Tag: problem-solving

Technology Doesn’t Matter (Unless…)

Last week, I was reading a blog post written last fall by Tom Murray that popped up in my Twitter feed, “No. Your 3D Printer Does Not Make You Innovative.” I enjoyed the way Tom categorized the roles these exciting tools are playing in classrooms, ranging from “bandwagon” devices (which get purchased with great fanfare and excitement, only to go on to live sad, lonely lives gathering dust in a closet .somewhere) to “MVP” devices that powerfully transform learning.  I have personally witnessed the full range of these types of implementation over the past few years. Tom’s big point was that exciting technologies such as 3D printers aren’t worth the investment if schools do not evaluate what they are doing in the classroom to ensure they are leveraging the full potential of the devices. As he states in the post, “Innovation is not about tools. It’s about people, processes, and pedagogy.” 

Taking this idea one step further, let me say that the same principle applies to all educational technology resource we decide to invest in for our classrooms. Technology resources are significant investments for schools, and they are at times purchased with inadequate focus and vision for what they will be used to accomplish. This goes for 3D printers, laptops, Chromebooks, iPads, VR/AR systems, interactive white boards, desktop computers, robot systems, document cameras, LED projectors, software tools, etc. These technologies may well have the potential to transform learning by increasing student engagement, involving students in real problem-solving, facilitating innovation and invention, building curiosity and creativity, etc. However, this is much more likely when implementation follows planning to evolve instruction and create new, powerful kinds of learning experiences. On the other hand, each has the very real possibility to go down in flames as huge wastes of precious school dollars.

How do we ensure, then, that we are getting the most from our exciting, new investments?  Here are a few questions that might be helpful for schools to consider before investing in the latest, hottest technologies:

  1. What student need or learning outcomes will be met by this technology?  Does it fit our overarching “why?”
  2. Are there existing resources or less  costly alternatives that meet the same goals as effectively?
  3. Are current classroom structures well suited to make the most of this tool–furnishings, arrangement, schedule, grouping, management, etc.?
  4. What training will teachers and students need to effectively and powerfully  use this technology?
  5. How should instructional time look when this technology is in use by students?
  6. Could students adapt the tool to new applications that go beyond the curriculum? Beyond the classroom?
  7. How will success be measured?

In summation, for me it goes back to something I heard more than a decade ago in a workshop led by Dr. Bernajean Porter. Dr. Porter proposed that the highest use of technology was “transformative”, allowing students to do and experience things otherwise not possible. If an education technology is truly an advancement in student learning, this should be obvious in what is happening in the classroom. Even the most amazing and powerful tools, however, can be significantly handicapped by a lack of planning, training, or vision. The priority for successful and impactful implementation should be planning to ensure opportunities for students to successfully use the technologies they are provided to solve problems, create, invent, design, connect, communicate, and engage in ways they could not imagine doing without them.

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!

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.

Mystery Maker Bag Challenges

The following are prompts for a set of engineering challenge bags I am putting together for our district STEAM fair tomorrow. They are variations on project ideas I have found in a variety of sites and resources. I thought they might be useful to someone looking for makerspace prompts or some quick, open-ended science projects.

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!

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?

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?

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?

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!

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!

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!

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?

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!

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!

 

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!

 

New Podcast: Failure to Succeed

Just posted a new podcast on the idea that our kids need more opportunities to engage in “productive failure”, or “failure to succeed”. The idea is taken from the engineering design process, and it focuses on the premise that high level problem solving will lead to many failures before it achieves success. I would very much welcome your thoughts on this. Agree? Disagree? How can we give our kids greater opportunities to fail to succeed in the curriculum?

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