or motivate most students. A favorite quote, which I keep pinned to the top of my Twitter page, is from Alfie Kohn:

“Helping students forget about grades is the single best piece of advice for creating a learning-oriented classroom.”

Taken even further, getting rid of grades entirely would be an even better step. There are alternatives. My kids’ kindergarten and first grade teachers sent home detailed, qualitative reports that listed the performance standards my kids were meeting, on their way to meeting, or needing to learn. There was no number, no arbitrary and meaningless percentage. It was informative and helpful, and I doubt it caused an ounce of stress or apprehension for my kids, their classmates, or any parents. Kohn (1999) cites a series of studies by Bulter that demonstrated that the mere presence of number grades reduced students’ creative problem-solving, even if qualitative feedback was included.  Put simply, grades kill creativity and motivation.

Our illustrious 17th VP.

Our illustrious 17th VP.

I think assessment of student maker projects is a great idea that should be implemented. However, assessment should be for growth and generating new, better ideas, not for grades. It should be self- and peer-driven, to promote reflection and critical analysis. Makerspaces are intended to promote creativity, innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and a host of almost impossible to quantify character traits and skills. I can quickly tell if a kid knows the 17th vice president of the United States (Shuyler Colfax, of course). I find it a lot harder to assign a number to the ideas of a child or the worth of his/her creations.

I don’t want to sound like I am picking on Ms. Yokana. She shares some great ideas. Rubrics would be great tools for project assessment, certainly. Her 3 categories of assessment would be great areas to focus class discussions. How about using her basic ideas to create posters for the school makerspace something like these?


Is my product well-contructed-What design elements need improvement-Does it work as intended-Is my design easy to use-My point is that assessment is great and appropriate, but grades do more harm than good. Keep the grades out of your makerspaces, your genius hours, your coding clubs, etc. Let’s give the kids these precious few times to think and invent and tinker without fear or consequence.


47 (and Counting) School Maker Prompts

towerbuildingThe following are a few ideas to get kids’ (and your) wheels turning and creative juices flowing in a school makerspace. They are from my own mind or have been adapted from a wide range of sources, including websites, blogs, conference sessions, and personal conversations, too many to recall. The vast majority of the ideas require little in the way of expensive technology tools, instead using paper, tape, glue, cardboard, etc. A few utilize tools such as MakeyMakey, Arduino, etc. Materials can be kept in a specific room, if you are so fortunate, or can travel in storage tubs. The prompts can be written on challenge cards in the spaces/tubs.

  1. Create a paper chain that can support as much weight as possible when suspended between two chairs.
  2. Make a book light that automatically turns on when you open a book.
  3. Write and construct a popup book.
  4. Using 20 sheets of paper and masking tape, construct the tallest tower you can build.
  5. Use Circuit Stickers to make an electronic “choose your own adventure” book.
  6. Make an “Operation” game using MakeyMakey.
  7. Construct a class doorbell.
  8. Build a model vehicle that can move across a flat surface without being pushed or pulled by you.
  9. Design and build a usable and attractive piece of furniture from cardboard.
  10. Build a carnival game (a la Caine’s Arcade).
  11. Use typical household objects as brushes to paint a work of art.
  12. Make a keepsake box that lights up when opened.
  13. Use fabric scraps to design a piece of jewelry or accessory.
  14. Re-purpose “failed” 3D printed objects.
  15. Make a flipbook animation.
  16. Make an everyday object better.electronic book
  17. Complete the Mystery Bag challenge.
  18. Draw a picture or write a message using “invisible ink” (lemon juice).
  19. Create an original design for a paper airplane.
  20. Sew a pillow.
  21. Make a musical instrument and compose an original song.
  22. Design your dream house, then use paper or cardboard to construct a scale model.
  23. Make a toothbrush robot (“bristlebot”) that can actually move in a specific path.
  24. Make a paracord bracelet.
  25. Build a sound cannon.
  26. Make a balloon and sand “stress ball”.
  27. Create an origami menagerie.
  28. Make an avatar mask.
  29. Construct a catapult that can launch a ping pong ball into a specific target (bucket, can, etc.).
  30. Modify/customize a toy.
  31. Construct a newspaper geodesic dome.
  32. Make an automatic plant waterer.
  33. Learn to knit.
  34. Make your own hard-bound book.
  35. Customize a piece of clothing.
  36. Using a Lilipad, create an article of clothing to make people safer at night.
  37. Use Scratch to make a racing game.
  38. Make a stop-motion movie.stopmotion
  39. Create an electronic sculpture from aluminum foil and basic electronic components.
  40. Make an article of clothing or accessory from duct tape.
  41. Make a piece of recycled art.
  42. Create a sound amplifier.
  43. Construct a homemade flashlight.
  44. Solder a circuit.
  45. Create a flashing sign.
  46. Make art from an old book.
  47. Build a Lego marble maze.

Don’t forget, of course, that students will have their own, amazing ideas for projects if we equip them with the time and materials. I would love to hear your ideas! What other prompts could you share?

Infographic: School Makerspace 1-2-3

Infographic I created to illustrate a sampling of the basic tools for starting a school makerspace from scratch without breaking the bank (at least not at first). Were I to expand on the idea, I’d include the need for ample space and volunteers or staff to mentor students and ensure safe activity in the makerspace.


Questions > Answers

Thanks to Mark Barnes over at Brilliant or Insane for sharing this great video. More ammunition in the fight to get our kids asking questions.

Latest Podcast: #17: Why Ask Why?

This is a 15-minute followup to the blog post about Beautiful Questions. Like I stated, this book has my head bursting with ideas and implications, and there will be more to come. Happy Memorial Day weekend, everyone.

Mistakes Are Not the End

"...fail as fast as you can." -Whurley

“…fail as fast as you can.” -Whurley

Among the hottest trends in education right now is this idea of teaching students to  embrace mistakes. For decades, researchers have known the value that can be gleaned from errors and missteps. Today, scientists can even watch as the brain learns through trial and error. However, until very recently, education had few practitioners who actively applied the researchers’ conclusions. The numbers are still relatively small, but they do appear to be growing. The basic thrust of the idea is that we learn from our mistakes, and we shouldn’t be so mistake phobic when it comes to our students’ work. This is admirable, but there are some who justifiably worry we might be creating a culture that over-glorifies mistakes at the expense of good work. The difference, I believe, is where we place mistakes in the learning process. A typical classroom process might look like this:

  1. Teacher presents lesson.
  2. Students complete assignment.
  3. Teacher grades assignments and returns them to students.
  4. Teacher and students move on to the next lesson.

In this scenario, the grade is the ultimate conclusion to the teaching and learning process. Students get their one shot to impress with their levels of mastery. Mistakes come at the price of a reduced grade. This, of course, can have negative consequences, such as failing courses, being held out of extra-curricular activities, having the X-box taken away at home, etc. Little wonder that students therefore dread mistakes and the resulting red ink.

Some schools are implementing changes to this decades old practice. Mistakes are not seen as the end of the process. Rather, they are seen as steps along the path to mastery. The process might look like this:

  1. Teacher presents lesson.
  2. Students complete assignment.
  3. Teacher grades assignments and returns them to students.
  4. Students examine and reflect on errors.
  5. Teacher works with students to correct errors.
  6. Students re-attempt the assignment.
  7. Teacher re-assess student work.
  8. Process is repeated until mastery is achieved.

Mistakes gain importance because they provide insights into students’ learning and mastery levels, and they are stripped of the negative consequences of traditional assessment. This is more in line with the way research confirms that we naturally learn. It also reflects more accurately the way that most important innovations, inventions, and creative ideas come to be.

Image source: http://blog.inventright.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Chaotic-Moon-Labs.jpg

Image source: http://blog.inventright.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Chaotic-Moon-Labs.jpg

This weekend, Seguin ISD held our 11th annual Technology Fair. One highlight was a presentation by William Hurley (@whurley). Whurley is an energetic bundle of creative energy. He shared several projects undertaken by his successful Austin company, Chaotic Moon Studios. A recurring theme of the presentation was the value of mistakes as part of learning and innovating. He encouraged students to “fail as fast as you can.” Whurley shared through story after story how Chaotic Moon embraces and expects mistakes along the path to innovation and invention. A video of a smart shopping cart being developed by the company showed numerous missteps, such as the cart not understanding commands or almost knocking over a display of wine bottles. It also showed how truly creative ideas have to master the art of reflecting on mistakes and trying new approaches until success is achieved.

Now more than ever, in an educational environment of high-stakes assessments, no-pass-no-play policies, and stressful hyper-importance placed upon grades and class standing, ed tech can lead the way to a new appreciation for mistakes. Students who are given the opportunity to create, to code, to tinker, and to invent with technologies have unique opportunities to engage in productive mistake-making. The processes involved in writing a program, building a robot, or creating a 3D object with software and a printer are inherently mistake-laden. All one has to do is note the frequency of updates to a computer’s operating system or the apps on a smartphone to see how developers respond to and learn from mistakes. When we give our students hands-on, sometimes messy opportunities to use technology in these kinds of ways, we are preparing them for something bigger and more important (no matter what a state agency might believe) than being able to pass a test. We are equipping them to be the minds of tomorrow who will stare down society’s problems and create solutions that obliterate them. So, in the spirit of Whurley, let’s get our kids out there making mistakes as often and fast as we can.

New Podcast: Enough With the Apps Lists Already

Wanted to share my latest podcast. To summarize…I’ve been in education for over 22 years now, and while the technology tools we’re using have changed, so much of the actual implementation and goals for learners have not. I think it is fair to say that we’re not taking full advantage of what technology can do in education, instead settling for presentations, projects, etc. that are undoubtedly engaging but not truly high-level uses of the resources. I don’t propose in the podcast to have all of the specifics on how to do it better, but I know it starts with getting our kids involved in creating, innovating, inventing, programming, and looking for ways technology can be used to solve problems. Some would argue that using technology to teach kids math or facts about Calvin Coolidge are enough. I’m tired of it, personally, thus the little podcast mini-rant. By the way, I’m guilty 100% of all I rail against in the podcast.

Disagree with my ideas? Agree? Any comments are very appreciated!


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